#71 MOOR! MOR! MORE!

I’ve found a true connection with Scotland – LEJoG Day 71

LEJoG Day 71 pre-amble

A Chart Music-inspired 1970s song reference there, for all the pop-crazed youngsters.

The ‘Moor’ is Rannoch Moor, the largest expanse of uninhabited wilderness in Britain. I’m sure I read that somewhere but can’t find it in the Trailblazer guidebook or online at present. Rannoch Moor is visible to the east and north-east for most of today’s walk.

The ‘Mor’ refers to Buachaille Etive Mor, a genuinely iconic peak at the head of the Glen Coe valley, which towers over the skyline for the last mile or so to Kingshouse Hotel. It’s the triangular shape I mentioned in Day 70′s teaser. I won’t say much about it today, because I’ll be rhapsodising about The Buachaille for most of Day 72…

And finally, Day 71 carries you almost to the foot of this irresistible monolith, while also taking you within easy reach of Glencoe village. I had a rest day to come. Any outdoors enthusiast is left wanting ‘More’ – I certainly was.

LEJoG Day 71 (Monday 21 September 2020)

Inveroran Hotel to Kingshouse Hotel (9½ miles)

Cumulative: 1,024½ miles

Facts: Time on walk: 3 hours. Average speed: 3.17mph. Weather: Cloudy and cool but no rain.

Practicalities: First down for breakfast at 7:45, but last to check out. This was the first ‘full Scottish’ of the week to include black pudding without an options menu. Apparently my mum had a craving for it while pregnant with me, but I never eat the stuff. I will however give it a go in preference to leaving it on the plate. If something’s been cooked for me, I pretty much have to find it inedible to reject it. And black pudding, while not especially pleasant, is perfectly edible. This was a particularly heavy breakfast though, hence me waiting for 1½ hours before setting off. My remarkable luck with the weather continued. Although Monday wasn’t sunny like the first four days of the WHW, last night’s rain had ceased by 7am and it held off throughout the walk. Checked out at 9:50, picked up my pre-ordered packed lunch, took a few photos before starting the walk.

The Inveroran Hotel, at the outset of Day 71

The walk

Start: Inveroran Hotel, 10:00am. End: Kingshouse Hotel, 1:55pm. 

The first few miles, passing Black Mount, continue on the east sheet of OS Explorer 377 (linked yesterday). The rest of the stage can then be followed on the easternmost squares of OS Explorer 384 (Glen Coe and Glen Etive).

It’s a steady start, making your way along a quiet road in open country to Victoria Bridge. The bridge crosses Abhainn Shira as it flows east into Loch Tulla. Expansive views in both directions, although less aesthetically appealing under so much cloud.

Looking west from Victoria Bridge

The route then ascends gradually on to the moorland of Black Mount. The views remain expansive in both directions, but with greater elevation comes that bit more drama. To the west is the closest pass of the group of Stob peaks that were photographed from distance on Day 70.

Stob a Choire Odhair, from Black Mount

It’s noticeable how much more imposing these mountains look in the grey. For four days, under blue skies, every peak seemed like a temptation, ambition thwarted only by scarcity of time. Now the surroundings looked far less hospitable, summits like grim chores that you wouldn’t regret missing. Not that this was an unpleasant walk, far from it. Perhaps the least interesting of my seven days on the West Highland Way, but that should be read as high praise for the other six rather than criticism of this stage. If you enjoy wild, moorland walking (as I clearly do) you will find much to relish.

I stopped at a bridge (roughly where the walker should swap maps) from 11:15-11:30. Had a banana and rested my left knee, which had started to play up after averaging 16 miles per day since Thursday. Just a very mild stiffness of the kind you might sense after a long but steep descent. It eased off later on. About half a mile further on the path begins a very long climb, at a shallow gradient, to reach its highest point at 445m. The best views of Rannoch Moor are on this stretch.

