National Parks no more – LEJoG Day 70
Day 70 pre-amble
After a blitz of three posts in four days, I’ve taken a little break. The blog has received more hits than ever before in the last 7 days, so I could argue that the hiatus is a deliberate policy, enabling visitors to sample as much material as possible before posting something new. However, this would be untrue. The real reason for the break is that I struggled to think of a title for day 4 of the West Highland Way. This, the middle day, was another very fine walk, but nothing stood out as remarkable. For a start, it was less than half the length of days 1 and 3, and over six miles shorter than day 2. It was also the joint shortest day since Middleton to Langdon Beck, way back in July 2019. And as you’ll see, the eye is drawn to only one mountain for at least two thirds of the nine miles.
Struggling for inspiration, I noticed on the map that I crossed the boundary of a National Park for the last time. Hence the heading above, which is also one last callback to our old friends Craig and Charlie. So I thought about discussing the five National Parks of LEJoG. My first idea for a title was ‘National Parks and Icons’, because a great Scottish icon died this time last week. Maybe I could also pad things out with references to my sampling of malt whisky, my consumption of Irn Bru and, oh I dunno, thistles, tartan or something. But trading in basic stereotypes isn’t what I’m here for. The references to dialect and the Proclaimers in previous titles were meant affectionately, whereas a “shortbread tin” style digression about Scotland would be contrived at best.
In times of need, you can rely on the old GB-as-human-body metaphor. I’ve decided that Loch Ness, which I cover next year, is going to be the mouth. And so this point, the last 30 miles of the West Highland Way, must be the neck. Indeed, with a little artistic licence (perhaps imagining the body as Naomi Campbell’s), you could argue that we’re also approaching the neck of the WHW itself. Looking at the whole island, leaving the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park feels like reaching the neckline of the body’s T-shirt, jacket or dress. There are no more National Parks and no more garments: just the face and neck remain.
LEJoG Day 70 (Sunday 20 September 2020)
Tyndrum to Inveroran Hotel (9 miles)
Cumulative: 1,015 miles
Facts: Time on walk: 2 hours 45 minutes. Average speed: 3.27mph. Weather: Warm, some low cloud mid-morning, soon lifting. Very warm by lunchtime.
Practicalities: Breakfast at the Tyndrum Inn at 8am. Checked out at 9:55 and went to Brodie’s village store to stock up. Both the shop itself, and the Trailblazer guidebook, point out that this is the last place before Kinlochleven (three days’ walk away) where you can buy food and drink. I bought some cans, bottles and snack food. Expecting to climb two mountains as well as complete the WHW before returning home, I also bought a cherry and sultana cake for energy. In the end I never finished more than half of the cake. It was too crumbly to keep carrying around and it ended up in a hotel bin the following Saturday afternoon.
Start: Brodie’s village store, Tyndrum, 10:20am. End: Inveroran Hotel, 2:05pm.
The whole of this walk fits on to the east sheet of OS Explorer 377 (Loch Etive and Glen Orchy).
Tyndrum is easily the busiest staging post since Milngavie, and I saw more walkers on today’s route than at any time since Conic Hill. Another beautiful day helped, of course, as did the weekend. Overtook a few groups in the first mile. There is a steady rise first thing, but thereafter the walking is almost all on level ground all the way to Bridge of Orchy some 6 miles away (NB: Trailblazer gives the distance as 7 miles, but this is the one occasion where they seem to significantly overstate the distance).
The path continues to run between the A82 and the West Highland Railway. After maybe 1½ miles, you cross a small bridge from the west to the east side of the rail line. Not far from this is the point where you leave the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. This is marked on the OS map but not (as far as I could see) on the ground. Now, I’m not going to discuss the National Parks, except to say that they’re an unequivocally good thing. But I will mark this moment by referring back to the five National Parks I’ve walked through on LEJoG:
EXMOOR – Entered near Lower Hall, Devon, Day 15. Left at Higher Hopcott, near Minehead, Somerset, Day 16. If it were an item of clothing on the Great British body: the top of a walking sock, or shin pad.
PEAK DISTRICT – As close as I got to home sweet home. Entered near Blore, Staffordshire, Day 36. Left at Standedge Cutting, Greater Manchester, Day 42. Item of clothing (well, accessory really): if Birmingham was the bottom, a money belt or similar pouch on the waist.
From hereon in, the looming bulk of Beinn Dorain begins to dominate your field of vision.
