Walk 99 - Bridge of Orchy to Kingshouse

Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy Back to West Highland Way index Kingshouse to Kimlochleven

The Walk

I'm often asked which is my favourite single part of this walk. It's not an easy question to answer. There are good sections and better sections, and one or two not so good sections; each have their pros and their cons, their ups and their downs, their good points and their bad. Qute often, the section I like best is the one I'm walking at the time, or the one I most recently completed. But, once the euphoria and the effort of a walk wears off, a single section does consistently stand out. It stands out because of its sheer scenic grandeur. It stands out because, on the day I walked it in the late summer of 1995, I enjoyed soft, hazy sunlight for most of the day - a soft sunlight that gave this corner of the Highlands a pearly, limpid quality. It gave it a tangible air, too - an air of stillness, of calm and tranquility and serene peace. And it gave the backdrop of mountains a dreamy, spiritual quality; a kind of ghostly half-presence. There was light and shade, form and shape, but little detail. The mountains were in benign mood. It was a magnificent light. It was magnificent weather, It was a magnificent walk. It was this walk. The Blackmount section, between Bridge of Orchy and Kingshouse. <>Most of the section makes use of an estate track - an old drove road that was, until the A82 was improved and rebuilt a handful of miles to the east, the main vehicle route between Tyndrum and Ballachulish. The first handful of miles, though, are atypical. From Bridge of Orchy the West Highland Way strikes northeast, following a forest track across a low ridge. Topping a viewpoint above Loch Tulla, it drops to rejoin the motor road to the Inveroran hotel, following the private road beyond into the Forest Lodge estate. The old Glencoe drove road is now joined, heading northeast at first among conifer plantations but climbing resolutely to the moorland above. And suddenly the trees clear and you are in a scenic wonderland. To the left is the Blackmount - the mountains of Stob Gabhar, Stob a Choire Odhair, Beinn Toaig, Clach Leathad and Meall a Bhuiridh. To the right is the moor of Rannoch, a wilderness of scrub and bog stretching for miles, clear across the watershed into the basin of the Tay. After six magical miles the track climbs to a shallow col beyond which is the area known as White Corries; the western corner of Rannoch Moor and the eastern mouth of Glencoe. The walk ends not far ahead, at the Kingshouse Hotel; reputedly Scotland's oldest inn, standing in stark isolation in an area of almost nil habitation, watched over by the twin summits of Creise and the Buachaille Etive More on either side of the entrance to Glen Etive.
access to the main A82 on the western side of the loch.
Walk Statistics:
Length: 12 miles / 19.3 km
Total ascent: 1699 ft / 518 m
Total descent: 1436 ft / 438 m
Estimated time: 4 hrs 20 mins

Maps: OS 1:25000 Explorers 377 (Loch Etive & Glen Orchy), 384 (Glencoe)

Click on any thumbnail image in this gallery to display the corresponding full size image. The images are access protected through a cgi script to prevent hotlinking. If you encounter problems while trying to view the full size images, please read the access advice page.

(Owing to localised mist and cloud cover during the first part of the day, the pictorial record is patchy until beyond Forest Lodge. I hope to rewalk this section at a later date to add more photos.)

Bridge of Orchy

Bridge of Orchy campground;  The bridge and hotel with Beinn Dorain behind

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

Having paid your hotel bill, or repacked your tent, or arrived at Bridge of Orchy by train or Citylink coach, begin the day's walk by finding the forest track leading northwestwards away from the minor road on the west side of the bridge.

Bridge of Orchy

Mam Carraigh

Forest pathMam Carraigh

The path climbs for nearly a mile through the nameless forest plantation to emerge on the bald height of Mam Carraigh. Although of modest elevation it does command a splendid view northeastwards across Loch Tulla to the stark emptiness of Rannoch Moor beyond. Near at hand, Inveroran and Forest Lodge are seen at the western end of the loch, among scattered stands of trees and small conifer plantations. The Abhainn Shira disappears into the mountain fastnesses to the west, while the massive and shapely bulk of Stob Gabhar and its neighbours dominate the scene to the northwest.

Loch Tulla seen from Mam Carraigh summit

The path descends, first to the northwest, then to the west, to rejoin the motor road just short of the Inveroran Hotel.


There's not much to Inveroran - the hotel, a bend in the road, a couple of river bridges. A notice at the second bridge indicates that you're entering the Forest Lodge estate and will, during the appropriate season, indicate the areas where stalking is taking place and hence where you are requested not to venture.

Forest Lodge

The motor road ends just past Forest Lodge itself, at which point a large sign indicates that you are about to follow the old Glencoe drove road. The drove road, a vehicle track that gives very good walking, veers northeast and climbs steadily. Trees close off the views to both sides initially.

The forest section of the Glencoe drove road

The trees to the left clear first, though the only view offered on this stretch is one of bare moorland, the lower flanks of Beinn Toaig. Sightings of Loch Tulla to the right, and the so-called Wall of Rannoch beyond, are very elusive. Eventually, after about a mile and a half, the trees clear to the right. Welcome to the Blackmount.

The Glencoe drove road climbing past the last forest plantation

The Blackmount

The Blackmount, a wedge of country between the Stob Gabhar and Clach Leathad mountain ranges on one side, and Rannoch Moor on the other, is in my opinion the most staggeringly beautiful part of the entire End-to-End walk. The track runs, for six miles, through an area of sublimely beautiful scenery. Apart from the track itself, and the obvious artificiality of the three conifer plantations fringing the track at intervals, there is virtually no sight nor sound of the hand of man. The A82 trunk road is some 3 or 4 kilometers to the east, hidden behind a low moorland ridge topped by the twin domes of Meall Beag and Meall Mor. One wonders if they were always thus named; their appearance suggests that Cioch Beag and Cioch Mor might be equally appropriate. I'll leave you to look that up in a Gaelic dictionary.

