Walk 98 - Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy

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The Walk

This short section between Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy is not just the shortest part of the West Highland Way but also the easiest, being on vehicle track throughout. You might wish to lengthen it by starting at Crianlarich rather than Tyndrum, but it's nice to give yourself a lighter day in the middle of a long distance hike like this one. It could conceivably be completed by lunchtime but that would be pushing it - the scenery is there to be savoured.

This section of the Way closely follows the line of the West Highland Railway (Fort William branch) and the main A82 road, as all three highways squeeze through the narrow pass north of Tyndrum into Coire Chailein, crossing the watershed once more into Argyllshire. You pass the picturesque cone of Beinn Odhar, a Corbett at 2956ft; beyond it is the far more imposing and even more conical Beinn Dorain (3530ft). Between these two mountains the line of the railway describes a massive horseshoe-shaped curve to keep to the contour. Eastwards of this horseshoe the upper Auch Glen, tending northeast,  is a lonely through route for walkers into Glen Lyon in Perthshire.

Bridge of Orchy, consisting of very little more than a hotel and the railway halt, lies opposite the col between Beinn Dorain and its northern neighbour, Beinn a Dothaidh. If you're feeling particularly energetic after your short walk you could climb them from here (only joking). The lower Auch Glen joins Glen Orchy here, which runs southwest through forest scenery to join Glen Lochy and the road to Oban. Northwards is upper Glen Orchy and Loch Tulla, with Rannoch moor and the Blackmount beyond - but that's for tomorrow. Unless you're staying at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel or camping by the adjacent riverbank, the train or the coach can whisk you back to your night's lodgings.

Walk Statistics:
Length: 6.7 miles / 10.8 km
Total ascent: 553 ft / 169 m
Total descent: 774 ft / 236 m
Estimated time: 2 hrs 13 mins

Map: OS 1:25000 Explorer 377 (Loch Etive & Glen Orchy)

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Tyndrum with Beinn Odhar beyondthe WHW at Tyndrum

    Train times to Tyndrum (.pdf document)
    Citylink bus times to/from Tyndrum: Glasgow-Ft William, Edinburgh - Ft William (.pdf documents).

The WHW leaves Tyndrum by way of the old road, at the northwest end of the village. This is a locality called Clifton. It's a little incongruous that a place as small as Tyndrum could possibly have its own suburb, but then Tyndrum is not the only such example (there's another one coming up at Kinlochleven, three days hence). It's worth pointing out that there are no shops between Tyndrum and Kinlochleven, so if you need anything you'd better stock up here. There are three inns en route, however, so you won't go hungry.

The old Fort William road;  looking back at TyndrumBeinn Odhar

The old road - now a rough vehicle track - quickly becomes sandwiched between the A82 road to the left and the railway line to the right. All three routes squeeze into the apparently nameless glen running north of Tyndrum. There are woods on both sides initially but after nearly a mile the trees on the right give out, and very shortly after that the route crosses the rail line to its right.

Beinn Odhar

Approaching the Stirlingshire - Argyllshire watershed

You're now approaching the watershed once more, but first the route passes a wooded valley, that of the Allt Crom ("crooked steam") which leads up into Coire Thoin on the southern slopes of Beinn Odhar. This valley is probably the best way up the mountain, if you're thinking of climbing it.

Crom AlltBeinn Dorain comes into view;  the path by Beinn Odhar

Shortly beyond the Crom Allt valley the nameless glen narrows and, at a spot height of 315 meters (close on 1000ft), the WHW leaves Stirlingshire behind for the last time and crosses into Argyllshire. You now have the steepest slopes of Beinn Odhar directly to your right. In another 500 meters the path crosses back to the west side of the railway line as it gradually loses height. The imposing cone of Beinn Dorain now begins to dominate the scene ahead as you walk on past the northeastern shoulder of Beinn Odhar.

