The West Highland Way & Great Glen Way

Walked in August 2010

Day 5 - Thursday 19th August

Bridge of Orchy - Kinlochleven
21 miles

Cold, cold morning. I was glad to be packing things away and getting ready to leave as a lie-in is practically impossible when you’re in a tent and it’s only a handful of degrees above freezing. Predictably, as soon as we emerged from our tents the midges descended and started feasting. I started swearing and swatting uselessly at my arms and legs, wishing Darryl would speed things up as I was clearly going to be ready before him. He caught up a little though, so that after I had marched away from camp with my pack on hoping to lose the little biters, he was only a few minutes behind. We started up the hill out of Bridge of Orchy, annoyed that the midges seemed to be following us, and headed up through trees then along a rocky path until we caught sight of Loch Tulla and to its left, along the road, the Inveroran Hotel.

On our way down the path we passed an Australian girl taking pictures of the Loch with a pretty impressive camera. I took a couple of pictures but standing still for more than a second or two allowed the midges to land, so I made the stop brief. Walking on in more depressing drizzle we soon came to the Inveroran Hotel which didn’t seem to be open so after stopping to get our waterproofs out and batting away more infernal midges, we continued on over a bridge, noticing a tent by the side of the river. Good luck to whoever was inside - the midge presence must have been near intolerable.

We followed a tarmac road now, our hoods up against the drizzle and after twenty minutes or so we came to an attractive little ranger’s lodge and the start of the path leading up to and over the vast, barren Rannoch Moor. The start of the path was at least a mile of steep walking. After a short while we turned and could see people behind us.

Some time later after we’d stopped to take off our waterproofs I could hear laboured breathing behind me and when I eventually stopped again one of The Four Fish overtook me looking like she was about fit to collapse with the effort of catching up. I resisted the urge to smirk and simply said ‘hello’ which was met with a short and unenthusiastic reply. Out of the group this woman was clearly the most competitive as she seemed more than happy to leave her companions way behind if only to get ahead of us for a short while. She struggled on along the path, keen to get a lead on us, but we overtook her again when she stopped to put her jacket back on and wait for the others to catch her up. You’re only as fast as the slowest in your group my friend. Ha ha.

Rannoch Moor opened up, but because of the dull weather it wasn’t really possible to truly appreciate it. I can imagine that on a clear, sunny day it would be a lovely, peaceful place to be. We trudged on, squelching in mud and puddles and came to a small bridge where three guys were huddled together in their ponchos looking pretty dejected. There were the remains of a fire nearby so they had probably camped on the moor the previous night. No wonder they looked miserable. We chatted with them and one of them asked how far it was to Kingshouse. I said it was about four or five miles and he used this to persuade his friends to carry on. They obviously didn’t have much enthusiasm left for walking as they said they would be catching a bus home at the earliest opportunity. As we stood chatting The Four Fish passed us and the super-competitive little woman gave me an odd smile and raised her eyebrows as she passed as if to say ‘dawdling a bit aren’t we?’ I had a private chuckle to myself as they carried on along the path. They clearly hadn’t got over us beating them on the way to Inverarnan and were taking any opportunity to try and get their own back. We only saw them once more after this day - the following morning in Kinlochleven. I think they really put a spurt on that day as we never caught them up. They must have decided their lives depended on getting to Fort William before us. Ha ha.

We pushed on along a rather steep section of path before descending toward Glen Etive and Glencoe. We had our first view of the mighty Buachaille Etive Mor and it looked awesome standing at the head of both glens and dividing them. We could see a tiny white building far below us and on the other side of the valley which had to be The Kingshouse Hotel. We were very keen to get there and have a break for something to eat and drink. After another mile or so of walking we finally reached it and I sat down outside with the bags while Darryl went in to buy a couple of drinks. It was a great place to stop for a while. The view was stunning and the only real disturbance was the light traffic on the road that headed into Glencoe. There were too many coaches and cars to count. After we’d finished our drinks we went inside the hotel and sat in the main bar where we both ordered the Kingy venison burger and chips. I had another pint of coke to make sure my energy levels were nicely topped up. We met three soldiers (one guy and two girls) who were walking the way as part of their leave. They were also carrying camping equipment but had used a couple of hostels. They didn’t hang around and were certainly a challenge to keep up with.

Eventually we had to leave the Kingshouse Hotel and carry on along the path. There were a couple of tents behind the Kingshouse Hotel and I couldn’t help but wince after reading that this was one of the worst places in Scotland for midges. Apparently they could swarm in thick, black clouds. It was hard not to shiver at the thought. Thank God we never wild-camped at Kingshouse as we had originally planned. We saw some deer as we walked and I took several more pictures of Buachaille Etive Mor as we headed toward the Devil’s Staircase, the steep hill path that twisted up from the valley floor to the high mountain road that would lead us to Kinlochleven. About a mile from Kingshouse two foreign guys stopped us and asked how far it was to the hotel. It seemed a lot of people around there were keen to get to Kingshouse. God knows how walkers would manage if that place ever closed down.

We started up a steep path which soon joined the Devil’s Staircase and started zig-zagging uphill. We stopped every now and again to catch our breath and appreciate the changing views back toward Rannoch Moor and in the opposite direction Glencoe.

Once at the top we stopped by the summit cairn for a brief rest, watching a group of walkers milling around before descending the Devil’s Staircase. Soon afterwards we were back on our feet again to follow the rocky, gradually descending path toward Kinlochleven.

It wasn’t long before we actually caught sight of the town, though it was teasing and tantalising us in the distance and we wouldn’t actually reach it for another hour or so. The path was as tortuous in its descent as the Devil’s Staircase had been in its ascent and my feet went from sore to numb to sore again. We didn’t pass many people on the way, but two blokes we’d seen on the staircase caught up with us then followed behind all the way to Kinlochleven. As the path snaked downhill it passed through a wooded section, then alongside the huge pipeline that took water off the mountain and down toward the town where it used to serve the aluminium works which are now long defunct.

Eventually we entered Kinlochleven and soon found (to our great relief) the youth hostel.
It was Thursday and we had booked a room for the following day. As we were a day early we were going to camp this night then move to the hostel for Friday night, but we would have to share that night and we fancied taking a chance on having the room to ourselves so we asked if it was ok to alter the booking. This turned out to be fine and we found we did indeed have a room to ourselves. We also decided (though not easily) to move on to Fort William the next day instead of having a day off in Kinlochleven. We were both knackered but I think I more than Darryl really didn’t fancy walking again the next day after the day’s hard work. Still, the rest would only be delayed by one day so I didn’t argue… much.

We washed some clothes and hung them around the room to dry then both showered and went out into the town to have a drink in the pub. The Tailrace was a nice quiet pub and we sat down for a relaxing drink and to read the interesting West Highland Way leaflets and newsletters. After not nearly long enough we left the pub and went to the fish and chip shop where I bought sausage and chips. Darryl decided to buy sandwiches and a chicken curry from the supermarket down the road and we both also bought plenty of food for the next day before heading back to the hostel to eat. As well as the chips I also managed to get three cakes down my neck. It had been a pretty big calorie-busting day.

We had expected to have a pretty decent night’s sleep, but a combination of the heat being left on earlier, the noise from the people in the room upstairs and burning, itching midge bites meant that it took us longer than expected to get to sleep. I was amused a couple of times by Darryl waking in a sudden panic. The first time he was convinced someone had tapped him, and the second time he asked me what that ‘bending’ noise was. Although our sleep was fitful we were at least indoors and out of the weather.


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