Rannoch Moor, looking east from the path

Rannoch Moor, north easterly view

As with the (steeper) climb out of Bridge of Orchy yesterday, the ascent is crowned with a cairn just off route. This one was much less popular than the one overlooking Loch Tulla, however. For the obvious reasons: the path to reach it is longer, steeper and less distinct. I’d long since decided it was the ideal place for lunch and the prospect of better photos though, so off I went. Of the couple of dozen walkers who passed in that time, not one followed my lead.

Actually ended up staying at the cairn for 40 minutes (12:25 – 1:05). There was no compulsion to get moving again. This was another stage of only around 9 miles, so it was clear that I’d reach Kingshouse just as early as I arrived at Inveroran. And yes, the views were worth the extra climbing.

Two views of Rannoch Moor with the cairn lunchspot in the foreground

You can also watch the traffic on the A82 from the cairn, but the road is not visible in any of my photographs. Once back on the path, there’s still about 3 miles to go before Kingshouse Hotel. It’s almost all downhill to the A82, none of it steeply. As you sweep left (NW) to walk parallel with the main road, this (below) might just catch your eye.

Buachaille Etive Mor (summit obscured by cloud)

Yes, it’s the long-awaited first glimpse of The Great Herdsman of Etive. I’d been excited about this prospect since reading the guidebook and Dave’s LEJoG post. What a shame the cloud has cheated us out of seeing the summit. I waited around for it to clear, but missed a photo opportunity by maybe five seconds, and that was the window closed. Still, good things come to those who wait… and wait… as we will see on Day 72.

The path eventually meets a narrow road directly opposite Blackrock Cottage. Turn left for the Glencoe Ski Centre and right for the A82 and Kingshouse. Take care, and note that vehicles have to wait for oncoming traffic at Blackrock Cottage as there are no passing places. Now you cross the A82 for the last time on the official route, and head for the Kingshouse Hotel on a wide track.

Kingshouse is a large accommodation and services complex, with a plush hotel, a separate bunkhouse (where I was staying) and two restaurants attached to the hotel. The main restaurant serves evening meals and breakfast (for hotel and bunkhouse residents), while the Way Inn serves tea, coffee, snacks and a small selection of beers. Because of its size, Kingshoue feels less remote than it actually is. There are no shops until Kinlochleven. Glencoe village is 8 miles away, and it’s a mile back to the bus stop on the A82 if you want to visit. Even the foot of Buachaille Etive Mor is almost three miles distant. But this is what you came for all right. This is the right place to spend a rest day.

After the walk

For reasons that will become clear, I will talk about my rest day in tomorrow’s preamble. This afternoon I arrived an hour before check-in started, so I had a pot of tea in the Kingshouse main restaurant. Then I picked up my electronic room key for the bunkhouse. Because of COVID-19, all dorm rooms were for single occupancy. Mine was a fairly decent size as these places go – certainly preferable to the Inversnaid caravan (or what I saw of its dorm rooms). And the radiators worked, which would be especially important on the rest day…

There isn’t much to do that doesn’t involve spending money though. I’d pre-booked my evening meal for 6:30, so it was too late to make the most of a side trip to Glencoe village. Once showered and refreshed I ended up in the dorm playing Through The Ages on my phone. The evening dining menu was, by a distance, the most extravagant of the week. I thought I’d indulge in three courses tonight and cut down tomorrow. It’s my main holiday of a pretty wretched year, and YOLO. My main, on “when in Rome” grounds, was a venison burger. Also had a Negroni (which was, ahem, £9!) and an Aberlour 10 year old single malt (middling). The whisky menu was two full pages, with prices ranging from £4 to £30 per shot.

Postscript – My Listening Pleasure

Body Talk again, on the main climb, finishing at the cairn during lunch.

 

Picture (21 September 2020) shows a third view of Rannoch Moor from the cairn/lunchspot at the top of today’s climb.

Next: a rest day, followed by Day 72 (23 September 2020)… in which there’s an inauspicious beginning, an inspiring middle and an infernal end.

 

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