2008 West Highland Way, Scotland

How This All Started

Last year I promised my son, daughter and son-in-law to take them walking on a long distance path (LDP) in the UK. We all chose the West Highland Way because none of us had ever been to Scotland and the length fitted their time frame to be away from work. My son Peter is a physicist, daughter Naomi has an import business and her husband Chris is a psychologist, all living in California. I am retired, thank goodness. This will be my sixth LDP.

The WHW runs from just north of Glasgow to Fort William, about 95 miles and taking 7 days. We will take an extra day to climb Ben Nevis, 12 miles up and down and 4400 ft elevation. Then we plan on a train ride over to the coastal fishing village of Mallaig before returning to Glasgow. They will spend an extra day in Glasgow before flying home, and I will continue on to Carlisle for two days of walking Hadrian’s wall.
Meanwhile, after plans for the walk had been decided upon, a miraculous conception occurred last year on Naomi and Chris’s eight day trek in the Andes to Machu Picchu. Ergo, this September we had a 4 month old baby to accompany us on the WHW. Naomi insisted we not cancel the trip because of little Braylon.  She said she could handle the extra 14 pounds to carry, feed and keep entertained.

This walk was going to be quite different from my solo LDP walks in past years. Suddenly, I had responsibilities. Frankly, it was quite scary having the little one along but I trusted my daughter to prepare well (which she did). For the first time ever, I booked accommodations through a booking service (Easyways) and had two bags transferred by Travel-lite. My son Peter and I carried our own packs. Naomi and Chris will alternate carrying baby Braylon (in an Ergo front carrier) and a daypack. The four of us each carried about 14 pounds. I would say we are about equal in walking ability, they have the edge in age (34 to 37), I have the edge in experience (70 years old). I have no worries about their fitness. Peter is a tri-athlete and has a black belt in karate. Chris is a consummate surfer and has a black belt in judo. To her credit, Naomi faithfully followed the walking program that I recommended. Chris neglected that part of conditioning to his regret. More on that later.

                         Where Are You Taking Me?  Why Do I Need A Plane Ticket?

We all used frequent flyer miles to get to Glasgow from California, so our flight schedules were different.  I flew from San Francisco and they flew from Los Angeles a day later.
We planned to meet at Queen St. Station in Glasgow at noon on Sept.18.  It was a short train ride to Milngavie, our first B&B on the walk and the start of the West Highland Way.
For a guidebook we used The West Highland Way Official Guide by Bob Aitken (w/map)
and a trail guide Naomi printed off the internet. We also purchased two Footprint maps from The Iron Chef store in Milngavie. These proved to be extremely convenient and useful for when we were separated. They were excellent maps as well.

                                                       West Highland Way Map

Arrival in Glasgow

After an overnight flight and changing planes at Heathrow, I finally set foot in downtown Glasgow at 14:00, Sept 17. My main objective here was to get acquainted with one of my heroes, Glasgow’s premier designer, Charles Rennie McIntosh. I got information at the TIC and made plans to tour his Glasgow Art School tomorrow morning before meeting the group when they arrive about noon. I checked into Euro Hostel, wandered the streets a bit to get a feeling for the city, ate dinner at Wetherspoon’s, then crashed at the hostel.

Eleven hours of good sleep, I needed it. At breakfast, 26 selections of coffee. Talked to a couple from Victoria, B.C. here for a folk song get-together.  Wish I could go hear them sing.  I stored my backpack at the hostel and scooted over to the Glasgow Art School for its 10:00 tour. What a wonderful tour by a fourth year student. Marvellous interior designs by Rennie and also his wife, Margaret McDonald. Windows, doors, stairs, furniture, every detail designed by them. These two were a great inspiration for Frank Lloyd Wright and other arts and crafts style architects.

