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West Highland Way 1996 : from start to end

West Highland Way 1996

This year I wanted

to try the West Highland Way again. On my own this time.To avoid the midges from last year - or actually their zillions of off-spring - I decided to do it in May.The weather should be drier, cooler and most important of all : the Cullicoides Impunctatus wouldn't be out to get you yet. Being on my own the ferry- and trainjourney was different from last year. It seemed to take longer but at least I had more time to see the landscapes the train was going through. Because I missed a connecting train at Newcastle trainstation by 1 minute I had to wait for an hour and a half for the next one. This meanta 4pm start in Milngavie. A late start like the previous year. The sky was overcast but at least it was cooler than last year. No heatwave this time.With better gear and a lighter pack I made good progress and pitched my tent near the Beech Tree Inn again and had diner at the inn. I remembered eating our own grub and being eaten by the 'wee beasties' last year. <shivers> The second day, tuesday 21 May, I covered the same distance as last year but now going through Garadhban Forest and over Conic Hill. coming out of the forest I could feel the wind picking up and during the ascent of Conic Hill it started to rain. With a lighter pack the walk over Conic Hill was enjoyable nevertheless and there were dramatic views of a windswept Loch Lomond. Balmaha was passed and Craigie Fortbypassed (see WHW 1995) and I made camp at Milarrochy campsiteagain. The warden remembered me from last year and was genuineglad I gave it another try. As I left the campsite the next morning I turned left and entered unknown territory. This part of Loch Lomondside has a lot of ups and downs and twisting and turning but gives pleasant walking. In bad weather you could simply follow the road but I think it's best to stick to the path. The rain from yesterday returned and got heavier. At the pier just north of Rowardennan Hotel I had a rest and elevenses. By now the rain was pouring down and I saw four backpackers in ponchos heading north. When the rain eased a little I moved on. Near Ptarmigan Lodge, beneath the slopes of Ben Lomond I had to make a choice : should I take the lowlevel route close to the edge of Loch Lomond or the highlevel route that follows a straight- forward foresttrack ? Considering the rocks near the loch would be slippery and possibly difficult to negotiate I chose the safer, altough less interesting, option and followed the foresttrack. In hindsight a good choice because I soon caught up with the four backpackers that passed me at the pier. They were Stefanie, Friedhilde, Gisela and Hedel from Germany who were doing the West Highland Way. We were communicating in a mix of English and German and we walked togetherfor the rest of the Way. The foresttrack becomes a path and joins the lowlevelroute slowing down ourprogress. The rocky path was slippery indeed, some false paths had to be backtracked and wet, sloping slabs close to the waterline had to be crossed. I didn't fancy a swim in the loch. Eventually we reached theInversnaid Hotel where we booked beds in the bunkhouse. The showers were steaming hot and after some refreshments at the bar we had diner together at the hotel. The Inversnaid Hotel is at the end of a 23km long road and buscoaches arrive daily, delivering senior tourists with their suitcases. Quite the opposite of us, smelly backpackers. After a good nights sleep we didn't start very early. The weather was improving. This section of the WHW is perhaps even tougher than yesterday's lowlevel with the path going over a lot of wet and slippery rock, sometimes overgrown by treebranches. After 1km we climbed down some big boulders and tried to reach Rob Roy's Cave. With our big packs it wasn't really feasable. At least the cave is easy to locate. Just look for the word 'cave' painted on the rocks nearby. After another 3km most difficulties were left behind. We passed Doune bothy and Beinglas Farm campsite and the Way turned northeast into Glen Falloch. At first the path follows the south side of the River Falloch with the busy A82 directly at the other side. Halfway through the glen the path goes underneath the railwayline by a very narrow tunnel. The old military road on the northern side of the river is suffering fromthe thousands of feet that pass every year. We had to use rocks as stepping stones to avoid the worst of the mud. At the end of the old military road we had to climb a very high stile. There we met Dennis Moynihan, an american who was carrying a 30kg backpack. At Crianlarich I said goodbye to the ladies who had booked a B&B at Auchtertyre, a few km to the north. Dennis and I stayed at the Crianlarich YH and we would meet the ladies again the next morning. and the landscape around us was slowly getting emptier. The german ladies were dropped off at the YH and we started the stiff climb back to the Way again. According to the weatherforecast the weather was going to improve but this morning it was still overcast. We all tried to lift Dennis' pack but didn't really succeed. He had been walking with that pack - half my weight ! - for weeks now. The undulating path goes through forest for the first 5km but then you cross the A82 again and the view opens up. We passed the remains of St.Fillan's Church - the nearby little cemetery enclosed by an old iron fence - and crossed the A82 once again. We were walking between and over spoilheeps from the old Cononish mining industry, abandend not so long ago. Tyndrum was a bit of a shock being a busy little place but we did visit the Green Welly Shop to buy some snacks. We left soon to follow an old military road again. The northerly horizon now being dominated by the Munros Beinn Odhar and Beinn Dorain the progress seemed to be slow but eventually they're behind you and we reached our next stop : Bridge of Orchy Hotel. The others booked terrible lumpy beds in the bunkhouse and I pitched my tent behind the bunkhouse between the sheep. Together we enjoyed a spicey barmeal, cooled down with some beers.The stretch between Bridge of Orchy and Kingshouse Hotel is dominated by the vast expance of Rannoch Moor. Once covered with a thick sheet ofice it's now a vast, ill-drained basin made of granite. It's full of rock, bog, lochs and lochans and bog and water and surrounded by mountains. No place to get lost in thick mist. However, the WHW skirts around the Moor on its western edges and although it can be desolate when the weathercloses in you can't get lost if you can read a map and are able to see your feet. Soon we passed Loch Tulla, seen from the hillside, and shortly after