Monday, 20 December 2010

Loch Lomond to Spean Bridge Pt.2

Argyll had been kind to me, lots of rideable trails, lots of nice weather. However, the second leg was to leave Benderloch and head to Bonawe quarry, to pick up the western shore of Loch Etive.

Loch Etive is impressive, riding from Benderloch, through Connel and past Achnaba, you are given no hint of the great big hairy mountains waiting just round the corner from Bonawe. As soon as you turn that corner, and scuttle through the (working) quarry as fast as you can, you find yourself surrounded, with the Cruachan range on your right, blending in to the massive bulk of Starav further up the glen.

The trail was also impressive, well surfaced and eventually quite thin and interesting. Unfortunately it didn't play well with the trailer, lots of steep descents to stream crossings, followed immediately by steep scrabbly ascents, meant lots of swearing and getting off to push.

The trail ended with one final, ignominious push through a bog, all the while staring up at the Trilleachan Slabs. What the photos don't perhaps do is give a sense of the scale of the slabs, but look closely at the size of the trees and you realise how high they are. Beinn Trilleachan means 'Hill of the Oystercatcher' and right enough, there were plenty of the noisy wee chaps piping away on the shore.

Brief photo-op while hiding from viscious geese on the Glen Etive road

The most memorable view from Glen Etive is the two herdsmen at the end. If you look back, you can catch a glimpse of them guarding the mouth of the Glen in almost every photo.

Intriguingly, up close, there were some interesting looking trails coming out of the bealach between the two hills. One for another day perhaps! Instead, I followed the road around, which brought me out in Glen Coe, at the foot of the iconic Buachaille Etive Mor cliffs.

'Tha Buachaille'. Too many photos and stories about this
hill elsewhere, pure Scottish mountaineering history...

Glen Coe looming, as only Glen Coe can.

The best place to pitch your tent in Glen Coe is on the doorstep of the Glen's best pub, the Kingshouse. A tiny little back door pub full of West Highland Way-ists and climbers, with the occasional cyclist as well. This time I managed to catch the Champion's League final, although, having not learnt from previous experiences in Glen Coe pubs, I left my card behind the bar...

The next day I made it out of the tent at a surprisingly reasonable hour, and was greeted with a pretty nice day. None-the-less, I skipped the usual route to Kinlochleven (via the Devil's Staircase) and followed the road down into Glen Coe. My reasoning was that I'd inevitably have to push the trailer up the staircase, and the rocks and waterbars on the descent could only lead to disaster. I'd ridden it before and could ride it again, just not this time...

Following the coastal road instead, I rolled into Kinlochleven, grabbed a late breakfast at the Ice Factor climbing wall, and prepared to climb back out of the village up the West Highland Way to the Blackwater reservoir.

Halfway up the climb, you can join the aquaduct from the dam. Looks like a road,
but actually contains several huge pipes transporting water to the hydro plant below.

Even highland roads aren't usually this precipitous!

Singletrack on the other side of the glen. This is known as the 'Ciaran Path'
in a lot of guidebooks, and looks stunning.

Looking back down the glen.

This used to be the site of the construction 'village' where the labourers
lived and worked while building the dam. The small fenced area is the
graveyard for those who died on site. For a better account of the life of a
labourer at the dam, read 'Children of the Dead End' by Patrick MacGill.

Your objective: The Blackwater dam. Maybe its because I'm
an engineer by trade, or perhaps I'm just easily impressed,
but far from bemoaning the presence of these sort of structures
to the glens, sometimes I feel they add something.
The upper half of the 'Ciarain Path'. I've carefully omitted the 1km of
bog trotting required to find the start of the good path, just be assured its
worth it, or better yet, ride it in the other direction!

More Ciarain Path, and more Herdsmen.


And views to match.

It continued this way until Loch Chiarain, where I expected to find another bothy. What I hadn't expected was a two story, modern looking mega-bothy such as the one I found.

