Last week, six of our Explorers and three of our Leaders headed up to Corrour, in the remote Scottish Highlands, for five days of intense hiking. Here they’ve written about the experience…
We met at a crowded Euston Station at 8pm on Tuesday evening, to board the Caledonian Sleeper train. As we walked to the train we were asked where we were going, and gave the cheerful reply of ‘Corrour’.
“Why the hell would you wanna go there?” said the ticket inspector – very motivating! We got on to the Sleeper and dumped our stuff into our cabins, but us being typical WWESU Explorers decided it would be a great idea to all cram into one room.
Many cuddly moments later we decided that there weren’t enough people in the room and went off to bundle our Leaders (Marlon and Tom) in their room. When they finally decided that we were too annoying to handle they abandoned us for the dining car – which we inevitably followed them to as well.
We stayed up, not really bothering what the time was, until we gave into the exhaustion and decided to be sensible, sleep, and prepare for a long week of hillwalking. We fell asleep to the sound of the wheels click-clacking on the track, and dreamed of Scottish mountains.
Early on Wednesday morning we awoke to the sound of the train conductor telling us that we couldn’t get off at Corrour after all, and that we would be all dumped off the train at Crianlarich instead. I did not really believe him until about an hour later at 7am when I woke up from a somewhat itchy sleep. One frenzied packing session later (there were many) we all trooped down to the breakfast car which had been added during the night where we ate bananas and croissants. When we got off the train we were met about half an hour later by a nine seater mini-minibus driven by a very Scottish man. This man decided to answer what felt like 17 phone calls, waking us up every 20 mins of our 3 hour journey to the hostel. Surprisingly he managed to drive all the way to the hostel, despite the last 20 kilometres being off road down a 4×4 track. The view when we arrived wholeheartedly made up for the rough journey – that and the truly amazing hostel itself.
After we had checked into the hostel and repacked our bags for a day of walking we set off into the hills. Having arrived later than we thought, we ventured on a “short” walk of 22km. Tom was thoroughly impressed by the train and its track, and we stopped to take a picture of the highest point of track in Britain. After our ordeal earlier in the morning we were rewarded with a rainbow! A promising sign of better weather to come…
We returned to the hostel at 5pm and tucked into cheese and crackers, and a delicious curry.
On Thursday we went for a LONG walk in the Scottish hills, this time not reaching new summits but exploring a lovely loch and admiring the mountains. We had lunch in a Bothy (a hut that anyone can use for free, and maintained by the Mountain Bothy Association) which provided respite from the cold and was a new experience for the majority of us.
As we made our way back the weather quickly worsened as rain broke out giving our waterproofs a real test. The going got tough, and the tough (that’s us by the way) got going through the bog at the end.
When we got back we made a delicious meal of cheese-stuffed meatballs, which were well deserved after our long 28.5km hike, followed by an excellent dessert. Sleep was meant to come next but our attention was brought to the stars outside by some of the others staying at the hostel, and so sleep was delayed by 10 minutes – although we got a panoramic view of the Milky Way that you would never find in London.
Friday saw the start of our expedition! We were ready to start our three-day trip into the Scottish hills, where we would be wild camping each night.
After Phil arrived (having caught the Sleeper train from London, and, importantly, bringing his bags loaded with fresh snacks), we set off into the hills.
We walked for about 10km up a gradually steepening path by Loch Ossian towards Ben Alder. After lunch by the stream we turned off the path and headed cross country directly towards the summit.
Ben Alder is Scotland’s most remote Munro and we saw no one else all day, despite the fantastic weather. We made the summit at 4pm, and began the descent off the other side of the mountain, towards a small loch that we planned to camp by. We descended out of the cloud quickly and found a beautiful campsite on the loch shore, near a small stream that we could use for washing up and drinking.
We pitched camp, had dinner and turned in early, for it had been a long day and a late night previously. We were asleep very quickly!
Everyone did very well, covering about 22km and a lot of uphill with heavy expedition packs.
On Saturday morning we awoke to the sound of the water lapping at the loch shore, and the reeds rustling in the morning wind. We woke as the sun came up, crammed a snacky breakfast and quickly packed down our camp.
At 9:45am we set out from the loch, our first leg about 3km to Ben Alder Cottage, where we snacked and admired Loch Etrect. As the clouds were low and the weather windy, we decided to stay away from high altitudes to avoid a battering. Taking it in turn to navigate a few kilometres, we skirted the loch, followed a track, then went off-path through a bog (resulting in Tilly going for an unintended bog swim).
Finally we got back on a track, and dug deep for a last climb, 8km. As we panted up the path we made way for a mountain biker, flying down in the opposite direction – we were a little jealous! As it began to get dark, we strayed from the path to find ourselves a campsite in the moor. After a search, we eventually found a spot which could just about be classed as suitable, despite resembling a minefield. We pitched our tents and got started on our dinner of noodles, and admired the stars, which came our just before bed time.
After a lumpy night’s sleep we awoke to a misty morning. This was our last day of hiking and we were all looking forward to a warm shower and a hot meal. A thick fog had weaved its way over the camp, coating the Scottish moors in a light shade of grey.
After some tent-packing-away and flip-flop-finding we were ready to go. Although we were only 2km from the youth hostel we still managed to fit in a last hill – we hiked up from the campsite and enjoyed the views, sad that the weather only just cleared, but also happy that we were going home.
We got back to the youth hostel and were reunited with our stuff. We had a quick swim in Loch Ossian to wash off two day’s worth of grime and changed into lovely fresh clothes.
We’re back in London now, and missing the Highlands already – we’ll definitely be back soon!