West Highland Way, Part 7: Cobbled & Hobbled

We awake early to the sight of sunshine filtering softly through our window. I take a peek outside and see that there is a light coating of frost on the windscreen of the car parked out front. Is this high pressure finally come to ward away the rain? Would be nice to be sure, but I’ll not be holding my breath on it.

“How did you sleep penguin?”

“Perfectly. This place is awesome.”

To the best of our knowledge this has been the first time we’ve stayed in a B&B, and while I’ll reserve final judgement of the overall experience until after breakfast (remember folks, Bobby becomes a grizzly bear when he’s hungry) so far it has been great. No noise, cozy bed, nice (en suite) shower, friendly host and gorgeous surroundings.

We’re both feeling pretty good this morning, save for a few minor aches and pains which seem to dissipate once we’re up and moving around for a bit. Well, Steph’s feet are still a blistered mess – and likely will be for weeks to come – but I have to twist her arm to get her to admit that they hurt. She’s got quite the pain threshold for these sort of things and is remarkably able to put her head down and keep moving forward. We once did an 11 mile round trip hike to the summit of Mt. LeConte Β (840m/2,763ft. of elevation gain over the 5.5 miles up) in the Great Smoky Mountains National ParkΒ with Steph suffering the first symptoms of food poisoning. Hardly slowed her down. The chick is nails.

Steph says blisters be damned, ain't nothing a little Compeed, duct tape and ibuprofen can't fix.
Steph says blisters be damned, ain’t nothing a little Compeed, duct tape and ibuprofen can’t fix.

True to form our breakfast is not only delicious and filling, but also quite amusing. Two of our fellow guests – Americans, like myself – have been out hiking and exploring their Scottish roots and utilising the services of a well known guide service. When I mention the daunting prospect of doing the West Highland Way in winter one of the chaps assures me that no such feat is possible as “they close the trail then.” He must be assuming that because the guide service is closed over winter that nobody can manage the trail. As I said, amusing.

I could definitely get used to this.
I could definitely get used to this.

As entertaining as it might have been to stay and chat at breakfast we’ve not got the time. A car will be coming soon to take us back to Bridge of Orchy and the start of today’s 13 mile section. We’ll be crossing the purportedly bleak and potentially dangerous Rannoch Moor before finishing at Kingshouse and the head of the infamous Glencoe. Coming into the trip this was the day I’ve most been looking forward to.

A cold start for Steph and I on day 5 of our West Highland Way journey.
A cold start for Steph and I on day 5 of our West Highland Way journey.

Once again we zip back through the landscape which we had walked just yesterday. The Bridge of Orchy Hotel is as we left it last night: absolutely hoachin. It’s like some surreal West Highland Way version of Grand Central Station, only (slightly) stinkier. Looks like it’s going to be a busy day on the trail.

The unfinished accommodations at Bridge of Orchy Hotel.
The unfinished accommodations at Bridge of Orchy Hotel.

We do the requisite photos on the bridge routine and wait while a procession of jeans clad teenagers walks by accompanied by two adults. A few have headphones clamped over their ears and not a single one seems to take any notice of the gorgeous surroundings. Even out here my faith in the future of humanity dies a little every day.

Aforementioned requisite photo.
Aforementioned requisite photo.
Unseen scenery from the Bridge of Orchy.
Unseen scenery from the Bridge of Orchy.

Although the sun is shining the air retains a refreshing coolness, a combination of factors which make for near perfect hiking conditions. As the trail rises at a moderate grade above the river valley we are once again treated to grandiose vistas of barren moorland surrounded by snowcapped mountain peaks. It’s easy to understand why this landscape has spawned so much myth and legend, and why it continues to inspire the artistic and otherwise imaginative impulses of so many.

The path to inspiration.
The path to inspiration.
A fine combination of clouds and soft sunshine illuminates the stunning Scottish scenery along the West Highland Way.
A fine combination of clouds and soft sunshine illuminates the stunning Scottish scenery along the West Highland Way.

Once past the Inveroran Hotel we know that there will be nothing else of civilisation until we reach Kingshouse, some 11 or so miles away. Well, I guess the old military road we’ll be walking on is a pretty big mark of civilisation, but I’m talking coffee and cakes here. We’re on our own with the sandwiches and snacks we bought yesterday in Tyndrum.

