A runners perspective

I hope this blog is of use/interest to walkers, runners and cyclists living in or intending to visit Scotland. Most of my entries below are described as long-distance runs - just because that's currently what I enjoy doing...

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Killilan Loop

Distance: 34.3 miles (55km) 
Ascent/Descent: 1160m/1160m  
Start/Finish: Killilan, near Kyle of Lochalsh
Terrain: 80% gravel track, 15% feint grassy trails, 5% heather/bog 
Transport: train station at Attadale which gives good access to route.  I parked car at Killilan.
Route: Route Map

There's a vast area of wild country E of Loch Carron, NE of Loch Alsh/Loch Long, labelled Attadale and Killilan Forest on the OS mapOriginally I'd planned to backpack through it years ago.  The loop I've described here is relatively easy compared with most other routes in this blog, as there isn't much climbing and it keeps mostly to good tracks There is a short (1 mile) rough section of bog-hopping Nof Pait Lodge.  It is the remoteness that is of interest here - particularly felt when entering Coire nan Each N of Loch Mhoicean. The map link above shows the route in reverse - i.e., I actually did it anti-clockwise.  That way the last 10 miles were closer to civilisation, with a pussy-out option above Attadale Station.


The track through Glen Elchaig
The morning was grey and freezing.  That first five minutes after leaving the comfort of a warm car wasn't great, jogging a tad nervously in the direction of snow-speckled "nowhere".  Sure I'd left a crappy hand-drawn map of my planned route with my dad, and I was carrying plenty spare layers in the bag just in case, but it took me a good few miles of running up the estate road into Glen Elchaig before I began to chill-the-hell-out and enjoy what I was doing rather than worry about it.  I wouldn't meet a soul out there - not  until I got back to my car 7 hours later.  So if that's what you're after....

Looking towards Carnach along the shore of Loch na Leitreach
The first few miles were not so wild, but nice and easy going.  I remember lots of sheep and deer loitering by cylindrical feeders.  A few miles on and the surrounding hills close in and steepen a little, the place seems littered with rocks and the gorge of Glomach Falls comes into view to the South.  Loch na Leitreach gave me the creeps.  It was impossibly calm - not even a duck's fart.  It  reflected the hillsides so perfectly that I was only made aware of its existence when the I sensed something wrong about the movement of the landscape to my right.  It became a bit more obvious once around the corner where there was some sky bouncing of it.

The way continues easily up the glen, sneaking past Cannach and Iron Lodge, before the only significant climb of the day where the path loops upwards into the wild.  Back down at Iron Lodge an alternative route heads for nearby Loch Mullardoch - a loch surrounded by infamously remote Munros.  My onward journey was on their arguably more remote NW side, climbing up beside frozen waterfalls to the iced-over Loch Mhoicean.  I could feel the cold a lot more up here, there was now a breeze and it penetrated my gloves.

I don't think much happens around here - Coire nan Each
Beyond the loch and starting to descend, the obvious track onwards is the wrong one - a cairn on the right marks the true "path" down on the grassy side of lonely Coire nan Each.  Those tempted to continue by the easy obvious track will finish in the Heather of Doom (yet to be labelled on the map).

Its more like a piece of archaeology than a path to be honest, but its nice and bouncy, with leaps over bog and burn.  Towards the bottom it is more obvious, and where the glen narrows and the river is close, its continuation differs slightly from the map and so I missed my intended route (the one in the link above and marked on the map) which contours around the Corbett of An Cruachan, instead ending up with a harmless 0.5mile detour down to the bottom - a flat area of peat bogs, heather and lochans (Heather of Doom 2), but saved by another old path linking Maol Bhuide Bothy (interesting link) to Pait Lodge.

Allt Coire nan Each
The track to Pait Lodge improves significantly (title photo) and soon I was dropping easily down to the gate beside the lodge snuggled up beneath a conifer plantation.  Stretched before me was Loch Monar, the head water of Strathfarrar - indeed I had descended onto the Eastern watershed of Scotland.

Loch Monar and Pait Lodge from the Heather of Doom III
From Pait Lodge, its over the bridge into Heather of Doom 3 - a mile of traversing slightly upwards and Westwards, negotiating peat hags always by means of the higher and drier rockier ridges. There's a path marked on the map, but the map is a liar.  I contoured where possible so I could tackle this at a run and get it over with, but taking a good long breather higher up to soak in the surroundings of course!  The terrain remains pathless for another mile or so but it gets easier (the GPX route in the link above does lead directly to the excellent Landy track I was heading for).
Snowy An Riabhachan (L) and Sgurr na Lapaich (R) above An Gead Loch, seen from the NW
An Socach (L) dwarfing the very remote Corbetts An Cruachan (M), and Aonach Buidhe (R)
(I'd descended between the Corbetts earlier, heading "left" above those lochans)

Once onto the landy track, the going gets easy again, contouring back to the Scottish Watershed at Loch Calavie, where for the first time today I was on familiar territory (I'd run from Strathcarron to here back in 2010 whilst bagging the "Loch Monar Munros").  Like my hands earlier, the loch was partly frozen.  The track descends past Bendronaig Lodge (another Bothy), does a loop to take in a solid bridge and then its time to start working those tired legs again - a modest climb of 150m on a good track to attain another watershed and feel re-united with civilisation on the other side!  The big Attadale plantation forest comes into view, and the long town of Strathcarron is visible.

 I'm sure a few mountain-biking Munro baggers have haired down these hair-pins over the years. It was actually quite sunny by the time I got here, and for the first time today I felt quite warm.  And very thirsty.  Just a few miles left, and mostly easy ones at that.  After descending to the forest, a fingerpost (civilisation like I said) marks my onward route "left" back to Killilan, "7km" I think it said.

Looking back N from the Killilan-Attadale path
Looking over the River Ling with Faochaig (Corbett) above
The route is fairly easy to follow, descending down to the river, until the path seems to lose itself in some ruined shielings (it goes above them and drops down to the river confluence before swinging almost back on itself to gain a footbridge).

From here it was less than 3 miles back to the sun-heated car, and I was so glad to get there and down some water and junk food, feeling very satisfied with my day.