West Scotland Trail Section 01. Argyll

Day 01. Toward to Inverchaolain. 13 km. 3.5 hours.  260m up. 260m down.  I seemed to have missed nearly every connection on my way from Edinburgh to Toward by train, ferry and bus, often arriving just after it had departed, entailing nearly an hour’s wait. Eventually I got the bus at Dunoon and travelled south to the lighthouse. Looking out of the bus window one could be forgiven for thinking you were in the Rivera with the newly cut lawns, colourful spring blossoms and the palm like cabbage trees. It was a lovely trip to the bottom of this peninsula on Cowal. 

001. The start of the “West Scotland Trail” is Toward Lighthouse seen here. Beside it looking like a chapel is the fog horn.

The lighthouse is now private but the beacon still flashes. Beside the beautifully maintained light was the foghorn house. It looked like an old chapel and was also well maintained. I spent a while here in the glorious sun which was enhanced by the white buildings like a Greek Island village. The tide was out so the shore line was large. Beyond it was the Firth of Clyde which stretched far to the south. It contained a few islands and just across a sound was the Isle of Bute and rising above that was the jagged skyline of Arran, the largest of the Clydes islands. It was a calming sight on this lovely spring afternoon. 

002. Looking across to the Isle of Bute from the beaches near Toward Castle

I left the lighthouse and headed west along the road. There was no pavement but it was a quiet road with little traffic. On my seaward side was a string of beaches which the low tide had exposed. The sand was still wet and glistening in the sun. As I wandered down the distinctive black and white Calmac ferries went between the Mainland and Bute as sailboats tacked to avoid them. Before long I passed the upmarket Toward Castle Hotel before reaching a bay with a farm steading which once belonged to the Castle but was now falling into disrepair with its red sandstone crumbling. There was a small sailing club here too.

003. Looking onto the leafy Ardyne burn from the old stone bridge over it.

The road now went inland for a couple of kilometres past green fields for grazing livestock. It was mostly ewes and their lambs in them now. The lambs were full of energy on this easy spring day. Beside the road the verges were covered in dandelions and bluebells. It was a very peaceful walk and it took me inland until the road swung to the west and crossed the beautiful Ardyne Burn on an old stone bridge. The water gently flowed under a lime green canopy almost fluorescent in the late afternoon sun. Just beyond the burn was the very well kept Knockdow House which looked newly restored. There were two ponds in front of it with Japanese style bridges over inlets. It was made to soothe the soul. I noticed each pond had a pair of little grebes on them and they would no doubt nest here. I stayed admiring the ponds for a while before walking another km until I reached a farm track which headed north past Gortansaig Farm. This track went up the hill, past the farm, for a good kilometre passing a couple of gates until the track split. There was a great view here across the sound to Bute and Arran beyond.

004. Knockdow House lies in a prime position beside 2 tranquil ponds and beside the Ardyne Burn.

As the track split it left the rough hill grazing and went into the forest. The track was grassed over and very easy to walk along as it contoured the hillside. There were frequent small streams coming out of the forest above me with crystal clear water. Each side of the stream bed was peppered with bright cream coloured clumps of primrose. This track was never used for vehicles and it would have been possible to camp on it as it was also sheltered. Frequently there were breaks in the forest where there were spectacular views down to Loch Striven and across to the Kyles of Bute. I sauntered along here noticing how the birch trees were about to explode into their lime green spring colours. It was a lovely walk and very gentle and after some 5 kilometres the track started to descend to Loch Striven and Inverchaolain.

005. Looking up Loch Striven from the high forest balcony track before the descent to the hamlet of Inverchaolain.

The descent was also easy on curved bends with the forest encroaching on each side. In places I noticed the gorse was 5 metres high. Soon it will encroach on this part of the track  making it difficult, but for now it was a joy. After a few bends the track disgorged me in the grazing fields of Inverchaolain farm. There was a burn here and I had previously thought about camping here. As I crossed the bridge I saw a nice spot just below the bridge on the north side. But first I wanted to see the historic church, which was 100 years old. It in turn was on the site of a few previous churches dating back to when this hamlet of perhaps 5 houses now had nearly 1000 people living here 200 years ago. I walked around the church and then returned to the campspot. 

006. The small church at Inverchaolain have a long and interesting history

I was in a dilemma as to which tent to take. I have 3-4 light or ultralight tents which I have used extensively in the past, even on the Cape Wrath Trail but decided to go for a 4 season tent as there would be so much camping on this trip. I took my Macpac Minaret as I knew even in a late seasonal storm it would look after me. Despite the extra weight I was glad I made that choice as I quickly put the tent up and went in after getting water from the main burn. The tent was roomy and I could sit up in it and write and it was quite cosy when the gas stove was working. Supper was Fish and Potato in Parsley sauce by Expedition Foods as I had previously eaten this year for 60 days in a row. It was as delicious as I remembered. By 2300 I had done the blog and photos and settled down in the cosy strong tent. 