The Blackmount hills;  a conifer plantation

It is the view to the west, however, that arrests the mind. Once you pass the first of the isolated conifer plantations you draw away from Stob Gabhar, Stob a Choire Odhair and Beinn Toag. Their northern neighbours (Clach Leathad and Meall a Bhuiridh) come into view. The two mountain groups form a horseshoe around the magificent green bowl of Coireach a Ba (the Hollow of the Cattle), surely one of Scotland's most beautiful mountain valleys. Clach Leathad was once a Munro (a mountain over 3000ft high) but it is now recognised only as a minor top. Sron na Creise, the highest summit of its northern ridge, has a greater elevation than its nominal parent; unfortunately it lies out of sight from here. Its eastern neighbour, Meall a Bhuiridh, is 3635 ft high and is Scotland's 45th highest peak. It is easily climbed; the Glencoe chirlift rises over its northern slopes.

Two views of the Clach Leathad group;  a burn near the second plantation

The scenery improves still more as water enters the equation; a pair of tarns grace the scene north of the second conifer plantation. The southern tarn is named Lochan Mhic Pheadair Ruiadhe; the second is nameless. It was on the shore of the first lochan that I stopped for lunch on that beautiful August day in 1995 when I first walked this section.

The Clach Leathad hills from the Lochan Mhic Pheadair Ruaidhe;  the Stob Gabhar group

The next thousand yards are known as the Moss; a boggy area, spatered with innumerable tiny lochans lies just to the west but the path rolls on, resolute and straight, towards the bridge over the river Ba ahead.

The Moss;  Clach Leathad and Meall a Bhuiridh;  approaching the Ba gorge

Ba Bridge

Quiet, now. Tread softly. Don't speak. Man was surely not meant to see such beauty. This is fairyland, and it will disappear in a puff of mist if you spoil it. (Fairies don't have Internet access, so I'm not doing any harm by singing its praises here). The River Ba (River of the Cattle) is an unassuming little stream for most of its length, but just here it reaches an outcrop of bare rock and forms a beautiful little ravine, graced by a group of fir trees. Those who engineered this drove road chose to bridge the Ba at this spot, and it is they who we must thank for this scene. Words fail to do it justice - cast your eyes over the pictures, take in the perfect juxtaposition of mountain, sky, moor, water, rock and forest. And form your own conclusions.

A Ba Bridge photo album

Ba Bridge is, I have no doubt, an immensely popular wild campsite. Beware the midges, however. And please, if you do camp here, respect its beauty. Leave it as you found it. This spot is a little bit of heaven on earth, and it's up to us all to ensure that it stays that way.

The Ba below Clach Leathad;  the Drochaid an t-Saighdeir plantation

Once you can tear yourself away from the Ba gorge, continue past the Drochaid an t-Saighdeir conifer plantaion. The path now climbs away from the Ba, towards a low col a couple of miles ahead. Just past the plantation you may well be surprised to see a cottage standing back off the track. Ba Cottage is presumably a property of the Forest Lodge estate and, as far as I know, is not inhabited. If they ever want to sell it off, maybe they'd like to contact me first?

One can dream.

Gualain Laith Ghuibhais

Approaching the col;  looking back at the Blackmount hills

The col at the north end of the Blackmount section doesn't appear to have a name. Gualainn Laith Guibhais is the nearst named locality on the map, presumably the northeastern shoulder of Meall a Bhuiridh, now rising directly to your left. As you cross the col the sheer emptiness of Rannoch Moor lies before you and to the right. The A82 trunk road reappears in the scene, crossing the western apex of the moor two kilometers to the north. A low, fairly nondescrpit ridge of hills fringes Rannoch Moor to the north; this area is known as Black Corries and contains one solitary cottage. Nearer to, and immediately to your right, is the locality of White Corries; it consists of a tiny handful of cottages, the base station of the Glencoe chairlift, and the Kingshouse hotel and its outhouses and staff cottages.

White Corries

White Corries comes into view;  the eastern end of Glencoe

The track wanders down towards White Corries now, and some two miles beyond the col it merges with the service road to the chailift at a cottage belonging to a ladies' mountaineering club. The scene to the west is dramatic; you are looking into the maw of Glencoe, a valley famed for its savage rock scenery and etched in history as the scene of one of Scotland's nastiest atrocities. Most prominent in the scene is the Buachaille Etive Mor (Great Shepherd of Etive), a conical peak regarded as one of Scotland's finest mountains. Sron na Creise (commonly known simply as Criese) stands eastwards of it, the two mountains standing either side of the entrance to the elusive Glen Etive.

The Buachaille Etive Mor


The track from the chairlift to the A82;   the West Highland Way approaching Kingshouse

The West Highland Way follows the chairlift service road north now, to emerge on the A82. It's a rude shock, encountering so much heavy, fast-moving traffic after the wild, silent country of the Blackmount. Cross the road carefully. Another vehicle track leads off northwest, running roughly parallel to the main road. This was (until about 1930) the original motor road and was one of the Military Roads first driven through the Highlands in the late 18th century following the Jacobite uprising. After a mile you come to the Kingshouse hotel, reputedly Scotland's oldest inn.

Relax here, have yourself a drink, partake of a bar meal perhaps, lose yourself in the conversation of walkers and hikers and cyclists and mountaineers. The hotel allows camping nearby, or of course you could book a room there; alternatively (having checked the timetable) walk out along the main driveway and signal the Citylink coach to stop for you as it speeds past on its way to Glasgow or Fort William.

Go on, admit it. You've had a perfect day.

    Citylink bus times to/from Kingshouse (times are as shown at "White Corries"): Glasgow-Ft William (.pdf document).

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This page last updated 20th November 2004