Onto the old military road.
Onto the old military road.

“Are you okay?”

“Hmph, sure. Hmph, why?”

“Uh, cause you’re hobbling.”

“Yeah. This kinda hurts actually.”

Unexpectedly, and rather suddenly, I’m hurting worse than I have at any other time on this trip. Something about the cobbled nature of the track – the constant micro twists and turns with every step – is wrecking havoc not just with my left knee (the worse one you’ll recall), but with my entire left leg. From my big toe up to my hip, everything is seizing up. More worrying still, even my balls are hurting. What the hell is that about!

“Nothing to do but carry on.”

Done in by the cobbles?
Done in by the cobbles?

Eventually, inevitably, the sunshine gives way to wind driven hail. Fortunately we’re right by one of the few places of shelter on this stretch of trail, a small stand of trees, and we’re able to duck in and cover up.

Ominous clouds above the hills of the Black Mount and Rannoch Moor along the West Highland Way.
Ominous clouds above the hills of the Black Mount and Rannoch Moor along the West Highland Way.

“Watch where you step. This place is nasty.”

Many a hiker has apparently found this copse of trees to be an inviting place to relieve themselves as well. Fair enough if you do it properly and dig a hole, but this whole area is littered with piles of shit and toilet paper sitting out in the open. Try as I might I’ll never understand it why people would make the effort to come into such a special place, only to leave their stain upon it and diminish the experience for those who come next.

“Oh look, another dead deer.”

“Ugh, can we get moving again please.”

Probably choked on a clump of toilet paper.
Probably choked on a clump of toilet paper.

Once again there is nothing to do but carry on walking, which we do. The gradient remains mercifully gentle and eventually the rain, hail and wind let up. We’re making good time considering.

“Is that it? Straight down there?”

“Must be. There’s nothing else out here.”

Beinn a' Chrulaiste towers above the Kingshouse Hotel at the head of Glen Coe.
Beinn a’ Chrulaiste towers above the Kingshouse Hotel at the head of Glen Coe.

Kingshouse Hotel finally comes into view, marking our arrival at the head of the infamous Glen Coe. In short succession thereafter we also spot what is likely Scotland’s most recognisable mountain – Buachaille Etive Mor – and it’s most photographed house – Blackrock Cottage. We’re also back with our ever-present companion for this trek, the A82.

Perhaps Scotland's most photographed mountain, Buachaille Etive Mor marks the head of Glen Coe for hikers on the West Highland Way.
Perhaps Scotland’s most photographed mountain, Buachaille Etive Mor marks the head of Glen Coe for hikers on the West Highland Way.
Sitting at the base of Buchaille Etive Mor and the head of Glen Coe, Blackrock Cottage is likely one of Scotland's most photographed buildings.
Sitting at the base of Buchaille Etive Mor and the head of Glen Coe, Blackrock Cottage is likely one of Scotland’s most photographed buildings.

 

“Watch out Bob, there’s another car coming.”

Now, I knew coming in that all these famous landmarks lie adjacent to the A82, and as such are easily accessible to hoards of car dependent tourists. We’ve certainly not got hoards of cars streaming by, but the three that have come along the small road which runs off the A82 and up to the parking lot for the Glencoe Mountain Resort (the road also being the trail at this point) have shown no particular interest in slowing down for walkers.

“When did we get back to Aberdeen?”

Okay, not quite like Aberdeen.
Okay, not quite like Aberdeen.
Signage advertising for the Glencoe Mountain Resort with Buachaille Etive More in the background.
Signage advertising for the Glencoe Mountain Resort with Buachaille Etive More in the background.

 

We linger for a while, taking more photos of the requisite variety before crossing the A82 and making our way to the hotel. We won’t, however, be staying here for the night. When Steph had called up to book a room in the hotel for the night (many, many weeks prior to our trip) the lady on the other end actually laughed at her. “Hahaha, we don’t have any rooms available for the whole month of May” she said. Nice. Instead we’ll have to contact a taxi to pick us up here and take us into Glencoe village and our accommodation for the night, the Glencoe Independent Hostel. Should just be a minor inconvenience really.

