Beating The Crowds On The Westland Highway!
Today was as busy as ever on the West Highland Way. Wayne has taken to calling it the ‘Westland Highway’ because of the sheer volume of people on the trail! Compared with any other thru-hike we’ve done, this is definitely the one on which we’ve seen the most daily traffic.
We’re questioning whether the majority of hikers are actually teachers like myself making the most of the Easter holidays, or whether people are being ‘midge savvy’ and choosing April as the best month to avoid them!
Anyhow, we’ve all had the same idea, and are now well on our way to making it to Fort William for the weekend! Let’s hope the weather holds out for us all and that the bars are well stocked to welcome hoards of weary walkers!
A rare moment when we had the trail to ourselves – almost – we’ve just caught an orange backpack cover in the distance!
Wednesday 8th April 2015 – 10.4 miles – ‘Midge Free Makes All The Difference’
If you read our post detailing the events of Day 5, you will remember that when we went to sleep there was just one other tent in the designated wild camp area where we pitched for the night, just a little further on from the Inveroran Hotel.
By morning however, we awoke to find 7 other tents clustered around the small patch of grass too! We also found a thick frost covering the ground and our tent slightly frozen. Thankfully, with our down bags and extra layers we’d been warm enough in the night. (Lesson learnt from the Pennine Way last year – always have the right sleeping bag and enough layers – we’re sure our ‘Support Team’ would not appreciate being called out to Scotland!)
Frost on the ground and a frozen tent – not quite what we expected to wake up to this morning!
Despite it being our coldest morning so far, it wasn’t long before the sun was blazing brightly and drying out the tent, whilst we were happily tucking into ‘double’ porridge rations. (As we were gaining a surplus due to our unplanned ‘freebie’ eggs, we allowed ourselves to indulge in two porridge sachets each as opposed to our standard ‘one’, which should keep us fuller that little bit longer!) In fact, the double porridge had worked wonders as I didn’t actually moan to Wayne that my stomach was rumbling today until at least 11:30am! (Usually I say I’m hungry as soon as I put the backpack on!)
The sun was quick to warm everything up and dry everything out. (With several other tents omitted from the shot, we have also become experts at taking photos that make it look like we’re always on our own!)
Today it was a fairly straightforward walk, once again along an old military road. We left behind Loch Tulla and our cosy wild camp spot, heading up over Rannoch Moor, and down to the King’s House Hotel just on the fringes of Glen Coe.
Enjoying the scenery while Wayne was busy taking photos.
Heading off on the old drove road towards Glencoe.
We can pick up the pace and cover a lot of ground with a good section of trail like this.
Beautiful reflections in a small lochan.
I spy snow capped peaks.
A great day for wandering the Scottish highlands!
We stopped a couple of times so Wayne could capture a time lapse across the moors, this area reminding us of the remoter regions we had tramped through on the Pennine Way. We went off route up to a huge cairn thinking it was a trig point that might bag us a peak, but it was unnamed on the map.
And the West Highland Way continues… With expertly timed shots to exclude walkers!
Now this is the kind of scenery we had imagined.
Walking is much more fun with fantastic scenery to look at!
…We’re almost there…
Looking across the vast expanse that is Rannoch Moor.
We were so very lucky – had we been here a week earlier, we would have been trudging through snow!
Heading off the West Highland Way and up to this giant cairn!
All smiles, although this cairn didn’t bag us a peak it was a perfect spot for a time lapse across Rannoch Moor.
About a mile short of the King’s House Hotel, we were tempted to follow the side trail leading to Glencoe Mountain Ski Centre, which keenly advertised its cafe and camp facilities just off the West Highland Way. A hot shower sounded very inviting, as did the thought of using a proper toilet after last night’s wild camp. But as we headed uphill towards the cafe and camp facilities, we were not that impressed with the area set aside for campers or the fact that the quirky hobbit houses (if you felt like a splurge and some luxury for the night) faced directly on to the massive car park. Admittedly, there was a great view of the famous mountain Buachaille Etive Mor that dominates the skyline, but we personally would prefer not to look across a car park at it!
After having a further reccy of the facilities and finding you have to pay for showers on top of the £8 p/p camp fee, we decided to push on to the wild camp spot behind the Kings House Hotel. Having to pay extra for showers is always a clinching factor for us – we feel they should be included in your camp fee!
