|OS Route Map →||Route file →|
Date: 21 May 2012
Start: Corrour station.
Finish: Tulloch station.
Maps: Explorer 385 Rannoch Moor & Ben Alder + Explorer 393 Ben Alder, Loch Ericht & Loch Laggan.
Train information: Traveline Scotland and Scotrail.
|Day 1||Corrour & Loch Ossian||5.3miles (8.6km)|
|Day 2||Uisge Labhair, Bealach Cumhann & Sròn Coire na h-lolaire||9.6miles / 2754 feet (15.5km / 839m)|
|Day 3||Loch a' Bhealaich Bheithe, Loch Pattack & An Lairig||11.4miles (18.3km)|
|Day 4||Loch Ghuilbinn, Strath Ossian & Coire Dhearcaig||9.3miles (14.9km)|
|Day 5||Lochan nan Caorach & An Dubh Lochan||5.6miles (9.0km)|
A superb 5-day trek around the remote Ben Alder group of mountains bounded by Loch Ossian, Loch Ericht, Loch Ghuilbinn & Loch Treig, starting at Corrour station and ending at Tulloch station. The route is mainly on good paths and tracks with just one significant rough pathless section between Dubh Lochan and the Allt Gualainn a' Chàrra Mhòir.
The outward leg from Corrour station follows the southern shore of Loch Ossian and ascends via the Uisge Labhair to the upper reaches of the glen.
The southern section traverses Bealach Cumhann, descends near the Alder Burn to Benalder Cottage and climbs to Bealach Breabag and the summit of Sròn Coire na h-lolaire for a fine view of Beinn Bheòil and Loch Ericht.
The eastern section descends via the shore of Loch a' Bhealaich Bheithe to Culra Lodge for a splendid view of Ben Alder's superb eastern corries and the neighbouring Geal-Chàrn group.
The north-eastern section traverses the An Lairig from Loch Pattack to Dubh Lochan and descends to Loch Ghuilbinn and Strath Ossian.
The north-western section ascends the footpath over the lower slopes of Chno Dearg and Coire Dhearcaig to Fersit for a final hike along the minor road to the A85 and Tulloch station
Our second expedition to Scotland in 2012, we were again blessed with fine sunny conditions and clarity but a quite debilitating heat in the latter half. Despite the high temperatures and lack of wind we experienced no midges at all. The first and last days were largely spent on the driving and train journeys and were planned to be short. Late in the first day near Corrour Lodge an activity group was setting off and a few people were returning, after that we didn't see another walker for the rest of the trek.
The first question in planning this trek was where to park: we could have parked at Tulloch station which has just a few spaces, but that would maximize the tiresome driving and we would never make it for the train in the middle of the day. We decided on Crianlarich, a modest drive with reliable parking and we arrived in plenty of time for the 14:21 train and a stroll around the village. We knew from our online research that the train from Glasgow divides here, one half bound for Corrour and ultimately Mallaig and the other half for Oban.
We kitted up and walked to the station where a lot of people were already assembled with more arriving by the minute. Trusting public services about as far as I can spit, I paid very close attention to every detail I heard or saw as I strolled around the platform and the time approached: it wasn't enough. A word of warning for the uninitiated like us: ever get into a situation where everyone knows exactly what's going on except you?.
We saw no indication on the platform that the train divides at all, let alone the crucial point of which half was which. Crianlarich station is unstaffed with no P.A. system either - no help there. When it arrived, everyone embarked without hesitation: surely we couldn't be the only first-timers on this service?. We hurriedly chased down a busy guard who gesticulated towards the rear half and we dumped our packs and sat down, only to see a scrolling marquee inside the carriage listing stations to Oban. With a mild panic we grabbed our packs again and heaved them out to the front half, only to find that the doors had been relocked: total panic, but it turned out they were locked just for the separation process. Making a more stern enquiry in monosyllables (and harbouring thoughts of sabotaging the now open doors until it was sorted), we were directed back to the rear half where the marquee now showed stations to Malllaig.
This was our first use of the remote Corrour rail halt, renowned among backpackers as a quintessential starting point: as the train vanishes into the distance you are left with the Station House and nothing else: miles of wilderness and mountains in all directions. On the train we noticed some monster backpacks with sizable external sacks strapped above and below and torpedo sized attachments on the sides.
We set off alone along the track through the vast wild moor towards Loch Ossian as the broken cloud gave way to sunshine and a good view up the loch from the southern shore with the mountains beyond.
Crossing the bridge at the northern end we turned right on a track and path through the scruffy plantation and onward to the footbridge across the Uisge Labhair, the view northwards towards Strath Ossian serving a fine aperitif for the days ahead. The objective today after a late start was to get well beyond the lodge and pitch, and we took an ascending track some distance from the riverside path to assess the terrain when we noticed a group of 10 walkers with backpacks tailing us. We waited a while and they took the lower path, it was clear from the words we picked up - and the pack sizes - that this was an activity group guided by a leader who marshalled the stragglers and attended to one who had fallen (maybe collapsed under the weight...).