                                                    Rennie's Art School

                                               Peter Has Found A New Home

I met the gang at Queen St. Station, right on time. While Naomi and Chris ate, Peter and I went back to the Euro Hostel to pick up my backpack, then took the long way back to show him a little of the city.  Naomi and Chris were finishing eating and  we missed our train to Milngavie by 30 seconds but another train came along in 20 minutes. A little rain was falling, typical Scotland weather.  Baby Braylon was sleeping all the way. Luckily, this will be typical behavior.  We settled into our B&B, Best Foot Forward, a nice, roomy place and Morag, our host, was very friendly and helpful.

While Chris and Braylon slept, Naomi, Peter and I went into town for maps, PO phone cards, backpack strap repair and a pint of ale at Cross Keys Pub.  McEwen ale, nearly like a stout, was exceptional.  Later, Chris and I went back to the pub and had chicken tikka and shrimp salad and McEwen’s again, same table. Staff did a double take! 

DAY 1 Friday 19 Sept

Milngavie to Drymen 12 miles

The salmon and egg breakfast deserved an A+, but the Scottish fried was mediocre. Best Foot Forward was an excellent b&b, large and well furnished rooms, most attentive host.
We met a New Zealand couple at breakfast with a 12 month old girl carried in a backpack. Ahh, another baby on the trail.  Good company!  Couldn’t get off till 9:25, getting Bray and Chris sorted out.  We dropped our bags at the Travel-lite van in town, then photos of the gang at the obelisk which marked the official start of the West Highland Way. We are on the trail by 9:50, a little late. The day is rainy and cool. We are excited as we step from town, over the bridge and into Mugdock Wood.

                                Obelisk in Milngavie, Start Of West Highland Way

Easy, pleasant walk through the park-like wood and over low hills. Bray is usually sleeping, woke only to eat.  Naomi is mostly breast -feeding him plus using a milk powder supplement when needed. We stopped at Glengoyne Distillery, a short path off the WHW.  We decided the one hour tour would take too long, so we chatted with the shop man and checked out the goods. He saw we weren’t leaving soon, so he poured us two tastes, a 17 yr old single malt and a 24 yr old aged in sherry barrels (my favorite). Its amazing how many types of barrels they use for aging. Peter and Naomi bought two of the little tourist bottles. We ate lunch in an outside area where Braylon could stretch out and play.
                                                Glengoyne Distillery

                                                   The Juice Is Cooking

                                                Farm Sign For Workers

More easy walking into Drymen and our booking, Elmbank B&B. Weather has mostly cleared. Nice, large en-suite room for Naomi, Chris and Bray, but Peter and I had a tiny room just big enough for two twin beds but had an adjacent lounge and mini-kitchen. Shared a bath with the adjacent single room. I looked for a phone in the village to call home, no luck! Checked out the local pub, Clachans Inn, “oldest pub in Scotland.” Great menu, good ale selection and tables available in the restaurant side, but will fill up in an hour. Back to Elmbank to rustle up the gang (its 6 pm), but can’t get them going for two hours. They went out to Spar grocery for tomorrow’s lunch and snacks.

Clachans is very crowded now, so we wait in the bar side where everyone was very friendly. Chris and Naomi were concerned about bringing Braylon into a pub, but were relieved to see two other babies, even a dog. The place was rocking (Friday night) and we all had a great time while waiting for a table.
                                             Clachan Inn At The Bar

                                              The Four Guys At Clachan's

Ale was Old Speckled Hen which I had last year on Offa’s Dyke. Chris doesn’t drink alcohol, so he got a very nice iced tea. It took about an hour to get a table but it was worth it. Dinner was grilled salmon, kabobs in special sauce w/rice, malaysian lamb w/rice and rack of lamb plus a plate of haggis . Surprisingly, the haggis was excellent, much like scrapple which my mother used to make using innards the hog butcher throws away (lungs, etc.) cooked with corn meal. Sticky toffee pudding shared by all, a new dessert for these Californians and they loved it. I can’t recommend Clachans highly enough, no negatives.

DAY 2 Saturday 20 Sept

Drymen to Rowardenan 14 miles

Breakfast was partially self-serve but the cook takes egg orders, three of us had poached. There was ham, cheeses, crumpets, honey and choice of instant coffees. Nice chat with a 77 yr old from Suffolk, Pete, walking alone. We’ll see him many times on the walk. We were entertained at the B&B by three English lads walking south who had bought “viking hats” in Fort William.

