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General West Highland Way

West Highland Way – Day 8 – Kinlochleven to Fort William

So the last day beckoned and with everyone in pretty good shape we were optimistic about finishing the 14 or 16 miles. We set off slightly earlier at around 8.45 after a very fine breakfast at the Alt Na Leven, where owners Wullie and Pauline really know a thing or two about hospitality.West Highland Way (46 of 55)

A long gradual incline takes us to the top of the ridge and then with a backward glance at the backward Kinlochleven we wind our way around and down forests and valleys, with rivers and ferns in abundance, to the stopping point we found under the shelter of some trees at what looked like the top of the final ascent. Too lacking in energy to go the 200m up and back to the nearby iron age fort, we took cover from the mizzle as again the forecast had been slightly too optimistic. Having left my rain top in the car in Fort William I was lucky that we got away with light drizzle and nothing more substantial.

West Highland Way (47 of 55)West Highland Way (48 of 55)Eventually we were starting to feel tired as we trudged slowly towards Fort William only to read that the record for me was 16 hours for men and 17 40 for women for walking (running surely) the whole of the way as were passing the fell running training centre on the outskirts of the town.

West Highland Way (49 of 55)We passed an abandoned building – what a tough life crofting must have been up here especially in the winter.

This was the most remote stretch we did on the whole walk in my view. I know Rannoch Moor is supposed to be, but I thought this part of the walk was the furthest we got from roads and people even though we were using the old military road for much of the day.West Highland Way (50 of 55)We finally reached the outskirts of the town, detouring for the desired cache (well I did anyway) and walked past the Ben Nevis start point where we could see loads of cars and vans disgoorging people to go and do the walk up the highest mountain in the UK. Four hours up and three hours down – a tough day. Maybe another time. Anyway we’ve been up once already.

West Highland Way (51 of 55)BIzarrely we come across the “old finish”, which explains why the mileage on the walk varies depending on which book or website you read. Wullie explained the previous evening that the walk had been extended by a mile or two to take the walkers through the whole of the town on Fort William. Not a bad thing for us as our hotel, the Lime Tree, was at the other end of the high street just past the new finish anyway.

West Highland Way (52 of 55)So our joy at finishing was short lived as we trudged the last few miles of the 16 miles we did that day, to our hotel, eying up the bus stop on the way past to see if there was a public transport option available.

After reaching the official end, the inevitable slight anti-climax that I always feel at this point. But very happy to have finished, with all four of us intact and still talking to each other!

West Highland Way (53 of 55)West Highland Way (54 of 55)Well done everyone! And now the celebrations can start in earnest as we have both baths and wonderful rooms with bay windows in the very chic Lime Tree Hotel where it was a quick decision to stay for dinner. A pricey meal with several bottle of wine and some whiskey topped off an unusual set of dishes, including venison with figs which was a culinary step too far  for me.

We enjoyed meeting a pair of fellow adventurers who had been munro bagging all the way from Aberdeen, and made good company for our pre-dinner prosecco in the lounge where a good fire and plenty of maps made for a cosy start to the evening.

Lie in tomorrow. The conversation during the evening turned to good bits and bad bits of this walk and would we like to do another one….? West Highland Way (55 of 55)

Thanks to my companions, Heather of course and Tim and Natalie, the newly weds, who I think really enjoyed their honeymoon adventure and I hope that all the others enjoyed the walk as much as I did. Now what about next year….

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General West Highland Way

West Highland Way – Day 7 – Kingshouse to Kinlochleven

So – a sock thief in Kingshouse. Can you believe it?

My two pairs of wet socks from the previous day were in the ineffectual drying room until the morning when I discovered they were gone. Now you can imagine taking one pair of socks by mistake, but two? They were the expensive Bridgedale inners and a pair of my merino wool outer too.

So I kept an eye on the ankles of other diners at breakfast just in case, while enjoying a plate full of warming porridge.

After breakfast we drove the car round to Kinlochleven to discover that it is a funny place in the middle of nowhere. We found the B&B easily enough and parked over the road after buying a sandwich in the co-op.

