Wednesday, 15 October 2014

WHW Day 7: Kinlochleven to Fort William

Finally!  Our last day of hiking.  15 miles of remote highland walking in the hills to get to the rather large city of Fort William.

Ah, we did awake to the news of a "no" vote.  Scotland would be remaining as part of the UK after all.  The mood in the pub that morning was noticeably darker than it had been the night before.  It's too bad, as I showed up here with no real opinion either way, but walking around the week leading up and chatting with locals as we went, I really think the "yes" voters had an articulate and compelling argument for succession.

Was I sad to be almost done?  YES.  I felt that maybe I needed a rest day, but I could have kept going.  If I did this trail again, I would have planned on adding more days to tackle the mountains that haunted the air around me.  It was kind of frustrating that the trail stayed low and skipped all these lonely challenging hikes.  While it was a long hike (this was the longest I had ever hiked in consecutive days) it wasn't hard at all and I was itching to find a more challenging route into the next valley.  Despite the fact that I had PMS cramps and low energy, I had rounded the corner on that bit and I felt good.  This had just gotten me enthusiastic to explore more of this wonderful countryside.

The only real downers on the trail were the proximity of the highway for most of this.  You'd be having a nice jaunt and zen moment, and the roar of a tanker truck would put you back in the earthly realm.

The only other complaint I had was the garbage on the trail.  Compared to England, there was a lot of bags of trash and random pockets of beer cans and whisky bottles along the way.  In fact, the first 30 miles of the trail there was an enforced "No Camping" rule, as there had been problems with people driving in and leaving bags of trash instead of carrying out.  Almost every spot where one might be able to camp had knotted-up trash bags and rubbish scattered around.  Whatever possesses people to take the time to bag up their garbage and leave it for an eyesore for all the rest of the world to see is beyond me and it ruins it for all.  Carry it out.

The morning started with no warm up at all, and we huffed away up the first hill.

Ah, what views!

 Today, the walk was across a high-up moor surrounded by murnos.


There were ruined shelters that the sheep and cattle drovers would camp out.

Soon, we rounded a corner, and ended up hiking for miles across a felled forest.  How depressing!  According to my OS map, we were supposed to be in the woods for a few miles, apparently it hadn't been updated in a while.  It wasn't a comforting site: miles upon miles of bleached stumps and brush piles.

We decided to take a side trail up to Dun Deardail- the ruins of a 2000 year old fort that had been burned so hot that the rocks fused together.

Naturally, the fort was on top of a very steep hill.  I wanted that view badly, and a few hikers were sitting at the bottom of the hill, waiting for their friends to be done with the view.  

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That's Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in all of the UK.  It was an enormous, hulking rock.  Bry had decided this would be tomorrow's hike...supposedly, it was an easy pony trail to the top, but a very long all-day hike.    But yes, with views like that, it's worth the hike up to Dun Deardail.

It was also the only part of the trail where I got vertigo!  The hilltop the fort was on was a sheer drop on all 4 sides, with steep steps to get to the top.

Ah, and there were some nice druids working on the stairs and trail improvements leading up to the top.  Real live druids, in the wild!

From here, the trail goes down the glen and into the suburbs of Fort William.  Not content to end our walk in such a anticlimactic urbanity, we decided to climb Cow Hill, a hill that lords over the city. We'd decided we would rather have a spiritual ending of the trail, rather than an official one.  

It ended up bring a very long, steep climb...more switchbacks than the Devil's Staircase, at at times I made progress in inches rather than feet.  It took more than an hour to climb to the top.  I thought this was a more appropriate ending to a week of walking, and I was right.  At the top, we stood by the TV tower and thought about all we had seen and all we had done, and thanked our feet for carrying us as far as they did.

scroll to see the view from the Hill of Cows-------->>

Ahh, that's much better!  Loch Linnie, the hills and glens and murnos and Ben Nevis and the city of Fort William.   A real sense of accomplishment, this was, and a sad finality as we had run out of West Highland Way.

And that, my friend, was that.

We didn't have a map of Cow Hill, but it wasn't long until we realized that we had gone up the short, steep way, and we had gone down the very long gradual way, and instead of bypassing the trail's official end, we ended up meeting up with the trail and walked the last official mile through the bustling pedestrian streets of the city to the official end, which was a bench with a bronze statue of a man rubbing his feet.  Cow Hill had added 2.5 hours onto our hike, and we were closer to 20 miles at this point day.  The other thing I didn't realize was that one of the only B&Bs I could find with a vacancy was well out of the city center, and we had another 15 minutes of walking along Loch Linnie before we could get off our feet.

We celebrated with hot showers, finishing up our bottle of Glengoyne, and walking back into Fort William with our flip-flops on for dinner and a dram.

The trail was officially 95.5 miles.  Thanks to our apps, we calculated that we did closer to 110 when all was said and done.  It was probably more...we had a few long days where our phones ran out of batteries before we were done.

We were beyond tired, but elated.  I found I was exhausted enough to not be able to hold a conversation or have patience for waiting, and the moment I was done eating, I was just wanting to be recumbent more than anything.  That last mile walk back to the inn after dinner was the longest of the trail, but how sweet sleep was that night.

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