Whiteburn's Wanderings

One man's wanderings backpacking around Scotland plus the odd digression

East Highland Wild Way

25th March 2013

I was looking for a decent training trip as I’d just received notification that I’d gained a place on the 2013 TGO Challenge and a good forecast for the central highlands got me thinking of an alternative to the East Highland Way.  I don’t like the ‘official’ route of the EHW, I think far too much forestry (like the Great Glen Way) and not enough wild country.

It didn’t take long to make up my own route most of which I walked before on various outings over the years.  I decided to skip starting at Aviemore and the walk through the Inshriach forest as I’d past that way a few weeks earlier; so kicking off in Newtonmore it was to be!

The 55 Club provided me with a £19 train ticket from Inverurie to Newtonmore which would get me into town in time for a spot of lunch before heading off up to the Dalnashallag bothy in Glen Banchor for the night; all was not going to go to plan!

The train pulled into Inverurie station on time; we all boarded and then sat there watching the platform for 15mins before being told that we were going nowhere and to disembark.  It took another 15 mins before we were informed that an incident on the line a few miles north had closed the line and we would be bused to Inverness.

It was a long wait for the coach to arrive and a slow journey to Inverness, late but catching the next train would still along enough time to get up to Dalnashallag or a wild camp a few km’s before.

Sat on the train the train waiting for the off and the announcement came, a derailment south of Inverness blocking the line, another bus had been called for.  Nearly an hour later I got back on the coach I’d arrived on, it dropped me off in Newtonmore (http://www.highlandhostel.co.uk/), at just after 5pm.  Two choices: stick to plan and head off into the growing darkness; stay in the Newtonmore Hostel, go to the pub and head off in the morning; the hostel and the pub won!  Sue and Ali proved very welcoming and I was soon installed in the main house in a twin room by myself.

26th March 2013

Newtonmore to Blackburn of Pattock, 36km, 500m ascent.

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After a very comfortable overnight’s stay at the hostel, a couple bacon butties (courtesy of a shopping trip down to the Co-op) , lashings of tea, it was out into a very frosty morning at 08:00 and the plod up the road towards Glen Banchor, following the route of the East Highland Way.  At nearly 12kg, with 4.5 kg of that being food for 5days, the rucksack felt heavy on the first steep bit out of town but perhaps that was also a little to do with the quantity of Cairngorms ale consumed the night before.

It didn’t seem to take long to leave the tarmac and LR track behind and be in Glen Banchor proper ‘enjoying’ the brisk tail wind and occasional snow flurries; the Dalnashallag bothy soon came into sight and with the ground frozen solid crossing the ‘bogs’ was a doddle.

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Last time I was past here the ford across the Allt Madagain was raging torrent and I had to march upstream a good ways to find a spot where I was happy to cross, today slipping on the ice was more of a concern.

The splendour of the glen was short lived as a LR track provided a rapid descent to Balgowan and the start of a 5km tarmac trudge along the old military road through Laggan (pity that the shop here has closed, a cuppa would have been most welcome) and up the Garva Bridge road to the crossing of the Spey.

Off to the west Carn Dubh and Carn Liath looked quite wintery.

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The route through the Black Wood to Feagor is reasonably interesting (for a forest) and it does avoid a chunk of scary walking along the A86, as well as providing a sheltered spot for a lunch stop with a brew.

I finally waved bye-bye to the EHW to head off up the track through Gallovie and then followed the River Pattock up towards its source.  The walk proved more interesting than anticipated; I find that on most routes my eye is generally focused outwards to the higher slopes and summits, here the river and intermittent woods of birch and Scots pine provided endless close range interest, it would need someone more skilled with a camera than me (that’s not hard) to do the place justice.

I finally decided to stop for the night at a stand of Scots pines around 2km before Loch Pattack (NN 544817), it was nearly 6pm and the light was fading; there was still a stiff easterly wind blowing with occasion hail/ snow flurries and the trees didn’t provide much in the way of shelter.  The ground was frozen solid and I had to beat the Trailstars pegs in with rock from a handy pile close by.

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In the morning that I noticed that the handy pile of rocks was in fact the remains of a chimney stack and that the outline of a foundation could also be seen; later I found out that this was the site of the ‘Blackburn of Pattock’ bothy which apparently burnt down around 1993.

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27th March 2013

Blackburn of Pattock to Loch Ossian – 21km, 350m ascent.

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It was a late start after enjoying a leisurely breakfast and several mugs of coffee while tucked up in bed avoiding the -7C !  I finally summoned up enough motivation to break camp (or was it that nature called?) and get on the road around 9:15.

Next to Loch Pattock stands a lonely pair of gate posts, witnesses of the Victorian predilection for demonstrating ownership and perhaps domination of the landscape.

