“The post-runner came from Dingwall by Strath Braan and Glen Dochatie to the head of Loch Maree, then along the east side of he loch viâ Letterewe to Poolewe, and thence, if necessary, forward to Flowerdale.” Chapter X: Posts and Road-making, Gairloch and Guide to Loch Maree. JH Dixon FSA Scot.
The road to Gairloch runs from Achnasheen along the west shore of Loch Maree (formerly Loch Ewe) through Kinlochewe and finally into Gairloch from the south. In the 1700s, before the establishment of the Military Road, the nearest Post Office was at Dingwall on the east coast. Mail for Poolewe and Flowerdale in Gairloch was brought once a week by a runner working for the McKenzies at Gairloch. The runner took the eastern shore of Loch Maree through Letterewe and Ardlair. The Loch’s level has changed and now the route cannot go beyond Letterewe.
We stay in Gairloch during leave once or twice a year. A few years ago the journal of Scottish Hill Runners contained an article describing a run on the Postie’s route. I’ve meant for a few years to run an adaptation of the route by climbing up from Letterewe north and then coming down into Poolewe from the east.
On Wednesday 17th July, while the rest of the country sweltered in a heat wave, Sandra and Becca dropped me and my Border Terrier, Reiver, off at Incheril just outside Kinlochewe in a fine drizzle and low cloud. We set off down the path to Slioch at a reasonable clip. The path is broad and easy to the bridge below Slioch and we made good time. Once over the bridge the path becomes rougher and climbs high above the loch on Màm Smiorasair. The views are amazing but quite soon the bracken becomes incredible. I managed to run most of the way but Reiver had to work very hard and at one point I thought I’d lost him only to turn and find him sitting by me as I called him in bracken well above my head. Approaching Letterewe the path goes into old woods which are beautiful. The route is clearly very old as many of the bridges are overgrown to the extent at they have blended into the landscape.
Letterewe is very attractive and after the bracken It was a relief to run on estate roads. The path north from there up Bealach nan Sac is beautifully engineered and very runnable. Once we’d got some height away from the flies we stopped to eat. I walked Reiver for half an hour after that to let his food digest. By that time we were well into the high country and running easily on a narrow but well defined path. Up past a series of Lochans and turning west to wonderful views west to Poolewe and the sea.
A fast run down through a forestry plantation and a dip in the river to clean off a very muddy terrier and we met Sandra and Alan with the dogs who had walked out to meet us. A brilliant days running and Reiver still as bouncy as when we’d left despite running the best part of 21 miles. I only hope there was less bracken when Ian Mor am Post did the running.