Monday, 26 December 2016

Trossachs - Shorty

The short winter days of December demand short days outdoors, closer to home. A place that fits the bill perfectly for this is the Trossachs, accessed by bike from Dunblane train station. I set out there for a short cycling overnighter with my friend, Graham.

We cycled away from an early morning train at Dunblane on a quiet, single-track road that climbed up into the rolling farmland above town. It was one of those grey, damp, colourless winter days but it was dry and therefore a “useable” day. 

A stiffer climb took us up and over high moor before we turned into Glen Artney, a place I’d often looked at on the map and thought “what on earth’s going on up there”. What is going on up there is a rollercoaster of a wee road that passes by farmhouses and fields before coming to a dead end at the head of the glen. A dead end at least for cars but we carried on along a rough track that skirted the southern slopes of Ben Vorlich and Stuc a’Chroin. How funny that you never say one of those hill names without following it by the other. They are an inseparable pair.

In most conditions the track would probably be quite fast and fun but today it was waterlogged and it felt like cycling through porridge. We passed over the watershed and dropped down to the old buildings at Arivurichardich as the sun began to sink behind the Trossachs peaks to the west. The track was firmer now and fast as we flew down into Callander. 

Darkness caught us as we pedalled west and we cycled by the beams of our bike lights along a woodland trail by the shores of Loch Venachar. The tents were pitched on a lovely grassy shelf above the water, a spot I’ve used before. As we made a hot supper, a bright almost-supermoon rose and silhouetted the bare winter branches of the trees. The night air was filled with the sounds of restless geese and ducks on the water, and a hooting owl in the forest.

Next day we hid the camping kit in the trees and cycled more lightly along the trail to Brig o’Turk whose decorated village Christmas tree cheered another grey day. A stiff climb took us up into the lower reaches of Glen Finglass whose native woodland is being regenerated under the stewardship of the Woodland Trust. There was not a ripple on the surface of the loch and the purple hue of the bare birch added a subtle splash of colour to the dreich winter palette. 

A good cycling track encircles the glen but on a short winter day, with a long ride back to the train at Dunblane, it would have to wait for the longer days of spring.

Fact File
Start/finish: Dunblane train station.
Transport: Regular direct trains from Edinburgh, Stirling and Glasgow with no requirement to reserve bike space.

Route: Out of the train station turn right and pass in front of the Tesco shop. Turn right up Kilbryde Crescent and follow this road out of town – it’s an easy, quick escape from town. Keep following this road until it does a T junction with the B8033 and turn left for Braco. On the main road in Braco turn left then shortly take the B827 signed for Comrie. It’s a bit of a climb, then as it descends there is a signed left turn for Glen Artney. Follow the road west up Glen Artney then continue west on the dirt track which is its natural continuation. It eventually drops to the buildings at Arivurichardich. Follow the man track and cross the bridge which now becomes a better, firmer track which will take you steeply down to Callander. Turn right on the main road in Callander then left onto the A81 but follow the national cycle route 7 signs south. The route goes along the beautiful shores of Loch Venachar and we camped along here. Next day we left the route by pedalling on towards Loch Achray and turning right at a signpost for Brig o’Turk. A single track road leads from the village to Glen Finglass passed the tearoom (open Friday to Sunday).

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Corrour - Livin' the dream

The title of this blog comes from the words I shouted as I descended the empty, snowy slopes of Carn Dearg above Rannoch Moor. Empty that is except for Rob who was further ahead, charging down the slopes towards lunch break. Being up there, in the snow and the sunshine, on that beautiful day, was living the dream. Snow-streaked Rannoch Moor stretched out below us while all around the snow-covered mountains floated ethereally between the misty layer of a temperate inversion, illuminated silver in the low winter sun, and the dazzling, Alpine-blue sky.

The train had put us out the day before at Corrour, the remotest, quirkiest station in Scotland. It sits in the middle of Rannoch Moor which is in the middle of nowhere. There’s no road access and the rails in either direction head off into empty hills. That first day, we’d plodded up the slopes of Beinn na Lap and picked our way to the top in thick mist and light snow flurries. It’s one of Scotland’s easiest Munros but that day, in soft snow, it felt like hard work. We came off the hill as the sun was dipping in the west and followed a snowy path across the moor to the atmospheric ruin of Lubnaclach. 

I wish I had a pound for every picture I’ve taken of this old place over the years. The broken walls stand steadfast against the elements in the middle of the moor and all around the mountains gaze down. We scraped back some snow, pitched the tent and collected water from the river before the darkness set in. In the evening, we watched the southbound train pass after dark. You couldn’t see anything of the train itself in the blackness of night, just a long chain of bright orange squares formed by the light of the carriages glowing through the windows.

The next day dawned beautiful as early mist cleared and the rising sun cast an alpenglow over the hills. We made a hot breakfast of quick oats and honey, and watched the sun climb higher as we sipped our coffee, still wrapped in our sleeping bags. When there was a little bit of warmth in the sun, we followed a faint path through the snow then a better track before striking up the slopes of Carn Dearg in deep, soft snow. 

As we pulled onto the ridge and above the clouds of the temperate inversion, a stunning panorama revealed itself. In the west, it stretched from the Bridge of Orchy hills to the Blackmount, Glen Coe and the Grey Corries, with the massive bulk of Ben Nevis dominating. To the north, so clear was the air, that we could see as far as the sharp ridges and pointed tops of the Kintail peaks. Ben Alder closed in to the east and Schiehallion was its individual, pointy self to the south. It was one of the most beautiful days that I’ve experienced in the hills.

Tearing ourselves away from the top, we descended the west ridge, marvelling at the strange patterns created by snow, wind and ice around the remnants of the summer grasses. We made a brief stop back at the tent at Lubnaclach for warming hot drinks before packing up and walking back to the station at Corrour in the darkness of early evening. The stars came out in the night sky and the lights of the youth hostel at Loch Ossian cast a cosy glow on our final approach. 

Waiting on the platform at Corrour on a Sunday night, you’re always slightly nervous about the train turning up to get you home but thankfully, bang on time, the little front lights appeared from the blackness. Once on the comfy train, there’s time to snuggle up and dream some more.

Fact File
All the photos on Flickr - click here.
Start/finish: Corrour Station served by Glasgow to Fort William trains … and nothing else!
Route: From the station, follow the track that heads towards Loch Ossian but take the left fork at the first split. Continue left at the next split and after a few hundred metres strike off up the slopes to the west ridge at Ceann Caol Beinn na Lap. Head northeast to the summit, close to a small lochan. We retraced our steps for the return then continued towards the youth hostel. Opposite the hostel a path heads south from the main track to the ruin at Lubnaclach. We camped here. Next day we took the path that heads northeast and then east and climbs to join the main track through to Rannoch. We followed it to the ruins at Corrour Old Lodge then headed up the slopes of Carn Dearg, following the stream here to a bealach between Carn Dearg and the spot height at 861m. We descended via the gentle west ridge and returned to Corrour by retracing our steps.