Saturday, 20 April 2013

Loch Ossian round

Ascent of Carn Dearg. Loch Ossian, Ben Nevis and Grey Corries in distance

Bridge of Orchy as the train arrives
Beinn na Lap from flank of Carn Dearg
Sgor Ghaibhre and Ben Alder from Carn Dearg
Corrour Lodge: Andrew Gormley's Hear and Hear  
Ascent of burn from Loch Ossian to Beinn na Lap 
 The tree line below Beinn na Lap
Sgor Ghaibhre and Carn Dearg from Beinn na Lap
Ossian Youth Hostel and Pine islands on Loch Ossian

Ascent:          1445 metres
Distance:        24 kilometres
Time:             6 hours 29 minutes

Carn Dearg          941m       1hr 40mins
Sgor Ghaibhre     955m       2hrs 30mins
Beinn na Lap       935m       5hrs 23mins

As a day out in the Scottish hills the Loch Ossian round has it all. A train ride across Rannoch Moor before being deposited at Corrour, Britian's most remote and highest railway station. Three remote and tough hills and distant vistas to Glencoe, the Mamores and Grey Corries.  The pyramidal Schiehallion is an ever present sentinel and Ben Alder forms a barrier to the east. The forecast was fine, the day was dull, the walk was on the wild side.

We had only decided to walk late of Friday evening and I had suggested the Loch Ossian round before checking the train times. We had 7 hours between arriving and catching the 6:25pm train back to Bridge of Orchy. Irvine Butterfield had indicated the walk took between 7 hours and 11 hours in his excellent book 'The High Mountains of Britain and Ireland'. I knew from many of his other walks that the lower estimate gave no respite. When I had done the round 15 years ago my time was 6hrs 56mins, although it was in December and I had descended Beinn na Lap in the dark. I tried to allay the fears of Gregor and John, who did not relish missing the last train, by setting a schedule for the round and giving us an opt out, if necessary, after the first two hills. But I knew full well that we would probably go for it anyway.

The train journey was a happy half hour: the conductor teased me about my rail pass, the trolley lady provided humour and hospitality as she explained she was finishing her shift when she got back to Fort William. She had started at 6am and she had arranged a surprise 65th birthday party for her husband so the trolley would not be going to Mallaig today. The train was full of walkers drooling at the wild and uncompromising wilderness of Rannoch Moor. The carriages provided the type of clickety clack beat that is beyond the melody of modern trains. The journey is worth it for the views and rail staff alone.

Arriving at Corrour we wasted no time and set out at a strong pace for Loch Ossian and from there the path that cuts south of Loch Ossian and under Meall na Lice and onto the road to the isles path. At 520 metres we left the path and started the long climb up the west flank of Carn Dearg. There were patches of snow and the going through the deep heathers was tough until we reached the spur at 750 metres from where there is a faint path through the short grass that curves round to the summit of Carn Dearg with its fine cairn. The views back to the west were clear but the skies looked ominously grey over Ben Nevis and the Grey Corries. Ahead was the drop to the bealach before the long climb to Stob Ghaibhre. It was festooned with fingers of wet snow and beyond was the Ben Alder plateau looking moody and drab. We had a bite to eat on Carn Dearg and, as we were well ahead of schedule, we were more relaxed on the descent down the snow to the bealach but the pace did not slacken as we climbed the 240 metres to the summit of Stob Ghaibhre.

We made it in quick time but did not stop as there was no protection from the cold west wind.  We decided to descend to the shelter of the loch. We cut under the Sgor Choinnich, the adjacent top, and schussed down the fingers of snow before contouring round the hill and descending to where a track emerged from the forest. There was a dam to cross and then a walk through the forest to the superbly restored cottages and farm buildings at Corrour Estate.

We walked past the expensive Corrour Lodge hotel that sits overlooking the eastern extremity of Loch Ossian and is well protected by high railings and occupied by top of the range 4x4 vehicles. A statue by Andrew Gormley similar to those on Crosby beach looks out over the loch. Loch Ossian is another place and the statue here is named Hear and Hear.  John Stirling Maxwell, the pioneer of conifer plantations on peat, had bequeathed some fine specimen trees planted in 1892 as well as a wide variety of rhododendrons along the shores of the loch. He went on to be a founder member of the Forestry Commission, President of the National Trust and champion of green places in cities, most notably for Pollock Grounds in Glasgow.

I had previously ascended Beinn na Lap from Strath Ossian but on this occasion we walked along the north shore of Loch Ossian for a mile or so until we reached a path ascending through the plantation alongside a sparkling mountain stream. We stopped first to finish our food, we had 3 hours left before the train and were still 15 minutes ahead of schedule despite some playful behaviour at the dam and dallying to look at the Corrour developments.

It was a good decision, the path took us up a gorge which was spectacular before we emerged onto the open hillside which presented us with a boggy tract as we headed directly for the summit. As the gradient increased the ground conditions improved, with rock bands, snow patches, grass and lichens replacing the bog. We hit the summit at 5pm as a couple of ravens circled the cairn. There was still time for a break and to catch some photos. The day had become darker and rain was imminent with Ben Nevis and the Mamores already cloaked in cloud.

We descended along the ridge to the west at first and then started a long but easy traverse towards the track at the end of the loch as the heavens opened and gave us an early shower. It took 40 minutes to reach the track and from there another 15 minutes to reach the station . To our surprise a restaurant had opened in the former station house but with only twenty minutes until the train there was no time for any food or drink. About 25 walkers were gathered in the shelter and the train appeared spot on time to whisk us back from the magic of Loch Ossian and what had been another enjoyable circumnavigation of Ossian's furtive munros.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing KY. I'm walking in this area for the first time in a couple of weeks time. How much snow was around on the summits when you were there?