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Strathcarron to Fort William and Corrour to Dalwhinnie PT1

PostPosted: Sat Jan 09, 2010 1:57 pm
by mountainstar
Part 1. Strathcarron to Fort William approx 66.8 miles

Having just done the Cape Wrath trail in May 2009,
(Link to Part 1 of my Cape Wrath trail report here:-)
and still with the time and opportunity on my hands (still freshly out of work) I thought it would be a good idea now to do the more central section of the CWT, that I missed out on by doing the western route section from Glenfinnan to Lochcarron, via Knoydart etc.
So the plan this time would include starting at Strathcarron and walking south to Fort William via Moal Bhuidhe Bothy, Glen Affric, Cluanie, Tomdoun & Gairlochy. I fancied extending it so it lasted 8 days and a distance of around 100 miles, so came up with a plan of then using the train to get to Corrour, and heading east to Dalwhinnie via a night at Culra Bothy.
Anyone doing the CWT will find that getting back to Fort William by public transport is not that easy, so if you want to extend your walk and finish at Dalwhinnie you could reverse and tag the last 2 days of this walk on (or 4 days if you do the Glen Nevis section as well) as getting back by public transport to Dalwhinnie from Durness is far easier.
On this walk I would be using trains to connect the routes together, so I had to do a bit of research first to see if the train times were convenient, luckily I found that they fitted in nicely.
This time I didn’t really want (or need) to send any food parcels ahead, (3 meals could be taken en route in the hotel bars) as I could carry the rest of the food as it would be only 4 full days and 2 half days for the CWT section, after that I could then restock in Fort William for the remaining 2 days.
I booked 3 hostels ahead, Aviemore YH (where I was to start my journey by train, and also leave my car with their permission) Glen Affric YH, and Bank lodge Hostel, Fort William.
So after leaving Wales at 11.45am on Sunday 21st June, I reached Aviemore at 6pm, I was now all set to go in the morning.

Day 1. Mon 22nd June 2009.
Straithcarron to Moal Bhuidhe Bothy, approx 8.8 miles.

Weather. Low cloud, rain, cool & breezy.
Up early at 6.40am with a train to catch at 7.57am, it was a bright & warm morning as the train headed east to Inverness, but as it continued towards the west, the weather slowly changed to very low cloud and patchy rain. What a shame as this journey ranks only second to the Fort William-Mallaig line journey, and as I had never done this section before I was looking forward to doing it in some better weather. The train was packed mainly with people who were doing a return journey to Kyke of Lochalsh, just to take in the normally spectacular views, they also would be rather disappointed too, as the weather didn’t improve all day. As I disembarked off the train at 10.45, it was like a repeat performance of the weather when I was here 7 weeks ago, miserable rain & cloud, but at least the weather forecast was better from tomorrow onwards, so that was something to look forward to. My track started only a few meters from the station at Achintee and followed a good track over a 400mtr pass (12.45pm) where the cloud base was just hovering above, then down to Bendronaig Lodge, where there is a very good estate Bothy. Just before arriving here I met an estate worker passing in a Landrover, I asked him which route was the best to take to Moal Bhuidhe Bothy, he suggested that I take the easterly Loch Calavie route, rather than the southerly route around Ben Dronaig, which was very helpful as I was unsure of which way would be the better. I had a break here for 20 mins and met another backpacker who mentioned that he had seen someone earlier heading into the clouds and up Ben Dronaig, poor soul, he wouldn’t see a thing up there today…oh, I know that feeling so well…been there, done that! Today it was bad enough walking at relatively low level. I continued up another good track to Loch Calavie, again the cloud base was just above the loch, at the end of the Loch I had to cross the outflow, and had been told to watch out for a wire bridge. I found it, it’s not the best of bridges, consisting of one high wire and one lower wire, so by the time you’re in the middle your dancing about and holding on for dear life, but it does the job and gets you across an otherwise problematic fairly deep river. The path continues uphill to the east shoulder of Ben Dronaig, at this point I left the path for some very rough and boggy ground until I got to the outflow of Loch Cruoshie. This is a river that I was worried about crossing in May with the very wet weather I had then, so much I had to change my plans about coming this way. Today it wasn’t too bad, I still had to get my boots off and wade up to knee height across the 15mtr or so crossing, but it was easy going with sand underfoot and no stones. From there I picked up another path along side the loch which led to the Bothy (4.15pm). I was the only one stopping in the remote and seldom visited Bothy, one which I had been planning to visit for a few years, at last I had made it here. After about 30mins of arriving, I did have one visitor, the guy who had climbed up Ben Dronaig, had dropped below the cloud to see the Bothy, so headed this way for a break. Unfortunately he crossed up river from the loch, and waded across with boots on, and came in with boots full of water and soaking socks, not nice as he was heading back the 8.8 miles to Staithcarron that evening. He spent 30mins eating and trying to wring out and dry his socks, at least I was able to give him a hot cup of tea to warm him up. During this time he found out that he was in a completely different place than he thought, having just dropped off the hill without a compass bearing he thought he was somewhere NE of the hill by Loch Calavie. Luckily I was there to tell him otherwise as he might have not realised and gone off along one of the paths in completely the wrong direction! So eventually at 5.30pm he left with at least 5 hours of walking to get back to the road where he had left his car. After that I had a quiet evening and although it stayed cloudy at least now the rain had stopped.

