First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The old house of Rosehall drooped on its mossy terrace like a faded socialite the morning after the night before. Standing on the driveway looking out over the tussocky parkland and along the beautiful wild strath of the River Oykel, we pictured the grand heyday of Rosehall in the 1920s as the Highland love-nest of the Duke of Westminster and his glamorous paramour, Coco Chanel. The French couturière and designer, by the way, was no drooping lily. She walked, rode and fished as hard as anyone.
We strolled the carriage driveway under great beech, their trunks as pale and smooth as chalk. The brawling and rushing River Cassley, a tributary of the Oykel, winds through the park, and we walked upstream against its rain-swollen flow.
A crook of the river, barred across with enormous rocks and ledges, swung in a tight roaring curve below a little mossy graveyard spattered with snowdrops, its stone wall beautifully mended and maintained. Here landlord Neil Walter Graesser lies buried with his beloved fly rod. Nearby lies William Munro, the Rosehall gardener who died in 1821 at the not inconsiderable age of one hundred and four.
Above the graveyard a handy bench overlooked the thundering chaos of the River Cassley’s falls, the river foaming and jumping, vibrating the rocks under our boots, the water rearing back on itself in glass-grey surges around submerged snags in the riverbed.
We tore ourselves away at last, following a sedgy path that threaded the pines and birches of Rosehall Forest, rising steadily uphill in snaking curves between banks of ferns and mosses. These forest paths don’t look after themselves; it takes the sharp eyes and constant attention of many willing locals to keep them clear and passable.
Walkers are the beneficiaries. From the waymarked trail we looked out across the valley, over the roofs of Rosehall and away to a high ridge of hills over which peeped the snow-streaked peaks of the Sutherland mountains.
We descended towards the Achness Hotel, promising ourselves one of their piping hot bowls of cullen skink and a mighty session of music. It’s doubtful whether Coco and her Duke ever looked forward to their champagne and foie gras at Rosehall with keener relish.
Start: Rosehall Forest car park, near Lairg, IV27 4BD approx. (OS ref NC 479019)
Getting there: Car park is on A837 Rosehall-Ullapool road, ¼ of a mile before Achness Hotel, Rosehall
Walk (5 miles, easy, OS Explorer 440): From car park cross A837, through lodge gates opposite, down gorsy path to bridge and carriage drive (478015). Right; in 250m fork left past Rosehall House and follow drive. In 500m, at small stone bridge, fork sharp left (473020) and bear right along River Cassley to A837 bridge (472023). Cross road; down steps, cross footbridge and continue along river bank. In 600m, at graveyard (468028), pass entrance gate and follow wall, then path up to falls viewpoint of the River Cassley. Cross footbridge; on along river bank. In 200m, bear right at wooden gate (469029) with fence on right to road (470028). Right; in 50m, left through gate; path uphill (blue stripe posts). In 550m reach lookout bench and forest road (474030). Left; follow Deerpark & Wildwood Trail (yellow stripe posts). In ¾ of a mile, bear left up Achness Burn Trail (479030, brown stripes) for 250m to viewpoint (483031) and return to Deerpark & Wildwood Trail. Left to return to car park.
Lunch/Accommodation: Achness Hotel, Rosehall, Lairg IV27 4BD (01549-441239, achnesshotel.co.uk) – friendly, informal hotel with music sessions.