Rugged Scotland At Its Best…
In our opinion, the West Highland Way gets better over the length of the trail, and today was arguably the most scenic day so far as the ‘beinns’ got higher and the scenery more spectacular!
For once we were away from the road, and had it not been for the regular flow of hikers in front and behind us all the way, we could have been in the ‘wilderness’ in the true sense of the word. As our first hike in Scotland and introduction to the ‘Highlands’, it has certainly whet our appetite for more.
‘The Buachaille’ in all its glory!
Thursday 9th April 2015 – 8.7 miles – ‘Just 8 Miles to the Chippy!’
Today, as we left our wild camp spot at a respectable 9am, the scenery was immediately more rugged and mountainous. With the sun already shining fiercely, we stopped and de-layered within a matter of minutes. The weather forecast surprisingly had been correct – it was going to be a sunny day with temperatures reaching 15 degrees. We couldn’t have wished for better hiking weather at this time of year. (Except neither of us had brought sun hats or sun cream, mistakenly thinking we’d be faced with a week of rain. I also wished I’d packed a pair of shorts to commence the hiker tan!)
The weather looked promising when we unzipped the tent this morning.
We enjoyed fantastic views of ‘The Buachaille’ once again.
Commencing Day 7 on the West Highland Way…
As today’s section of the West Highland Way was only around 8 miles to Kinlochleven, we had plenty of time for extended rest stops so Wayne started with a time lapse looking on to ‘The Buachaille’ with bright blue skies above and just a wisp of cloud hovering over the peak.
A perfect view for a time lapse sequence.
Heading into the mountains along an old drove road. (A gentle walk to start the day.)
Running parallel to the West Highland Way once more is the A82.
With our jackets off and sunglasses on, we continued along the track (again another old drove road) that runs parallel to the A82. Yes, the A82, the bane of the West Highland Way walker, busy as ever with tourist coaches and sherpa mini-vans zooming by. We were glad when the track turned away from the road opposite the car park at Altnafeadh. The car park proved to be a plus point however, as it was to be our next rest stop at a perfectly poised bench looking again onto the mighty Buachaille, but from a different angle. We soaked up some sun, enjoyed the view for a while (without the pressure of having to make our next miles) and shared a bag of ‘jelly babies’. Extra calories in preparation for the Devil’s Staircase – coming next!
Just like our fantastic find along Loch Lomond, another perfectly positioned bench on the WHW trail!
View of ‘The Buachaille’ from the bench!
The Devil’s Staircase as we discovered after a little research, gained its name from the soldiers who climbed up there daily in the 1750s to build Major Caulfield’s military road through Kinlochleven. During the construction of the Blackwater Dam in the early 1900s it earned even greater infamy as on ‘wages day’ after an evening spent drinking in the King’s House, the weary labourers would face a long stagger back to camp, where inevitably on wild winter nights, it is said the devil would frequently ‘claim his own’.
We set off, ready as we’d ever be to tackle what is known as the most significant ascent on the entire trail. It was no match for what we’d faced on the JMT however. We were soon powering up the ‘zig zags’, moderate switchbacks in comparison to my nemesis on the JMT – ‘The Golden Staircase’. Maybe we’ve now regained our trail fitness as we didn’t find the Devil’s Staircase to be particularly tough. It could also be down to the fact that our packs are very much lighter by having eaten most of the contents of our food rations!
Psyching ourselves up for the ‘Devil’s Staircase’.
In fact, we took the ‘Devil’s Staircase’ in our stride after powering it up the moderate switchbacks.
Making the most of seeing other people on the trail and having a photo together without having to get the tripod out!
They say the West Highland Way is a trail for everyone and we certainly passed a whole array of people of all ages and nationalities, either out for a day walk with dogs and children in tow, hiking between accommodation with day bags, or much like ourselves, hiking the entire distance with full packs and braving a few wild camps. We stopped to chat with a couple that were in fact carrying mountain bikes uphill all the way – their reward for this mammoth effort – cycling all the way down the other side, (whilst we carried on on foot). They looked and sounded like they were having a lot of fun as they sped off downhill – honestly though, I think I much prefer two feet to two wheels, as in all likelihood I’d end up head first over the handle bars!
A quick rest at the top of the ‘Devil’s Staircase’ before heading downhill.
After the ‘Devil’s Staircase’ it was pretty much an easy stroll downhill into the town of Kinlochleven along a gravelly track through some pleasant woodland. Our mind was not really on our surroundings however, but more focussed on the fish and chip supper we had planned for dinner that night on reaching a village with amenities! Having already Googled whether Kinlochleven had a ‘chip shop’, it was to be our reward for today’s efforts.
All smiles thinking of a fish and chip supper that lay ahead!
It’s all downhill from here!
We were treated to stunning views all the way to Kinlochleven.
This is the kind of trail we love! Hot footing it to town to treat ourselves to a fish & chip supper!
I spy civilisation!
There are two camping options in Kinlochleven – the MacDonald Hotel has a campsite and is on the West Highland Way route heading out of town. Or alternatively, you can camp at the Blackwater Hostel, which was our preferred choice, as it’s basically the first place you come to as you head into town. (It’s situated opposite the power station, but that didn’t matter to us as the facilities were great – hot showers, free WiFi, drying rooms, plus a sheltered cook area should you be hampered with bad weather.) Blackwater also has several quirky hobbit houses if you’re looking for a night of luxury (£40 a couple) that we’d most definitely have stayed in had we not already splurged on a Strathfillan wigwam earlier in the week. (These hobbit houses are even better as they come complete with TV and microwave too! Not that we should be hankering after such ‘extravagances’!)
The first place we came to as we headed into town – the wonderful Blackwater Hostel & Camping.
Instead, we made do with our trusted tent, a la rustic style, and hot-footed it to the chippy at opening time deciding on traditional Scottish fare of battered haggis and black pudding (of course with a large portion of chips!) We had it as a ‘take-away’ – savouring every mouthful of it back at our picnic bench right next to the tent. (That whole thing I was saying about gluttony in an earlier post – well it just gets worse the further into a hike you get!) The portion size was ‘massive’ and even we couldn’t eat it all! Haggis has an interesting taste – it’s a lot like black pudding but has a much stronger, intense flavour. Surprisingly I could only manage to eat one piece!
Enjoying our much awaited chip supper, minus the fish. We opted for haggis & black pudding instead!
Arriving in Kinlochleven as early as 2pm meant that we had a few hours just kicking back and relaxing at camp in the sunshine, making the most of having a picnic bench to sit at. We also had a wander around town (it’s not that big), first to locate the chip shop, and secondly, to stock up with a few goodies from the local Co-op store. We continued to resist going into a local pub (despite there being several establishments offering temptation), having already designated Friday as our ‘party night’ once we got to the end of ‘The Way’ and had something to celebrate!
It was our last night in the tent and despite our best efforts at reading our Kindles and staying awake past 10pm, neither of us managed it!
Only 15 miles lies between us and Fort William and a good old Scottish knees up! Here’s to our last day on the West Highland Way!