30th April – Laggan Locks to Fort Augustus

20190430 Halfway to Inverness
Halfway to Inverness – we’re getting there…

After a hearty breakfast Wyn and I left Forest Lodge at 8.35.  Laura and Lorraine could not have been better hosts.

Initially we made our way warily along the A82 to get back to Laggan Locks.  Once there, the path followed the canal amongst woodland, until it crossed the A82 and joined an old railway line at Invergarry station.  The railway opened in 1903, joining Invergarry and Fort Augustus.  It was designed to be the first section of a line linking Fort William with Inverness.  Unfortunately the timing was wrong, none of the other sections were built, and the line closed in 1946.

20190430 Loch Oich
Loch Oich

The railway goes through Leitirfearn Forest Nature Reserve, running parallel to the shore of Loch Oich, with occasional views across to the far shore.  Evidence of General Wade’s military road can be seen below the railway.

20190430 Aberchalder Swing Bridge
Aberchalder swing bridge

At Aberchalder Swing Bridge we crossed the A82 and followed the canal to Cullochy Loch. We were looking forward to coffee at the teashop by the bridge – but naturally it was closed.

20190430 Yacht in Cullochy Lock
At Cullochy lock

From Cullochy, the trail follows the canal to Fort Augustus.  This section lacked interest, except at Kytra Lock where we stopped for an early lunch.  A boat was coming through the loch, and I was surprised it was called the “Orlik”, the surname of my brother-in-law.

20190430 Orlik in Kytra Lock
The ‘Orlik’ in Kytra lock

At 1.30 we arrived at Fort Augustus, walking into the town alongside the flight of five locks which form the entrance to the canal for boats leaving Loch Ness.  Our hotel was very near, so we treated ourselves to a reviving beer before settling into our room.

20190430 Approaching Fort Augustus
Approaching Fort Augustus

Fort Augustus is obviously a tourist centre, with crowds flocking to the locks and the souvenir shops.  After the solitude of the path, it is quite a contrast.  We have been surprised how quiet the Great Glen Way has been, compared with the West Highland Way.

20190430 Fort Augustus Lock
Fort Augustus Lock

29th April – Spean Bridge to Laggan Locks

20190429 Looking back on Loch Lochy and Ben Nevis
Ben Nevis with Loch Lochy in the foreground

After breakfast I investigated the Commando Exhibition that is in the Spean Bridge Hotel.  The Commandos were based at Achnacarry House, 7 miles from Spean Bridge.  They trained in all weathers in the surrounding countryside, and there are numerous Information Boards giving an insight into their preparations.  The exhibition at the hotel is well worth a visit and gives some idea of what they achieved, albeit at great human cost.  There is a copy of Hitler’s order to the German Army instructing them to “annihilate any Commandos who were captured”.  My generation has been truly blessed not to have had to fight any wars.

20190429 Looking up Loch Lochy
The view up Loch Lochy

Al’s Taxi delivered us back to Gairlochy at 9.05.  After a short walk on a road the trail descended into beautiful woods near to Loch Lochy.  The sun was shining, the spring flowers were making an appearance, the birds were singing and all was well in our world.  Someone had even taken the trouble to carve an eagle on a tree stump.

20190429 Eagle woodcarving
Eagle woodcarving

Around Bunarkaig and Clunes there was much evidence of the activity of the Commandos, including a concrete landing craft which they used for training before taking to the real thing on Loch Lochy.

20190429 Concrete Landing Craft used for practice by Commandos
Concrete landing craft

After Clunes the trail passes through a large plantation, the highlight of which is the Giant Redwoods (sequoia).   Although very tall, these are really just babies.

20190429 Wyn at the base of a giant redwood near Clunes
Wyn beside a giant redwood near Clunes

The Great Glen Way continues through the forest, gently rising and falling.

20190429 Beautiful spring colours
Beautiful spring colours

There is an exquisite wild campsite at Glas-Dhoire where we stopped for lunch, complete with its own beach.

20190429 Glas-Dhoire campsite
Glas-Dhoire campsite

Passing on, enjoying good views through the trees of Loch Lochy and some beautiful properties on the opposite shore, we left the woods at Kilfinnan dropped down to Laggan Locks.

