Wednesday 15 August 2012

Loch Awe to Cruachan Dam, castle & kirk

Another great day out on the West Highland Lines can be had from Loch Awe, 40 minutes by train from Oban or two and a half hours from Glasgow. Travelling south from Oban you go through the Pass of Brander where the rails run beside and above deep black water, hemmed in on both sides by steep scree slopes. It reminds me of the Symplegades clashing cliffs that Jason and his Argonauts adventured through & defeated in their quest fro the golden fleece. Loch Awe station comes soon after the waters of the pass start to widen into the sweep of the loch itself.

I spent half an hour absorbing the scene and sketching Kilchurn Castle from a little disused landing stage down by the water. Beside me was a railway carriage used as self-catering accommodation and in a ragged pine above was a raven. Across the surface of the water honking geese flew in ones and twos, and one solitary cormorant. In tree nearby were chaffinches, goldcrests and house sparrows, and two blue tits that flew in a frenzy then came together to consummate their courtship dance.

As this was my first visit to Loch Awe I headed to the village store to see if I could pick up any tips. I was given a very friendly welcome by the woman behind the counter who suggested a well-managed track that runs into the hills to Cruachan Dam. Total distance - 6km from station to dam. This sounded about right considering that I wanted enough time to stop and get some drawing done. I left the shop and immediately bumped into Jim who was busy working outside his cottage. Jim has taken on the upkeep of the Loch Awe station platforms under ScotRail's Adopt-a-Station scheme. We hadn't met before but were aware of each other through our contacts with ScotRail. We had a brief chat then I set off on my walk.

looking across Loch Awe to Kilchurn Castle, pencil & watercolour in sketchbook, 14.5x41cm

looking across Loch Awe, pencil & watercolour in sketchbook, 14.5x41cm


The walk 

Head south-west along the A85 road for a little over a kilometre until you come to St Conan's Kirk on your left. If you've got time -and I suggest you make sure that you do- go in for a look around. Entry is free but there's a donation box and an interesting little leaflet to buy that tells about the building. At first glance you think the church is old but in fact it was completed in 1930, less than a century ago. It's an eccentric amalgamation of Gothic architecture ... mediaeval monastic style ... the little sheltered courtyard of an abbey ... it has gargoyles galore, to rival Notre Dame, and a set of eight dark-wood heraldic seats, details picked out in gold. Look for an owl too, and some intricately carved head studies. The eastern end of the church has a smooth curved wall with full height non-stained-glass windows that offer a beautiful sweeping view across railway and loch. It was difficult to drag myself away from such a fantastical place. 

a rather serious-looking person, St Conan's Kirk

looking down & across Loch Awe

a lichened boulder far above the Pass of Brander

approaching Cruachan dam

Directly after the church, on the right-hand side of the A85 a smaller road starts to lead uphill. This is the way to the Cruachan Dam and once you're on it you can't get lost. It isn't open to public vehicles so it's nice and quiet. As it bends upwards along the edge of the hills it offers some quite stunning views across the valley and the Pass of Brander below.

I was surprised that once I was up on the hillside I saw very little wildlife, only a few crows and hooded crows. At least it meant I got quickly to my destination. Walking fast it wasn't much more than an hour before I found myself confronted by the sight of a huge hydroelectric dam nestling in a great corrie, hugged on three sides by typical highland hills. 

I walked to the far end of the dam and did a quick sketch in pencil of the view across the dark lochan waters before retracing my steps to Loch Awe village. If you had all day you could keep walking beyond the dam and high up into the hills. The summit of Ben Cruachan can be reached from here.

the reservoir lochan at Cruachan Dam, pencil & watercolour in sketchbook, 14.5x41cm      

I got back to the village in time for half an hour chatting with Jim. We shared a beer and talked about the wildlife and history of the area. 

Finally, back at the station waiting for the evening train home I stood on the passenger footbridge and sketched the curved rails and old railway cottages.

Loch Awe railway cottages, pencil & watercolour in sketchbook, 14.5x20.5cm

N.B. In summertime Falls of Cruachan station is open, giving access to the Cruachan visitor centre. Directly downslope of the dam, the station is a request stop between Loch Awe and Taynuilt. I hope to go back to visit the centre with its tunnels under the mountain, and to try the steeper walk directly up the hillside to the dam.

No comments:

Post a Comment