Category Archives: walk ins

a couple of days of escape

Well after surviving travel days through Desmond, Eva, Frank and whatever family storm was brewing at home over Christmas, I was finally able to take advantage of a weather window at the back end of last week, and decompress from what has been another hectic period. I was planning to head back out to Knoydart as I did this time last year, because I still need some photos of Glenpean, but in the end I decided to keep it simple and return to the area west of Corrour Station, which over years has become very much home territory.

My usual stopover is at Staoineag, a bothy I’ve stayed in a grand total of nine times, the most of any bothy that I’ve made acquaintance with. However, on this occasion I pushed onto Meanach, a couple of miles further towards the Glen Nevis watershed. Although the bothy is more basic than its close neighbour, Meanach is set in a wide open stretch of floodplain between the Mamores and the Grey Corries that is very photogenic. It was a little strange to walk past one of my favourite bothies, though my dilemma about changing plans was tempered by the fact that the walk in to Meanach takes you on the opposite bank of the Abhainn Rath. There are stepping stones across the river at this point, but I was pretty focused by then, and resolved to pop in on the way back, just to make sure it wasn’t too offended.

setting off from Corrour Station

three miles down the track and you’re down to Loch Treig

Staoineag on the far bank of the Abhainn Rath

As with any trip in the winter I was carrying in coal – a light weight 5kg on this occasion – though for some reason I’d decided to lug it in in my OMM sack, papoose style over my chest, rather than stick it at the top of my main sack. I think the reasoning was that it was easier to get on and off the train with hand luggage as it were, but I don’t think I’ll be doing it again. I was really starting to toil when the bothy finally came into view, and I was very grateful for the new walking poles I had bought on impulse the day before. Anyway, once I got the fire lit and candles placed around the room, everything made sense again. And although I did make an attempt to asphyxiate myself through a combination of a badly drawing hearth and a cold windless evening, I snuggled up in my sleeping bag and went to bed very content.

finally arriving at Meanach in the gloaming

very necessary beer

In the morning the extra effort was richly rewarded as it had snowed overnight, and the sky was clear. There is something about early morning winter light reflected by fresh snow which I find particularly atmospheric, and although the best shots always come when the sun pops out, I had a very happy morning taking a few extra exposures for the archive. As it was January the said sun did take its time to finally poke its head above the horizon, but I got the image I wanted, and gleefully headed over the bealach to Lairig Leacach in time for lunch and another photo opportunity.

the bothy at just after 9am

finally the sun creeps over the horizon…

Meanach in resplendent sunshine at 10.45

the view south from above the bothy, looking towards Binnein Beag, Sgurr Eilde Mor, with Binnein Mor in the background

posing at the bealach before heading down to Lairig Leacach with Sgurr Innse in the background

Lairig Leacach is in the middle of shot somewhere…

the ford just before the bothy

Here I bumped into a very engaging member of a Winter Skills Course who had unfortunately injured his knee, and had been passing the time waiting for the group’s return from digging snow holes at the top of the Easians, by cleaning out the bothy. I did just about extend my range of conversation beyond you know what, but inevitably edged round to it after a pregnant pause or two. Well we were in a bothy after all. Then it was off back down to the head of Loch Trieg and the final objective of the day, namely a wood collection from the plantation behind Creaguaineach Lodge. I’ve often ambled down here from Staoineag to add to any supplies of fuel I have carried in, but I have to say I pulled out a few stops to get a full sack of branches back to Meanach.

the view back towards Stob Ban

on the descent down to Loch Treig along the course of the Allt na Lairige

It was getting dark as I lumbered up past the final waterfall, and I was conscious that I didn’t want to slip and tweek something myself, because it would have been a long old trudge back to Corrour the following morning. Job done, I had a very satisfying day two fire and the last of my wine, and spent a fruitful couple of hours scribbling notes about future schemes, now that I’ve completed my first objective of the round of MBA’s. I hadn’t got a clear idea about what was next, even the week before I set out on this trip, but it seems obvious now that I will just continue on with my long list of non MBA’s, which should keep me out of mischief for a good chunk of time to come.

