Tobar nan Ceann Gang

The blog of a bunch of middle aged men trying to stay youthful…!


Blackwater Dam – Kinlochleven

Black water reservoir trip

Monday the 24 th of January 2011 was officially the start of the longest week of the year so far (for me anyway) as our intrepid band of explorers / hardened drinkers awaited the coming weekend.

As the days slowly slid by we kept ourselves busy with our pre expedition trips, rucksack -check, first aid kit-check, beer-check, map and compass-check, hipflask-check, kfs-check,, whisky, sleeping bag, torch, beer , whisky, check,  food? (we`ll worry about that when the time comes). The time did come , the Thursday night shopping spree at the supermarket for supplies, mainly just chocolate and crisps really, except for our belated Burns supper on the 29th, tatties, neeps and a large “chieftain o the puddin race”, oh and for our Mexican interloper posing as a Scotsman John Mckenzie (real name Juan Bolas) a tin of chilli con carne and a packet of doritos, he claims he doesn’t eat haggis as it has a heart and lungs, I’ve news for him most mammals have. Anyway more on him later.

Thursday night was to be a sleepless night for a few of us as we awaited the forthcoming shenanigans and dreamed of reaching the peaks of the mountains we would climb. It was all planned with military precision, Friday, early finish (well for me and toba anyway , not the workshy amongst us) away for about 3 oclock , meet the advance party around 7 ish, bed for 9, up for 5am , bag a couple of Munro’s before breakfast, a leisurely stroll to walk it off , lunch with a couple of shandies, a swim in the loch to freshen up before our Burns supper then mayhem, end of.

The realities of life though sometimes throws little obstacles in our way which can cause a slight change of plan, here`s how the weekend unfolded.

1pm finish for me, picked up Kev and was in the house for half 1, washed and changed for  2 pm quick cuppa while waiting for Jock to arrive around 3 ish i get a phone call from Jock who informs us he`ll be a bit late, here we go i think, that’s the schedule up in the air (that’s why the country`s in the state its in, people just cant keep to the plan) but apparently its my fault as the ginger beer i wanted for my whisky wasn’t where it should be on the super market shelve, in any event jock arrived   around 4.30 precisely (half and hour after Juan bolas decided to show up, those mexicans are well known for their lack of urgency, just ask the Top Gear guys). Bags , carry oot and guitar in the van and we were off, just as we started getting frantic calls from Toba who`s arse was making buttons,  he was enquiring about our whereabouts. “We`ll be there in ten minutes” he was told, half an hour later we arrived at his front door in the the leafy falkirk suburb of camelon , in the van he popped and we were off, next stop Kinlochleven well except for the one stop in Tyndrum to pick up cole and pete, there was no seats left so they would just have to lie on the floor, at least till we got the cottage where we would burn them.

We arrived in Kinlochleven around 8.30 pm , i then decided i better have some breakfast while we waited for the advance party to arrive to give us a lift up to the cottage in the 4×4, now since it was 8.30 and the local cafe was closed it was decided we would just have to go to the pub, we found a nice little place beside the “ice factory” ordered a pint and had a look at the menu. I along with Toba went for a Hungarian dish called Poluc soup a lamb dish with tatties and peas it said, The less adventurous among us ordered plain old burgers , well except for our mexican friend who had an extra topping of chilli with jalepino peppers with a side order of doritos.

Our food arrived around 45mins/3 pints later (i`m guessing now your picking up on the changes to our plan) my dish was lovely and i savoured every mouthful , (well except the mouthful i got when it exited my stomach via my mouth at lightning speed on the grass near the van.)

We munched away to the sounds of the resident band who had been setting up since we arrived, we weren’t paying too much attention at first but either this band were miming and their cd was stuck or they only knew 2 songs, one of which was “Bad moon rising” and an other which happened to bare a striking resemblance to the  aforementioned song. Now i like a bit of “Credence” as much as the next man but there is only so much of a good thing a man can take it got to the point where it was a case of “Bad mood rising” for us and a case of things going badly wrong for the band with guitars wrapped round heads etc. Fortunately Pud then arrived to pick us up but i hate that song now. Some people say hate is an extreme emotion, but my feelings for that guy, who took a song i loved and destroyed it can be summed up in just one word which you can see, just above him in the accompanying photo.


Anyway back to the journey, we downed our pints, left the pub and into the 4×4 we went and were on our way, into the darkness of the surrounding mountains. Ive made this journey a couple of times now and i have to say the road wasnt that bad, then again i drive in glasgow for a living so i`m used to treacherous roads and massive potholes. it was just a pity that our unplanned schedule changes meant it was dark, which was a pity for those who hadn’t been up there before as they wouldn’t get the chance to marvel at the beauty that surrounded us but there was always the journey back down.

We arrived at the cottage about half 11 to find that Jock the elder already had  the fire blazing, which was nice! We got all our gear in and set up our beds for the weekend by this stage though it didn’t look like they would be seeing much usage. Once settled it was time for a beer and a hauf, i decided it was bedtime for me around 3ish (only 6 hrs behind schedule). when i awoke at 10am( there’s a pattern emerging here r.e. schedule) fresh as a daisy surprisingly, i was informed that the hardcore among us had just gone to bed at 7 so that was my multiple munro plans up in the air, i was that disappointed i was right up for the challenge as-well and the schedule was well and truly fecked.
Unknown to me a couple of early birds, (kev and John mc) had been up before me and went a wander to take in the local scenery and gaze at awe at the feat of 20th century engineering that is the Blackwater dam which is a mere 20 yds from the cottage. (Blackwater Reservoir) its amazing to think over 100 yrs ago they could construct something on this scale, as well as the other magnificent engineering projects this country has seen such as the forth rd bridge, Cruachan hydro electric plant etc but they cant finish a tram system in Edinburgh.

when they came back they had plenty to say about the the area, awe inspiring, beautiful, stunning, cracking, freezing and Baltic, were just some of the adjectives they used to describe the surroundings, it was then we decided to bin the munros idea and decided to have some brekkie, which i generously volunteered to cook, even if i do say so myself though i do have to admit to an ulterior motive as i do hate doin dishes after which we would take a walk down to the graveyard of the workers who died during the construction of the dam and play it by ear from there.