When the Blackwater Dam was built, the house of a local family in the glen
was flooded. This was apparently the house built for them as a replacement,
which they never-the-less abandoned...

...which might be hard to understand in the summer,
when you've just enjoyed a fantastic ride to reach the place,
but I'll bet this gets bleak in February...

Token shot of the bike outside the bothy
(I have a lot of bike-outside-bothy shots...)

The smoke curling out of the chimney was from a fire lit by a massive bear of a man staying in the bothy. He had been hiking through the area with a rucsac the size (and weight) of a small car, and he gave an alarming demonstration of how he could pop all his vertebrae back into alignment at the end of a long day, not a sound I wish to hear again for a while...

He had sprained his ankle, so was resting up for a day or two. As entertainment, he had set about wresting some ancient preserved pine roots from the bogs nearby, and patiently stripping them into fibres which he used as kindling to gradually dry and then burn the bigger lumps. It was the early days of my bothy apprenticeship so I didn't understand why someone would go to such lengths to light a fire on a warm summer's night, but I've since learnt, EVERY bothy needs a fire, if at all possible. A bothy without a fire is just a cold dank ruined house, with mice.

As we got chatting, a subtle game of one-upmanship developed (actually, this probably happens in any given outdoors situation when two or more men gather round a whisky). In this case, I started by making a cup of tea and offering him some, but he declined in favour of some licquorice thick coffee lurking in the bottom of his mug. Next I got my hip-flask out and offered him some nice 10 yr old Talisker, at which point he broke out the 18 yr old Ardbeg. It was perhaps foolish of me to then offer him a cigarette...

Inevitably, that was the end of the day. The next day I had to make up some ground, so headed off as early as possible, straight back on to the fantastic trail.

However, all good things must come to an end, although it seemed a little unfair that this particular trail got a bit crappy just before it pointed downhill. This is definitely a trail to ride the other way, something I intend to do at the next available opportunity.

Loch Treig, Creaguaineach Lodge and Creag Guanach

Having descended to the landrover track at the end of Loch Treig, I turned west again and headed for the bridge across the Abhainn Rath. The usual 'circuit' through this area takes you along the banks of the Abhainn Rath, having come from either Kinlochleven or Spean Bridge (via the 'high road' through Lairig Leacach).

Care to guess which way the wind blows along
this glen?

Beautiful bridge, and if I say so myself, nice picture, if I'd
bothered to set the self timer properly that is!

Unfortunately, with my usual blend of obstinance and dumb optimism, I decided to ignore the 'beaten paths' and chose a different route, the 'Low Road' through Lairig Leacach.

Glen of Insufferable Bogginess.

What an epic trudge it turned out to be. Initial signs were good:

But the Tolkein-esque gorge suddenly opened out into a great big boggy strath, and the 'riding' took a depressingly familiar turn for the worse:



For bloody miles.

Nothing like a couple of good waterfalls to lift your spirits though...

Or, for that matter, a big spikey mountain... (Sgurre Innse)

...half a bothy...

...or a big fast winding landrover track back to civilisation!
(big fast winding landrover tracks are 100% more fun with
10kg+ of trailer pushing from behind...)

And that was the end of the trip, basically. My original plans had been for three more days following the Great Glen Way to Invergarry, then the Cam Bealach to Loch Garry, and THEN the minor road to Kinlochhourne, and THEN the Mam Barrisdale track to Inverie in Knoydart. Rolling into Spean Bridge though, I decided just to find a campsite, rest up for the night and clean some clothes, before deciding what to do the next day.

Say goodbye to the mountains...

Bugger off sign, I want food and bed!

Showing me the way to the pub.

And that, as they say, was that. A family funeral unfortunately made my decision for me, however I had had my fill of wilderness and bogs for one trip, and after all, Knoydart deserves better than tired legs and worn chains. For another trip...


1 comment:

  1. OK, as I've lost my password and it transpires that Google's security questions are tougher than my online banking, I have started a new blog based very closely on this one over at

    Thanks for reading.