Day 9: West Highland Way(Fort William and Back to London)

Fort William harbour

With Michelle off to London last night, I had a day alone in Fort William to explore, shop and relax a little before the evening train trip back to London.  I thought about making a day of it and going to see a distillery or even take a train trip somewhere, but I really needed a down day, and it was the perfect sunny day to do a little local exploring.  Plus my suitcase contents needed a revamp, laundry needed sorting and I had to buy some more provisions for my next hike with Nikki in a couple of days.  Laundry is such a mundane topic, but it really rules your life when you’re trying to live out of a suitcase.

Fort William is a fair-sized town compared to anything we had seen since Milngavie.  It has a High Street with chain stores, most of which are for tourists.  My watch broke for the second time just before this trip and buying a new one sounded like a good focus for an hour or so, but I guess pedestrians in Fort William don’t buy watches as the only jewelers was closed down.  But I was able to buy a few hiking shirts from some of the many outdoors shops – all of which had big sales on – plus toiletries and other bits and pieces.

Enjoying the green in Fort William

I walked around the green and looked at a couple of churches and pretty gardens.  I guess sunny days are rare enough around here as the town green was covered in people sitting on the grass enjoying the sun on a Tuesday morning – and they weren’t tourists.  I walked down to the water’s edge. Fort William is on the sea with fishing boats and ferries coming and going up the channel.  Its not upmarket enough to have fancy fish restaurants, but it had a couple of interesting looking places that were a step up from a chippy, and would have made a good dinner spot if we had had the time.

I liked Fort William.  I’m sure I was seeing it in its best light with the sun shining, and there were signs that the economy was struggling and very reliant on the tourism.  But I also got to see some typical rain as the weather had turned quite quickly as the afternoon wore on.  I left for the train station in pouring rain, boarding the Caledonian Sleeper around 7.30pm, for arrival in London around 7.30am the next morning.  Then on to “Following the Acorn…”  Yet another walk.  I must be nuts. More to follow.

Day 8: West Highland Way (Kinlochleven to Fort William)

This was our last day, and quite a long and tough one.  14 miles with two climbs, two descents and a moor crossing.  For the first time we were somewhat under a timetable as we needed to get Michelle back to Fort William in time to catch the 5.30pm train back to London.  We were originally both staying the night in Fort William so we could either climb Ben Nevis or at least take some time to look around.  However, Michelle had to make a change to her plans, so she would be leaving close to our arrival at the B&B.

So we managed an earlier start of 8.15am from the Kinlochleven B&B and started immediately on the first climb of the day.  It was through a wooded hillside and a pretty, sustained ascent.  After about an hour of climbing the trail heads out on to open moorland, and you can see the next few hours of trail stretch out in front of you for a long, long way.

The long haul across Lairigmor

I didn’t measure how long the moor stretch was but it went on for a long time.  Perhaps 6-8 miles, and the terrain didn’t change too much for that stretch, making the walk feel a little monotonous.  There were few landmarks either.  The most notable one was an abandoned farmhouse.  It had long turned into a ruin and, although the roof was long gone, the walls were built so thick and well that the main structure still looked pretty stable.

Ruin of Lairigmor Farmhouse

After about 8 miles, the path turned to what was supposed to be another ascent through woods.  However, there had been a great deal of deforestation and this whole section was now a wasteland of tree stumps and dead branches.  Not very pretty.

We started glancing more at our watches, trying to calculate how far we still had to go so that Michelle had time for a shower before the train.  When the trail is more strenuous it can be so much harder to calculate how long 1 mile will really take, and we still had about 7 left.

The remaining stretches of the walk took us through a forest (that still had trees) through needle-covered woodland floors until we saw our first glimpses of Ben Nevis.  Unmistakeable.

The final stretches were down a very wide level track that seemed to descent forever into the Glen Nevis area, then across some flat fields and out on to the road.  The road was not a very welcome sight.  It felt wrong to be forced to march along concrete after walking so far to reach the end.  I seem to find it harder and harder to walk on paved roads and my legs were just seizing up about a mile into the two mile stretch to the finish.  We were doing well for time, so we took a rest for a bit at a carpark just for some relief from the pavement pounding.

Finally, we found the strength to march the last mile and reached the official marker for the end of the walk.

95 miles.  DONE!