Rannoch Moor is an area of boggy moorland to the southeast of Glencoe, full of lochs of various sizes linked by sinuous streams and rivers. It has long fascinated me and, despite being traversed on its western edge by a major road, it has always appeared empty and wild and most definitely boggy.... There is a classic article by Hamish Brown in Big Walks, a classic coffee table of walks in the UK, which further whets the appetite with pictures of sandy beaches along the shore of remote lochs.
Unfortunately the reality of the area is that it is largely a wet tussocky slog to travel across on foot and the alternative approach to traversing the area is to use a canoe to travel from west to east. This has its own problem with the shuttle being around 80 miles. There was definitely room for a different approach and I was finally able to put this into practice at the end of Autumn 2009.
The other notable feature of the Moor is that the main west coast rail line traverses its eastern edge (floating on vast quantities of brushwood and turf). This led to the plan to take the train from Rannoch Station on the east side of the Moor to Bridge of Orchy, pick up the West Highland Way and follow this to Ba Bridge and then strike off into the Moor and follow rivers and lochs in a packraft back to Rannoch Station. All that was needed was a decent forecast to get the views of the surrounding peaks and avoid any risk of slogging across the lochs into a headwind. This came together at the beginning of November 2010 and Friday afternoon saw me heading up to Rannoch and bedding down just short of the station.
Saturday morning dawned bright and cold and I packed and headed off for the first train. A quick run down to Bridge of Orchy got me to the West Highland Way and I followed this over the next couple of hours to Ba Bridge.
Loch Tulla from West Highland Way
Loch Tulla and Beinn Toaig
Clach Leathad and Meall a Bhuiridh from near Ba Bridge
This is quite a pleasant section of this well known national trail, although I can't get excited about the route overall. Things were about the get more interesting.....
From Ba Bridge I struck off across the Moor and headed down to the River Ba (there being too little water on the first stretch just below the bridge).
On the River Ba looking back to the Black Mount
I followed this and various lochans to finally pass under the road and out in to Loch Ba. This started to give the feel to the place, open but with the surrounding peaks of the Black Mount, Glencoe, Chruach and the Southern Highlands giving a real feel for its basin structure.
On Loch Ba looking back to the Black Mount
There was the almost inevitable head wind on this stretch, despite the forecast for light winds and it being in the opposite direction to the prevailing winds. The joys of open water packrafting....... The other thing to watch out for on both Loch Ba and Loch Laidon are granite boulders just below the surface which can be difficult to see, especially in a packraft, and could be damaging.
The highlight on this section was rounding the southern end of Eilean Molach and seeing a stag taking to the water to swim around 250m to the eastern shore of Loch Ba. Another stretch of river followed on the Abhainn Ba. This was a little low on water but there was no real problem with a packraft.
By this time time was getting on (the first train doesn't leave Rannoch until just before 9:00) and I wasn't sure what the prospects were for a reasonable site on the shore of Loch Laidon. So when I floated past an island in the middle of the Abhainn Ba which promised flattish ground I decided to take the opportunity and make a slightly early camp.
The Trailstar went up using the split paddle like they were made for the task and I got out of the breeze for an evening of brewing up, eating and alternately listening to podcasts and gazing at the Milky Way.
As others have written about the Trailstar, this really is a fantastic design and works very well for a solo packrafting shelter. Bombproof construction and goes up drum tight without the fickleness that some of the square based pyramid tarps can give on uneven ground.
Great nights sleep and woke to even better conditions on Sunday. This was an absolutely magical day, paddling gently across a mirror smooth Loch Laidon, watching for the granite erratics looming from the bed of the loch and stopping to soak up the views of the Black Mount and Glencoe hills from the top of a moraine.
Setting off from island campsite
Unnamed islet on Loch Laidon
Black Mount and Glencoe peaks from above Loch Laidon
Loch Laidon panorama looking west/northwest
View of excellent campsite possibility on Loch Laidon on headland to the northeast of Eilean Iubhair.
View from potential campsite
The forecast was for rain to come in later in the day and the wind started to pick up around 13:00. After slowing dramatically at about half way down Loch Laidon due to the headwind (from the NE again!), I eventually called it quits at the ¾ point and packed up to walk along the shore back to Rannoch. Found the sandy beaches!
Truly a route to savour under the right conditions.
Any other packrafters out there with other ideas for this type of route in Scotland?