Trails from the Rails 2: Duncraig to Duirinish

  • Area: Ross & Cromarty
  • Local Train Operators: Scotrail
  • Length: About 6 miles
  • Points of Note: Carn a’ Bhealaich Mhoir and Loch Achaidh na h-Inich
  • OS maps – Explorer 428 (1:25,000); Landranger 24 (1:50,000)

Duirinish to Duncraig is in some regards the more logical option here, as Duncraig has the better views for admiring while waiting for one of the four trains each way daily that link the two stations (two daily Sundays mid-May to September; one daily other Sundays). However, starting at Duncraig gets a good sharp opening climb to get the walk under way and then provides an easy roll down – rather than a long, steady slog followed by a sharp drop at the end.

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There are many stations in Britain that wangle for the status of “best” and many of them do it on the grounds of “most attractive”. Few, however, can beat the view offered from the platform at Duncraig once the train has pulled away and, like a curtain at a theatre, revealed the setting for the opening movements:

Duncraig 3 JPG.jpg

Trying to hide behind the pines on the island of Eilean Lagach is the village of Plockton, the main intermediate centre of population served by this railway (which links Inverness with Kyle of Lochalsh). The walk to Plockton along the shores of this little bay off Loch Carron is a particularly simple one, and from Plockton the road can be followed round to Duirinish to take in some wonderful nuggets of landscape with barely any mountain climbing at all.

After admiring the octagonal waiting shelter, and reflecting on the railwaymen who saved Duncraig station by refusing for several years to acknowledge the halt had been closed and continuing to stop trains here, the walk begins by leaving the platform and heading up what passes as the station access road past Duncraig Castle. The Castle has had a difficult life, culminating in being taken on by an extended family who tried to do it up. By the end of the reality TV series detailing their efforts the castle had not improved much and the family relationships had disintegrated. Nowadays it’s being renovated into a hotel, currently opening in Spring 2018.

Duncraig Castle 1 JPG.jpg

Follow the drive up to the road, turn left and walk a little along until a fingerpost points right into the remains of the wood. Commence climbing in earnest, following the old paths and aiming for the block of trees along the hillside to the south. At the base of these trees is a forestry track; pick this up and turn left along it. Glance back and admire the developing view.

Plockton 3 JPG.jpg

Carn a’ Bhealaich Mhoir briefly comes into view through the trees, topped by its radio mast. Admire it briefly (very briefly – it is not an especially pretty mountain), then follow the path round to the right and continue slowly rising with the “Carn” to the left.

After half a mile or so another forest track branches off to the left. Those who like their walks short (bearing in mind the paucity of Kyle line trains) can carry on here, as the turning is an out-and-back dead-ender – but anyone that unenthusiastic should have stuck to the shore route, so turn left and take the stiff slog that follows after a few hundred yards.

The track scrambles up through a gully, feeling far too steep for any self-respecting tyre-wearing vehicle, and then suddenly opens out onto the plateau high above Loch Carron. The heather ahead is lacking in paths, though a walk across it and down the sheer mountain face beyond will ultimately lead to the hamlet of Achmore and thence to the ferry-free station at Strome Ferry.

Loch nan Gillean 1 JPG.jpg

The main track swings round and completes the climb to the radio mast, offering views across Loch Carron to the Applecross Peninsular and the Isle of Skye.

Loch Carron 2 JPG.jpg

Having admired the view to personal satisfaction from 343 metres above sea level (after a steady climb of about 340 metres), turn round and follow the track back down to the earlier T-junction. Turn left again and follow it round to Loch Achaidh na h-Inich. This is a pleasant little mountainside loch, triangular in shape, surrounded by a few cottages and feeding the Allt Dhuirinis.

Loch Achaidh 1 JPG.jpg

The direct route from here back to Duirinish is straight down the track until it turns into a road, then left when it meets the back lane from Duncraig and so down the valley. There is not much to note except the rather pleasant (now quite open) scenery. A discreet footpath turns off shortly after the first house on the right after the loch and twirls down the valley next to the stream. At the bottom of the road, turn left to come almost immediately to a handsome bridge over the Allt Dhuirinis.

For those who feel the walk is too short and have an hour to spare, turn left at the bottom of Loch Achaidh and strike back away from civilisation, along the flanks of the mountains. The winding path, running in this manner for just under two miles, is reasonably easy to follow, being the only one in the area. It offers some good views of the bottom end of Skye and the passage at Kyle Rhea (assuming the weather is acceptable) as it drops down into Balmacara.

Balmacara.jpg

Turn right on hitting the road and begin to climb back out of Balmacara again. Take the first available right and continue following the lightly-used lane, rising from 50 metres above sea level at the end of the footpath to a peak of 159 metres while crossing the foothills back to Duirinish. The lane then twirls down the valley side and drops into Duirinish by the bridge over the allt.

Duirinish 1 JPG.jpg

Duirinish is clustered around the little river and its floodplain, which doubles as a common. Highland cattle can occasionally be seen grazing here, with coach tours squeezing into the hamlet so their riders can get better photos.

Follow the left-hand road through the village. At the end of the houses take the right fork, leave the hills behind and strike out across the plain. The station is reached after half a mile, accompanied by a smattering of cottages.

Compared to Duncraig it is a bit of a simple affair; a longer platform, hosting milepost 59¾, lies nestled amongst the Scottish rolling hills hidden from the sea. A small wooden hut provides shelter. To the south the low mountains, freshly crossed, loom ominously.

Duirinish 2 JPG.jpg

Duirinish 3 JPG.jpg

Walkers from Plockton or Kyle of Lochalsh who have misjudged their walk lengths and missed the last train for some hours will find it not overly difficult to get home by following the lanes instead. Warning should be given that the approach to Kyle of Lochalsh involves a lot of false starts to the township.

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