West Highland Way Adventures: The Last Chapter

Day 5: Bridge of Orchy to Kinlochleven

Awoke feeling very refreshed after a great night’s sleep at Tigh na Fraoch. Whenever we stay in Tyndrum (which we do fairly regularly to access the hills) this is our accommodation of choice. Heather, a lovely host, really makes it feel like coming ‘home’. It was good to catch up on Heather’s news last night – as a fellow runner there are always tales to trade over a cuppa! An early breakfast allowed a relaxed start to the day.

We were collected by taxi and taken back to Bridge of Orchy where we were deposited at the start of the Way. Unsure of the weather with rain showers forecast, we’d opted for base layers and jackets. Heading uphill to begin we quickly warmed up.

Bridge of Orchy from the West Highland Way

The first rain shower came, the waterproof trousers went on. I quickly overheated – I always find that no matter how ‘good’ my waterproofs are, I very quickly feel like I’m being boiled in the bag! The waterproofs came off. Another rain shower came, blowing in from behind. The waterproofs went on.

Loch Tulla, West Highland Way

At this point a decision was made – the waterproofs stay on until Kingshouse, hot or otherwise, and venting legs/pit zips would just have to suffice for cooling.

The path across Rannoch Moor is good. Showers blew through from time to time, usually very short lived, and the sun shone through occasionally. A rainbow appeared on the horizon and stayed with us for much of the way.

The breeze picked up as we progressed and the wind chill was at times considerable. As we headed down towards Kingshouse the wind direction appeared to change and it was particularly biting. I could now appreciate that the forecast of snow in Orchy tonight may not just be a figment of the forecaster’s imagination!

Arrival at The Kingshouse Hotel was timed pretty much perfectly, just ahead of the next rain shower, this time more prolonged – no bad thing as this meant Bruce was happy to sit for more than 5 minutes. We enjoyed a very leisurely lunch in the refurbished and very much upgraded restaurant, enjoying watching the progress of the rain and the deer running around outside through the huge panoramic windows. The cheese on toast was pretty amazing (as was Bruce’s soup).

West Highland Way, Kingshouse to Kinlochleven

Refreshed, and having seen the rain clouds having pretty much passed over, we readied ourselves for venturing out again. Waterproofs on, initially it felt very chilly. This was purely due to the warmth of the hotel, and by the time we’d made our way to the foot of the Devil’s Staircase we were ready yet again to get rid of the layers.

Again, we timed it to perfection! The sun broke through on our way along the path and we were free from the constraints of waterproofs for the slow, steady climb up the ‘staircase’, a blessed relief as it takes quite some time to reach the top and a fair heat is built up! At the top again the rain came on. Another shower and another quick turn for the waterproofs!

I had it in my head that it was all downhill from here but I was wrong. We went down, and then we had to go up again. Up and down the undulating path went. Finally we got to the point I’d remembered where it really was all downhill to Kinlochleven.

Far better than I’d remembered, today it didn’t kill my quads. My knees weren’t screaming (and thankfully neither were his), and before we knew it we’d skipped down to the pipes. The houses by this point were tantalisingly close and suddenly we were at the back of the factory.

Delighted to have completed the longest leg of our journey, we headed straight to the local inn to celebrate before going onwards to our hotel.

Amazed (again) by how good a shower feels, we headed for dinner in the bar and enjoyed some good chat with a couple of guys who were also on the Way. Unlike us, they were camping – the ‘cheaper’ alternative. To clarify, they’d learned that it’s not really cheaper when you spend the night in the cosy bar, rather than outside in your cold tent!

Day 6: Kinlochleven to Fort William

Trying to avoid Bruce’s cold, I spent the night outdoors (or might as well have as I kept the window WIDE open to avoid germs); however, cocooning myself in the duvet gave plenty of warmth and comfort. I guess this is why mummy bags are so popular with campers!

Breakfast at the hotel was excellent – I love smoked salmon, and combine it with scrambled eggs and you’ve got a winner.

Setting off, it was up and out of Kinlochleven and I began a steady plod. Surprisingly, my legs felt pretty good again. I’ve been amazed this trip how strong I feel and how little DOMS I’ve experienced. It looks like despite cutting back on distance (not running at all for a fortnight!), the odd yoga practice and strength training have done me good.

Heading up and out of Kinlochleven on the West Highland Way

Ascent aside, it was a beautiful morning and the flurry of snow on the tops last night made for stunning views. The climb was long but we finally started to see the top of the tree line and the path levelling our ahead of us.

Leaving Kinlochleven on the West Highland Way

Climb over, the path ambles pleasantly along between the hills. This is easy walking, the only downside today being that we were heading into the wind. What a difference in conditions! Although still lovely in the sunshine, there was a real bite in the air and a wintry feel to things.

This reminds me why I’m not a great lover of winter hills – I seem to fluctuate between extremes, very hot or freezing!

Along this stretch we were caught up by a fellow walker. One of the things I love most about walking is the people you meet and, as always, it was good to exchange tales of the walk and hear someone else’s story. An interesting man, we walked quite a few miles as a group, easily passing the time.

Company on the trails, West Highland Way

Sunlight coming and going changed the colours and the landscape quite dramatically! I’ve loved the autumn tones this week, so beautiful. We’ve also been so fortunate with the weather, again only having a few very brief spots of rain today. The thought of returning to reality next week is not appealing at present. I’d happily just continue on.

The first glimpses of Ben Nevis came into view, thoroughly majestic and impressively clear. It’s a rare sight in all ways to see the Ben so clearly. It definitely looked far more picturesque with the snow covering.

Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain, dusted by snow in October on a clear day

Ahead we dropped down before rising up through what was once forest. We parted ways with our walking buddy here, continuing on together. Dropping down through the trees finally with the Glen Nevis in sight, feelings were mixed. I’ve so enjoyed the walk this week and definitely need to do something like this again. Thoughts are drifting to next summer.

The road that leads from Glen Nevis to the finish of the West Highland Way is probably one of the least inspiring sections. It very much feels like a return to civilisation being back on tarmac, and not in a good way.

Back on the road, Glen Nevis round to Fort William, finishing the West Highland Way

We passed a few walkers on this final stretch, chatting briefly as we went. Coming into Fort William proper we got chatting to a couple at the ‘original’ end of the Way, ending up walking to the finish point in the town centre with them.

Photographs taken it was time to relax. Heading for the Grog & Gruel, we were joined by the couple we’d ended the Way with, shortly thereafter by the chap we’d walked with earlier. Good banter ensued and provided a great end to our adventure. Once again, the Way came up trumps proving why it’s such a special trip.

Statue at the end of the West Highland Way, Fort William

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