Loch Rannoch: In the footsteps of Joseph Beuys

This year I got the best ever of all birthday presents from my children: a family traverse of the Rannoch Moor. We met up late on the last Friday of September at Tulloch station – they coming from South, us from North – a great place for us to meet midway. I had prepared coq-au-vin for the late night dinner in the hostel before we settled all five in the bunk. We got up early for the morning train to Corrour, where we found the loveliest of all tea rooms cum restaurant in the midst of the moor. Quick coffee and off we went.The 25 odd k walk led from the station (where the onward travel chart features nothing but a path to the east and a path to the west) down a track road towards Loch Ossian. There is a small SYHA hostel, where I stayed with the children some ten years ago; the great attraction was the stag coming into the kitchen for breakfast.

From there we walked South along the wheat boggy path into the moor, leaving the big rainbow over the loch behind. From Peter’s Cross we moved upwards through the rough heathery terrain to Carn Dearg. After a quick piece of banana cake in the thick mist we crossed over to Sgor Gaibhre fighting the wind but greeted by blisters of sun giving us a wide view as far as Dalwhinnie to the east and the Atlantic to the west. Yes, another two munros can be ticked on our list. But while every little tick gives me a little kick, it has never been the counting that keeps the motivation up. Thanks however to this rather obscure target, we have been in a position to discover the remotest, the most far flung, the most curious places in our wee country. In all forms of weather, often changing from mist to sun, to snow, to wind and to mist again all in one day. On the moor day, the thick mist was returning while we had our piece and Michael’s hip flask Drambuie and we decided to return to the Màrn Bàn bealach and enter the depth of the moor due South.

Some might ruminate whether I am a Joseph Beuys groupie. This was the third time this year following his footsteps (I had already been on Staffa in May and at Dokumenta in Kassel in June). Sometimes I think this myself; maybe I am. His ideas around art and life certainly carry a large allure and stimulus. In August 1970 Beuys performed here Celtic (Kinloch Rannoch) The Scottish Symphony with Henning Christiansen and Rory McEwen. So, I was looking for his footsteps and my mind’s eye saw them in the many crags of the moor’s bog and deep water.

More than once, I as the others were tricked by the long spikey grass and landed deep, deep in the muddy water. Robert Macfarlane in his great book  The Old Ways distinguishes the moor grounds as boglach (general boggy areas), blàr (flat areas of the moor that can be very boggy) and breunlach (sucking bog disguised by the alluringly green grass that covers it). Our way certainly covered a great mix of those three moor qualities.

But the compass shows South and South we go despite no path to guide between the two mountains. En route we meet a large crowd of roaring stags, cross a myriad of burns that leave the blue threads on the OS map a puzzle and follow the flight of a buzzard.

As ever, the walk gives a great chance to catch up, -on this year’s uni courses, latest boyfriends, sporting chances, what to do at Christmas, home gossip, where to take my walking + art passion?  – until some 9 hours later we reach the path that leads us to Rannoch station, where we check into the Inn. Great dinner, some games, good sleep and nice breakfast, the station. Till we depart. Them South, us North.

And now back on the train, have a look at this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRf28pO0N9A

Would Joseph have liked this? What would he have said?

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