Monday, July 23

SCOTLAND TRIP: DAY 3 Sat 14/7 (West Highland Way)

Distance: 12.5 mile;
Ascent 560m with 331 m max;
Time 6.25 hr; Avg. speed: 2.9 mph
(And no apologies for mixing metric and imperial!)

From one extreme to the other. Yesterday a peak on a circular route, retracing tracks. Today a lowland linear trek all on new ground.

Just south of the Glen Nevis YHA there's a spur track behind the back of the pub (GR 125 720) leading onto the WHW thereby avoiding a trip into Fort William, and for us a somewhat pointless return trek back out again. A pleasant shale track for the first few miles leading through woodland. A delight after yesterday's ankle crunching paths and for once I had time to look around rather than watch where each foot was placed.

Big mistake. The rain rolled in. And out. And in, and......Well you get the picture I'm sure.

And as if sensing fresh meat on the menu, the midges decided now was time to put in their appearance. My companions for the day, new to this approach of self propelled backpacking between hostels, already daubing themselves with repellent, but I just covered up with clothing in benign resignation of it being one of those sort of days. Yesterday's legacy of sore thigh muscles quickly wearing off as I warmed up.

We had the narrow forest track through dense pine forest mostly to ourselves for the first couple of hours, travelling as we were against the normal WHW direction of travel (Glasgow to Fort William) As the morning wore on the first trekkers started to appear. Some out for the day. Others completing their own personal challenge, their journey's end within sight. By the time we reached Blar a Chaorainn (GR 101 666) walkers were converging from all directions.

A brief stop for food was curtailed by the arrival of more insistent rainfall, which meant any detour to see the monument appointing the spot where the chase of those escaping the infamous Glen Coe massacre finally ceased, was left for another time. A desolate area.

Finally into the valley following the Allt Na Lairige More and Allt Nathrach rivers which with the persistent rain tumbled their way down either side of the watershed.

If you like valley walking this is the route for you. For me it seemed to go on for ever. The track by now never remaining flat enough for any period of time to persuade me it was safe to spend my time looking up, as opposed to watching my step.

As Wainwright once said. Walking safely is easy. Just put one foot in front of the other and watch where you put them. Quite. But frustrating with the sides of the valley looming all around, their tops hidden in low cloud. Finally a cheeky descent through woodland spat us out onto the edge of Kinlochleven.

A bustling town. According to Wikipedia ("a major mountain activity centre, known as the Ice Factor ..........the village is now visited by over 100,000 visitors per year and has become one of the top 5 visitor attractions in the Highlands of Scotland")

Well perhaps it is normally. But on this wet Saturday afternoon the place seemed deserted, with maybe one or two cars on the road as we walked into the centre. Checking the first bus stop timetable we came across, whilst debating a coffee stop, or walking through to the other side of the town, the Fort William bus appeared, and the chance of escape from this (ahem) bustling metropolis was quickly agreed.

After the basic amenities of Glen Nevis hostel, a hot shower and the fleshpots of Glen Coe were eagerly anticipated for a Saturday night on the town. And if you've ever visited Glen Coe you'll know what a contrast that was to be. The local Spar shop, a necessary visit due to SYHA lack of lunchtime fare, was the main centre of attraction on a wet Saturday afternoon.

On this particular day the impact of the Highland Clearances seemed to be plain to see all around, although the modern day migration of youth to the bright lights of bigger centres of population has probably more to do with the general scarcity of population. The general emptiness of the landscape reflected within the mulling quiet of Glen Coe. But still, what an exceptional landscape all around, even with the claggy weather.

Suffice to say with a long damp walk out of Glen Coe to the hostel, a hot shower was eagerly anticipated before a night's entertainment. Another mistake. The name of the hostel only reflected the nearest set of dwellings. The SYHA stood by itself about a mile and a half along a rising tarmac road, a trip that after the day's distance and weather seemed to go on longer than it deserved.

The Glen Coe SYHA once again surprised me with its low level of amenities compared to its English counterparts.
Contrary to the SYHA web site breakfast would turn out to be very basic, packed lunches non-existent, and staffing very much run on a shoestring from the look of it all. And once again the hostel was nearly full. The difference between the two organisations, at least on my limited use of the Scottish hostels so far, rather obvious. I've not been a huge fan of the nouveau B&B approach adopted by the English chain, but both the SYHAs I used would rate barely above the traditional hostel grading despite being lowland hostels in undoubtedly busy locations.

Gratifyingly the showers were indeed hot. But the room is dark and intermittent traffic pass by on the road a few feet from the dormitory window. Besides that the area is quiet. Too quiet.

With a long walk back to Glen Coe for food resupply or onto the excellent Clachaig Inn for more meaningful sustenance......well no contest. Despite the day's distance already covered.

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Lovely stuff. You tell it how it is. A world away from the guide books and Colin Prior-ish photographs and all the fake rubbish.
Thanks SW - I try to keep it real so others can learn from my mistakes, or try out my successes. After all thats what I do with their bits
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