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Rannoch to East Highland Way

Rannoch to East Highland Way


Postby westgate » Tue Jun 12, 2018 5:12 pm

Route description: East Highland Way

Date walked: 29/05/2018

Time taken: 6 days

Distance: 113 km

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I had planned on walking the East Highland Way, starting at Fort William, but decided instead to follow the suggestion of 'irishwaha' on this site and omit the first couple of stages and start further south at Rannoch station. The early stages sounded the least interesting and offered limited options for wild camping. But unlike 'irishwaha', who headed roughly north east from Loch Ossian to join EHW at the east end of Loch Laggan, I wanted to camp at the west shore of Loch Laggan and walk the route alongside the Loch. So from Loch Ossian I continued roughly due north to Loch Ghuilbinn and then cross country to join EHW at Moy Bridge and thence follow it to Aviemore.

However, anyone following my route should be aware there is no footpath between Loch Ghuilbinn and the footpath leading to the western shore of Loch Laggan, a distance of about four miles. So you must be prepared for some cross country yomping, and if it has been wet, some bog-stomping. There are a few streams to cross and one river. These were no problem when I did the walk as it had been a dry May, but in wet weather they might pose more of a challenge.

Day one. Manchester to Rannoch moor. 6 miles walking

I flew from Manchester to Glasgow. I took my tent on as hand luggage, but forgot about the tent pegs inside! The x-ray scanner spotted 'sharp metal objects'. Luckily, after a hand search and close examination I was allowed to keep them. I bought a gas canister in Glasgow as I knew it would not be allowed on the flight, but bought too small a size. It ran out after three days, so no cup of tea in the morning thereafter.

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Scotrail train on the beautiful Glasgow to Mallaig line

From Glasgow I caught the train on the line which snakes its way through beautiful countryside following the West Highland Way for much of its route, bringing back fond memories. Walkers on the route waved at the train. After three hours it arrived at my destination - Rannoch station.

I was the only walker to alight, and I set off eastwards on the B846 for a couple of miles. The weather was warm and sunny, and I quickly left behind the station and began to feel remote and isolated. I was both anxious and excited. I am 68 yerars old and this was my first multi-day wild camping trip. And Rannoch moor has a fearsome reputation in bad weather.

I left the road and headed north on a clear path, and the glorious weather gave me reassurance. I filled my water bottles using my newly-purchased filter, and headed up onto the moor. i had secretly hoped I might make Loch Ossian for the night, but after three hours (following an early start to the day) accepted this was not realistic. So I found a spot on the moor and pitched my tent. I had a cup of tea and rehydrated a meal of chicken curry. It was a wonderful evening. Completely isolated, not a sound except for the birds. The sun slowly dipping to the horizon, and uninterrupted views across the moor. This is what I have come for. A peak experience.

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First night camping

Day 2 Rannoch to Loch Laggan 16 miles

I woke to a beautiful morning. Not a breath of wind, sunshine, a clear sky. Not another soul to be seen.

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Cup of tea, breakfast, pack up tent and off. A comfortable and peaceful walk heading north to Loch Ossian, where I stopped for a water refill and a mid-morning snack..

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Loch Ossian

As I headed to the north-eastern end of the Loch I was surprised to find holiday cottages, people and cars. I thought I was in the middle of remote Rannoch moor, but clearly there is vehicle access for tourists. I headed north on a wide gravel road before leaving it right to follow the River Ossian heading for Loch Ghuilbinn where I stopped for lunch.

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River Ossian

From hereon I had decided to push northwards to reach the west shore of Loch Laggan. But there was no footpath, so it was a question of following my compass bearing and walking across moorland and spongy grass. I was fortunate, it had been an unusually dry May, so the ground was mostly dry. But in wetter months it looked as though it could be boggy and marshy. There were some streams to cross and one river. Again, the low water levels meant these posed no problem. I surprised two deer who scampered off across the moor. After some three hours of tough walking I joined the wide footpath leading to the west shore of Loch Laggan. The slog had been worth it. A beautiful spot for wild camping.

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The western beach of Loch Laggan


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Camping on the shores of Loch Laggan


Day 3 Loch Laggan to Laggan village 16.1 miles

It was windy and some rain during the night. In the morning the sky was glowering and threatening.

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Threatening sky

But by 9am the sun was peeking through and an hour after that it was back to sun hat, sunglasses and sun cream as for the last two days. It was a beautiful morning walk along the southern shore of Loch Laggan with a cuckoo calling in the woods. After some 4 miles the path diverts uphill into forestry commission land. It is an uphill slog but with rhododendron bushes in full flower to brighten the way.

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Rhododendron bushes

Eventually the path begins to descend and turns into a tarmac road which is the private road for the Ardverikie estate. The road is lined with magnificent mature pines trees and other conifers. Not the boring forestry commission plantations, but proper tall, proud Scottish trees. And then the wonderful chateau-style manor house - Arverdruie Castle - hoves into view. Made famous as Glenbogle in the Monarch of the Glen TV series.

