Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Two Days from Dalwhinnie to Fort William

I turn 50 this year.  I've always wanted to run a Coast to Coast in Scotland but none of the listed ones seemed to fit.  So I've come up with my own.  It starts in Gourdon where my paternal grandfather Charlie Coull came from and ends at Loch Ailort which is on the coast near to where my maternal grandfather Donald Cameron came from. The plan is to cycle the roads and run the hills between the two in August. Sandra's going to be my support team and by doing over seven days it should be very manageable and give us a holiday to celebrate our Silver Wedding as well.  We plan to B&B so it is a very civilised traverse.

In advance I decided to recce two legs of it and have myself a short summer break as well.  Accordingly Wednesday 18th June 2014 saw Sandra and I getting up at six in Tillicoultry where we'd stayed overnight with her Parents. She'd had a course the previous day in Stirling and staying with her folks put us on the right side of the Glasgow rush hour for an early morning start. The morning was grey and misty but forecast to be hot and sunny.

We loaded the dogs into the car and had an easy drive up to Dalwhinnie. By the time we arrived the mist and cloud had cleared and it was set for a scorching day. A bit worrying for 22 plus miles of Highland hills.  Parking up at the crossing at Dalwhinnie, Sandra and her dog Kisii kept us company for the first three miles along Loch Ericht. It is a lovely walk past the slightly odd modern turreted lodges of Alder Estates with enough trees to keep it fairly cool and plenty water for the dogs. When Sandra and Kisii turned back Reiver and I trotted off on our own for another five miles or so along the Loch side. I'd intended to stay on the loch right down to Ben Alder cottage but the direct route up from Alder Lodge, with its unexpectedly grand gardens, through the Bealach Dubh was much more enticing on  what was a glorious day. The estate road was dry and dusty much to Reiver's delight as nothing appeals more to a recently dunked Border Terrier than drying off in gravel and dust! Now that we were out of any tree cover at the loch side it really was very hot indeed with the hills almost shimmering in a great circle around us.  From time to time we'd stop and a pebble tossed into a pool would be followed by an enthusiastic Border Terrier who then cooled off properly.  On the road up to Loch Pattack we met two guys cycling down who'd camped overnight and done a circuit of Munros.  I was glad just to have my light running pack as they looked hot and uncomfortable with full Bergens as they cycled back down to Dalwhinnie. Turning off the road we took the path straight towards Culra Lodge alongside the gently meandering Allt a’ Chaoil-rèidhe.  That was a couple of kilometres of great running on soft but firm path out across the flat riverside.  We stopped at the bridge short of Culra and had lunch and another dip for Reiver.  After lunch we walked for an hour to let his meal go down.  We were now climbing up Caoil Rèidhe on a marrow but beautifully built path with the imposing sharp edge of Sgòr Iutharn high above us on our right. The burn is fast there and had plenty water in it as it jumped and tumbled down through the rocks. The last bit up over the Bealach is steep but on an easily runnable beautifully engineered path and we were rewarded with stunning views to the west with Loch Ossian way down below us and in the far distance the bulk of Leum Uilliem which sits above Corrour Station, our destination for the day. After the Bealach the path begins to curve round to the south skirting the western slopes of Ben Alder and I chose instead of climbing to set off cross country to join the Uisge Labhair as there is a clear path marked on its northern side.  I think on the C2C itself I will stay on the path slightly longer but it was an easy traverse over to the burn and so long as you stuck by the rule that if in doubt the path was along the burnside it was all very runnable.  Reiver was having a ball - although for the health of every rodent and frog between Dalwinnie and Fort William it was a good thing he was on the extending lead the whole way. When you add Wheatears and Stonechats on the high ground and the what seemed like the entire tribe of Hirundinidae in the valleys his joy was complete. We had the place to ourselves or else I would be issuing a general public apology for the din he makes as he sings his battle song. Down at Loch Ossian there is a good deal of work going on to set up three small hydro schemes for the estate.  It is causing some disruption just now but there are plenty explanatory signs about and the guys working on the project were very chatty and all anxious to emphasise that once complete there will only be ATV tracks to each scheme and that every effort has been made to have the schemes blend in and minimise the environmental impact. The run along Loch was very warm and about a third of the way having made very good time in spite plenty of stops along the way we elected to walk the rest of the way in.

Corrour Station House Hotel and Restaurant is a real gem. Opened in August 2012 by Ollie Bennett and Lizzie MacKenzie it occupies the old bunkhouse on the site of the Station at Corrour.  It is spotlessly clean and fresh and they are almost aggressively dog friendly and have a splendid German Wire haired Pointer called Archie who graces the decking and if he’s good the bar too. I've been there before when our club, Ochil Hill Runners, took the Youth Hostel on Loch Ossian last year and we ate in the restaurant on the Saturday night. They now have four very fine rooms available and it was something of a luxury to be shown into an immaculate room all hot, tired and dusty from the run and be able to stretch, shower, administrate and relax. Reiver was happy too with his bed and travel rug supplied by Lizzie and a decent tin bowl to replace the folding one that he usually has to chase around the floor and ends up wearing! When I came out of my powerful and very welcome shower he was firmly colorised down in his bed fast asleep. An hour or so later saw us settled in the deep settees beside the bar Reiver full of his dinner and me pretending to read a book about the Corrour Estates but really fighting to stay awake.  I had a pint of Corrour Gold kindly pulled by Ollie who materialised from his kitchen and spotted my need. Dinner was very good indeed; Red pepper soup, venison burger and then a semi freddo of single malt whisky cream, honey and raspberries as pudding. Extraordinarily good food.  I was went back to the settee for a coffee. After a wander around outside when Reiver expressed his willingness to chase the House Martins as far as they would go we went back into the bar where appropriately, given our day’s journey, I had a glass of Corrour single malt made by Dalwhinnie. Perfect.  A bit of shin cramp and Reiver telling the Red Deer that had gathered below our window in the small hours that they should push off were the only things that came between me and a very fine nights sleep indeed.

Breakfast was at eight and I opted for a very full version indeed.  Modest bill settled and well fed and watered we set off again running north at first before skirting the edge of Loch Treig before turning west and running down the Glen of the Abhainn Rath.  Good if soft running again and a really pretty glen winding its way down to the loch.  Looked in at the MBA bothy at Meannanach which was in really good condition - still glad I stopped at Corrour mind you.  Hard days on the hill followed by fine food and a good bed are my idea of the best of days. Then on and down Glen Nevis.  After we passed An Steall we stopped and I washed some of the grime off both Reiver and I and let my feet dry in the sun.  I'd taken a pair of minimal trail shoes to wear at the hotel and once my feet had dried out it was a relief to change into dry socks and shoes.  My Hill shoes had been wet since early afternoon the day before. Reiver does not like running on roads so we walked the last 7 miles down into Fort William.  Catching the train back down to Glasgow - Reiver's first train journey - we arrived back in Troon just after ten after a quite brilliant two days in the hills.