The Wild-West Highland Way #5

Friday 2nd May
Tyndrum To Kingshouse (Glencoe) – 18.5 Miles

No problem sleeping last night and we woke early, as planned, and went up to the Little Chef for breakfast. Colin wheeled the wheelbarrow with the money in, and we took our seats. I like lots of tea in the morning, so I thought ‘oh good’ when I saw the notice saying ‘FREE TOP-UPS, AS MANY AS YOU LIKE’!

Breakfast was served on those half-size plates that are used in these establishments, and we devoured it. I drained my cup and asked the waitress for a top-up. She took my teapot away, returning with it a few minutes later. Chatting idly whilst trying nonchalantly to remove the lid off one of those small, infuriating plastic marmalade pots, I decided to pause for a drink. When I poured my tea, it was so weak I’m surprised it got out of the pot. I called the waitress back and asked if she had forgotten to add a tea bag.

“Oh, you don’t get another tea bag with a top up, just hot water.”

Now if that’s not the cheapest shot by a large company, I don’t know what is.

We packed our stuff and set off at about eight o’clock. As we reached the wooden bridge out of the Pine Trees Park, we left an arrow and a plastic six-gun we had bought in the shop for Erik and Malc with the message; “Watch out for them injuns – John Wayne left this to help you” pinned on it. We set a few more arrows in the woodland as we walked. The old woman walking her dog must have wondered what these two loonies were up to, sticking home made arrows in trees.

As the path curved back to pass through the top of Clifton village, I noticed a well-stocked general store. It was only 8:15 and they were open already, worthy of note if you wanted to stock up for the day. Their prices seemed quite good too. As the path started to rise, we saw what looked like a dead lamb’s skin hanging over a fence post. As we walked away from it, we looked back at the remains of the poor lamb – with an arrow sticking out of it with “GOT ‘IM!” written on it!

By 8:45 the sun was shining strongly and we continued due north up the crowded valley. I say crowded because the road, railway and West Highland Way are all squeezed into its narrow reaches. The people in the coaches waved at us as they passed, as did the train driver, who also gave us a blast on his horn. Just ahead, Bienn Odhar stood aloft, looking just like Everest with a small amount of cloud spindrifting from the very top. We collected bits of wool from the fences and posts we passed and, when we had enough, left Erik instructions of one of Bald Eagle’s old tricks on how to knit a wig to stop him getting sunburnt on his scalp. (Perhaps I shouldn’t use that word ‘scalp’ with all these Injuns about!).

We passed underneath the railway line via a small bridge. We left another arrow with the legend: “Injun reservation – No white men (except Malc, as he is now a redskin)!” This referred to the state of Malc after catching the sun a bit too much during yesterday’s siesta in someone’s garden. To put it mildly, if Colin and Erik stood either side of him, it looked like a thermometer!

Again the views along this valley just were too good to describe. We stopped to apply a thick coat of sun block as things were really hotting up now. We left the railway as it looped further up the valley, and passed Auch farm. They were advertising B&B, which again is worth remembering, as it could be a lifesaver if Tyndrum was full up. Just along the valley we met our first people of the day. We explained to them that they might meet the two odd looking blokes who were somewhere behind us. We told them if they were asked if they’d seen us, to say: “No, but we’ve seen plenty of Injuns”!

Photo’ opportunities were plentiful along this valley, not least of which were the very big West Highland cattle, one of which almost posed to order on a hillock with Bienn Odhur in the background.

After a very pleasing walk of about five kilometres we reached the Bridge of Orchy. It’s just a few houses and an hotel but there is a ‘phone box there, so I phoned home and got two great bits of news. One, the Conservatives had had their butts well and truly kicked in the general election, and two, my business partner said we had had a record month. This left me feeling a bit guilty, as they were slogging away and I was here in paradise.

We managed to avoid the pub, and settled at a picnic table just over the bridge. A lovely spot, we used our Swiss army knives (well, you’ve got to justify carrying them) to make sandwiches. It is a wonderful spot to sit and contemplate your situation. The river Orchy babbling away, the sunshine warming you, the mountains standing quietly, lording it over all, what a way to be. We both sat in silence and just let it all seep in to our souls.

When we had finished, we reluctantly got up and packed the remnants of our picnic away. As we set off, I put another arrow in the way mark post with; “Left here at 11:50” on it, and set off to climb the rather arduous long hill out of Bridge of Orchy. We climbed 500 feet in a very short space of time. Someone had unfortunately dropped a hat. No great loss though, as it was a well-worn floppy old thing but it gave me an idea. There were lots of young springy saplings at the side of the path, and the hat was perched on the lower branches of one of them. I bent it down and perched the hat on top of it. I let go and with a swish it straightened back up, with the hat perched neatly on its top! I wondered if Erik and Malc would spot it.