                                            Viking Invasion At The B&B

Off by 9:10, a little better timing than yesterday. Over hills and through forests. Stopped for a diaper change on a big tree stump. Nearing Conic Hill, we had our first views of Loch Lomond and its many isles. What a grand approach to Conic Hill. We crossed several burns (gullys w/water) before starting the long climb up Conic Hill. Everyone wanted to take the side trail up to the summit and had a good time exploring the three peaks and taking in the views. This is where the Highlands begin!

                                                Dad On Diaper Duty

                                                          Conic Hill

                                           Loch Lomond From Conic Hill

                                                   Highland Cattle

We didn’t arrive in Balmaha until 1:30, left at 2 after looking at the visitor center and eating odds and ends, then spied a roadside cafe and spent another ½ hr for tea and coffee. We have over six miles to go and at least one more stop for Braylon. 6 pm anyone? The path along the Loch to the Rowardenen Hotel was an unexpectedly rough go and, yes, it was 6 pm. Everyone was tired, still getting their walking legs in shape.

                                             A Rest Break At Cashel

                                                  Geese On The Loch

The hotel desk clerk said we were only booked for tomorrow night, no rooms tonight, while winking at Peter. I was dumbfounded. We all had a great laugh when the truth came out. Scottish humor!! But it is a very nice place, big rooms. The desk clerk proved his worth by giving Naomi keys to an extra room with a tub, her room had only a shower. She and Braylon soaked for a whole hour. Down in the pub, the bartender was also a joker, cracking jokes all night. McEwen’s ale again and Best ale. Dinner was smoked trout terrine, Irish lamb stew, haddock, salmon & shrimp pasta, Caesar salad, haggis and another sticky toffee pudding. Music on this Saturday night was a guitar player and a singer playing harmonica, lots of Beetle songs. Bray enjoyed it all!

DAY 3 Sunday 21 Sept

Rowardenan to Inverarnan 14 miles

A beautiful breakfast room, menus on the table, good service and food. Saw fellow walker Pete again. He is leaving early because he is “a slow walker.” I like to pack before breakfast so I can leave just after, but Chris and Naomi are not so organized. Of course, Braylon needs to be fed and changed before leaving, so that all takes time. Off by 9:30 along the track high above Loch Lomond, through woods, under rock cliffs, lots of ups and downs. I take Chris’s photo looking through a hole in an upended tree root. Peter wanted to run up Ben Lomond but realized it would take too much time, so instead, he took the lower path along the Loch to see Rob Roy’s prison (a cave) and met us further down the trail. He said it was rough but worthwhile.

                                                     Head In Tree Root

                                               Lunch At Inversnaid

Stopped for an hour at the Inversaid Hotel for lunch and coffee using the patio tables. We have found that Naomi needs a one hour break twice a day to feed Braylon, change his diaper and give him some play time out of his carrier. We see quite a few walkers from the last two days. There was Pete leaving before us again, the New Zealand couple with the one yr old, and a wonderful couple from over on the coast. She, an energetic 77 yr old, he, 84 yrs old with a twinkle in the eye, a quip on the tongue and a most infectious laugh.
                                          Gregg On The Loch Path

                                     Friend Pete On The Loch Path

After Inversaid, it was hard, slow walking over rocks, tree trunks, streams, and waterfalls, lots of scrambling up and down, strange and beautifully shaped trees, even saw a herd of deer in a meadow. Beautiful view at the head of Loch Lomond. After crossing Glen Glas Burn, we passed through Beinglas Farm with their enticing wigwam accommodations and a well stocked shop, crossed the River Falloch and followed the road to our B&B, Rose Cottage.

                                             Head Of The Loch Looking South

                                                          Hungry Fawn

Again, we arrived at 6 pm, but it was a very good day. A warning sign about midgies was in my room but we, luckily, never came in contact with them on the whole trip. Naomi has developed a heel blister, so I put a compeed on it. She had never heard of compeed, but I never go walking without it. I’ve been using plasters to prevent blisters on my toes.