Once the group had snaked off up the glen we scouted around the scrubby hillside and found a flat and quite dry pitch spot with a view back to Loch Ossian and the mountains at the head of the glen bringing inspiration for tomorrow.
In the morning the tops were capped by cloud but the sun was already breaking through intermittently at our level as we picked up the Uisge Labhair riverside path into the glen. Higher up we passed the activity group who were pitched by the river, they were up and about attending to their camp and breakfast. We like to see young people out in the wilderness and acquiring outdoor skills, in these cases we temporarily suspend one of our pet backpacking hatreds: groups of tents in the hills, the antithesis of what wild backpacking is about (a group being more than two). From this point onwards we would not see another walker for the rest of the trek.
In the upper reaches of the glen the path is highly variable, sometimes good and obvious, sometimes indistinct and rather wet as walkers have taken different lines, but never presenting any problems today even at the fords. It was a fine walk as the cloud lifted from the snow-flecked Beinn Eibhinn and the sun began to dominate.
From the upper glen we could see the obvious path coming towards us from Bealach Dubh on the opposite south-eastern flank: our plan was to cross over and climb up to join it. Weaving around the glacial moraines we spied the shortest and easiest looking slope and crossed the rough floor of the glen to make the trackless but easy ascent.
This path through Bealach Cumhann is an excellent one and continues right down to Benalder Lodge on the shore of Loch Ericht, initially flanked by Ben Alder and Beinn a' Chumhainn alongside the Allt a' Bhealaich Chumhainn and later above the Alder Burn.
Above Benalder Cottage and just beyond an old line of metal posts, we watched for a mapped path ascending north-eastwards alongside the Allt Bealach Breabaig, the third significant stream hereabouts to be very easily forded today. The path is faint at first but improves higher up and gives a good view of the southern end of Loch Ericht.
Many mountains have false summits, so apparently do bealachs, but we did eventually arrive at the true Bealach Breabag between Ben Alder and Beinn Bheòil with an onward view down to Loch a' Bhealaich Bheithe. The rather chilly wind had been fresh all day and was gusting quite strongly at the broad summit of the pass, but we found the best pitching ground a short way to the south with merely a stiff breeze.
Once unpacked and pitched we could make an easy late afternoon ascent to the top of Sròn Coire na h-Iolaire, still retaining a few snow patches and a superb perch to view the main top of Beinn Bheòil and the northern length of Loch Ericht. The snow covered fringe and flecked corries of Ben Alder would be seen to better advantage tomorrow from lower down. Amazingly at the summit cairn there was absolutely no wind at all, dead calm. On the way down I took a photo of our pitch near the lip of the wide bealach, the tent is the dark speck just left of centre. Once again a raven had cruised low over the tent cronking assertively and returned on our descent to keep an eye on us.
The anticipated rise in temperature and drop in wind began during the night, heralding the start of a hot summer spell: not ideal for backpacking but we would barely notice in the excellent mountain scenery of the next couple of days and the tops would be clear.
Walking down from the bealach we picked up the path descending to Loch a' Bhealaich Bheithe, gradually revealing the superb eastern corries of Ben Alder. This is a splendid remote location that almost compelled us to linger for a while and appreciate it. The lochside path is a bit scrappy at times but becomes an excellent one at the northern end, a grand viewpoint across the loch back to the bealach.
The path roughly parallels the Allt a' Bhealaich Bheithe as it descends northwards and the Sgòr Iutharn / Geal-Chàrn group comes into view. The mountain vista of Ben Alder and this group from lower down the path, especially as the river joins the Allt a' Bhealaich Dhuibh, is superb, the narrow Lancet Edge ridge of Sgòr Iutharn forming a sharp cone.
The path passes Culra bothy, where we saw one tent pitched but no sign of activity, and continues to a spur path leading to a footbridge across the river. A track traverses around the base of Carn Dearg to the tamer environs of Loch Pattack.
The track rounds the eastern slopes of Carn Dearg and approaches the Allt Cam, where we took the very good path westwards into An Lairig and beheld another fine mountain scene, the flanks formed by Beinn a' Clachair and Geal-Chàrn. By now the increasing heat was taking its toll and we took our time on the trek up this fine glen to Dubh Lochan, resting often to soak up the atmosphere and catch the occasional light breeze.
The path suddenly becomes less distinct near Dubh Lochan and is evidently less walked at the western end where people have followed different lines, but the terrain is not awkward - yet. We had planned on a pitch near the lochan but the tent would have been unbearably hot at this hour under a quite high sun, also nearly all the terrain hereabouts was heather and peat hags and hostile to pitching.