Drinks ordered, the bartender happily calls a local taxi for us. We consider having food here but since the taxi will only be 45 minutes we decide to just hold off until we get into Glencoe. It will be fine, right?

A few taxis come and go, dropping off and picking up other walkers as we wait in the lounge at the front of the hotel. About an hour after the bartender had called a van taxi arrives and the driver gets out, clearly looking for his fare. Another group of hikers hop in immediately, so I assume they must have called for this taxi. Steph goes back through to the bar and has the friendly bartender call again.

“That was our taxi. Guy says he just left and assumed we were in the group. He’ll be back as soon as he can. They stole our taxi.”

These are probably the same people who had a shit fest back in that copse of trees.

Just waiting for our magic chariot to arrive.
Just waiting for our magic chariot to arrive.

I head outside and into the cold drizzle to wait. We’ll not be getting screwed out of our taxi again.

Finally, about two and a half hours after we arrived at the hotel we’re on our way into Glencoe. Well, kinda.

Even from behind a pane of glass and at 60 miles per hour the drive through the glen is absolutely mind-blowing. We spend the entire short drive with our eyes the size of saucers and our jaws in our laps.

“So can we go ahead and arrange for you to pick us up in the morning and take us back to the hotel?”

“I’m pretty booked up in the morning. Probably can’t get you until noon or so.”

“Uh, okay, we’ll let you know.”

Damn. We’ll have to call around and find another taxi service for the morning. And by we I mean Steph. The hunger has set in now and my everything is hurting. I can feel my eyes start to glaze over as I sit in the common area of the hostel. I’m entering shut-down mode. Luckily Steph is made of stronger stuff.

“It’s done. He’ll be here to get us at 08:30. He’s coming from Fort William, so it’s going to cost Β£45.”

Neither one of us can be bothered walking the mile plus to the closest pub for dinner, and the village itself is further still. We’ll each be eating half a cheese sandwich and an apple for dinner, all leftover from today’s lunch.

At this point I’m going to gloss over a few details and not even mention that we’re in a shared bunk-room tonight, and that somehow the only beds left when we arrived are top bunks across the room from each other. I’ll also not be mentioning the dirty socks and underwear which have been hung on both of our ladders, nor will I say anything about the couple who seem to think the room is their personal fuck-den. What about the loudmouth who seems to love nothing more than hearing the sound of his own voice? Nope, not gonna mention it, cause if I did you’d think I’ve crossed that threshold and lost my last sliver of hope in humanity.

It’s only 20:30, but right now all I, all we, want to do is lie down, close our eyes and wake up and start a new day. No point in thinking about anything else right now.

More photos from today.

Photoshoot at the Bridge of Orchy.
Photoshoot at the Bridge of Orchy.
The Inveroran Hotel is the last chance to buy a hot drink or biscuit to fuel up for the walk to Kingshouse (or beyond) across Rannoch Moor.
The Inveroran Hotel is the last chance to buy a hot drink or biscuit to fuel up for the walk to Kingshouse (or beyond) across Rannoch Moor.
The graphic thistle on a post marks the route of the West Highland Way.
The graphic thistle on a post marks the route of the West Highland Way.
Steph enjoying a brief window of sunshine as we make our way through Rannoch Moor on the West Highland Way.
Steph enjoying a brief window of sunshine as we make our way through Rannoch Moor on the West Highland Way.
More late spring snow on the hills above the West Highland Way.
More late spring snow on the hills above the West Highland Way.
Officially there are restrictions as to how the Royal Standard of Scotland can be displayed and by whom, but enforcement seems to be rather lax these days.
Officially there are restrictions as to how the Royal Standard of Scotland can be displayed and by whom, but enforcement seems to be rather lax these days.
Glen Coe is a place of harsh but beautiful scenery and weather.
Glen Coe is a place of harsh but beautiful scenery and weather.
"Cliff," a sculpture by Ewen Lawrie, overlooks Meall a' Bhuiridh from its place outside the Kingshouse Hotel.
“Cliff,” a sculpture by Ewen Lawrie, overlooks Meall a’ Bhuiridh from its place outside the Kingshouse Hotel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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