We continued the climb, and I decided to stop for a call of nature. As I glanced back, I could have sworn I saw movement behind a tree. Was it a deer? Was it Injuns!! I told Colin, and we got out the binoculars and scanned the area for several minutes before Colin decided I was paranoid and we continued onward. The path skirts around a hill, and just as we rounded the bend, there was a terrific whooping, and Erik and Malc came at us out of the hills to ‘head us off at the pass’.

We collapsed in laughter at these two silly buggers playing ‘Injuns’, and I commented on the fact that they were almost as red as Indians, and were absolutely dripping in sweat. Malc said that they had arisen late, and not set of until about ten o’clock. They had been going like a train since then, trying to catch us. They hadn’t even stopped for food or drink! At Bridge of Orchy, they had seen the note and, spurred on like madmen, had almost run up the hill to catch us on the slopes, which they had now done. We all had a well-earned (in their case) rest, and continued at a more leisurely pace.

The path now started to descend, with spectacular views of Loch Tulla, Rannoch Moor and the Inveroran hotel. The bird song was so haunting, with lots of Curlews calling almost non-stop. At the Inveroran hotel we couldn’t resist stopping for a pint, but not before we played a game of “I’m not bothered about a drink, are you?” with Erik and Malc. They had a round of sandwiches too, and we commented on the hotel’s secluded setting.

After leaving, and setting off along the road, we noticed that Erik’s shorts were made of the same material as the trousers he was wearing yesterday. Malc’ let the cat out of the bag when he told us that Erik, ever the pessimist, had not packed any shorts so, when the weather improved to its present standard, he just cut off the bottom of his trousers – job done!

At forest lodge we left the tarmac and started another long climb. We surprised three Roe deer in the trees close by, and I managed to get a picture before they were away. As we walked along the views again became steadily better and better as we gained height and I thought of the many walkers before me who had crossed this wild place in equally wild weather. Here was I in what was as close to Nirvana as you could get, but I knew that a change in the weather would make it seem just like hell. It would be such a shame to walk across Rannoch without seeing all the views around.

We settled by a small burn for a drink and a bite to eat. I couldn’t resist a paddle in the ice cool water, as I so love the way it feels. Colin decided to get his collapsible glass out. If you haven’t seen one of these things, they are a succession of rings that unfold to form a watertight glass. How the hell he was managing to produce all these knickknacks from a sack that weighed less than mine, I’ll never know. Erik and Malc’ christened us ‘the gadget brothers’. We all agreed we didn’t want today to end.

We crossed Ba Bridge and passed Ba Cottage to gain the steady climb with Bienn Chaorach on our left. Soon a whole new and, unbelievably even better, panorama opened before us. We could see the Grampians in the distance, and the mountains of Glencoe. The sight of the massive Buachaille Etive Mor sent a shiver down my spine. I have seen many a photo of this monster in magazines, but to see it in ‘the flesh’ is something else. I can see why people are so drawn to it, and it went down in my ‘future places to go’ itinerary.

At this point Malc’ spotted a majestic Eagle soaring above us, but his disappointment was infinitesimal as we tried to break it gently to him that it was a Heron. “Herons are pretty rare too,” we lied, but it was no good, he was a broken twitcher!

We could see the end to our great day looming, and unfortunately we arrived too late to ride the White Corries Ski Lift which we could see to the left. We wondered how much it would cost, if you were allowed to just ride up and down it, and how long it would take to complete it. Well, at the time of writing I can now answer those questions. Three pounds, yes, and about fifteen minutes up, and fifteen down. The only thing I can’t say is exactly what time the last ride is, but a ‘phone call would answer that one. We all took a picture, as probably do almost all who pass it, of Blackrock Cottage, with Buachaille Etive Mor in the background.

We soon covered the short distance to the A82 road, and we parted company with Erik and Malc’ because they were staying at Kingshouse (apparently they had taken out a twenty-five year mortgage!), and Colin and I were catching the bus into Glencoe. I gave Erik my camera, as I had heard that the deer come really close to the hotel in the mornings and I wanted some good pictures. As they walked away, I’m sure I caught a snippet of the conversation. Malc’ was saying something like; “…..thirty quid for it easy”. I guessed they were talking about the price of the room for the night!!!

