Robin Howie - Walking on water on Loch Loyne

WALK on the wild side

The A87 is the trunk road that runs from the Great Glen to Skye. Starting from Invergarry, it follows the north shore of Loch Garry, then climbs north, high above the east end of Loch Loyne to reach the east end of Loch Cluanie. However, much of this initial part is a comparatively new road.

The old Invergarry to Skye road ran the length of Loch Garry as far as Tomdoun, at map ref 154010. From there it turned north, crossing the River Loyne, then climbed to over 1,400ft by the east side of Creag a' Mhaim, dropping to the Cluanie Bridge Inn (as it was then known) beyond the west end of Loch Cluanie. Not any more. As well as Loch Cluanie, Loch Loyne was dammed as part of the post-war hydroelectric works, completed in 1957, so that the waters spread further westward and drowned the road. Peter Bellarby, my climbing partner of old, can remember being driven on the old road, but then he is older than me.

At one time it was almost a toss-up as to which route would be adopted; upgrade the old road or construct what is now the new road. I am glad it was not the old road, for the closer proximity of traffic would have been detrimental to a lovely area.

This week's walk makes use of part of the old single-track road, closed to public traffic since the 1950s but still serviceable; a two-and-a-half mile forested stroll from Tomdoun to Loch Loyne. Enjoy the step back in time.

I have a pre-war Bartholomew's quarter-inch-to-one-mile map of Inverness and Skye. This very clearly shows the smaller size of Loch Loyne as it was, with a wide gap and a stretch of the River Loyne where the old road crossed. The map notes that "the publishers would appreciate the friendly co-operation of users of the map in suggesting corrections or additions". I am, I fear, a little too late. You will need instead Ordnance Survey map 34, Fort Augustus.

Another Peter – Peter Cook – and I were at Tomdoun a few weeks ago. Approached from Loch Quoich on a circuitous route that also involved cycling, we had a four-Munro wet day on the South Cluanie ridge. The next morning, also wet, and before heading home, we opted for the short visit to Loch Loyne. I must confess that we cycled there rather than walking, but the previous day had been hard, lasting ten hours. Shame!

A telephone box marks the start of the walk, on what at this stage looks just like a forestry track (as indeed it is now), cutting back north-east from the public road. It is an easy stroll, only climbing some 100m to the high point at 250m. From there the old tarmac surface is more apparent on the by now open descent by Lochan Bad an Losguinn, with the first views of Loch Loyne. Looking more like a loch-side jetty, the road goes direct into the water.

At times of major water abstractions from Loch Loyne it is possible to see the line of the old road above or just under the water. The road is quite visible as it crosses the east side of an island to reach a usually submerged bridge over what was the River Loyne. After a day of heavy rain it was unlikely that Peter and I would be able to walk very far in the water, and so it proved. A barefoot paddle in shallow water, carefully following the line of the road, took us only a short distance from the shore and we turned back when we could no longer see the road under our feet. I will need to return when a dry spell coincides with maximum water abstraction from the loch.

Do have a look, but only take a gentle paddle.

Years ago Geraldine and I walked over Loch Loyne to reach the South Cluanie hills to the north-west. After the water crossing, the hills seemed rather tame. Walking on water? Well, not quite, but don't let the facts get in the way of a good story. When we were there the old bridge was still intact … just. It was warped as if melted by the sun, but it was still possible to cross very gingerly and with dry feet. The old bridge is not going to last for ever and for all I know it is now gone.

Factfile

Map Ordnance Survey map 34, Fort Augustus

Distance 5 miles

Height 100m

Terrain Old road/track

Start point Road junction just west of Tomdoun Hotel at map ref 154010

Time 2 to 3 hours

Nearest town Invergarry

Nearest refreshment spot Tomdoun Hotel