A mention of Glen Orrin brings to mind images of wild, remote land hemmed in by the boggy moorland hills of Strathconon to the north and the Munros of Strahfarrar to the south – with their limited access. However the eastern reaches of the glen are a gentler landscape, tamed by man, with farming, forestry, hydro-electricity and a little habitation.
Five days after waving bye to our friend Freddie and his mate on the top of Beinn Bhan in Applecross, we met Freddie again at Beauly and he came to spend the night with us, camping in our garden.
The following day we set off for a short, local overnight camping trip to Orrin Resevoir. I’ve visited the reservoir several times previously, by mountain bike each time.
We chose to start and finish at Aultgowrie Bridge. The roads in the immediate vicinity of the bridge are all single track and bordered by farmland and we wondered where we’d be able to leave the car overnight. I thought to use the satellite view on Google Earth to check the roads to find a suitable spot for the car, and this worked. The maps showed a large entrance pull-off to a small wood and when we arrived there it proved to look just as we’d seen on the map.
The walk in from the Aultgowrie followed a track to the farm at Achederson, where, when trying to avoid the lumberjacks who were on a tea break, I managed to lose the track. However our wee detour took us past the ‘hut circles and field systems’ shown on the map. Often we see such antiquities marked on the OS maps around the Highlands, but see absolutely nothing on the ground. This time the walls of buildings and sheep fansks were clearly visible making what had obviously been a croft or summer shieling.
We soon picked up our track again and returned to a due west bearing. In one large puddle on the track we were delighted to spot some newts. We did a rough count and were amazed to find about 50 in the approximate 3m x 1m puddle. Looking at these closely in the brown, peaty water, I could see some had webbed rear feet, indicative of male Palmate Newts (Lissotriton helveticus). Palmate newts look very similar to smooth newts but they have more of a preference for shallow ponds on acidic soils. They’re found on moorland and bogs in Scotland and I’ve seen more of these than of the common (Smooth) Newt.
By now the early morning mist (which had continued until mid-afternoon) had burnt off and it was getting warm. It was about 26°C during the heat of mid-afternoon which is almost too hot for me to walk.
Looking south across the Alt Goibhre, we spotted the croft of Tighachrochadair and had a discussion as to the meaning of the name. We knew ‘Tigh ‘ = house, but got stuck there. It looks empty, but is not yet in ruins, so hasn’t stood empty for long. I’ve subsequently found out it was occupied up until the 1990`s. The last resident was Donnie Ross, who was born in the small house and lived there with his six brothers and sisters. A resident teacher lived with the family as the law required the children to be educated and it was too far for them to walk to school. He worked all his life for the local estate, and never had piped water, electricity , drains, or any means of cooking apart from his open fire. He died around the mid 1990’s. He had this isolation despite being a (long) caber toss from Orrin Reservoir (less than 4km) and in the heart of the hydro-electricity producing heartland of the Beauly/Glass/Conon schemes.
Just beyond the croft, at the end of Gleann Goibhre we saw evidence of the impact hydroelectricity has on this landscape, firstly in the pipeline running into the reservoir, then the dams.
The pipeline is channelling water from the moorland of Erchless Forest to the Orrin Reservoir.
There is a bothy here too, about 1km south of the reservoir. This building was used as a cement store at the time of the construction of the dam, but is now refurbished as a clean, dry bothy and would be a very useful shelter in bad weather. From reading the bothy book it appears to be very well used.
Two dams separated by a small hill were built to hold back the waters of the River Orrin to form Orrin Reservoir. The water was then diverted by tunnel and pipeline to the Orrin power station on the south shore of Loch Achonachie in Strathconon. This was the third phase of the Conon Valley scheme and opened in 1961.
The water level in the dam seemed quite low considering we’d had a wet April/early May and a fair bit of snow melt in the past two weeks. They were however letting a fair bit of compensation water through to the River Orrin.
We were a little disappointed not to find any level grassy spots down by the water to pitch our tents. We opted for a flat space on the level of the access road (a private – locked – road) with a trek down to the river.
I’m a bit embarrassed by this photo of me cooking our evening meal. Look at Freddies’s tent – all neat and tidy, while ours is a right bourach!
Although we were not camped right beside the water we were still able to enjoy the falling evening light creating a nice glow over the water.
After an enjoyable evening of blethering and wine (Thanks, Freddie for carrying the bottle! 😉 ) we fell asleep to the sound of snipe drumming.
I woke up with the dawn chorus at 3am – including a persistent cuckoo. I didn’t mind it so much this time as we had had a rare sighting of it when we arrived the previous day.
Enjoying our morning cuppa
Freddie and I retraced our steps over the two dams and tramped up the wee hill, Creag a Bhainne to ‘bag’ a geocache. Freddie had not tried geocaching until the previous weekend when we looked for one at Applecross, and was keen to look for this one. We found it easily and returned to the dams to find Neil still happily snapping driftwood and construction artefacts.
By the time we were packing up and leaving our camping spot the first of several cyclists were arriving by the surfaced road from Fairburn. We took this road, and it made for an easy walk on such a hot day. Mind you, we struggled to find any shade for a lunch stop! What a change from one week earlier!
At Fairburn estate, we chose to follow the track that runs through the woodland on the north of the Orrin.
This was a very pleasant spot – walking in the dappled sunshine, with the smell of pine and the noise of the water below. Soon we came to the weir and Falls of Orrin.
The water looked very tempting for a dip, but I didn’t think it safe to go in here. However, the next day, after we’d told our youngest son about the falls he and his girlfriend went in here. They said the flat shelf directly under the weir was like a giant jacuzzi! They also found a deep pool just below the main falls that was large enough and deep enough for swimming. I, who love outdoor swimming, will be back!
This track took us out past a lodge house and one mile walk back along the singletrack road, back to Aultgowrie Bridge.
Enjoy more photos here