The Wild-West Highland Way #7
Sunday 4th May
Kinlochleven to Fort William – 15 Miles
I awoke at about five o’clock in the morning, the gentle sound of rain clattering fiercely against the window. At the appointed time we made our way downstairs to devour Drew’s wonderful breakfast. Two people were just setting off for Fort William, and we wished them well as they opened the door to face the deluge. We chatted with Drew and Elsie, hoping the weather would abate, but it kept on.
We had arranged to meet Ian and Anne at about nine o’clock, as Anne wanted to join us on this, our last leg of the walk, so we could tarry no longer. I could spend a lot more time here at Edencoille, and would definitely recommend it if you’re staying in Kinlochleven, but the day demanded we join it, so we departed. We met Ian and Anne in the Tailrace Inn car park and, after agreeing that women were a curse to mankind and the weather (well, we had to blame someone), set off on our last day.
Last night when we were walking around the village, I noticed a brightly lit building on the opposite side of the valley, well up the hillside. I thought it must be some rich man’s mansion, but it turned out to be Mamore Lodge, where anyone can stay! It reminded me of a ship on a dark sea as it was the only thing lit up and looked strangely eerie. It is licensed, but the main advantage must be that it is halfway up the hill on the last day! I have spoken to people who have stayed there since, and it gets the thumbs up.
We looked back over the damp valley to ‘Edencoille’ before continuing the climb towards Mam Beag. Anyone thinking of pushing through Kinlochleven and heading straight for Fort William should take heed. The climb is long and sapping. Very rewarding, but nevertheless long and sapping. It was quite misty and drizzly, but we were in good spirits, and having someone new to talk to in the form of Anne, kept the conversation lively.
We settled in to a comfortable pace as the old military road now ran almost flat along the glen. I bet the views from here are quite good when it’s clear, but we could only see the ones that were close to us. At about half past ten, Erik and Malc’ caught us up. They had to press on as they were going to catch the bus home tonight. We chatted for a brief while, and they had got the note I left at the Tailrace pub. It asked them if Colin and I could borrow their rucksacks for our day going up Ben Nevis (we didn’t want to carry the big sacks up) and they promised to leave them at our bed and breakfast. They disappeared into the wild grey yonder at a lick, and we guessed they would make good time.
We passed a ruin, Tigh-na-sleubhaich, which we just thought had become run down with time. We were to find out later that walkers had done all the damage and other passers by who had used the roof timbers and doors for fires. I got to speak to the owners of the land we were now on, and they said that they wanted to restore the place, but their shepherd had told them that if it wasn’t occupied full time, it would just be returned to its former condition quite quickly. It could be a good bothy, but isn’t it sad that that’s the way of the world?
We passed another ruin and soon came to the start of the wooded area. We took advantage of the shelter the trees gave and sat down among them to eat lunch. I noticed that I was quite damp inside my new Gore Tex coat, which I bought especially for this walk, and wished that one day I would get one of the ones that they must reserve for the magazine testers, i.e. one that actually works! I started to recite a poem about rain and, to my surprise, Anne went along with me word for word. She was the only other person I’d met that knew it! It goes like this (just in case you’re in Scotland and it happens to rain):
It rained, and it rained, and rained and rained.
The average fall was well maintained.
And when the tracks were simply bogs,
It started raining cats and dogs.
After a drought of half an hour
We had the most refreshing shower.
And then, the most curious thing of all
A gentle rain began to fall.
Next day was also fairly dry
(save for the deluge from the sky)
which wet the party to the skin,
And after that…. the rain set in!
All this water now and overnight made the waterfalls very dramatic and, although I wasn’t taking as many photos today, it was still very beautiful to look at.
Presently, Ian joined us, and we also caught Alan, the Lands End to John o’ Groats walker. We chatted away merrily as we walked. Ian very kindly invited Colin and I out for a meal that evening at the famous Crannog restaurant in Fort William to meet another radio ‘ham’ named Freddie (GM0-UMJ) that Colin had spoken to, but not met. I believe it had been voted the country’s best seafood restaurant, I only hope it’s not too suave for two West Highland Way walkers!
After what seemed like a very short while, Ian left us to return to his car. He was going to drive to Fort William to pick up Anne when we had finished. After he had left, the weather picked up (please don’t read anything in to this, it was just a coincidence!) and we managed to take off our wet togs. It was very warm as we made our way through the woods and the lack of any breeze made it quite stifling at times.