Moorland as far as the eye could see!
Yay! I found a little piece of snow to make footprints on!
Great facilities – but at extra cost!
So we decided to keep on walking and push on to Kings House Hotel in search of a wild camp spot around the back.
As it was only mid afternoon, it didn’t really make much difference to us in terms of continuing on to where we had planned to camp anyway. When we reached the Kings House Hotel, we sat on the picnic benches at the front of the hotel and treated ourselves to giant glasses of hot chocolate with marshmallows! (Wayne has been determined to resist alcohol all week, stating he will only reward himself with a pint – or two – when we reach Fort William and the end of the West Highland Way!)
We had a great view of Buachaille Etive Mor, (a well-known mountain at the head of Glen Etive, generally known to climbers simply as ‘The Buachaille’). We also found ourselves surrounded by deer – now we really did feel like we were in the Scottish Highlands!
Preparing to cross the busy A82 to get to the Kings House Hotel.
The Kings House Hotel – it has probably seen better days, but was a welcome sight for us!
A great spot from which to sit and stare at Buachaille Etive Mor or simply ‘The Buachaille’.
Rewarding ourselves with a hot chocolate special and posing in front of ‘the’ mountain!
We made use of the free WiFi and the toilet facilities near the bar, as well as the drinking water tap around the back of the hotel to replenish our supplies, before making our way over the bridge to look for the perfect wild camp spot. In amongst the boggy patches, there were several lovely looking grassy spots by the River Etive. Had it been the height of summer it would have no doubt been the centre of a fervent midge fest, but luckily for us – on this occasion there was not a midge in sight.
Deciding on the perfect spot to pitch the tent.
We were not just lucky with the lack of midges, but we were also thankful to have avoided the snow. Having chatted to a few groups of walkers along the way, we were reliably informed that had we been hiking in the highlands the previous week, the WHW trail (as well as all of the wonderful wild camp spots we had found so easily) had all been covered in our favourite white stuff! Carrying our waterproofs with us in anticipation of bad weather, we were actually grateful they remained redundant and tucked away safely in our packs.
We decided against a precarious rock hop to reach an enticing island in the middle of the river. Our sensible heads reminded us just how expensive Wayne’s equipment would be to replace should anything untoward happen to his pack – like slipping on a rock and falling in the river! So we settled on a small, sheltered patch of grass close to the water’s edge behind a ridge of grassy clumps offering us just a little privacy from the rest of the 20 or so tents dotted around.
The lovely, little semi-private spot we settled on in the finish!
It was worth continuing on to this wild camp spot as we had a beautiful sunset view between the mountains, clearly reflected in the River Etive.
Dinner tonight was most definitely not gourmet, but more the freeze-dried variety in the form of super noodles and chip shop curry sauce (made by mixing boiled water with a powder). It was actually quite filling and reminded us of several nights on previous long distance trails where packet food became our standard fare.
Looking down towards the Kings House Hotel from our wild camp spot.
The setting sun behind ‘The Buachaille’.
Then it was lights out and an early night listening to the fast flowing river rushing by – oh and the sound of a guy strumming a guitar outside his tent and adding the odd incoherent vocals. (Quite why someone would willingly add the extra kilograms to their load and hike the West Highland Way with a guitar is beyond us! But each to their own.) My new addition to our kit is a ‘selfie stick’, to hopefully relieve the burden of having to get the tripod out of Wayne’s backpack and set it up every time we want a photograph together, which can actually be quite often but is also a lot of hassle! (So far, we’ve only used the ‘selfie stick’ 3 times, so I doubt very much that it will be coming with us again. I need some practice to master getting the right angle to include both our heads and the background in the shot – after all, it’s really the landscape that we’re after!)
Tomorrow should be a short day to Kinlochleven after the hurdle of getting over the ‘Devil’s Staircase’. It is considered the most significant ascent on the entire West Highland Way, traversing a pass at 550 metres. But we’re prepared for it. We both agree that it cannot be any worse than the ‘Golden Staircase’ on the JMT! Here’s hoping for blue skies and glorious sunshine helping us up those switchbacks, or zigzags, as the Scots would say!
Only 25 miles left to go!