007. My first camp at Inverchaolain hamlet was beside the burn near its tidal estuary.


Day 02. Inverchaolain to Glenbranter. 29 km. 10 hours.  630m up. 610m down.  It was a beautifully still morning when I woke to the song of a willow warbler. On emerging from the tent I saw it on a nearby shrub beside the water. I had an unhurried breakfast and set off a little past 0900. I walked back up past the church and then soon after turned east up a track which went up the valley on the north side of the Inverchaolain Burn. It was warm and I soon had to stop and take my jacket off. The climb was sustained but gentle and after half an hour I reached the point where it levelled off and contoured across the hillside. It was a lovely walk in the sun sauntering across the level hillside looking at the regeneration taking place now it was deer fenced. Unfortunately the whole area was planted in very small spruce which would soon dominate and consume the burgeoning native woodland. I passed a small pond with some noisy resident geese and many mallard before the track descended to the burn on the valley floor. 

I could see the climb loom above me on the other side as I dropped down to the water. There was a ruined bridge, smashed in a seasonal torrent, but the water level was low now and it was easy to skip across and start the climb. It was a slog with the 18 kg backpack across the tussock and heather. It was entirely off piste with no hint of a path. It was also planted with spruce so in 10 years it will be impossible to come this way and a detour further up the valley would be necessary. As I climbed the view over the valley opened up with Loch Striven at the bottom. After an hour of slog I finally made it to the saddle. I thought I would have to climb the deer fence, but there was a locked gate and someone had lifted it off its hinges.   

008. Looking down the greening Glen Chaolain with Loch Striven in the distance

On the other side it was surprisingly rugged with a craggy mountain to the side of the pass. There was no path but I could see down into the forest where there was a track on each side. I had to take the northerly one. It was rough coming down the fence line and along the side of the forest. It was warm out of the wind here. Soon I met an abandoned grassed over track and followed it down to the main track. There was a sign here saying the path I had just done was the “Coffin Road” I later found out it was to carry coffins over to Inverchaolain Church and not the other way round. The track now descended easily for 5 odd km to cross a dilapidated bridge over the Little Eachaig river.

009. Looking back to the saddle with the “coffin road” over to Glen Chaolain with the craggy Black Craig, 522m, to the left

The route now crossed the Dunoon to Portavadie road and went back into the forest which was being harvested. A bit beyond the forest disappeared and then I was down to the flat alluvial valley floor. There were some lovely Victorian villas here in fertile gardens bright with Rhododendrons.

010. One of the lovely Victorian villas in the Invereck valley

Unfortunately the route now followed the very quiet road for 3 km until it reached the bridge over the River Massen. I left the road here and followed the gentle River Eachaig along its sandy bank covered in beech, which were just coming into leaf with a lime green hue to them. This took me to the gate of Benmore Gardens. It was open so I went through to the avenue of some 49 huge Redwood trees. It was an impressive sight and each year the 130 year old trees grow a bit more. In 500 years they will be venerable giants as this climate suits them. I also wandered up to the pond with its acer trees and Japanese bridges. I left the gardens past a display of stunning Rhododendrons in flower and out through the north entrance which looked like it was always open. Within the garden grounds is an Outdoor Centre for school children and it occupies the Victorian mansion to which the gardens once belonged and this probably ensures the North Gate stays open. 

011. The avenue of nearly 50 giant redwood trees in the Benmore Botanical Gardens.

Previously I had camped just beyond the Benmore farm at the start of the road up the west side of Loch Eck. However this time I wanted to do a few more kilometres in order to reduce tomorrow’s hike so continued up past my previous campsite, a couple of holiday parks on the other side of the River Eachaig to reach Loch Eck. I was already tired and the soles of my feet were sore so the new stony track of large chippings hurt my feet. After half an hour I reached a small beach and shed where the Outdoor Centre launched their canoes from. An hour later along the stone track with a few camping spots I reached Bernice, an old community with a small graveyard and a restored house. I could have camped here but despite my tiredness I became greedy and decided to push on to the end of Loch Eck. 

012. Looking north up Loch Eck from the southern end. It is about 10 km long.

The track now became much softer underfoot and was grassed over in the middle. It climbed slightly above the loch and followed a quiet shaded route through the mature conifer forest. There were many small streams emerging from the forest, passing under the road and continuing through the moss covered forest to the loch. There were a few places to camp but they were not the best. However, the tranquil calm forest gave me a second wind and I santered on. Occasionally there was a recent landslip where trees and soil had slipped onto the road. There was a route through the trees but it was sobering to see how increased rainfall is going to affect the landscape as the climate warms. 

013. The tranquil track through the mature forest from Bernice to the north end of Loch Eck

At the end of the loch I could find nowhere to camp so decided to push on to the grassy fields I could see around Glenbranter a couple of kilometres ahead. I had walked far longer than I intended and was now quite tired. I hoped I would not suffer tomorrow. However as I reached Glenbranter I crossed a small bridge over the Glen Shellish Burn and spotted a superb camp spot on the other side. I retraced my steps over the bridge and went through a gate into a field. Here beside the burn under some overhanging beech branches and on sandy grass was a level tent area. I pitched the tent quickly and took water from the burn and then collapsed into the small cosy tent to eat, write and sleep. 