Having put the slightly damp boots on back at the hotel, we set off for the Devils Staircase in fairly reasonable conditions, with the forecast good.West Highland Way (32 of 55)

The staircase itself is not too bad really, with a decent uphill climb that took us about 45 minutes or so, with the only irritation being those that were running past us on the way up…West Highland Way (33 of 55) West Highland Way (34 of 55) West Highland Way (35 of 55) West Highland Way (36 of 55) West Highland Way (37 of 55) West Highland Way (38 of 55)

Once at the top, a long sweeping path through the valley gave some good views and steady walking, until it started to rain, with the light drizzle just catching us up from over our shoulders.

I must have been inspired by the photos in the Kingshouse, as I took more shots today than on all the rest of the days put together…West Highland Way (43 of 55)

We then started a very long descent into the valley where Kinlochleven nestles. Why was it there? It must have grown around the aluminium mining and hyrdo-electric power plants, both of which we saw, and the attempts to enliven it by putting an ice climbing centre there don’t appear to have mad much difference as the whole town had a somewhat abandoned and neglected air about it.West Highland Way (45 of 55)The B&B at Alt Na Leven is the best one we experienced on the trip through and Wullie and Pauline made us very welcome. Good drying room facilities and an excellent shower meant we were optimistic about the evening ahead and after picking up the cars and seeing deer grazing on the lawn outside the Kingshouse hotel, we dropped one car ahead into Fort William to avoid having to do that on the morning of our longest walking day.West Highland Way (44 of 55)

So 9 miles of varied walking was showing us the best of the highland scenery although the evening out in Kinlochleven was a bit of a damp squib, with one pub giving us a luke warm welcome and the other serving us luke warm lasagna.

I must admit, I wouldn’t like to live there…

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General West Highland Way

West Highland Way – Day 6 – Bridge of Orchy to Kinghouse

The weather finally turned against us…West Highland Way (27 of 55)

The forecast for wet weather was in the form of a weather warning for the area and the likelihood of 2 inches of rain.

We had talked the previous day about how a) it wouldn’t be safe with our lightweight equipment, b) it wouldn’t be enjoyable and c) we could always come back and do the section another day and it would be quite good to have a day off.

That was the sensible approach.

However after a couple of glasses of wine and a fish pie, Tim’s attitude became: “oh b***cks to the weather! Will we let the weather defeat us?” which was what I was pleased to hear him say as I secretly wanted to go on despite the conditions. Anyway I had just had bangers and mash and was feeling bravado too. So we agreed to get togged up for breakfast and make a decision then.

Heather wasn’t feeling too good with a cold and the prospect of being wet all day as we watched various walkers set off from the hotel in heavy wet weather gear, meant she decided sensibly that the day would be spent indoors. Natalie who by this time was feeling much better was keen to go, but unselfishly decided she would support Heather and indeed us, by meeting us at a point along the trail to see if we were alright. She also thought that Tim and I would be quite a bit quicker on our own and that would cut the exposure time for us.

So we headed off after a hearty breakfast, and made good speed along to the Inveroran Hotel where Natalie was waiting in the car. We had done about two miles in the wet and were soaked. We pressed on, and enjoyed seeing all the rivers in torrents, the glen flooding and the Rannock Moor in its wildest and most atmospheric state, with water everywhere.

We sped along, overtaking about 16 or 18 other walkers. “another fine day!” I would greet them with, or “turned out nice again!”. The German couple we met and gave this cheery greeting to, obviously thought I was mad, as the rain dripped down his straggly beard, and she peered at us through damp and misty glasses.

We managed a good pace and quite a lot of conversation despite the wet.

For once I didn’t have a cache located near the end so we couldn’t tell how far we had to go, and at first discounted the obvious spot of the white building nestling in the centre of the Glen Coe.West Highland Way (31 of 55)

Beautiful surroundings despite the dreech weather – my favourite area of the trip so far, just what I think we had all been expecting.West Highland Way (28 of 55)

Suddenly we realised that after crossing the main road and alerting Natalie to this fact with a text that she will probably get in Fort William, we were there! Just a short wade down a path which was now under 6 inches of water. As we sploshed into the car park we saw that the girls had just pulled up with great timing. We had done 12 miles in 3hrs 20 minutes, good going.

After derobing as much wet gear as decency allowed as best I could in the lobby that I shared with a Japanese man having a smoke, Natalie took me back to the other car, while Heather took most of my gear straight to the essential drying room.

We got back in time for a haggis panini after having a welcome bath in Tim and Nat’s room. A few pints of Guinness meant a snooze was in order as the ancient hotels ancient Internet access was so poor that nothing much could be done online.

