Crianlarich – where road, rail and West Highland Way meet

Crianlarich is an important Highland road and railway junction. Great scenery all around – big hills. You’re sure to pass through at some point if touring the southern Highlands. Trouble is, Crianlarich always seems to be on the road to somewhere else! 

Visitors to Scotland approaching Crianlarich for the first time might be misled into thinking it is a place of some size, judging by the frequency it seems to turn up on road signs.

But this village is just a nice wee place set in a big ring of hills. (Pictures of them are further down the page.)

It’s got a shop and hotel and a youth hostel, plus other accommodation, but most importantly, this little route-centre settlement has got a railway station and is a railway junction.

Trains from Glasgow that arrive here go either west to Oban or north for Fort William.

It’s also where the main road from Glasgow and the main road from Edinburgh meet, if you are a traveller heading west, say, to Oban or Fort William and all the delectable places around.

“It’s not a ‘must see’; actually more of a ‘hard to avoid’ if you are touring westwards.”

Crianlarich sounds very Scottish, does it not?  And indeed it is Scots Gaelic in origin. You can see the Gaelic version À Chrion Làraich on the station platform sign. 

Take your pick however of what it might mean. You can have the aspen site, the low pass, the wasted, withered or little site (some of which sounds a little harsh). It all depends what you consult. Language experts, eh?

In Glen Orchy, near Crianlarich, in spring
In Glen Orchy, near Crianlarich, in spring

Scenery Around Crianlarich

Here are some pictures of the setting of Crianlarich, typical of the southern or central Highlands of Scotland.

At the junction of three glens – Glen Falloch, Glen Dochart and Strath Fillan – Crianlarich is a natural route centre.

It’s not a ‘must see’; actually more of a ‘hard to avoid’ if you are touring westwards. These days, if travelling by car, you now have to make an effort (actually, only a right or left turn) to go into the village, as it has been bypassed.

Before you know it, you’ll be funnelled westwards, for that other big junction, the one at Tyndrum that dictates either Oban and the islands – or Fort William, the Great Glen and, probably, Skye…

Ben More from the west, by Crianlarich.
Ben More from the west, by Crianlarich. Reflecting in the river, Ben More is a major feature of the scenery around Crianlarich. Simply the ‘big mountain’ in Gaelic, it certainly feels big if you climb it from this side.

Munros Around Crianlarich

Ringed by big hills, Crianlarich has a good number of Munros (Scottish mountains over 3000ft [914m]) within easy reach and these are a dominant feature.

There are at least seven within five miles (eight km) to the south and east, with dozens more within a few minutes’ drive.

That’s Ben More above, for example.

If you want to climb it,  you relentlessly slog up by the left-hand skyline, which is the north side, keeping well away from the shallow corrie (hollow) seen on the face here near the top – as it can be avalanche prone.

Anyway, the mountain pictures on this page are (untypically) 35mm transparencies of some vintage, scanned with love, care and a proliferation of dust specks that had to be puffed off. Grrr.

Still, as I may have said elsewhere – you’re worth it. I like the cool blues though – it suits the mood of spring in the Highlands.

From the West Highland Way, near CrianlarichFrom the West Highland Way, near Crianlarich
From the West Highland Way, near Crianlarich. It’s early spring and the sheep are hungry. Ben Lui is top left.

Crianlarich is an important stopping off point on the West Highland Way, running 95 miles (152km) from Milngavie near Glasgow to Fort William. The Way can be picked up by following the signposted path which starts on the far side of the road, opposite the station.

The photograph here is taken on the route as it approaches Kirkton Farm, north of the main A82 and west of Crianlarich.

Ben Lui (Gaelic: calf hill) is just visible on the left – sometimes described as one of the finest mountains of the Southern Highlands. By this point, the West Highland Way has emerged from thick woods and the views have opened up.

Within easy reach, Glen Orchy, with great river scenery, is worth seeking out if you are touring from Crianlarich. It’s a pleasant alternative to the main road.

As well as attractive Highland scenery, it’s got walks and trails and picnic places by the river, pictured further up the page somewhere. 

In short, if coming from south then Crianlarich is on the road to a lot of places, including the islands of Skye and Mull. And it’s on the road from Loch Lomond.

Cruach Ardrain above Crianlarich
The Crianlarich Munros. (Some of them.) Behind the village, looking south, are the ‘Crianlarich Munros’ – Cruach Ardrain centre. Easily day-trippable for walkers from most parts of the central belt of Scotland.

Strath Fillan

– and its lightly armed saint.

Naturally, there are lots of folk lore and historical tales associated with this area through which so many have passed.

For example, the main road west of Crianlarich goes through Strath Fillan, taking its name from the Gaelic srath, a river plain or broad valley, and St Fillan, an early missionary from Ireland.

He spread Christianity throughout the Highlands in the 7th century and built a cell by the River Fillan.

The scanty remains of the later 12th-century priory founded in his name can be seen at Kirkton Farm nearby on the West Highland Way. St Fillan is associated with other places in Scotland – he hung about in a cave at Pittenweem in Fife as well. (You can still see that historic site as well.) 

