I fully accept that I’m in the minority in thinking that 03:00 is a perfectly acceptable time to awaken and start the day, especially when on holiday (of sorts). Normally my proclivity for early rising doesn’t affect anyone else, not even Steph who usually sleeps right through it if I get up and head out for a wander. This morning, however, we’re in a shared bunk-room at the Glencoe Independent Hostel. More specifically, I’m in a top bunk, as is Steph across the room. The
dipshits fine people below us are another couple who, inexplicably, chose to violate bunk-room etiquette by snagging the two bottom bunks rather than sleeping together, top bunk and bottom bunk. So sorry if I disturb you random dude below me, but I’ve gotta piss.
I spend the rest of the night laying – but not really sleeping – on a chair in the common area. Steph gets up just past 06:00 and we’re both ready to dig into the breakfast we ordered from the hostel. Last night’s dinner of half a cheese sandwich and an apple each did little to quell our hunger. Not that our breakfast – two bowls of cereal, a cup of tea and a cup of coffee – is going to do much either. We also have bread, butter and jam for toast, but instead make sandwiches to take with us. This will be the days rations until we get to our destination, Kinlochleven. Fortunately this is our shortest day on the trail, a mere eight miles.
The (£45!) taxi Steph booked to take us back to Kingshouse arrives bang on time at 08:30 and we’re back on the trail by 09:00, greeted by the local deer. Despite the forecast only calling for cloudy skies, and no mention of precipitation or sunshine, we start the days walk with both rain and sunshine. Looks like the devil is beating his wife before we walk over his staircase (scroll down the link to the last map for an explanation).
The grade of the trail is very gentle to start and allows for a proper warm-up before we tackle the afore alluded to Devil’s Staircase. Now, depending on who you listen to, the Devil’s Staircase is either the most brutal stretch of trail in the known universe, or it’s just a short burst of steep switchbacks easily enough walked up by anyone who is reasonably fit. My experience with such satanically named sections of trails leads me to believe it’s the latter, although that might just be me partaking of some wishful thinking. In the meantime though the scenery continues to be off-the-charts amazing, prompting us to stop frequently (whenever the rain allows) for photos.
“That’s us…..going…..up there…..where we’re going…..the top…..those people.”
I’m trying to point out to Steph whereabouts we’re heading, to the top of the ridge where we can just barely see some people through the now thick clouds and pelting rain. For some reason I’m a bit short of breath and can’t manage to speak properly. Must be my (undiagnosed) asthma flaring up. I mean, no way it has anything to do with the steepness of the trail or the sprinters pace we both tend towards. No way. Right?
At about 550m above sea level the top of the Devil’s Staircase is the highest point of elevation on the West Highland Way. Appropriately enough the rain transitions to a rough sleet just as we summit. No way I’m not taking the camera out here though.
“Well, it’s all downhill from here on up.”
Indeed, about 550m downhill actually, as Kinlochleven sits at sea level. Though never particularly steep, the path from the Devil’s Staircase is persistently – and painfully – downhill. It’s also quite busy with hikers coming up – persistently, painfully – from the village below.
“Which way do you think the hotel is?”
“I don’t care. We’re eating. There.”
“Okay grizzly bear.”
My metabolism being what it is (damn fast) I’ve burnt through the cereal and butter and jam sandwich pretty much just by chewing and swallowing, never mind the 8 miles we just hiked. Bobby needs fed!
“Now this is what I’m talking about. Oh yes!”
Our cabin, complete with two bunk beds, storage nooks and a front porch with chairs, is just what the doctor ordered. The fact that it’s now sunny and 22 degrees is sure helping as well.
We take our sweet time in the sunshine before showering, organising our gear and eventually heading into the hotel’s pub for dinner and drinks. The food and beverages (River Leven Blonde and a 21 year old Glengoyne, in case you were wondering) don’t disappoint, and we linger here for a while soaking in the ambiance of the place.
“Hey Steph, what are we doing tomorrow?”
“Walking. Just walking.”
Sadly, we’ve only one more day left to say that.
More photos from the day.