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The Lost Bridge in the Lost Valley

Submitted by keithlester on 2004-12-05

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The lost bridge in the Lost Valley, a new scramble on Beinn Fhada

Walkers do not always appreciate how much can be gleaned from something as mundane as a map. Maps represent the prodigious body of work carried out by the Ordinance Survey, initially for Military purposes, but now rather more for the range of peaceful activities that depend upon their use. I was studying the Pathfinder 1:25000 series map for Glencoe, with a view to finding an interesting route onto Beinn Fhada. A path originating at GR 173563 seemed to be just what I needed. It only remained to make the river crossing from the Lost Valley path. I surmised that a crossing must exist, since the path could not start and finish in isolation. Close inspection of the map showed me that the path from the footbridge had been realigned. Those familiar with the current path will know that it strikes out across the moor away from the stream, towards a high stile over a deer-fence, before merging back into the line of the gorge. The earlier route, shown on the map, follows closely the line of the Coe, up to the junction at the Meeting of Three Waters, turning to follow the line of the Lost Valley burn. I decided to investigate.

I set out from a car park on the main road, crossed the footbridge and began searching for the old path. After scrambling up the rocky steps, I thought I had gone too far, but close inspection of the map showed there was a gap of ten or twenty meters between path and river-edge, so I persevered. Shortly, I spied a telltale groove in the ground, beneath the heather and birch brush, at the left side of the path. The width of the depression was about half a meter. Following this through dense scrub, I found it descending and turning right as the map indicated. Within the space of a few minutes, I was at the river edge in the bottom of a deep ravine. Albeit overgrown and concealed from view, I had found my path. I tried to make my way up-stream to find a suitable crossing, but the water was very fast after heavy rains and my way was blocked by a fallen boulder. The far bank was tantalisingly close, but I could not risk the crossing. A slip would have taken me quickly into the boiling cauldron that is the Meeting of Three Waters. Further exploration down the stream also showed it to be un-crossable, so I decided to postpone my plan till finer weather when the burn might be passable.

As I returned up-stream, I was amazed to see that I had walked right past a bridge abutment. The moss-covered stones were well fitted and showed some signs of mortaring, but the tapered, stepped profile was the most striking evidence. The other side of the gorge showed no such construction, but it was easy to see why. The natural rock provided a level shelf some two meters deep along a five-meter section of vertical wall. A ramp led away from this and turned up the hill. I had found the crossing, but all evidence of the wooden bridge was long gone. This will be a fine subject for some Library research to discover the history of the bridge, also the reason for it being built at all. There may have been a settlement on the lower west slopes of Beinn Fhada, and this would have been the simplest way to get there.

Having been repulsed by the torrent, I continued up the Lost Valley path with no firm plan in mind. When I reached the alpine meadow at 350m, my sights were once more set on Beinn Fhada. I studied the flank of that great hill and traced out a possible route, zigzagging between crags, following steep grassy ramps, until my eye reached the upper rocky reaches. Decision made.

I went right of the first major crag, found the grassy ramps a bit harder than they looked from below, then took a rising traverse right of the next major steep cliff. Some interest was generated by a difficult scramble over a small bluff using heather-roots for handholds, but I could have by-passed this difficulty by going further right. There were several more lines of crags to be breached, leading to the final summit blocks. Here I could take my pick of scrambling. A stream issuing from a small gorge looked to be a promising summer route, but I passed this on the left to find entertaining scrambling among large blocks and short chimneys. Too soon, I stood on the summit ridge, about 100m from the small cairn at its northern extremity.

A lunch stop was taken a little farther along the ridge among a forest of dwarf juniper, growing at the limit of its range, only 5cm tall among the cracks, in soil with few nutrients. The cloud boiling over the pass into the Lairig Eilde, (pass of the hinds), from Glen Etive was evidence of a flow of warm moist air from the sea far to the west. It spilled over the bealach, tumbling down into the valley below my perch, in a series of swirls and eddies, finally dissipating as it spread out into the watershed of Glen Coe and Glen Etive.

The high traverse of the undulating, narrow ridge led to the final difficulties of the day. The ascent of Stob Coire Sgreamhach, (abhorrent, disgusting), was aptly named. I missed the normal route, taking what looked like a suitable path on the left. The final thirty-meter climb up onto the narrow rocky spur was a series of narrow greasy ribs with tiny ledges, filled with loose, unstable, wet, slippery peat and grass roots. I was very glad to be finished.

From the summit, I strolled down to the Bealach Dearg, (red pass), and took the well-worn path down through the Lost Valley. My original plan had been thwarted by the absence of the long-defunct bridge, but a good day's exploration was had nonetheless.

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