Between work, Covid and general illness and injury it has been a bugger of a year so far. Throw some generally crap weather in and you’ll understand why my first wild camp for almost two years has taken so long to happen. Walking is just not happening at the moment, my knee being generally unreliable and only good for a couple of miles at the best of times. This has really knocked my confidence to the extent that I find myself mentally talking myself out of doing anything overly committing. At the end of last year I did a decent walk in the Campsies, I managed a few runs earlier in the year and then – bang. My knee was horrendously painful and it became difficult to even walk a mile before it felt as though the whole thing was swelling up and tender. My world seems to be getting smaller and smaller. A few years back I started wearing glasses and my eyesight appears to be getting progressively worse for reading, so I dread having to use a map in wet or snowy weather. All in all my confidence in myself has seldom been lower.
Cycling on the other hand doesn’t seem to be a problem. I have been putting in good mileage regularly with no major issues, and finally had a few days off where I could get away. So, it was out with the boots and on with the tyres…
Corrour is one of my “go to” locations when I want to get away. The train trip is a few hours but it does have the advantage of dumping you right in the middle of a landscape which is both managed but remote. With lockdown and the ban on travel it has probably been around two years since I’ve been here, and the train journey was like slipping in to an old pair of comfortable shoes. Familiar sights revealed themselves as the train made its way north along the West Highland Line. The Cobbler, Loch Lomond; Crianlarich where the line splits, then Tyndrum with views to Ben Lui; Bridge of Orchy and my “nemesis” in the twins of Ben Dorain and Beinn an Dothaidh where I’ve had scares and failures galore. There’s been a lot of improvements in this area, but I was saddened to see the old railway hut near Auch appears to have degenerated significantly. To close to the railway and too far from the road and from any natural climbing and walking routes, there is little hope for new life to be breathed into this old place and I suspect that demolition by neglect will be its ultimate fate. While this old building crumbles, the rolling stock has seen significant improvement. The toilets have been improved and there are now charging points for phones and laptops. For years this was the poor relation of the Scottish railways, and this has gone some way to improving things. Improved cycle storage is coming (it has now been introduced as I write) but as far as I am aware there are only a few new carriages and I’m unsure as to whether they will be used on both the Mallaig and the Oban lines.
Another cyclist joined at Bridge of Orchy and I noticed him scrutinising my bike set up. We got to talking about some of the gear I had on my bike, a mix of Ortleib and Aldi. I’m constantly checking out how others set up their bikes, but seldom am I complemented on mine. It’s nice to be able to give others ideas sometimes. We got off at Corrour and he sped off, Rannoch bound. I on the other hand, spent a bit of time rearranging my gear. Every weather forecast and app had predicted rain, in various quantities. Having prepared for the wet I was pleased to find it overcast but dry, so it was off with the waterproof layer and the mid layer. Finally I was underway, rolling past the tattered line of walkers heading tords Loch Ossian and the Youth Hostel. A cyclist came towards me, the guy from the train, who had missed the turn for Rannoch. We stopped and chatted for a few minutes, before I pointed him in the right direction. I’ve walked the path he was looking for and I’m now minded to go back and cycle it too.
Loch Ossian looking towards Ben Alder
A short half hour saw me at the far end of Loch Ossian. While walking through Queen Street Station that morning I had felt my knee “go” and when I stepped off the bike to take a few photos it was throbbing. I decided to carry on as it wasn’t affecting my cycling, and by the time I made my next stop near Stathossian House the pain had gone completely. This is the unpredictability I face every time I step out the door. Thankfully it wasn’t stopping me today.
Loch Ghuilbinn and the River Ossian
Strathossian House overlooks Loch Ghuilbinn which nestles between Beinn Eibhinn and Chno Dearg. I had been here before with Mick, an old hillwalking buddy. He had been carrying out a charity walk and we had been joined on the first section from Dalwhinnie by Paul and Helen Webster of Walkhighlands. We had walked with them as far as Aonach Beag if I recall correctly, before we had struck off to camp out somewhere near Coire na Cosaig. In the morning we had dropped down to carry out a river crossing of the Abhainn Ghuilbinn before climbing up through horrendous peat hags to ascend Chno Dearg. Gazing up at those hills now they might as well be on the moon to me. I am in awe at their sheer size and it’s hard to comprehend that I once could climb those hills with relative ease. It’s hard to accept that I probably will not be able to do a walk of such a scale again.
Loch Ghuibinn and Beinn Eibhinn
Campsite (Midges just out of shot)
Don’t Mind If I Do…
I can put the miles in with the bike though, and I continue uphill, pausing at the top of the hill to gaze across to Binnean Shuas, a hill which has long fascinated, surrounded as it is with water on both sides. I pass through a gate near the start (or end) of the pine forest, before enjoying a speedy descent on a fine gravel track. At one point I am surprised by a pothole and my braking causes the back of the bike to sweep round, but I regain control and carry on, slightly more restrained than before. I cross the River Spean and the gravel ends as I join the A86 where I soon enter Lochaber, and after a brief stop at an impressive waterfall I arrived at Tulloch Railway Station. Being three hours early for the train, I spend the time cycling round the local area to Inverlair Falls, returning just as the rain starts to fall, and by the time my train finally arrives it has settled in to a steady drizzle. I had eyed up a few campsites at Loch Ossian on my outward leg this morning, and I planned to quickly set up the tent and get my gear stashed away before it got too wet, but instead I got off the train to find that it was a perfectly fine evening at Corrour. Not only that but the pub was open! For once I was actually able to have a beer here and I toyed with the idea of having dinner too, but the lure of dehydrated chicken was simply too much, and so it was that I set off once more and within ten minutes I had located a clearly well used flattish spot on the shore of the loch which would accommodate my tent. It also accommodated a large population of midges, who appeared as soon as the wind dropped. I devoured my curry and the midges devoured me, and after spending some time taking photographs I decided to walk back to the tent and call it a day. At this point the rain finally decided to make an appearance as forecast, and I settled in to my sleeping bag as the rain settled in to a steady drizzle. Exhaustion soon set in and despite some rather uncomfortable sunburn I was soon fast asleep, dozing off without seeing the movie I had downloaded as my evenings entertainment.
Early Morning at Loch Ossian
Leave No Trace
I slept well and woke to find the rain was dying off. By the time I got out of the tent it was off, the loch was grey and atmospheric and the midges crept out of hiding to devour me. I was booked aboard the first train, so I packed quickly, and leaving no trace, set off to Corrour Station where I had breakfast. The station house are missing a trick here, opening just after the first south-bound train arrives/departs. I’d have happily had a quick bite and a drink before catching the train. Instead I made up a flask and rehydrated an oat breakfast to have on the train. I settled in to the journey, eyeing up potential new routes for the bike. I’ll be back, and all things going well it won’t be two years before I return.
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Warning Please note that hillwalking when there is snow lying requires an ice-axe, crampons and the knowledge, experience and skill to use them correctly. Summer routes may not be viable or appropriate in winter. See winter information on our skills and safety pages for more information.