Found it – The Lost Valley
19th September 2009
Map: Landranger 41
Weather: Initially rain, followed by a small sunny spot, clearing to rain at the end of the walk.
From the car park below Am Bodach, drop down into the valley and cross the River Coe. Proceed steeply up the valley of Coire Gabhail, to happen upon the Lost Valley or Hidden Valley. Continue to the head of the valley up to the col at Bealach Dearg. Return by the same route: 8 miles by Satmap Active 10 gps
I had been looking forward to this return visit to Scotland ever since I walked the West Highland Way in 2008. I loved the scenery, the peace and the people on that walk, and on day 7 of the WHW, I had a good look up at the Aonach Eagach and vowed to return. So after 2 weeks work in Denmark, I got back home and packed a weekend bag for the drive up to Bonny Scotland. I wish I could have said the same for the weather forecast, and my original intention of walking the ridge on Saturday was thwarted. But I had a good journey up on Friday and had the pleasure of bumping into Mr Jingle Jangle Jewellery - Sir Jimmy Saville. He was good fun and is standing the test of time – he probably has the best house in Glencoe as well – it’s the one with the white rose of Yorkshire flying proudly alongside the Saltire.
The Ballachullish horseshoe, but not today
Two of the three sisters
The tops were ominously cloudy for tomorrow and Mike (Peakbagger of the walking forum) decided that he wasn’t going walking on the Saturday as his knee was giving himself some gyp, so he drove to Mallaig instead. We decided that the Ballachullish horseshoe would be a decent stomp for the Saturday as the weather forecast said rain and there was no way I was going up the Aonach Eagach in the wet. Saturday dawned misty and we couldn’t see the top of the Ballachullish horseshoe, which meant another change of plan and we decided to walk up to the Lost Valley.
The River Coe
Steeply up through some birch wood
After a leisurely start to the day, we reached the car park at the base of Am Bodach in a veritable Scotch mist. There were lots of tourists pulling up into the car park and taking a few snaps before moving on, and several coaches of steamed up windows. So we assumed we would be getting rather wet and donned full waterproofs and some more – gloves included. It was absolutely teeming down, but the car park was a good view point for looking at The Three Sisters – they must be triplets because they looked very similar – big foreheads high in the air – and all of them very imposing, as is Glencoe in general. From the car park we dropped down into the Glen walking along a good path that was rocky in places with a red/purple hue looking like weathered bricks. It was easy walking down to the river and there we came across a deep cut gorge that follows along the Great Glen faultline. The water was flowing so clear, a slightly turquoise colour against the deep red berries of the rowan trees, with little golden discs of leaves floating along – very hypnotic to stare at from the wooden bridge. The steps down to the bridge are steep and have wide spaced steps – no good for short legs. After the bridge the ground rises across and up a rocky section before reaching a boggy patch. A wooden path has been laid across the worst of the boggy patch.
Gloomy ahead up in the valley
Just above these small falls we crossed the river
The small rock rake – not too bad even in the wet
And all of a sudden there it is – found it
High above to our right was the middle sister – Gearr Aonach – with its crags looking very foreboding. The walk continued along a narrow path through a sparsely wooded valley, with the river below us to the left, cut deeply into the hillside in places. There were also a few clear pools with the occasional waterfall, all very peaceful, and very, very wet. It was a struggle to keep the camera lens clear today, and my lens wiper got ever damper as the walk progressed. There was lots to look at on the way both geologically and geomorphologic-ally, as this is an area of igneous intrusive rocks such as granites and rhyollites. There are also intrusive dykes – not the type who interrupt conversation in the pub – so we spent some time looking at the melange of rocks as we walked along.
A large boulder bedded in river gravel
A brief moment of warmth looking back down the valley
A little further up it was time to cross over the burn by some boulders – ok as long as it isn’t in spate, and then up a small rock ledge, which is ok and doesn’t present much of a problem - just take your time at this point. The path stayed up the left side of the burn and continued up some rocky steps onto another path that leads up to the lost valley. We carried on in the relentless rain to reach a brow of the hill and as the rain eased there was the lost valley laid out before us. What a delight to see – it resembled a giant Japanese garden from a certain aspect, with massive boulders in a rock scree.
