West Highland Way, Part 9: Burn Baby Burn

The air is refreshingly chill as I crawl out from under the covers and stand to have a stretch in our little cabin. Nature’s symphony is in mid-season form as a chorus of birds are belting out beautiful song after song, no doubt inspired by the warm sunshine which is also filtering through our window. I feel surprisingly refreshed this morning, with not a trace of the aches and pains which have greeted me every other day. 6 straight days on the trail have apparently forced my over-civilised (soft) body to adapt and become stronger, or rather to revert to the way I (we) have been in the past and should have been all along. Walking – and moving in general – is what we’re all evolved to do; sitting at a desk hunched over a keyboard…..not so much (says the man typing a blog post). Right now I’m really wishing this wasn’t our last day.

Bags packed once again, I head out for a few quick photos before meandering up to the hotel for breakfast. Steph and I have both opted for the full breakfast: cereal, toast, juice, coffee, tea, and choice of egg, bacon and sausage. With 14 miles to cover today we’ll be needing the calories.

Looking south over Loch Leven.
Looking south over Loch Leven.
A calm morning at the MacDonald Hotel in Kinlochleven, Scotland.
A calm morning at the MacDonald Hotel in Kinlochleven, Scotland.

The trail climbs steeply uphill out of Kinlochleven, abruptly rising about 250 metres and affording us unencumbered views over Loch Leven. The Pap of Glencoe, with it’s distinctly conical shape, dominates the view. So far there isn’t a cloud in the sky.

The Pap of Glencoe (Sgorr na Ciche) and Loch Leven from the West Highland Way above Kinlochleven, Scotland.
The Pap of Glencoe (Sgorr na Ciche) and Loch Leven from the West Highland Way above Kinlochleven, Scotland.

“Maybe we should put on some sunscreen.”

“Uh, yeah, probably should, but it’s, uh, packed away in the big bag.”

As in the big bag which the fine folks at AMS Baggage Transfer are taking to tonights B&B for us. I had given up on the possibility of a sunny day and packed the sunscreen – a product which usually makes it onto everyones “10 essentials” list – away to help lighten our load a smidgen. Brilliant!

The trail is well busy today and everyone seems to be keeping a fast pace, aided, I suspect, by the warmth of the sun. Steph’s feet are still painful but per usual I only know because I’ve asked; otherwise I would never hear a peep about it. My knees, hips, and everything else are feeling great, and my energy level is super charged. I’ll be surprised if this lasts through the day but I’ll take it as long as I can get it.

Abandoned crofting building along the West Highland Way between Kinlochleven and Fort William, Scotland.
Abandoned crofting building along the West Highland Way between Kinlochleven and Fort William, Scotland.
A fair amount of foot traffic on the West Highland Way between Kinlochleven and Fort William, Scotland.
A fair amount of foot traffic on the West Highland Way between Kinlochleven and Fort William, Scotland.

“Weird. We must be here. The map shows a forest, which must be all these downed trees.”

“That far already?”

The miles have absolutely flown by. We’ve stopped at a recently logged forest – now just heaps of slag on the ground – to have lunch and face into the sun for a change. We’re already more than half way, averaging just over 3 miles per hour.

“Oh look, you’ve got a red neck. And arms. Sorry.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

Back on our feet and moving again it isn’t long before we spot the final geological milepost along the West Highland Day, and it’s a big one: Ben Nevis. The highest mountain on this island creeps into view from behind a much lesser hill in our foreground, it’s snow covered summit mound contrasting sharply with the greenery of new spring grass all around us.

Ben Nevis begins to peak out from behind the lower hills.
Ben Nevis begins to peak out from behind the lower hills.
More and more of "The Ben" comes into view as we continue north.
More and more of “The Ben” comes into view as we continue north.

“You ready to go up there tomorrow?”

“Yeah, you go right ahead. Make sure you take some nice pictures for me.”

The plan all along has been to roll into Fort William today (Friday), walk up Ben Nevis tomorrow and return home to Aberdeen on Sunday. What better way to put an exclamation point on the trip we figured. This was before I blew out my knee 6 weeks ago; and before we realised that we’ll have to change accommodation in town again tomorrow (more on that later); and before winter unleashed itself once again upon the high hills, with fresh snow falling yesterday and tomorrows forecast promising more winter precipitation and up to 70 mile per hour winds for the summit. Ah well, exclamation points are overused anyway.

Steph admiring the stunning views of Ben Nevis from the West Highland Way.
Steph admiring the stunning views of Ben Nevis from the West Highland Way.
Almost two months into spring and the summit of Ben Nevis is wearing a fresh coat of snow.
Almost two months into spring and the summit of Ben Nevis is wearing a fresh coat of snow.

In its last stage the trail winds through Nevis Forest, finally offering us some shelter from the sun, before rather unceremoniously dumping us onto the sidewalk beside an increasingly busy road for the seemingly endless push to the finish. To be sure it’s a bittersweet end to the adventure. We are of course proud and relieved to have actually made it, all 96 miles from Milngavie to Fort William – provided we don’t get run over before the actual finish. We also both have a sharp sense of disappointment that it’s over for us and we’ll soon be returning to “normal” life. Hopefully we can take this experience and keep the momentum going back home. That’s the plan anyway.

