On Saturday Alex and I took a walk to the Imperial base at Aldhani, otherwise known as the Cruachan Dam. The primary draw to walk to the dam was that it was used in the filming of the Star Wars Andor series as the imperial garrison that was raided on Aldhani that triggered the rebellion to coalesce into a coalition that was able to take on the Empire. So from a Star Wars rebels perspective, Aldani is where it all started. Alex also wanted to do a spoof insta style ‘Rebel Roots on Aldhani’ report.

Planning for Aldhani

Aldhani Imperial base (Cruachan Dam) at the top, water flows along the path and a hiker straddles it to keep his feet dry
Alex walks with his feet either side of the path because there’s water flowing down it! (Photo: James Kemp)

Having looked at the map it seemed to be a wee bit of a walk, just over a kilometre from the closest bit of road, and what appeared to be a 140m climb (based on counting the contour lines on the bit of map I’d printed). I thought it might take about an hour to get up, and the same to get back. So we left Oban after lunch and drove out to the Falls of Cruachan train station to park the car. The weather was dry, not much in the way of wind, and a relatively warm 8C. There was no sign of any snow or ice. After we’d got our boots on we began the walk to Aldhani at 13:38 (according to my fitbit). The forecast was for it to start light rain about four, and we needed to be back at the car no later than 17:00 so that we could be back in Oban for our dinner reservation at EE-USK.

Walking to the Dam

There was a series of waterfalls about 100 metres vertically from the Falls of Cruachan train station. The stream fell about 20 metres. (Photo: James Kemp)

The walk went under the railway, where the girders on the underpass had been spray-painted ‘Mind Yer (ouch) Head’. Once under the railway bridge there were some concrete steps up to a transformer above the station platform. This was part of the infrastructure of the dam being a hydroelectric power plant. We left this and began to follow a path through the woods parallel with the station platform. Right from the beginning the path was wet, and I don’t mean puddles or a bit of mud. There was flowing water on most of the path all the way to the top of the Falls of Cruachan.

From the point we turned right and started heading uphill the path was steep and rocky. On our left there was a mostly unseen stream that had cut its path into the hillside. You could see where, before it was dammed, the river had been broader and deeper. Lots of trees covered the slope, which averaged about 30° where we climbed it. The path wound a lot, round the trees and larger rocks. We were mostly able to avoid standing in the flowing water because of this.

We were very slow on this section. I could feel my heart and lungs getting a good workout. As we got closer to the point where we came out of the trees we got glimpses of a good view. Over the loch we could see salmon farms, and also several on land farms too. There was a lot of water, and also the narrows through the pass.

Where it all Started – Aldhani!

When the terrain levelled out Alex decided that I had to take lots of photos of him in the style of an Instagram Influencer. This is where the one with the flowing path (above) came from. It’s also where we first caught sight of the dam in the distance. By this point we’d spent an hour climbing to the relatively level part (still more to climb). It’s also when the drizzle started.

Once we’d climbed over the fence on the ladder like stile, the Falls of Cruachan were mostly behind us, although there was a last bit further up where the water dropped about 20 metres. We came in more or less level with the top, the river had carved a deeper channel for itself through the softer peat bog like part we squelched through.

Despite stopping for several photos we were a lot faster at this point. We hit the bridge where the metalled road from Loch Awe town to the dam crosses the river at the hour and a quarter mark. I decided at this point that we had to turn back no later than quarter past three to make sure that we were back at the car on time. We had to dodge a few sheep on the road to Aldhani base, and I took a selfie without my glasses on and with my hood up to get into the star wars universe a bit. The architecture on the dam and the nearby electrical station that the overhead power lines emanated from did have a very strong sci-fi feel to it. You can see why the location scouts for Andor choose this as a location to shoot. The dam is a massive concrete structure, and some of the installations at its foot bear more than a passing resemblence to bunkers built for military use. The only thing they seemed to lack were firing slits for cannon, or maybe blasters. We didn’t have time to make it onto the top of the dam, that would have meant going wider and taking maybe another half hour or so to climb up onto the top. If we hadn’t had a table reservation for dinner in Oban at 1745 (about when it would get dark) then we might have managed the top of the dam and still got back to the car before it was too dark to see. However I decided we didn’t have time for it. After a couple of pictures touching the dam we went back down.

Doing my best impression of a Star Wars character in front of the Cruachan Dam (AKA Aldani) (photo: James Kemp)

The way back down

The return journey was more or less the same as the ascent, although we tried to go a bit higher to avoid the boggy part where we left the road. It didn’t work, and Alex went down into the mud a couple of times. By the time we got back to the deer fence he’d sat in enough mud that his entire trousers were caked in it, and his lovely cable-knit white jersey was going to forever bear the imprint from the peat as a souvenir of the trip to Aldhani/Cruachan Dam. Despite taking care, picking our way through the forest on the hand-holds from the trees, and avoiding plunging headlong into the gorge made by the river, we were a lot faster down that we were coming up. There wasn’t a view to speak off either. The cloud was lower, and the drizzle cut visibility. We couldn’t see the loch, and could barely see the other side of the hill.

A very muddy Alex making his way down the hill on our return from the Cruachan Dam. The mizzle obscured what had been an excellent view of Loch Awe and the countryside. (photo: James Kemp)