014. My beautiful second campsite on the bank of the Shellish Burn in the early morning as the frost clears


Day 03. Glenbranter to Lochgoilhead. 14 km. 4.5 hours.  410m up. 420m down. The sun was already warming the tent and it was melting the small frost in the field as soon as it touched it. As I was having breakfast a woodpecker was hammering on a nearby tree in short bursts every minute. I packed up and managed to get away quite at 0830, relatively early considering how tired I was yesterday. Initially my route took me across the Glen Shellish burn again and then past some magnificent conifers to Glenbranter. The hamlet was a collection of old wooden forestry houses and the local forestry yard. Perhaps 30 people lived here in 12 houses. It was a peaceful community with bird feeders in every garden. At the far end I crossed the River Cur, the main river of the valley as it flowed south towards Loch Eck. Just after the bridge the road to the village road met the A815 road between Dunnon and Strachur on Loch Fyne. I had to follow this quiet but fast road south for a good half kilometre until I crossed it to reach a track heading up through the forest on the SE side of Bienn Lagan. 

015. The climb up the east side of Beinn Lagan through the mature conifers took me to a saddle where I turned east

It was an easy climb up the track past some mature forests. Through the trees I could see a small hamlet which I soon climbed above as I went up the side valley on the easy track. Here again there was the odd small landslide from a recent Biblical downpour, some with trees still growing from the landslide. It was warm and still in the forest and the cold morning was now a distant memory as I climbed for a short hour up to the saddle. I noted I was on the Cowal Trail for much of this climb and continued to be for the rest of the day to Lochgoilhead. 

At the saddle A smaller track headed east between small trees regenerating naturally, mostly birch with some feral spruce. As I walked up the track a flock of chaffinches led the way for many hundreds of metres skipping excitedly some 10 metres in front of me. As the lovely trail approached a block of spruce across the valley floor it abruptly stopped and turned into a small path. It had the signs for the “Cowal Way” on posts. The path went along the north of the forest to a small rise which was essentially the watershed. At the top I saw Curra Lochain, about a kilometre long and quite narrow. On its south bank the block of spruce continued but then the hill side rose quite steeply with scattered crags up to the summit of Bienn Bheula, 779m. It was a typical Arrochar mountain with steep grass and black crags. I found a rock to sit on and watched about 10 Canada Geese swim on the lochain as I ate lunch. 

016. My lunch stop on the path to the north of the peaceful lo Curra Lochain with the craggy Bienn Bheula, 779m, rising beyond

I continued down the northside of the lochain on the small path to the end and then veered to the north away from the outlet stream following the small path down under crags and into the forest. It descended more steeply in some curving bends for nearly half an hour to spill me onto a large track in the newly harvested and open hillside covered in the debris of harvest. If I looked back to the saddle I had just come from I could see the outlet stream cascading over the Sruth Ban falls as it tumbled across slabs. While in the other direction I could look down to see Loch Goil and beyond that the most famous of all the Arrochar mountains, namely the Cobbler. I followed the large track down for 3 km as it descended to the shores of Loch Goil. 

As I neared the sea I realised there were two parts to Lochgoilhead. across the water on the east side were small white villas, surrounded by shrubs, along the shoreline. While on the west side there were 2-300 chalets or mobile homes arranged on 2-3 terraces. It all started in the 1960’s when a local farming couple discovered tourists were more profitable than sheep and put up a few static caravans. In the next 50 years it grew, and bought Drimsynie House and Estate, the local hotel and also a few caravan parks elsewhere in Argyll. They were all a blot on the serenity of the landscape only tempered slightly by the shrubs and trees which were growing between them. It must be a terrible eyesore for the owners of the more refined villas on the east side to look across the loch onto. 

017. Looking down Loch Goil, an arm of Loch Long, from near Lochgoilhead on a sunny afternoon

It was early afternoon now and I decided to see if the heart of this holiday empire, the Drimsynie Hotel, had a room. I did not so much need a wash, comfortable bed or food as a place to charge my gadgets and somewhere to write comfortably. They did have a room and by 1500 I was in the shower washing my barely dirty clothes. I managed to catch up with the blog writing in the comfort of my room while a small rain shower passed. 

Day 04. Lochgoilhead to Upper Glenfyne. 31 km. 9.5 hours.  570m up. 410m down. It was a beautiful morning with a touch of ground frost lingering in the shade. The hotel served breakfast at 0800 but it was extra and I already had some granola so I ate in my room and was off at 0730. The route I plotted took me along the loch front to the main square of the village. The tide was out and the sun made the wet beach glow with a peach hue. Beyond the beach the loch was still like a mirror. The square has a shop and an open area and I could imagine the villagers gathering here to relax, chat and spread local news. The holiday park did not look too bad from here so the village left a great impression on me on this sunny morning. My route now followed the Cowal Way past an arboretum of magnificent conifers to reach fields with ewes and lambs. I followed the track round to the road and then crossed the small and quite slow Goil River over a picturesque old stone bridge. The beech trees on each side of the bridge were vibrant green with new leaves starting to unfurl.