                                          Sign In Our Room At Rose Cottage

After tea and a cleanup, we walked down the road to the Drover’s Inn (1705 pub) for dinner. Pete, our 77 yr old friend, was there. He was staying upstairs and said the room is a real hellhole. Apparently, all I’ve heard about it is true. Even the water is not safe to drink, it comes straight off the hillside. But the beer was good (and safe) and he sat with us for dinner. Here is what we ate: Chris had rack of pork ribs, Naomi and Peter each had grilled salmon, Pete had lamb livers, and I had a warm goat cheese salad (fabulous). Our gang went overboard on desserts tonight, chocolate cake w/ice cream, two hot sticky toffee puddings, one w/hot custard and one w/ice cream. No one had sticky toffee pudding before Scotland and they are crazy over it. Consensus was that no one should book in the Drover’s Inn, but don’t miss the food and the funky atmosphere was decidedly unique. 

DAY 4 Monday 22 Sept

Inverarnan to Tyndrum 13 miles

Rose Cottage was fairly spartan with a mediocre breakfast. My breakfast scale depends on quality of sausage and availability of fruit. Big zero! But at least I’m not at the Drover’s. We were off at 9:20, crossed the River Falloch again and stopped at the Beinglas Farm shop to pick up lunch items. Oops, I forgot my walking poles in the b&b foyer. Peter was happy to go back and get them, a chance to run and stretch his legs.

It’s a relatively easy walk today over good terrain. Passed by splendid waterfalls and wild rapids on the River Falloch with mountain slopes on both sides of us. Came upon Pete sitting in the sun and the New Zealand couple playing with their little girl on a blanket and the 77/84 yr old couple sitting on a rock having a lovely time. His laugh was like the tinkling of little bells, made us all feel good. Naomi said she wished she could tape his laugh to be able to replay it when feeling depressed.

                                             River Falloch Rapids

                                                     Near Crianlaric

After Crianlaric, we found a park bench by the path (an amazing find) and had lunch in the sun with a fine overlook. Naomi went on ahead until Bray needed feeding. Later, we found them on a rocky outcropping just in time for Chris to do his fatherly duty and change the diaper. There was a long descent, crossing several creeks, finally passing under an old viaduct, crossing a road and then a broad, flat land with high peaks all around. There was the ruins of St. Fillan church and its cemetery, then on to the wigwam encampment with a shop for refreshments and toilet. I had a hot chocolate, Chris had a root beer and snacks. I met a walker who was intent on bagging the many (5 or 6) munros around us.
                                               After A Braylon Break

                                                Cemetary at St. Fillan

                                                    WHW Signpost

Chris begins carrying Bray, but detours off path to see the stone carving of King Arthur’s
 lost sword. Naomi, Peter and I go ahead. We see Glengarry House, our B&B, across the river and the road but can’t find the path to it. So we walk into Tyndrum, then back up the road to the B&B.  We check into Glengarry House, very nice rooms. Chris and Bray don’t arrive so Andy (our host) drives Naomi into the village and find Chris having a latte with Bray playing on the outdoor table.

                                   Stone Carving Of King Arthur's Lost Sword 

                                                   Loch of Legend of Lost Sword

At the B&B, we clean up, get laundry sorted and Andy arranges for a taxi in the morning. Peter is planning to leave early to cover the 19 miles to Kingshouse but, with Bray, we want to start the walk at Bridge of Orchy so we only have a 12 mile walk. Pete is also staying here and comes in at 7 pm. He has walked halfway to Bridge of Orchy and has taken a taxi back so he will only have 15 or 16 miles to walk tomorrow. We all go out for dinner. Except for Chris, he is sleeping.

We choose the Real Food Cafe, a highly recommended fish shop. I have salad in place of chips and some great beer from Edinburgh and Peter has the same. Our friend Pete has two glasses of chardonnay with his soup and curry.  Naomi gets takeout fish for Chris. We have the most fantastic ice cream, homemade.  Chris will be sorry. He is a fanatic for good ice cream.  We walk along the dark main road one km back to Glengarry House, scary and dangerous, no shoulder. Frankly, I’m not sure why Easyways would book us into a B&B in this location when we have a baby.