At the next fence, there was the chance to visit the Iron Age hill fort called Dun Deardail. Apparently, it has been attacked so many times with fire in the past, that it had vitrified the stone. I wanted to see this and said so. Colin said he would come too, but Anne said she’d wait awhile, and Alan decided to carry on. The sign said the fort was 400 metres. I foolishly thought this was how far we had to walk, but I can now warn you that this is probably Scottish humour at its worst, and I would suggest it is really how much higher you have to climb! Anyway, we took a lot longer than anticipated and Colin started to get anxious about Anne being on her own, and turned back. I went on, as I had come this far and really wanted to see what this vitrified fort looked like. When I got to the top, I was quite disappointed, as there was nothing to see really. It was like you would expect an Iron Age fort to be – just a circular mound covered in grass. The whole climb was made worthwhile though, as the weather started to clear and I got good views along Glen Nevis. I was also tempted to take my first photo for a while.
I was brought back to the present day by a strident call from Colin. I set off to try and catch him and Anne. They must have gone at quite a lick, as it was ages before I managed to reel them in. When I did, they were looking at The Ben through a gap in the trees. A mighty sight it was too; even though the top was shrouded in cloud I could see why it was the quintessential mountain to many people, myself included. We stood in quiet reverence before posing for photographs. It was to be Colin’s first mountain, and my final one of the ‘big three’ (the other two being Snowdon and Scafell Pike). Was I pre-empting myself? I hoped not as the ascent of Ben Nevis was high on the agenda of this trip as far as I was concerned. It was the reason we had decided to fly up, as it gave us two free days to choose from to tackle it.
On the way down through the woods, the day really started to brighten up. More than enough blue sky to make a sailor a pair of trousers, as my Mum used to say. We were a little late for the quarter past three rendezvous with Ian, but he was still all smiles. He said he and Anne would drive the last mile to the end and wait to take our photos for us. He did offer a lift (and I was surprised Colin – he of the carried sack – didn’t accept) but we decided puristically to walk.
As happened to me on the Pembrokeshire coastal path walk, the heavens opened for the last mile. Still, we kept our sense of humour, and we posed by a road works sign that said ‘END’, as if it was the end of the Way. That point was only about half a mile away, and when we got there, the sun was again shining brightly. We congratulated each other, took the photos beside the plaque and watched as others, doing the same as us, finished their own journey. Ian and Anne made a fine welcoming party (it was nice, as this was the first time I had ever had someone to meet me at the end of a long walk) and we finalised the arrangements for tonight before they set off back to their caravan.
Colin and I had a look around the West Highland Way centre at some of the souvenirs available. I hoped he didn’t buy a certificate, as unbeknownst to him, I had sent him an ‘official’ one in the post to our last B&B.
After phoning home etc., we made our way to Craig Nevis guesthouse and our hostess, Jean McKenzie. After Jean explained about some mix up, we were shown to our separate rooms. We should have had a twin, but we weren’t complaining. My room had a shower and a T.V.! It’s funny how things fall into place sometimes, and as I sat watching the weather forecast for the following day or two, I feared very much that even a two-day buffer to do The Ben would not be enough. High winds and heavy snow was the portent! The weatherman was even saying things like “Don’t go out unless you have to.” Oooo – eerrrr! I thought long and hard about whether to attempt Ben Nevis tomorrow or Tuesday, which was supposed to be even worse. I decided to put it all behind me for now and see what the morning held.
We got washed and changed into our least smelly gear (it wasn’t that bad really) and rang for a taxi to take us to the Crannog. We would have walked it, but the rain was pimpling the tarmac on the pavements! It was also blowing quite hard and sitting in the reception bar of the Crannog, which is Scottish for ‘man made island’, didn’t feel too good. The sea was lashing the structure and the rain was clattering on the windows. People were rushing in shaking themselves and being divested of their wet things by the staff.
Eventually Ian, Anne, Freddie and his wife Feya arrived. We were shown to our table and there began the gastronomic dream. The food, as expected, was out of this world. The storm outside was soon forgotten as we tucked in to our chosen Manna. This place even has it’s own boat, which delivers its catch straight into the kitchens. Now that’s what I call FRESH. The soup starter really was just a leader for the main course. I opted for Languistines in a garlic sauce and I just didn’t want my plate to ever empty. Large nogs of good bread were there to mop up the juices. Everyone else was in their own chosen heaven as the food met its demise. Of course, I had the camera to hand to record the event, and the staff were happy to oblige. We finished off with sweets to the same standard. I had the most wonderful Walnut gateau and we then sat around enjoying making conversation with one another and drinking wine. After a very convivial evening, we made our way home to Craig Nevis to get a good night’s sleep – just in case we needed it!