018. The beach at Lochgoilhead in the early morning with the tide out

I now turned away from this lovely village and went upstream on a riverside path for 3 km. I think the path was part of a community funded project. It was a joy to follow with the forest on my left and the river or its floodplain on the right. It took me past a couple of houses and then led me to the minor road up Hell’s Glen. The native oak trees on each side of the road were dripping in moss, testament to the rainfall here, but the leaf buds were yet to open. It was a very quiet road with perhaps a car every 10 minutes and because of the nature of the road they were driving very slowly. I passed an old spring which had been in use for centuries called Moses Well, and then the road, the B839, entered a coniferous plantation. There were quite a few trees here which had been blown over this winter. The roots were shallow of this poor ground but the plates were large with some 5 metres in diameter. Occasionally a row had blown over and the root plates were still joined and formed a continual 5 metre high earthen wall. 

019. Looking across Loch Fyne from the highpoint of the B839 road

At the top there was a great view down to Loch Fyne and across to Inveraray, which was white in the sun.I could even see the childhood home of my father on the hill above the town. The descent was quick and I was distracted so missed my turning to the left which would have led me to a farm and then the shore. Instead I reached the junction of the quiet B839 with the fast A815 at a place called Tinkers Heart. I decided to cross the road and then bash my way through the boggy forest to the shore of Loch Fyne. I knew from my last trip here there was a lovely shoreline track and had planned to follow it. The bushwack took nearly half an hour but I eventually reached the shore and stopped for a break. 

020. The imposing Ardkinglas house on the shores of Loch Fyne near Cairndow.

The next 3 kilometres to Ardkinglas house were idyllic. To my left was the loch with its shallow stoney coast line full of interest. There were many wildfowl and geese and the excited chatter of oyster catchers. There was the occasional house beside the track on the uphill side but it was mostly woods. As I reached the large imposing Ardkinglas house I noticed there had been some lovely specimen trees which had been blown down including beech and fir. Ardkinglas house was very characterful and imposing and its gardens were stunning. I went round past the old walled garden, green houses and orchard and these needed a bit of love but were interesting. I crossed a bridge over the main burn called the Kinglass Water and came to a paved road which I followed to Cairndow. Just on the other side of the road were some famous gardens and a magnificent arboretum with the tallest trees in Britain at 210 feet. I made a note to visit when I am passing here next. My arrival in Cairndow was heralded by the lovely octagonal church and its tower, a landmark. A bit beyond in this sleepy village was the old Stagecoach Inn where I intended to eat, as I had last time I walked here, It was open and serving so I went in for lunch.

021. The Octagonal church and its tower at Cairndow.

Previously I had to walk along the verge of the main road to the head of the loch but a few years ago the Caindow Community created the “Shepherdess Path” well above the road on the wooded hillside. It was a lovely path for 3 km with great views up Glen Fyne where I was going and also back down the loch. After a very nice short hour I came down to the road bridges over the river and the small private road up the glen. I passed a small brewery called Fyne Ales and went into its shop and cafe. It was full of genteel, hairy real ale aficionados discussing hop varieties with the staff. It did serve coffee and snacks, but I did not see any. I felt out of place with my large rucksack so I walked through and out of the back door. 

022. A Deer farm on the valley floor just up Glen Fyne from the brewery

My route now took me up the glen on an empty private tarmac road for 5 km. As I wandered up the road past deer farms and Highland cows with huge protective horns and young calves I noticed how craggy the mountains were becoming. Before a hamlet of just 4 houses I crossed a bridge over the River Fyne to the north west side. The houses looked like a smallholding and estate workers for the Ardkinglas Estate. After the houses the road reverted to a track and entered an area where there was a lot of regenerating native woodland. This was largely achieved by fencing it off so deer and sheep could not nibble the young saplings which would sprout from seeds dormant in the soil. There was a lot of alder and hazel in the young trees and of course silver birch. The track continued up the glen which was getting more and more imposing. I felt I was entering the mountains now after 3 days of preamble. I could see snowfields higher up. After 5 km the track reached a newly restored shepherd’s house which looked lovely through the windows. 

023. This part of Loch Fyne near the restored shepherd’s house was being rewilded but keep the sheep and deer out to allow trees to grow

The track stopped here but a stalkers path continued up the valley on the west hand side. It was occasionally wet but much easier than the hillside. There were sheep and deer here eating all that sprouted so there were no saplings. I heard many cuckoos in the birch trees in the crags which the deer could not reach. I saw two herds of deer altogether and many ewes all with lambs. I wandered up this track, often above the River Fyne for another 5 km until I got to a ruined stone cottage and stone sheep fanks. Here the valley split as two burns came down to a confluence. It was where I had been heading for and it seemed a natural place to stop. I found a grassy patch beside the westernmost burn and had the tent up in a jif. It was only 1900 but I had done well today and was tired. After supper and writing I managed to get to sleep as the last cuckoos called when the light faded. The hiss and burble of the burn lulled me to sleep.  

Day 05. Upper Glenfyne to Dalmally. 14 km. 6 hours.  440m up. 560m down. It was a beautiful morning when I popped my head out of the tent. It was completely clear with a blue sky although there was a frost, even on the tent, but it would soon burn off. Better cold and sunny than warm and wet. I packed up and set off at 0800 and almost immediately saw a vast bird. It was a Sea Eagle and it soared in the thermal above me looking for some carrian, or even a placenta from a new lamb. As I watched it glide effortlessly a crow appeared and started to harry it. It was only when I saw the two together did I realise how big it was at perhaps 10 times the size of the crow. It was like a jumbo jet and a cessna 6 seater. However the crow could easily out manoeuvre it and chase it off. It was a great start to the day.

