Train to Spean Bridge

This morning we had a late breakfast and went out for a last look at Oban. We had to buy a few odds and ends at the pharmacy and we had to be back at our hotel by 11 am to check out. The town was very quiet.

Marg and Janie found a wool shop, so they disappeared inside. Neil and I waited outside. About twenty minutes later the ladies emerged with big bags of wool and happy smiles on their faces.

We called in at a store and purchased some paninis and wraps for our lunch, because we knew we’d be sitting on the platform at Crianlarich for an hour. Our train was due to leave Oban just after midday. Today’s journey was in two parts – the first leg was from Oban to Crianlarich, then we would change trains and travel from Crianlarich to Spean Bridge.

On the first leg on the journey we managed to get all four of our large suitcases stowed away quickly (an important thing to do as luggage storage is often at a premium) and find four seats together. The train travelled back along the only line that goes out to Oban, the one we had come in on two days earlier. The route took us through a lot of farming land surrounded by gentle hills initially. Occasionally we passed a loch. Human habitation was quite sparse.

Approaching Crianlarich, the hills began to increase in size. Now you would call them mountains. We disembarked at Crianlarich and waited about an hour on the platform for the Glasgow to Mallaig train which would carry us as far as Spean Bridge. We ate our lunches while we waited. When our new train pulled in to the platform, Marg and I had reserved seats in one carriage and Neil and Janie in another. Thankfully Marg and I found a couple of spare spots to squeeze our luggage into, but I heard later that although Neil found a spot for their luggage, the railway stewards came along and moved it further down the carriage. Both carriages were very full so there was no chance of us all finding four seats together.

This second rail journey took us north and west towards Fort William and Mallaig. A walking trail, most likely the West Highland Way, followed the train line all the way. We saw lots of walkers hiking the trail, carrying heavy backpacks. At each railway station, some walkers would get off the train to begin a new section of the trail, while other tired walkers would leave the trail and board the train. So every time someone left their seat to disembark and we hoped we could stretch out a bit, new walkers came on board and filled the recently vacated seats.

The terrain changed as we travelled along the second rail line. The mountains alongside us grew larger in size – sometimes much larger. Young coniferous timber plantations became more and more frequent, as did the ugly patches where a plantation had been cut down and no attempt had been made to replenish the area. And then they were behind us, and the mountainous terrain was replaced with vast stretches of rugged, boggy moorland – we were crossing Rannoch Moor. The land out here was desolate and the number of trail walkers in this region diminished. It seems that the moorland did not have the same appeal as walking through a valley surrounded on both sides by towering mountains.

Eventually the moorland was replaced once again by high, craggy mountains and several large lochs. The terrain became quite picturesque once more. Spean Bridge was just a short stop, so we waited by the door with our suitcases ready and quickly departed the train.

Ten people got off here, all apparently staying at the same establishment, The Old Pines. Two large vans met us at the station. Our luggage was stowed away and we were driven a short distance to our hotel. The view from the hotel was quite spectacular, as directly ahead of the front gate was Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the United Kingdom. The sun was out and the clouds had blown away, so we had an unobstructed view of the mountain. There were a few patches of snow near the peak.

We were welcomed by some of the hotel’s non-human residents. The first to do so were the honking geese, who set up a real commotion as soon as we approached. There are two dogs at the hotel. The black labrador was quite friendly. He found a large stone and brought it to us, seeming to want to play ‘fetch’ with us. We were frightened he’d swallow it. But he was fine. I guess he engages all of the hotel guests the same way. Four goats live on the property. Their horns look quite scary, but they are all harmless. They follow each other round and round the building. Across the road, behind the fence, there are ewes with lambs.

Spean Bridge was formerly the training ground for British commandos during WWII. Today a memorial sculpture honours them, depicting three brave commandoes looking out over the mountains. We walked up there from the hotel, then spent some time reading the inscriptions at the base of the sculpture and viewing the personal tributes to fallen soldiers. The views of Ben Nevis and its neighbouring high mountains from the memorial are quite spectacular, but a far cry from the sea views we’d become used to in Oban.

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