Kinlochleven to Fort William – 16 miles (14 with diversion)
The last day
I always feel a little sad at times like these, knowing that it is the last days walking and this was to be no exception. A stupidly early start, 5.30 am, meant we were doing a fine impression of the seven dwarfs (head torches and all) while walking through the town. It was so early, in fact, that the local owl population was still in conference somewhere off in the woods to the right of the road.
Eventually the Way heads off to the right along a fairly non-descript path before starting the slow climb out the town. We must have made a fine sight – twelve zombies, complete with head torches filing slowly up the hill. The only noise (apart form the owls) the heavy breathing.
It was surprisingly still at this point, with very little wind, and very soon it was hot work climbing this seemingly endless hill (I have a vague recollection of swearing at this the last time I walked out of Kinlochleven). On and on it went, crossing a track that gives access to a hotel, before plunging into the woodland again to continue up towards the glen. Eventually, after about an hour and a half, we made it to the top in the half light and rested, admiring the view over the town and the Loch.
Eventually we turned our backs on the town and with some special renditions of favourites from “The Sound of Music” ringing in our ears (we had now woken up – either that or it was just nervous energy) and started the long trek up the Glen.
The steep ridge of Mam na Gualainn dominates to the left of the path (the old military road) with the steep path up clearly visible contributing to a fine wind up. “Yes Linda, we really are walking up that slope….” Rotten, but funny.
As we continued up the Glen, deer were visible on the lower slopes around us, possibly trying to avoid the bitter winds and snow that were covering the higher ground. Even more of a surprise was a newborn lamb next to the path – almost a month early (11th March) to the normal lambing time up here.
It was not long after the weather came in, not for the first time a wall of white engulfing us as we pressed on. The group was fairly silent now and it was heads down just trying to reach the finish. The place we were aiming for first though was the plantation at Blar a chaorainn which it was hoped would give us some protection from the elements. It was not to be. The forestry work that had gone on over the winter had completely cleared the trees from this plantation, with one or two small exceptions.
For us, the way was shut here, the forestry operations still ongoing until April at least (Check the official Website) in Glen Nevis. Instead we would walk down the road which is accessed at the information point in the forest. Walking this way is slightly shorter than the official route but not the most inspiring, especially during a blizzard. The road passes a view-point and it is just after this, and with some surprise that the outskirts of Fort William just appear out of nowhere.
Eventually, the group, completely sodden and looking like drowned rats made it to Fort William and the new official finish point, a nice change from the sign outside Fort William.
The pub beckoned and with small puddles forming round us we had a few celebratory pints!
Congratulations must go to Tony, Gilly, Simon, Pip, Linda, Adam, Al, Debbie, Paul, Steve, Mac, Chris and John. Well done everyone!
Day rating 6/10
Not the best day on the way. A nice but long climb out of Kinlochleven up to the military road. The surface up here is rough and quite sore on the feet – so many loose rocks on it. The diversion was a bit of a dissappointment but needs must and it got us to the finish.
Trail Rating 60/80 (75%)
Despite it being one of the most popular Long Distance Trails there were very few users on the trail at this time of year – a nice change from the usual procession of backpackers. This is still one of the best, helped in no small way by the availability of accommodation and supplies along the way. Like every trail it has its more mundane moments but there are many places that more than make up for it. Traditionally walked South to North I wouldn’t recommend doing any other way – finishing in Milngavie would be a real anticlimax.
If you get the chance – do it!