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!

A weekend around Argyll: Part 1

19th June 2008

It’s been a while coming, so here’s the first instalment of the description of my trip to Scotland over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend. The outing itself turned out to be planned at the last minute because the overall tenor of the weather forecast hadn’t been the most promising. As it happened, I gleaned that heading north was best, and that’s why I tried Scotland. I was far from wrong: the weather in Scotland couldn’t have been better, and I ended up kicking myself that I hadn’t taken a day off from work to spend a little more time up there.

Of course, I had gone for a spot of walking among hills and my first day, the main subject of this post, was spent making my way along a hill track from Inverarnan to Dalmally. The idea originally came to mind a while back when pondering improvements to the route of the West Highland Way. The route that I took was encapsulated by road walking, first along the A82 from The Drovers Inn to Glen Falloch farm and latterly on the A85 until I reached Dalmally. In between, progress was over good tracks and pathless moor in open country, albeit with a line of pylons stalking their way through the glen and over the bealach. Navigation was non too taxing for the most part, even if a spot of forestry track building needed rather more thought than would have been desired.

The route came from Scotways’ Scottish Hill Tracks, a good source of ideas, even if caution is needed when following them on the ground. Don’t expect nice clear tracks because they may not exist, and I followed enough of them to know. In fact, anyone following Mick and Gayle’s LEJOG might know that their following another of those hill tracks involved negotiating loads of fallen trees; it almost reminds of my WHW hike along the shores of Loch Lomond last year. There’s a certain caveat emptor to the whole business, so it’s best to be prepared, as the old scout mantra goes.

Anyway, to the day itself. It began under cloudy skies with the sun struggling to make its way through as I made my way up the A82; some blue sky made its appearance a little later only to disappear again. As I know well from my WHW tramp from Inverarnan to Crianlarich last August, this is a busy road that creates an unpleasant amount of noise. At 08:00 in the morning, it was quieter, but there was no pleasure in plying along its margin watching out for traffic and keeping in from approaching vehicles. I was happy to be rid of it when I picked up a clear track that took me up the slopes around Troisgeach Bheag. I crossed a bridge over the West Highland railway just as a rail tour passed beneath me, and took in views over Loch Lomond on the ascent.

All the while, the hubbub grew all the weaker. It wasn’t intrusive like that day last August, but I like my wild country without that racket. I also rather it without pylons, but that was not to be as I flew along the track up Gleann nan Caorann. Though clouds filled the sky, the sun managed to light up the summits of Ben Oss, Ben Lui and Ben a’ Chleibh, at least when I first glimpsed them. It didn’t stay that way for long, and the sun continued to fight a losing battle with the clouds until I crested the bealach between Ben a’ Chleibh and Meall nan Tighearn. The track stayed with me for most of the journey into a landscape that was boggy and crossed by a myriad of watercourses. Losing the track as it reached its terminus, a shieling, meant I was in for a schlep through and over what was a watershed. I followed whatever vague track took me where I wanted to go for a lot of the time, but some freestyle wandering was needed too, and that line of pylons served as an excellent handrail. As I continued on a lung and leg busting ascent, a good view of the many lines etched into the terrain across it opened up.

Meall nan Tighearn with Allt nan Caorainn, Dalmally, Argyll, Scotland

Other views opened on making the crest of the bealach, and the sun came out to enliven them too; it was to remain thus for the rest of the day. I could see now beyond the glens occupied by the Orchy and Lochy rivers towards Ben Cruachan and such like. Such an arresting vista demanded a stop for its appreciation, and I took the opportunity to have some food too. After that, my nigh on pathless course continued as I started on my descent, confident that I was to reach Oban, where I was going to be staying on this visit.

Ben Cruachan & Strath Orchy, Dalmally, Argyll, Scotland

Pylons were being painted, so a myriad of rough ATV tracks abounded, and I picked my way down to the entrance to the forestry plantation that lay between me and the A85. That entrance wasn’t a welcoming one, with its rickety wooden gate and the need to dodge water and mud to get in. In hindsight, it could have been seen as a portent of what was to come. I made my way down the firebreak with no sign of the path shown on my map, but a track to the left soon offered itself. That took onto another track, a well-made affair that clearly had received recent attention and lorries were making their way along it. Navigating forestry tracks can be a confounding experience, but all seemed well for now; new tracks can appear, and the OS might not be able to keep up with a path turning into a track. However, I don’t know whether I missed a left turn due to an episode of reverie or what happened, but I started to feel that something was not quite right about where I was going. Trees had been cleared, so I could see the A85 below me and I opted to use my right to roam for a more direct approach to reach it, even if it meant crossing the railway and the River Lochy, a perfectly traversable affair. It was not the most dignified route, yet I got to the A85 and turned left for the tarmac tramp to Dalmally.

River Lochy with Ben Lui and Ben a' Chleibh, Dalmally, Argyll, Scotland

Walking along a busy road like the A85 is hardly the best, yet it can cure all sense of navigational uncertainty. The road margin was generously proportioned, but that did not excise the need for being ever watchful of cars and other vehicles; it was a constant necessity. The day was by now glorious and hotter than I would have liked, but I made Dalmally in good time. I wasn’t timely enough to make the 17:03 to Oban, the base for my visit, but the 19:08 was easily made, and I got a good rest too. While I suppose that I could have gone and walked about a bit, it had been a long day of walking and the heat made relaxation the better option. I was soon enough in Oban and, rather than me plotting out the next day’s wandering, the need for a good night’s rest took over. Sunday was another day…


  • Alan Sloman says:

    Hello John
    Success! That worked – I am now registered.
    I came this way on my LEJOG in the rain on the 7th & 8th May last year. That bealach was a bit of a pig – it had been raining for days and I was a colossal bog – even the downhill bits! I found the track okay down to Succoth Lodge and the road (it was very over-grown and not in use) but also a very large out of control hound that frightened me half to death.
    I think you chose the best route!

    Wonderful blog, by the way! Throughly enjoy reading you!

  • John says:

    Hi Alan,

    Glad to see that it worked for you after all.

    Scary dogs, overgrown tracks, speeding lorries and rickety boggy entrances: it does sound as if they don’t want us going through that forest, doesn’t it? Yes, that bealach is a right bog but I think that I was lucky with the bealach thanks to Scotland having an excellent May.

    Thanks for the complements and the mention on your own very spruced up blog.

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