Monday, 30 September 2013

Bridge of Orchy - Mists of time

Way back in the mists of time, somewhere in my late teens, I bought one of those “rail rover” tickets to travel around Scotland and see the place for the first time by myself. I remember being very inappropriately equipped for a week round Scotland, dressed as I was in jeans and denim jacket with my belongings in one of those Army & Navy haversacks. No doubt, I thought I looked very cool at the time. 

On my way home on that trip, I took the train down the West Highland line from Fort William. As horizontal rain and wind battered the carriages, the train pulled into Bridge of Orchy station, right at the foot of mountains that swept majestically and impossibly steeply up into the mist and rain. I squashed my face against the window and peered through the partially steamed up glass. On the platform there was group of walkers with big packs, talking excitedly amongst themselves. They were drenched and mud-splattered but looked rosy-cheeked and deliriously happy. I remember wondering who they were and where they had been and wherever it was, wishing I had been there too. It’s taken 25 years but finally last weekend I climbed Beinn Dorain, the mountain above Bridge of Orchy that delighted those walkers on that wild, wet day many years ago.

The weather was more kind to me as I set out from Bridge of Orchy station on a warm, still autumn day. Soft sunshine bathed the slopes which were just beginning to acquire their fiery orange October glow. Strands of mist drifted through the valleys and stubbornly settled on the top of Beinn Dorain. A sweaty climb took me up to the bealach and on into the mist until I was picking my way along the featureless summit ridge to the top. I sat up here a long time, crouching behind a boulder, munching lunch and waiting patiently for the mist to clear. The only sound was the distant gargle of ptarmigan and the loud whaup-whaup-fa-dumph as a huge raven dropped in a few feet away.

An hour later, despite the sun teasing with a few faint rays that penetrated the gloom, the mist still hadn’t cleared and I was getting stiff and chilled. I dropped down a few hundred feet, back into hazy sunshine.  Above the bealach  was a flat, grassy shelf, perfectly complemented by a small lochan and extensive, airy views over Loch Tulla and the Blackmount. It was an idyllic camp spot so I threw the tent up and nursed an evening cuppa as the sun sank beyond Glen Orchy.

I woke next morning to a beautiful sunrise as peachy golden light crept under the flysheet and the sun climbed above the Glen Lyon hills to the east. The surrounding tops were clear of mist today thanks to a bitterly cold, easterly gale that howled through the bealach and shook the tent. I was grateful I’d packed the duvet jacket as I plodded up Beinn Dorain’s neighbour, Beinn an Dothaidh. It misleads you into thinking it’s a boring, big bulk of mountain until you crest the summit ridge where cliffs plunge to the moorland below and the view opens up across the wild lands of Rannoch, studded with sapphire lochans.

The stream that drains the back corrie, Allt Coire a’Ghabhalach, forms a meandering sliver of water that tempted me eastwards down the secret side of the mountains. It descended in small cascades where the rowans were already turning scarlet, before bending south into the beautiful, u-shaped valley of the Auch Gleann. I picked up the track that criss-crosses the river and in warm sunshine ambled down through the glen. Slopes swept upwards into a blue sky above, the river gargled gently by and the trees whispered in the wind. I was in a state of deep happiness. The glen track eventually junctioned with the West Highland Way at the pretty, stone arched bridge over the Allt Kinglass and the Way took me the final few miles to the station to catch the evening train home.

As the train pulled in and I threw my pack on my back to climb aboard, I wondered if there was a face squashed against a window further along the carriage looking out at the mud-splattered, deliriously happy woman with a big pack and wondering who she was and where she had been.

For all the photos click here.

Fact File

Start: Bridge of Orchy served by Glasgow/Fort William trains or Citylink buses.

Finish: Tyndrum or Bridge of Orchy served by Glasgow/Fort William/Oban trains or Citylink buses.

Map: OS Landranger 50

Route: On exiting Bridge of Orchy Station turn right at the foot of the stairs in the underpass and go through a gate. The path straight ahead onto the hillside ascends to the bealach between Beinn Dorain and Beinn an Dothaidh. From the bealach there are obvious paths to each mountain. After bagging the tops, I descended the east side of the bealach and followed the Allt a Coire Ghabhalach to the valley floor. There is no path but it’s not too rough. At the bottom pick up the landrover track that travels southeast through Auch Gleann. You’ll see on the map that it switches back and forth across the river. I didn’t have any trouble crossing the river as there wasn’t much water in it on this visit. When you reach the West Highland Path you can either turn right to go back to Bridge of Orchy or left to go down into Tyndrum.


  1. That would surely be me pressing my face against the window and wondering. Touching story. Brought back memories of setting out on new adventures.

  2. I've driven past Beinn Dorain so many times on my way north and have always loved the big horseshoe loop the railway has to take at this point.

    That camping spot by the wee lochan looks just fabulous And lucky with the weather too. Now it's turning cold and wet, it feels time to spread the maps out on the floor and start panning next year's trips!.

  3. Yes, another super memory created, Graham. Tony was on the Buachaille on Saturday and it has the first tiny smattering of snow and ice ... time for planning some winter adventures.

  4. Snow? Already? Great snakes! I hope it doesn't reach the S Pennines too soon. I'm still spec'ing up the fat bike :)