We left Drymen the following morning and walked back to the West Highland Way in fairly gloomy weather, although it wasn't raining at this point. The route of the WHW actually looped around in semi-circle so after we had been walking for a while, we were still looking down over the village. The initial part of the walk was in the shelter of woods before it entered open ground with the prominent cone of Conic Hill providing the next objective. The path ahead leading up the the right-hand flank of the hill was dotted with groups of West Highland Way walkers plodding uphill as the weather slowly worsened. The walk had the feel of a coach trip but without the coach, as we would pass and be passed by the same familiar faces throughout the day and the days that followed on the walk. By the time we had reached the top of the climb, the rain was coming down fairly heavily, mixed with hail. We descended into Balmaha, where we stopped at the Oak Tree Inn for coffee and also to give the weather time to clear, but while we sat, it actually worsened, so eventually, we just donned our wet weather gear again and headed back out into the rain. The route now followed the edge of Loch Lomond as far as Rowardennan and we arrived at the hotel in a fairly, wet, bedraggled condition. We were greeted on reception by a very friendly Portugese receptionist from the Azores, who seemed very impressed that I actually knew where the islands were and with her help, we were soon sorting out our wet gear and showering before heading into the hotel bar for dinner.
At ten miles, the section between Tyndrum to Inveroran was to be the shortest distance so far. We set off at a fairly leisurely pace out of the village and stopped to take photographs of numerous animals carved into the stumps of felled trees in a garden. The route climbed a little as it left the village before levelling out as it now followed the line of the old military road through the valley, which it shared with the main A82 road, the Highlands railway and the River Allt Coire Challein. The main attraction of this section however was the views of the mountains, in particular the pyramidal shape of the imposing Beinn Dorain. The military road stretched out along the valley into the distance and we passed and were passed in turn by numerous walkers, runners and cyclists. The weather today, in complete contrast to yesterday, was beautiful, with warm sunshine and white clouds billowing over the mountains. We fell into walking with a lone Scottish hiker and chatted with him as we headed for Bridge of Orchy. Here, he was planning to get the train to Corrour before carrying on with his walk. As we reached the station at Bridge of Orchy, a shower passed overhead and the three of us hurried to avoid the rain at the hotel, where we stopped for tea. After our break, we said goodbye to the walker as we left him waiting for his train and headed the 2.5 miles to Inveroran, where we were booked into the hotel. The actual route of the WHW heads into the hills at this point into a pine forest before descending to the hotel at Inveroran. At the suggestion of the Scottish walker, and because my wife's legs were still painful, we decided to omit the climb and instead following the narrow, traffic free road alongside Loch Tulla. This turned out to be an excellent decision as the scenery was simply superb, the best so far on the walk. All around were fantastic views of the mountains and we began to feel we were really in the Highlands. We arrived at the hotel early and were soon booked in by a charming hostess who showed us to our room where we relaxed for the afternoon before heading to the restaurant for dinner.
We left the beautifully remote Inveroran Hotel on a lovely morning and followed the road along the valley. Today we were following the military road across Rannoch Moor and we began climbing in superb mountain scenery that improved as we climbed. When the tarmac finished, the West Highland Way continued on the military road. A network of military roads was constructed in the Scottish Highlands during the middle part of the 18th century as part of an attempt by the British Government to bring order to a part of the country which had risen up in the Jacobite rebellion of 1715. This particular road stretched from Tyndrum to Fort William and proved to be a leisurely but long climb up onto the moor. Once we were on the top, the scenery became simply wonderful as we were surrounded by mountains in all directions. Near the summit of the climb, we passed a large cairn set back from the path which signalled the beginning of the descent to the Kingshouse Hotel. As we descended, we could see the ski-lift on the mountainsides above and the prominent, cone-like peak of Buchaille Etive Mor came into view and began to dominate the scene. We arrived at the hotel and were amazed to find that the window of our room had a simply stunning view of the mountain and the mouth of Glencoe. The hotel itself was slightly tired and in need of refurbishment but this mattered little as we wandered around the grounds taking in the superb views as the wild deer mingled with the walkers and tourists taking photographs.
Buachaille Etive Mor
The following day, we awoke to yet another beautifully, sunny morning and as we drew back the curtains were greeted by the stunning view of Buchaille Etive Mor, which had a little early morning cloud brushing the peak. After breakfast, we joined the procession of WHW walkers heading into Glencoe to the foot of the Devil's Staircase, which is a steep climb of around 800ft but is nowhere near as arduous as the name might suggest. We started the climb and stopped regularly to enjoy the simply stunning scenery around Glencoe that opened out as we climbed. Before long, we reached the top of the climb and were rewarded with further stunning views to the Mamores Ridge. We descended comfortably but steeply in excellent scenery and as we approached the village, stopped briefly for a break and were surprised to see the Scottish walker we had last seen at the Bridge of Orchy hotel. He told us that he had been to Dalwhinnie and had stayed the night in a bothy but was now finishing his trip and heading home by bus. We walked with him into Kinlochleven where we said goodbye to him for the last time and headed for a pub in the High Street for lunch. The village was probably the most attractively situated on the whole way as it was surrounded by high mountains and had the feel of an alpine village. After lunch, we located our guesthouse and spent the evening in a nearby pub.
Climbing the Devil's Staircase
On the summit of the Devil's Staircase
We left Kinlochleven on yet another fine, sunny day and climbed steeply from the village on a forest path. As we climbed, the views opened up of Loch Leven further down the valley. At the top of the climb we reached the military road, which we now followed through the valley of Lairigmor, a wide, high level glen enclosed by mountains on all sides. The going was fairly easy, although the surface of the 'road' was quite stony, which made walking a little uncomfortable at times. We rolled along on this manner for a number of miles with very little ascent or descent until we reached Blar a Chaoruinn, where the way once again began to ascend. Shortly after the start of the ascent, we stopped for a break and enjoyed attractive views to Lochan Lunn da-Brah. Continuing, we reached the top of the climb and it wasn't too long before we were suddenly confronted by an impressive view of the imposing bulk of Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis. Eventually, the route joined a wide forest road as it descended into Glen Nevis in the shadow of the huge bulk of the mountain. Glen Nevis looked very attractive below us and as we followed the broad forest track, we decided to stop for a break to absorb the last views the walk before continuing the descent into the glen when the route suddenly turned away from the track and followed a path through woods before unceremoniously dumping us on a busy main road. The sudden realisation that we now had to walk around 1.5 miles along the busy road was a bit of a shock after days of superb scenery and it seemed a shame that the walk was going to end in such an anti-climactic way. We plodded past the original end point of the walk before walking up the high street to the current official end point by the hiker statue sitting on a bench. We asked two girls to take our photo next to the statue and then it was done. After 95 miles of mostly superb scenery, the West Highland Way was over. Now, my wife would head back south to visit friends and relatives, while I would be switching the busiest walk I had ever done for probably the least walked in the country.
First View of Ben Nevis
End of the WHW