We rejoined in the climbers bar where we had had one drink earlier until the fug of damp walkers overcame us. This time we joined a small party of Glaswegians who had driven up earlier and were staying in the local Hobbits huts, but had become musical meanwhile after 9 pints of lager each. Guitar, tambourine, voices and harmonica all blended into an unusually discordant noise which kept us amused and even encouraged Tim to join in.

The river outside had burst its banks, and the deer looked on nonchalantly while the white froth raged under the stone bridge.West Highland Way (30 of 55)

Inside the main bar a welcome and most generous gift of a bottle of Shiraz/Malbec was waiting for us courtesy of our friend Hamish. Very kind indeed and just what was needed to accompany the haggis.West Highland Way (29 of 55)

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West Highland Way – Day 5 – Crianlarich to Bridge of Orchy

West Highland Way (25 of 55)Hooray – Natalie is feeling better this morning which is great news. The weather looks decidedly iffy, with heavy rain in the night. After a great sleep, Tim and I do the early morning car drop to Bridge of Orchy. I take 15 minutes to get there, he takes 10 minutes to get back. After steadying my nerves at breakfast, we set off back up the hill to where we left the trail part evening, about 0.7 of a mile from the main path.

It soon starts to rain. Even my tried and tested gear soon succumbs to the dampness. Tim looks odd in shorts and gaiters, which although keep his boots and feet dry, the shorts get gradually more sodden. We all resolve to get better gear in future.

After some fast waking (who wants to stay out in the rain?) we wind our way past the ruined Priory and the Lochan of the Lost Sword to the Green Welly pit stop, from the sublime to the ridiculous… We had a quick stop for a bowl of soup and and orange juice, which were great, whilst thinking about those poor people who were camping on the trail. We’d seen a number of tents and they didn’t look comfy on a day like today.West Highland Way (24 of 55)

It stops raining and we start to enjoy a good walk on easy ground through glens and across some colourful and varied countryside. I particularly liked the heather and fern bordered elevated paths and although the views were not far reaching, it was atmospheric.West Highland Way (26 of 55)

We saw a number of other walkers today, and enjoyed the long sweep down to what promised to be a lovely boutique hotel at the Bridge. We sensibly swopped our rooms for ones with a bath with the assertive and helpful SA manageress, and after picking the other car up and doing some refuelling then enjoyed what must rate as one of the top baths of the year. Excellent.

Now a proper pint of Guinness and a catch up on this blog after the work emails were sorted. Well GoW is undergoing maintenance – good time to catch up on other stuff.

Now dinner should involve mash potato with any luck, maybe as a starter and a main course….

A fine days waking despite the weather of 14 miles or so. That forecast is looking scary for tomorrow…

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West Highland Way – Day 4 – Inversnaid to Crianlarich

We drove down to the hotel after a lively night, feeling a bit jaded, and with Natalie not feeling very well from the virus as she had stayed off the booze.

We knew this section was supposedly the hardest on the walk and the first 4 miles proved to be very slow, with lots of scrambling and rock hopping along the edge of the loch. Eventually we came to the end of the loch, and the walking eased.West Highland Way (19 of 55)

We saw feral goats a plenty, but didn’t divert down to Rob Roy’s cave due to being under time pressure. Tim Doolittle opened up a dialogue with several of the goats and we became concerned that his impression was starting to attract the males in a way that wasn’t healthy..West Highland Way (22 of 55)

You could smell the goats quite clearly. I guess they could smell us too.

We met a German who raised the request ball at Ardlui farm to get the ferry from the other side of the loch to come and pick him up, but how long he waited was unclear. We saw adverts for a log cabin for walkers at Beinglas Farm, for £30. Looked basic to us, but I guess if the weather is bad, one might jump at that offer.West Highland Way (23 of 55)

Anyway we stopped there for a drink (ginger beer and lime – great combo!) and had our sandwiches outside near some information about Drovers. Looks like a tough job. Especially using your kilt as a tent when overnighting..

The afternoon walking was easier but unremarkable. It was 4pm when we arrived at Crianlarich and then Tim and I did the painfully long car shuttle. 56 miles and an hour and a half in each direction. So it was 7pm before I was sticking my heel in the bath plug at the Best Western Hotel to have a tepid bath before a disappointing Guinness – why must they muck about with new technology on such a tried and tested product? I’m all for new technology, but not in beer… They served this tin of still stuff which they then put on a surge machine, reminding us of the SA laxative of the same name. That agitated the dark stuff, mind you so did the laxative. The Guinness tasted watery when this process was complete. A shame.West Highland Way (20 of 55)

Dinner in the restaurant before a bit of Game of War and good to see the alliance doing well, and nice to catch up with my online pals.