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Ardverikie House

I missed the supposed new route designed to avoid walking along the A86, as do most people it seems. Perhaps it should be waymarked, as the couple of miles walking along the busy A86 is not pleasant. Eventually I arrived at the bottom of Pattack Falls, though as it had been such an unusually dry May they were not in full spate. I re-filled my water bottles and chatted to a fisherman bemoaning the low water levels and hot weather.

I crossed the road and headed towards the Spey Dam. The route is through Forestry Commission plantations on wide tracks. Not the most exciting walking. I had planned on camping on the north bank of the river Spey, but there was nowhere suitable, so I pressed on towards Laggan. I was well ahead of schedule so this was no problem. As I approached Laggan village I was seeking somewhere for the night, but all the land was fenced off farmland. I tried a farmhouse, but no answer. I discovered later the house was empty and the land farmed by an adjacent farmer. I arrived at Laggan stores to see a Closed sign outside. But let me give a shout out for Laggan stores. The new owner saw me looking plaintively at the closed sign, and said he was still open if I wanted something other than hot food. A cup of tea, a slice of home-made lemon cake and a raspberry ripple ice-cream went down a treat at the end of such a hot day.

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Laggan Stores

But I still had no where to stay, and looking on my map it seemed a few more miles before I got back to open moorland. But talking to the owner of Laggan stores, he said people often camped behind the churchyard opposite and then came to him for breakfast in the morning. And there was a public toilet directly opposite. And what a lovely toilet. Large, clean, toilet paper, liquid soap - an absolute wonderful find after three days wild camping. So I ensconced myself discreetly behind the church for the night.My gas ran out after heating water for my meal and a cup of tea. Not a disaster as I had planned on eating at villages en route from hereon. But a useful lesson on how long cartridges last.

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The graveyard shift

Day 4 Laggan village to Kinussie 14.3 miles

I slept well. (Graveyards are obviously good for me!) And used the lovely toilets before crossing the road to the Laggan stores for a bacon roll, orange juice and a pot of tea. A great start to the day.

The plan for today was to walk slightly beyond Newtonmore, set up camp, then return to eat in the town and perhaps a pint. I set off along the A86 (a constant companion on this walk) and after about a mile turned left up into the small village of Balgowan and then left off the road, heading onto the moors. Initially through woods, and then onto open ground. I'm glad I didn't need to do this last night to find a camping spot. The weather was fine once again, and no midges. The moors were wide, open and deserted. After three miles Dalnashallag bothy comes into view. This is my first visit to a bothy.

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Dalnashallag bothy

Outside it looks like a derelict shack, but inside it is delightful. Two couches, a fireplace, chairs and a BBQ.

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Cosy inside

And a shelf with assorted useful items to take if you have run out. Such as gas canisters (no, I didn't take one), boot laces, midge repellent and tea bags. How kind and thoughtful. I signed the visitors book and then to my surprise another walker arrived. He was also doing the EHW. We chatted for a while, then he departed, but we were to meet again later on the trip.

From the bothy, it was following the River Calder downhill towards Newtonmore. But when I arrived what a disappointment. Maybe I didn't find the heart of the town, but on the main A86 it was bleak and uninviting. My image of pubs, shops, tea rooms and chippies was shattered. I rapidly decided to move to a Plan B and press on rather than camp and return here to eat. Looking at the map, Loch Gynack looked a tempting spot for overnight camping. The only problem was I did not have a proper evening meal. However, I had plenty of snack food - nuts, raisns, energy bars, crisps. So I would not starve. I left the road and climbed back up onto the moors before turuning east towards Loch Gynack.

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Bright yellow gorse on the road leading out of Newtonmore up towards the moors

But it became clear that my plans for an idyllic campsite by the Loch were not going to materialise. The path followed the contours some way above the Loch, and the ground sloped steeply down to the water's edge and was covered in heather, gorse and bracken. Quite unsuitable for pitching a tent.

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Loch Gynack

So it was onto Plan C.Looking at the map again, there was no obvious spot for camping before Kinussie, nor indeed beyond the town. Still I continued, as the alternative was to retrace my steps back to the open the moorland before the Loch. The path started its descent towards Kinussie, through forest and then joining a circular walk around the golf course. For a fleeting moment I was tempted to pitch my tent on the 18th green, but thought better of it. I joined the quiet road descending into Kinussie, with a narrow strip of wood on my right, then the Gynack Burn and on the far bank the golf course. Suddenly I spotted a small patch in the woods which was flatter and not overgrown. A quick investigation and this was selected as my campsite for the night.

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I had walked some 4.3 miles more than planned, so was ready to stop. The river supplied my water (using my water filter) but also encouraged midges which had not been a problem till now. Fortunately Smidge (the first time I have used it) worked well.As soon as I had pitched my tent, I headed the half mile downhill into Kinussie to see what it had to offer. It did not disappoint. Two art galleries, a bookshop, tea rooms, chippies, take-aways, pubs and shops. Fish, chips, mushy peas and a mug of tea went down a treat before returning uphill to my tent tucked out of sight next to the river.

