…it is to this mental tonic, even more than to the bracing air of the heights, that we owe the unwearied spirit which nerves us to walk more leagues upon the mountains than we could walk miles upon the plain. For in the lowlands we walk with the body only; in the highlands we walk with the mind. – Henry Stephens Salt
We woke up this morning incredulous to discover that the weather forecast had completely changed overnight. Instead of stair-rodding rain the skies were clear, glorious sun casting the hills around Crianlarich into early morning relief.
Ian, our host in the B&B, said that last night the wind had been from the north-east, and he had anticipated there wouldn’t be rain because the north-east wind is usually a dry one. The satellite pictures on the weather forecast confirm this: the north-easterly sweep of air has kept the low-pressure system at bay to the south. We aimed to take full advantage of this, and hoped to reach Bridge of Orchy in the dry.
We retraced our steps from Hillview up through the pine forests to join the West Highland Way.
The air was needle sharp, absolutely invigorating, and the soft carpet of pineneedles underfoot was helpfully springy, having soaked up much of yesterday’s rain. As we climbed the views opened up, increasingly sending little shivers of anticipation up our spines. Or maybe this was just Ian’s excellent coffee! Hips are hurting, knees are definitely feeling the 1300km, but terrific views and sun on skin are a powerful analgesic.
In the forest we met again the four wonderful, legendary, crazy Macdonald sisters, so positive and ebullient. And walking so well: yesterday they had not finished until 8pm. A little further on we met the bagman walking in to meet them again.
We dropped down to the absurdly picturesque river which carved its way through the glacial valley, cross-crossing the river several times.
Along its length the yellow broom bushes reflected their explosion of flowers in the water.
The valley floor is wide and flat, and in places marshy land has formed. One small wooded area was full of pools, and it reminded me of the Wood Between the Worlds in C S Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew. I wonder what would have happened had we jumped into one of the pools?
There have been settlements here since Celtic times, and cross-carved burial slabs dating from the 8th century have been recovered from the original Celtic graveyard, as we learned from the interpretation boards helpfully set up along the path. Nearby, the ruins of St Fillan’s priory (endowed by Robert the Bruce in the 13th century) stood amongst sycamore trees in a moss-covered heap.
The farmland surrounding the river is part of the Kirkton and Auchtertyre Estate, in an active research partnership with the SRUC’s Hill and Research Centre to investigate environmental issues such as methane production by livestock. Their flock of Scottish blackfaced sheep helpfully modelled for us.
In general the landscape and the views were terrific, but even more so because of the unexpectedly fine weather.
The WHW wiggled along on one side of the A-road and then the other following General Wade’s Military Road. A bank of mouse-ear hawkweed flowers all turned their faces to the light like a field of miniature sunflowers.
As we neared Tyndrum the path carved its way through sun-drenched scrub, another kind of habitat.
It passed one lochan with a legend attached to it: that Robert the Bruce and his band of followers threw their weapons into the water here after their defeat at the Battle of Dalrigh, including Robert the Bruce’s sword Claymore (from the Gaelic claidheamh mhor meaning ‘great sword’).
Our planned break was going to be Tyndrum, a favourite stop-off of ours on car journeys to the West Coast, at the Real Food Café where we had fish chowder served in enormous hollowed-out bread rolls. The MacDonald sisters arrived just as we left.
After the chowder and the obligatory coffee and cake we hauled ourselves back on General Wade’s Road which climbs steadily all the way to the Bridge of Orchy. On the right was a stunning glacially-carved hill with a marked peak and a precipitous scree slope, and on the left the wide stony river valley, very low on water.
Several mountain streams fed it though; it must be quite a sight after the winter rains. And on the other side of that was our A-road, which we shall never travel with the same eyes again: I will look to the right as we drive, searching for tiny figures following the West Highland Way, and feel nostalgic for our own journey when I see them.
Our accommodation in Bridge of Orchy was not at the end of the day’s walk. We carried on round the shoulder of the hill to the Inveroran Hotel, surrounded by Scots pines in its remote but beautiful setting by Loch Tulla in the Black Mount Estate.
As we rounded the hill we spotted an osprey flying off the nest she had constructed in the branches of a dead Scots pine. We stopped to watch her for some time before continuing on to the Hotel for supper. Our lift back was provided by local retired retained firefighter Morris, who was perhaps responsible for the road-sign on the way to the Hotel:
In any case the local tender was out on a practice getting water out of the burn; perhaps they were called in to use the hose on the cuckoo which was sitting on a telegraph wire next to the Hotel and making a hell of an insistent racket.
Our accommodation was in the one-and-only West Highland Way Sleeper, a mixed bunkroom converted out of the buildings on the station platform. Quite unlike anywhere else we have stayed…
Today’s Mystery Beetle