A very good sleep. Best so far.

Altogether a good day, which I admire Natalie struggling through when she was feeling so poorly. She has some fighting spirit alright. 13 more miles behind us and we are half way. Forecast looking dodgy so time to get the wet weather gear out…

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General West Highland Way

West Highland Way – Day 3 – Balmaha to Inversnaid

Liz might have been right. About not trying to take two cars that is. After a longish walk we then had a marathon drive, taking four hours to get both cars into the right places. My matchbox planning had gone up in flames.

We set off in good weather with patches of blue sky after a hearty breakfast of French Toast, Bacon and Maple syrup. Gold Marmite too! Natalie had almost a whole orchard in a melon half.

We left the bags on the porch and drove the short way down the road to pick up where we had left off, grateful that we had taken a couple of miles out of today’s tally by going that bit further yesterday.West Highland Way (14 of 55)

The path alongside the loch was very straightforward with a number of ascents and descents along the way. Apart from a few other people, the walk was quite quiet, being punctuated by a fungi loving transvestite in a short denim skirt. As a result I think we missed the bothy which was going to be our lunch stop and we went on until 1pm when we only had a couple of miles left to go.West Highland Way (15 of 55)

Threw the stick for the dog on the way, and once at the Inversnaid Hotel, we didn’t have the energy to walk up the hill to the Bunkhouse, so took advantage of their free transfer service, where the girls rested and the boys went rallying. And rallying. And rallying. First to Balmaha then over the hills to Crianlarich. Four hours later I had time for a quick shower, change and a pint of Pride before an hour on the Skype to Patrick and Stephen.West Highland Way (16 of 55)

Dinner was good, tomato soup followed by Chicken Madras. It was the last night of the season at the excellent Bunkhouse and we were entertained by the various guitar playing talents on the staff. Chatted to a French couple, sang along with the Germans, sunk a couple of buckets of red wine and then had a few malts on the house, leaving the bill paying until breakfast.West Highland Way (17 of 55)

Very interesting chap who runs the catering is a choreographer after the Bunkhouse closes, doing Flatley style Irish dance shows in France.

Had a very good stay. Nat not well still, but feeling a bit better in the morning. Signs of fatigue all round, but ready for the tougher day to come. Ist of the month!

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West Highland Way – Day 2 Drymen to Balmaha

Well actually a bit beyond. We decided to pinch a couple of miles from the subsequent days itinerary as the weather was so good and 8 miles seemed a little wimpish.

So we parked up about 2 miles further down the road and the Loch’s edge, close to the path and marked it with a waypoint so we could find the car later on.

And what a glorious day it was with gentle sunshine and temperatures in the high teens all day. A breeze kept us cool and we set out after yet another hearty breakfast after a disturbed night rest at the otherwise excellent Drymen Inn. Not their fault that the local yoof chose Saturday night to strut their stuff in the wee hours, shouting and carrying on. A scene echoed all over Britain I reckon, but really annoying when trying to get some sleep.

West Highland Way (4 of 55)

The dinner after the obligatory pub crawl was very good. We looked at the menus all over town and then settled for pie and mash and lasagne at the inn. Both were great. After a small glass of my favourite malt, Bannahabban, which conveniently was on special offer, we were in bed early and after dismantling our alliance in GoW, slept fine until the yobs took over.

After beans on toast and the travelling marmite for breakfast, we headed off on the Rob Roy trail to rejoin the way up the top of the ridge outside the village.

