Shortly before 8pm on Friday evening four members of the Club met up at the Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum and stoked up for the rest of their journey. We then drove up the winding road to the upper station, donned boots, picked up rucksacks and everything we needed for the weekend and climbed up to the platform in driving rain to await the arrival of the train from Crianlarich. A few minutes before the train was due we heard the Oban train draw into the lower station so we knew that ours would arrive shortly.
We clambered aboard and dropped our rucksacks in the luggage space, purchased tickets to Corrour from the ticket collector, and were told that although normally the door used for passengers dismounting at Corrour was at the rear of the train an exception would be made and the middle door of the two coach train would be opened – whew – no danger of doing anyone an injury when hauling the packs through to the back of the train!
Of course, it was pitch dark as the train trundled along, so apart from the stops at Bridge of Orchy and Rannoch we had no real notion of the country we were passing through – though from the lights reflected at the side of the line we knew there was a build up of snow beside the track – and Corrour at the summit of the West Highland line lies at just over 400 metres above sea level.
Arriving at Corrour, one of the doors was opened and we trooped out – well wrapped against the wind and rain and with head torches at the ready - we shouldered our packs. Curious passengers watched as the orphans of the storm trudged off into the night: one wonders what they thought!
A sign pointed the way along a track to Loch Ossian; silhouettes of the hills were outlined against the sky by streaky snow patches, but only the beam of the head torches illuminated the snow lying along the margins of the track, where large puddles formed the biggest hazard for the unwary. It was windy and cold and it was a relief to reach a junction in the path and catch sight of a welcoming light shining from the window of the hostel which sits on the shore above the loch. Inside the warden had a warm fire blazing and she made us welcome and showed us round.
The hostel has its own wind generator and solar panels as well as a coal fired stove and back boiler; two gas cookers, and a rudimentary heating system. There are composting toilets just outside the main building and water is pumped from the loch and treated for residents’ use. There was plentiful hot water from the boiler and the batteries were apparently fully charged so no problem using the lights. There were cupboards for food supplies, but anything perishable has to be stored on a window sill or stashed in the loch.
(This weekend that could have posed a problem as the water level was high.)
It was agreed that as the forecast for Saturday was ‘foul’ no-one was in any hurry in the morning.
Next day, in daylight we could see the loch, but no hills were visible. The wind was driving huge waves down the loch and everywhere was running with water. Burns swollen with heavy rainfall and melting snow found new ways to the lowest point and every flat piece of ground appeared to be covered in water.
A walk round the loch was mooted and so we set out with the wind on our backs for the circuit of the loch (8 miles). Once we reached the more established woodland along the north side of the loch there was a certain amount of shelter and walking on the level track was quite straightforward. Lots of small birds were spotted among the trees, a heron flew in over the loch and landed in a tree on one of the small islands and later a couple of goldeneye could be seen on the loch. A number of deer were grazing at low level too.
The waters of the loch were much higher than normal with mature trees sitting with the base of their trunks submerged in the loch. Streams roared downhill and surged and foamed over barriers. Big patches of damp snow still lay among the trees.
Reaching a junction at the end of the loch, we stopped to look at the memorial to Sir John Stirling Maxwell who was passionate about trees and instrumental in the setting up of the Forestry Commission. The Boathouse on his Corrour Estate was one of SYHA’s first hostels.
Near the Lodge (a striking, modern building which must have amazing views of the loch) and estate houses we met two ladies who had been out for a walk – they were resident in one of the holiday cottages and their offer of a cup of tea and a respite from the weather was accepted with alacrity. Their party had arrived on Friday and skied/snow-shoed in from the station along the south side of the loch – later we discovered a substantial amount of snow on the path and their ski tracks and snowshoe imprints were still visible.
The route back to the hostel started by crossing a bridge over the outflow of the loch – there was a lot of water swirling under the bridge and a nearby field was flooded. A ford over a subsidiary burn was clearly impassable – not a suitable route to the hills this weekend.
Stopping for lunch in the shelter of a fallen tree root, we remarked on the ‘swell’ that was being driven down the loch; later we felt the full force of the wind behind it when we emerged from the shelter of trees and the surrounding hills to cover the last section of path back to the hostel: it was heads down and lengthen the stride – home is in sight.
Wet gear was slung over pulleys, the fire was stoked, tea brewed and it was time to relax. Minor alarm when Heather emerged from the loos to come face to face with a stag!
The good news was that the forecast for Sunday looked better. So plans were made for an attempt on Carn Dearg if the weather looked suitable in the morning.
During the night the wind howled around the hostel but in the morning a welcome sight greeted us – blue sky. So breakfasts were hastily eaten; bags were packed and off we set.
The walk took us round the side of Meall na Lice and along the Road to the Isles: near Peter’s Rock we crossed a snow bridge over a rushing stream. Then we took to the hillside and started the ascent in earnest. As we climbed we noticed that the clouds were gathering over the hills beyond the Blackwater Reservoir and soon they enveloped us too.
We were well up the shoulder of the hill when suddenly the wind rose and a blizzard blew in. We stopped to put on waterproof trousers and sheltered behind a rock for a short time. When it became clear that this was not just a passing shower we reluctantly took the decision to retreat. We covered the ground on the descent in half the time of our climb! We stopped to watch a pair of ptarmigan running around on a large snow patch – they are always so reluctant to fly.
Back at the track we realised we were hungry and sat down to eat lunch. The day had improved again and we were astonished to realise that the sharp peak we were looking at was Buachaille Etive Mor, next to the big hills of the Black Mount. A new angle on a familiar hill.
A lovely walk back to the hostel was punctuated with stops to enjoy the views that opened up – Leum Uilleum across the railway line – the Grey Corries and the furthest east hills of the Mamore range, Beinn na Lap across the loch, tantalising glimpses of snowy crests probably the hills of the Moy Forest beyond Loch Laggan - and just to take in the wonderful scenery that surrounded us – and of course we could see all the tops!
Further showers blew in before we reached the hostel and once again we stoked up the fire, hung up our waterproofs to dry, made tea and relaxed until it was time to shoulder our slightly lighter loads and walk to the station to catch the only train of the day back to Tyndrum. Even then the weather caught us out – a shower of hail blew straight in our faces as we climbed the track; it passed over when we reached the station! The return train trip was again undertaken in the dark.
Well done to Mike for organising the trip, thanks to Heather for driving me to Tyndrum and to everyone for their company. Notwithstanding the weather this was a great Club weekend in a remote hostel. There is huge potential for walking in this area and we just can’t wait to go there again!