Long Overdue Trip North…

Reflections on Loch Arkaig

Since the Dales Divide Race in August last year, my time has been spent on a house move project, and like all house projects, it has been more work and taken longer than expected. Its been nice to go back to doing DIY, as I am a practical person and like making things – which is just as well! The down-side to this is that I have put all riding and outdoors stuff on the back-burner. I had originally set my sights on around six months to get the bulk of the work finished, and as it happened this would time nicely with England coming out of the latest lock-down restrictions and our freedom of movement for exercise would be increased from just our local areas.

After no visit to the Highlands in 2020, I was realising that I was well overdue – for me being in wilderness areas helps reset my ‘checks and balances’, I do like being cosy and warm at home, but I really love the minimalist, exposure and challenge of being ‘ out there with nature’ .

I had decided not to partake in the 2021 Dales Divide, I was just not ‘bike-fit’, too busy and not in the right ‘head-space’ to bury myself in a race, that said I was longing for a more sedate explore somewhere – ideally the Highlands, as it had been almost two years since I had last visited them. The discovery and visiting new places and see nature is an important element of any ride for me …perhaps an ageing thing…! but you get less caught up in the competitive/challenge element and more taken by the moments and experiences you get.

Scotland as a nation was lagging the rest of the country in lifting restrictions, so it meant hanging on until late April time, meanwhile for pretty well the whole of the month so far there had not been a drop of rain and every day was a ‘blue-sky’ day – I was hoping it would hold and it did.

I had many routes and trails in my head that I wanted to do, but I only had 3 days, also the Highland Rail service was still on reduced timings, so I elected South Highlands and base myself from the well known (HT550) Tyndrum village. I would do some new trails across Rannoch Moor and I had a couple of other POIs that I hoped to pass.

The Route – 355km / 5250m

After crossing Rannoch from Blackmount, I thought the cafe at the station may be open for take-away coffee and cake, however there was not a soul around, the empty station is pictured above. This set the form for the next couple of days – empty landscapes and empty places – even the Monument at Glenfinnian only had a handful of cars there.

The vast emptiness of Rannoch Moor

From Rannoch there is a great little track over to the next habitation – ‘think ‘2 houses, a hostel and a station – Corrour. I had recollections of visiting this area some 30 years ago on an Outward Bound expedition, but visiting it again reminded me of the beauty and isolation of this place. Loch Ossain provided an ideal lunch spot, at the end of this ?loch is the impressive Corrour Shooting Lodge – They will happily hire it out to you …for £25,000 for a weekend – cheap thrills!

From Corrour I headed east towards the next magnificent estate – Ardverike, see castle above – famed for its Monarch of the Glen series. Again more stunning lochs passed, even saw a Golden Eagle here and paused for five minutes to watch it. A highlight of my ride!

Lochan na Earba

Passing Laggan, my route would now veer and head west, towards the stunning and unique Glen Roy, my overnight destination was Luib Connel, a bothy, to camp besides (see tent pic above). This has to be one of my favourite Highland bothies and it was pleasing to see it fairing-up okay.

Heading towards Melgarve – a large herd of big reds!

The story of Glen Roy goes back 12,000 years to the last min ice-age when the Highlands and parts of northern Europe were under the grip of an ice sheet and when this started to recede it left a vast lake, the shore lines of which are visible around the sides of the Glen and are known as parallel roads – see an OS 1:50k map…

Glen Roy drops out at near to Spean Bridge, usually a tourist stop for the lovely Commando Monument, as well as this a chance for me to call in at the shop for a drink and some fruit

Commando Memorial and snow capped Nevis Range beyond

After passing the POI above I had planned to visit a non-MBE bothy near Fort Augustus, meaning a bit of a detour, I elected to ‘pass’ on this and take the little road down Loch Arkaig, then over unknown trail to Glenfinnan. Pictured at the top, the loch was mirror flat, not a ripple I saw from its start to finish. At the end of the loch I would take a small detour to inspect the Glenpean Bothy, and like the last one was all clean and tidy – always pleasing to see, nothing more upsetting than seeing a lovely bothy not being cared for or used with the respect it deserves!

Sometimes there is no trail…

After the bothy excursion a small line on the map connected Glen Pean to Glenfinnan, however the line on the map was not present on the ground, apart from a faint trod, that came and went, there would now be a 500m 4km climb to the Bealach, a push-up I can deal with, but I was hoping for it to be ‘more’ rideable on the other side…? 2 hours of toiling and I reached the high point – ‘I won’t be doing that one again!’

My aim for the day was to be around the Sunart/Argdour area at the south of Loch Sheil, so that I could be within easy striking distance of the Corran ferry, to get me back down Glen Coe early the following morning. However, finding a camp when you need one, sometimes never happens, especially when you are in a ‘fussy’ mood, looking for that pristine spot! First attempt was in an old Oak Forrest, however I had to abandon camp as it was infested with ticks – nobodies friend and worse than the midge! Luckily it was still too early in the season for the midge, which was an added draw to the visit. A midge can ruin a camp full stop! Th

Unzipping the tent I was greeted to another crisp morning. I decided to skip porridge and just have coffee, as a breakfast opportunity should be present as I head back south through Glen Coe. An ideal route, should have very little ‘trunk road’ sections, mainly as they are unpleasant when busy and usually a little scary with the close, noisy fast moving traffic. Glencoe is hard to avoid and it would really benefit from have the few trail sections that there are, all linked together to make a safe ‘through’ route for cyclists …maybe one day it will happen! I was too early for the shop in Glencoe, but had enough to get by until Tyndrum, some 50km south.

The most majestic mountain – Buachaille Etive Mor

The West Highland Way would take my back from Kingshouse hotel to Tyndrum. It is the final leg for the HT550 and I had painful memories of it, however today, feeling far less beaten-up, it was a pleasure to ride it.

Although my ride-thirst is quenched, I suspect that the addiction will draw me back next month. In between this there is the Dales Divide Race, which I am doing the Dotwatcher.com media updates for – hoping I enjoy doing it and not miss riding it too much! Also nice to feel that we have our ‘wild’ places to visit again after being constrained by lock-down.

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