Our intrepid hill running friend & blogger, Virginia, has been adventuring again. This time she stayed at the iconic WHW Kingshouse Hostel and ran from there. Read on to get her insight, tips and advice.
The weather in Scotland is unpredictable and by the end of October we had reached a wet spell. I had had a particular running adventure in mind for some time and wanted to implement it….but first a navigation brush up course with “Girls on Hills” who offer great adventures in the mountains with fellow minded females. Reanne and Emma led us through a fun exercise with cones, reminding us to orientate the map and thumb it as we go. After an orienteering style exercise in Glencoe Lochan when we learned to find features and pace out distances we moved to Altnafeadh navigating on more complex terrain and using the morning’s skills. The weather was wet and cloudy so especially good for realising the importance of good navigation. We all left feeling we had learned loads and enjoyed the experience too!
I needed to warm up and dry off and headed for the Kingshouse Bunkhouse. Firstly, to the small details! The spacious drying room delighted me. Towels for £1 next door, new and hot showers. The bunkhouse is next to the beautiful hotel of the same name, and the advantage of this bunkhouse is that if your budget stretches far enough you can enjoy a delicious dinner in the bar or restaurant. If it doesn’t then self catering is an option with an uncrowded kitchen. I had a simple and comfortable twin room. Breakfast can be bought in the “By the Way” bar which means that if you’re walking the West Highland Way you can come here and be entirely catered for overnight. There is a washing machine (£1) and it’s perfect for cyclists, runners, walkers and mountaineers. I met some lovely youngsters who were climbing Munros as they ran the West Highland Way, and no one batted an eyelid when they came to breakfast in shorts!
I had my own mini adventure in mind and drove down to The Bridge of Orchy after breakfast. I left my car there and ran 20 km back along the West Highland Way enjoying some navigation exercises, and picking off rivers and features to practice my navigation in a straightforward place, checking distances and positions on my phone. This section is very interesting being an old drovers road built by Thomas Telford at the beginning of the 19th C. His main principles as an engineer, throughout the Highlands, were to take the gentlest gradients, with substantial bridges and box culverts in place of cobbled fords. This was to make it easier for carriages and other wheeled traffic. The surface was also to be dressed with ‘a good depth’ – records suggest 30-40cm (12-15 inches) – of gravel to prevent damage to the hooves of the livestock on their way south to market. There are several remains of buildings and many beautiful bridges for the fast flowing burns. Cattle would have travelled down these roads for sale in the cities. Travelling this direction is definitely up hill and with much of the route cobbled running was an exaggeration! But it was a lovely journey; I stopped for lunch at the Ba Bridge which marks the halfway point between Bridge of Orchy and the Kingshouse Hotel. It is also the most impressive structure along the old road. The bridge spans the River Ba, a fast flowing mountain stream which tumbles over craggy rocks as it makes it’s way down the steep mountains. About half a mile to the north lies the remote ruin of Ba Cottage, once as welcome a sight to the weary traveller as the Kingshouse would be to me shortly, although nowhere near as grand! I had a delicious dinner in the hotel later in the evening after hanging some wet kit to dry and enjoying a shower.
Day 3 of my mini adventure was helped enormously by the support of a friend (Nancy from Girls on Hills) which enabled cars to be shuffled. We took a train from Bridge of Orchy to Rannoch Station where there is a lovely visitor centre, a leaflet with lots of local walks and a tea room! We sadly didn’t partake of the delicious cakes but set out to run 20 km across wild and wet Rannoch Moor back to Kingshouse. This was a journey that had been on my radar for some time. The run (or walk) is straightforward, with an initial path through woodland with wonderful fungi and mosses, a wet and boggy short section across open country (but not hard as it’s been well used by bikes and people, and follows telegraph poles) and then a longer section with a good quality estate road around the Black Carries Estate House. Even on a damp day the views across to Buachaille Etive Mor and the towering mountains of Cerise and Meall a’Bhuiridh are superb. These are beautiful mountains that can also be tackled from Kingshouse, and The Black Mount Traverse would make a splendid day out from here with summer weather and longer days. There is a huge choice of activities in this area and the bunkhouse would make a splendid base for a few days. I returned home feeling energised from my short autumn adventure, and planning a day trip to enjoy the cafes at Corrour Station and Rannoch Station before they close shortly for the winter.