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

22nd April – Inverarnan to Tyndrum

20190422 Glen Falloch
Glen Falloch

I suppose that it was inevitable that at some time my body would start to complain about being abused.  Yesterday afternoon I noticed that my left shin was aching and if anything it is worse today.  It is not too bad but just a dull ache.  I used my poles all day today to try to lessen the impact of my foot hitting the ground, and I think that helped.  Other than that I seem to be holding up quite well.  I have inevitably lost quite a bit of weight, two holes on my belt so far, and am glad I have some smaller trousers cached at Braemar.

Another glorious day in the Highlands.  I left the Drovers’ Inn at 8.30.  I had been a bit concerned about being in the pub rather than the annex.  The Inn is supposed to be haunted.  Luckily I was in the Gun Room and was not disturbed.

The route goes up Glen Falloch with the trail, the road, the river and the railway all competing for space.  There are exquisite falls and rapids on the River Falloch.

20190422 Waterfall on the River Falloch
Waterfall on the River Falloch

Gradually gaining height, you cross the A82 and reach the old military road leading to a crossroads of paths above Crianlarich.  As you climb, Ben More appears above the horizon in the north west.

20190422 Ben More
Ben More

From the crossroads a steep climb through a conifer plantation with an equally severe descent leads down to another crossing of the A82, and a fine old Viaduct which carried the old road.

20190422 Old Road bridge in Strath Fillan
Old road bridge in Strath Fillan

Having successfully diced with death traversing the A82, the rewards are threefold.  First come the glorious views of Ben More, Stob Binnein and Cruach Ardrain.

20190422 Ben More 1170m, Stob Binnein 1165m and Cruach Ardrain 1046m
Ben More 1170m, Stob Binnein 1165m and Cruach Ardrain 1046m

Next St Fillan’s Priory.  This was established by Robert the Bruce on the site of a 12th century monastery and retains an atmosphere of peace.

20190422 St Finnan's Priory
St Fillan’s Priory

Finally the Wigwam Trading Post which could supply tea.

20190422 Wigwams Trading Post
Wigwams Trading Post

Suitably refreshed the rest of the day was easy with the mountains ever seeming to grow in size.  Ben Lui even managed to retain snow near its summit.

20190422 Ben Lui 1130m
Ben Lui 1130m

Just before Tyndrum the Way goes past the site of the Battle of Dalrigh.  In 1306 Clan MacDougall ambushed Robert the Bruce here and forced him to flee into hiding.  He got his revenge at Brander two years later.

20190422 Battle of Dalrigh Memorial Stone
Commemoration Stone of Battle of Dalrigh 1306

There is a small lochan said to contain the Bruce’s claymore, thrown away after the battle. Why anyone would throw away his sword whilst being pursued by his enemies is not explained.  [Katy says: Swords-in-lakes legends are probably based on distant race-memories of swords being deposited during the Bronze and Iron Ages as offerings to the local water deities.  e.g. Flag Fen in Cambridgeshire]

20190422 Lochan near Tyndrum
Lochan near Tyndrum

I arrived at the By-the-Way Hostel a few minutes after it opened at 2.00pm.  It has been good to have some time to relax and shop.  I have decided to economise and self-cater tonight and for breakfast tomorrow.

20190422 River Fillan
River Fillan

21st April – Rowardennan to Inverarnan

20190421 A still morning on Loch Lomond
A still morning on Loch Lomond

After a good nights sleep and a hearty breakfast I left the hostel at 8.35.  John was walking down from the Drovers’ Inn at Inverarnan, and we anticipated meeting up around Inversnaid.

20190421 Primroses and violetsInitially the walking was easy on a good forest track with the inevitable ups and downs.  It was another fine day and the early morning mist soon began to clear.  In a few weeks’ time it will be a superb walk as more spring flowers come through.  The woods will be mass of bluebells, but the primroses and violets made a fine show.  The views west are hampered by the trees, so I was pleased to see the distinct outline of The Cobbler on the horizon.

20190421 The Cobbler - Ben Arthur
The Cobbler (Ben Arthur

Around 11.15 the Inversnaid Hotel appeared, with a beautiful waterfall which was crossed by a footbridge.

