Monday, 5 October 2015

A Rannoch crossing by packraft.

Having previously paddled both Loch Ba and Loch Laidon separately I've harboured a desire to connect the two into one trip. The practicalities involved in making this a reality using canoes have prevented this in the past however using packrafts make it logistically far more doable.
Rambo and I drove in separate cars to Bridge of Orchy railway station where Ramsay parked his vehicle then we both hopped in my car and drove up on to Rannoch Moor. We parked adjacent to Loch Ba and readied our rafts and luggage next to the new road bridge which carries the A82 over the outflow of Lochan na Stainge.

We were soon on the water, threading our way through the islands that litter the western end of Loch Ba. The water level was significantly lower than the last time that I'd been here (in November 2013, but we were able to get through without incident.

Once our into the main body of the loch we picked up a nice steady tailwind which was a real blessing when paddling what is in reality a posh rubber dinghy!

We paddled on towards Eilean Molach (the pretty wooded island in the middle of Loch Ba), pausing to take in the fantastic views of the mountains on the western fringe of Rannoch Moor.

We made great time and soon arrived at the start of the Abhainn Ba, the river which connects Loch Ba with Loch Laidon.
 Based on past experience I'd assumed that the river wouldn't be navigable (Graham had paddled the top section in his canoe on our previous visit but the water level had been higher and it had still been very scrapey). To my surprise and delight we managed to wind our way through the first few rapids without too much problem, the ultra shallow draught of our little boats meaning we could run the rapids. This was a major bonus as it saved us having to deflate the rafts and hike through the peat hags of the moor. Finally we reached a section that looked just too bony to attempt so we landed and portaged round.
A short walk saw us back on the water and we were able to continue for the majority of the river which varied between deeper wide sections and sections of rapids. It was really good fun to paddle although we were a bit concerned about how much damage our boats were sustaining from the extremely abrasive rocks.
An unfamiliar view of the Bridge of Orchy Hills seen during one of the wide stretches of river.
From our previous visits I knew that the last 500m of the river would almost certainly need portaging with the water levels this low and this proved to be the case so we had no option but to land again after the final wider section. 
The hike down the bank wasn't too bad and certainly beat having to walk the whole river as expected. 

Soon we could see Loch Laidon beyond the final section of rapids.
After a short breather we launched onto Loch Laidon.

After a short paddle we entered the area of small islands which signals the junction of the main body of the loch with an arm which points west towards Glencoe. This was where we were heading to find the campsite that Graham and I had used on our previous visit (
We soon found the spot and landed to set up camp before the light began to fade.

We soon had ourselves established and were able to enjoy the sunset over the Buachaille and other Glencoe hills.

As the sun lowered in the sky the wind dropped leading to sporadic outbreaks of midgies so we lit the firebox hoping that the smoke would suppress them a little while we cooked our dinner.

Once it had gone dark the temperature dropped and the midgies vanished so the firebox came into it's own for warming us and brewing up on.

The moon came out and lit our camp in a silvery light and despite the lowering temperature we stayed up late chatting and enjoying a dram until we'd finally exhausted our supply of firewood.
On Sunday morning I woke before Ramsay and got up in time to see a beautiful sunrise. The light bathing the scenery was a lovely warm amber colour.

I ate a leisurely breakfast while enjoying the views while Rambo had a lie in before emerging from his tent.

We knew we had plenty of time before we had to be at Rannoch station to catch our train so we took our time packing up before getting on the water and exploring the western arm of the loch.

After that we retraced our track back on to the main body of the loch and headed east with a freshening wind pushing us along.
 The view back southwest.
After paddling for a while we landed for lunch.
Then it was onward towards our destination. 

Soon our landing spot came into view and we prepared to land and pack up the rafts for the short walk to Rannoch station.

When we arrived at the station we were pleased to see that the tearoom was open so we treated ourselves to a celebratory pot of tea and slice of carrot cake!

 After that it just remained to wait for the train and make the short twenty minute ride back to Bridge of Orchy to collect Ramsay's car (and pick up mine from Rannoch Moor).
Here's the video that I made of the trip.


Riding over babies heads, bikepacking the Glenkinglass circuit.