Eventually with breakfast done and dusted we were off on the first leg of our expedition, the 20 minute traipse down the road to the graveyard. The road itself is an old dirt track probably built at the same time as the dam the road leads you downhill into the shadow of the dam, which is 3000ft in length and 90ft in height, from here you get great views down the glen. You also get a good view of the Mammore mountain range from this point.

The dam, loch and river is effectively the border between two mountain ranges Glencoe and the Mammores and there are some beautiful mountains it really is an amazing part of this country of ours.

Anyway as i was saying, we were heading off down the track with cameras and light refreshments .The graveyard sits just off the track, when we got there we could see that the graves sit atop a large mound around 10ft high ther are 22 graves in total including one woman, all the graves face the dam , which is the reason they were all up there in the first place, i have been told that some of these people died due to various reason but also some died when they were making the hazardous journey back from the Kingshouse hotel over in rannoch after visiting the bar. None of the graves have birthdays inscribed only dates of death, one grave is also marked as being An “unknown” person. As an eerie aside to this the first person to enter the graveyard was John Mckenzie and beleive it or not the first grave he looked at bore the name of wait for it, “Darkie Cunningham”, who also just happened to be buried behind a dead dam worker named John Mckenzie (its not the first time hes had a big Darkie behind him)

Although we found this fairly amusing (Not of course the fact that these 22 people gave their lives in the struggle to bring the much needed aluminium industry to Kinlochleven and the jobs etc it created, that of course is a tragedy) but we were amused by the fact john found it highly un-amusing, especially when we saw the blood drain from his face, was this some sort of omen? i mean its not as if the name John Mckenzie would be very common up in these parts! Now i`m not superstitious but i did decide to keep my distance and travel home in a separate car, just to be safe , like.

Myself and jock the younger then took some photos, we then decided we would head on down the the hill following the river with the hope of crossing at some point , heading back up the other side to cross the dam and back to the cottage. The walk from there was fairly easy as you can walk down the concrete pipe chase that leads down as far as the house at?

After we had walked for an hour or so we came to the conclusion that as the water was so high there would be no where to cross, i was all for swimming it , but the others weren’t so keen as they don’t have the same military training expertise as me but that cant be helped you know! Also as night was drawing in an we had all neglected to bring a torch of any kind we decided we better head back to the cottage were Toba, Pud and Jock the elder were lovingly preparing our evening meal of tatties , haggis and neeps in celebration of Scotland’s national bard and the greatest songwriter and poet Scotland has ever known and example to Scotsmen the world over John Mc could heat up his tinned chilli (pah!) when we got there.

We arrived back well after dark, just as our meal was ready so with table laid and glasses charged the “Chieftan” entered the room, whereby it was put on me to “address the haggis” and i have to say that, at best my efforts were amateurish at best as i tried to read the “address”  from a copy of “The complete works of Robert burns ” i have on my mobile phone in fact the haggis probably thought it was being address by some “incoherent nutcase” from the local funny farm armed with a big knife. Anyway, with the haggis duly “cut up with great sleight” and the entrails in view we got stuck in and what a meal it was, for those of us that had it that is not for Juan bolas he was banished to the corner with his chilli, rice and doritos.

At last with dishes down and table cleared it was time for the mayhem to begin. a few haufs and cans later and the old singing voices were ready, i got out my axe and a sing song ensued with a few Burns numbers thrown in for good measure, also with the accompaniment of pud on the squeeze box(he kept that talent quiet), the shenanigans carried on until 5ish when we decided enough was enough and time to hit our scratchers.

On that point if any of you reading this join the TNCGang on our escapades please feel free to bring an instrument, whether you can play it or not as there is only so much a mans wrist can take when he plays his instrument all night.

When we awoke on the Sunday, it was time to pack up and go, but not before we had one last stroll over the dam to blow the cobwebs off, we took some photos including a good shot of Buachaille etive more rising above the clouds at the head of Glen Etive we also chatted about how great a time we had over the last couple of days.

Back to the cottage and we had a bit of breakfast, which today was considerably less breakfasty than the previous day, it consisted of monster munch, mars bars and rolls and gammon, after we tidied up it was time to go, time to say goodbye and time to head back to our respective homes, but not before our customary group photo had been taken of course. Just as we were grouping up for the photo the snow began to fall and I`m sure some thought to themselves ” how terrible would it be if we got stranded up here for a few more days”
Alas the snow wasn`t on for long and eventually we were off down the track, some of us had to walk a little bit down the track as there wasn’t enough room for us and all our gear, thankfully Pud wasnt to long in coming back up the hill to meet us, the 4×4 was a welcome sight as the excesses of the weekend do catch up with you eventually.

A short time later we were back at Kinlochleven, our gear put back in the van we said our goodbyes and were off down the A82 heading for the central belt and home.

To end i would like to say a big Thank You to Pud on behalf of the TNCGang for inviting us into his abode and i would personally like to say thanks to all who were there,Thanks for the memories, the laughs and the great company.
Till the next time whenever or wherever that may be.

John C

Photos by Jock

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