West Highland Way Revisited – Part 4 Kingshouse to Fort William

In 2000, on my last WHW, our group could not find places at Kingshouse, so we had to stay 2 nights in Kinlochleven and get a minibus to pick us up and drop us off at Kingshouse next day. While we waited at Kingshouse quite a few malts were tasted. This time it was good to walk the whole route with no motorised assistance but neither JF nor I did any malt- sampling.

Day 7 had a wet forecast, and so it turned out. But we did have a brief respite in the morning and in the late afternoon. Otherwise, it was quite relentless rain. Fortunately, it was not a long day, the guidebook says 14.5km. JF and I postponed our departure as long as was reasonable and left Kingshouse around ten o’clock. During the wait we chatted with the camping couple from Berlin.

The Devil’s Staircase has a rotten reputation probably because of its name. In practice it is only a moderate climb, nothing too demanding. During our ascent we passed two sisters in their 70s who were walking WHW in stages. We had a good view back down into Glen Coe during a break in the rain,

and near the top we saw some Red Deer running around the hill away from us.

Down the other side the rain was continuous. We stopped briefly for some water and a snack but otherwise just strode onward. Near the end, as we were getting closer to the enormous hydo-electric water pipes, we met Teresa coming the other way! She thought she might have taken a wrong turning and was back-tracking to find a marker post. Teresa was a tall lady doing WHW for UNICEF. We learnt quite a good deal about her on the way into Kinlochleven and the next day we caught her up about half-way to Fort William and walked almost to the end of the trail with her. My abiding memory of her is her bright red dyed hair and her desire to reach a pub at the end of her day’s walk. Curiously, her partner Trevor, liked neither walking nor beer. He picked her up in the pub at the end of her day’s walk and ferried her back to their accommodation. She noted that one day he was a little late and she consumed 4 pints while she waited.

The track down into Kinlochleven was essentially a stream crossed by many other streams and even JF’s boots succumbed and leaked. It was not really a day for photos or for much other than plodding on.

I was surprised to read on Wikipedia that the Kinlochleven area has more wild mountain land than the combined English and Welsh national parks. I would not want to vouch for this but it certainly has some splendid scenery. I remember the town of Kinlochleven, on my last WHW in 2000, as being quite depressing. The Alcan factory, the biggest and just about only employer in town, had just closed and nothing seemed to be happening there. This time, I felt things had improved. The factory area had been utilised by a micro brewery and a large leisure centre known as The Ice Factor. This has the biggest indoor ice climbing wall in the world and UK’s highest indoor articulated rock climbing wall.

When we arrived we went to the leisure centre for coffee and a look around. If you can imagine a very large refrigerator that needs de-icing, with a small door and large glass walls, that is the ice wall. We were quite wet and left a few puddles on the floor when we left. By that time the rain had stopped and we walked to our B&B and checked in.

After settling in and arranging stuff to dry it was about 5pm and not raining, so we went for a walk up to the Grey Mare’s Tail; an impressive water fall, in full flow after the rain. I took a picture, but it did not really capture it. 

We were told by the lady in the Post Office/Discovery Aluminium Centre that there were views from there down the loch, which, indeed, there were.

That evening, we sampled the produce of the microbrewery in the bar at the Ice Factory and, by chance, met up with Tracy and Andrew again for a convivial meal at the Gateway (haddock and chips).

The weather for the last day was almost perfect; a shower in the morning but otherwise dry. The cloud base was moderately high but not high enough, however, to see the top of Ben Nevis. We set off around 9 and finished with coffee and cake in the station cafe of Fort William at about 15.15. This was probably the longest distance of our trail (guidebook says 22.5km but see later) but it was easy walking after a steady climb out of Kinlochleven. There were good views back to the town to start with

After this climb, the path follows a military road in a delightful glen (this is looking back towards the ruins of Tigh-na-sleubhaich: “the house by the gullied slope”)

We had lunch by the “information board” where there is a shorter optional path to take a track, down to the road, and straight into Fort William. At this point Teresa was tempted by the shorter path but stayed with us to finish the WHW proper. The “Information Board” displayed no information whatsoever!

There were a few climbs and descents after this point, mostly through forestry, and I found the lack of views a slightly disappointing end to the Way. Lower down and nearer to Glen Nevis there are some views

Finally, we reached the road along Glen Nevis, there Teresa left us to find a pub and Trevor, in that order. The walk along the road was the final big disappointment for me and I think it would have been much better to finish the walk in Glen Nevis. I expected the Way to end where it did in 2000 on a roundabout by the Scots Woollen shop. But, as we discovered that evening, there is now an official WHW end in Fort William. In September 2010 the WHW was extended by 1.5km and a new end of the walk established in Fort William, close by the loch. This photo is from a BBC website

The figure is a statue called “sore feet”. After a couple of pints in the Grog and Gruel, we ate with Stacy and Andrew in the Crannog seafood restaurant (I had cod and a vegetable mash followed by orange and chocolate torte). I would recommend both places to any visitors.

Next day I had an early train to catch and re-lived the WHW in reverse from the train window. It had been a cold night. There was a dusting of snow on the highest peaks and some mist in the glens. There were perfect reflections in the pools of water and the yellow and orange leaf colours were brilliant in the early morning sun. I saw deer on Rannoch Moor and the whole journey was a wonderful reverie for me. The sad thing was that it took me just 4 hours by train to travel what it had taken 8 days to walk.

The whole WHW was a great experience. I would heartily recommend it to anyone, and we did not see a single midge.

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