Day 5 Kinussie to Drakes bothy 12 miles

It rained during the night but had stopped by the morning - again! But I woke to a rather damp, misty, midgy morning. My original plan had been to breakfast in Kinussie and then head to Loch Insh for an early dinner before continuing to my overnight camp. But as I was a few miles ahead of my plan, I decided to skip breakfast and press on to Loch Insh for lunch, relax for a while there, then have a leisurely afternoon walk to my camping spot.

I crossed the A86 through Kinussie, which had tempting tea rooms, but I resisted and continued, now in bright sunshine after the misty start, towards Ruthven barracks, an imposing sight perched atop a large mound.

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The next stage of the walk is a short but delightful path through Insh Marshes, an RSPB reserve with viewing hides and glorious views across the marshes. But after crossing the River Tromie, the route quickly returns to forest paths heading uphill,

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River Tromie

After some six miles of forest walking the path descends to Loch Insh, location for a busy watersports centre and my lunch spot. I espy the chap I met yesterday at Dalnshallag bothy and we lunch together in the bustling bar full of people on water sports courses. It has started to rain for the first time (during the day time) on the trip. I relax and catch up on emails and recall a holiday some 20 years previously at the Centre. But I cannot put departure off indefinitely and decide I will have to don waterproofs. But of course, no more than 10 minutes after I set off the rain stops and off come the waterproofs.

A mile beyond Loch Insh is the Frank Bruce sculpture trail. A series of dramatic wood carvings (and some in stone) set in an area of the forest. It's worth a stop. I secreted my pack so I could walk round briskly unencumbered.

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Frank Bruce sculpture

After crossing the river at Feshiebridge the path once again heads into Forestry Commission plantation, following wide and unexciting tracks. After some three miles walking through the forests the route diverts onto a smaller path, marked by a large cairn (clearly many walkers must miss this turning) and shortly after, in a small clearing Drake's bothy is spotted. It is located in Inshriach Nature Reserve, an ancient Caledonian forest,with space for wild camping close by.

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Drake's bothy

But two other tents are already there, and shortly afterwards two others arrive. More of a campsite than wild camping! But there are few other options in the forest which is rough and uneven. One of the other tents is the person I have seen over the last two days and lunched with today at Loch Insh. It is pleasant to have some company for a chat. But I pitch a bit away to keep a sense of wild camping.

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The thunderstorms for the last two days have held off with no more than a shower at Loch Insh. I settle to my final night camping.

Day 6 Drakes bothy to Aviemore 6 miles

Rain again in the night but the morning was just damp and midgy. I am doing well with night time rain. After breakfast and breaking camp, I walk slowly downhill through the ancient woodlands of the nature reserve. This is a unique ecosystem and home to some of the rarest wildlife - though I didn't see any. I didn't want the walk to end, so took my time and reflected on the past 6 days. It had been hard but hugely successful. As I descended, I came first to Loch Gamhna and then to the larger Loch Eilein, shrouded in light mist and with water lilies on the surface. A magical moment.

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Loch Eilein

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And so finally back to civilisation as I reach the road leading into Aviemore. I stop at Rothiemurchus Visitor centre, highly recommended. The old school house has been tastefully converted into a tea room, gift shop and farm shop. I relaxed and enjoyed a black pudding breakfast roll and a large pot of tea. And after a look round and purchasing a small gift to take home I walk the final mile into Aviemore. Busy and bustling on a Sunday morning. The steam train was puffing in and out of the station taking excited tourists on trips. Walkers were ambling along the street. It all seemed a mile away from the remoteness, peace and tranquility of the ancient Caledonian pine forest where I spent last night.

I treated myself to a night in a hotel. And the hot bath was absolute luxury. Followed by a couple of pints in the evening, a meal and a proper bed with delicious clean sheets. To sleep and dream of the next adventure.

Postscript

Would I recommend the East Highland Way? Not really, though I appreciate people want different things from walks, so it is just my personal opinion. The good points are it is mostly low level, so a gentle introduction to long distance walking for newcomers. But it is poorly signed and waymarked, so in that sense not so good for novices. You will need a map and the guidebook. There are some lovely stretches: by Loch Laggan; the moors above Newtonmore and Kinussie; the short stretch across Insh marshes; and the final walk down to Aviemore through Inshriach nature reserve. But much of the rest is on Forestry Commission roads through conifer plantations or on public roads. Options for wild camping are limited. One sees little of the true grandeur and majesty of the Scottish Highlands. For me, the West Highland Way beats it hands down.
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westgate
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Re: Rannoch to East Highland Way

Postby markhallam » Mon Jun 18, 2018 4:52 am

Nice account and photos! Good luck with the next one
best wishes Mark
markhallam
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