Day 2. Tues 23rd.
Moal Bhuidhe Bothy to Glen Affric YH. Approx 14 miles.

Weather. Sunny, some cloud mid pm, hot with a slight breeze.
Popped outside at 3.30am, to see the first light of dawn and the welcoming sight of the clouds breaking to the east.
1 Maol Bhuidhe bothy.jpg
Sunrise at Maol Bhuidhe bothy

2 Sunrise from Maol Bhuidhe bothy.jpg
Sunrise from Maol Bhuidhe bothy

By the time I got up at 8.10am, the clouds had almost all melted away, what a difference to yesterday. Packed and away by 9.45.
3 Maol Bhuidhe bothy.jpg
Leaving Maol Bhuidhe bothy

I somehow missed the path at first that goes uphill at the back of the Bothy, but was soon back on track halfway up the pass. I reached the high point at 450mts at 11am, then on a better path down to the road head at Iron Lodge.
4 Glen Elchaig.jpg
Glen Elchaig

A walk down the road got me to Carnach when it was time for a 12.45pm break.
5 Loch na leitreach Glen Elchaig.jpg
Glen Elchaig

6 Loch na leitreach Glen Elchaig.jpg
Loch na leitreach Glen Elchaig

From there, there is a very steep climb to the left of the Allt Coire Easaich waterfall,
7 Waterfalls Glen Elchaig.jpg
Waterfalls Glen Elchaig

almost as spectacular as the nearby Falls of Glomach. This led to my 2nd high pass of the day at around 420mts, this high pass continued at this height unusually for about 3 miles, most of it with no path, in fact the path that is shown to the east of Loch a `Bhealaith, isn’t there as far as I could see, so I didn’t pick up a path until I met one that drops down from Bealach an Sgairne to the west. I originally was thinking of camping here if I had not have booked ahead at the hostel, in today’s lovely weather I now wish I had camped.
8 Loch Gaorsaic.jpg
Loch Gaorsaic

I pressed on to gradually drop down to Glen Affric, and eventually reached the wonderfully placed hostel at 4.50pm.
9 Alltbeithe YH Glen Affric.jpg
Alltbeithe YH Glen Affric

This would be my 4th time of stopping here, on one of them occasions I got up early on a frosty morning to take some pictures of a lovely sunrise.
11 glen affric Sept 2004.jpg
Dawn Glen Affric Sept 2004

12 glen affric Sept.jpg
Sunrise Glen Affric Sept 2004

The facilities are very good for such a remote hostel, of which include an excellent hot electric shower, which was very welcome after 2 days of backpacking. With clothes washed and hung I sat in the sun for most of the evening until the sun set behind the hillside at 8.30pm, I chatted to the warden and 3 others who were also stopping until here until I went to a welcome bed at 11.15pm.

Day 3. Wed 24th.
Glen Affric YH. to The Cluanie Inn. Approx 6 miles.

Weather. Sunny, some high thin cloud mid pm, hot with a slight breeze.
This was my easiest and shortest walk so far, so there was no hurry to get up early today, and after a good nights sleep I rose at 8.25am to find thick fog outside, but this soon cleared as I had my breakfast and showered, and by the time I left the Hostel at 10.15 it was lovely and sunny again. As the hostel is at 270mts the going was very easy up to the pass at 425mts, apart for some boggy bits here and there (this is a notoriously wet path even in dry weather). Once over the watershed I picked up a good vehicle track that leads down to the busy main A87 road 1 mile east of The Cluanie Inn (1.10pm)
13 South Cluanie ridge.jpg
South Cluanie ridge

14 Am Bathach, opp Cluanie Inn.jpg
Am Bathach by The Cluanie Inn

Never have I been here in such lovely weather.
I actually splashed out and had 2 nights here in August 2000, in the room with a Jacuzzi and sauna, (it was our honeymoon, in my defence!) in what was more like November weather, so sitting outside today in the hot sunshine with a lovely pint of Red Cuillin was a treat to savour. I asked the staff if it was ok to camp by the old bridge just south between the two lochs, to which they replied “no problem”.
15 Wildcamp by Cluanie Inn.jpg
Wildcamp by The Cluanie Inn

So after pitching the tent I again was able to sit in the sun in this cracking spot until 8pm, then departed to the bar for a meal and 3 more pints of Red Cuillin until 10.15pm.