As so often happens, I was up early again on my leaving day, and although I was booked on the evening service back to Glasgow, and had planned just to mooch about the bothy a bit before packing up, I was a bit restless, and decided to head out, knowing I could meander back to Corrour pretty slowly. I also had had the offer of a cup of tea by the friendly warden of the Loch Ossian Youth Hostel, who I had met on the station platform as I was heading off, so I knew I wouldn’t be freezing my arse off for hours on end if I arrived ridiculously early for the train. And man was I rewarded again with the pre dawn light. Any grumpiness just melted away as the colours just kept changing, and I almost floated along, so thankful again that I have been able to make it out to the hills between the seemingly relentless series of Atlantic fronts which are so much a feature of the Scottish weather, especially at this time of year. I even got a pretty cool set up of me crossing the steeping stones outside Staoineag, which is a banker shot for the book. Tea brewed, I had another random chat with an passing twenty something on a mission to run all the way to Dalwhinne by night fall, having started out at Fort William at 6 that morning. I gave him the heads up about the potential depth of snow at the Bealach Dubh before you head down to Culra, but he was very much undeterred. Having made a mental note to head back here at some point before the year was out, it was time to head back to Corrour and that promised cuppa at the youth hostel, which was very gratefully received.

looking back to Meanach and Luibeilt in the early dawn

and the view east east reflecting the sunrise in the Abhainn Rath

sun almost reaching over the horizon

and the view west at the same point

the snow capped stepping stones at Staoineag

the bothy is pretty much in shadow for most of the day in the winter time

heading back towards Loch Treig from Staoineag

the very welcome sight of the railway line running along the lower slopes of Garbh – bheinn

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perserverence pays

Seriously regretted watching a documentary about Genesis the night before heading out on my latest foray. In a scene resonant from the last stumbling pages of ‘Touching the Void’, I had ‘Invisible Touch’ running around my head for most of first day of the trip, only to be replaced by the agonising Sussudio, before I was bought back to reality with more prosaic and pressing worry ‘do I have enough gas’. By this point I was well on my way over to Sourlies from Inverie, having caught the train up to Mallaig the morning before, and taken the afternoon ferry across Loch Nevis over to Knoydart and camped on the beach. The plan was to walk through to Glenfinnan via A’chuil and maybe Glenpean, checking out the terrain and bothies for a prospective article, to follow up the piece I wrote last summer. This guide to the best bothies you can get to by bike from a convenient railway station, is going to be published online at ukhillwalking.com in May, though I’m hoping the editor is going to provide a snappier title than that!

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the ferry over to Inverie from Mallaig

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camping by the beach on the site of the Knoydart Festival in Inverie

Having a bit hastily committed myself to the tag bothiesonabike back in 2011, the premise of the article has made me think about the wider ethos of the blog, beyond the simple ticking off of my notional MBA list. Without getting too hippy and environmental and all that, and I do understand that I probably have more free time than most, I hope that my travels illustrate the simple fact that it is perfectly possible to explore even the more remote parts of the highlands and islands – and the borders for that matter – without immediate access to a car. So I was thinking about classic walks that you could do A to B on public transport, and the obvious one that sprung  to mind was a traverse of Knoydart and the ‘Rough Grounds’ between Loch Hourn and Loch Sheil.  I’ve been lucky enough to have wandered across this area a number of times, and although its a bit showy, realised as I was sitting outside Sourlies with my first cup of tea, that it was my fifth visit since there I first ventured out to this idyllic spot some twenty odd years ago. Its still a little frustrating that no one has fixed the draw on the fireplace in all that time, and I still can’t quite get my head around that fact that are no windows facing out into the estuary, but really these are small quibbles.

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posing outside Sourlies

The other apprehension which had been preoccupying me as I headed from the Mam Meadail bealach and down to Carnoch, a mile or so from the bothy, was the state of the bridge over the River Carron. No one had any reliable information in Inverie, but I reasoned that most of the snow melt from the previous week had already subsided, and it was just a case of getting my feet wet if the bridge was out of action. Well its still there at least, though you do need a little Dutch courage to cross it, and its probably best to blank out the obvious warning sign, but hey it all adds to the adventure.

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view of the River Carron looking towards Carnoch and Loch Nevis…wot Scotland really looks like outside of the magazine photo bubble!

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glad I wasn’t walking in in the dark

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still conditions as the tide comes in outside the bothy

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View at dusk from a wee summit above Sourlies, looking down Loch Nevis. A little patience was amply rewarded

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driftwood collected, fire lit

Everything was fine and dandy in the evening until I got down to taking a picture of the fire for the article. Even after all this time pretending to be a photographer, I still haven’t bought a small portable tripod for this task, so for the upteempth time I had to work the shot by balancing the camera on some semi steady platform, and hoping the image didn’t blur because you need at least a half a second exposure. Well I was so preoccupied fussing with this, that when I was actually positioning items for the shot I knocked over the bottle of wine. Jez. Fortunately I had at least already had a glass, but it was still tough to keep the annoyance to a minimum. I have to admit that I did contemplate taking a sip of my cheap cab sav as it coalesced into a puddle on the floor, but I wasn’t really that desperate was I?

