I have a pretty nice job, most of which is office-based but every now and then we get to do something fun and outdoors. Like go on a multi-day hiking trip. This time, myself and a couple of colleagues spent a few days hiking along the West Highland Way, from Bridge of Orchy to Fort William, the end point of the trail. Definitely one of the better ways to spend a working week!
We arrived at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel and stayed there overnight in one of their nice new rooms. The hotel is expensive but nice and I have to say, the food was amazing and the staff very friendly. The following morning, thoroughly spoiled, we set off towards Inveroran and on across Rannoch Moor, a vast, beautiful, bleak plain of moorland.
The weather was decent, we had some beautiful views and at least it stayed dry in between the rain showers :-) The track across the moor is well-defined and fairly easy, although it was quite wet. After crossing the moor, the descent down to Kingshouse looked deceptively short, but it was still 1 1/2 hours before we finally got there. The rain accompanied us so we were pretty wet and tired by the time we passed the Glencoe Mountain resort. This was soon remedied when we got to Kingshouse, by the lovely Bailey's hot chocolates which we ordered in the temporary inn building at the Kingshouse Hotel. They were very good and soon had us warm and drying off and laughing while we waited for our taxi to Glencoe, where we would be staying that night. The King's House Hotel is being upgraded and expanded, but the drive from Kingshouse to Glencoe is actually a very pleasant 20 minutes and has some lovely views.
Once settled in our B&B in Glencoe, with our wet gear drying in the B&B's excellent drying room, we popped out for a bite to eat. This meal, in The Gathering, was surprisingly good again but soon we were back at our B&B again, ready for our beds. I don't think any of us made it much past 9 pm!
The following morning we were dropped back to Kingshouse to begin our second walk, from Kingshouse to Kinlochleven. This section, at about 14 km, was shorter than the first walk (around 21 km) so we figured we were in for a relatively easy time of it. Turns out were were wrong about that!
A couple of kilometres after leaving Kingshouse, it is time to tackle the notorious Devil's staircase, a fairly steep climb of about 250 metres. Although it gets your calf muscles and your lungs going, this section is not actually as bad as its ominous name might suggest. The path zigzags up, and offers some lovely views. For us, just as we got to the Devil's Staircase, it started to lash down with rain and the wind picked up, to add to the fun.
I am never the fastest up any mountain but soon enough we all reached the top of the pass, where there is a little cairn and again, stunning views. From there the path meanders down towards Kinlochleven, but it does undulate a bit and again it was very wet underfoot. Just as well I had some nice new waterproof boots and in fact mine were the only feet which stayed completely dry each day and I'm glad I spent the money on some more expensive boots this time. It's not hard to spend a lot of money in outdoors shops and usually I am pretty budget conscious but for footwear it is certainly worth it! And not a blister in sight.
By the time we reached Kinlochleven - quite a steep descent towards the end, which is hard on tired legs - we were thoroughly drenched, with rain beating down on us relentlessly for the last hour of our walk. Luckily we were staying in one of Kinlochleven's best B&Bs, where we were invited to leave our wet gear in the spacious drying room before being warmly welcomed with tea, cakes and biscuits and sat in front of a roaring fire. After showers and a short rest in our extremely comfortable and spacious rooms, we braved the rain once again (safely under the B&Bs umbrellas this time) to grab a bite to eat. We celebrated the occasion by trying out some haggis -a traditionally Scottish dish - which was surprisingly tasty although trying it once is probably going to be enough for me. When I asked the waitress what exactly was in it, she merely hesitated a second and then simply said 'meat.' I didn't have the guts to ask her to elaborate as to what types of meat after that although, I am rather sorry to say, I Googled it later...
It was still raining heavily the following morning so we didn't exactly feel eager to get started on our last day of hiking! It was going to be a long day, the longest of the three at about 24 km, but by the time we had had breakfast and were ready to head out the sun had come out, so off we went. Straight away there is a steep ascent out of Kinlochleven which was surprisingly hard and has nearly the same elevation as the Devil's staircase but the lovely views are worth it! (the first picture of this blog post was taken from the top of this climb, with Loch Leven visible stretching into the distance.)
After this initial climb the trail follows an old military road through Lairigmor - a miles-long pass with great mountains rising on either side. This section of the trail feels never ending, every rise and corner revealing more of this great pass, but eventually we reached the end and arrived at Lundavra.
Lundavra is a kind of mid point of the walk from Kinlochleven to Fort William and nearby is a cairn, which marks the spot where the MacDonalds finally gave up the chase of the Campbells, during the Second Battle of Inverlochy in the 17th century. Tradition holds that every time a Campbell passes, he takes away a stone and every time a MacDonald passes he adds a stone to the cairn.
After Lundavra the trail undulates through some forestry before descending at last into Fort William. When you reach the city a sign beside a roundabout denotes the original end of the West Highland Way, but nowadays the proper end to the tour will bring you along the main street to the statue of a weary hiker rubbing his feet. Here we took a photo of ourselves before gratefully sinking into the seats at a nearby pub for a well deserved pint before heading off for our last B&B to freshen up. That evening we celebrated with more great food and a proper Scottish Whisky, soaking up the atmosphere in a couple of the local pubs, filled with fellow hikers and other outdoorsy types. The best bit was just listening to that lovely Scottish accent all around me.
Although I have spent many days in the hills and mountains, this trip was the first time I've done any sustained, multi-day, long distance hiking and I have to say, I loved every second of it, despite the rain and the aching muscles! Scotland, long on my wish-list of places to visit, has cast a bit of a spell on me too, and I am already looking forward to going back, to explore more of Scotland and to walk along the rest of the West Highland Way as well. Oh and to meet one of those lovely fluffy Highland Coos.
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