Railway crossing;  Beinn Dorain from the shoulder of Beinn Odhar

A mile and a half from the watershed the path reaches a more open area as the hillside curves away to the right, taking the West Highland Railway with it. A few stands of trees lie ahead, one of them surrounding an isolated farm. You're arriving at Auch.

The WHW approaching Auch


Beinn Dorain;  The WHW at Auch;  the Auch Gleann

There isn't much at Auch but the setting is magnificent. The Auch Gleann sweeps in from the northeast, following the lower slopes of Beinn Dorain (even more imposing seen up close) and curving right around the base of this mountain to drop northwestwards towards Bridge of Orchy. Another mountain of daunting appearance, Beinn a  Chaisteil, appears to the east. To the south of this mountain, between it and Beinn Odhar, another track disappears into the lonely Glen Coralan. The upper Auch Glen - the course of the Allt Kinglass, confusingly - disappears between Beinn Dorain and Beinn a Chaisteil and, some five miles on, comes out at the head of Loch Lyon. The Auch Glen is one of Scotland's most celebrated east-west footpaths.

Glen CoralanAuch

The track bypasses Auch farm to the right, crossing the Allt Kinglass at a substantial bridge and turning left to follow the lower Auch Glen to the northwest. The railway here runs along the famous Beinn Dorain Horseshoe; in its efforts to keep to an even contour it curves east, then north, then west, running round the lower slopes of Benin Odhar, Beinn a Caisteil and Beinn Dorain respectively, and crossing Glen Coralan and the Auch Glen on viaducts.

The West Highland Way and the lower Auch glen

The WHW now runs northwestward along the lower Auch glen, on a vehicle track so well maintained that the walking is almost ridiculously easy. Auch marked the approximate halfway point of the day's walk and the track has some three and a half miles to run, almost dead straight at times, along the lower slopes of Beinn Dorain. After the first mile and a half it crosses the rail line again by an overbridge; a rather desirable little railway cottage is seen nestling within the stand of trees nearby.

Retrospective view of Beinn Odharrailway crossing

Bridge of Orchy

First view of the Blackmount

The last two miles of walking are entirely straightforward. As the track progresses the Auch glen becomes gradually wider and the main road , keeping to the other side of the valley, manages to meander more than a kilometre away. You see Bridge of Orchy coming a long way before you get there, and beyond it now the Blackmount can be seen, two clusters of peaks centred on Stob Ghabhar and Clach Leathad.

The West Highland Way in the lower Auch glen

Glen Orchy;  the WHW approaching Bridge of Orchy

In the reverse direction Beinn Odhar continues to look conical; to the west are the forest plantations crowding Glen Orchy. The topography is a little curious; Glen Orchy runs down from Loch Tulla to the north, then at Bridge of Orchy it turns southwest; the Kinglass runs into the Orchy from the south about a mile short of the hotel. The road, railway and WHW are all dropping to a low point at Bridge of Orchy and will thereafter climb again.

Bridge of Orchy station;  the West Highland Way;  rough pasture at the foot of Coire an Dothaidh

The River Orchy from the bridge

The track arrives at the railway halt first, without fuss or ceremony; the platforms virtually open out to the rough pasture to the east. From here the Coire an Dothaidh heads due east to a col between Beinn Dorain and Beinn an Dothaidh; beyond the col the trackless Coire a Ghabalach drops to the head of the Auch Gleann, while a low col just beyond that marks the watershed between Argyllshire and Perthshire.

Bridge of Orchy boasts a hotel (which of course caters for hikers as well as passing motorists) and a couple of cottages. It seems barely worth having a railway halt here. It helps the logistics no end, however, because the train - or the Citylink coach, which stops right outside the hotel - can whisk you back to base. For backpackers, camping is allowed on the west bank of the river Orchy just behind the hotel.

And if you thought this day was magnificent, just wait until tomorrow...

    Train times from Bridge of Orchy (.pdf document)
    Citylink bus times to/from Bridge of Orchy: Glasgow-Ft William (.pdf document).

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This page last updated 8th February 2005