Endings and beginnings in the West HighlandsAugust 20th, 2007
As promised, here is a report of my visit to Scotland’s West Highlands the week before last. Yes, there has been a delay in the post coming but that seems to be a trend in outdoors blogging these times. Yes, other distractions intervened…
A disappointing July had me gagging for a few days away and a promise of at least some fine weather was enough to see me head north. Things started well but the weather headed downhill thereafter. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop me getting in an ample amount of walking and I reluctantly left to head south after what was in a myriad of ways a very successful break from the rat race.
An overnight journey took me to Bridge of Orchy to walk my penultimate section of the West Highland Way. When I arrived, I found Bridge of Orchy basking in sunshine and captured some scenes both on film and on memory card. After crossing the A82 and passing under the railway, I picked up the track that was to take me south to Tyndrum. As luck would have it, cloud soon rolled in and conspired with various masts and electricity poles to reduce my photographic activities.
The hubbub of the A82 became scarcely audible as I passed Beinn Dòrain and there were teasing views up Gleann Ach’-Innis Chailein and Glen Coralan. Perversely, it was after this that the weather began to cheer up again with the cloud melting away again. The noise of traffic on the A82 became a more permanent feature while the slopes of Beinn Odhar were crossed; it did made me wonder if there were better routes for the WHW than to squeeze through a pass alongside a railway track and a busy road. The sun stayed out and the views behind me towards the Black Mount and the likes of Beinn Dòrain remained excellent: there was an abundance of camera activity as a result.
Tyndrum was too excellent an excellent refreshment opportunity to miss and I took advantage of the Green Welly Stop for a spot of lunch. It was soon back to shadowing the A82 again; thankfully, the noise was less pervasive than it was north of Tyndrum. The glorious appearance of the Crianlarich hills made me wonder if southbound was the right direction for once: they certainly looked better than their more rounded Tyndrum counterparts. As I proceeded along Strath Fillan, I followed the WHW as it crossed over and back across the A82. The final crossing saw me heading up steep slopes, a heavy price to be paid by tired legs and an argument in favour of the usual northbound itinerary. The views that opened out did provide some compensation for my exertions before I dropped down to Crianlarich for a night’s stay in the SYHA hostel and a spot of refuelling at the Rod and Reel pub. It was a long day spent covering twelve miles of trail.
A drizzly start to the day greeted me when I arose. Crianlarich SYHA is a self-catering hostel so I braved the weather to head to the train station’s cafe (which usefully opens at 07:30) for a spot of breakfast. It didn’t take too long the drizzle to peter out but skies remained cloudy and I decided that a start from Inverarnan was a better proposition than the sterner test proffered by the alternative: retracing my steps up the hill that I had descended the previous evening. The coach journey that this change of plan necessitated only cost me £1.50; I don’t think that I have ever bought a cheaper ticket from Scottish Citylink. I disembarked at the Drover’s Arms and made for Beinglass Farm, retracing steps that I made on a hike at the end of May until the point where I headed north along a good track.
I carried on up Glen Falloch with the hubbub of traffic never far away until I crossed under the A82; the roar of the Falls of Falloch tried in vain to drown out the din though their sight was beguiling. They would have looked better had cloud cover not been as comprehensive as it was. Like the day before, the cloud curtailed any used of my camera and, on a sunnier day, the profusion of pylons would have presented challenges for photo composition: I prefer to see hills devoid of these distractions in my pictures. Still, the day remained largely a dry one with only isolated light showers perturbing this dryness.
Later on, I got tangled up in groups of walkers and mountain bikers (should the latter have been using the WHW?) heading the same way. All parties were friendly but I was happy to let them continue ahead of me so that my stroll could be a more relaxed affair. My taking of lunch near the A82 underpass was the perfect opportunity to allow this to happen.
Once on the west side of the A82, I soon lost the traffic noise and progressed along a good track that took me to the end of my WHW. The ascent was gradual affair, just what I needed. The sun came out too but was no where near as dominating as it was on the previous day. Nevertheless, views of the Crianlarich hills still entertained. A boggy tramp down Bogle Glen returned me to Crianlarich to await a coach heading to Fort William, my base for the next two nights. I had it in my head to catch the 14:30 but this changed to the 16:30. About 16:45, a Citylink coach did stop but that had no ticket machine onboard so I had to await its partner travelling after it. I was informed that it was 10-15 minutes away but that developed into nearly 45 minutes. I don’t blame the drivers because they are at the mercy of traffic conditions, after all.
There was no sign of sun when I got to Fort William so I made my way to the Cruachan Hotel where I was to stay for two nights. A spot of tidying up preceded my getting food at the Ossian Hotel. This is a quiet spot in an otherwise busy town and provided what I asked of it; I have simple requirements. A stroll along the sea “front” returned me to base for the night.
Another wet morning awaited me when I arose and caused some confusion in my mind as to what to do. I did try to dry up but the success rate wasn’t brilliant. Eventually, I began to envisage a walk from Invermoriston to Fort Augustus along the Great Glen Way. A missed coach sent me back to my original plan: a spot of recce around Kinlochleven.
It wasn’t so promising when I got to Kinlochleven but I donned the waterproofs and headed for Loch Eilde Mor. The wet conditions were a good test for my newly acquired Harvey map of the area; another post may have something to say on the Harvey versus OS comparison. My journey was to take me up the steep side of Meall an Doire Dharaich and some scrambling resulted. I have to say that wasn’t my intended approach but I soon reached the good track that was my attention. Thankfully, things were drying up all the while, even if the atmosphere was distinctly muggy and midge-friendly. The summits of Am Bodach, Na Gruaigeachan and Sgurr Eilde Beag were all hidden in cloud and I am sure that other hills of that height in the Mamores were similarly afflicted; they were most likely not the only ones, either. That said, the hills separating Loch Leven from Glen Coe did seem clear. I continued to the half way point along Loch Eilde Mor before returning to Kinlochleven, having convinced myself that a return in sunnier and fresher weather was in order. However, I left myself a lengthy wait in the rain in muggy sleepy Kinlochleven and the midges gave me more grief than I have had from them before. They weren’t the only antisocial beasties about that evening: some drunken young ladies delayed the bus by 15 minutes with their antics. Once on the bus, peace began to return even if some of the midges didn’t find their way back out for a good part of the journey to Fort William.
I awoke to another grey morning but, as the day wore on, it seemed as if Scotland was trying to make up for the previous day with the sun battling to get through the clouds without having a massive amount of success. However, this was certainly enough to make me wonder if I was going home prematurely. My resolve remained with me though and I started for home with the 13:00 coach to Glasgow. From there, it was on to Crewe by train and a bus got me back to Macclesfield. I had left Scotland having completed the West Highland Way and with ideas for future excursions. It wasn’t a bad trip at all and I have some more ideas for walks on any return. No, the midges don’t deter me easily.