I have often passed Corrour on the train having just come a big hill and my eyes have been drawn to a lonely ruin which sits about a mile south of the station. Lonely, windswept and desolate, it stands atop a small knoll and faces up to the worst conditions that Rannoch Moor can throw at it. Often too I have thought to myself that I must visit it some day, before getting lost in a book on the journey home and forgetting all about it.
My knee trouble has meant I have had to rule out big hills and when I was looking for a short walk just to get myself out and about Corrour was the first place which sprung to mind. A short bimble along to Loch Ossian perhaps, and a wee ramble along the track this cottage. Then, as usual, I got greedy. Perhaps I could manage a wee walk from Rannoch to Corrour along the Road To The Isles. After all, it’s a track. It’ll be maneagable…
My initial plan now changed I picked a day. I was off for a few days and my daughter Olivia was off school for the October week. I’ve not been active outdoors this year, and with the referendum taking up a lot of my free time this would be a nice chance to get a complete change of scenery. Time overtook us though, and the plans were almost scuppered. I say almost, but in the end we had an extra early rise to prepare gear before heading to the station to commence the almost four hour journey. By Loch Lomond and Loch Tulla and Loch Laidon we did go, before getting off at Rannoch Station. It was Olivia’s first stop here and she was fascinated with the station, the old red phone box in the car park and the signpost in the middle. She could have spent all day playing here, and I had to encourage her to leave, and so we headed off along the single track road towards Rannoch. The last time I had been here I did this section by bike, this time it would be at a gentler pace. I had a feeling that it my knee was going to give me any great trouble it would be on this first section. If it did we would simply turn back. In the event it didn’t, and we carried on at a nice easy pace.
We left the road at the Broken Heart Stone, and set off up a good track, observing and observed by a herd of deer who were breaking the cardinal rule of camouflage, keep off the skyline. Having said that is there much point in trying to hide when you are roaring like a moorbike with a dodgy exhaust? Probably not. Olivia was a bit concerned that the deer were going to attack us, and it took a wee bit of coaxing to get her to relax. I told her the story of how when I was about her age I went off by myself exploring the woods on the north side of Loch Awe, and on climbing a small slope I found myself about 10 feet away from a huge stag. It possessed a fair old set of antlers and I sat and observed it for about 10 minutes, wondering if it would attack me if it saw me. In the end I decided that the only way to find out was to stand up. So I did, saying “hello there” as I stood up, at which point the fearsome beast buggered off sharpish! I had my answer.
We met a couple walking down from the hills who had planned on climbing Meall na Meoig/ Beinn Pharlagain, but who had turned back after being told by the stalker that they were shooting there today. A few years back I had an encounter with a stalker on this very hill, and it would appear that little has changed, as shortly after we saw a shooting party on the ground well south of Carn Dearg, and later heard shooting from the same hill. Some estates are very restrictive on walking, and are deliberately vague on where you can walk. I recall phoning this estate afterwards to test a theory.
“I’m looking to come up walking tomorrow. Whereabouts on the estate will you be shooting so I don’t disturb you?”
We stopped for lunch at a bend in the track where we vainly tried to duck out of the wind. Off to the east I could see a sliver of Lochan Sron Smeur and in the distance the silhouette of the perfect pyramid of Schiehallion, while immediately north of where we sat was the lower slopes of Carn Dearg. A look at the map revealed that just beyond this point the distance between the path and the ridge up to the summit was minimal. So much for keeping off the hills. In fact the path seems to follow the 550m contour line all the way to Loch Ossian. Once the initial climb has been dealt with it’s a fairly straightforward trek. Things become a bit more tricky as we approach the old Corrour Shooting Lodge. The ground here was wet and we were slowed down considerably. We thanked the weather gods that the weather today was dry, otherwise this would have been a nightmare, and too much for an 11 year old. The idea of taking kids into the outdoors is to open their eyes to outdoors, not put them off it.
We arrived at the old shooting lodge, and clambered up to the ruins which sat just off the path. With impeccable timing a single shot rang out from the hills above. We had no doubt that a stag had been shot, and shortly after this Olivia saw one of the stalkers Argocats heading up the hill. From the layout of the lodge it appeared there had been a stables for the ponies which would have been used to carry the carcasses off the hill. The ponies appear to be as redundant as the lodge itself.
Another 15 or 20 minutes along the track saw us at the junction of the path which led off to the ruined cottage. It’s easy to miss, marked only with a small cairn, and it’s a path less trodden, or should I say driven on. While the main path is damaged and rutted with estate vehicles this is an altogether different experience. Easier underfoot and greener, we followed it downhill, passing clusters of fat, hairy brown caterpillers as we went. Considering we were now lower down the hillside on flatter ground it was surprisingly firm underfoot. We found ourselves following the banks of the Allt a’ Choire Odhair Bhig , the water dark and peaty. At times it foamed white over rocks, other sections were iron flat, and the depth could not be gauged by simple estimation. A prodded walking pole could find no purchase. Perhaps it went down forever.
At last we were at the cottage. It must have been a snug shelter at one time, with fires roaring upstairs and downstairs, and stew on the range. A small porch sheltered the front door which looks across the moor towards the Glen Lyon Munros. Who lived here, and why it is now abandoned I have no idea, but there must have been times when it was stunning. Knowing Rannoch Moor there would be times when it was utterly hellish, but today it was being kind to us. The late afternoon autumn light began to work its magic, and while appreciating it’s effect I was aware that time was marching on. We set off north for Corrour, and we had gone barely 100 yards when I realised I didn’t know the name of this place. The map revealed it. Lubnachlach.
The last section took us along the ‘back’ of Meal na Lice. At 584m with an ascent from the path of around 130m it’s a mere pimple and from this side appears insignificant, yet from Loch Ossian it’s craggy face looks across the water and it’s a far more imposing sight. While it’s a familiar and reassuring waypoint, other things are changing. New tracks, bulldozered spoil heaps, cable drums. Progress is coming to Loch Ossian. An oxymoronic small sign proclaims that there are to be sensitively sited hydro generators installed to power the lodges and buildings. I wonder how developed this area is about to become, and whether the remoteness which draws me here is soon to be lost.
As we approach the station we hear a vehicle behind us. We stand clear of the track and allow a small green Argocat to pass. Hanging from the back is the stag who caught the bullet we heard being fired a few hours before, a reminder to me and a lesson for Olivia, that this is a working estate and that this is what pays the wages. Darkness is closing in as we depart and as the train heads south across Rannoch Moor we can just make out our route for the day. We will cover in a few minutes the 13 miles to Rannoch. Once more I bid farewell to the cottage that stands alone against the elements, though now it has a name. Lubnachlach.