Saturday, 14 June 2014

Inveroran to King’s House

I had only gone a couple of hundred metres before I realised that I had left my walking poles behind at the hotel. So the day started with an enforced retracing of my steps while Elle waited for me.

After I had rejoined Elle we continued on our way. A mile after the hotel there was another encampment for the forthcoming Caledonian Challenge, again largely deserted. We the came across a couple of men who were setting off to “bag a couple of Munros”: there are seven in the range of mountains to the Northwest of Inveroran, with a number of other “tops”: peaks of over 3,000 feet but with insufficient droops between them and their parents to count as separate Munros.

The Munros above Rannoch Moor
There is Black Mount, a country house of some significance owned by the Fleming family on the North bank of Loch Tulla. We saw some walkers going that way, presumably to alk the long track that ruins North of the Loch and then up Glen Tulla, but our way was through woods past Forest Lodge. This is a parliamentary road, built by Telford in the early 1900s to offer better transport links in the Highlands, wider and with gentler gradients than the old military roads built by Wade a hundred years earlier. This is still in excellent order, and obviously takes forestry traffic as well as walkers on the West Highland Way.

It was then a long steady climb up on to the edges of Rannoch Moor, which is one of the wildest and most remote places in the UK. Not that it seemed so on this occasion. The weather was pretty good, so there was no threat of the foul conditions for which walkers are advised to cater. As the guide puts it, it can be deceptively easy, which it certainly was for our walk.

Elle regularly demonstrated the benefits of fitness and youth: on several occasions I found her getting 20 or 30 metres ahead of me, and I had to ask for quarter.

The River Ba - looking downstream (East) from the bridge
The River Ba marks the half-way point of the walk from Inveroran to King’s House. Once again it demonstrates the way in which alternate major streams flow either to the West or to the East. The Ba is another part of the Tay system, which drains a large proportion of the Highlands. The bridge is modest in size, but still an impressive bit of early engineering, and picturesquely located beneath the range of high mountains where it rises.

After crossing the Ba the Way makes a long descent all the way to King’s House at the top of Glencoe. It’s not clear whether this is still the old parliamentary road or the earlier military road which runs in parallel for much of the way. I suspect it was the military road, but upgraded later under Telford’s direction to the parliamentary standard. It’s all still in good order.

Elle on the final stretch into
King's House
The last part of the Way is along the minor road that leads from the A82 to the Glencoe Mountain Resort, and the chairlift to the ski area above, which has lifts and tows to an altitude of nearly 1100 metres. At this time of the year it’s a mountain biking area rather than a ski resort, so the main lift is still in operation.

As we approached the Resort we saw the first pair of walkers, and noticed that there was another group of Caledonian Challenge tents. It turned out that there are two challenges. One is to walk 54 miles in 24 hours, while the other is to complete a hike of some 30 miles. Both start 10 miles or so Northeast of Fort William, and then follow the West Highland Way. The Hike ends at the Glencoe resort, while the full Challenge goes back as far as Tyndrum – where I had seen the finish line with Brian the previous Thursday.

Elle and I arrived in King’s House by tea time, ahead of Susan and Katie, who were driving up in a hire car from Glasgow, to which they had flown that morning. Elle and I were enjoying an early drink when they arrived.

The view towards the King's House Hotel and beyond
That evening we had a brief stroll before dinner, watching the walkers as they came up from further down Glencoe. There must have been several hundred of them, with their race bibs saying “Hike”, “7 a.m.”, “8 a.m.” or “9 a.m.”, depending on which Challenge they were completing, and by when they had to finish if  on the 24-hour walk. They were still coming through late into the evening, which made the performance of the first few Elle and I had seen that afternoon particularly impressive. Of course, it was pretty well the longest day of the year, so even if they had to walk all night it wouldn’t be too difficult to find their way. 

Caledonian Challenge walkers and an unimpressed red deer
There was even a deer that wandered across the path as the walkers approached, apparently totally unconcerned by people. Elle seemed impressed with the walkers, but said that she wouldn’t be telling her boyfriend Ed about the challenge. Otherwise there was a risk that he’d want to participate the following year. Despite all my walking, I don’t think I could manage even the Hike.

After dinner it was England’s turn to take the field in Brazil. Another futile world cup campaign was under way, but we were too tired to see much after Italy scored their second goal.

Reasonably fine – partly cloudy, but occasional sunshine. 14-17C. Good going on old stony roads all the way. Max altitude 437m, minimum 173m. 17.5 km. 314m of ascents, 252m descents. Midge factor 1.

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