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The Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal
The Pass of Corryarrick


A CERTAIN curiosity which the position of this Pass on the map of Scotland had wakened in my mind, was much increased by a somewhat lengthy article which I came across in the "Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland," edited by the Rev. J. M. Wilson. On the map the Pass appears as the only way of access from the south into the Great Glen for more than thirty miles of lateral distance, and the only direct route northwards from Badenoch and Lochaber. In the article referred to there is a quotation from Skrine, who crossed the Pass, proceeding from north to south, giving a high-pitched account of its perils and dangers. He speaks of the "inexpressibly arduous road . . . elevated to a height truly terrific,—springing sometimes from point to point over alpine bridges, and at other times pursuing narrow ridges of rock frightfully impending over tremendous precipices. . . . The wildest and most dreary solitude of Siberia cannot display a scene more desolate than that which extended round us. . . . The road grew more laborious and the precipices more tremendous as we approached the summit, broad patches of snow filling the clefts and hollows around us on each side." Nor does he miss telling his readers of "the chain of cataracts" and the "eternal snows." All this is good for the mountaineer, and it was a shock to me when I gathered from the further narrative that the whole passage was made with carriages. After this I might never have turned my face towards the Pass, thus losing a fine mountain walk, had it not been for the historical interest which it possesses. It seems to have been over this Pass that Prince Charles Edward, in 1745, after raising his standard in Glenfinnan and massing his forces at Aberchalder, started southwards on his memorable campaign. His opponent, General Cope, shirked the passage in face of the Highlanders whom he understood to be in force on the summit, and proceeded round about in the direction of Inverness, missing the Prince altogether at this time,—as he may have wished he had also missed him later on. We catch the echo of this movement in the opening lines of the Jacobite song,—

"Sir John Cope trode the north right far,
Yet ne'er a rebel he cam' naur."

One fine afternoon towards the end of last June two members of the Club (Mr D. M'Kenzie and the writer), who had been having a few days' climbing and walking in the Cairngorms and neighbourhood, walked from Kingussie to Loch Laggan Inn. Across Loch Laggan rose the mountains of Ben Aulder forest, and here, as farther east, we were surprised to see so much snow on so many summits after our mild winter, in Braemar they had told us that there was no snow last winter. Next morning we left the inn, going up the brac-face behind it, immediately to the east, and striking the road crossing Glen Shirra. This leads past Loch Crunachan to the Spey at Garva Bridge, passing Garvamore where used to be aninn,—still marked in some maps,—and where the old military road from Fort Augustus terminates, it was high summer that morning for a couple of hours, the sunshine being excessively brilliant and warm; but as we went upwards the sky became overcast, and the never-far-away rain descended. Crossing the Spey at Garva Bridge, the road led us in a somewhat level fashion close by the left bank of the river to Meallgarbha, which we reached in three hours easily from Loch Laggan. Here, at an elevation of about 1,175 feet, begins the real road for the Pass, and here in Bartholomew's Reduced Ordnance Survey Map is also marked a road leading past Loch Spey into Glen Roy, which I failed to see, although looking for it. We left the Spey with regret, having followed this fine river up from Aviemore to this place, about four miles from its source, always finding it good company. At Mcallgarbha are three good cottages, - shepherds' or keepers,- where probably accommodation could be had; which we, who were fresh from spending two nights out in the Cairngorms, considered a point worth noting. But we were in a different country from that of the Cairngorms. There we had walked for three days and most of two nights without meeting any one; there deer and ptarmigan peopled the glens and the hills;—here dwelt human beings, who could speak and be spoken to; shepherds drove great flocks of sheep, for it was shearing time; collies greeted us noisily; and curlews, plovers, and oyster-catchers flew all round, calling and whistling. Before us now lay a wilder country than we had passed through in the morning. So far we had pursued our way along a fair road; but commencing the ascent of the track to the summit of the Pass, we found that it was nothing better than a dry and very rough and stony watercourse. The man who goes over it in a carriage is not to be envied. We made good progress by quitting the road and following its line up the hill -side. This method may bring to nought the purpose of a road, which, presumably, is to be traversed; but it enabled us to reach our end, and that, after all, was the object in view. From an elevation of about 1,750 feet, where we made a prolonged halt for lunch, we had an excellent view of the S. and S.W. horizons, and again remarked upon the quantity of snow upon some hill-tops, such as Carn Liath and Creag Meaghaidh. These look good climbing hills, and are respectively 3,298 feet and 3,700 feet in height. Away to the west we had a glimpse of a long, high, snowy front, which we took to be Ben Nevis. Going onwards we soon came to the steepest part of the hill, where the road is cut along its face in a series of acute traverses, not unlike a salmon ladder. We avoided these zig-zags by proceeding straight up the left bank of the burn, certainly the easiest way for a man on foot, and in less than an hour from our lunch place we reached the summit of the Pass, 2,507 feet. It was now cold driving rain, enveloping us in mist, and we did not leave the road to go to the top of Corryarrick itself (2,922 feet), but it is apparently an easy ascent, distant about a mile from the summit of the Pass. The road had improved before it reached this spot, and on the north slope it was better still, consisting frequently of fine stretches of greensward. We did not require to leave it again during the day. We saw on the north side a couple of the old guiding-posts erected as way-marks in times of heavy snow, still standing erect and weather- stained. As we descended the weather cleared up, and first of all appeared the shapely peak of Cam Glass, then the waters of Loch Garry, and then far away and dim in the afternoon light the peaks of the farther north,—Beinn Attow, Mam Soul, and their neighbours, range upon range and peak beside peak, filling all the horizon to the N.W., N., and N.E. In clear weather it must be a grand prospect, and even as we saw it it was impressive. Several of the hills were crowned with snow, and it was their southern sides we were looking at. A good description of the view from this spot is to be found in Professor Knight's Book, "Principal Shairp and His Friends," p. 103, et seq. In about an hour from the top we came to a considerable burn, Alit Lagan a Bhainne, and found the bridge carrying the road over it all gone but one or two rotten beams, - further evidence of the neglect and disuse fallen on this road, which must have cost much to make, but is now evidently not looked after at all. We crossed the burn by stepping-stones lower down than the bridge, just opposite a cottage in ruins, but this would be a bad place in a spate, the burn being confined in a somewhat narrow gorge by high banks. Farther on we found the heather by the roadside in flower,—the first we had seen this season,—and coming in sight of the Tarff we had our first view of Fort Augustus from the high banks of Glen Tarif, along which the road ran. From this point an hour and a half's walking brought us to Fort Augustus, where we were not too hospitably received by the host of the Lovat Arms, who probably has conscientious objections to tramps. Ultimately, however, we shared in the good things of the table d'hôte, with the appetite mountaineers know. Next day, amidst much rain, we walked to Corpach, going up the Dark Mile, and through Lóchiel's beautiful grounds at Achnacarry. I mention this walk, for the purpose of saying that we found the road which is marked on the north side of Loch Lochy as on the south in the Ordnance Survey Map as a turnpike, to be only a track, and even that barred at Kilfinnan Woods by a fine, tall, padlocked iron gate, some excellent wire-fencing, and the usual courteous notice to wayfarers,—who, however, are designated by a less gracious name.

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