West Highland Way, Part 8: The Devil Wears Salomons

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. TheΒ 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 (Β£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).

Sent on our way by the local deer of Kingshouse.
Sent on our way by the local deer of Kingshouse.
Steph playing it cool and keeping her distance as deer graze behind the Kingshouse Hotel. Nice way to start day 6.
Steph playing it cool and keeping her distance as deer graze behind the Kingshouse Hotel. Nice way to start day 6.

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.

Another sign post for the West Highland Way with Buachaille Etive Mor in the background.
Another sign post for the West Highland Way with Buachaille Etive Mor in the background.
What better location for a cheeky selfy on the West Highland Way with Buchaille Etive Mor and Meall a' Bhuiridh in the background.
What better location for a cheeky selfy on the West Highland Way with Buchaille Etive Mor and Meall a’ Bhuiridh in the background.

“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.

Steph happy to have made it to the top of the Devil's Staircase on the West Highland Way.
Steph happy to have made it to the top of the Devil’s Staircase on the West Highland Way.
Quick photo op atop the Devil's Staircase.
Quick photo op atop the Devil’s Staircase.
One of two cairns marking the top of the infamous Devil's Staircase on the West Highland Way.
One of two cairns marking the top of the infamous Devil’s Staircase on the West Highland Way.

“Well, it’s all downhill from here on up.”

A group of hikers stops at the top of the Devil's Staircase on the West Highland Way as storm clouds close in.
A group of hikers stops at the top of the Devil’s Staircase on the West Highland Way as storm clouds close in.

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.

Steph descending towards Kinlochleven.
Steph descending towards Kinlochleven.
Lots of hikers coming up the trail from Kinlochleven.
Lots of hikers coming up the trail from Kinlochleven.

“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!

After a wonderfully satisfying meal at The Tailrace Inn, we stop for emergency rations (CHOCOLATE!) at the Co-Op before making our way to tonights accommodation, a cabin behind the MacDonald Hotel.

“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.

Our own private cabin at the MacDonald Hotel in Kinlochleven.
Our own private cabin at the MacDonald Hotel in Kinlochleven.
Pretty standard treatment for a sore knee.
Pretty standard treatment for a sore knee.

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.

Deer grazing behind Kingshouse Hotel on the West Highland Way.
Deer grazing behind Kingshouse Hotel on the West Highland Way.
It's hard to imagine a finer location for a hotel and pub.
It’s hard to imagine a finer location for a hotel and pub.
Stunning scenery along the West Highland Way.
Stunning scenery along the West Highland Way.
Steph soaking in the amazing sight of Meall a' Bhuiridh and Buachaille Etive Mor from the West Highland Way.
Steph soaking in the amazing sight of Meall a’ Bhuiridh and Buachaille Etive Mor from the West Highland Way.
The Glencoe section of the West Highland Way is almost alien in its harsh beauty.
The Glencoe section of the West Highland Way is almost alien in its harsh beauty.
On our way down to sea level and Kinlochleven.
On our way down to sea level and Kinlochleven.
Descending from the Devil's Staircase.
Descending from the Devil’s Staircase.
A group of hikers descends from the Devil's Staircase on the West Highland Way.
A group of hikers descends from the Devil’s Staircase on the West Highland Way.
A small airplane is dwarfed by the hulking flank of Binnein Mor.
A small airplane is dwarfed by the hulking flank of Binnein Mor.
New green leaves down low but on the hills there is fresh late spring snow.
New green leaves down low but on the hills there is fresh late spring snow.
Kinlochleven, our destination for day 6 on the West Highland Way.
Kinlochleven, our destination for day 6 on the West Highland Way.
Painted map of the West Highland Way in the MacDonald Hotel pub.
Painted map of the West Highland Way in the MacDonald Hotel pub.
Mmm, beer.
Mmm, beer.
The sun sets over Kinlochleven.
The sun sets over Kinlochleven.

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