It is January the fifth and I step off the train to a very different Bridge of Orchy to the one I left two months ago. The sleeper service pulls out as I leave, headed north, the way I have come from.  There is some snow on the ground and much more on the hills but what is coming down is more like sleet drizzle.

Although it has gone nine it is barely light. The cloud not helping. I am the only person off the train, and there are now tracks in the snow on the road down to the hotel and main road.

Nor are there any on the minor road I take to cross the bridge.

The West Highland Way goes over a forested hill but I decide to take the road round by Loch Tulla. Partly this is laziness. I am very fat and unfit after the Christmas gorging season, but also I want to go through the fragment of Caledonian Pine forest on the shores of the Loch Tulla. And the snow is a consideration too. It is not thick on the road but fresh snow has obviously fallen overnight.

A car approaches and passes me just after the bridge, leaving tracks in the fresh snow. I dither a bit about whether to keep my good camera out, as the sleet is fairly wet, but in the end compromise by using it but stuffing it inside my waterproof when not taking pictures.

It should be noted that this is a compromise that did not work on Cross Fell when I ruined my last "bridge" camera. But the snowy scenes are inviting and my waterproof Olympus just would not do them justice.

Another vehical, a landrover, comes up the little road and passes with a wave from the driver.  As I round the corner I get views of Loch Tulla and then a sign announces that I am entering Doire Darach pine wood.

As you can see this fragment from the A82 I have known about it for decades, passing it by on buses or in cars. Parts are deer fenced off and the regeneration is vigorous. Suddenly the dead seeming landscape comes alive, not just the thick young tree growth but small birds, mostly tits, fly and call.  A forbidding sign says "That which burns, never returns."

The train passed through Crannach, another fragment that is regenerating well.  There it was only possible to make progress once the steam trains gave way to diesal as sparks would set the wood on fire before it matured.

I get some glimpses of the mostly frozen Loch Tulla through gaps in the trees but it is frustrating as I never seem to get a decent view, and when I do power or telephone wires obstruct it. But it does look beautiful and I spot a solitary goldeneye, swimming in an ice free pocket.

On the approach to Inverornen Hotel I see a group of red deer does on the hill to the left. A solitary deer is trapped behind the deer fence to my right. It is much more worried than the group and dashes off, finding a way out and crossing the road in front of me, clearly trying to find its way back to the herd.

The Inverornen hotel apears to be closed. It is an odd and isolated spot for a hotel but I suppose people come for the views and walking, and perhaps stalking. Not much sign of life today though. However a light is on in the pretty little wooden house beyond it, and a blue van parked.

The sleet has turned to snow now and is moderately thick. Not enough to alarm me as the track is good and obvious and the lying snow not deep. Groups of red deer watch me as the road turns north to round the botom of  Loch Tulla. One with very spindly antlers barely bothers to move away though his more skittish companion runs.

I go over a bridge and past the last buildings before the Glencoe Ski centre. There is a gate as the road ends and the West Highland Way becomes a track.

There is also a sign but it is completely covered in snow and I have to clear it off to discover that the track I am walking on was originally a road built by Thomas Telford to improve the earlier military road. That I did not know, having assumed I was on one of General Wade's roads. The great industrialists and engineers of the Industrial Revolution have been with me for much of this walk and, it seems, they have not parted company yet.

The sign is interesting but also intensely annoying because it lapses into the first person. "I built this road to..." as if Telford himself had written the interpretation. What sort of infantile disorder were the writers of it suffering from. Did they think walkers would not be able to absorb the information unless it was given this spurious and fake immediacy?

Muttering and mumbling I grump off up the track, through pine woods. A roe deer eyes me anxiously from the conifers on my left, probably wondering what I am moaning about.

 Quite soon these give out  and I have open moorland there, with a dense conifer plantation to my right.

The track slopes upwards. It is not steep but it is relentless and the snow is now five centimeters or more thick. Not enough to make walking difficult but enough to make it more of an effort walking uphill. Animal tracks abound and I wish, for the seventieth time, that I had bothered to learn the difference between dogs, foxes, wild cats and pine martens.

Oh well, one day. And at least the difference between red and roe deer is clear enough as the roe's are so much smaller and neater.

This is a grind. More because of my state of unfitness than the steepness or the snow. The visibility is poor, snow still falling, steadily if not heavily, so little to see on the open side.  I am getting hungry and thirsty.

At last, as I reach the end of the plantation, there is a bridge over a small burn with a parapet at handy sitting height.  So I stop for a cup of tea from my beautiful (but not over efficient) new green flask and some museli bars.

And now I am ready for the open moor. I have been talkinga about crossing the Rannoch Moor,  one of the wildest spots in Scotland. But really Telford's road picks its way around the lower slopes of the Blackmount, a range of hills that girds the west of the Rannoch Moor itself.

This is surprising as the Rannoch Moor is pretty much a bog spattered with lochs and there is at least one lost military road sunk beyond trace out there.

The new A 82 crossed the moor though and, from time to time, I get glimpses of distant buses and lorries, too far away to hear.

But whether Blackmount or Rannoch Moor I now have a long walk through not very much at all. The next couple of hours are easy enough walking. Red deer are everywhere. Big herds pause to look at me from higher up the Blackmount on my left.  Smaller groups, some hinds, some bucks or stags, search the snow for food lower down, between me and the road.