“Look there. Is that it?”

“Nope. False alarm. It’s just the old finish line.”

“Well shit! Who the hell had the bright idea to move it further into town? Bastards!”

False alarm, gotta keep moving.
False alarm, gotta keep moving.

The remainder of the walk, from the original finish to the new finish, takes us through to the far side of Fort William’s pedestrianised shopping district. I’m sure this change was a well meaning attempt to siphon more potential customers to local businesses by tapping the lucrative smelly-thru-hiker demographic. Judging by the many empty storefronts I’m thinking a new strategy might be in order.

“Huh, that’s it then.”

We walk across a line on the sidewalk and just like that we’re done. A high five, hug and a few pics is all the celebration we can muster. As much as I would like to lay Steph down and make sweet love to her right on the finish line this last stretch along the road has sapped my once bountiful energy and brought back some pain to my knees. Maybe next time baby!

The end of it all.
The end of it all.
Posing at the finish.
Posing at the finish.
No way I could physically bend my leg like that right now.
No way I could physically bend my leg like that right now.

“Right, so, which way to the B&B?”

“I think it’s up there.”

One more hill to climb before we get to tonights accommodation, Gowan Brae House. After the usual meet and greet with our host we swiftly get out of our boots, hose off (what you might call a shower) and proceed to chill for a bit before heading out for dinner. I expect we’ll be crawling into bed and passing out for the night not long after. So far as routines go, the one we’re in on this little adventure is a good one.

We definitely recommend staying here.
We definitely recommend staying here.

Epilogue

As previously mentioned we had to change accommodations on Saturday. The B&B only had the one night available so we stayed in the Travelodge for our last night away. Climbing (walking up) Ben Nevis was out as we didn’t have winter gear (and perhaps needed a rest day) so we spent Saturday lazily meandering about Fort William, checking out the shops and going through the very nice West Highland Museum. On Sunday we took a bus to Inverness, a scenic ride which skirts along much of Loch Ness, before finally getting the train back to the hustle and bustle of Aberdeen. Rather than being a sight for sore eyes, Aberdeen is a sight which makes my eyes (and ears, nose, lungs, heart and mind) sore.

Tomorrow (June 21st) will be exactly 5 weeks since our last day on the West Highland Way. Steph’s feet still show the residual marks from all the blisters. My bad knee is fine and the worse one is back to normal, or what passes for normal with that particular train wreck of a joint. Despite both being sidelined by a nasty cold/respiratory infection we’ve managed to get back into our respective gym routines, and I’ve been back to cycling a bit as well. Unfortunately, due to our illness and some “real world” obligations, we’ve not managed to get back into the hills for a hike. Yet. The Munros Mayer and Driesh are on the agenda for this coming Sunday.

“So, how was it?”

“Great.”

“Would you do it again?”

“Absolutely.”

This is generally how conversations with friends, family and acquaintances go about the trip. I relate some tidbits about the pain, the sometimes awful weather, and the brilliant scenery, always finishing by emphasising that yes I – make that we – would most certainly do it again. Sometimes, with certain adventurous mates, I can see that they understand, they get it. More often than not though people seem happily bemused which, I suppose, is better than angry bemusement. Small victories and all that.

And small victories is what we’re working towards every day now. For reasons of financial practicality we can’t just nip off and walk around Scotland – or wherever – all day every day, as much as we would both like to. Sure, we’re planning some biggish future adventures, but more importantly we’re trying to incorporate a little bit of adventure time into our every day lives. For reasons of psychological practicality you see. It’s simple really; just keep putting one foot in front of the other while stopping as often as need be to take in the view and get refreshed.

Oh, and don’t forget to keep Bobby fed or he turns into a grizzly bear.

More photos from the last days.

Steph putting on a gun show in the sunshine.
Steph putting on a gun show in the sunshine.
Full on sunshine on our final day.
Full on sunshine on our final day.
Alternate view at the finish line.
Alternate view at the finish line.
Of course I had a beer with dinner.
Of course I had a beer with dinner.
The Middle Street/Station Square area of Fort William is pedestrianized and full of shopping and dining options.
The Middle Street/Station Square area of Fort William is pedestrianized and full of shopping and dining options.
Ben Mhor, a super cool sculpture on the waterfront in Fort William.
Ben Mhor, a super cool sculpture on the waterfront in Fort William.
Back again?
Back again?
Lunch at the No. 4 cafe.
Lunch at the No. 4 cafe.
Brilliant pub grub.
Brilliant pub grub.
Very unique flavour to this beer. Need to find it somewhere for sure.
Very unique flavour to this beer. Need to find it somewhere for sure.
All packed but not ready to go, Steph waits for the bus from Fort William to Inverness.
All packed but not ready to go, Steph waits for the bus from Fort William to Inverness.

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