the Inveroran Hotel. Just beyond the hotel, near the bridge, lots of people camp next to the Allt Tolaghan. Slowly you gain height and you're able to admire RannochMoor. On of the tributary rivers is the River Ba which can be crossed by the pictoresque Ba Bridge. Get down to the river and take a photograph before moving on. Another picturepostcard moment is 5km further to the north with the famous Blackrock cottage, a cottage with white plastered walls.Just be sure to take your picture from the right angle to avoid the ugly pylons from the Glencoe skicentre.We arrived at Kings House Hotel. Due to a sore leg Dennis was going to take the bus to Fort William and me and the ladies had tea in front of the huge window in the hotel's lounge. The ladies had arranged motorized transport to another B&B and I pitched my tent next to the Allt Chailleach behind the hotel.At the back of the hotel is the Climbers bar where you can have a great evening before you retire to your tent and sleeping bag. From the hotel there are great views towards Creise and the majestic Buachaille Etive Mor, the great herdsman of Etive. Once again the ladies were dropped off the next day and together we walked the old military road below the great whaleback of Beinn a' Chrulaiste, a Corbett. The view of the Buachaille changes with every step you take and as you reach the bottom of the illustrious Devil's Staircase you're spoiled with choice for scenery. On your left it's Coire na Tulaich and Stob Dearg, in front of you famous Glencoe and on your right the WHW rising to its highest point at 551m. The Devil's Staircase rises 260m over 1km so it's steep with zigzags in the highest part. Afetr the col it's a loooong way down to Kinlochleven. The walking isn't difficult and the scenery is good - although not spectecular - but it's a bit tedious. The only surprise on the way down were the mountainbikers coming down very fast from behind. To avoid a collision I had to jump across a ditch uphill, lost my balance and had to step back with one leg. I stood astride across the ditch and the ladies couldn't stop laughing.Schadenfreude can be fun. Luckily I wasn't injured and we could continue walking into Kinlochleven. The german ladies were split into two groups with each group staying at a different B&B. They persuaded me to do one of the B&B's also and a room was arranged for me. We stayed at a B&B from a South African lady and I slept in her daughter's bed. The daughter was away so I had a good nights sleep in a soft and very comfy bed.With seven days gone now only the last stretch between Kinlochlevenand Fort William had to be done. There's a stiff climb out of Kinlochmoreopposite the MacDonald hotel and campsite. If it wasn't for the cold windwe would be sweating because of all this hard work. The weather was finally improving. The West Highland Way goes just south of the westernend of The Mamores with three Munros in sight. Mind you, in 1996 I'd never heard of The Mamores or Munros and the Devil's Staircase was the highest point I'd ever been in my life. Prior to my 1995 attempt of the WHW I'd bought some roadmaps of Scotland and while planning the 1995WHW I wondered if it might be possible to stock up at Lairigmor. Little did I know of Scotland and names on maps. We were to pass Lairigmor today and when finally there it turmed out to be a ruined croft. Lesson learned, a black dot and a name can just be a piece of history. The Way changed from going west to north and we walked into the cold northerly wind but it was a nice walk nevertheless with the sun shining more than occasionally. Near Loch Lundavra and beyond towards Fort William conifer plantations appeared and gave us some shelter from the cold wind.In Nevis Forest the path changes into a broad forest track with wide zigzags and eventually you get down to Glen Nevis itself. The ladies were staying at the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel and I pitched my tent at the nearby campsite with views towards Ben Nevis. We hadn't actually reached the end of the West Highland Way yet - at the time [1] the finish was at the first roundabout in Fort William itself - but we had one more task to fullfill tomorrow : climbing Ben Nevis. [1] The end of the West Highland Way has been relocated to the Highstreet in Fort William, adding a mile or so the the total length of the WHW. was one of those 9 days per year with a cloudless summit of Ben Nevis. Today there wasn't even going to be a glimpse of blue sky and it was raining. Hedel decided to go to Inverness and the other ladies and me went up Ben Nevis. The weatherforecast near the bridge in front of the YH predicted rain, snow, below zero and 65mph wind. The first ascend out of Glen Nevis is quite steep with zigzags but once on the tourist track the gradient gets easier. My cotton trousers were soon wetted out but that didn't bother me at that moment. I would regret not putting on my goretex trousers later that day. It's a rocky path going up Ben Nevis and more people were on their way to the summit, despite the weather. At Halfway Lochan some turned left but we stayed on the main path to the summit. At 700m we entered the clouds and the rain turned into sleet and snow and the wind was picking up considerably. At a certain moment we realised we were alone on the path. Other walkers must have turned around. We continued our slog uphill.The snow was clinging to my trousers and my legs started to feel cold. Melting snow was running down my legs and into my boots. I gotvisions of black frozen toes. We struggled but were determined to move on. As we reached a cairn with a flagpole we thought we hadreached the summit but there was nobody there. We had our doubtsbut we decided it had been enough. The next year I discovered we were actually only 150m in distance from the summit. On our waydown we descended rapidly through the snow realising at a certain point we didn't see footsteps anymore in this white world. We hadwandered of too far to the right (north) and were heading towardsCarn Dearg. Moving back up and more to the left we found the main path again. We were glad to be ableto see properly again as we got below the cloudbase. The maintained footpath lower down was horrible to descend with tired legs but finally we got back down the glen. The hot showers were heaven.The next day I had to return home and while walking to the trainstation in Fort William finally completed the West Highland Way.

Dumgoyach Hill

Into unknown territory

Rob Roy's Cave

Doune bothy

Old 'muddy' road

Half way now

Loch Tulla

Yesterday was one

On Ben Nevis

Glen Nevis campsite

Lairigmor

B&B in Kinlochleven

Stob Dearg and River Coupall





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