024. A sea eagle soaring above my campsite in upper Glen Fyne


Still at my campsite I now climbed the steep tussock covered hillside to what looked like a gate in the deer fence. It was not, just planks between strainers but it did allow me to clamber over it easily. I now followed another fence for about a kilometre as it contoured around the top of the gorge which the upper River Fyne flowed in. Deer and sheep had also gone this way and there was a very rustic and sometimes wet path. At one point a fallen tree had crushed the fence and I took the opportunity to go into the regenerating woodland but so did the animals and the path disappeared. A bit further I reached the fence as it went up the hillside and could cross it via a removable panel. I was now on the open hillside with just a sheep fence which I crossed back and forth easily as necessary to keep to the drier ground. It was slow going and I plodded up here between tussock and bog on the south side of the river for 2 kilometres. Then I spotted a track on the hillside to the north of the river. I crossed it easily in this dry season and cut up across more tussock to the track. The sea eagle passed across the hillside soaring low as I climbed. 

The track was great. It was more for an argocat than anything else and was used to service some 10 water intake slots which stretch across the hillside between where I was and the dam at the saddle of Glen Fyne and Glen Shira. The water intakes were essentially diverting all the small burns coming down the hillside and instead of letting them flow naturally into the upper River Fyne it channelled them off to the dam where it would help power the turbines down Glen Shira. Even the main upper Fyne River was diverted at the end of the track and channelled off in a pipe. 

This was where I had to leave the main valley and head north up beside the small upper Fyne to an open and shallow pass high on the hillside to the north between the Fyne and Orchy catchment areas. I kept high above the small burn or stream on more level ground to avoid the interlocking spurs and moraine debris beside the river. After a short hour I reached a greener grassier area with some old ruins. 

These ruins were shielings or summer grazing houses from generations ago. There were 6 buildings and a stone fank. What was once a place where families tended to the livestock in the summer filled with laughter and work was now just a 5 rickle of stones which were being consumed by the hillside. These grazers would have left the shielings each autumn and returned with their livestock to their village in Glen Fyne or Glen Shira for the winter. My grandfather’s grandfather could have probably remembered this time of transhumance which stopped nearly 200 years ago. The descendents of the folk who spent the summer here now probably live in Canada or New Zealand having been evicted or dispersed to seek their fortune in the Empire.  While this way of life has vanished in the UK it is still found in many mountainous areas of the old world, from the Alps to the Himalayas. 

025. Looking south from to shallow pass between Glen Fyne and Stath Orchy. The mountain is the munro of Bienn Bhuidhe

I continued up the pathless hillside making my best way across the tussock and peat bogs as I slowly gained on the shallow pass. Behind me I could see the mountains around Crianlarich with a new dusting of snow, especially Stob Binnein. More immediately to the south was the vast craggy massif of the mountains between Glen Fyne and Glen Shira which culminated in Beinn Bhuidhe, 948m. It had just a few patches of snow on it.

Once I got to the top of the shallow pass a spectacular vista unfolded in front of me across the other side of the Strath Orchy valley. There were numerous mountains here from Ben Cruachan rising steeply from the steely blue/grey waters of Loch Awe in the south to distant peaks on the south side of Glencoe to the north. Tomorrow I would walk into them but first today I would just descend to Dalmally which I could make out in the valley below.

026. Looking NW from the shallow pass between Glen Fyne and Strath Orchy to Ben Cruachan mountain and Loch Awe

The descent was initially across peat hags but then a stream formed and I followed it down. As I approached forest in the shallow ravine which my stream descended into I made a mistake and went through a ramshackle gate in a deer fence to the west of the ravine. I should have continued down the east side. As a consequence I had to cross the ravine and clamber over a rotting deer fence to reach a track which I knew led to Brackley farm.

I had come this way 13 years ago and as I crossed the railway line and passed the farm that time I was invited into for a cup of tea by the wife of the farmer. I spent a couple of hours chatting with her in the kitchen. I remember it being  untidy  with crockery and utensils everywhere but considered just part of farming life and the farmer was very jolly and quite learned, so ignored it. I later saw this very farm and both the husband and wife on the BBC programme “This farming life”. During the program I remember them saying as they were childless they hoped their urban nieces who live in London would take over. However the urban nieces were not keen. 

When I reached the farm I was quite horrified by the state of it. I suppose a dead cow rotting in the scrubland and two dead sheep in the field above should have prepared me. The barn had collapsed and the farmhouse where I had my tea looked derelict with broken windows. There was farming detritus and scrap everywhere clogging up the farmyard and there was a smell of rot and decay. I discovered it was from the corpse of a fox which was dumped at the gate. There were however two new livestock sheds and I assumed that the farmer I met previously had abandoned the old farm and lived in a smaller house from the 1960’s and concentrated on the livestock in the shed. It must be very difficult for farmers when they get old and want to continue farming but their abilities would not let them and everything goes to rack and ruin. However one also has to consider the welfare of the livestock they look after. I did not look into the new sheds but hoped they were not as bad as the rest of the farm. The looked much more professional than the rest of the farm.