20190429 Looking down on Laggan Locks
Looking down on Laggan Locks

We arrived at 3.15, and Laura from Forest Lodge came to pick us up so we avoided a walk along the A82.  As we were booking in Laura volunteered to drive me to a local garage to buy some beer, which was a very kind gesture and much appreciated.

28th April – Fort William to Spean Bridge

 

20190428 Looking back at Fort William
Looking back at Fort William

Yesterday was a quiet day catching up on things in Fort William.  A very helpful laundromat sorted out my washing and I managed to get a haircut.  Wyn arrived soon after 4.00pm and we both enjoyed our meal at the Alexandra Hotel.

Breakfast with several coach tours was a bit of a scrum but we managed to escape to the quiet of the bistro.  As the hotel lift only took two people, and as the people on the tours all seem to have two huge cases each, we took to the stairs and departed at 8.45.

The path through the housing estates of Fort William, Inverlochy and Caol was fairly uninteresting. The original Fort William and Inverlochy Castle are on the route but little remains of either.

20190428 Corpach Sea Loch - entrance to the Caledonian Canal
Corpach Sea Loch – the entrance to the Caledonian Canal

At Corpach we reached the Caledonian Canal near the sea lock and walked up to Neptune’s Staircase, a series of eight locks. We had a brief stop at the top and then set off towards Gairlochy.

20190428 Wyn resting at the top of Neptune Staircase
Wyn at the top of Neptune’s Staircase

There were almost no boats using the canal and it was therefore very exciting when a large yacht appeared. The walk was easy and as the day progressed and the low cloud lifted the north face of Ben Nevis started to appear.

20190428 Yacht on the Calendonian Canal
Exciting yacht

At Moy there is a very attractive swing bridge. This was installed so that the farmer can access his riverside meadows. It has its own keeper as only one side of the bridge can be opened manually at a time. The keeper uses a small boat to cross the canal and open the other half.

20190428 Moy swing bridge
Moy swing bridge

Just after 1.00 we arrived at Gairlochy Locks and stopped for lunch. Our accommodation for the night was at Spean Bridge which involved another 6k of road walking.

20190428 Carn Mor Dearg with Ben Nevis in the distance
Carn Mor Dearg with Ben Nevis in the distance

This took us past the famous Commando War Memorial at Spean Bridge which was justifiably very busy with tourists.  We reached the Spean Bridge Hotel at 3.15 and have a comfortable cabin for the night.  As we are getting old we have sorted out a taxi for tomorrow morning, rather than reverse the walk back to the canal.

20190428 Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge
Commando memorial at Spean Bridge

26th April – Kinlochleven to Fort William

20190426 Blackwater Backpackers' Hostel
Blackwater Backpackers’ Hostel

After the challenges of staying at the Kingshouse, it was a pleasure to be in the well-run Blackwater hostel.  As the forecast was poor, I had an early breakfast and left at 7.45.

20190426 Loch Leven
Loch Leven

The initial climb out of Kinlochleven is 250m-820ft up to the old military road which is then followed to near Fort William.  Despite the light showers there were good views of Loch Leven and the Pap of Glencoe.

20190426 The Pap of Glencoe
The Pap of Glencoe

Once on the military road the trail undulates gently and rises gradually to the Lairigmor Pass in the middle of some wild country. The old farmhouses at Tigh-na-sleubhaich  are now derelict and it is difficult to understand how anyone could have made a living in such an inhospitable place.

20190426 Tigh-na-sleubhaich derelict cottages
Tigh-na-sleubhaich derelict cottages

Despite the forecast the weather gradually improved and the Aonach Eagach Ridge, above Glencoe, made an appearance through the clouds.

20190426 The Aonach Eagach - Eagles Ridge
Aonach Eagach – the Eagle’s Ridge

After passing another ruined farm at Lairigmor the trail turns NW and begins to descend towards Glen Nevis.  There is an interesting information board regarding the Battle of Inverlochy after which Clan Donald pursued the Cambells over the Lairigmor, before abandoning the chase.  A cairn marks where they stopped.

20190426 Looking up the trail from the Lairigmor - Big Pass
Looking up the trail from the Lairig Mor (‘Big Pass’)

The next few miles were through clear-felled forest and seemed quite tough. The consolidation is that Ben Nevis came into view, initially capped with thick cloud but gradually becoming more visible as I neared Glen Nevis.