[u]Day 4. Thurs 25th.
The Cluanie Inn to The Tomdoun Hotel. Approx 11 miles.

Weather. Sunny, some high patchy cloud, hot with a slight breeze.
Slept well again, up at 8.25am, my weather station recorded a lowest temperature of 13 degC overnight, not bad for the highlands. I was off at 9.35am along the old road south that used to go to Tomdoun until Loch Loyne was dammed, pity as this would have been a good route today (I have heard that in late summer when the Loch level is low you can sometimes still cross). I soon caught up with a couple who were doing part the South Cluanie ridge and walked with them until the path divided on the southern shoulder at 470mts of Creag a`Mhaim. From there I dropped down to The River Loyne then crossed it lower down,
16 River Loyne.jpg
River Loyne

then another climb up a path leads to another pass at 490mts.
17 Glen Garry.jpg
Glen Garry

By now it was 1.15pm and 30mins later I was at the road, 3 miles to the east is the Tomdoun Hotel, I arrived at 2.45pm, time for a pint again, sitting in the sun with a lovely view overlooking the hills I would cross to the South tomorrow. This was another Hotel I stopped in on our honeymoon, a different owner now called Mike, and I have to say that he was very helpful, letting me camp on the lawn to the right of the hotel (I rang up beforehand to check on where I could camp locally, and it was him that suggested that I could camp in the grounds) and letting me use the toilets etc during the day and the next morning, but I did have a meal and a few more beers later, so everybody wins. Here I had the worst midge evening of the trip, as by now it was very calm and there were millions of the little b******s about, so spent a good few hours in the tent before diving into the bar for my meal later at 8pm.
18 Sunset from Tomdoun.jpg
Sunset from Tomdoun

Day 5. Fri 26th.
The Tomdoun Hotel to Gairlochy. Approx 16 miles

Weather. AM. Sunny & calm, PM. patchy cloud and breezy, hot.
My longest walk of the trip today, so I was up early at 7.30am, and away by 8.50am, back along the road for a mile, then through a forest for around 1.5 miles. I never like walking through forests and this reminded me why, with its indistinct and confusing boggy paths, and almost blocked in several places with fallen trees, so after much sweat and toil I was glad to reach the open hillside again. From the edge of the forest a long track led gradually uphill until it disappeared high up Allt Ailein, the last mile to the 645mtr pass (12.30pm) was pathless and rough going but I followed the banks of a burn that led down from the watershed. From here I dropped down the slopes to pick up a track that led down the Allt Dubh, and soon I was on the B road by Loch Arkaig.
19 Loch Arkaig.jpg
Loch Arkaig

Another 5 miles of walking along this road got me to a campsite 1 mile east of Gairlochy at 3.55pm, where I camped for the night. The clouds melted away again in the late afternoon, and later I walked the 4 mile round trip to Spean Bridge for a meal in the Hotel. As I walked back later there was a lovely red afterglow over the hills that I had walked over earlier that day.
20 Sunset from Spean Bridge.jpg
Sunset from near Spean Bridge

It remained very warm through the evening, when I got back to the tent at 10.40pm it was still 21 degC! so I was glad of the cold tin of Stella I had brought back from the Spar to cool me down. And throughout the night the lowest temperature only dropped to 19 degC in the tent!

Day 6. Sat 27th.
Gairlochy to Fort William. Approx 11miles.

Weather. AM Mainly cloudy, warm. PM Sunny and hot.
Up at 8am to unexpected cloudy skies. Today was the easiest days walking, and although not the shortest, the whole distance was at the same level, following most of the way, along the banks of the Caledonian canal. I left the campsite at 9.45am and 15 mins later I was at the canal, passing many other walkers today who mostly were doing the Great Glen Way long distance walk from Fort William to Inverness (or vice versa). I passed by Neptune’s staircase as some interesting boats were negotiating the locks, one massive liner type which had inches to spare on either side to pass through, and a Clipper type boat with complete with some impressive sails. I arrived in a hot and sunny Fort William (that’s not words you normally connect together!) at 1.15pm, and checked in to the pre-booked (very good) Bank Lodge Hostel, just off the High St.
It was good to do this “alternative” central route of The Cape Wrath Trail, to compare them both, and in my opinion the western route is the better, although I did really enjoy this one to.