027. The octagonal church and tower at Dalmally is similar to the one at Cairndow.

From here it was a short kilometre walk down the road to the main road. I had to follow its verge for about half a kilometre until the pavement started. Dalmally itself looked like it was struggling a little and there was a large hotel which had been closed for a while and the other main hotel was now room only as it could not to cook anything. I had already booked into a lovely Bed and Breakfast past the distinctive hexagonal church and tower, similar to the one at Cairndow yesterday, and beside the River Orchy. I got a great welcome at the Orchy Bank  and was delighted that my resupply box had arrived intact with my supplies for the next 5 days of camping.

028. Looking downstream from the old bridge over the large River Orchy at Dalmally. The Orchy Bank Guesthouse is on the right

Day 06. Dalmally to Loch Dochard. 21 km. 7.5 hours.  600m up. 420m down. After a great breakfast I left the comfortable Orchy Bank Guesthouse a little after 0900. My rucksack was heavy with 5 days of food in it, which was an extra 6 kilos. I walked down the very quiet B8077 road. Not a car passed me in 3 kilometres. Initially it was past a series of hidden houses and I had a large marsh to my left which went down to Loch Awe. I think the march was created by the estuary of the Orchy River as it entered the loch in a maze of meanders. In front of me were 4 large mountains, all of them Munros. When I reached a bridge over the River Strae I crossed it and then left the road to head up a track. 

029. A new born lamb in one on the many fields with lambs below Dalmally

I had to follow this track up Glen Strae for nearly 10 kilometres.  I was a well maintained track and all the fences on each side were well maintained. After a kilometre or so I got to a pond with a few islands and reedbeds. There were about 10 teal (I think) on the pond and they were quite wary and swam off. However there were perhaps 20 simple hides around the pond to hide behind and observe them. I don’t know if it was the farmer or community who set up the hides but it was commendable. After a bit of forestry the valley opened up into a fertile flat bottomed floodplain across which the river meandered. It was like a Victorian oil painting of  romantic Scottish Glen. There was a house here in the woods to the east and overlooking the glen. It was probably the farmers house and it was beautifully maintained. In fact the whole of the area seemed well looked after with good gates and fences around the beautiful fields. It was in stark contrast to the squalor of Brackley Farm yesterday.

030. 0ne of the crystal clear side streams flowing down the mountains and into the River Strae

I passed another man made pond with an island and duck houses on it and then two large herds of Highland Cattle, each with 30 animals. It was raining now as per the forecast but the cattle were not bothered under their heavy fleeces. As the cattle finished the sheep started and they went right up the valley. I also noticed how much of the sides of the valley were fenced off to allow regeneration  and there were large areas of saplings about to burst into leaf. There were also some plantations with mixed conifers. It was a joy to walk here, even in the rain. 

031. One of the wet Highland Cattle in the well managed farm in Glen Strae

As I went up the valley the track got smaller and smaller, but the valley was still pretty and spectacular. Especially dramatic was the long sharp ridge which went up to the pyramid shaped Benn Mhic-Mhonaidh, which dominated the east side of the glen while Beinn Lurachan dominated the west. Both were about 750 metres. The valley became less U shaped and more V shaped as I went up and the track was now small and grassed over at the top. I scared off a herd of 10 sheep as I approached the main river to cross it. I noticed two lambs hidden in the heather out of the wind but still in the rain. They saw me and almost imprinted on me, bolting towards me and bumping into my boots. As I crossed they tried to follow but I waved them off and they stood there bleating until the mother ewe eventually responded. 

032. Looking up across the wide fertile flood plain of Gen Strae with the river meandering across it.

It was windy and the rain was persistent now. I was fully kitted out for the forecast deluge in the afternoon. As I started up the hillside I saw an eagle further up the glen. Again a sea eagle I think. I hoped the naive lambs would realise this danger. The climb was slow and sustained. It took at least an hour to climb up the tussock grass. I went up the east side of the stream’s ravine using deer or sheep tracks as I found them. The wind was very gusty and the rain was now quite heavy but it was not falling in sheets, like net curtains shimmering. 

At the broad top there would have been a great view across Glen Kinglass to the Ben Starav mountains but it was all lost in the rain and mist. Just down from the pass was a new micro hydro power intake and track. I followed it down through a deer fence and into regenerating woodland. I could see Loch Dochard far to the east down in the valley. The track however veered to the west and seemed to go just very gradually down the hill. It alarmed me as if I ended up at the bottom I would have to cross the large River Kinglass to get to a good stalkers path on the other side and there was no bridge and the water level would be rising in its many catchment streams. So I came to my senses and retraced my steps through the deer gate again. I now crossed a small stream just before it entered a ravine. I now followed animal tracks as I slowly sidled down the hillside descending diagonally for a good hour until I reached the valley floor and a different stalkers track. It was a wild descent in this remote county in one of the least accessible places in Scotland. 

