Bridge of Orchy is a great destination, sitting right at the foot of Ben Dorain. It’s always an enjoyable trip up here on the train, and you can bet your wages that as the train swings round the head of Auch Glen and over the arch viaducts the ‘tourists’ will crowd over to take photographs of Ben Dorain’s uniformly steep southern slopes. The station itself closed many years ago and is now a bunkhouse, offering reasonably priced accomodation and facilities, in the main for walkers on the West Highland Way, which passes through the station.
Today, however I wasn’t here for the Munros. Recently I had read ‘Not the West Highland Way’ by Ronald Turnbull, which takes in the higher ground on the WHW route along with other interesting diversions, and this walk is based loosely on one of those.
With shorter winter days this walk is ideal, especially if you don’t want to push the pace. I hadn’t really noticed this hill before, probably as it fell well short of Munro or Corbett level. However I was immediately struck by it’s position in relation to other hill ranges and thought it would give some good photo opportunities. I wasn’t to be disappointed.
I secured my bike, and from the station I headed downhill, crossing the A82 at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel, before crossing the bridge and following the signposted West Highland Way uphill into the trees. If you are travelling up by train this is an ideal spot to cache your excess baggage for the return journey. Find the right spot and you can enjoy a nice cold beer on the way home!
Just up the track I met a few workers repairing the path, which had been scoured by water. Hard work, but at least at this time of year there were no midges. The path goes up through the forest and on leaving the treeline bends one way, then back the other, before skirting around the lower slopes of Ben Inverveigh. There’s a small knoll here with some decent views of Loch Tulla.
From here you can continue on the path, where you will come to a junction with a marker cairn, and a stalkers path leading uphill.
I headed uphill over rough ground, at this point unaware of any path, and followed the edge of the ridge up, and shortly came across a cracking viewpoint which gave me some very good views of Beinn Achaladair, Beinn an Dothaid and Ben Dorain.
The light wasn’t the best, giving the sky an indistinct white appearance, but after some playing around with the camera I was rewarded with some decent pictures. I’ve been using a Nikon P100, and for the panoramic shots I use the cameras ‘panoramic assist’ feature, which allows you to take a series of photos with the same settings, meaning that differences in light between shots are minimised. These are then stitched together on the pc to give detailed wide angle shots, far more effective than simply cropping a standard photo to a panoramic shape.
I find that using the camera in the ‘portrait’ position gives a better result, rather than the long thin strip which usually results in panoramic photos (see River Orchy photo), as you get a fuller picture. It’s also better with a tripod, and as I was here primarily for photos I was carrying a full size one, not my usual Gorillapod. When walking with a group I tend to use the latter, you can’t keep ten people waiting while setting up a tripod every time there’s a nice view!
Moving off, I headed uphill and soon found myself on a track which leads uphill to some TV aerials.
Here the path ends, and the terrain becomes rocky, with outcrops and rough ground on the top.
I passed what is marked as a lochan, the shape betrayed it’s presence as it was without water. In the distance on the shoulder of the final summit I saw a few deer who fled at the sight of me. Coming over a rise I was confronted with a stag, who reared up and posed, the Monarch of the Glen in the flesh. He was just a wind up merchant, just as I got the lens cap off of the camera he shot off downhill, out of sight to join a herd gathered at the top of a corrie.
The final summit is rocky and barren, marked with a cairn. I thought that another point looked a bit higher than the cairn, so I made sure I visited that to make sure, before taking the obligatory summit photo.
To the south thick cloud rolled around, obscuring the second hill of this round, Meall Tairbh. What I could see looked steep and rocky, and having spent so long taking photos getting round and back for the train may have been a bit of a push. With no views to be had I turned and returned by my outward route, for Plan B- Loch Tulla.
Coming downhill I could hear voices. Having picked a hill which was seldom visited I was a bit surprised to have company, especially midweek. I was even more surprised to discover that they were also from Airdrie as well! Colin and his wife live only five minutes away by car, and yet we met here at a completely random spot, 60 miles away. As Harry Hill would say, “What are the chances of that happening, eh?”
I had thought about visiting the Inveroran Hotel but had second thoughts, and as I had visited there before and hadn’t found it the most enjoyable of places decided to give it a miss. Instead I found a pleasant spot in the Doire Darach (Oak Thicket) woods and had lunch while scouring the map for clues to the location a particular tree. Not the easiest task on a 1:50,000 map I’ll be the first to admit. I have a picture by Colin Prior of Loch Tulla, and in the photo there is a very distinctive tree. Some time back I was given some old books, amongst which was an SMC guide to the Central Highlands, dated 1934. There are some marvellous pictures in the book, including one of Buchaille Etive Mor, by the Rev A.E. Robertson- the first Munroist. One picture in particular caught my eye, by Cecile MacRobert; it was the same tree which appeared on the Colin Prior photo! It seemed strange that two photographers would be drawn to focus on the same tree, 70 odd years apart. I set myself the task of finding the tree and decided to start on the south shore. Leaving my sheltered lunch spot I was gobsmacked, there was the very tree, two minutes walk from where I sat. Out again came the camera, and although again the light conditions weren’t too good I had my photos. The tree is hollow and bent, but who knows, perhaps it will still be standing, just as distinct in another 70 years, still recognisable.
The gate to the road was only a few feet away, but instead I had a walk along the lochside, taking in the views and taking photographs.
The lochside here is mostly free of rubbish, although nearer the road there was evidence of boozy campers, now banned from Loch Lomondside. Hopefully they don’t take up residence here. Bad Uaine (Green Place/Spot) is a lovely bay with great views of Beinn Achaladair, and is a nice place to linger.
Unfortunately the train calls, so I joined the road, south along the River Orchy to the bridge.
I had time for a quick detour for my stash of gear for the train, and had a seat by the river as darkness fell. I headed to the station, and after a few minutes the train came out of the darkness, where I made myself comfortable with a book and a bog-cooled beer for the journey back south.