Helen Rose Outdoors Diary: Kinlochleven.


May 2023


It was the annual winter trip by the Glasgow HF Outdoor Club  to Corran north of Glencoe on the way to Fort William. It is a very comfortable bunkhouse and does not have any bunks but all comfortable beds in small rooms. There are two well fitted out warm kichens and of great importance for a walking club, two drying rooms!  I had a comfortable drive up on the Citylink coach from Glasgow, a journey of less than three hours. It was a clear afternoon and I had wonderful views from Loch Lomond up to Glencoe. Surprisingly, there was no snow in comparison to last year where many roads were closed due to snow drifts.


The walk on Saturday started from Kinlochleven and was from a good website on Walking Scottish Highlands We drove round to Kinlochleven, a village on the eastern end of Loch Leven. Following the construction of an aluminium smelter and associated housing for its employees, the processing plant was powered by a hydroelectric scheme situated in the mountains above and made Kinlochleven the first village in the world to have every house connected to electricity, coining the phrase “The Electric Village”.

Ciaran Path

We parked in Kinlochleven and immediately donned waterproof jackets and trousers. The light rain was to last the entire day but we are hardy and dressed for the weather. We crossed the bridge over the River Leven and headed though the housing to join the Ciaran Path is described for mountain biking as a technical tough rocky trail leading up to the Blackwater Dam on the north side of the River Leven and has a remote feel but is hard, long and technical. This also applies to walking on the path! It was hard work as there is also ascent of 1,500 feet. We were happy walking in the light rain in our little group with a shared purpose to complete the circular walk to the dam. Unfortunately, with the continuing wet weather, the burns were in full force running over the path and down to the River Leven. Some of the rocks were very slippery on the burns and a few people fell in but all were fine and not too wet. We were all wearing walking boots so were fine with the rocky path although it does slow walking considerably.

River Leven Glen

The walk progressed through the deciduous woodland looking down on to the River Leven. There are some concrete bases and other remains of a series of buildings hidden in the woods. These are the remnants of a Prisoner of War camp dating from the first World War. German prisoners from the camp built the road from Glencoe to Kinlochleven. There were many more burns to cross as we continued on the rough path. Further on the path crossed a wide burn where there were the remains of a wrecked and dangerous footbridge situated in a small gorge. The stronger walkers helped the weaker ones like me so thanks to James and JP for pointing out the best stones to step on and giving a helping hand.

The waterfalls we passed were spectacular and we were sheltered in the glen.

Blackwater Reservoir Dam

At last we saw the Blackwater Reservoir, our destination.  Work on the dam and water supply system began in 1905 and was completed in 1907. The hydro-electric scheme was constructed for the British Aluminium Company was designed by engineer brothers Patrick and Charles Meik. The chief assistant resident engineer on the project was a young William Halcrow, a noted English engineer whose expertise was also used in preparatory works at the Manod slate quarry in north Wales used to keep treasures from the National Gallery in London safe from enemy air raids. The work involved the construction of a gravity dam over 914 metres long (the longest in the Highlands) and 27 metres high, creating the Blackwater Reservoir. It was built at an elevation of over 305 metres in rugged and almost inaccessible terrain, and involved the construction of some 6 kilometres of concrete aqueduct and nearly 13 kilometres of steel pipe. It has been described as the last major creation of the traditional ‘navvies’ whose activities in the construction of canals and railways left an indelible mark on the British countryside.

After a picnic lunch at the dam we walked down the path under the dam crossing very slippery rocks to join a path under the dam to the hydroelectric station. James was adventurous and descended the concrete steps under the dam which he had to dreep down. Dreep is Scottish meaning to lower oneself from a height and drop the remaining distance. So descriptive and sounds like drip of water!


From the hydroelectric plant we joined the West Highland Way path and descended to the Graveyard. ‘Graveyard of the Unknown’, as it known locally, perfectly reflects the anonymity of the itinerant workforce that built the dam at the turn of the 20th Century, those who slipped invisibly around the country in a bid to forge a living.

The men lived in an encampment below the dam with accounts telling of a lawless, dangerous time and place with men becoming trapped in the mountains by snow as they tried to reach the pub, one skeleton apparently found decades later with a bottle still in his hand. It was a world of anonymity and it is the counterpoint to this big industrial development in the landscape. Without snow, the graveyard seemed in a bleak landscape.


It was a quick descent on the West Highland Way path to Kinlochleven and still it rained. We were on the walk for more than six hours but we were in good spirits and fair drookit (very wet).  Back in the bunkhouse, it was a dash to the drying rooms to find a space for the wet gear.

Some of us walked along to the nearest pub, Roam West, where I had the best fish and chips ever and in convivial company.

When I travelled back to Glasgow on the bus the next day in dry weather, I was rewarded with all the views of the mountains and lochs but still no snow.

Thanks to JP for organising and leading the walk and Paul and James for organising the weekend.

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Bob Law's Blog: Crookston Castle and Pollok – walking and photography

This section: Helen Rose Hillwalking Diary, Walks

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