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the fireside shot…

Well I survived the evening sober, and in the morning was aware that my head wasn’t quite as fuzzy as it normally is. In fact I was weirdly ready to seize the day at a reasonable hour. Well ten o’clock at least. Even with the time available, I decided against heading on to Glenpean, as I’d heard that a serious amount of forestry clearance work is going on there at the moment. So the days objective was set for A’chuill, which is a mere five miles over the Mam na Cloich Airde, and into Glen Dessarry. There is still 350m on ascent to negotiate, but in terms of a roughty toughty challenge it is small potatoes. I took the walk pretty slowly as the ground was completely sodden, and was very happy that the sun actually came out for a few minutes, so I could get a couple of shots that could be a little more enticing to the potential magazine reader. By mid afternoon, with A’chuil in sight, my mind turned to the evenings entertainment, and the prospect of a night without any alcohol. But as I approached the bothy, a vision was laid before me in the window that made my day. I kindly fellow traveller had left a bottle of beer as I gift, and very gratefully toasted them as I glugged down the contents, and settled down to cook my tea. I have left the odd beer in my time, and always try and leave a full set up of wood and kindling when I leave a bothy if I can, but I did make a mental note to contrive it more often.

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starting the climb out of the glen following the Finiskaig River

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the enchanting little Lochan a Mhaim at the top of the pass

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lunch spot looking down into Glen Dessarry

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a welcome sight

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a set up shot with the miracle beer

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bothy contemplation

The final push over Gleann Cuirnean the next day was not too arduous, and in fact got a little more interesting than I’d bargained for at the bealach, because of the odd slippery snow patch. But I made it out down to Corryhully in time to have a cup of tea before the train was due at Glenfinnan, and had a bit of a chat with a party of kids who were settling in for the evening celebrating a twenty first birthday. I think I have more than enough material to work with for my article.

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A’chuill bothy looking north west over to Sgurr nan Coireachan and Garbh Chioch Bheag

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view up Gleann Cuirnean to the bealach, with Streap Comhlaidh on the left of shot

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Corryhully, ‘the electric bothy’

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the ‘crew’ settling in for the evening

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the Glenfinnan Monument silhouetted against a brief break in the clouds, taken with a slight sense of urgency as I was a little late for the train

zen bothying

Rounded off the year with a trip to Ben Alder Cottage, dusting down my 80 litre rucksack and walking boots, which certainly have been neglected of late. However, such is the habit forming routine I am now experiencing, it didn’t stop me from booking a cycle berth on the train, not even realising til I got to Glasgow and looked through my tickets. Doh! The plan was to hitch down the road from Rannoch to Bridge of Gaur, and then yomp north through the forestry and on up to the bothy. There used to bus a daily bus service to Pitlochry but now it only operates on a Wednesday in the winter, and only three times a week in the summer. And I got lucky, cadging a lift from a guy delivering building supplies to the house next to the station. The binmen were also in attendance, but according to this bloke, who had made the trip a few times, they were supposedly a particularly grumpy lot. A bit more local knowledge to add to the mix.

view west on the walk in to the bothy

view west on the walk in to the bothy

The walk in was certainly as long as I remembered and it took the rest of the day, but I was happy in the knowledge that with a bit of coal in the pack, and plenty of trees near the bothy, a comfortable evening was in store. And so it came to pass. The left hand room has recently been transformed into very plush accommodation, with full wood panelling, a sleeping platform and a substantial, and very welcome, wood burning stove. In fact I had a moment of complete zen like peace warming my wine by the heat of the fire, before starting to get spooked by the inevitable creeks and groans coming from the roof, as the temperature dropped outside. The  ghost stories associated with the bothy are hard to shake from your consciousness.Pan (3438) cover

In the morning it was absolutely freezing, so much so the river had iced up overnight, and I was glad I didn’t have any particular plans for the day. In the end I forced myself up to the first summit before Beinn Bheoil to take some photos, but I was too lethargic to do anything else. I think I deserved a bit of a break from what has been a very enjoyable but at times quite relentless year. The next day I walked out to Corrour via the Bealach Cumhann and Loch Ossian, stomping my way through 3 miles of undisturbed snow before I got to the lodge. I haven’t been so relieved to make a bridge crossing in my life, and almost kissed the railing in gratitude. I was also pretty ecstatic that the bar/cafe at the station was open despite the lateness in the year. A fellow traveller even bought me a pint. Having a bit of a charmed life at the moment.

Ben Alder Cottage

Ben Alder Cottage

view north towards Beinn Bheoil and Loch Ericht

view north towards Beinn Bheoil and Loch Ericht

View east from Sron Coire na-h-Lolaire

View east from Sron Coire na-h-Lolaire

On the walk down back to the cottage

On the walk down back to the cottage

Sun setting over Loch Ossian

Sun setting over Loch Ossian