Station to Station

Backpacking Scotland by Train

As a car-less Edinburgh based student I did a lot of highland trips with the university mountaineering club but also set out on a couple of backpacking endeavours by public transport. The beautiful thing about these routes is that there is no need to return to your start point though by the time you’ve factored in the train journeys they can be a little limited on time.

Kingussie to Blair Atholl

3 Days, May 2016


Kingussie turns out to be a pretty good station to walk from with a quiet road out of town along the number 7 cycle route. We clock up a few quick miles before leaving the tarmac to cut through a series of forestry tracks into the base of Glen Feshie. Of note are a couple of reasonably essential bridges at 824983 and 851965. Having crossed over the river Feshie we are finally onto footpaths and follow a well made path (with some rather large bites eaten out of it by the river!) all the way to the Ruigh Aiteachain bothy. We step through the door to find a warm fire and the kettle on as, just outside, the heavens open to a torrential downpour. It turns out the bothy is closing tomorrow for some extensive renovations (at the time of writing it is re-open and rather lovely) and we are the last people to stay in it, along with its keeper and a very bedraggled couple who arrive some hours later on their walk across Scotland to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

Our second day begins with the chance to plant a tiny Scot’s pine just outside the bothy and we learn about the re-forestation project that the glen is part of which is allowing a carpet of tiny trees to grow all over the valley floor. As the day continues we follow the river up and out onto the moorland which feels even more wild and remote after the shelter of the valley. Leaving the stream we take a direct line off the path to reach the summit of Carn an Fhidhleir. Munro baggers would at this point need to descend and re-climb An Sgarsoch but we decide it’s not for us and drop down the southern ridge to the Tarf Hotel bothy. After a day alone in the wilds it’s a little jarring to find someone else staying but it looks like we’ve all come for the solitude and with several rooms to choose from we hardly notice each other’s presence.

For our final day we head out along the Tarf Water to pick up a vehicle track into Glen Tilt. There’s the option to follow it all the way down to Blair Atholl but we opt for the more adventurous route and take a bridge over the river (956764) to climb the Northern spur onto Briagh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain and then follow a winding summit path down over Carn Liath to pick up tracks and a minor road into Blair Athol. There’s just time to put the (rather flat-feeling) feet up over some fish and chips before catching the train home.

Crianlarich to Ardlui

2 Days, November 2016


The train gets into Crianlarich by late morning and there’s a short initial road slog to reach a track under the railway line (370238) which we follow briefly before cutting up the North ridge of An Caisteal. We’re greeted at the top by a wide ranging view, but also a thin film of ice and some strong winds. We head quickly across the summit, deposit our bags at a bealach and bag the top of Beinn a Chroin. It’s approaching 4pm and already the sun is threatening to dip below the horizon so we’re glad we’ve picked a reasonably short route for the trip (with summer daylight you could potentially make this a day trip trains permitting). We find a camp spot just down from the bealach (375184) where there’s a tiny lochan from which we can boil water for dinner. With the wind howling around us we tuck ourselves in for a long evening of cards by head torch (maybe this is why no-one else is out here backpacking in November…)

The wind picks up considerably overnight and the first glimmers of light find me braced firmly against the end pole of the tent which is twisting to some rather alarming angles (some ripped elastic and an escaped guy line later reveal why!). In the interests of damage control we pack up as soon as it’s light enough to see and find ourselves on the summit of Beinn Chabhair shortly after sunrise. From here the plan is to descend the north-east ridgeline but it proves rather tortuous and we drop down into the shelter of the valley to follow the Ben Glas burn which, after a bit of bog trudging (unfortunately it’s not quite cold enough for it all to freeze) gains a vehicle track for an easy descent down to the road (326203). At this point there’s no disguising the fact that there are several miles to walk along a busy road with variable amounts of verge. In hindsight it may have been better to descend more steeply and cross the river at Beinglas to reduce this. Nevertheless by lunchtime we are sat out in the sun at the side of the loch thawing out fingers and toes while we await our return train from Ardlui.