DAY 5 Tuesday 23 Sept

Tyndrum to Kingshouse 19 miles

Walked into the village at 7:30 to get fresh camera batteries at Green Welly. Back at 8, Peter is leaving to walk the full 19 miles and Pete is taking a cab out towards Bridge of Orchy where he stopped yesterday. Bad news, Andy tells us the taxi is unavailable but we can catch the 8:40 bus to Bridge of Orchy. There is a bit of contention here as we think Andy and Ellen are sabotaging us by insisting that taxis cannot transport babies whereas we know that is not true. We rush breakfast, finish sorting laundry, and Andy drops us off at the bus stop. Ellen commented that we are the most trouble of any group since they took over the B&B (their fault?), also we are endangering the baby. We did not leave with good feelings. The bus stops down the road, then passes us by. We find out that buses prefer that other stop and don’t like to stop where we are. Next bus in two hours. Why didn’t Andy know about the right bus stop?

                                            On the way to Bridge of Orchy

                                          Last Mushroom Of The Season

Finally we are on the trail by 11:20, crossing the bridge over the River Orchy and climbing uphill to a cairn where we meet several other walkers enjoying the view of Loch Tulla and the far moors. Braylon is fed and changed and we will have a fairly easy walk to Kingshouse. After a very trying morning, we are looking forward to the rest of the day.

                                                  Bridge of Orchy Village

                                                River Orchy Looking North

                                            At The Cairn On Mam Carriagh

                                                 Onward Across Rannoch Moor

Its all downhill to the Invereron Hotel and Victoria Bridge, then up onto Rannoch Moor using the old military road reworked by Telford in 1803. He must have done a good job because the rock surface is still good. We have a long stop at Ba Bridge, lunch, taking care of Braylon and giving him stretch time.  It is so beautiful here. The River Ba is incredibly picturesque with its rapids and upended rock formations. I wander upstream and downstream to get a feel for the overall landscape.

                                                  Naomi and Braylon At Ba Bridge

River Ba Looking West

                                               River Ba In Its Glory

                                                       River Ba and Ba Bridge       
                                                          Upended River Rock 

                                                             Don't Leave Me

A lady tri-athlete came by, walking the WHW in 4 days. Today at 19 miles is her shortest day. She is camping and cooking all her food, mostly semolina soup. Two fellows pass us by, they are also walking the WHW in 4 days. I guess its all the rage these days.

After Ba Bridge, we move fast, fastest pace on the walk, and our new lady friend stays with us, happy for the company. We pass a cairn high above us. I realize it is the memorial to Peter Fleming who died here of a heart attack while deer stalking. He was quite an adventurous news correspondent in the 1930’s and WWII. I read his book about crossing western China through forbidden territory with Ella Maillart (an intrepid Swiss adventurer and athlete who wrote her own book on the trip) to report on prewar affairs like what the Chinese warlords were doing.

                                                    Where Peter Fleming Lay
                                        Stob Dearg Across From Kings House

                                  Kings House Hotel With Beinn a'Chrulaiste Behind

We arrive at Kings House by 4:30 and find Peter at the Climbers Bar outside, the gathering place for climbers camped across the beck. He had arrived two hours before after running part of the way. He says that running is easier for him and keeps his muscles balanced. The hotel is great, a classic jewel, has a beautiful lounge and comfortable bar with tables for eating. Rooms are very mediocre, but who cares. We are at the head of the Glencoe valley, spectacular mountains around us, a mecca for climbers, and feel very fortunate to be here.
                                                Playtime in Kings House Lounge

                                                 Glencoe Looking West

The gang starts trickling in for dinner about 6:30, first Peter and I for a starter pint, Raven ale, a very good bitter. We talk to another father/son team who we have seen for several days. The others come in and we all choose either cod or venison from the menu. We figure the venison must be the local deer that the kitchen staff feed at night. Pete comes in late for dinner, he didn’t arrive till six. I certainly admire his enthusiasm and dedication to the walk. I can see myself in another seven years. This is the earliest we have eaten. Enough time to log on the free computer in the hallway, catch up on my emails and write wife Cathryn back home. Each night, I also write in my journal and read in a book (bought in Glasgow) about Hadrian’s Wall and the Romans who built it. 

