Coffin Road to Kintail
Start location: Braulen Lodge, Strathfarrar (NH 235 386)
End location: Dorusduain, Morvich, Kintail (NG 945 212)
Geographical area: Skye and Lochalsh, Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey
Path Type: Coffin Road
Path distance: 42.3km
Accessibility info: Suitable for pedestrians
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From Inchvuilt a right of way follows a track up the Uisge Misgeach (Drunken Water), then crosses the saddle between Meallan Buidhe and Meallan Odhar then over open ground to Pait Lodge on Loch Monar.
From Pait Lodge the coffin route heads southwest, via Iron Lodge to Carnach and thence to Kintail, either by Killilan and Loch Long, or by the Falls of Glomach and Bealach na Sroine to Loch Duich.
OS Landranger 25 (Glen Carron & surrounding area)
This coffin road runs from Glenstrathfarrar to Kintail. The exact line of this route has evolved over time, originally it headed towards Loch Monar from the Uisge Misgeach by crossing the saddle between Meallan Odhar and Beinn Dubh an Iaruinn then followed the south shore of Loch Monar to Pait Lodge. It could be surmised that the original route was lost due to inundation by the hydro-electric scheme of the 1950s, but in fact it seems that local usage had changed prior to that to instead run west rather than east of Meallan Odhar taking a higher and drier line even before the waters rose.
A E Robertson's "Old Tracks" describes many of the long distance routes of the North-west Highlands.
The Rev. Robertson tells of how Alastair Mor na Pait, a famous whisky smuggler, and his wife were both carried in their coffins over the hills and by boat to Kintail churchyard. Their son Jamie's smuggling bothies were once visible as ruins near the old line of the track. Jamie was canny; after his retirement he performed the smuggler's trick of turning in his own buried still to the excise men for a reward.
Peter Macdonald, the headkeeper at Broulin, told A E Robertson of how he travelled from Glen Strathfarrar to Kintail with the body of the baby son of a fellow keeper - "We came to cross the river above the Falls of Glomach. I had never seen the falls before. I had the coffin under my arm, but i thought the wee fellow wouldn't mind, and so i dropped down the hillside for a few hundred feet to where I could see the falls and 'we' had a good look and then went on our way to Kintail."
A E Robertson himself was commemorated on this route - after he died in 1958, money was raised and a bridge built to improve access to the Falls of Glomach.
Clachan Duich on the shores of Loch Duich is the traditional burying place of the Macraes, and inside the ruined walls of the church is the burial ground of the clan chiefs. It is an ancient religious site dating back to at least 1050, when it was dedicated to St Dubhthach. The former parish church of Kintail may be in ruins, but the burial ground surrounding it is still in use today.
The coffin road also served as a track to the summer shielings. For the people of Kintail, the area around Loch Monar was once an important part of the local agricultural economy, for all that it seems remote to us today.
Iain R Thomson's book Isolation Shepherd (1984) is full of fascinating detail both about his time working at Strathmore on Loch Monar in the 1950s before the hydro and the stories he heard about the area.
Thomson mentions the tramps who for many years used to travel the Highlands. A well known figure in the 1920s was George Munro who would appear at Pait on his way east most years. One time having travelled up from Iron Lodge, he arrived during the stalking season and asked for work. He is said to have been asked to cook a group of ghillies a meal, despite he himself suffering no ill effects, the workers were poisoned - it transpired that he had made stew from a dead hind he'd spotted floating in the Gead Lochs.
Another of his accounts cites the Memoirs of William Collie, who became the head stalker and sheep manager at Monar in 1861. The shearing in those days took place at Luib an Inbhir, which lay beside the wide alluvial flats that formed where Allt a' Choire Fhionnaraich and Allt a' Chreagain Bhuidhe flowed into Loch Monar. The gathering of locals to help with the clipping necessitated supplies. To this end the young girl acting as a domestic servant to the family at Luib an Inbhir would be despatched to the shop for tea and sugar. She would cross the Loch by the sandbank at Pait and travel through Corrie Each to the shop at Allt nan Sugh three miles beyond Killilan, returning the same day, having made a round trip of 35 miles.
Thomson writes too of General Monck. In 1654, during the Royalist Rising by Scots loyal to Charles II against the Cromwellian occupation of Scotland, General Monck travelled with his army from Loch Duich then inland to Glen Elchaig and into Corrie nan Each. An easy march downhill took them to the swampy ground just south of Lochan Goblach. After camping there, the army marched to Brouling. His dispatch reports that "The way for near 5 miles so boggie that about 100 baggage horses were left behind and many other horses bogg'd or tir'd" .
The inhabitants of the area seem to have fared much better on foot than did this army with its horses. Though long-distance the route seems very much a local path.
Interestingly, Thomson has further detail of Jamie (Hamish Dhu) MacRae's mother's funeral procession from Pait to Clach an Duich in Kintail. "With fitting deference to the solemn occasion, the procession wound its way through Pait, west along the Gead Loch side and into Corrie Each. The cortege bore on gravely and with dignity. Some were employed as coffin bearers, others, more importantly on such an arduous trek, to convey the victuals, contained mostly in large wooden kegs. The day grew warm. Certain ungracious comment, regarding the deceased lady's weight filtered through the ranks of the sweating bearers. At each coffin resting point along the path, stones were added to an existing cairn, or a fresh cairn was piously raised. The warmth grew oppressive. The procession grew thirsty. By and by the frequency of the stops precluded dignified cairn building obsequies. Before the final steep climb out of Corrie Each the Kintail men, waiting high above on the march to join the oncoming mourners, observed below them, formaility dispensed to the point where brow mopping bearers seated on the coffin were libaciously quaffing unwise amounts of the otherwise ample supplies. One might consider it befitting that Mrs MacRae, to quote common parlance, was enthusiastically afforded 'a good send off'."