West Highland Way

Kinlochleven to Fort William - 24th April 2014

We had a good night's sleep and as we had a TV and wi-fi we checked the weather. It looked as if the last day was going to be fine and warm again but there was a chance of a light shower. We walked through to the breakfast room and were seated, just as Sigi and Ulle arrived. There was also a Swedish couple doing the WHW who we hadn't seen before but they were suffering with bad feet as well as aching muscles. Their itinerary was different to most peoples and they had had a couple of longer stages which had overstretched them and was the cause of their discomfort. We compared notes with Sigi and Ulle who were keen to find out what the Kingshouse was like. They were not surprised as their baggage transfer service had had so many complaints that they would not allow any of their clients to stay there. They, quite rightly, felt that they had had a lucky escape and had really hit the jackpot with staying at Edencoille for 2 nights.

We finished breakfast near enough at the same time and took the opportunity to say our goodbyes as we wouldn't see Sigi and Ulle again, as our plan was to leave quite quickly and get on with it, without going crazy, as we had the sleeper to catch. We were also faster than them, so it was unlikely that they would catch us up. It hadn't been the same type of friendship as we had had with Sam and Gary on the C2C, we hadn't walked with our German friends for one thing, but it was interesting to speak to another nationality about the walk and their approach to it all. Rachel and Sigi exchanged email addresses with the intention of making contact on our return home. So we shook hands and we went our separate ways. We went back to our room and finished packing for the last time before signing the visitor's book and setting off into the morning sunshine.

It was a nice day. There was some cloud about but it was dispersing and as we walked downhill to re-join the path there was a spring in our step, it was going to be a good final day, we just felt it. Inevitably there was also a tinge of sadness that it was coming to an end. All the hard work researching the route, booking the accommodation, making the transport links work and of course the training had all come together to make it a success. But it was now drawing to a close. We still had 15 miles to go and a train to catch so it wasn't over just yet. There was still plenty to keep our minds occupied; we couldn't really relax until we got into that train cabin.

We arrived at the Tailrace Inn and set off on the path once more, along the road as it skirted the town. Just where the path leaves the road and sets off uphill, we could look across to see our B&B, sitting in its elevated position. As we climbed through the trees we were leaving Kinlochleven behind, and I was quite sad. I had come to like it. We didn't find it the soulless purpose built 60's town which is how it has been described, I would be more than happy to return, yes, it was good. There were several people around us, all climbing upwards, we assume all doing the WHW but we didn't recognise anyone. Just before the shoulder we stopped for a breather and the chance to look at the view as we were now clear of the treeline. The view from Kinlochleven, all the way along the sea loch, with the mountains as a backdrop, was magical.


Kinlochleven


Loch Leven

But our path took us up the valley that had opened up before us as we had come over the top. The wide U shaped valley was true highland grandeur and would take us all the way to The Lairigmor. The path snaked away into the distance and we could see that there were at least 25 people in front of us and a good few behind us. It seemed quite busy which also meant it was difficult to stop for the loo, as just as you thought the coast was clear, someone else would suddenly appear.


Path to Lairigmor

Just before The Lairigmor we spied some ground with a little shelter and decided it would make a good place to stop and have a break. It wasn't cold if we kept moving, but as soon as we stopped it required fleeces to be put on, to stop us getting too cold. While we rested, with the obligatory boots and socks off, about a dozen people passed by. By the time we had set off again, we could see in the distance that nearly everyone on the path had stopped at Tigh-na-sleubhaich. We then leapfrogged them which meant that there was only the odd walker in front, which somehow made it feel less claustrophobic.


Tigh-na-sleubhaich

We made it to the Lairigmor farmhouse ruins and the path stated to climb gently again before descending down to an area that had been clear felled. We had been gaining on a couple that we thought were the Swedish couple from Edencoille and sure enough we did catch them just after the sheep fold. They had left earlier than us and didn't stop other than to dip their feet periodically in the small streams that littered the hillside and crossed under or over the path. She was struggling with her feet and just wanted it to end. Their map reading skills weren't too good and they thought they were closer to the end than they were. We walked with them for a while and then we saw a pink waterproof coat on the ground, as if it had just been dropped. We had just been passed, in the opposite direction, by a couple, one of which was a woman, but in front, a long way away was a small group and we thought that one of them was a woman. What to do. We could have left it where it lay, but, doing what we would hope someone would do for us, we picked it up and decided to go with the hope that it was the woman in front. We shouted and whistled to try and get their attention but they couldn't hear us. Rachel started off at breakneck speed but with a full pack we were never going to catch them up very quickly. So, I suggested that I took her pack and she run after them. Now Rachel doesn't normally run, but, she cut quite a graceful figure as she bounded towards her goal. I, in the meantime had one pack on my back and the other on my front but 50 odd pounds incorrectly distributed made for a challenging few hundred yards. It also didn't help that just where we were was a steep section of path, so both of us started to leak profusely from our pores.

Finally, Rachel made them hear and waved the coat furiously. At last they stopped and having checked their pack realised that it was indeed theirs. One of the group was despatched to retrace their steps and met up with Rachel for the ceremonial handover. They were obviously very grateful and we felt chuffed that we had done the right thing. Having divested myself of Rachel's pack, I could recover and get my breath back. She also needed to catch her breath and as we approached the group of 4, who had stopped for a rest, we saw the bulk of Ben Nevis in front of us.