Link to Part 2 Strathcarron to Fort William and Corrour to Dalwhinnie PT 2

Re: Strathcarron to Fort William and Corrour to Dalwhinnie PT1

PostPosted: Sun Jan 10, 2010 11:33 am
by mountain coward
Another great and detailed report with lovely pics. Especially liked the sunset pics and it's nice to see such lovely green pics at this time of year (I get a bit fed up of constantly looking at snow, especially seeing as that's all we have to look at outside everywhere as well!). I always say I'd prefer my calendars back to front - the cold, snowy pics in summer to cool me down and the summery pics in winter to warm me up! :)

Can't wait to get to the wire bridge - just my sort of fun! I love things like that... sounds even better than the Steall!

I can imagine pubs don't mind you camping nearby - after all, that's obviously where you'll then end up spending the evening eating and drinking!

I can't imagine why anyone wades a deep river without taking their boots off - as soon as I can see it's above boot height, my boots and socks are straight off - summer or winter. Although it's very cold to do that in winter, your feet go instantly and gloriously hot for the rest of the day when you get out and get them dry...

What is the track like from Iron Lodge back towards the main road parking? Did you do that bit? I ask as I'm planning to cycle that to do some of the Glen Affric Munros...

Re: Strathcarron to Fort William and Corrour to Dalwhinnie PT1

PostPosted: Sun Jan 10, 2010 1:15 pm
by mountainstar
"What is the track like from Iron Lodge back towards the main road parking? Did you do that bit?"

Not on that walk, but I have walked and biked it several times before, it's a really very good part tarmac, part gravel road, perfect for a bike being fairly level all the way to Iron Lodge, you'll be there and back in no time, the whole glen including the drive is very scenic.

Re: Strathcarron to Fort William and Corrour to Dalwhinnie PT1

PostPosted: Sun Jan 10, 2010 1:19 pm
by mountain coward
That's great if it's fairly flat - I'm hopeless on a bike uphill! Thanks for the info...

Re: Strathcarron to Fort William and Corrour to Dalwhinnie PT1

PostPosted: Sun Jan 10, 2010 3:12 pm
by benno
Another epic report! Lovely pics, particularly like glen elchaig and glen affric. Thanks! Looking forward to part two.

Re: Strathcarron to Fort William and Corrour to Dalwhinnie PT1

PostPosted: Sun Jan 10, 2010 6:31 pm
by mountainstar
Part 2 is already there...wish I could do a link from the report!

Re: Strathcarron to Fort William and Corrour to Dalwhinnie PT1

PostPosted: Mon Jan 11, 2010 3:00 pm
by HighlandSC
Another great report of a fantastic long distance trail :D

You can link to other topics, this link is created using the code also below - copy and paste that into your report if you like.

Strathcarron to Fort William and Corrour to Dalwhinnie PT 2

Code: Select all
[url=]Strathcarron to Fort William and Corrour to Dalwhinnie PT 2 [/url]

Re: Strathcarron to Fort William and Corrour to Dalwhinnie PT1

PostPosted: Mon Jan 11, 2010 3:11 pm
by mountainstar
Thanks for that, sorted out after a few tries.

Re: Strathcarron to Fort William and Corrour to Dalwhinnie PT1

PostPosted: Sun Mar 28, 2010 6:29 pm
by Indra
I'm off to Achnashellach on tuesday (sleeper train on monday night to inverness) with a friend to walk south staying in tent or bothies for 2 nights before heading to Kyle for thursday night ceilih.
The wire bridge............the bogs......the possible blizzard forcast....OMG!!!!
Any advice on (particularly low level) routes and pitfalls (on the OSL25) much appreciated

Re: Strathcarron to Fort William and Corrour to Dalwhinnie PT1

PostPosted: Mon Mar 29, 2010 11:33 am
by mountainstar
Hi, good luck with your trip, there's not much more I could add to the trip report, I did it in mind to anyone who might want info following my steps. Crossing the loch east of Moal Bhuidhe could be the worst problem, if the outlow is very high, Even in good weather I would think you would have to get your boots off, not nice this time of year! Apart from the very boggy bit before that, which lasts for around 0.5miles, the paths are very good.