Low level winter walks in the Western Highlands
Living in England my opportunities for walking in Scotland are limited, especially in winter. However, occasionally the chance of a day's walk North of the Border presents itself. If I leave the school where I teach in Middlesbrough just before four on a Friday afternoon I can be in a hotel in Glasgow by ten o'clock, courtesy of the railways. A very early start on the 7.00am Citylink bus to Uig, or the slightly more civilised departure of Scotrail's morning train to Mallaig, will drop me off somewhere in the highlands before ten.
Whilst I'd love to get up into the snow clad hills, I don't have any winter walking skills and, given the short amount of time I have at weekends, it's unlikely that I'm going to be able to develop them. So far the only "winter hill" I've managed in Scotland has been Ben Ledi in March 2008 - not much snow on that occasion.
For my first walk in the Scottish winter I decided to walk from Crianlarich along the West Highland Way as far as Dalrigh, and then up the valley to Cononish at the foot of Ben Lui. It was January 2008 and I'd chosen a perfect weekend - lots of recent snow on the hills and perfect blue skies.
Sadly, I was about to go down with a really bad cough - the worst I've ever had and I knew that I wasn't on top form. Nevertheless, it was a great walk and the chance to use my heel crampons, purchased in Switzerland a few years before, to cope with the icy stretches of the paths. The last few miles from the foot of Ben Lui to Tyndrum were a bit of a challenge, as by then I was really feeling quite unwell.
Nevertheless, it was a marvellous day and whetted my appetite for more.
Strathfillan and Ben More from above Crianlarich
The Crianlarich hills as seen from the West Highland Way near Kirkton Farm
Between Dalrigh and Cononish with Beinn Chuirn in the centre.
Ben Lui from the end of the vehicle track above Cononish farm
Beinn Odhar and Tyndrum at dusk with the stream of traffic on the A82 - all the skiers returning home.
Early February 2009 brought snow chaos to much of England whilst Scotland's winter had also brought plenty of now again. An early start from Glasgow saw me getting of the Citylink coach at the White Corries ski centre with the plan to walk back to Bridge of Orchy along the West Highland Way. There was quite a wind blowing with the odd flurry of snow but the promise of clear skies and excellent visibility.
This time I'd brought my YacTrax grips with me. For those who don't know about these marvellous inventions they are composed of a neoprene rubber web onto which are fixed spiral metal coils. The rubber fits tightly over the toes and around the heel and sides of your boots and is finally secured with a strap over the instep. With them on I was able to walk absolutely normally on a wide range of snow and ice conditions - not once did I experience any slithering or slipping. (see http://www.yaktrax.co.uk)
There's obviously little to say about the West Highland Way other than that this section is generally considered to be more remote than the rest of the Way. Certainly, I was incredibly lucky to have had such beautiful weather conditions. What made the day really special for me, though was seeing all the hills in the area that I've already climbed, but this time covered with thick snow.
Buchaille Etive Mor from near Blackrock cottages.
Brrr.....heading off uphill across the flanks of Meall a'Bhuiridh
Looking back the West Highland Way is beginning its gradual descent to Ba bridge.
Stob a Choire Odhair as the Way drops down to Ba bridge
Nearly at Ba Bridge
Ice in the stream at Ba Bridge
Creise and Meall a' Bhuiridh seen from Ba bridge
The hills above Bridge of Orchy
Frozen Lochan with Beinn a'Chreachain and Beinn Achaladair in the distance.
Beinn an Dothaidh and Beinn Dorain seen from near Forest Lodge
Crossing the river at Victoria Bridge
Stob a'Chore Odhair and Stob Ghabhar seen from above the Inveroran Hotel.
Panorama looking up Glen Dochard from above Inveroran
I recall walking this section of the West Highland Way several times in the summer and spring and not enjoying it. On this occasion it was magical - crisp and fairly deep snow in places with the hills glistening in the sunlight.
Beinn Dorain and Beinn Odhar seen as the path drops down to Bridge of Orchy.
A final view with Bridge of Orchy visible on the left.
A delightful night spent at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel - a most welcoming hostelry - and then the early Sunday morning Citylink bus back to Glasgow ended a memorable visit to one of my favourite parts of our country.