Day 7: West Highland Way(Kingshouse to Kinlochleven)

Setting out from Kingshouse in the morning

This was to be our second shortest day: only 8.5 miles.  Its known for the steep climb called the Devil’s Staircase, which takes you up and over the ridge between Kingshouse and Kinlochleven, across a mountain saddle with expansive views, and down around the valley to Kinlochleven town.

Again, we delayed our departure from the hotel for a while to avoid arriving to early at our Kinlochleven hotel.  The weather report was very good (for Scotland) offering light cloud cover all day with a promise or two of sun later in the day.  Despite this, it is difficult not to pack the rain gear away as you quickly learn what a difference it makes to the journey if its there when you need it.

We left around 10am, and headed up the U-shaped valley that had been partially obscured by clouds on our arrival yesterday.  We also got a much better view of the pyramid shaped Buachaille Etive Mor, which had been visible from almost every window during our stay.  The path to the Devil’s Staircase is easy across fairly open moorland, and is over quite quickly.  Before tackling the climb, we took a few minutes to rest and take in the moors across the way.

Taking a break and looking at the view across the valley before climbing The Devils

Climbing the Devil’s Staircase is easier than it sounds, although no breeze.  I puffed and panted plenty and took lots of rests, but I could tell my lungs were in better shape than just a few days before on Conic Hill.  The ascent took about an hour.  At the top the descent starts almost immediately, but slowly, across a particularly pretty saddle which offers views of mountains and moors on both sides.  I really liked the stepping stones across the streams.

In the far distance, in what looked like just around the next mountain, you could see a small corner of Kinlochleven town.  It seemed like a fairly simple journey now, slowly down the mountain and around the next foothill into the town.  We were wrong.  It was still another 2hrs of descent, broken only occasionally by some more climbing.  We descended, and then descended some more.  There was a particularly long portion of very steep descent that seemed to go on for ever, which gets progressively harder on your legs by the minute. I waddled into Kinlochleven really desperate from some tea and break.

Getting a closer look at six huge water pipes that carried the water from the loch to the old smelting factory

We killed an hour in the local pub, drinking tea and waiting for the clock to roll around so we could arrive at our next B&B, Edencoille.  It was a 4-star accommodation with bathrobes, heated towel racks and a reputation for excellent food.  Probably the nicest B&B we stayed in during the walk.

For the last part of the journey you just follow the water pipes down (and down) into the town

We had dinner in Kinlochleven that evening.  The guide book had dissed the village for being an eyeshore “the ugliest on two thousand miles of Highland coast” and pointed out the now closed aluminum smelting works that had provided work for the town.  It wasn’t ugly at all, and quite charming actually.  Sure, all the houses had been built by the factory and all looked the same, but they were freshly painted with hanging flower baskets and people took care of them.  I could show the author a great deal more ugliness than that.

Tough, short day.  One more to go tomorrow…..

Day 6: West Highland Way(Bridge of Orchy to Kingshouse)

…or The Day of the Moors….

I knew I was going to have mixed feelings about this day.  The 13-mile trek from Bridge of Orchy to Kingshouse crosses Rannoch Moor.  It one of the highest rises on the journey and one of the bleakest spots.  Once you start the crossing at Black Mount, it is a straight 10-mile walk without civilization or shelter, and today the clouds were sitting low and the weather was looking iffy.  My mind went back to the day Carla and I crossed the North Yorkshire Moors in 2009 in pouring rain, thunder and lightening.  The journey had been very wet, tiring, long and a bit scary. So today I was feeling a little anxious.  But I also love the Moors because of their seclusion, openess, and wildness.  It would have been a real loss to the walk to miss them, and yet a taxi ride to the next stop was looking very tempting.  I kept fretting and checking the weather forecast.  I needed more information.

The odd thing about this trip has been the absence of Scots in service positions.  All our waiters, receptionists, or cashiers have all been Eastern European, often Polish.  Just three years ago in the Lake District, I would talk to a local and get a feel for the walk and weather conditions.  It was no different here and asking for help seemed a waste of time, but fortunately the South African receptionist knew the path and conditions, and I left feeling better and more prepared for the day.

The walk started with a quite simple hike of a few miles to Inveroran where we stopped for a brief cup of tea in virtually the only place there, the Inveroran Hotel.  After this the road takes you out to a conifer plantation and the start of the moors.  The weather held, and the cloud level rose.  The track was wide and dry and it was a straight easy path through the moors with enough visibility to enjoy the scenery.

On Rannoch Moor

The climb up was gentle, and it was only once we reached the 1490ft summit that the temperature dropped quite a bit, and the wind picked up.  The descent too was mostly gentle, and after just a couple of miles, we saw our next destination, the Kingshouse Hotel, in the far distance.  What a welcome sight that was!  Especially, as the wind and rain was starting to pick up.  Once we had climbed over the crest, the wind was in our faces and stinging our cheeks.  But the descent was reasonable and the Hotel rarely left our sight, egging us on.

The Kingshouse Hotel beckoning us from a distance

I liked the Kingshouse Hotel.  At 87 pounds night (and the only Inn not to include breakfast) it was expensive.  It was a bit shabby, and had a serious insulation problem.  The room was drafty and the bathroom was in serious need of repair.  But it was full of history and had stood at the edge of the moor for centuries for weary travelers like us.  The lounge had a coal fire and the views from the windows on all sides were spectacular.  We were literally in the middle of nowhere.  We had arrived in enough time to enjoy the sofas, catch up on emails and rest up a bit.

View from the stairwell

View from our bedroom window