As a final flourish to the summer holidays, eight Cranleighans of mixed ages and experience headed up to the Scottish Highlands for a week’s mountaineering in the hills of Lochaber.
As in the past we were based in the former railway station at Tulloch Lodge on the scenic West Highland Line, a few miles East of Spean Bridge. Trains still rumble through a few times a day, including the romantic Caledonian Sleeper and the less salubrious freight trains bound for the Fort William smelter. The station building has now been converted to dormitory accommodation for mountaineers, climbers and walkers passing through on the East Highland Way. It was a great relief to finally reach this sanctuary after a long and weary drive up from Surrey, fuelled largely by tea and a haggis and chip stop on the way through Fort William. The accommodation was excellent and, as always, we were superbly looked after by our hosts Belinda and Alan who fed us to bursting at every eagerly anticipated meal.
It must be said that the forecast was for fairly revolting weather throughout the week, but in the end we got off very lightly, with only one damp day whilst out tramping round the western end of the Grey Corries and a breeze generally less than the 50 mph being prophesised. We had a great day out exploring the remoter corners of the Creag Meageidh plateau and a gentler expedition to Beinn na Lap from the wonderfully remote Corrour railway station on Loch Ossian. For many of us though the highlight was our circuitous and slightly precipitous bimble up Ben Nevis by a little trod (read between the lines if you wish) route over Carn Dearg, giving glorious views back over the Steall Falls and across the Mamores.
Every day brought new scenic delights as well as wonderful natural history and geology, with red deer, ravens, buzzards, shrews, voles, ptarmigan, frogs, hairs, red squirrels and grouse all putting in appearances amongst a carpet of purple heather stared with diverse wild flowers. Regrettably the most common wildlife encountered was the Highland Midge, though fortunately most days her depredations were confined to the early morning and evening shifts, when judicious use of hoods, nets and repellent were required. Additionally we managed to pack in a couple of “educational trips” to the Spean Bridge Commando Memorial and the remarkable glacial “bath rings” of the parallel roads of Glen Roy.
This was a great trip with a fun bunch of cheerful students who were a pleasure to be with out on the hill. Even when doing their best to impersonate novice roller skating gorillas on the slippier descents, grunting and yodelling as they tobogganed down on their backsides, they remained energetic and enthusiastic. It was excellent to see such a diverse group get on so well and take so much pleasure from each day (even if the dearth of phone signal and Wi-Fi became a rather repetitive lament). In all we ticked off six Munros (Scottish mountains over 3000 ft) along with eight Tops (hills of Munro height, but deemed not to be sufficiently separate to count as individual mountains) – no small achievement for a bunch of students, most of whom had never been north of Watford before.
Many thanks to all the participants for a fun expedition and in particular to Andrea Young who came along to share the driving, keep us supplied with chocolate biscuits and to be the token grown up in the group.
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