Friday, May 31, 2013

Day 9: Kinlochleven to Fort William

Last day of walking the West Highland Way, but a long day at 24k. Will I make it? Yes!!!

Today was shorts and t-shirt weather - sunny and bright, not too hot though - just about perfect. Since coming down that long steep descent yesterday into Kinlochleven, I'd been dreading climbing up the other side today. It was steep, for sure, but not nearly as long as yesterday. At the top I took a last look back. You can see the straight line of water pipes above the town, the same ones I walked past yesterday afternoon.

There's Loch Leven. It's an offshoot of Loch Linnhe which reaches up to Fort William from the Atlantic Ocean.
The WHW climbs out of the valley to a height of 1100 ft. then swings north as it rejoins the military road. From here the Way is fairly level,

going past old ruins at Tigh-na-sleubhaich
and a mile or so later, the ruin of Larigmor, little more than an unsightly pile of rubble.
There were many streams to cross. That's Stob Ban in the distance.
It was at about this point that I started to meet a lot of walkers coming the other way. I wasn't even at the halfway mark of the day and I wondered how they got so far from Fort William so early, so I asked one man if he had left at dawn. Apparently he was part of a fairly large group from Kinlochleven that had driven to a point about 3 or 4 miles south of FW and started out on a day's walk back to Kinlochleven as a fundraiser for Down's Syndrome. There were people of all ages in the strung out group - some senior seniors, even some toddlers and one DS boy - plus a woman in sandals(!!). They had a support vehicle that brought up the rear and when I asked, the young man at the wheel said he had no trouble navigating the rocky road - his biggest concern and a real nail-biter was a very narrow patch beside the gorge close to home. I wished him well and carried on.
Eventually I started to get a glimpse of the big one - Ben Nevis
and a while later, after a long steep climb, I stopped for lunch here at the side of the path, where I could sit on the bank and enjoy the fabulous day.
A few walkers passed me, including one couple who recognized the "Muskoka" on my sun hat and we compared notes about Deerhurst where they had holiday-ed a few years ago.
As the Way neared Fort William, it went into a forested area that was shady and cool and very pretty - a contrast to the open land I'd just been through. This was Nevis Forest, with alternating sections of clear-cut and remaining forest and an undulating up and down trail, sometimes quite steep.

Finally the path came out onto a forestry road and descended in long switchbacks to Glen Nevis where a path cut down to the main road through Glen Nevis. After this it was a matter of tarmac-pounding for maybe 4k into Fort William, passing my B & B, the Corrie Duff Guesthouse (forgot to get a photo of it) on the way. After a round-about where the official end of the WHW used to be, it was another kilometer into the centre of the city onto the pedestrianized High Road and then almost to the end of that. On the way, I passed other walkers who had finished and saw quite a few I'd met over the last couple days.
And then, at 4:30, the end: Gordon Square
where there is a sculpture of a weary walker sitting on a bench and rubbing his sore feet as he gazes out at the harbour. I think all the walkers who end their journey here could commiserate.
This is when a man came out of the nearby pub when he saw me pass by so he could offer his congrats. There were lots of congrats being bandied around. It was great!
After that? I retraced my steps 2 km back to Corrie Duff Guest House where Craig welcomed me and invited me in.

Here's the view out the window. The building is abutted up to a very steep hill, so this is a hillside we're looking at. That rhododendron has big buds on it and I'm sure it will soon be spectacular.

After my bag finally arrived around 6 pm and I'd had a shower, I was too tired to contemplate another walk into town and back for dinner, so instead, wolfed down the Greek Salad that I bought yesterday at the Co-op.
And now, everybody's wondering if I climbed Ben Nevis the next day. Nope. Too tired. Feet hurt. Maybe I could have done it with fresh legs and feet, but instead, I spent the morning browsing the few stores that were open on a Sunday morning and looking at the train station where I'd be leaving from on Monday morning. In the afternoon I set out on a gentle walk back towards Glen Nevis along the riverside and sat on a bench for an hour, reading my Kobo. I was content!
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Day 8: Kingshouse to Kinlochleven

Here I am, 9:30 am., ready for the second last day of my West Highland Way experience. A fierce wind storm overnight that sounded like trucks just outside the wall had kept me awake but a restorative breakfast did the trick and I was ready. The morning was chilly and still windy with weak sunlight behind some clouds, so I bundled up in many layers and strode out to meet the day.
A last look at Kingshouse Hotel behind,
a tip of the hat to the head of Glen Coe, Buachaille Etive Mor
and onward. Still on the moor. Very boggy. What a stark and unforgiving landscape it is!


The first 5k of the path today was flat. The clouds started to clear off and the temperature rose, necessitating the peeling off of layer after layer of clothing. It turned into a spectacular day!

And then I approached the infamous Devil's Staircase, where the WHW climbs out of Glen Coe. This part of the route was hand-built by 450 soldiers around 1750. Many parts of it still look fresh.
Other parts, less so and tricky underfoot. Most of it was like this.
Pictures don't do justice to the steepness of the climb. It was very steep with difficult footing, though zig-zags near the top eased the pain somewhat. In all, the climb goes up 1000 ft. in height from Kingshouse.
The elevation at the top, where there are 2 cairns to proclaim the summit, is, at 1800 ft., the highest elevation on the WHW. It was very windy up here.
Then it was down the back side of the staircase - treacherous in places!
with some interesting passages over burns.
It was at this point that I met some hikers coming in the other direction and I stopped to chat with Glynis. She and her husband are on an epic journey of a lifetime, walking from John O'Groats to Lands End: an end-to-end passage of Britain that they started at the beginning of this month and which will take them into the summer.


