The Great Trans-Rannoch ExpeditionTwo years in the planning, countless failed attempts (can you count to 0?) and finally, I made it across. The weather did its best to thwart my latest attempt, with biting cold winds, sleet snow and hail storms, but I presevered and survived to tell the tale:
KingshouseMost people thinking of crossing Rannoch Moor from Kingshouse would head south on the West Highland Way. Sorry, been there, done that! I had a better plan, to tackle the great wasteland head on and cross from west to east, my destination was Rannoch Station. I therefore parked the car up got my bike out and headed off up the well-built Estate Road to Black Corries. I knew that this was going to be pretty much the easiest part of the journey, so made the most of it as I pedalled east for three miles. Then, after about half an hour I came to the Black Corries enclosure, and had to deviate from the road to take the footpath that passes around the northern side. Apart from the steep climb up I was able to cycle easily along this path, and was soon back on the track heading east once more. The track had, however, deteriorated in quality, and would continue to do so as I pedalled on.
At least however the climbing was over. While the track to Black Corries may have been well made, it also gained 100m in altitude. Beyond the enclosure, there was only a little undulation. It was still hard going though, with muddy fords and loose stony climbs to deal with. After just over an hour things got a whole lot worse again, as the track ground to a halt. A mile earlier I had passed a small lochan, at which point a fork had reduced my track to little more than a grassy way through the wilds of Rannoch Moor. Occasional tyre tracks suggested that some vehicles came this way, but infrequently judging by the growth of the vegetation on the track.
A Lonely PathI reluctantly dumped my bike in the heather, hidden from view, and started the long plod across the moor. I knew from checking the map that I had cycled 6 miles. The problem was that there was another 6 to go. It was obvious by looking at the ground that other people had brought their bikes along this very faint path, tyre tracks in the muddier patches proved it, but I doubt that they were pedalling, and as I intended to make the return trip today, pushing my bike for four miles or more did not appeal. The path continued wending its lonely was eastwards, its only companion the overhead power lines which it appeared to follow. While there is a historic right of way across the moor here, I did wonder whether the power lines were erected over the path, or if the path had deviated to use the track that was inevitably created when the power company did their work.
After about 40 minutes, just as the book said, I found a stile over an electric fence. Quite what use the single-strand fence was when I watched a young deer pass under it, I don't know, but there you go! Soon after, another stile was found, although the fence was long gone, and then a ruined cottage appeared down the hill to the right a bit. All along, I had had the views across the moor to enjoy, but now it was snowing. Yes, Snowing in May! The Black Mount and Buchaille Etive Mor had disappeared from sight behind me, Beinn Achallader was no more than a shadow on the southern side of the moor, and even Loch Laidon was a little hazy. Soon it passed, however, and then I found the forest fence.
Rannoch ForestTo start with, Rannoch Forest is little different to Rannoch Moor. The western edge is open and populated only by a few young conifers. However, after five minutes the forest road is reached, and another five minutes takes you through a gate and into the mature forest. It was like walking into a dark room when its bright and sunny outside! It started to snow again, ar perhaps it was sleet this time, but the shelter of the trees took the icy chill from the wind. I knew that it was four miles, give or take, to Rannoch Station, and my own mental goal was to be there by quarter past one. That gave me an hour and a half to do four miles! Needless to say, that with nothing much to see except the inside of a forest, I didn't stop to take too many photos, and soon I found that I had covered those four miles in a little over an hour, for as I emerged from the further end of the forest I could see the tiny settlement of Rannoch Station just half a mile ahead of me.
Rannoch StationI had only been to Rannoch Station once before, and that was on a windswept and blustery day last October. Today wasn't much better, although as I emerged from the forest a large band of clear blue sky was forming above me. I walked up to the station, although it was overwhelmed by the cabins and equipment of a maintenance team, and then back down the track heading westwards and homewards. At the east end of Loch Laidon, just in line with the start of the forest, is a wide sandy beach. It was here, in the sunshine that I decided to stop for my lunch enjoying the blue sky views while I could. Within five minutes of standing up, it was overcast and soon after the sleety snow had started up again.
As I headed back, the sleet and snow alternated with hail, the wind became icier than ever and as I emerged from the forest and set off across the open moor once more, I began to regret ever setting out on this foolhardy expedition. My face was saw from the constant bombardment of sleet and hail, and even my gloved hands were feeling numb. This was May wasn't it? Summer? At great length, and after a couple of false hopes, I crossed a low bump and saw my bikes handlebar sticking up from the heather ahead. With great relief I picked it up and started to cycle along the track. Unfortnuately, I was soon off my bike again as I found that my legs were too tired for even the slightest of hills. A combination of pushing up, freewhweeling down and pedaling on the level got me back to the estate road beyond Black Corries, and then the three miles downhill to the car took a blissful 11 minutes as I let gravity carry me back!