033. Looking down Glen Kinglass from the saddle be Glen Kinglass and Glen Strae as the rain fell

Once on the valley floor I could head east up the stalkers paths which was now saturated with the rain with puddles and rivulets across it. I headed up climbing slowly with the rain lashing my back and drumming of my jacket hood.After an hour Loch Dochard appeared. It had a large sandy delta where the main stream to enter it came in from the north. It was fringed with sandy beaches, mostly peach coloured from the surrounding granite I think. To the south of the loch were copses of pine, some old and venerable. As I reached the loch a very small wet path headed off to the north. I took it and after 15 minutes came to a shallow channel flooded by the swollen river entering the loch. I skipped across the 6 inch deep channel just not getting my socks wet and then found a nice grassy campsite beside the river. I quickly put the tent up and flung everything in and then went in to sort it all out. By 1900 I was very cosy inside the storm proof tent, at least 4 season anyway, with the rain pelting the outer fly. I used half of the guy ropes so knew it would stand a wind if one got up. I was glad I was not in one of my ultralight tents and the extra 1.5 kilos were worth it. 

034. I camped beside the Loch Dochard and then went up the valley in the middle to cross a pass to reach Glen Etive

Day 07. Loch Dochard to Upper Glen Creran. 23 km. 9 hours.  910m up. 1000m down. It rained the best part of the night but there was a short respite when I packed up the tent. However I could see more coming over imminently so I dressed in my waterproofs before I set off up the stalkers path well after 0900. The ground was sodden and every step was squelchy . My boots were wet and I had pretty much given up on trying to keep them dry as I sloshed up the path into the large U shaped valley which curved to the west as it went higher. There was mist on the mountains on each side of the valley, and indeed all the mountains. As I went up I noticed many tree roots in the peat, some were exposed by the river eroding the peaty banks. In one place two roots were growing on top of each other with the second tree forming a root plate above the first. The first was not rotted because it was preserved in the peat, as was the second. These were probably from pine trees when the climate was a bit drier and the deer had predators to keep the numbers down. Perhaps 500 years ago or maybe more when much of Scotland was covered in Caledonian Pine forest. There are just a few remnants of this left today. 

I had to cross the main stream across some slabs, maybe 15 metres wide down which the water rushed. It was only 10 centimetres deep at the most and that was in these sodden conditions. The stalkers’ track continued the way up the east side of the valley now above the main stream. Soon the pass showed itself up ahead and it was a slow steady climb to get there. The mountains on each side were both Munros and quite craggy, especially Meall nan Eun, 928m, on the west side. The pass was very windy as the southly funnelled through this narrow gap. 

035. The craggy Meall nan Eun formed the west side of the pass between Loch Dochard and Glen Etive

036. Coming down the steeper slopes of wet moorland and rock slabs to reach Glen Etive.

Once on the north side of the pass I could see Glen Etive far below. The valley into which I was to descend was flanked by huge mountains on each side covered in crags and slabs. The one on the west was over 1000 metres and impossible to walk up from this side due to its ramparts of rocks. It was an impressive mountain environment and very dramatic and inhospitable especially in this west weather. Rivulets of white foam poured down the black crags as the rain made its way to the valley floor. I went straight down a hikers path which was very wet and slippery. Three times my feet slid from under me and I landed on my rucksack. Unscathed, I made it to the valley floor where there was a new micro hydro. These things are cropping up in every valley now but are usually quite well done. There is a small dam which takes 75% of the water. It then travels underground in a hidden pipe to a small turbine and generator house which often look in keeping. The biggest scar from it all is the track but they will green over in time. I followed this track to the main Etive valley floor. 

037. In Glen Etive looking beyond a herd of Highland Cattle with the sharp Buachaille Etive Beag in the distance

I wanted to cross here but what I thought was a bridge was a broken 2 wire trolley over a gorge. I knew there was a bridge a good kilometre downstream so set off past a herd of Highland cows with a large hairy bull amongst them. Jagged peaks surrounded me and it is little wonder Glen Etive is considered one of Scotland’s most dramatic valleys. At the bridge I crossed and then headed back upstream on the minor valley road to the houses on the north side of the trolley. Here I cut a corner up past another micro hydro scheme to gain the forest track I wanted. I might have been as well walking a bit more on the road as I had 2 deer fences to climb and the rough rubble of the route where the hydro pipe was buried. 

038. Looking up the River Etive from the bridge with Buachialle Etive Beag in the left distance

It was initially my aim to stop here and camp but it was early afternoon and I decided to do at least some of the first of two climbs tomorrow. The track was good and it quickly led me up through the forest and onto the open hill. I could see the pass ahead between 2 craggy munro mountains each about 950m and set off up for it. I half heartedly looked for somewhere to camp but the ground was wet and as I climbed the wind increased. I resigned myself to finding somewhere on the other side. It took me two hours to climb up the squelchy stalkers track to the pass and I reached it with tired legs. It was a wild impressive craggy pass strewn with black boulders which had tumbled from the cliffs above and were now being consumed by peat and turf. 