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Beyond Loch Pattock the country gets wilder; the Culra bothy is out there somewhere.

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I called into the Culra and enjoyed an early lunch before setting off up the glen towards Bealach Dubh.

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The weather had improved steadily through the day, after a few snow flurries and by mid afternoon I was enjoying alpine like conditions.  The wind scoured slopes going up to Bealach Dubh proved a little easier going than I expected despite the stalkers path being invisible.

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The view down the glen towards Loch Ossian was quite impressive; again no path was visible so I simply traversed quite high across the northern slopes of Ben Alder and Beinn a’Chumhainn picking out the consolidated snow fields where possible until finally descending to the river around half way down the glen.

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The path to down to Corrour Lodge was the most difficult section of the day, although shown on the map the ‘path’ is really a collection of deer trails that twist, turn, divide then join, disappear altogether and then re-appear 100m further on.  All this while trudging through 30cm of soft snow and occasionally plunging through up to the thighs, good character building stuff but slow going.

It was nearly 5pm by the time I approached Corrour Lodge, I was feeling quite tired and was looking for a campsite.  I ignored a likely looking spot close to the footbridge over the Uisge Labhair (NN 417701), “there’ll be a better spot further on”, wrong!  I ended up getting pitched up by the track through the forestry (NN 407689) which was very stony and frozen so I really struggled to get the pegs in.

28th March 2013

Loch Ossian to Meannanach bothy – 17km, 150m ascent.

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Had a very, very, very lazy start to the day, even in the shelter of the trees it was -6C at 7am so I rolled over for an hour. By 8:30am the sun had defrosted and dried the Trailstar so I took the opportunity to ‘air out’ the sleeping bag while I enjoyed a relaxed breakfast in the sunshine.  In winter I find that airing the bag needs to be done frequently to stop moisture gradually degrading the performance.

The amble down the track along Loch Ossian and past the SYHA would be pretty un-interesting if it wasn’t for the setting; the bleakness seems to make it magical.

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I was glad I’d chose to camp where I did, rather than press on the night before, as I didn’t see any good camping spots along the loch side.  It did look as though there were some spots local to the SYHA and a few kilometres further on next to the railway underpass (NN 343680) but the rest of the ground looked boggy or thick heather.

Descending to Loch Treig I dropped below the snow line and was surprised at how dry the ground was, the loch looked low and on reaching Creaguaineach Lodge the Abhainn Rath looked low for the spring.  The footbridge here isn’t for those of a nervous disposition; 7-8m above the river, rusty metal, rotten boards, holes and no handrails; no doubt it will outlast me.

Had lunch in the trees by the lodge before heading off up the FP towards Glen Nevis, after half an hour the Staoineag bothy came into view.  I crossed the stepping stones and checked out the bothy, no-one at home but everything tidy.

A further hour’s dawdle and I reached my chosen spot for the night the Meannanach bothy after what had been quite a leisurely day.

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It made a change to go to bed with the ambient temperature above freezing, +2C.

28th March 2013

Meannanach bothy to Fort william – 22km, 160m ascent.

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Just across the river from Meannanach is the now derelict Luibeilt farmhouse and the LR track running down Loch Eilde Mor to Kinlochleven, today the river was fordable, but not without getting wet feet so I decided not to go and take a look.

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Continuing west the path reaches the water shed around Tom an Eite, a fine piece of country with peaks towering either side of the glen and the Ben straight ahead.

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I stopped off for lunch and a bit of sunbathing by the Steall ruins and watched a pair of golden eagles soaring over the crags of An Gearanach, all very tranquil.

Only a few hundred meters down the valley and the tourist hoards were present….hundreds of them.  I was glad to reach the lower footbridge, escape to the solitude of the southern bank and then into the forest at Achriabhach.

The trog down Glen Nevis through the forest is quite boring but infinitely superior than hitting the tarmac (the Service 41 bus doesn’t run until summer) and the occasional glimpses of the Ben through the trees did break the monotony.

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All that was left to do was to hit the chipper, sink a couple of pints and then head off into the woods to get pitched up for the night, it had been a good 4 day trip!

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2 comments on “East Highland Wild Way

  1. Scotlands Mountains
    April 4, 2014

    You might have given me a credit for using my picture of Blackburn of Pattack bothy !
    Alex 🙂

    • Paul Atkinson
      April 5, 2014

      You’re quite correct, forgive the ignorance. I’m quite at a loss locating the source now.
      With the Culra closed at the moment it’s a pity the Blackburn was still with us, it was definitely in a nice spot.

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This entry was posted on September 28, 2013 by in Trip Reports and tagged , .
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