Now at last, things are getting interesting, with lots of Bens and Beinns, Lochs and Moors to be experienced in all their mystery and splendour. This leg involved ten days walking. And although the earlier legs had not been lacking in variety, this one had challenge and interest aplenty.
Ben Lomond was shrouded in mist, so I was left to imagine the great views of the Loch, which lay on my left. And the upper reaches of the Forth Valley to my right were similarly dependent on my memory of earlier climbs hereabouts. Down to the hills around Loch Arklet, and a welcome brew up at Stronahlachar looking down Loch Katrine.
There I was reminded by someone who came to marvel at the vista, that whilst this loch does indeed drain naturally into the Forth, some of the water is hi-jacked as the main water supply for Glasgow – thus, eventually finding its way into the Clyde. The watershed has been confused here. But the scenery is superb, and recently announced plans by Scottish Water and to create a vast native woodland forest over the next few years are a welcome development.
This is Rob Roy country through his association with Glengyle at the head of Loch Katrine. A night of heavy rain turned the watershed at the head of this wee glen into a squelching quagmire, which had, of necessity to be skirted. A rest day in Crianlarich was welcome, but quickly exhausted its potential. Then back out with my son Kenneth on a cluster of hills to the N.E of Tyndrum – steep, but wonderful underfoot with short dry grass and rock. Ben Lui`s jagged profile eventually emerged from the mist.
Charles Black very kindly gave me a lift up to re-start towards the end of May, and walked in to Beinn Achaladair with me. He left me at the summit to return to Edinburgh, whilst I headed N. E along one side of Tulla Water. On Beinn a Creachain, I melted snow from a high corrie for a cup of high tea. Crossing the vast bog at the head of Tulla Water, where the railway enters Rannoch Forest on its way towards Rannoch Station was a difficult business; I feared that I might be sucked into a peat hag, never to be heard of again. But the construction of the railway in such terrain must have challenged the engineering expertise of the day. Down the other side of Tulla Water on smaller hills and another vast bog, saw me start on a three-day circumnavigation of Rannoch Moor, in a clockwise direction. I saw it from every angle, and experienced its bounds in all of their wonder and wetness. Judging by the number of deer antlers I saw lying around, few people venture this way – but such is the nature of the watershed.
Down onto and across the A82 near the `Rannoch Rowan`, and then up a hill with a monument marked on the OS map. There I found a poignant inscription:
`In memory of Ronald Harvey
Who died on 1st December 1962, aged 25
We cast his ashes to roam on the wind over these hills,
which he knew and loved so much.
We leave him to travel alone
the paths we traveled together.
He shall be with us when we return.
The roar of the stag,
the cry of the bird,
the sign of the wind,
shall be his constant companions.
His passing has been the sunset of our friendship`
He would have been 67 years old now. If every tragic fatality in the hills produced a monument, it would be an intrusion on the wildness, but this one probably speaks for many; yes, for the sense of loss, but also for a shared wonder and passion for wild places.
A good bowl of soup, mediocre tea, and surly barmaid service in the Kinghouse led on past Black Corries Lodge and up onto the ridge betwixt Rannoch Moor and the Blackwater. A delightful camping spot beside a loch was enriched by views down Glencoe and Glen Ettive that were truly dramatic.
With cloud at about 700m, all of the tops were lost to sight, and looking down these glens was like looking into the throats of a couple of huge monsters – all jagged and belching smoke. Huge boulders on the top of Stob na Cruachie have given rise to traditions about the wild deeds of local clansmen, as they hurled them about in a show of strength.
Down to Rannoch Station and a marvelous cup of tea in the hotel there, then back up towards the snow tunnel on the railway to camp in readiness for another bog crossing. But it turned out a bit less mire-like than I had feared. Having looked doubtfully at this northern arm of Rannoch Moor from the Road to the Isles near the remains of Old Corrour Lodge, last year, I had this feeling that it was uncrossable. But cross it I did, and without harm or severe danger.
The long ridge up onto Carn Dearg followed, with wonderful lochans in each of the colls between the successive tops. The cairn on top of Carn Dearg is an impressive 7 foot high, and beautifully constructed.
A few more tops heading ever Eastwards above Loch Ossian and its feeder the Uisge Labhair took me further from my transport at Corrour Station and new supplies at Fort William. But it was one of those days – bright sunshine, clear views, and occasional dramatic showers that could be seen heading my way half an hour before they arrived. A day in which the going seemed so easy and fulfilling, and the walk out via loch Ossian was pure pleasure.
I returned to Loch Ossian Hostel by Corrour, duly re-supplied, and after a good night in this, one of SYHA`s most delightful venues, headed up the Loch past the new Corrour Lodge at the other end. It was a hive of activity, with ever more money being lavished on landscaping. Then up towards the Bealach Cubhain and onto Ben Alder itself. Ben Alder, a turning point where I finally said farewell to Rannoch Moor, and was able to take in some of the Hills and terrain that lay ahead.
The Great plateau provided magnificent walking. If I`d had a Munro Map, the list that could have been identified on this glorious day, would have been extensive. But I was content to just marvel at it all – a patchwork of peaks , lochs, distant forest, and nearer snow filled corries. It was a stunning finale to this leg.
I mentioned boots in an earlier log. They are HanWag, and I got them from `Aktive8` in Edinburgh – best boots ever! No blisters, no problems with my gammy foot, and kept me dry for up to six days on the trot (or walk). My stove is a great wee gadget – a `Jet Boil`, also from Ativate8. Tent is a `Dragonfly` by Mountain Equipment – and like just about everything else – from Active8. At the start of this leg, my pack weighed in at about 24kilo`s – quite heavy enough thank-you.
And a wee word about fitness: I built up my general level of fitness over the past couple of years by:
- Swimming 20 lengths every morning midweek in Holmes Place, in the Omni Centre, Edinburgh
- Taking part in the swimming section of the Gullane Triathlon last year.
- Tackling a series of 2 and 3 day treks in the hills with full kit.
- And loosing about 2 stone in weight!
I`m gradually building up a distinctive picture of Scotland – geography, landscapes, river valleys, lochs, hilly places, and a glimpse here and there of the odd settlement. Truthfully, it spans the full spectrum of everything from the mundane to the magical. It will be evident that its about a lot more than just climbing mountains. Some folks I have spoken to take quickly to the concept of the watershed, especially when I say `imagine you are a raindrop, and you land on Scotland ….` Others have a bit more difficulty, and think first of the various long distance footpaths as being part of the route. But in reality there are few paths along any of the Watershed - plenty of bog though!