And I start to startle grouse, which fly around, gruttling irritably, always landing behind some peaty lump and defeating my attempts to photograph them. I am still a bit worried about the camera but it has stopped snowing now except for the occasional flurry and I am more concerned about water vapour from my body as both lens and viewfinder keep misting up.

It is still odd having such a powerful zoom, especially as I am without binoculars, as this means the camera can see things that I cannot. For example, I did not realise that there were a couple of grouse in the foreground when I photographed this distant stag.

I am enjoying this now. Visibility is improving and there are even glimpses of blue way to the south. The moor is not entirely covered but looks beautiful. The deer and grouse keep me entertained and there are a few squares of conifer plantation on the track to enable me to navigate with complete confidence.

Best of all I have it to myself. In summer this being the West Highland Way it would be a procession of walkers. Today, though much more beautiful than most dank midgy days in August, I only have to share with the ravens, the red deer and the grouse.

Now and then the road comes back into view. I see a yellow thing in the far distance which I think might be a snow plough moving north, but cannot tell until I download the photo.

At last there is a change. The track has meandered up and down but nothing much. Now there is a sustained rise again as it traverses a flank of Meall a Bhuiridh.  I mutter and complain but the gradient is easy enough and I am still having fun. Also my body seems to have warmed up and so the effort involved is less than the long haul up beside the plantation just after Loch Tulla.

And enticing things start happening in front. First a tiny patch of blue in the white sky.

And then as I crest the rise I see the hills in front of me partially lit by shafts of sunlight. First the end of the long low mountain behind Kingshouse and then, unmistakably part of  Buchaille Etive Mor.

It is entrancing. The awesome south east face of the Buchaille appears in glimpses through a halo of cloud. Sometimes less, sometimes disarrange altogether, sometimes more of the snow and rock shows through. I snap away, aware that I have no hope of capturing the magic of this.

As a beacon it is excellent and, indeed, I am so delighted by it that I almost miss the fact that Kingshouse, my destination for today, has come into view.

It is not three yet.  Too early to arrive there. Despite the snow this is a short day. And I am ready for great quantities of tea so I am hoping that the cafe at the Ski Centre is open.

Proximity to the centre is signalled by the first people I have encountered on foot since getting off the train. A couple with three very rowdy large dogs. I stiffen, seeing the dogs jump up at them and taking no notice of their instructions. And soon enough they bound towards me.

"It's OK!" The male dogfuckwit calls to me. "They are just very noisy!" The dogs  jump up at me too, ignoring all commands from their feeders (owners or masters would seem to give them too much credit).  But the dogfuckwits haul them off and they are gone.

A little further down the track a welcome sign appears.

And then one even more enticing.

Not sure that this is what I am after though.

I am feeling tired as I leave the main path on a slightly soggy short cut to the cafe. But it is open and warm.  I get tea and some lentil soup and sit before the picture window that frames the Buchaille. Get out my Patrick O'Brian book and relax for spell.

The light has changed as I leave the cafe. Sunset is setting in and turning the white snow pink. I trudge through the car park and down the track, pausing to take a photo of Black Rock Cottage,  a climbing hut belonging to the  Ladies Scottish Climbing Club.

The further down the track I get the more the light improves. There is pink white and blue now in a landscape that has been white speckled with black all day.

I am not the only one snapping. A more professional looking type has stopped where the ski centre road meets the A 82 and has his tripod out.

Even as I continue down the West Highland Way track to Kingshouse the view improves. Now I can see down Glen Etive to the West.

And Sron Na Criese, sight of my one and only proper winter climb (I was assured that "it might involve a bit of easy scrambling"!) begins to show. Sadly not lit like the Buchaille.

It really is magical, though I am not at all sure that such a fearsome mountain should be a pretty sugar pink. It just seems wrong somehow; a great salt water crocodile in  "Hello Kitty" pyjamas.

I am not complaining though. It is wrong in a good way.

Fifty photos or so later I manage to peel myself away and walk the last few hundred meters to the famous Kings House, one of the oldest inns in Scotland and my destination for today. It comes with bad reviews, from Dorothy Wordsworth most famously, and more recently from the bloke I met in Crianlarich Youth Hostel last time out.

It is open which is a relief. I step into the warm, take off my boots, and look for someone to ask about my room, which turns out to have a fine view of the Buchaille.


  1. Anonymous said...

    Stunning photos Spencer. That pink sky is wierd and beautiful. I was following you on the map but got confused over Kingshouse, as there is alos a town called than not far south of where you are.
    The hobbit houses are ridiculously tiny.

    Louise C  

  2. Spencer said...

    Yeah, sorry, I still have not got a map together. There are two Kingshouses that I have passed, though you could not really call either a town, the other one, near Balquidder does have a few houses around the pub and a shop IIRC.

    This one is at the top of Glencoe and is just an inn on its own. The nearest place liable to be marked is the White Corries ski centre.

    See if this works.,754645&st=4&mapp=idld.srf&searchp=s.srf&dn=834&ax=226157&ay=754645&lm=0

    If not, I will link to a West Highland Way guide as the Kingshouse is a generally recognised stage.  


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