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Trail running: Orrin Reservoir, Glen Orrin

Written by Fiona

January 16 2022

Snow, ice and a fast-setting sun made for a challenging winter run in Glen Orrin but, oh, there were great rewards, including superb views and the realisation that I am still capable of a long trail route.

My friend Rachel was keen to explore a circuit from Aultgowrie to Orrin Reservoir. She had previously mountain biked the route, which includes forest track, singletrack and tarmac, as well as many ups and downs, and she thought it would make a great run. I can confirm that it’s a brilliant route.

Rachel enjoys the views.
A frozen lochan.

Orrin Glen, river, reservoir and dam

The River Orrin, in Ross-shire, is dammed in Glen Orrin to create Orrin Reservoir. It later forms the Falls of Orrin and is joined by the tributary Allt Goibhre, before the water enters River Conon and flows on to the Cromarty Firth.

Orrin Reservoir is five miles long. There are two dams located at the eastern end of the reservoir. Since the early 1960s, the dam and reservoir have formed part of the Conon Hydro-Electric Scheme.

Our running route headed out and back along the glen, on either side, to reach the eastern end of the reservoir. We crossed the impressive high dam.

Winter trail run – with challenges

We didn’t start the run until early afternoon, which meant we had a high chance of requiring a head torch in the later stage of the route. For this reason, we decided to run clockwise, leaving the tarmac road for the second half of the circuit. (The map doesn’t show tarmac but there is a long section of tarmac road from the dam downhill.)

We figured that running downhill on tarmac, even if icy, would be easier to negotiate in the dark than singletrack.

This meant we tackled the rougher singletrack part of the route first, with plenty of deep snow, ice and freezing puddles to add to the challenge.

The run started with a seemingly endless uphill from Aultgowrie at around 60m to reach a height of 300m. After this, the trail undulated to the highest point of 314m.

We tried to run as much as we could but it was fatiguing because we didn’t know from one step to the next if we would land on top of hard-crusted snow or solid ice, or sink into soft snow, or put our feet through ice and into freezing cold puddles.

At times, to avoid the hotchpotch of snow, ice and puddles, we ran alongside the path on snowy heather, which was also tiring.

We both said that the first 5km felt like the longest and slowest 5km we had done for a very long time.

Having followed the trail west, we then turned north and on to an undulating trail towards Orrin Reservoir. At this point, we found ourselves back on a wider and more solid track.

The layer of ice and hard-packed snow was easier to run on and with the aid of micropsikes/YakTrax we could, at last, stretch out our legs.

Sunset and the downhill

By now the sun was setting and the views all around, especially into the distance of the snow-covered mountains, were breath-taking. We stopped every so often simply to take a photo of yet another fabulous vista.

As the sun set and we ran downhill, we experienced a sudden drop in temperature and we were grateful for our extra clothing layers and gloves. It had seemed bizarre to be running in January in Scotland in only light baselayers.

My feet were still numb due to constant running in the icy puddles and snow during the first half of the route and it wasn’t for another five to 10k before they defrosted.

Top tip: Rachel wore waterproof socks and she didn’t appear to suffer with the same numb feet as I did.

Stunning Orrin Reservoir.

Orrin dam and a tarmac road

The still, calm water of Orrin Reservoir with a backdrop of snowy mountains, tinted in a pink light of a lowering winter sun, was upliftingly picturesque. While Rachel and I were tired, we felt very fortunate to be surrounded by such incredible beauty.

We crossed the dam and then joined a tarmac road that wound downhill back towards Aultgowrie. There were several extra ups that I hadn’t been expecting and a few times we slowed to a fast walk, rather than a run. The circuit was my longest run for many months.

Towards the final section, as we headed into a forest, we took off our microspikes and put on our head torches.

I was starting to really tire as we headed into the final 5km and I was grateful to have Rachel beside me to keep me going. We continued to chat about this and that and we happily discussed how lucky we had been to enjoy such an amazing afternoon run.

I think we both needed some extra fuelling – I didn’t eat enough earlier on and mainly because it was too cold to stop – but we made it back to my campervan still in good spirits.

We are good running friends. Rachel is a bit faster on the hills than I am, while I am usually a bit faster on the flats. This means we keep each other going when the other is finding sections a bit more challenging.

Orrin Reservoir trail run: The details

Distance: 23.5km

Total elevation: 716m

Route details: OS Maps and Strava.

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