On the right path – Loch Maree Post Road
In a new series, John Davidson looks at some of the historic paths across the Highlands, starting with a route that was once used by post runners heading from the county town of Dingwall to the west coast at Poolewe
Distance: 18 miles / 29km
Route and terrain: Poolewe to Incheril, Kinlochewe.
Going west to east, the route begins in Poolewe by following a path beside fields which soon reaches Loch Kernsary. There is a reasonably good path to the houses at Kernsary, where you join a vehicle track to the left to reach a forestry plantation, going right at a bend to follow an older track through the trees.
It can be particularly boggy in sections through here until you emerge at a gate leading onto the open hillside. The good stalkers' path initially follows the line of the burn, undulating below the steep cliffs of Beinn Airigh Charr with Fionn Loch below to the left.
Where it turns south, don't follow the tempting path that drops to cross the burn – instead continue over the pass at Srathan Buidhe and follow it all the way down, across a few fords, to Letterewe.
Signs lead you around the edge of the house and grounds here and onwards to Furnace, where you turn sharp left just after a bridge to follow the old route.
This wonderful stretch of the post road climbs around 100m above the water's edge, giving you fabulous views along Loch Maree and ahead to the mighty Slioch that towers above the loch. The terrain is tricky in parts, with plenty of climbing and a number of burns to ford, including one in quite a deep gorge draped in greenery.
A boggy, flat area is reached where a waterfall tumbles down from the slopes of the Munro above, then there's another rise and descent to reach the bridge over the Abhainn an Fhasaigh in Gleann Bianasdail.
This high bridge over a dangerous section of the river was deteriorating on my last visit in autumn 2019, with a number of slats missing and some rotten – it was passable but care was required. The popular route up Slioch also crosses this bridge, so hopefully repairs will be done in the not-too-distant future.
As you reach the end of the loch, the mass of Beinn Eighe can be seen across the water, and it's only a few miles along the Kinlochewe River before the path continues away from the water to pass a cemetery to emerge at Incheril.
Map: OS Landranger 19
Access: At Poolewe, the route starts beside a row of white cottages at the north end of the village, following the signposted path to Kernsary. An alternative is to start from the bridge alongside the River Ewe and follow the estate road to Kernsary.
There is a small car park by this bridge as well as a few other parking places in the village.
At Kinlochewe, access to the route is via Incheril, a short distance to the north-east of the village. There is a small car park at Incheril.
An infrequent bus service operates between Kinlochewe and Poolewe, run by Westerbus.
History: Poolewe used to be an important harbour, and this was the old route to Poolewe from the south, linking with the Coulin Pass from Loch Carron, as shown on General Roy's map of 1755 and Arrowsmith's map of 1807.
It was used as a drove road; the hotel in Kinlochewe being formerly a drovers' inn. Bord, a hamlet that existed before the village of Kinlochewe came into being, was the site of the old change house.
It is also the way used in the 1800s and possibly earlier by post runners travelling from Dingwall to Poolewe.
The 1921 book A Hundred Years in the Highlands by Osgood Mackenzie of Inverewe records the mid-19th-century journeying of Iain Mor am Posda (Big John the Post / John Mackenzie) from Poolewe to Dingwall and back.
Latterly, his journey was shortened somewhat by the need to head "only" as far east as Achnasheen – he was the last post-runner and he is said to have emigrated to Australia once replaced by the mail coach.
The postie's route actually kept closer to the shore of Loch Maree than today's route – instead of heading over the Srathan Buidhe, he took a line that traversed the now dangerously impassable Creag Tharbh (Bull Rock).
The early Scottish traveller and mapmaker Timothy Pont is said by various sources to have used at least parts of this route in the 1590s – the section from Poolewe to Kernsary (although he then veered north and east to Dundonnell), and also a viewpoint above Letterewe.
The woods that once lined this side of Loch Maree were cut down to fire furnaces for iron ore smelting, and traces of this industry can still be seen at the lochside. The ruined house at Innisabhaird (place of the bard), north-west of Kernsary, is said to have been the home of Am Bard Sasunnach (the English Bard), a descendant of one of the English workers that came to the area in the 1600s to work the iron foundries.
- Thanks to ScotWays for the use of heritage information relating to this route. www.heritagepaths.co.uk
- The 'On the right path' series will be continued on the Active Outdoors website at hnmedia.co.uk/activeoutdoors