[Kinlochleven to Fort William: 15.25 miles/24.5 km]
On our last day hiking the West Highland Way, we woke up 3 miles past Kingshouse and 6 miles before Kinlochleven. It was a beautiful September day in Scotland, all roiling clouds and cool temperatures. So, when the weather was even finer after lunch at one of the hearty pubs in Kinlochleven, Zach and I were keen to keep going.
It finally felt like we were getting our ‘trail legs’:
The feeling you get on a long trail when your body adjusts to the burden of a pack and constant activity throughout the day. Less sore muscles, more energy.
So, high on stamina, we set our sights on Fort William.
The climb out of Kinlochleven is an intense, steep ascent. But the view is gorgeous.
The Way picks up the old Military Road again and cuts through the valley on the way to Fort William. Once again, the landscape is empty of anything except grassy mountain peaks and the wind that whips through the valley tunnel. And sheep, of course.
I have firmly determined that based on our experiences, there are more sheep than humans in Scotland.
The graded path allows a swift pace for the motivated hiker. As my feet covered the same ground that thousands trod before me, I day dreamed about the landscape and the people who may have inhabited it centuries ago. When we passed Tigh-na-sleubhaich, or ‘house of the gully’, I wondered what kind of men or women sought shelter from the powerful wind here when it was in its prime.
The path is undulating through gridded plantations before entering a beautiful conifer forest. The forest is a striking shift of scenery. It’s like suddenly stepping inside of a moss carpeted, emerald fairy home complete with stone staircases across small burns and waterfalls beside the track.
The Way climbs out of the forest, turns right onto a gravel road, goes through a gate, and finally places Ben Nevis directly in view. When we finally saw Britain’s tallest peak, our feet were sore from an extra long day but it galvanized us on the descent into Fort William.
If you want to officially wrap up the West Highland Way before entertaining any notions of conquering Nevis, the walk into town is flat and well marked. All you have to do is follow the main street through the town’s business and shopping district (well played, path planners with the economy in mind) until you find the bench with the bronze old man rubbing his feet. This signifies the end of the West Highland Way and there’s even a souvenir shop on the way into town that offers certificates to prove it.
Zach and I didn’t go all the way into town that night we came down the hill into Glen Nevis (where Braveheart was filmed, by the way). We stopped short, looking for some of the accommodation just below the big mountain. There are three options: the Ben Nevis Inn, Achintee Farm B&B, or a YHA youth hostel. After over 20 miles of walking, I was ready for a beer, a break, and warm, dry accommodation away from the light rain that had started in the latter part of the day.
Little did we know we still had a long night ahead of us in the shadow of Ben Nevis.
**photos courtesy of Google search. I’m not sure where some of my photos have ended up…