Ben Nevis

It was a lovely spot to stop so we decided to rest as well. As we approached the group, we realised that they were the 3 that were struggling on the descent into Kinlochleven the day before and, would you believe it, young Ben the Camper. We compared notes and exchanged experiences before we found a couple of suitable rocks a few yards away, and had a most welcome food stop, all with The Ben as a wonderful backdrop. The mountain was cloud free but every now and again a cloud would just clip the top. By zooming in on our cameras we could make out people making their way up the Pony Track and the memories of when we did it with our young boys, all those years ago, came flooding back.


Waterfall

We girded up our loins and set off once again, knowing that in a couple of hours we would be out of the mountains and it would all be over. But first we had to get into Glen Nevis and soon the open hillside gave way to forestry plantations which would be our companion until we reached the valley floor. Ben the Camper had gone on ahead and in the forest we had lost sight of him. We got to the steep section where the wooden steps lead down to a bridge across a burn and it started to rain. It was only a short sharp shower, but viewing it through the trees with the sun behind made it look very pretty. We came out of the trees to a small clearing and found Ben the Camper who was making running repairs to his feet. Rachel took the opportunity to ask him his real name, and so it was that Ben the Camper morphed into Nigel the Camper. We all had a bit of a laugh about it and then got onto the topic of blisters. Ben, I mean Nigel, had never suffered with blisters despite years of walking with heavy packs. I too was in the same boat. Indeed there was a great deal of people that we met that were suffering with blistered or bad feet despite well-worn in boots and socks. It's a mystery to me and many others just why this walk has this effect on hardened walker's feet. It's not as if the mileages each day are long, there're not. The military roads are hard, and in places quite long, but no worse than some of the road sections on the C2C or The Dales Way and the flint tracks on the SDW are hard and go on for miles. Rachel was fine with not even a hint of any problems, but even so, my small blisters didn't spoil the walk, although painful at times.

But, we had to press on and so bid him well for the last few miles - we wouldn't see him again. The route then passed through another felled area and we had to climb very steeply up to a wide track. The sun had come out and was very warm and the confines of this little valley meant that very little wind was available to cool us down.


The path with Ben Nevis behind

The track snaked its way downwards until we arrived at an official Forestry Commission diversion, directly off the side of the track and straight through the plantation. It was very steep and dangerous in places, although an attempt had been made to turn it into a proper path. We had caught up with the group of 3, of lost coat fame, and we all moaned about the state of the path. We overtook them and re-joined the main track again, glad that the diversion was over with. We could now get going at speed again and just around another bend we spied the Swedish couple from breakfast, who looked lost. Again we helped them out with route finding and again they thought they were further on than they were. We set off leaving them to contemplate what to do next. We arrived at the path opposite the Peat Track and before long we were at the valley floor and joined the path along the road that would take us all the way to Fort William. When we reached the Visitor Centre we decided to take advantage of a seat and set about topping up our energy levels and taking our boots off for one last time.


Glen Nevis Visitor Centre grounds

The road walk seemed to take quite a while as we plodded along but just as we passed a cottage we saw our final deer no more than 20 feet away trying to hide in the long grass. We reached the roundabout where the old end of the WHW was and there were a few walkers milling about, but we didn't stop, didn't take a photo even, but pressed on to the proper finishing line. However, we first had to find a loo. All these days of going whenever and wherever (within reason!) out in the countryside, as soon as we hit a built area we had to go. We knew there was a Morrison's at the station and assuming that they would have some free ones that was where we headed. Having taken advantage, we went through the underpass and into the high street. Although we had a guide book that showed explicitly where the official end was, we couldn't believe how far it was. I'm sure it is a marketing ploy to site it at the very far end of the High Street to get walkers to pass all the shops first. I think it is a mistake as I was quite hacked off when we did get there; it seemed as if it was an afterthought, to put it just where the road runs out. We thought it would be far better to put it in the square in the centre, but hey. In fact this is where the Trialblazer Guide books says it ends, which is wrong - I have advised them of their mistake and it is due to be rectified in later versions. We recognised a couple of walkers but it was strange not to see more that we knew, bearing in mind the amount on the trail that day, but then we realised that we were in front of everyone!


That's where we started


And that's where we finished


The end!

We had our photos taken with the statue. We had officially completed The West Highland Way, another long distance path ticked off. I felt it was an anti-climax in some respects but so often it is, a bitter sweet moment. We had to find somewhere to eat and then make sure we got the train so we couldn't really savour the moment as we had other things on our minds. We did amble down to the sea, just because it was there really. We headed back to the statue and saw the route of the path that had been engraved in the paving slabs, which was very well done as well as acting as a reminder of where we had come from. We now had to shuffle our way all the way back through the town to the train station, which is probably where most people end up. We went into a Tesco to top up on supplies to get us home and also to pick up a bottle of something Scottish, to celebrate and enjoy on the train. We had decided to eat at the Premier Inn, being close to the station, so alleviating any need to make a mad dash.

The meal at the Premier Inn was just what we needed. The portion size and value was very good and we decided to push the boat out and had puddings and a good bottle of wine. Some walkers that we recognised from the Tailrace Inn at Kinlochleven arrived and looked as if they were staying there. We on the other hand had a train to catch and with about an hour to go walked over to the station. Although the train had arrived we weren't allowed to get on and so had a half an hour wait. We decided to go just over the road and sit on a seat, on the route, to see whether anyone we recognised was coming into town. But we saw no one and ultimately went back to the station and boarded the train. The doors closed and we were off. Cocooned in our little tin box on rails, the walk really was now well and truly over.

Evening meal: The Premier Inn - Score 9/10

It is a chain pub with chain pub food but it was very good indeed and due to the good value we could push the boat out a little. The food came in a reasonable time and when it did arrive it was hot. The waitress was very attentive and friendly. The wine was well priced and was of good quality. Being near the station it is an ideal place to eat if time is of the essence.

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