About twenty years ago I rode a mountain bike circuit incorporating Taynuilt, Loch Etive, Glen Kinglass, Glen Orchy and back to Taynuilt with a couple of mates. One section involved riding over an ancient cobble surfaced track which we jokingly referred to as being like riding over babies heads and the ride as a whole was great. Afterwards we realised that the route would work better ridden in the other direction and we always intended to ride it again the other way round to try it. We managed one attempt but were beaten back by terrible weather conditions and gradually the idea faded to the back of our minds.
When I started riding again last year it struck me that the route would be a nice one to do as a bikepacking trip incorporating an overnight camp and I started to do a little research. Reading the blog of a fellow fatbiker inspired me further and also introduced the concept of using the train to remove the tedious road sections of the route. I mentioned the idea to Ramsay and he was interested as well.
We drove to Taynuilt railway station where we were able to leave Ramsay's car. We assembled our bikes with all the associated bikepacking gubbins and then waited for the train to arrive. I'd love to say that Scotrail were a model of bike friendly efficiency but unfortunately the reality was that we were made to feel that we were a major imposition on the normal running of the train service. Thankfully our journey only involved a short train ride and we were soon spat unceremoniously out onto Tyndrum Lower station's platform.
The first stage was to cross the busy A82 road and follow the West Highland Way towards Bridge of Orchy. I was expecting this section to be a bit of a dull slog (I'd ridden it before years ago but had virtually no recollection of it) but in fact it turned out to be great fun. Once again my Fatty amazed me with it's ability to ride over surfaces that would have been a challenge on my old full suspension mountain bike, even the addition of luggage didn't faze it and we had a blast negotiating the rocky and steep sections of the path. In good time we rolled out at Bridge of Orchy (pausing to field questions about the bikes from curious locals), crossed the A82 again and attacked the offroad climb up to Mam Carraigh. The weather was a little mixed at this point with some misty low cloud but that just added to the atmosphere as we took a breather at the top and enjoyed the views over Loch Tulla.

Once the view had been admired it was on with the fast and furious descent to Inveroran. I'd promised Rambo a pint if the hotel was open and as we rolled out onto the road at the foot of the descent we were presented with a sign directing us to the walkers bar, naturally a pint followed as promised.
We restrained ourselves and only had one pint before jumping back on the bikes and pedalling over Victoria Bridge and turning left off the road down Glen Shira. The initial Landrover track soon gave way to a winding single track following the edge of the Abhainn Shira. The weather had improved dramatically while we were in the pub and we rode west into the lowering sun and began to look for a decent place to spend the night. After crossing the river by way of some giant stepping stones we found what appeared to be the ideal spot next to a stand of scots pines. As we pitched our tents the breeze dropped and the midgies emerged in droves, we quickly covered up and donned midge nets to keep them at bay. Unfortunately the midgies continued to blight our evening meal only vanishing later as the temperature dropped.
After a good nights sleep we emerged to a beautiful morning. We breakfasted and packed hastily as the dreaded midgies descended on us once more. The best way to get away from them was to start riding so we wasted no time in getting rolling. The riding was pleasant as we climbed up towards Loch Dochard and the watershed.

Once past Loch Dochard the trail turned downhill down Glen Kinglass over some fantastic slab sections, it was great fun finding a way through the tenuously linked rock slabs interlinked with rocky, challenging track.

Lower down we crossed the babies head section that I remembered from all those years ago before being immersed in dense woodland as the track followed the River Kinglass. Just before the river joined Loch Etive we turned south on an undulating estate track which overlooked the loch and presented us with some stiff climbs.
The estate track proved to be a stern test for our legs as it repeatedly climbed steeply before plummeting back down to sea level, the consolation was that we had lovely views of the loch. Eventually we popped out onto the road near to Inverawe Smokehouse and dropped down to a boggy field bordering the River Awe. Ironically our bikes had remained fairly clean up to this point but by the time we'd negotiated the few hundred metres across the field to access the suspension footbridge which crosses the Awe they were caked in mud!
Once across the bridge a short ride took us back to our starting point at Taynuilt station where we dismantled the bikes and washed the mud off before loading up and heading for home.
I captured a lot of video of the ride, unfortunately the action footage is very bouncy due to my using my Gorillapod to mount the GoPro rather than a dedicated mount.