The West Highland Way out of Fort William follows a road next to the River Nevis for a while, then you turn off onto a track which gradually climbs as it takes you up into the mountains. It's not long before you're looking at breathtaking Highland scenes, classic picture postcard views in every direction. There's a price to pay though, the tracks are very tough on your feet, basically you're walking on rocks and rubble and it's always going either up or down. In countless places streams flow across the path and you do your best to get across by looking for submerged stepping stones. I was very glad my boots were still waterproof.
Putting up with the rugged terrain is well worth it though, I can't think of a better way of seeing the Scottish Highlands than walking through them. Again and again my camera came out as more marvellous landscapes came into view.
From mid morning onwards there was a steady stream of walkers going the opposite way to me, most people walk the West Highland Way from south to north. This was clearly a much more popular route than the Great Glen Way, where I saw hardly any other walkers at all. Judging by the accents today it seemed at least half were from overseas, the West Highland Way must have international repute.
The steep climb down into Kinlochleven was very tricky underfoot, it seemed closer to rock climbing than walking to me. The tortured faces of those coming the other way showing it wasn't much fun going up either. The van I saw in town marked 'West Highland Way Baggage Transfer Services' explained how some of those walking managed to travel much lighter than others.
After a break for lunch in Kinlochleven I got back down to the walking. The path goes alongside a series of huge waterpipes for a while, it looked to me like they emerged high up from the top of a mountain. Unfortunately I had to climb that mountain, eventually passing the top of the pipes that I'd looked up at from far below. That track going up out of Kinlochleven was very steep and went on for ages, it was even tougher than the Berriedale Braes back on day 2.
More amazing scenery and difficult tracks followed. During this stage I reached the highest point (550m) of the West Highland Way, and possibly my whole walk, at the top of The Devils Staircase. The name just about sums up the Devils Staircase, it would be bad enough if it were a tarmac pavement, unfortunately the surface is loose rubble and rocks. Believe me, that is not good news for already tired feet. About a third of the way down I saw a very sweaty mountain biker struggling to push his bike up this dreaded hill. He offered me twenty quid if I'd take his bike the rest of the way to the top, and I don't think he was joking.
Were the path briefly meets the busy A82 (an unpleasant reminder of the busy roads that await me later in my walk) I stopped for a few minutes on a bench to admire the Glencoe mountains and refresh myself with a drink of water. I noticed the bench was dedicated to the memory of 3 men killed in an avalanche nearby in 1995.
A further 3 miles or so along the track I reached my goal for the day and set up camp in an area behind the remote Kingshouse Hotel where wild camping is permitted. I was very tired after a tough but exhilarating day. My venison casserole and beer in the hotel went down an absolute treat. Today had been amazing, surely my walk can't get any better than this?
GPS data click here
Mileage today; 24.45 miles, walking time 7 hrs 7 mins, average walking speed 3.4 mph
Weather; morning overcast with showers, sunny spells in the afternoon, breezy. Max 15C
Cumulative mileage; 232.49 miles
|The cairn at the top of the Devil's Staircase, Glencoe in the background|
|Looking back towards Fort William after a long climb, Ben Nevis on the right|
|One of the locals|