It was now 4:30pm, and here we were after starting at about eight this morning. I didn’t feel at all tired, in fact I could easily have walked further. I think I was more tired yesterday than I felt right now. We sat in the warm sun by the road and waited for the bus to come, which we were assured would stop to pick us up, even though it was not really an official stop, but as there was room for the bus to pull in they would usually oblige. Not today! We stood there and watched as the bus hove into view, and the hove out again! Colin taught me some new swear words (well, what are older brothers for?) and we looked at each other for inspiration. It was gone half past five, the next bus wasn’t until about eight o’clock, and we want didn’t fancy standing there until then. I tried hitching for a while, but understandably got no luck (I told Colin to hide!).

We decided that there was nothing else for it but to make our way to Kingshouse and ‘phone a taxi. We made our way down the tarmac road towards the Hotel, noticing that there was a bunkhouse type of thing, which we knew nothing about. Too late now, as we were already booked in at Glencoe. We went around the back to the climber’s bar. I bought a couple of drinks and asked to use the ‘phone. I was told that it was out of order, so now we were really stuck. Oh well, at least we could have something to eat and drink while we waited for eight o’clock to come. But what if the eight o’clock bus didn’t stop either??? As I was contemplating this, a Belgian lad at the bar next to me said, in broken English:

“Are you going to Glen-coo-ee?”

I was thrown a bit by his pronunciation, but I got the gist of what he meant. He said he was picking some friends up at the foot of Devil’s Staircase, and would gladly drop us there. At this time I didn’t know how far that was, but I agreed and thanked him for his offer. He said he’d be leaving in a few minutes, so I took the drinks over to Colin to tell him of the latest developments.

“What are we doing then?” he said.

“We’re going to get in this bloke’s car, and offer him money to take us to Glencoe,” I said.

Hi-jacking was another alternative, but I needn’t have worried because when I broached the subject, he instantly agreed to take us. An ‘interesting’ journey followed, mainly for Colin who decided to occupy the front seat. Not too bad, you might think, but as it was a left-hand drive car, and he tried to get in the left-hand side, it didn’t start too well. Couple this with the fact that our driver was a cross between Mogadon Man, and Emerson Fittipaldi and you have a recipe for a really interesting ride! Colin was the only one who could see in front, and what was bearing down on him, vehicle wise, but that didn’t stop our driver from overtaking things. I thought the drive was ok from where I was sitting in the back seat, but Colin assured me it was far more fraught from where he was. You could see the look of perplexity on the faces of oncoming drivers as they saw this horror struck face without a steering wheel in front of it pass them at warp factor six!

We reached the garage in ‘Glen-coo-ee’, and I thanked our driver, and gave him remuneration whilst quietly whispering “Shh, Shhh, it’s all right, it’s all over now shhhh, shhh,” comfortingly in Colin’s ear and slowly extricating him from what he was certain would be his shroud. He visibly shudders whenever he sees a Vauxhall Astra ever since!

We consulted the lady in the petrol station as to the whereabouts of our B&B, Strathlachlan, the Glencoe Guest House.

Sod’s law concerning accommodation
At any given point in any village or town, if you don’t know the whereabouts of your accommodation, then you will start the search at exactly the opposite end of that village or town to where it is located.

Fortunately, Glencoe is probably, nay – definitely, the most aesthetically pleasing place I’ve ever been in. Beautiful, massive mountains surround it. It was difficult to concentrate on anything other than looking around.

We walked the one and a half miles to our bed for the night, and were greeted in a very friendly manner by Eileen Daynes, our ‘Mum’ for tonight. While we were at the door removing our boots, a very scrumptious looking young foreign lady drove into the yard, walked up and smilingly asked if there were any vacancies. Sadly not, replied Eileen. I did try to help and show willing by offering Colin’s bed to her, after all, he was now a ruffty-tuffty walker, and could spend the night outdoors with no ill effects to me whatsoever. My offer fell on deaf ears, and she was directed to some other B&B for the night. I wiped the dribble from my chin and entered ‘Strathlachlan’. The room was divine, to say the least. I walked around it, admiring the en suite bathroom, swinging the cat around so thoughtfully provided for such purposes, and thought back to the bunkhouse in Tyndrum. Different price, different world. Wow!

We both got ready and tried to make a decision as to what we were going to do that night. Mum (a.k.a. Eileen) tried to steer us in the right direction by suggesting we visit the ‘Clachaig’ pub, which her son runs. We didn’t go, as it would have meant a taxi ride to and back from it. I now know this was a mistake and we should have ‘listened to Mum’. We went into Glencoe village, which is remarkably unremarkable, and spent an uninteresting night feeding and watering ourselves. Then we had to walk the mile and a half back to ‘Strathlachlan’. Colin was asleep by the time I had switched out the light that night. He was also snoring but it didn’t stop me becoming comatose in a very short space of time.