I bemoaned the constant nose-dripping I'd been having - had to walk with a tissue in one hand and we talked briefly about allergies. She gave me her card so we could connect via blogs. Here is hers. I looked it up when I got home and was so interested to read about their motivation for the journey. She even mentioned me in this post. Meeting Glynis was the highlight of my day!
The peaks of the Mamores, beyond Kinlochleven came into view, with Ben Nevis beyond in the distance.
Blackwater Reservoir was off to the right.
and soon Kinlochlevin came into view in the distance. It still took a long time to get there, with a very steep descent of 1000 ft .
The route entered a forested area and
passed the water intake building where huge water pipes emerge and go straight down the hill.

One of them had sprung a leak. The pipes were originally installed to provide a water supply for the aluminum smelter in town. The smelter closed in 2000, but the town is still supplied with this water and there are plans afoot, with public meetings to discuss, a possible hydroelectric project.
Kinlochlevin is a pretty town with colourful gardens.
The Leven River runs through on its way to the Loch on the north side of town.
This sculpture celebrates the existence of salmon in the river.
Kinlochleven is set in a hollow with mountains all around, with just enough opening on the north end for Loch Leven which is actually an arm of Loch Linnhe, an inlet from the Atlantic Ocean. With the closing of the smelter, the town's businesses have focused on hosting and providing services for outdoor adventurers of all kinds. The old Alcan building is now home to the Ice Factor, where people can learn and practice rock and ice climbing indoors.
 Here's my destination, the Tailrace Inn.
There was a sunny patio on the other side which I forgot to photo.
my room
 and the view out the window
I arrived in Kinlochleven at 2:30. It had been a short but rigorous walk. I was tired! I went down the street to the Co-op to buy a few supplies for tomorrow's lunch, then I made some green tea and read my Kobo while waiting for my bag to arrive.
Last day tomorrow: mixed feelings about this! On one hand it will be great to finish. On the other, I'll miss the feeling of stepping out the door each morning for a day-long outside adventure.
Go to Day 1
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Go to Day 9

Day 7: Inveroran to Kingshouse

This morning I woke up feeling well rested and after some porridge I set off just before 9 o'clock. The day was quite cool, with the temperature in the single digits. I had on all my layers, including long johns and raincoat. There was spitting rain and occasionally a weak sun would show up through thin patches in the heavy cloud cover.

There was a long climb up onto Rannoch Moor, an area of 50 mi² of peat bogs and lochans. I passed some friendly Scotsmen also walking the WHW who had paused to make a phone call and then we played leapfrog all day as we took turns resting.

Up on the moor the weather worsened: rain, snow and ice pellets made a bleak landscape seem even bleaker.

Luckily the military road was easy to follow, if hard on the feet in places. Here was an easy section:

This section was more difficult:
Here's what the Moor looked like:

Apparently if you go off the trail you can fall/sink into a peat bog where you wouldn't be found for centuries.

A bridge over the River Ba marks the halfway point.
Eventually as the WHW nears the Kingshouse Hotel, there are signs for a ski resort which stays open year-round to carry visitors up the mountain and to feed the many hungry trekkers and climbers who come through. This building is also on the way - it belongs to the Scottish Ladies' Climbing Club. The Munro in the background is the iconic Buachaille Etive Mor which stands on guard on the approach to Glencoe from the south.
Today's walk was relatively short - I reached the Kingshouse Hotel at 12:40 after walking 16k from Inveroran. The Kingshouse hotel is the only thing around, despite having the A82 nearby. It's quite a large hotel, with a good-sized dining room and a special walkers' bar. It dates from the 17th century and was used in 1746 to house the Duke of Cumberland's troops after the Battle of Culloden.
Since I was so early I took advantage of one of the lounges to peel off my raingear, remove my boots and eat some lunch. This is the view out the picture window. Buachaille Etive Mor
There are lots of deer around this hotel too.
One of the Scottish fellows I'd been talking to on and off during the day came in and we chatted a bit. He has been driving a tanker for 25 years all up and down the A82 (between Glasgow and Fort William and up to Inverness) which passes by the Kingshouse Hotel at the end of the driveway, so he said he knows the area extremely well. This was the first time he'd seen it on foot and it gave him a strange feeling. He also said that often, early in the morning he sees lights on Buachaille Etive Mor from people who are starting the climb before dawn.
The baggage transfer company picked up and dropped off bags while I was sitting relaxing. Later there were so many bags it was difficult to navigate among them to reach my room.
There was a sink and mirror in the room, but the rest of the bathroom was down the hall.
Actually there were 2 bathrooms, side by side, both to be shared with the others staying in that wing of the hotel. One had a shower.
The other, a claw-foot bathtub. I opted for this one and enjoyed a good soak.
The view out the bedroom window: the WHW continues from here: right to left past the foot of those hills.
Dinner was another fabulous meal - roasted duck breast with orange sauce and rösti potatoes. The meals have been wonderful all week.
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