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the Watershed Epic

Leg 4 - Ben Alder to Barrisdale Forest

Eight days walking from near the heart of Scotland, to some of the wildest and remotest terrain in the land, and much of it virtually trackless. This leg took me through magnificent country, which at times seemed like a great ocean of peaks and ridges stretching to the horizon in every direction; wave upon wave of grandeur.

Into the heart of Scotland:

As I descended into the corrie below Ben Alder on a calm sunny evening, I found deer standing reflected in the placid waters of a loch. The backdrop of high snow crested crags completed the magnificent scene. But it changed soon enough as I encountered the vast bog and peat hags that form the watershed between Lochs Ericht and Pattack. A squelcher on a grand scale. Culra Bothy for the night gave good shelter, and good company with other fellow travellers.

Farewell to Ben Alder

This area must be very near to the heart of Scotland. Somewhere just south of here, at Drummochter perhaps the complexity of Scotland’s physical geography is very apparent, for there is another big watershed over the Cairngorms. A number of major river valleys radiate; the Garry/Tummel/Tay complex, those of the Angus Glens, the Dee, the Don and Avon all bring us back round in a vast anticlockwise sweep to the Spey. But all this is on the east side of the watershed of Scotland, for all drain into the North Sea.

Queen Victoria was here:

Monarch of the GlenNorthwards for a spell over Ben Eilde brought me into Badenoch and the famous `Monarch of the Glen` country. Rain and a good soaking as I made my way down through the forest towards Inverpattack prompted a retreat for the night to the splendid bunkhouse at Laggan. For the princely sum of £10, I had the place to myself. Back up to the watershed next day, and I discovered that I had just missed filming for the last and final series, in which Hector apparently returns from the grave!

A steady climb onto Carn Liath gave fine views of Loch Laggan and Ardverikie itself. The headwaters of the Spey, which are captured for Hydro Electric power and channelled west instead of draining naturally to the north east came into view. And General Wade`s Corrieyairack road could be seen zig zagging up towards the high pass. Purple Saxifrage was starting to blossom on the ridge, and the wind began to rise. It rose, and blew a hoolie at the back of Creag Meagaidh. A shower near the summit, and poor visibility found me taking shelter in a hollow for a much needed brew up, then down and northwards to the watershed between Loch Spey and the headwaters of Glen Roy.

Gateway to what, on Carn Liath above Loch Laggan

Great Glen in sight:

Another vast bog, with the remains of an iron fence running across the middle of it took me to a nights shelter from the wind in a Bothy and the good company of a couple of keen bothiers who had brought coal for the fire; convivial indeed. More peat hags and swamp the next day took me north west via Carn Leac and Carn Dearg, to descend through a dense pine forest to Laggan in the Great Glen. A collar full of pine needles emphasised the horrors of trying to navigate through this kind of commercial woodland. And through breaks in the mist, the great bulk of the hills across in Glengarry Forrest on the other side of the Great Glen came into view.

Patterns in the sky above (another) Carn Dearg near head of Glen roy and Spey

Wild flowers in profusion spread a tapestry of colour all the way onto Ben Tee and beyond, and yes, midges filled the evening and early morning air. Loch Ness stretched into the distance on one side, and a glimpse of Loch Lochy could be seen peeping round the base of a neighbouring Munro. Time to stop and take in the view, north to Lochs Garry and Loyne, with the old road from via Tomdoun weaving across and up the eastern end of the south Glen Shiel ridge; a lonely road it must have been.
And all of the hills to the south that I had so recently passed through and over glowed warm in the early summer sun.

The wild west:

Jim Shedden with Loch Arkaig looking East

The watershed is a squiggly line, and takes many a dive east and west before heading north again. This was one such meander; a 40 km sweep west above Loch Arkaig and into the wild bounds of Barrisdale Forest. I was glad of Jim Shedden`s company on a couple of days on this stretch as we headed towards the majestic, and somewhat mysterious Sgur na Ciche with its head in the clouds. Time beat us, and Jim had to head for home. I descended to the dam at the head of Loch Quoich.

down to size and into the rough Bounds of BarrisdaleThis had been a challenging and very rewarding stretch, which ended in a remote spot where water and rock seemed to rule. More evidence, if it were needed, of the true wildness of the Watershed. I’ve been meeting on average about one other walker a day, and this in spite of the large number of Munros on the route. I’m probably physically fitter now than at any other time in the past forty or more years. The fulfilment and pleasure that I’m getting from this epic journey is beyond measure. Logistical support from Charles Black and Jim Shedden has been much appreciated.

Kit `n kaboodle:

Some lighter weight waterproofs from Aktive8 have helped lighten the load a bit. Thankfully my gammy foot, which had given me a lot of trouble on walks over the last few years, is bearing up really well thanks in part to the quality of the boots I’m using, and a bit of extra strapping and support. Sponsorship is a bit slow, so I’ll need to give that a bit of attention. But I’ll also appeal to everyone who reads this to pester everyone on their Christmas card list to give this intrepid epic walker a bit of sponsorship for the two very worthy causes I’ve elected to support.

Loch Nevis with Knoydart on right

The watershed epic is shaping up supremely well. When I think of the huge distance I`ve already travelled since the start away down on the English border back in January, I`m astonished (and delighted). The next instalment covering the `Rough Bounds` to Wester Ross should appear in early August.