Kinlochleven to Fort William
After the previous two nights of next to no sleep I guess my body finally gave in and allowed me to have a whole six hours asleep last night – gasp!
All wasn’t the best though when I did wake up as I had a few new aches and pains in my shoulders, the first time this has happened since leaving Land’s End. Not a good sign, especially as the waist belt on the pack really isn’t working as well as it used to due to the amount of weight I’ve lost. I now have some very nice red rub marks around my hips where I desperately try and keep it tight and it rubs as I walk. Ho hum.
I got down to breakfast at 8am sharp to find the place in darkness and all the doors locked. I was the only person actually staying in the hotel last night, with others camping and staying in their cabins by the loch, so I was a little worried that they’d forgotten I was there. I let Andy and Sue in as they were up early for their breakfast but there was still no sign of anyone until a few minutes later.
I finished my breakfast as quickly as I could, said goodbye to Andy and Sue again and got myself together before the day’s walk. It wasn’t very nice outside and all I wanted to do was to get the walk over and done with and have a well deserved day off. My body was clearly telling me it was time for a break and the fourteen miles ahead weren’t going to be the easiest in the pouring down rain.
I hit the road at 8:45am, picked up the West Highland Way on the other side of the road from the hotel and immediately started the climb out of Kinlochleven – the 700ft climb that is. This was not what I needed with all the new aches and pains, especially as it normally takes about an hour’s walking before I really feel like I’ve gotten in to my stride and everything is working properly again. No such luck this morning and I’m happy to admit that I found the path up a real struggle.
About half way up, as I was about to cross a road, a chap came from the other direction so I said hello. We started to chat and he – Dave – was walking from John O’Groats to Land’s End, wild camping for most of it. Brave chap, especially with the weather we’d been having lately.
As we chatted though not only were we both End to Enders he comes from Reading! Talk about a completely mad coincidence. He works as a doorman at the Sugar Lounge strip club in Reading and said that when we’re both done, if I’m in the area, to pop round and see him. Now there’s an offer that’ll be hard to refuse!
We stood there for quite some time talking, letting quite a few people pass by. This was clearly going to be a busy day on the trail with the amount of people who passed us as we talked.
Dave was a really nice chap and I’m sure we could have stood there talking for considerably longer but, with the day only just begun we shook hands and went on our respective ways.
The final part of the hill up was just as bad as the first bit and I was huffing and puffing quite badly by the time I reached the top. I was clearly not in good shape today and I know I wasn’t in the right mind set for the day ahead either, which makes it very hard to concentrate and do my best when I’m walking. A lot of this walk, although very physical, has been a mental battle to keep going, ignore the pain and just to keep myself sane. Today I was struggling on all fronts unfortunately. I wasn’t down or anything before you think I’ve dipped back down again. I think I was just exhausted with it all and was in desperate need of a day off.
From the top of the hill the next five miles were along another of those horrible old military roads which did nothing for the state of my feet. I’d had enough of the badly cobbled, loose stoned roads over the last few days and they really had done a number on my right foot, so to have another day almost entirely on them was not a happy thought. The front of my right foot was already beginning to complain and I’d hardly started the day’s walk. Unhappy? You bet I was!
I trudged on as best I could, determined to reach Fort William sooner rather than later. The weather was atrocious and because of that there was pretty much nothing to look at along the way, all the hills being shrouded in clouds and mist.
Still, that meant I had one thing to do and that was concentrate on the path ahead. I say path but for a lot of that first stretch it was in essence a shallow river bed with all the water coming down off the hills. I gave up trying to avoid the worse bits and just ploughed on through the streams and puddles, hoping that my boots would do a good job of keeping my feet as dry as they could.
After a couple of hours walking and the pain in my feet beginning to get a little worse because of all the bloody angular stones, I took a quick rest on a rock by the path. It wasn’t exactly pleasant just sitting in the rain but I needed to take the weight off for a couple of minutes at least.
As I sat there a couple came past and said hello. They commented on how fit I must be, carrying the pack that I was and keeping the pace I was keeping along the path. Personally, I thought I was doing pretty badly for the day compared to the last couple of days but if they wanted to sing my praises then I was happy with that.
They were over from Switzerland to walk the West Highland Way and once finished hire a car for a couple of days to tour round a bit before going home. I didn’t catch his name but she was called Heidi, which I must admit I did find amusing – Heidi from the Swiss Alps – but then again, in the awful rain and with the pain in my feet almost anything would have been amusing right about then.
