Friday, 13 June 2014

Tyndrum to Inveroran

Elle had been impressed with her first experience of Scotland when travelling up to Tyndrum the previous day. She was still enthusiastic, despite the poor weather that greeted her arrival. So we set off in good heart shortly after 9:00 a.m.

Although enormously well-travelled around the world, Elle has seldom been far North in the UK, and never before to Scotland. So this was an entirely new experience. The two days she as to walk with me would be two of the shortest on the WHW, which for someone with her stamina would make them something of a gentle introduction to the Highland. After all, she has run a number of marathons and several half marathons. She was to do a half the following weekend and a full marathon the week after. The joys of youth!

Elle Hankinson's damp introduction to Scottish walking
The walk started with a steady climb up from Tyndrum on the old military road that runs parallel with the A82 and the West Highland railway line. This is largely flanked by thick conifer woodland on either side, although the Way itself is in open country. It passes a watershed between two minor burns before dropping down into the valley leading down to Bridge of Orchy. It’s quite picturesque country, with big mountains including a number of Munros on either side.
Heading down to the valley

Towards the end of the stretch that leads to a sharp turn to the right after crossing a burn the railway sweeps off in a great contour-hugging sweep to the East. There are a couple of viaducts of modest scale that take it over the two valleys that meet here, but otherwise it simply follows the 225 metre contour. The viaducts aren’t as impressive as the ones further on towards Rannoch, but still serve to demonstrate the challenges of taking a railway through country like this.

At Bridge of Orchy we stopped in the Hotel for liquid refreshments before going on to cross the River Orchy itself, where we had the remainder of our lunch. The Orchy flows to the South and then West towards the sea near Oban. It’s a further demonstration that you’re really in the heart of the Highlands, with alternate major rivers flowing in opposite directions.

The River Orchy from the bridge where we lunched
The little area by the bridge was furnished with tables, and is obviously a popular picnic spot. The tragedy is that a lot of people must be completely unaware of their responsibilities and the need to take litter home. There were piles of rubbish on a couple of the tables, and other bits an pices scattered around. It’s all rather depressing. I am constantly surprised that people who appear to enjoy country like this don’t take more care to keep it as they would presumably like to find it.

After lunch it was rime for the last stretch to Inveroran over the hill called Mam Carraigh. This involves a fairly stiff climb away from the river, initially through a felled area, then through conifers, and finally across high open country. It was also to be Elle’s introduction to the Highland midge. They ere particularly bad in the wooded part of the walk, and Elle accelerated ahead of me to reduce the torment. I think she’s sweeter and more appealing than me. They were bad, but just about tolerable if one keeps moving. But I was very glad that there weren’t more stretches like this. They certainly focus the mind on movement rather than gazing at the scenery.

Loch Tulla
The view from the cairn at the top of Mam Carraigh is some reward for the climb. The Hill isn’t that high at about 330m, but the ground falls away on all sides and there are tremendous views to the North and West, where there are several Munros. After the peak there’s a long descent to Inveroran, described as an old military road but now pretty rough going with lots of loose gravel.

The hotel is an isolated group of buildings just above the West end of Loch Tulla, and we the celebratory drink was very welcome. The irritation was that the first think they told me was that I would have to pay extra as the sole occupant of he double room I had booked. I had expected this, but didn’t think it was good manners to point this out as the very first thing they said to me.
There were no drying facilities, but at least the rain had stopped, and I was able to put my waterlogged clothes on a drying line outside. Not that they were fully dry by the time I had to retrieve them before dinner, but at least it made for some improvement.

The Inveroran Hotel
Given the number of walkers I had seen (and been passed by) on the previous couple of days it was surprising that apart from one large party of (American?) teenagers we saw few others all day. Given the small number we encountered it’s difficult to believe that 30,000 walkers do the whole of the West Highland Way every year. More surprising was that for pretty well the first time there were a number of mountain bikers tackling the final stretch we had just crossed. It looked pretty arduous going, and not what I would have thought was ideal terrain, but there were groups of three or four going in both directions.

Dinner was reasonable, but telephone reception almost impossible. Inveroran proved to be just about the most remote part of the whole of the Way.

Elle assured me that she had really enjoyed her introduction to walking in Scotland, but I couldn’t help feeling that she had been rather short-changed. At no stage in the previous week had the weather been particularly good, but it would have been nice for her to have had some sunshine to paint the scenery at its best. Maybe next time – though she reported that it was her experience over the recent past that the weather always improved immediately after she had moved on elsewhere.

A wet day. Rain fairly heavy in the morning, moderating later, and actually quite fine in the evening. 14-17C. Good track; road walking only through Bridge of Orchy. Max altitude 331m, minimum 159m. 15.2 km. 283m of ascents, 363m descents. Midge factor mainly 1, but 3 during afternoon climb through woods.

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