Legend says St Fillan’s left arm gave off its own light. How useful. This feature saved him a fortune in candles and enabled him to sit up all night transcribing religious material, presumably illuminated manuscripts.

And now, we leave the scenery, the heritage and the walking routes behind…because it’s time for trains…

The Railways Arrive

Historically, the first rails to reach Crianlarich came from the east and were laid on their way west for the seaboard at Oban by 1880. The line was eventually worked by the Caledonian Railway.

Their rivals, the North British Railway, then arrived at Crianlarich from the south about fourteen years later, en route to Fort William.

They found themselves higher up than the first railway, as well as heading in a different direction. Suddenly, before the end of the 19th century, Crianlarich was a railway cross-roads, so to speak.

Crianlarich Station, looking south
Crianlarich Station, looking south

To clarify (maybe!): while the Caledonian ran east-west through Glen Dochart and into Strath Fillan, the North British had built their line north-south by Loch Lomond and then steeply up Glen Falloch.

A level section just south of Crianlarich became known as ‘the fireman’s rest’ – as generations of firemen shovelled coal for miles on the gradient to keep up steam on the climb away from the loch, then got a short break as the train slowed for its Crianlarich stop.

Rough, oh so rough, plan of Crianlarich station layout.
Rough, oh so rough, plan of Crianlarich station layout.

Anyway, if you’ve followed this so far, take a look at a vivid, hi-tech, wonderfully illuminating graphical image (or wee untidy sketch).

There you can see that there were then lines going to the four points of the compass.

Eventually, the two rival companies decided to join them by a curving ‘spur’ (as railway folk call it). Oddly enough, the Crianlarich road bypass does the same.

As it turned out, in British Railways days when the old Caledonian line from the east to this junction community was closed in 1965, the spur became vital – as all services to Oban had to go this way.

That’s why today Oban-bound trains depart north and suddenly lurch off to the left (westwards) to rumble down the curve to the original line.

Crianlarich Station, train northbound for Fort William
Fort William-bound rail service leaves Crianlarich. The Oban services go off to the left, beyond the white boxes/posts in this picture.

You can see the connection, disappearing behind the white boxes, half-way along and to the left of the Fort William train pictured here.

Yes, it is all a bit ‘anoraky’ – I agree.  But it explains the importance of Crianlarich.

I had time to mull all this over a few seasons ago, while waiting for my wife to depart on to a morning Fort William train that was then timetabled for 10.21.

The ScotRail man on the platform had a dire warning about making sure we didn’t get on the next train through as that was going to Oban, not Fort William. That one was later.

Sure enough, a train appeared from the south and we watched an old couple, with their equally old greyhound, all clearly newcomers to the station, bundle themselves on to it, then bundle themselves back off again in much haste and disorder.

And there were a few near disasters for other rucksack-carrying visitors, who hesitated by the platform edge.

Uncertainty hung around as an unwanted travelling companion. A platform announcement would have been nice.

Perhaps that pantomime goes on every day in the summer when first time visitors of all nationalities find themselves making connections here.

Crianlarich And The West Highland Way

Crianlarich is not only where road and rail meet. Other business for the village arrives on foot, as it’s on the West Highland Way, the official Glasgow to Fort William footpath.

Thirsty walkers come off the path and head for the station tearoom. This has been an institution for decades and, apparently has always been privately run.

In the old days, the breakfast and luncheon baskets supplied to rail passengers were legendary. The café on my last visit – admittedly, a wee while ago now – is one of these places that communicates its way of doing things by lots of notices, especially about where to leave your rucksack.

How not to behave in Crianalarich Station tearoom.
How not to behave in Crianlarich Station tearoom. Dress code in the café. This was a few years back!
Old Buffers at Crianlarich
There were quite a few old buffers at Crianlarich Station that day…but this is really a pic of high Ben More, on the skyline.

(Pictured here) Phew! Just as well I spotted this. The first thing I always do in a café is whip off my socks. What?

No, really, I wouldn’t dream of taking my socks off in a café, would you? Obviously, this applies to foot-sore walkers on the wildly popular West Highland Way. The shortbread was nice though.

Anyway, on that particular day, we had time to observe all this as the 10.21 service seemed to have vanished, so there was lots of time to admire the hills all around.

Eventually, a service did arrive and my wife went on her journey. No explanation was forthcoming but the scenery was stunning, and the train full of appreciative visitors.

These days we live a long way from Crianlarich. I wonder if we’ll ever catch a train there again?

If you find yourself north or westbound on the platform you’ll probably be going to one of the two destinations compared on this page…take a look.

Oban and Fort William are both important local centres in the West Highlands of Scotland.

Of course, if you’re waiting for your train in muggy, still conditions in summer, you will be very troubled by midges. Here’s a great value midge-hood on Amazon. Trust me, you won’t regret it having it in your pocket! It’s even more effective on your head though…