We passed the other couple staying in the inn, just before Conic Hill, which we tackled in half an hour or so, making steady progress in search of increasingly excellent views. It was stunning and we couldn’t have a better day for visibility etc.West Highland Way (6 of 55)

There were loads of walkers out today it was good to see, and most of them were coming up the steep side towards us. Happy to be going the gentler route we stopped for plenty of photo opportunities. The islands in the loch stretch out in a line marking the fault that divides Highlands from Lowlands.West Highland Way (7 of 55)

After a very brief detour to pick up a cache just off the path, we found ourselves in the main carpark and information centre for Balmaha, which was just next to the Oak Tree pub and our accommodation for the night the Bay Cottage.West Highland Way (8 of 55)

We found a lovely spot by the edge of the loch about half a mile or so beyond the village where we played duck tennis with the crusts of our sandwiches and admired the setting of the islands, the calm waters, the tourist boats chugging up and down and the sunshine glinting off the pebbles on the beach. Glorious. Could be the Caribbean or the Greek Isles.West Highland Way (9 of 55) West Highland Way (10 of 55) West Highland Way (11 of 55) West Highland Way (12 of 55)

After lunch we walked the remaining 1.5 miles to the car, passing through the fort/viewpoint and meandering gently along the edge of the loch.

Four hours including half an hour stopping for lunch and fifteen minutes at the information centre and we’d covered 9.5 miles or so, with a 330 metre ascent on the hill into the bargain. Not bad.

So we set off altogether to Drymen where we stopped at the cash machine before going in convoy to Inversnaid. A long and winding road…but the bunkhouse shows promise.

Two hours later we were back at the Bay Cottage being admonished by Liz for being silly enough to contemplate taking two cars on the trip. “you will fall out with each other” she scolded.

She then made us scones and rice crispie cakes for tea and Heather and I explained our thinking behind the two cars scenario. Unconvinced, she offered spare swimming trunks for the hot tub but backed off when I suggested that I didn’t want to get between a honeymoon couple and their hot tub experience.

As it happened Tim and Nat decided the pub was mightier than the tub and we took up an early seat in the very cosy Oak Tree. Nat wasn’t feeling great so retired early and the three of us had hot smoked salmon on tomato mash potato (delicious) with lashings of wine after trying the local beer which was insipid.West Highland Way (13 of 55)

Back to the B&B for a very restful night.

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West Highland Way – Day 1 – Milngavie to Drymen

Milngavie to Drymen – 12 Miles.

West Highland Way (1 of 55)

Having travelled down from Glenelg following Natalie and Tim’s wedding week, we settled in to the Best Foot Forward in Milngavie (pronounced Mull-guy???) and took heed of Lauchie and Morags advice on the path ahead.

We were early to bed after a pleasant few beers in the Talbot inn and an excellent Thai at MaiThai in the town.

Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for breakfast where we amused ourselves by watching the four American ladies struggle to understand what was being said to them, then they wrestled with the idea of Marmite, and fortunately they didn’t understand what the ingredients of black pudding were either.

West Highland Way (2 of 55)

We bought our WHW passport, and set off in the car convoy to Drymen. Navigation in the lead car went astray and we managed to correct course before we ended up in central Glasgow. I know what the ideal marriage saving present is now for the happy couple – a Sat Nav!

An hour round trip and we were at the station carpark ready for the off. A lovely day and plenty of encouragement from signs and benches and obelisks. The locals are obviously proud of their walk. Much more so than the start of the North Downs way when we couldn’t find the start…

None of us had slept well the night before due to rampaging fellow guests at 1.15am and several low flying jets in the wee hours, but that didn’t dent our enthusiasm and we set a cracking pace in the sunshine. So cracking that we got to the pub five minutes before it was supposed to open for lunch, although it must have opened at 11 rather than half past as there were already several groups tucking into full Scottish breakfasts with accompanying pints.

Bizarrely we noticed another walker decanting her second glass of red wine into her water container – not bad before noon!

The first seven miles had been fast, chatty, varied and although the low lying fog had not cleared in the valleys obscuring the fine advertised views, we had enjoyed our first stretch.

It was too early for us to eat, so after a couple of soft drinks (we had route marched past the distillery) we grabbed some peanuts and crisps and left the rabbits, rooks and other assorted black large birds, trailing in our wake.

By this point we had been asked several times if we were doing the West Highland Way, which should have been obvious from the guidebooks and the map we were carrying. One lady we met had managed it in 4.5 days. Mind you at the speed we were going..

We stopped for a quick cache and bag of peanuts by the side of the river and listened to the local anglers shouting incomprehensible stuff at each other in Scottish. We could understand the occasional swear word but that was all. As Tim said, how much worse would it be if they hadn’t been sober? Or at least we thought they were.

Leaving behind the thought of why manufacturers of bags of peanuts need to print “may contain traces of nuts” on the packet, we strode off up and down the road until the turning for Drymen arrived.

West Highland Way (3 of 55)