A route I had on mind for a long time connecting Mallaig train station with Banavie train station via the trails along the shores of Loch Morar and Loch Arkaig.
Numbers behind the route: 84km, 2300m of elevation. I completed the route in 11 hours in April 2021
Starts with 10km on the road to Bracorina. Bracorina to Tarbet on trails for 9.5km. From Tarbet you climb up to the ridge and follow it and you drop down to Sourlies bothy and continue on the path to Glendessary for another 21km+-. Here you have a long road stretch to the canal and finishing below the Neptunes Staircase at the Banavie train station with 42km (road marathon anyone after 2300m of elevation in rough ground?) From Gairlochy you can choose an undularing run back on the tar or a flat canal run. I choose the latter as I couldn’t face any more hills!
In more details now, how it all went for me.
First 10km on the road went really well. Started at Mallaig train station and at a steady pace continued along the shores of Loch Morar. When I got to Bracorina the sun came out, it got much brighter as I started very early in the morning in the darkness to have a decent time finish. I’ve done this section to Tarbet multiple times so I knew it well. The adventure was about to start on the hills. In 2020 I did this section wirh a friend running to Knoydart / Inverie so I knew part of it. My aim was to continue along the ridge all the way to Glendessary woods. From Tarbet Itook a good route through the heathery hill over a small fence and quickly joined up with the ridge slowly gaining height. At around 400m there was a dusting of snow and with every meter up it was getting thicker. I had my fell shoes but no micro spikes! There was no snow forecast but the weather choose different. The ninja snow showers and low temperature decided differently!
The original idea was to follow the ridge and climb the 2 corbetts that are along the way, Sgurr na h-Aide and Bidein a’Chabair. I only managed to get to the top od Sgurr na h-Aide. While I was at the summit I got surprised with a snow shower. The visibility dropped down to 0 in seconds. I tried to continue and find a way to the next corbett but the steap cliffs around the summit of Sgurr na h-Aide and lots of snow at the top made thing too hard and risky. I decided I have to trace part of my route back and descend down to the valley. I found a route down but it wasn’t easy. I was jumping ledges and the snow was making it tricky. After few steep slides down on slippery rocks I managed to get down to safer grounds and slowly I made my way across the Finiskaig River and on to the main path connecting Glendessary with Sourlies. I was beaten up after this. I had to make a fast plan of what to do as I lost a lot of precious time and I will be much slower now as I couldn’t continue on the ridge. My predicted time of arrival at the head of Loch Arkaig was different now. I had friends meeting me there on their Mtb bikes!
I gritted my teeth and pushed forward up the hill, along the valley dodging lots of deer on the way. The path was very wet and muddy so it was very hard to move or to gain any decent speed. Once I got to the highest point of the path in the valley I had a good bite to eat and I started slowly going down and then following the top path. The top trail is very rough and energy draining. Now I know that there are proper forestry tracks leading through Glendessary Woods that would speed up my journey by many minutes and make it way more easier on my body!
When I reached Upper Glendessary junction I stopped again as my legs were pretty much knackered from balancing on rocks and sliding in mud. I was half way now! With 42km in my legs and another 41km to go I felt super happy I have the toughest part behind me. Next 6 km was on a track which was really nice but it got even better when I reached tarred road. I started speeding up and managed to maintain pretty good pace. I don’t really remember where but somewhere around this area I finally met Corrina who was waiting for me in anticipation. Her husband and good friend of mine Markus was right behind her in their van. I didn’t have any signal in my phone to notify my wife about the time of arrival at the Banavie train station. And my GPS tracker was struggling to find signal. Not ideal!
Corrina and later on Markus who joined us on the bike after he went ahead to get signal and leave a message for my wife kept me company all the way till the finish! They made sure I’m fed and watered, paced me but most importanly they made sure to keep my mind of the pain. The Loch Arkaig road along the loch is bumpy and every uphill from now on I had to walk as my legs were refusing to move up the hill.
Finally we reached Achnacarry and the white bridge! It took me 9h 20min to this point! From here only, or as much as 15km was between me and the finish line. At Gairlochy we joined the canal path. The trail along the canal is flat so it made things much easier. The hardest part about this section was that there was not much change of scenery. Bushes to the left, water to the right, road above us on the right side.
Markus stayed behind just before Gairlochy at their van and later joined us at the finish. Corrina continued cycling with me and keeping my head occupied! We chatted about lots of stuff, gardening, families, bbqs together, big family meet ups and next challenges!
Finally there it was, the Neptunes Staircase. I sprinted the last few hundred meters in pain down the hill and crossed the road sitting down between the train station doors and bin… Yes.. There was a bin next to me at the finish line! But who cares! I got it done!
I was greeted by my wife and children! Freya and Maiya started gifting me pretty stones they gathered for me at the car park waiting for my arrival!
Total time 11h 04min 33s, pace 7:55/km, 83.96km, 2293m of elevation.