A great amphitheatre ahead, with some glimpse of sunlight
At the end of the flat area – you can see the line of erosion continued across the valley
It must have been part of a terminal moraine before it got washed away, with the valley behind filling up to form the flattish level seen today. All it needs is someone with a giant rake – although the burn tries its best. There wasn’t any standing water here today, it was flowing beneath the river bed, and it was dry enough to wander around the river bed. It was a lovely spot for a break and refreshments, but still cold even though the rain had stopped and the sun came out. There were lots of nooks and crannies to explore, but we decided to venture further up the valley now that the rain had stopped.
The deep gorge down to the left – frogs to the right
Higher up the valley, looking back you can see the rock sculpting
This is not your typical U-shaped valley seen in much of the area, although you can see some curvature / rock sculpting further up the valley on the left hand side. There is also a very distinct straight line up and down this valley, and this is continued across Glencoe to A Chailleach (you can see this on the OS map). I think this must be a line of weakness associated with the Dyke swarms or a faultline, but I couldn’t find one on my geology map at home. Many of the rocks up here showed signs of heat alteration, with great banded rhyollites and tuffs, almost jewellery like in quality. Mind you they weren’t that good or Jimmy ‘now then’ Saville would have had some on a chain – jingle jangle jewellery.
This was as close as I wanted – too much water around
Looking directly down the valley from the steep slope up to the beallach
We found a great piece of granite but it was too heavy to hump around for several hours. We wandered further up the flat hidden valley to start the long walk up to the head of the valley at Beallach Dearg. The burn reappears here deeply incised in the ground, with an almost vertical side – very fault like. The path ascends at a gentle gradient at first, away from the burn for a while, with occasional glimpses of Am Bodach and the Aonach Eagach ridge behind us. Unfortunately most of the tops were obscured by misty cloud including Bidean nam Bian and Stob Coire Sgreamhach – goodness knows what the correct pronunciation is – I’m a language mangler at the best of times. We came across an alpinist frog leaping up the slopes, presumably on holiday – what a strange sight, but there are plenty of side streams that tumble down the valley sides.
The best way up was to the right of the scree
Bidean nam Bian cloud free – but not for long
Up towards the higher ground at the head of the valley there are some lovely waterfalls that tumble into the deep cut gorge, with the walls opposite coppery looking from peat staining. The corrie up here wasn’t your typical corrie either but the surrounding hills provided a great amphitheatre. Beyond the waterfalls the heart beat rises as does the path, and it becomes a mixture of bedrock, loose scree, with occasional bits of normal path. You can see the red scree at the head of the valley from some way back, but the better route for us was to stay to the right hand side, where there is plenty of hands on walking. The red scree is quite loose and definitely harder to walk up than on solid bedrock. Towards the very top there is a small runnel for the last 30ft or so, but again this is not so bad. Some care had to be taken not to slip, but we stayed up the right side and pulled our way to the top.
The view from the beallach looking south – Glen Etive
Stob Coire Sgreamhach
Then you’re up there and the views open up to the hills further south, and so does the wind – it was on with the hat and gloves, more snacks and a good toot around. The Beallach is over 3000ft but that doesn’t count as a munro – Glen Etive is to the south, with Bidean nam Bian up to the right at 3724ft and Stob Coire Sgreamhach up to the left at 3515ft. So the choice was going up to the right or up to the left – 30 minutes one way, 50 minutes the other (up and down). But, it was already 4pm and there was a 2 hr walk down from the Beallach. The weather finally made up our minds, with the wind and rain whipping in and it was bl*^dy cold. As I’m not a munro bagger and I fancied a pint in the Claichach Inn, I thought stuff it were off. We were wet enough and I didn’t want all my gear to be sopping wet for the main event tomorrow, so after a quick trot a little way up Stob Coire Sgreamhach for a photo, we made our way down the rake carefully and picked our way down the path we had come up on.
That’s Sir Jimmy’s house
A last look up – it’s nearly stopped raining now
For sisters they look a bit sinister, big brother Bidean nam Bian looking over them
We tried the scree but to be honest it felt better over to the side, and it really started to persist it down – but I stayed positive and thought more rain today, less tomorrow. On our way down, the cloud cleared now and then to reveal Aonach Eagach, and it looked pretty formidable from up here. The mental process took over and I began to wonder about how difficult it will be. Gradually we made our way down the valley to return to the car with the Three Sisters looking down on us from on high. I was glad to get back to the car park and hoped that my gear would be dry by the morning – it was. So next stop was the Clachaig Inn, an excellent venue where I had several pints and some gulps ahead of tomorrow’s adventure. Altogether it was a great day to be out in the rain – but I wasn’t singing until later.
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