Outdoor Discoveries

What originally was a news section for the rest of the website soon became a place for me to write about human-powered wanderings in the countryside. Photography inspires me to get out there, mostly on foot these days, though cycling got me started. Musings on the wider context of outdoor activity complete the picture, so I hope that there is something of interest in all that you find here. Thank you for coming!

Lochaber and me

26th August 2006

When setting down the first draft of this post, I soon realised that some may have thought that I was using Lochaber as a euphemism for Fort William. It is the main town in the area and its proximity to Ben Nevis ensures a steady stream of visitors. That has ensured that a plentiful supply of accommodation is available, though the place can get booked out at times, particularly during the summer. The town is also a public transport hub with both train and bus services available. You can find out more from ScotRail and Scottish Citylink.

All of these have ensured that on all but one occasion, Fort William has been my base when exploring Lochaber. The exception was in July 2003 when I had to decamp to Banavie due to accommodation shortages in my preferred base. Even so. Banavie is only a few miles away from Fort William and connected with the latter by a frequent bus service. Other possibilities are available but they require a little more work if you do not possess motorised transport of your own. Kinlochleven is a viable option for exploring the Mamores; Glencoe for Glen Coe and the Aonach Eagach; Spean Bridge or Roy Bridge for the Grey Corries. These are just a few ideas and they can all be accessed without a car.

My first visit to Lochaber was a day trip to from Edinburgh to Fort William on Scottish Cup Final day in 1998. My original plan was to carry my bicycle on the bus like I had seen people do in Eire, but that’s for most intents and purposes a no-no in the UK. The coach journey from Edinburgh went via Stirling, Callander, Crianlarich, Rannoch Moor and Glen Coe. Being a sunny day, Glen Coe looked glorious and left a lasting impression on me. After having my lunch, I found my way into Glen Nevis and, while I did not see much of Ben Nevis, the glorious sight of Sgurr a’ Mhaim attracted my attention. The stage was set for the future.

My next visit to Glen Nevis was in August 1999 when my brother came over to see around Scotland. He picked me up in Edinburgh and we headed over to Fort William by way of Rannoch Moor and Glen Coe. We walked into the heart of Glen Nevis together, to the car park at the end of the road in fact. The day was dry and cloudy, but rain rolled in that evening. We then went to Oban, Mull and Iona before overnighting in Balloch before making our way to Stranraer and heading to Ireland. I spent a weekend at home in Ireland before returning to Edinburgh.

It was not until August 2001 that my next encounter with Lochaber occurred and I was only passing through on my way up to Skye and down to Oban. Furthering my knowledge of the area had to wait until August 2002 when Fort William was a two-night stop on a tour of my own making across Scotland, from Edinburgh to Skye. A return to Glen Nevis occupied my first day when I walked all the way into Achriabach and then up the sloping banks of Allt Coire a’ Mhusgain to enjoy the views abounding on a sunny August evening. The next day took me on to Kinlochleven from where I followed the West Highland Way to Glen Coe before returning to Fort William. The extent of cloud around on that day somewhat limited opportunities for photography but it was a good start to my plying that long-distance path in earnest.

2003 saw me in the area twice: the first of these was the one where I stayed in Banavie as my base. It was also an occasion where I ran out of luck with the weather: a fine spell spread across Britain the following week. At least I found out what the area is like in rain, having got a soaking a few times. Being based a few miles outside Fort William is all right in dry weather but it exacerbates any soaking you get when it is wet and even a regular bus service is no answer to the problem. I still got a few walks out of the visit; the first of which was a venture into Glen Nevis in the rain from where I walked over Cow Hill to Fort William to catch a bus back to base. The next day saw me head to Kinlochleven from where I returned to Fort William by way of the West Highland Way. That day was dry and it attempted to brighten up but never quite succeeded, and the evening was wet. My last walk of the lot was in the throat of Glen Nevis. A bus service got me to Achriabhach and I then walked to the road end before following the path beyond that point. On my way, I passed Nevis Gorge before continuing on into the heart of the Aonachs and the Mamores. The path would have continued to Corrour train station but I had got my fill way before then. A few dreadful showers were encountered but I never planned to go all the way anyway. I managed to catch another bus on my return to base.

My bad luck with the weather prompted me to go to the Lake District at weekends to get over it but it was a return on the August Bank Holiday weekend that set the world to rights. This time, I was in the part of Britain where the weather was best and not the other way around. I reprised my ramble from Kinlochleven to base, and was rewarded with weather that really helped me to make the most of the surroundings and I used up more film than perhaps I should. My second outing took me from Spean Bridge to Loch Lochy before I returned to base by way of the Caledonian Canal. More sunny weather (the day turned out better than forecast) allowed me to make the most of this ramble, though it is a candidate for bicycle usage if I return there again. The weather was wonderful again on the Monday and I really had to pull myself away to get home.

2004 was a bit of a wash-out as regards weather, but my annual Scottish break hit on reasonable luck. The break started in Argyll where I encountered some showers before heading to my now customary base in Lochaber. My first day in Fort William was a wash-out but I needed to recover after the previous day’s exertions and there was a promise of better weather on the day after. (It was then when I purchased the Sprayway Commanche jacket that I now use regularly for all-round purposes in wet weather, though I have no plans to use it for hillwalking.) I turned my first attentions to walking from Spean Bridge to Loch Arkaig. I returned to base via the Caledonian Canal and I was readily reminded of the need of a bicycle: the section skirting Banavie Hill is soul-destroying; you really feel that you are making no progress. The next day took me to Kingshouse in Glen Coe for a ramble along the West Highland Way to Bridge of Orchy. The day was cloudy in parts, but the walking was still superb. All in all, the weather I enjoyed was more than could be expected for the summer that was.

2005 saw me pass through Lochaber on my way to and from the Isle of Skye straight after the 22/7 bomb scare, not a good time to be travelling. In contrast, 2006 has seen me return twice: once in January and again on the May Day bank holiday weekend. Thoughts of snow-capped mountains and the photography of Colin Prior inspired me to take the Caledonian Sleeper from Crewe on a cold January night. I awoke to fascinating scenes beyond Tyndrum and enjoyed some good winter walking once I sorted out my accommodation. Travelling up a section of the Great Glen Way and proceeding into Glen Nevis to ascend Dun Deardail allowed to me to experience some fascinating panoramas in the winter sunshine. There wasn’t that much snow around, though. The next day, it was raining as I was departing; a spot of pathetic fallacy perhaps? The second trip is covered in another post and, rather ironically, I witnessed more snow-capped hills on this one. The main event was a walk from Corrour railway station to Spean Bridge, skirting Loch Treig and passing through the Grey Corries along the way.

As regards future trips, I might move away from using Fort William as my base: Kinlochleven, Spean Bridge or Roy Bridge are tempting propositions. One thing is certain though, I have loads more to see and I doubt that it is possible for anyone to see all of it and that’s no bad thing.

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