20190426 First sight of Ben Nevis
First sight of Ben Nevis

The final descent to sea level at Fort William is through forest which is being clear-felled, so was not very inspiring.

20190426 Forestry work near Fort William
Clear felling near Fort William

I reached the town at 2.15 and was disappointed that the hostel didn’t open until 5.00.  Tea and cake at Nevisport and some food shopping filled in the time, and I even managed to get to the accommodation before the long-forecast rain finally descended from the heavens.

20190426 Glen Nevis
Glen Nevis

This completes the West Highland Way, and tomorrow is a rest day.

Most of the through walkers on the way were European, Dutch, German, Swiss or Italians and it was good to see lots of young people taking up the challenge.  It would be true to say that both my fellow walkers and I have enjoyed the last week, but it would be a very different walk in bad weather.

Leaving the crowds on the West Highland Way behind, I suspect that Wyn and I will have plenty of company on the equally popular Great Glen Way when we start on Sunday.

20190426 The Tourist Route up Ben Nevis
The tourist route up Ben Nevis

25th April – Kingshouse to Kinlochleven

20190425 Buachaille Etive Mor
Buauchaille Etive Mor

My day began with breakfast – eventually.  One poor chap at the hotel was trying to take orders, prepare filled rolls, keep the coffee and tea topped up, and clear the tables.  I am sure the new hotel will be a wonderful place to stay but currently they have a few teething problems.

20190425 Buachaille Etive Beag from near Altnafeadh
Buachaille Etive Beag from near Altnafeadh

As I was not in a hurry, I could afford to relax and go with the flow, so I left at 8.30 in a light drizzle.  The initial 4k runs parallel with the A82, but the views of Buachaille Etive Mor and Buachaille Etive Beag more than offset the noise of traffic.  Near the end of this section of the path, the valley of Lairig Gartain can be seen in all its glory.

20190425 Lairig Gartain from Altnafeadh
Lairig Gartain from Altnafeadh

After around 55 minutes I reached Altnafeadh, and stopped to gird up my loins.  I had reached the Devil’s Staircase – 259m (850ft) of steep ascent.

20190425 Tiny walkers on the zigzags of the Devil’s Staircase
Tiny walkers (centre foreground) on the zigzags of the Devil’s Staircase

In reality it is not too bad, and was probably named by the soldiers who carved out this old military road in the 1750s.

20190425 Looking down towards the Kingshouse from the Devil’s Staircase
Looking down towards the Kingshouse from the Devil’s Staircase

Another stop seemed reasonable at the top as the weather was brightening and the views across to the Mamores and Ben Nevis were impressive.

20190425 Ben Nevis and the Mamores from the Devil’s Staircase Pass
Ben Nevis and the Mamores from the Devil’s Staircase Pass

From the top of the pass at 548m (1797ft) you descend gradually to sea level at Kinlochleven.  This gives an almost alpine feel to the path down.

20190425 Kinlochleven just visible in the centre of the photograph on the long descent
Kinlochleven just visible (centre) on the long descent

Over to the east Blackwater Reservoir is surrounded by bleak wilderness.  Originally constructed in 1905-9 to drive the hydro electric power station at Kinlochleven, which was built because of the aluminium smelting works, it is no longer used.

20190425 Blackwater Reservoir
Blackwater Reservoir

Tragically several Irish navies died on this path during the construction of the dam.  Returning over the pass after drinking in the Kingshouse they were overtaken by bad weather and perished.

20190425 Disused Hydro Electric water pipes at Kinlochleven
Disused Hydro Electric water pipes at Kinlochleven

As you enter Kinlochleven evidence of its industrial past are everywhere.  The village was built to serve the aluminium smelting works which is now closed.  The Ice Factor, situated in the old smelter building, has the largest indoor ice climbing wall in Britain, and is a popular attraction.  The town is now largely dependent on tourism, especially walkers on the West Highland Way.

20190425 Am Bodach 1032m towering above Kinlochleven
Am Bodach (1032m) towering above Kinlochleven

The Blackwater hostel is very comfortable and, as I arrived in the town around 1.00 and rain was forecast, I have arranged things so that I do not need to go out again until tomorrow.

