Loch Loyne

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Back in January, I walked up the old A87 from Tomdoun to Loch Loyne, exploring the old road and finding that it had re-emerged from its watery grave where the reservoir had flooded it 50 years before. Today I explored the northern end of the road by bike, starting at the Cluanie Inn on the modern A87 and heading south. Then, just for the hell of it and cos they were there, I climbed couple of Munros too!

The old road

From Cluanie Inn, the road is in good condition as it heads south, at least as far as where the estate road to Cluanie Lodge forks off to the left. It is clear that the road has been resurfaced for the use of the estate, and that the old road over the pass to Loch Loyne is of no interet to them! Therefore, once I had passed through the gate the road condition deteriorated markedly. I pedalled on, however, dodging the worst of the potholes and doing my best to maintain momentum as the gradient changed. Soon I could see the summit ahead, and started to consider what next. Was I going to dump my bike at the top, near where the path up the mountains forked off, or should I cycle down to the loch far below?

The summit of the pass is a long drawn-out affair, stretching for about a mile between the hills, so I had plenty of time to think as I pedalled up to the actual summit and then started to freewheel down. I was keeping an eye on the gradient, but it never got too bad, so I continued down the far side with the vast expanse of Loch Loyne to my right. I say vast, but it is a lot smaller than it should be, the lack of rain so far this year meaning that it hasn't started to refill after the icy winter drought. The river that leads to the head of the loch had returned to its channel of 53 years before, the vast peaty mudflats showing some hesitant signs of life returning to them.

With the loch getting ever closer, I finally decided to stop and walk, partly because I wanted to investigate the long abandoned cottage of Loch Loyne below the road. I bounded down the grassy slopes, noting the old track that led to the cottage which was now one of the wettest bits of the hillside! The cottage was in a poor state, holes in the roof and the windows and doors long gone, so after taking a couple of photos I moved on, making my way down to the shore and then using the beach to head east. It felt a little odd walking along the waters edge knowing that the water level should have been 2 or 3 feet above my head, but it was easier than picking my way along the grassy slopes above, despite the occasional peaty bogs. Along the way, I found innumerable tree stumps - was this evidence that the loch flooded woodland or has these still soft and woody remnants been buried under peat for hundreds or thousands of years before the water gently washed the peat away?

The bridges

You may remember my comments on the perilous condition of the north bridge back in January. Well, today I didn't dare try to cross it. The masonry looked a lot looser than before, and I suspect that the freeze-thaw conditions in spring have made the structure very weak. Unfortunately, when the reservoir does eventually refill I fear that the currents in the loch will collapse what remains of this once important bridge.

Nevertheless, it was good to see it still standing today, and so after taking a few more photos, I headed back to my bike along the road. Pedalling back up hill to the start of the mountain path seemed a lot easier than it should have been, and soon I was parked up by a bridge eating my lunch and looking up the hill next to me. It looked pretty easy, but then I was nearly half way up already!

Creag a'Mhaim & Druim Shionnach

The Sourthern Shiel Ridge is a long and arduous adventure if all done at one time, and there are few intermediate ascents possible. Therefore, I had always intended to climb at least one of the Munros today. I set off up the path, trying to work out how long it would take to the top. I reckoned an hour and a half at most, but as I followed the curving zigzags in the path I started to doubt that. The hill may be steep in places, but the path seems to take its role of easing the gradient to an extreme, with some of the zig zags being just 2 or 3m above the previous turn, despite making you walk ten times the distance!

It was a long slog, or so I thought, but when I finally reached the summit I was rather surprised to see that it had taken a mere hour and eight minutes! I didn't stop at this first summit, however, walking straight past the cairn and onto Druim Shionnach, the higher of the two. The guide suggested it should take an hour there and back, and it wasn't far wrong! Between the two, the ridge was mainly easy grassy slopes, but as I made the final ascent to the further summit, it turned into a knife-edge ridge close to those found in the Cuillin in Skye. I enjoyed the short clamber over the rocks, and then found the view ahead, with the rest of the ridge stretching into the distance. Off to the right the Five Sisters of Kintail were clearly visible, and in the oppsosite direction was the clear outline of Ben Nevis!

I didn's dawdle, however, and crossed back to Creag a'Mhaim, pausing briefly this time to take some photos and then down. The zigzags looked even more absurd on the descent, and I soon found myself straightlining them, bounding through the heathery grass from one bend to the next, finally getting back to my bike in just 35 minutes! From there it was an easy freewheel (sometimes a little too fast) back down the old road to the car and so home.