Kinlochleven to Fort William – 15.4 miles (867 total)
If, like almost everyone else, I had only been walking the West Highland Way, then today would have been the final leg. For me it was just another day on my long-distance trek. A number of people have asked me how I am coping with the enormity of the walk. The easy answer is the honest one: at no point have I looked weeks and months ahead… and panicked; each evening I plot the next day’s route into my GPS then write my blog for the day just ended. I’m literally taking the whole project one day at a time while setting mini targets on the way: Bristol, Manchester, Carlisle, Glasgow, Fort William. Next is Inverness with the last one being John o’Groats. I knew that the first stage, to Bristol, would identify any problems with my planning. When that went smoothly then it was only something serious that could stop me in my tracks (pun?). I’m not there yet… but I am getting closer.
My brother, Mark, phoned me on Saturday, while I was walking between Inveroran and Kings House. He wanted to join me for some of the walk. Being very busy at the moment, Sunday (today) was the only day that suited him. I didn’t have my notes to hand, but my memory of the route between Kinlochleven and Fort William was that it was quite remote. Anyway, he identified a potential meeting point about halfway into the walk. When he offered to bring a picnic that sealed the deal, but it was going to be a long drive for him.
Pete was happy to join me for his last planned day of this visit. I delayed our departure in the morning for fear of reaching our meeting point too early. Kinlochleven sits at the head of Loch Leven, which is a freshwater loch so our starting point wasn’t too far above sea level; 348 feet above to be exact. The WHW leaves Kinlochleven by way of a steep climb into the Mamore Mountains. It’s a pretty tough ask at the best of times, however, on one of the hottest days of my whole walk, it seemed almost as demanding as the Devil’s Staircase had been the previous day. We climbed to over 1,100 feet, passing Am Bodach, Stob Coire na h-Eirghe and Stob Bàn to the north, and Beinn na Caillich to the south. Underfoot the path was awkward to walk on, with loose stones of varying sizes here, and part-buried larger stones there. The main ascent was early on with the route then following the contours.
Our meeting place with Mark was at Blar Chaorainn, where a remote country road comes close to the WHW. He was slightly late because of the heavy bank holiday traffic coming up Loch Lomondside and through Glencoe. The hot day meant that Pete had already exhausted his large supply of water and was already drinking fresh, clear water from a mountain stream – at 7.8 miles, we were only halfway through our walk! What a welcome sight it was to see the car approach with Mark, and his wife, Gillian, inside. When he wheeled out a monster-sized coolbox full of food and cold, cold drinks I could have kissed them both… well, I did, actually! We weren’t too hungry, but a can of cider each followed by a couple of bottles of chilled water was one of the treats of the walk. It was also good to see them both, making me appreciate, once again, how many individual contributions have helped me get this far.
Gillian drove the car back to Fort William while Mark accompanied us for the last 8 miles of the WHW. The afternoon walk was certainly more undulating than we remembered. On my map it looked as if we would be walking through forest but most of the trees, on both sides of us had been cleared, deliberately leaving a mess of roots and branches for conservation purposes.
The majestic mountain that is Ben Nevis – which, at 4,411 feet is the highest mountain in the British Isles – welcomed us as we finally dropped down on to the road for the last mile into Fort William. All 3 of us were tired when we joined Gillian for a drink at our hotel. The 4 of us had a lovely evening and a meal together before my little brother faced the long drive south.
This finishes Pete’s second, very-supportive stint with me. Tomorrow he goes home and I enjoy a rest day in Fort William before setting off on my own again along the Great Glen Way towards Inverness. I’ll use the time to do some laundry and double-check all my accommodation bookings through to the end of the walk. Pete is talking about maybe joining up again for Day 64 (Alness to Dornoch) to the finish at John o’Groats on Day 69, on Monday 11th June.
It will be exactly 2 months ago tomorrow since my first day with Christopher, walking from Lands End to Penzance. 867 miles have come and gone, I’ve lost nearly a stone and a half (9 kilos) in weight and my skin is the colour of dark tan shoe polish. My appetite has been back to normal for a few weeks now and I feel fit and healthy. Maybe something unforeseen is on the horizon, maybe not – the last 13 programmed walking days will tell the story.