West Highland Way: Bridge of Orchy to Kings House Hotel
This leg is, for me, the best of the entire trail. It follows good tracks for almost the entire day, initially following an old Military Road uphill through woodland to reach superb views over Loch Tulla from the summit of Mam Carraigh. A short and easy descent then follows down to the Inveroran Hotel, which sometimes runs a cafe.
Some road walking leads to the start of Telford’s old road across the Black Mount. Grand views unfold over the expanse of Rannoch Moor to the east and the mountains of Glencoe to the west as you climb. An initial ascent is followed by a descent to cross the River Ba at Ba Bridge; another long and easy ascent is then followed by an equally easy descent to meet a public road near the Glencoe ski resort. A final stretch along current and old roads through grand scenery leads you to the Kings House Hotel.
Although the scenery is spectacular on sunny days, the crossing of the Black Mount can be exposed in poor weather and there are few escape routes. Ensure your clothing and equipment is suitable for the worst weather you can expect.
5 hours 45 minutes
Map of the leg
Maps courtesy of Google Maps. Route for indicative purposes only, and may have been plotted after the walk. Please let me have comments on what you think of this new format.
Carefully cross the A82 and continue on westwards down the road, immediately passing the Bridge of Orchy Hotel on the left. The road descends to the eponymous bridge over the River Orchy. Cross over the bridge and, a few yards after the road turns sharply to the right, take a footpath that leads off to the left (do not take the more obvious track beforehand).
The path crosses a boardwalk across a boggy area of ground before rising up the hillside to the west of the River Orchy in a general northwesterly direction, still following the Old Military Road. It soon crosses a gate through a deer fence to enter some woodland. The path continues to climb; after about a kilometre it breaks out of the forest and continues to climb to reach a summit. A short path leads up to a cairn at the summit of Mam Carraigh, from where some lovely views over the Black Mount and Loch Tulla are available. An obvious path then descends, zigzagging down to a road near to the Inveroran Hotel at NN274413.
Turn left down the road and follow it across a bridge over the Allt Orain and past the Hotel. A bridge carries the road over the Allt Tolaghan, which drains into Loch Tulla, and then curves to the right to head northwards. It passes a small car park on the left and crosses Victoria Bridge over the Abhainn Shira. A short distance later Forest Lodge is reached at NN270423.
At Forest Lodge leave the road and head straight on through a small gate to join the Old Glencoe Road. This slowly ascends northeastwards and the going is very easy, with a wide unsurfaced road making for fast going; all the burns are crossed by good bridges. The track starts skirting to the western edge of a conifer plantation, the end of which signifies the end of the first rise.
The track continues in a rough northerly direction, crossing over the Allt Doire Mhic Laimh and then to the east of a small wooded area. It then starts a slight descent down to the west of another wooded area and the weed-filled Lochan Mhic Pheadair Ruaidh. After four miles it descends to reach the River Ba. Some lovely views are available along this section, with Coireach a Ba visible to the west and Rannock Moor to the east.
The River Ba is crossed by means of Ba Bridge, and after this the track starts to rise slowly as it heads north. It reaches a high point of about 445 metres near NN282511 before starting to descend slowly as it skirts the eastern flank of Gualann Laith Ghiubhais. As it does so it changes from a northerly to a northwesterly direction, and the track becomes increasingly rough. At all times it is distinct on the ground and easy to follow.
After 3.4 miles it goes through a metal vehicle barrier and approaches a surfaced road opposite Blackrock Cottage (NN267530). Turn right to join this road and follow it northwards for about six hundred yards until you meet the A82(T) road at a triangular junction; take the left-hand branch to reach the main road. Carefully cross the road and go through a gate to join a track that heads northwestwards for three-quarters of a mile along a decrepit surfaced road to reach the Kings House Hotel at NN259546.
Places of interest
Bridge of Orchy
Bridge of Orchy is a tiny settlement that has developed around the point where the old military road to Fort William crossed the River Orchy. This was first built in 1751 by Major Caulfield. There is a hotel beside the main road, a railway station on the line to Fort William and fine views towards the surrounding hills.
location UID #242
Inveroran and Loch Tulla
Inveroran consists of little more than a hotel and a couple of houses at the western end of Loch Tulla. The loch is two and a half miles long and three-quarters of a mile wide, and is famed for its trout and salmon fishing. The hotel is situated on an old military road that led across the Black Mount towards Glen Coe; this road was later improved by Telford but the opening of a new road in the 1930s led to the hotel being bypassed.
location UID #243
Rannoch Moor is a vast area of flat, boggy ground to the southeast of Fort William. It is one of Britain's last wildernesses, and is a wild and unforgiving place for travellers. It is also Britain's highest moor, with an average height of 1,000 feet above sea level.
