A trip to Scotland – where everything had to change

Published 16 July 2012

Are you equipped to go safely up these mountains?

Thanks to the wonders of website automation you probably haven’t noticed that I’ve been on holiday for two weeks. And whilst you’ve been enjoying my exploits in the Lake District, I’ve been up in Scotland.

Whilst not specifically walking on any trail, I did have a hefty batch of print outs from Memory Map with ideas with walks I wanted to do. But it was a holiday where nothing seemed to go particularly to plan.

The plans were all relatively simple, having been necessarily pared back in the early planning stages due to the forthcoming arrival of a third member of the household. The results were a mini tour of the highlands and enjoy some of the finest parts of Scotland’s countryside, getting around by ferries, buses and the glory of the West Highland railway line.

It was a plan with many steps:

  1. Day 0 – travel up on a Friday night, boarding the Fort William bound Caledonian Sleeper at Euston.
  2. Day 1 – next morning we’d alight at the tiny village of Crianlarich, have a hearty breakfast at the station’s tea rooms and set off on a walk bound for Killin via Glen Lochay, following a walk from a recent purchase of mine, Scottish Hill Tracks.
  3. Days 2 to 5 – meet with various family members and stay in a house near the banks of Loch Tay. Over four days we’d enjoy the sights, bag some local munros including Ben Lawers and Schiehallion, and maybe even have a bike ride.
  4. Day 6 – travel by train, ferry to the Isle of Mull, then bus and ferry to the Isle of Iona.
  5. Day 7 – see the sights of Iona!
  6. Day 8 – catch the first ferry off Iona and board the bus back Across Mull. We’d alight at the remote Pennyghael for another walk from Scottish Hill Tracks. This one would be a 12 mile walk to the village of Salen, walking near Mull’s only munro – Ben More. At Salen we’d get a bus to Tobermory.
  7. Day 9 – after a night in Tobermory we’d do another 12 walk to Salen from Scottish Hill Tracks, this time starting at the nearby village of Dervaig. At the end of the walk we’d bus it back to Tobermory.
  8. Day 10 – a combo of a bus, ferry and two trains would see us arrive at the remote Moor of Rannoch hotel on Rannoch Moor for perhaps the most exciting bit of the trip.
  9. Day 11 – after a hearty breakfast we’d catch the first train to Corrour and follow another walk from Scottish Hill Tracks back to Rannoch.
  10. Day 12 – and after another hearty breakfast we’d bid farewell to the Moor of Rannoch and follow yet another walk from Scottish Hill Tracks to the Kingshouse Hotel. From there we’d get a bus to famous Clachaig Inn in Glencoe where we’d stay for two nights.
  11. Day 13 – in contrast to the rest of the trip, there were no firm plans but it would probably involve a walk!
  12. Day 14 – again, no real plans. We’d just need to make it to Fort William in time for the evening Caledonian Sleeper service back to London.

The first hint that things might not go to plan happened the day before travel when bad weather saw both the West and East Coast rail lines blocked due to landslips and flooding caused by exceptional amounts of rain. The West Coast line re-opened the next day but the West Highland line had other issues. There was a landslip between Ardlui and Arrochar, but the worst of the problems were further up the line between Tulloch and Corrour where a freight train had derailed.

Sure enough the Friday we were due to travel, Scotrail phoned to tell us our sleeper had been cancelled and there was no alternative transport yet on offer.

A frantic afternoon was spent trying to re-organise our plans and after much hassle, our first walk was replaced by a train to Glasgow, another to Stirling then an hours car drive.

Cairn at the top of Meall nan Tarmachan

We did at least get to do a munro on Day 2 – Meall nan Tarmachan became my second ever munro – but low cloud ruled out any more for the rest of the trip.

Days 6 and 7 did (at least) go as planned, but by the end of Day 7 I accidentally discovered some news that would rule out our walk to Salen on day 8. Whilst idly browsing the news on BBC Red Button I read a story about several tourists being trapped on Mull following two bridges collapsing. Sure enough, one of the bridges was one we’d need to cross on our walk. With no idea if we’d be able to get through, we reluctantly abandoned our plans. In many ways we’d been lucky to find out in advance, but it was still disappointing.

Day 9 in contrast did go according to plan, even if our path was, on occasions, very wet and boggy! But day 10 was another matter.

Whilst still at Loch Tay we’d had a call from the Moor of Rannoch Hotel and they’d been told that the railway line wouldn’t be open in time for our visit and there was no rail replacement bus service. Reluctantly we’d had to cancel our stay and at the last minute change our plans to include two nights in Oban instead. That meant no walk from Corrour, and certainly no walk to Kingshouse. And yes, the weather was perfect for it too.

We could at least get to the Clachaig and with no more plans actually made, little could go wrong! We walked along the Pass of Glencoe and up in to the Hidden Valley, and the next day managed to make it home thanks to the railway line being back up and running.

Regardless of the hassles it was a lovely holiday. It’s just a shame all those memory map printouts went straight in the recycling bin…

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