Friday, June 6, 2014

West Highland Way Day 8 - Kinlochleven to Fort William

Above Loch Leven.JPGYou leave Kinlochleven by a road and then trail that ascends almost as steeply as the Devil's Staircase to a ridge-line where an old Military Road remains. This view of Loch Leven is still 100 meters below that point but it's not a bad place to catch your breath as you have been climbing steadily through birch forest until this point.
Our last day hiking the West Highland Way has come to an end and in several ways this 16 mile day encapsulates much of what the Way has been like. Once again the wether gods smiled upon us and we started the hike from Kinlochleven under pretty clear and warm skies. The temperature would rise easily to 70 degrees and I am confident this was the warmest day of our 8 day journey. There was a breeze most of the day but while brisk at times it was anything but bothersome especially as we hiked the several miles of Military Road through the Lairigmor (the Great Pass). That's just part of what I meant by the day encapsulating the whole trail. We began with a walk through wooded park-like terrain as we left the confines of Kinlochleven. From there we hiked up a steep, though nowhere as steep as the Devil's Staircase, trail through birch woods to a ridge-line that looks down on Loch Leven some 250 meters below. Then it is onto the latest of the series of old military roads and start heading north west (more west early on with the wind at our backs and then turning northernly and still having a good deal of wind at our backs). The military road is wide, hard packed dirt and stone, and after several miles foot tiring. The going is technically easy but your feet ache for the softer tread-way of a mountain trail through forest where the dirt and leaf litter form a kinder path. We walked easily through Lairgmor admiring to open rolling hills with mountains so near that they seemed bigger than they actually are. It's a remote place but still some people have elected, well once did, to live here. We leapfrogged a group of fellow hikers at a rhine of a stone cottage where they were taking a break. While water is plentiful and I expect sheep could find plenty to graze even here it is a looney spot and no doubt a hard place to live. When we crossed one of the numerous streams to join a trail that ran through hills dotted with grazing sheep we breathed sighs of relief because the treadway had changed to a softer solid dirt. Suddenly it seemed a bit less lonely.
On the Military Road Again.JPGWe start our walk along the old Military Road through the Lairigmor (Great Pass). Soon the trees will vanish and we will be treated to expanses of rolling hills that quickly turn into greater hills and mountains of pretty barren land.
Lairigmor Waterfall.jpgOne of the many waterfalls we would pass. Maybe not as numerous as the pour-offs we strode by frequently when hiking the woods road above Loch Lomond on day 3 on our way to Ardlui but many streams would be forded as we trod the Military Road today.

The Great Pass 1.JPGWe had a late-morning snack near here. This view looks back from whence we came as as you can see we have been climbing a bit. The grade is gentle and the walking generally comfortable even though the path is rather hard. The land is bounded by tall hills and though there is grass here it's pretty empty of growth.
The Great Pass 2.JPGLooking to where we will be heading (more or less) near the same spot as the previous picture. Soon we will pas by an old stone cottage that has fallen into ruin. Why anyone would have settled up here to do sheep farming (I assume) is a bit of a mystery to me. This is not exactly a friendly spot with meager flora, plenty of wind, and lots of exposed land. Water is plentiful and I suppose if you want to be far from neighbors this is a good place.
Grazing the Great Pass.JPGAfter just about 7 miles of the old Military Road we would reach a small woods where we settled down for lunch (about 13:00). Other people passed us by as we ate (we had leapfrogged them earlier) as we were all on our way to Fort William. Now we're on a small path that is winding its way through these fairly grassy hills that are home to grazing sheep. It's a much nicer section of trail for the feet to trod - nowhere near as hard.
Me and Water.JPGSoon after this point we enter forest plantations. This starts out wonderful with lovely well grown forest to walk through but after we descend to another bridge and water crossing (descending pretty much the entire time) we come out on a truly ugly bit of land full of gnarly stumps and logs. We'd have our afternoon snack on a hill above that mess and just a little ways south of the woods road and Dun Deardail Fort (an Iron Age fort) which you may just be able to see through the trees if you were in the right place to look (not this picture which is miles south and the last I took before reaching the Original Way End).
As you might expect the views along the 6 odd miles of military road were quite good. Mountains rise a couple thousand feet above us and in time you got very good views of the snow capped Ben Nevis which is the highest mountain in the United Kingdom standing a bit over 4,400 feet. But we would also be treated to some wonderful forest walking later in the day. Passing through the dense pine forest, again softer trail, was a real treat. It's too bad that when we left the far side of the pine forest we entered a sizable area devoid of trees land strewn with left-behind stumps and logs. The wreckage of a logging operation. Far less pretty than the huge water pipes we could kind of ignore yesterday. Eventually we would leave the logging area for a forest road that would take us past a distant Iron Age fort called Dun Deardail, (barely visible) and down towards Fort William. A diversion, clearly well made but just as clearly needing switchbacks as it plummeted down the mountainside to rejoin the forest road. That road would take us to a paved road which would after about 4 miles take us past first the visitor center that I think supports Ben Nevis and then, oh so much later though likely less than 45 minutes walk, into Fort William. Not a pleasant walk really; just putting one foot down after the other and watching the traffic zip on by. We paused at the original end of the West Highland Way for some pictures and then trudged through town (so many shops seemed closed) to where the trail really ends. They moved the end to force hikers to go through town but I think that mercenary decision has not been that popular and it seems odd if you aren't going to have shops open even (it was just after 17:00 by this time). We had experienced much of everything the trail had to offer today including a tiny splash of rain as we got to the Visitor Center (hardly worth mentioning).
WestThe original end of the West Highland Way. They decided to move the current end another mile and a bit into the heart of Fort William. Perhaps they hoped people would stop and buy more goods. Personally I think this is a fine endpoint and that last mile just adds to the drag of the last 3 or so which you trod on paved road from just before the visitor center that supports Ben Nevis to the trail's end. Before that point you are walking a curving forestry road (with one helluva diversion that plummets down new well-made trail for some 400 meters).
The Group and the End.jpgOur group, all but two, at the official end of the West Highland Way.
We are Certified.JPGWe Are Certified
John the Piper.jpgJohn the Piper playing us into our last dinner with the group.
IMG_6117.JPGThe famed and fabled haggis of Scotland. Quite tasty with tatties (potatoes) and jeeps (a yellow turnip-like plant).

We have completed the West Highland Way and are all quite happy. Ending the day at the hotel with John the Piper piping in the Haggis was an added special treat and something I don't think we will soon forget.

All 17 photos for day 8 (at much greater size) can be viewed in this Flickr photo album.

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