Rested and beginning to get cold I headed off again, finally hitting the turn in the road up to Fort William at just gone 11am. This was the first milestone of the day and by this point I’d caught up with and overtook the couple from Switzerland. Clearly the little rest had done me some good?
About a mile up the road the map showed that I should have been entering a wood but there had clearly been some major deforestation going on as there was virtually nothing of it left. Shame as I was hoping for at least a little break from the rain from the cover of the trees.
It was at this point when I passed an information point giving some information about the battle of Inverlochy, between the Royalist army and the forces of Argyll. I stood there for a bit reading it, initially thinking it was weird that this was here as the battle took place a mile north of Fort William – some distance away from where I was. Then I got it, this was the route the survivors took to get away…aha! Clearly my head wasn’t working very well today.
I stopped for a quick lunch on another rock but again I was busied along by the rain and cold so it wasn’t much of a pit stop.
As I made my way up yet another hill the wind and rain decided to get even worse, turning the path into a muddy bog. At one point, through a gate, my boots sank to the ankle as I tried to get through the mud. This really was turning out to be one of those days I’d sooner forget about from this trip. I felt sorry for all the people who were walking the West Highland Way and has this as their final day, their final memory of their holiday.
Getting sick of the day I put my head down and did my best to cover the final miles through the woodland as quickly as possible. I didn’t do too badly and it wasn’t long before I got my first glimpse of Fort William and Ben Nevis. I say that I saw Ben Nevis but all I saw was the a bit of the bottom of it and then lots of clouds. I didn’t envy anyone walking up there today that’s for sure.
As I was making my way down the mountain trail in to Fort William I caught up with a lady – Jill – who had passed me that morning as I was talking with Dave. We strolled together for the final part of the walk. We chatted about the day’s walk and a whole load of other stuff. It was nice to have some conversation seeing as most of the day I’d spent on my own, walking in the soaking rain.
As we got to the outskirts of Fort William she wondered where she had to go to get to her B & B so I asked her for the post code and found it on the Google map on my phone. She was very grateful and a lot more at ease knowing where she had to go.
When we got to the old sign for the end of the West Highland Way her friend – Sheila – was waiting for her. I say the old sign as they’ve changed the end of the trail now to get people to walk in to the town centre. We didn’t care and they took my photo by the sign and I took theirs.
Feeling a little on the tired and wet side said goodbye and went to find my hotel for the next two nights, to find it just over the other side of the roundabout – bonus! I checked in, went to my room, dumped all my wet gear and clothes and jumped in to a lovely, hot shower. In my haste to get under the soothing hot water I forgot to close the bathroom door and a few minutes later the steam from the shower almost set the smoke alarm system off – doh! – so I had to jump out and close the door quickly before someone came and busted the door in to see what was wrong.
I could have quite happily fallen asleep after my shower but Matt had sent me an updated accommodation list for the coming days so I took a look through that and started to figure out where I might want to stay.
I had a Skype video call with Matt to see if it would work ok with the girls later and to see each other face to face for the first time in a long time. He reckoned I’d lost even more weight off my face but to be honest I couldn’t say.
I had the Skype video call with the girls after that, the first one in what seemed like forever. It was lovely to see their happy smiling faces I can tell you especially after the day I’d just had. They always manage to talk for longer when we can actually see each other. I think we may be having another one tomorrow night as well as I don’t know when I’ll have wifi again so best to make the most of it while I can.
Once I’d spoken to the girls I was ready to drop and seriously considered just going to bed. If it wasn’t for my stomach telling me that I was indeed very hungry I would have done just that but in the end I headed to the hotel restaurant and had a couple of pints and a very nice three course meal. Clearly I was very hungry after the day’s walk?
The pints pretty much knocked me out and I was struggling to keep my eyes open sat at my table. I settled up and went to my room hoping for a nice early night only to not be able to get to sleep! I dropped off eventually but it was well gone 11pm by then…grrrrr!
Even though I started the day badly I actually managed to make a good time in to Fort William, clearly helped by hardly stopping because of the weather. It’s a shame that the majority of the West Highland Way has been shrouded in clouds and rain as I’m sure it would have been absolutely spectacular had the weather been better. I don’t think I’ll be back to walk it again though. Visit Loch Lomond yes, not the rest though.
I’ve got a day off tomorrow to catch up with myself and to sort out the next block of accommodation. Hopefully I’ll have a little time to see what Fort William has to offer. I was thinking about going up Ben Nevis but I’d have to take off another day to do that and I really don’t want to be doing that right now so that’ll have to wait for another day.
Oh, another milestone hit today: I’ve now taken over two million steps on this walk so far and I’ve still got over 190 miles left to go!