039. Climbing up the nothside of Glen Etive and looking back to the huge bulk of Ben Starav on the south side of Loch Etive Head

There were some places to camp on the NW side of the pass but I got a second wind and just kept coming down. When I saw a camp spot I found a fault with it so carried on. After half an hour I came across a new track on the east side of the stream. It seemed odd to have one up here and I wondered if it was the start of another micro hydro scheme. The track took me down to the valley floor and into a forestry plantation. I hoped to camp here but there was nothing suitable for a good 3 km until a grassy spot appeared beside a stream. It was perfect but I was tired. I eventually got into the tent around 2000 hrs and noticed I was dog tired. I had my usual Fish and Potato dehydrated dinner and a litre of hot chocolate and then fell asleep with the rain still lightly falling, as it had been all day. I could not write a jot.   

Day 08. Upper Glen Creran to Corran. 27 km. 10 hours.  610m up. 730m down. When I undid the zip the first thing I saw were patches of blue sky. I was not before time as the last 48 hours of damp weather meant everything was getting claggy and humid, even my sleeping bag. This would give it a chance to dry off a bit. I set off at about 0830 and the first thing I had to do was cross a couple of hundred metres of harvested forest and then climb a deer fence. Once over the fence it was much easier than I thought to cross the upper River Creran and cross more forest to reach another track on the north side of the valley. The whole thing took a good half hour but I had managed to cross the missing link. 

040. Crossing the upper River Creran in the alderwoods each on each bank

A short kilometre down the track I came to another micro hydro station whose small turbine house was tucked into the forest. I had a track following the waterpipe and this track was the one I needed to take me up the hill to a small dam. It was a short steep walk and I was soon warm in the sun. At the dam I gingerly tiptoed across the top of the water intake which was slippery. Had I slipped I would just have gotten wet as there was water on each side. I was only 5 metres wide and it saved me bashing through the forest. An intense walk for another 20 minutes through smashed trees from harvesting brought me to a larger track and the end of my off piste sections. I would now be on established routes again. 

I walked north up the track and soon the giant mountains of Glencoe came into view, Bidean nam Ban the highest looked huge with a wave of cloud blowing off its top. After a short kilometre on the forest track I reached a sign for a public right of way to Ballachulish. It was exactly what I was looking for but thought it would be overgrown and concealed. The path went up through beautiful larch woods for half an hour to the top of the ridge dividing two valleys which I had to cross. There were more great views this time to the north over the two grey scree covered mountains which made up the Ballachulish Horseshoe, both enormous Munros. 

The sun was out now and it was warm as I started down the steeper slope to the valley floor through small birch. On the valley floor was a more popular and well established path which I could follow all the way to civilization. It was hot so I stopped at a stream partly shaded by birch trees and peppered with primroses. I sat on a rock beside the stream and had lunch in the warm air. It was a great tonic after the last couple of more miserable days. After lunch I follow the path down across moorland and then greenfields with grazing sheep to reach the first houses.

041. Coming down to Ballachulish with Loch Leven beyond.

This was a nicest part of Ballachulish with a great view over the islands in Loch Leven and a string of cottages beside the stream whose banks were covered in blooming rhododendron. It was short lived and before long I was on a street with dull houses heading down to the main road. I had tried everything to find a way from Ballachulish to the Corran Ferry without going on the main road, the A82. However there were few options. In the end I had to walk about 4 kilometres on a foot and cycle track beside the road while cars and lorries rumbled by beside me. It only took an hour but it was not pleasant although I was separated from the traffic a little. 

042. Looking up Loch Leven from Ballachulish bridge. Bidean nam Ban is on the right and the Pap of Glencoe on the left.

Crossing the bridge was also fraught as the pavement was quite narrow. As soon as I reached the north end I left the road and went down across fields to the tranquillity of the pebble beach. It was peaceful here on the shore of Loch Linnhe sea loch. I had my second lunch here as the small waves lapped at the shore. Across the loch to the west were the rugged hills of Ardgour. I now had to return to the road for another 3 kilometres through the village of Onich, again on a wide pavement. However the traffic was relentless and I could not imagine living here at all despite its wonderful location. As I reached the west end of the village I could escape again. 

043. Looking west from the pebble beach at North Ballachulish across Loch Linnhe to rugged Ardgour

It was only 2 kilometres along this unpleasant road to the Corran Ferry but there was a walk up a very wooded side valley across a stream and down to Inchree which was 4 kilometres. I took the latter on a lovely path through native woodlands. The gorse was in flower here and smelt like coconut oil. After I crossed the wooded stream the path descended through large conifers to reach the Inchree village and the Corran Ferry just beyond. I was tired, hot and my feet were sore so it was a great break to be whisked across the water on a ferry which crossed the narrow strait frequently. It left me at Corran on the west side of the narrows and the start of a new section. 

044. My greeting in Ardgour from a confident ram after crossing the Corran Ferry.

I asked at the Ardgour Inn if they had any rooms but they were full. Everywhere is full now as Scottish Tourism is having a boom. I had planned to camp anyway tonight so started walking up the small road, the A861. It was a beautiful evening and I could see up the Loch Linnhe now to Fort William and Ben Nevis towering above it. I passed a row of houses which made up Corran until I got to a large farm. Sheep and some rams wandered across the road undisturbed by the occasional car. In the end I walked about 5 kilometres north from the village before I found a nice place to camp beside the sea loch and with a cool clear stream. I was tired though and after I put the tent up could not write and fell asleep with the small waves lapping on the rocky shore line just below. 

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