[Bridge of Orchy to Kingshouse: 12 miles (19 km)]
When I’m hiking, I like to remind myself to turn around. Sometimes hiking a long trail can turn into a lot of looking up, side to side, then down at the trail, just trying to get where you’re going. It is easy to forget, but some of the most pivotal moments and most breath-taking scenes occur when you look back to see where you have been.
I found this to be especially true as we climbed out of the valley and left the Bridge of Orchy behind. The way in was a swirl of anger and rain, but the climb out was graced by blue skies and the final views of a picturesque village below. It was a turning point in the hike: we’d shed some of our physical load in Crainlarich and then an enormous emotional one at the Bridge. Maybe it was a sign that the weather chose to bless us with warmth and visibility as we approached one of the most genuine and moving stretches of trail. If you believe in that kind of thing.
The land changed as we made our way deeper into the Highlands. Only a few miles into the day, a small, unnamed peak lent us a view of what was ahead.
It was a new day over Loch Tulla, towards the peaks of the Black Mounts, and behind with the last glimpse of the Beinn Dorain range.
Inveroran as seen by the West Highland Way is an inn (dating back to 1707) with a bar that is open early in the mornings and into the evenings. There are excellent pickings for campsites by the bridge if you feel the scenery warrants a day of relaxing on the inn’s veranda with Scottish whisky and then a short walk to the flat land by the river for a sleep.
The Way picks up Thomas Telford’s old Parliamentary Road on the ascent to Rannoch Moor. The old stone path is slick from hundreds of years of walkers heading north to the moor crossing. The walk was irritating, my feet slipping on the aged pavers. I was cursing Telford’s name until we peaked the hill to view one of the Europe’s last remaining true wildernesses.
Beauty and brutality exist hand in hand in most of Scotland, a country with a rich and bloody history. The landscape of the moor reflects it. Even on a warm, sunny day like we were having, looking over the stretch of peat bogs, lochans, and rocky outcrops which reveal the roots of the mountains, you can sense the harsh reality of this exposed land. In different weather, those clouds would be treacherous and that broad expanse of damp earth an unending slog.
Luckily for us, it was all sunshine and beauty as we traversed Rannoch Moor.
Over the fields of heather, the Munros dominate the horizon on either side. A stone wall hems in the path on either side at points to keep you from wandering into the bog. The ancient stones rise to only thigh height, making them a great place to sit for lunch and to enjoy one of the most Scottish feeling places we went in Scotland.
At length, the Way reaches a peak, marking the beginning of the descent into Glen Coe. I looked back once before following my feet at the ethereal expanse of bog and sky. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote of the moor: ‘A wearier desert man never saw.’ But I could see nothing barren about this place.
Then, from the rim of Rannoch Moor, we looked out over the next glen which is home to one of Scotland’s most iconic climbing mountains and the remote Kingshouse Hotel.