24th April – Inveroran to Kingshouse

20190424 Leaving Inveroran
Leaving Inveroran

With another short day in prospect, I had a leisurely breakfast and left the hotel at 9.00.  The weather was fine but distinctly colder with a strong wind.

20190424 The view from Victoria Bridge
The view from Victoria Bridge

After walking around to Victoria Bridge the route is along a road constructed by Thomas Telford, a very busy man.  It ceased to be a public road in the 1930s.

20190424 Thomas Telford's road
Thomas Telford’s road

The road ascends gently through conifer plantations before crossing the Black Mount.  This would be a wild place in bad weather.

20190424 Black Mount and Rannoch Moor
Black Mount and Rannoch Moor

I stopped for a break near Ba Bridge, before making my way up the hill to cross the ridge, and look down on Rannoch Moor and the entrance to Glencoe.

20190424 The Jaws of Glencoe
The Jaws of Glencoe

Unfortunately, most of the tops were lost in haze all day.  This was particularly disappointing, as the sight of Buachaille Etive Mor is stunning.

20190424 Buachaille Etive Mor - The great herdsman of Glencoe
Buachaille Etive Mor – the Great Herdsman of Glencoe

Crossing the A82 once again, I reached the Kingshouse just after 1.00.  As the bunkhouse did not open until 3.00, I had lunch and then was able to relax.

20190424 Beinn a Chrulaiste towering above the Kingshouse Hotel
Beinn a Chrulaiste towering above the Kingshouse Hotel

The Kingshouse Hotel is a revelation.  I thought that the new building work was confined to a new bunkhouse, but the hotel has been extensively expanded and is now very grand.  As I type this at 6.45 the walkers’ bar has just closed!  You now have to go to the main bar.

Kingshouse Hotel as I remember it…                       and as it is now…

 

A deer has just walked through the car park, but today I had haggis, neaps and tatties so have no need to feel guilty.

20190424 Deer in the Kingshouse carpark
Guilt-free wildlife

 

23rd April – Tyndrum to Inveroran

20190423 Tricky and Alison on the path to the Bridge of Orchy
Tricky and Alison on the path to the Bridge of Orchy

As I was in the hostel, I had bought some breakfast.  I was able to have a relaxed meal, as Tricky and Alison were traveling from the east coast and would not arrive before 10.00.

I am feeling a little guilty that my large rucksack went into the car, and I only carried a day sack.  This seemed sensible given the problem with my shin, and made the walk much easier.

20190423 Beinn Dorain 1076m
Beinn Dorain (1076m)

The weather was good again, and we set off along the valley with wonderful views of Beinn Dorain.  As we were busy chatting the walk to Bridge of Orchy passed quickly and we arrived just before 1.00pm.

20190423 At the Bridge of Orchy
Neil at Bridge of Orchy

Tricky caught the train back to Tyndrum while Alison and I went to the hotel for some lunch.  Half an hour or so later Tricky returned, and he and I walked on to Inveroran, while Alison moved the car.

20190423 Tricky on the path to Inveroran
Tricky on the path to Inveroran, with Loch Tulla in the distance

The river at the Bridge of Orchy was very low – and long may that continue.  The walk through a plantation rose gently over a ridge, and soon Loch Tulla and Inveroran were in sight.

20190423 Loch Tulla
Loch Tulla

We had made good time, as Alison was just leaving the hotel to walk up and meet us, when we arrived around 3.30.

20190423 Inveroran Hotel
Inveroran Hotel

After tea and cake, Tricky and Alison set off to return home.  We had all enjoyed the day, and I am very grateful that they took the trouble to travel so far to support me, as well as for lunch.

20190423 Deer
How could you?

The hotel was friendly and comfortable, and I enjoyed venison for dinner.  When I went out for a post-dinner walk I am sure that the deer I passed gave me disapproving looks.

It was a great pleasure to hear a cuckoo for the first time this year and also to see the swallows had returned at the Bridge of Orchy.  Interestingly, at Inveroran I only saw house martins.  Perhaps the birds have come to an arrangement over territory.

20190423 More Deer
Less disapproving deer