During the last ice age the moor was a vast reservoir of ice from glaciers that flowed down from the surrounding hills. When the ice retreated it left behind it a generally flat area strewn with large boulders called glacial erratics. The flat nature of the land led to poor drainage and the area eventually became a blanket bog.
It has always been a hard area to cross. General Wade picked a route for his military road that climbed up the flanks of the hills to the west; Telford's improvements to that road took a very similar route. The remoteness can be seen by the fact that the shortest route by road from Rannoch station on the northeastern corner of the moor and Kingshouse on the northwestern - a distance of barely ten miles as the crow flies - is over 100 miles.
Access to the moor improved when the West Highland Railway was opened across the moor in the 1894. The poor ground that had prevented roads from being built across the moor still existed, so the railway line was 'floated' across the moor on a combination of brushwood and turf.
In the 1930s improvements in technology made a new road across the western fringes of the moor feasible. This is the route that now takes traffic along the A82(T) towards Fort William.
location UID #244
The Black Mount and Ba Bridge
The Black Mount is an area of hills that stretches between Glen Coe and Glen Orchy. It includes the area of ground that slopes down to meet the western edge of Rannoch Moor, and is often known as the Black Mount Deer Forest for reasons that may become obvious to the clear-sighted as they walk across it.
The main road to Glen Coe used to cross the periphery of the mount; the improved road by Telford more or less follows the route of Caulfield's earlier military road. A new main road was opened in the 1930s but the old route remained open as a drove road for the local estates. It now carries the West Highland Way and grants walkers superb views over the mountains to the west and across Rannoch Moor to the east. This stretch of track is one of the highlights of the trail.
Ba Bridge is located where the track crosses the River Ba, which rises a couple of miles to the west on the flanks of Aonach Mor. It is truly a superb spot, with white water running through angled, craggy rocks in front of a magnificent vista of high mountains.
location UID #245
Glencoe Mountain Resort
The Glencoe ski resort is situated on the slopes of Meall a' Bhuiridh immediately to the south of Kingshouse in Glen Coe. Seven lift stretch up the hillside; several of these operate during the summer months to give tourists access to the high hills.
location UID #246
Glen Coe and the massacre
Glen Coe is a wonderful valley that runs east to west towards the sea. High mountains bound the valley to the north and south, making the main road that runs through the valley one of the most magnificent road journeys in Britain. It is undoubtedly one of the premier areas for walkers in Britain.
It should be famed for its scenery, but unfortunately there are black events in its history. The area was traditionally 'owned' by the MacLain branch of the MacDonald clan. They were often in conflict with the neighbouring clans, especially the Campbells to the north.
In 1692 King William I ordered all of the Scottish clan leaders to swear an oath of allegiance to him. In December 1691 the MacLain chief left his home in Glen Coe to travel to Fort William to sign the oath. When he got there he was told that he would have to get it witnessed by a sheriff, which involved another long journey to Inverary. Unfortunately Inverary was well within Campbell territory, and he was detained by Cambell's men for a day.
This meant that he signed his oath a day late. A legal team in Edinburgh refused to accept this late oath and an order was sent out for all MacDonald's under seventy years of age to be put to the sword. Many of the soldiers dispatched were from the Campbell clan, the MacDonald's sworn enemies. Soldiers arrived and were greeted as friends according to the hospitality code that was common in the area. They lived together for twelve nights until there was a blizzard on the 13th of February.
That night 38 men were murdered; other men, women and children fled into the surrounding hills, many succumbing to exposure over the coming hours. The massacre rightly became a cause celebre in Scotland; the abuse of hospitality adding further insult to the murders. There can be little doubt that the death toll would have been greater had not several soldiers warned some of the villagers.
Some parts of this story are disputed; in particular the form of the orders sent to the soldiers. Nonetheless it is worth sparing a thought for the MacDonalds as you stroll through this wonderful landscape.
location UID #247
Kings House Hotel
The King's House Hotel is set in the remote heart of Glen Coe. It is the only accommodation between Inveroran and Kinlochleven, and is therefore popular with walkers on the West Highland Way.
The first buildings on the site were built in the 17th Century; it is situated right beside the old drove road between Skye and the cattle markets of Central Scotland. A military road was later built through Glen Coe and the inn was used as a barracks for the troops of King George III after Culloden. This use led to it being named the 'King's House' - a place where the King's men could stop for the night.
It is a place of amazing solitude, even with the main road to Fort William passing a short distance away. When the Blackwater Reservoir was built in the early 1900s the men would come down to the inn to drink before returning into the hills the next night.
location UID #248
Scottish CItylink service 913 calls between Kings House and Bridge of Orchy; there is one direct service a day.
As usual, Traveline Scotland is an excellent resource for planning public transport journeys.