20190421 Inversnaid hotel
Inversnaid Hotel and waterfall

I dumped my rucksack at a table, went and bought tea, and returned to find John just arriving, perfect timing.

In the next section the path crosses some rocky ground in a switchback manner.

20190421 Path to Inverarnan
The Path to Inverarnan

Rocky scrambles and tight squeezes were the order of the day.

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A tight squeeze…  Made it!

20190421 Canada goose sharing the trail
Which way to Canada?

At one point a disoriented goose shared the path with us as did some feral goats.

By now we were beginning to think about lunch, so it was a relief when my phone rang and Eben and Jack, my grandchildren, were on the line.  The perfect excuse for a stop.  Technology is wonderful.

Returning to the fray, a very steep set of steps marked the end of the worst of the terrain.  Ardlui appeared on the opposite bank of the Loch, and we were nearing our destination.

20190421 Ardlui
Ardlui

A couple more ridges were crossed before dropping down to the Drovers’ Inn where we arrived just after 4.00.

20190421 Drovers Inn
Drovers’ Inn

John and I had an early dinner and attempted to rehydrate before John returned home.  I am very grateful for the support of my friends.  John traveled from Edinburgh to accompany me today, and his excellent company meant the time passed quickly.  Tomorrow I will be on my own again, before meeting up with Tricky and Alison on Tuesday at Tyndrum.

20190421 John taking a break
John taking a break

20th April – Drymen to Rowardennan

20190421 Loch Lomond near Cashel
Loch Lomond near Cashel

Having spent a most enjoyable evening with Sue and Nigel, catching up with the news of our respective families, I slept in and had a late breakfast.  After stocking up on food, I left Drymen at 9.25.

20190421 Crowds on the West Highland Way

My immediate impression was that half the world was going up the West Highland Way.  We all tramped up to the start of the Conic Hill where, by a seemingly unanimous decision, we stopped for a break.

20190421 Conic Hill
Conic Hill

Little did we know what was to come. The ascent went well, but coming up to the final stretch to the summit I realised that the other half of the world was coming up from the opposite side.  The result was a human traffic jam.  Having avoided going to the summit of Pen-y-Ghent, I felt duty bound to go off-route onto the top.  Waiting my turn, I duly tagged the summit and left as soon as possible.  This was a good decision as even more people were coming up from Balmaha.

20190421 Summit of Conic Hill
On the summit

The car park at Balmaha was overflowing, and a quick visit to the Information Centre revealed that “78 bags of dog poop had been collected in the first kilometre of the path to the Conic Hill”.  From my observation on the canals, they were getting off lightly.

The path on from Balmaha suffers, for several miles, from passing through a major tourist destination.  However, I finally found a little peace on a small beach and stopped for lunch.

20190421 Finally somewhere quiet for lunch
Finally somewhere quiet for lunch

The views today were rather spoilt by the haze, so that any long-distance scenes disappeared in the gloom.  Nevertheless, the scenery improved as I moved further along Loch Lomond.  The Loch is 23 miles (37k) long and is the largest area of fresh water in Britain.   All a bit worrying, as I leave it behind tomorrow.

20190421 Quiet teatime stop
A quiet teatime stop

Moving towards Rowardennan the trail gets better, and the tourists are mainly left behind.  The path threads a route through woodland situated between the Loch and the road, and is very pleasing.

20190421 Pleasant woodland path beyond Anchorage Cottage
Woodland path beyond Anchorage Cottage

Today has been almost too hot for long-distance walking, and I was pleased to enter Rowardennan at 4.15.

20190421 Ben Lomond
Ben Lomond

Ben Lomond towers over Rowardennan, and has been chosen by my friend Karen as her last Munro.  My friends in MAC (Mountain Activities Club) tell me that they are confident my wheelchair will make it.

20190421 Loch Lomond from Rowardennan
View from Rowardennan Youth Hostel

The Youth Hostel is comfortable and is in a beautiful position.  It even has its own ferry service across the loch.  Eleven years ago my son Stuart and I used the ferry when I walked the Way in the opposite direction.