We slowly continued our route as far as the Allt Coire na Coichille, the first stream we could not feasibly cross dryshod: time for the first use of our VivoBarefoot Ultra wading shoes. These are incredibly light at 202g per pair (size 9) and totally nonabsorbent. They worked well for their basic purpose of protecting the feet from sharp or abrasive rocks and twigs etc. but the crossing was not exactly easy, it was like trying to keep our balance on a bed of glass balls. Even holding onto each other we were lurching about all over the place, and this was a very easy stream compared to many in Scotland. Still, our main footwear was dry, and with a quick shake and a minute in the sun the shoes were dry too.
We made our pitch here on very good grass near the stream. The sun was low enough by now to make the temperature in the tent tolerable but the sleeping bag remained unzipped all night, and strangely there were no midges at all despite the almost total lack of wind here.
Packing up our kit at around 7am it was already very warm, but the tops and views were clear and we set off in high spirits. We would need them to sustain us on the next section, a traverse around the base of the craggy Meall Nathrac to the 524m bealach at NN 438759. There were initially a few occasional fragments of discernible path but we were soon traversing a never ending series of rough heathery gullies, very slow and laborious in the mounting heat but with heartening views of the remote wild terrain surrounding the Allt Cam.
The bealach itself is an uninviting sea of heathery peat hags, but we avoided most of it by aiming for better ground of grass and rock on its western side until we spied a mainly grassy corridor down to the Allt Gualainn a' Chàrra Mhòir, crossing a couple of smaller streamlets on the way. We descended alongside the stream on its southern flank for a short while, a most attractive spot with its tumbling rocky falls and a good view back to Beinn a' Chlachair and to Chno Dearg ahead, then we left it to descend very easy slopes to Loch Ghuilbinn.
We emerged at the northern end of the loch and followed the shoreline for a while until we picked up the bulldozed track for the southern half into Strath Ossian. The presence of this type of track and Strathossian House opposite give this loch a less than wild atmosphere perhaps, but the scenery is nevertheless top notch.
Rounding the craggy Sròn nan Nead and approaching the bridge across the River Ossian, a pile of wooden beams was stacked on the far side: the floor of the bridge is being replaced and it was not yet complete. Fortunately it was easy to monkey across the gap on the side metalwork without incident.
To avoid Strathossian House we continued on the main westward branch of the track which crosses the Allt Fèith Thuill via the vehicular bridge and traverses the base of Chno Dearg to the ascending footpath over its low shoulder to Coire Dhearcaig and the forest. The ascent gives a fine view back over Loch Ghuilbinn towards An Lairig and southwards over Strath Ossian. A new view opened out on the northern side towards the mountains beyond Glen Spean.
Despite excellent pitching ground on the traverse, we were mindful of the possible difficulties in afforested areas and we wanted to complete the forest section today. The heat of the sun was again a persuasive incentive to stretch out the day until a cooler time. Apart from one very brief battle with an overhung swamp, we emerged without incident from the trees below Creag Dhubh where we made our last pitch.
During the night I felt what I assumed was a spider crawling along my hand, not an uncommon thing, but then I heard a rapid pitter-patter running along the groundsheet: it turned out to be a sizable beetle. Capturing a scurrying black beetle on a black groundsheet at night is not a skill one normally acquires, but eventually it was taken prisoner and escorted off the premises.
The night was warm again and we awoke to low cloud at the level of Creag Dhubh, having been kept awake for a while previously around 4am by a loud and persistent cuckoo nearby in the trees - earplugs are no defence against that. The mist quickly began to clear as we packed up the tent and we could soon see the distant mountain tops above it.
The path descends through an area strewn with large boulders that we assume are glacial erratics and passes Lochan nan Caorach, a curious little sheet of water with a shore of heathery peat hags and a protruding tangle of bogwood, giving the aura of an ancient lake frozen in time. The last small banks of valley mist gradually succumbed to the heat and the mountains were again crystal clear as we walked through Fersit to the bridge over the River Treig.
There is a recurring debate about the possibilities for the continuation from Fersit to Tulloch station. Some walkers claim to have followed a path or track adjacent to the railway line as far as the River Spean which then needs to be crossed, leaving the remaining few hundred metres on the railway line itself. Some walk the whole distance along the railway line on the assumption that with only three trains a day, it's fine provided no trains are due. Unfortunately passenger trains are not the only rolling stock using this line, there are freight trains and maintenance vehicles.
We took the standard longer hike along the minor road past An Dubh Lochan to the A85 leaving a short walk along the grass verge to the station access road. The station building has been converted into Station Lodge, a hostel offering bunkhouse accomodation.
The train journey back to Crianlarich was free of incident and gave another chance to view the superb scenery on the West Highland line. An excellent backpack.