We were half way through our West Highland Way walk and after four days we found ourselves stood on a railway platform at Crianlarich waiting for a train to take us back up the line to Tyndrum, where we could pick up the trail into Glen Coe. I expected the station to be a quiet, nondescript place, but how wrong I was. The platform was jammed with walkers, some out for the day, some carrying kit for a weekend camp out, and others, like us, on the next stage of our WHW walk. A cafe in one of the station buildings was enjoying a lively trade.
The train was standing room only, and we were soon back at Tyndrum where the WHW trail passed behind the station so it was easy to find our way.
Preparing to leave; The scene move Lyn to Yoga; Me on the trail.
The path ran close to the main road and railway for much of the route but the views and scenery just got better and better. To the right of the path we passed Meall Buidhe and behind it, Beinn Odharr. The desolation peace and remoteness was calming, yet when we walked past a remote farm house or croft, it did make us think how do people live out here in the middle of no-where.
Clockwise from top left: Beinn Odhar; At the start of the days walk; Lyn on the trail; Mountain view.
Our lunch stop was at Bridge or Orchy. This place sounded grand but in fact consisted of a hotel, railway station, a couple of B&B’s and a bunk house! It nestles in a valley on the River Orchy, overlooked by two large, craggy Monroe’s on either side. This was the last village or settlement we would see until the seventh day of the walk.
L – R: Us on the Bridge of Orchy; River Orchy; Downstream River Orchy.
From Bridge of Orchy, the WHW climbs through the Caledonian Forest to a clearing at the top of the hill with fantastic views all around. We sat a while and just gazed at the natural rugged beauty of it all. It was so peaceful sitting and listening to the birdsong and the gentle wind blowing around us. Our accommodation for the night was a small remote hotel literally at the end of a road in the middle of no-where. The Inveroran Hotel stands alone in the valley close to the river. There is one other private house about half a mile away, then nothing. Once again the welcome was friendly and the place seemed very popular despite its remoteness. It appeared that many, like us had walked in, as there were few cars in the car park opposite. The peace and quiet was absolute, save for the trickling sound of the stream at the bottom of the garden. Bliss!!
Clockwise from top left: Us on top of Mam Carraigh; Lyn in Yoga pose; Resting before the descent; Panorama
Up to this point, the weather for our trek had been excellent with warm sunshine and cloudless skies. As we prepared for the next leg of our walk, it was clear the weather had changed overnight. The skies were grey and threatening and the wind had picked up to a blustery swirling maelstrom which would make the forthcoming walk over open moorland a little more bleak.
Our route took us across one of the most photographed landscapes in the UK, Rannoch Moor, but there were no photographers out today, only walkers in both directions battling the wind and now rain. As we approached Glen Coe we could just about make out the base of one of the most famous and intimidating mountains in the region, Buachaille Etive Mor, “the Great Herdsman of Etive”. Its arrowhead shape guards the entrance to Glen Coe Valley and is also popular with landscape photographers……but not this day.
Clockwise from top left: Outside the Inveroran Hotel; Loch Tulla; Moorland view 1; Moorland view 2
Top: Panorama with Loch Tulla in background; Bottom left: It’s bleak out here; Bottom right: Coffee Break.
A shorter leg brought us to our night stop destination, the Glen Coe Mountain Centre. In the winter, this place is one of the main areas in Scotland for ski-ing. In spring and summer it is no less popular with walkers, however the facilities are basic. We had booked a “Micro-Lodge” a cylindrical wooden structure with beds and lighting. Washing facilities and toilets were in a separate block, a short walk up the car park, an interesting experience at 4am in the rain!
Outside and inside our Hobbit Hut at the Glen Coe Mountain Centre
When we arrived we collected our sleeping bags from the cafe and made our way to “Hobbit 2” our allotted hut. We christened them Hobbit Huts and I suppose this is what they call “Glamping” a solid roofed tent! The social centre of the site is the cafe which served basic and hearty food, but closed at 8-30pm. After that there was only each other, the quiet of the glen and the birdsong for company, oh and the occupants of the other Hobbit Huts and campsite. The continuing rain dampened any idea of us sitting outside to watch the sunset!
After a surprisingly good nights sleep (our Hobbit Hut was toasty warm), and a sparse breakfast we set off on the next leg. The weather to the south looked quite promising with blue sky showing in the far distance. However we were heading north, which looked grey, drizzly, wet and misty. Low cloud draped the mountains in a grey coat and as we walked on up the path the rain intensified.
L: This was the view to the south from the Glen Coe Mountain Centre. R: Unfortunately we were going the other way!
L – R: Leaving Glen Coe Mountain Centre
Part of this leg was an 850ft climb up what is known as The Devil’s Staircase, a steep winding path built and probably christened by those poor soldiers who had to carve this sinuous path up the hillside in the 1750’s. Normally, the summit of this climb gives grand views of the mountains in Glen Coe and over the Mamores range to Ben Nevis further north. Not this day. The visibility was about 300m at best and as we began our descent the mist and fog rolled in on the wind, cloaking any view in a grey wet clag. The Scots have a word for this, “driech”. That just about sums it up!
On the trail to Kinlochleven
Clockwise from top left: Devils Staircase; Lyn on Devils Staircase; The top; Us at the top.
Kinlochleven was our destination on this leg. Described in a 1968 guide to Scotland as “the ugliest village on two thousand miles of coast” the dull weather we experienced did it no favours in making it look any better. Once home to a massive Aluminium smelter which closed some years ago, the village has reinvented itself as an Outdoor Activities Centre with the old smelting factory becoming the the location for the UK’s biggest indoor articulated climbing and ice climbing wall.
And so to our last day, the fifteen miles to Fort William. The good news was that the rain had stopped and although cloudy, the promise of some sunshine put a spring in our step. On the steep track out of Kinlochleven we recognised many of those we had seen throughout the walk and greetings and nods of recognition were exchanged without pausing for conversation.
Once at the top of the hill we were clear of the woods and the views were wonderful, spoilt only by the low cloud sitting on top of some of the higher summits.
Clockwise from top left: The start of our last day; Wild Rhododendron; Beinn na Caillich and Mam na Gullainn; Looking back at Kinlochleven.
Some views of the WHW Trail en route to Fort William
Clockwise from top left: In need of renovation; Ben Nevis is round here somewhere!; Panorama.
Lyn on the trail
The trouble with maps is………….If at first you don’t succeed, Try again. Success!!
The path wound its way through the glen past some wonderfully named mountains such as Stob Ban to the north of the path and Meall Chaorainn to the east as the path finally turned north. Out to the north east lies Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis. It was difficult to recognise as low cloud shrouded most of it. By the time we reached our destination at Fort William, the sun shone perfectly on us as we walked to the finish point in the centre of town. The finish point is signified by the statue of a walker taking a rest on the stone bench. After photographs and a celebratory coffee we made our weary way to our B&B, another long distance walk achieved.
Clockwise from top left: Original end of WHW; Statue at the official end of the walk; All done we got to the end.
West Highland Way journeys through some of the most beautiful and remote parts of the UK. We experienced the famed Scottish hospitality wherever we went and will definitely return to Scotland in the future.