Early glimpse of Beinn Dorain, from the top of the first hill out of Tyndrum
Beinn Dorain looms (from just after the rail bridge)
There’s no escaping it, not that you’d want to. You’re now on a broad path which descends slightly as you approach the mountain from the south. Having reached the foot of Beinn Dorain, the path takes you right along its west side for several miles. It’s a dramatic sight which you have plenty of time to savour. Throughout the 96 miles of the West Highland Way, only Ben Nevis and Buachaille Etive Mor demand more attention. Even then, neither graces you with its presence for quite so long, nor in quite such close proximity.
On the descending path to the south of Beinn Dorain
Beneath the western face of Beinn Dorain
Spoiler alert: I summited the other two aforementioned mountains this week. I’d like to climb Beinn Dorain one day.
Somewhere under this massif, I stopped for a snack (11:35 – 11:45), removed my coat and cut the trousers down to shorts again. Drawing closer to Bridge of Orchy, with Beinn Dorain almost behind me, a new group of peaks caught the eye. To the north are (east to west) Stob a Choire Odhair, Stob Ghabhar, Sron a’ Gherrain and Stob a Bhruaich Leith.
Looking north to the ‘finest of the Black Mount summits‘
Bridge of Orchy sits at the edge of the forest you can see in the picture above. It’s little more than a railway station, a busy road, a hotel and the eponymous bridge. I stopped outside the inn for 40 minutes (12:30 – 1:10) – all seats were taken at the tables so I “socially distanced” at a nearby bench.
The Bridge of Orchy Hotel, from the east side of the A82
Looking east from the far side of the Bridge of Orchy: Beinn Dorain (R) and its neighbour Beinn an Dothaidh in the background
From the bridge it’s only three miles to the Inveroran Hotel, and they pass remarkably quickly. The first half of this journey sees the sole testing ascent of the day, as you wind through the plantation and up to a path on the open mountainside. There’s the option (taken by most today) of scaling another hill to Mam Carraigh, a cairn at 320m above sea level. From here there are superb views to the Black Mount summits highlighted earlier, and an early taste of what lies in store on tomorrow’s trek.
The cairn at Mam Carraigh, and a closer look at the Black Mount summits due north-west
Loch Tulla from Mam Carraigh, with Rannoch Moor beyond
Stayed at the cairn for 10 minutes (1:40 – 1:50) and then it was little more than a hop, skip and jump downhill to the Inveroran Hotel. Some rough, stony ground (in contrast to most of today’s walk) but otherwise a mile of easy walking. I would even say that today’s walk is so straightforward it could be combined with tomorrow’s in a single stage. If you’re fit enough and have limited time available, then you can definitely save a day by walking from Tyndrum to Kingshouse. For reasons that will become clear on Day 72, I wouldn’t try and do the same with Kingshouse to Kinlochleven.
After the walk
This is, by over an hour, the earliest I’ve finished a stage in Scotland. The Inveroran Hotel was apparently locked, but another group turned up shortly after me and were welcomed at the back door. I followed them in. Booked my evening meal for 6pm. Due to COVID, the on-site bar was not opening until the evening, which meant a long afternoon in my room. Also, my bags didn’t arrive until 4ish, so I couldn’t even shower for a couple of hours. Did help the stand-in proprietor (looking after the hotel for his brother this weekend) fetch other residents’ backpacks from a lock-up a hundred yards up the road.
Trailblazer introduce the Inveroran Hotel as follows:
If location is everything, the Inveroran Hotel has it all… at the secluded western end of Loch Tulla this is as secluded as you could wish.
It certainly does feel a long way from anywhere, anything or anyone else. Quite obviously the only residents this evening were walkers, although I could imagine couples seeking it out as as romantic getaway. The food was excellent, although I think I overdid the cheese: goat’s cheese saald starter and cheese and biscuits instead of dessert! Mealtime was busy, with everyone coming down between 6 and 6:30. I finished first and had an extra pint of Gladeye IPA in the bar. Heavy stomach afterwards, so I took a break, intending to come back and try a new single malt. However, the bar was empty and unmanned, and the entire hotel was eerily quiet at only 8:30pm.
And then… after four absolutely glorious late summer days, the weather broke just in time for autumn. The rain came down quite heavily after 9pm, and I think I heard thunder as well. No problem: I was well equipped for all weathers and knew I couldn’t possibly be this lucky all week. But yeah, it did feel like a hell of a shame.
Postscript – My Listening Pleasure
Just the sounds of nature today.
Picture (taken 20 September 2020) of Beinn an Dothaidh (L) and Beinn Dorain (R) from above the plantation on the west side of the Bridge of Orchy. Quite some necklace…
Next: Day 71 (21 September 2020)… in which the rest of the week takes shape. A triangular shape.