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 route reprised in reverse to resolve a quandary

26th June 2009

In light of the weather forecast, a trip to Scotland last weekend might have seemed an odd choice to make. After all, one other occasion where I set off north in search of consistent improvement over the course of a day had me arriving a day too early. However, I wasn’t so fussy and I set off regardless with the options of exploring around Loch Ericht near Dalwhinnie or reprise a part of the West Highland Way that I haven’t hiked for a number of years now.

In the event, I plumped for the latter and arrived at a rainy roadside at the head of Glen Coe. Buachaille Etive Mor was shrouded in low cloud and it might have been sensible to consider adjourning to the King’s House Hotel and awaiting the next bus north for a day of travelling in place of the planned walk. Duly equipped, I faced the dampness and all it took for things to dry out was the length of time that it takes to get from the A82 to the hotel along the West Highland Way. This change of affairs certainly put paid to any fears of having a long wet walk ahead of me.

Soon enough, the track of the WHW started to attract journeying types like myself and others doing the entire thing. With a well frequented track such as this, it is too easy to get your normal walking rhythm disturbed by the incompatible pace at which others are going. Though there were showers, the clearance continued as I shortened both the distance to Kinlochleven and the amount of time that I was to spend shadowing the A82. Thankfully, the road wasn’t too busy and road noise was none too intrusive. Even with the prospect of being passed by slowcoaches, I still took my chances to look across the glen to savour whatever brightness happened to spotlight the slopes. Making decent headway across the slopes of Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste ensured that Altnafeadh was reached soon enough.

After a short break, I took to the track up the Devil’s Staircase. Having passed the way once before, I knew that this was going to be hard leg work. That time, I was going the other way on a day that was cloudy but dry if reluctant to leave the sun out, a marked contrast to a sunny afternoon and evening spent in Glen Nevis the previous day. The descent down the Devil’s Staircase lingered in my memory but I had forgotten the ardour of the ascent from Kinlochleven and how long it took; that was something that I was set to discover later. Going at things in the opposite way to everyone else and during the afternoon too, almost guaranteed that my hike was my own and without intrusion from others. It was so different last Saturday with a human train trailing down the steep slope and with me at or near its head. Stops were in order on the ascent and I did get passed near the top by someone carrying no pack. My having one with all my weekend bits and bobs contained therein meant that I was unable to offer much of a contest anyway so I was far from bothered.

A well-earned break was taken where the gradient levelled off on the bealach between Beinn Bheag and Stob Mhic Mhartuin. Letting the hoards continue on their way, I noted the more friendly slopes round about me and got to picking up a clear track, boggy in parts, as I surmounted the lesser visited 616 metres high summit of Beinn Bheag. The reward was good panoramic views subject to low cloud and any rain showers staying away. Finding some shelter from the wind, I set to making sense of what lay about me and slaying any demons that beset me when looking at old photos. Being able to pinpoint my location became key to the task; it’s hard to work out what’s in a photo when you are unclear where it was taken. Setting the map with my compass helped again, although finding that two maps are needed for the exercise has its drawbacks.

After descending Beinn Bheag to the WHW again, I opted for Stob Mhic Mhartuin in the knowledge that I had time available with Kinlochleven being just a few hours away. My Harvey map showed a track marked leading up to the 707 metres high summit, a little surprising since it showed nothing on Beinn Bheag, though I suspect that this may be due to Stob Mhic Mhartuin being a possible stepping stone on a traverse of the Aonach Eagach. The slopes beyond Stob Mhic Mhartuin looking amenable but, inviting as they were, Sron a’ Choire Odhar-bhig and its neighbours were left for another time; one with more sun would be ideal for photographic pursuits in an area where they should be splendidly fruitful.

Some of the Mamores as seen from the West Highland Way on the approach to Kinlochleven, Lochaber, Scotland

After a saunter about its top, I descended Stob Mhic Mhartuin to recommence my journey to Kinlochleven. The morning rush along the WHW has passed, so walking a busy old military road had become a far more relaxing prospect. That is not to say that there were no other folk going the way but the well scattered mix of fellow walkers and runners was a nicer one than feeling surrounded by bunched up groups. The threat of rain had nigh on completely receded, but cloudiness reigned unopposed with the occasional insurgency of sunlight. Any glance east revealed sunlit hummocks in the distance, an observation that cannot but cause one to wonder if they were in the right place but I was where I was and enjoying it anyway. In any event, the sun was greater headway as views over Blackwater Reservoir and Meall Bad a’ Bheithe opened out for fuller inspection.

Progress towards Kinlochleven was good but not sufficient to make the idea of catching the 15:40 bus to Fort William a reality. Saying that, I was well in time for the 16:40, so travel plans remained on course. The final descent into Kinlochleven was steep, steep enough that gambolling along wasn’t an option and especially so with all the twists and turns that were taken. Camera work was slowing things a little too because the sun was winning out over the clouds. In fact, warm sun was the order of things on the final approaches to Kinlochleven. My arrival into the village saw me leave the WHW for a more direct approach around by the Blackwater Hostel. After some time for ablutions and a little shopping, I set about awaiting the bus after what had been a good day out. It remains an area worthy of revisiting so I’ll continue to keep it in mind as a definite possibility; you always want to leave somewhere as scenic as this with a plausible reason for a return if the opportunity should ever offer itself.

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