“A trip you won’t forget”

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At an elevation of 937 metres Beinn na Lap, or to translate: Dappled Hill, is listed as Munro number 240. To be honest it is not the most exciting hill in the region. The joy of walking Beinn na Lap is more often experienced in the getting there; stranded among better hills but with its feet paddling in the waters of lovely Loch Ossian, the hill makes for exercise amid good surroundings.

And for me that has been a good thing; I’ve climbed the hill a number of times and yet not once have I had a good view from the summit.

Your first difficulty will lie in which approach to take. The best and most logical starting point is Corrour Halt, a remote station on The West Highland Line akin to a bus stop stranded in the middle of nowhere and miles away from any road!

If you don’t mind the long, though beautiful, drive along Loch Rannoch, to Rannoch Station, (also remote though, with a nearby hotel and a little more user friendly), you can catch the early morning train from Glasgow, to enjoy a wonderful slow haul through the very heart of Rannoch Moor.

On a fine day, summer or winter, it’s a trip you won’t easily forget. Wild and barren, rimmed by dark mountains and pocked by lochs and lochans, Rannoch Moor is one of Scotland’s last untamed areas.

It is hard to imagine this vast tract as once having an almost impenetrable cloak of Caledonian forest. As a last lurking place of wolves and the un-assailable hideout of robbers, caterans and other dangerous bandits, these forests were no place for law abiding citizens or innocent travellers. The only option was eradication. Eradication meant the felling of virtually every standing tree! The resulting wetlands are what we see today. A good thing? Or a bad thing? You, my reader, choose. To be sure the region is sodden, there’s nothing other than grass and heather to drink the very ample rainfall.

So difficult did the railway engineers find it to sink safe enough founds for their tracks, they resorted to laying great depths of brushwood across the moor; the railway literally floats. Beware!

The alternative approach to Corrour Halt and Beinn a Lap, is from Fort William, or stations east from there along the line. Totally different in character yet every bit as beautiful, this stretch along the track contributes to the route’s overall reputation as one of the finest rail journeys in the world. Ben Nevis, The Aonachs, The Grey Corries; huge mountains loom down at you as you pass. Through Monnessie Gorge with its waterfalls; by dark green forestry and the stunning lochside trundle along Loch Treig, beneath the steep cliffs of Stob Coire Sgriodain, your journey will culminate at lonely Corrour Halt, beneath the western tip of Beinn na Lap.

If you only come this far, perhaps to enjoy a good coffee and delicious cakes at the modern built cafe cum bed and breakfast establishment by the station, you’ll not have wasted your time.

And from the station begins the journey. Beside a charming little lochan a sturdy track heads east, unexcitedly at first. As I set off the cloud was set grey and low around the shoulders of the hills about me; there was scarce hint of any coming change. Twenty minutes later I stood close-by the western shore of Loch Ossian, its grey water flat calm and dull, the much loved little hostel in its clump of trees, just as gloomy looking.

It’s here that the track divides, one fork prong serving Loch Ossian’s southern shore, the other, which I took, the northern. Soon I arrived at another fork, this one sign posted: ‘The Road to the Isles’; the route famed of old, along which cattle were driven all the way from Skye to the markets in the south. Just a few paces further along I almost missed the wet, usually boggy, path for Beinn na Lap’s western ridge.

It has to be said, at least on this occasion, this was probably the best part of the walk, as far as the mountain itself was concerned. The grassy going, typically moorland in nature, is never steep. Up ahead I was ruefully aware of the cloud, cloud that with every footfall up, seemed only too happy to bend down to greet me.

It was the view back down that saved the day. As I climbed so Loch Ossian shaped itself below me. Down there the western end of the loch had its little tree inhabited islets. Each one reflected like little upside down copies of themselves in the still, pewter coloured, water. In the grey light the scene was one of golden and silver, so much have the grasslands already lost their former greenness. Less than a mile down the loch eastwards the scene changed subtly, became almost smoky as the waters hid themselves coyly in the cover of dark green conifer plantations.

Alas I disappeared into the clouds at last. No more views save the grass and intermittent small outcrops of rock at my feet. An eerie world! Breathless, (not even the faintest hint of a breeze). I felt clammy from my exertions.

From Ceann Caol Beinn na Lap, the going is gentle, even so I sweated enough to warrant the removal of my coat.

You’d never guess it from the map, but there are one or two little rocky undulations on the ridge and, not far from the summit, (I almost missed it in the clag), there’s a little wind break of stones. Since there would be no views from the summit cairn, I stopped here for a cuppa and a bite.

I knew I was close to the summit when I arrived at the drab little lochan, more a dirty pond, that rests but a few dozen yards or so below well built the cairn. Of course there were no views today. Had there been they would have been the best. If Beinn na Lap is a dull mountain, by comparison its surrounding neighbours are much less so. The views west, over Lochaber, in particular are huge and full of impact.

In fact Beinn na Lap has some mild compensation in its more rugged, somewhat rockier eastern ridge; though of course these were invisible today.

A walk along Loch Ossian’s quiet waters was in order. I opted for a little compass practice for descent. Could I set a bearing that would take me right to the edge of the invisible plantation on the Loch’s north-western shoreline?

The track hiding from me just now, lay a mere 540 metres below me, the forest edge a fraction east of due south. I set my compass carefully and, using only tufts of grass and heather clumps to keep my course true, headed steeply back downhill.

When, 300 metres down below, I emerged from the cloud, it was to see the desired plantation edge exactly where I’d planned for. I reached the track for my final two mile hike towards the station. And with an hour to wait for the train back north, I had plenty of time for coffee and chat with the café’s friendly waitress…