DAY 6 Wednesday 24 Sept

Kingshouse to Kinlochleven 9 miles


This morning we all decided to take a break from the fried breakfast and chose the lower priced continental (breakfast costs extra here). It was a good choice, porridge, croissants, cheese, toast, rolls, yummy jam, tea and coffee. It's only nine miles today, so we left late at 10 am. Peter has been talking to the hotel staff and found a path up Beinn a ‘Chrulaiste, the mountain behind the hotel, which meets up with the WHW on Devil’s Staircase. He was excited about finding an alternate, more challenging path through the mountains and, I think, happy to have a day on his own. He will meet us at the B&B in Kinlochleven.

It’s a cloudy but nice day. The crags of Buachaille Etive Mor on the south side of Glencoe are spectacular, but I wish they weren’t swathed in clouds near the tops. Looking west along the Glencoe valley, there is a wonderful cup formation between the mountains. Reminds me of High Cup Nick on the Pennine Way but not so spectacular. Across the road is the climbers staging hut for the walk up Coire na Tulaich where one can gain the ridge. Oh well, another day!

                            Coire na Tulaich, Climbers Route To The Ridge

                                     Gregg Carrying Bray at Glencoe

Pass Of The Larig Gartain Separating The Two Bauchailles

At Altnafeadh, before the pass, we turn north away from the valley and begin climbing. We keep meeting people from past days, passing them as we climb the infamous Devil’s Staircase. It is steep but not particularly hard, actually has stone steps, a carefully built military road from about 1750. We stop at the cairn on the summit to feed Bray, change diaper and have a little playtime. The views here are so spectacular. There are paths up the hills on both sides of the Way so I follow them a bit. The one on the left, I think, is a good alternative to the WHW, but we can see our path tracing ahead across a bleak and boggy landscape, leading us ever onward.
                                    Gregg Ascending Devil's Staircase

                                      Parasailing Over Devil's Staircase

                                       Cairn At Top Of Devil's Staircase

                                                Man And His Dog On The Summit

Descending steeply, we pass over two burns with stepping stones and slabs to keep our feet dry. As we round the mountain, a far view of Blackwater Reservior, then down, down, down into Kinlochleven.
                                     Man And His Son Crossing The Burn

                                           On The Old Military Road

                                               Fabulous Trails and Scenery

                                          Descending To Kinlochleven

A huge hydro-electric plant is here, funneling water off the mountains, originally built for a now defunct aluminum works. A nice walk through a park entering Kinlochleven, past the Ice House, then a stop at the Co-op shop to stock up on snacks. Its only 3 pm, almost like a rest day.

                                              First View Of Kinlochleven

                                                  Lovely Garden Next To Our B&B

Our first impression of Edencoille B&B was the cute gnomes to greet us in the yard. Oh wow! The house is a virtual storehouse of ceramic figurines, fairies and dancers, filling every surface in the rooms and the stairs up to our rooms. It was nice to have time to relax, but I was worried about Peter. Did he remember where we were staying?  He couldn't be lost, could he?  After tea, I was going out to look for him when he walked in. He knew the B&B name started with E. He was full of stories about his mountain experience on Beinn a’Chrulaiste, boggy slopes, false paths, waterfalls, dicy streams and rocky defiles. Apparently, he enjoyed himself and rejoined the WHW at Altnafeadh.

                              Peter's Photo Of Beinn a'Chrulaiste Summit

We walked over to the Tailrace Inn for dinner. I found a new locally brewed ale, Atlas, excellent. Most of us ordered salmon. Its local, fresh and very, very good. Chris had two starters (as usual). Pete was booked into the Tailrace and came in to sit with us. He had his usual pint and glass of wine. Pete will take the shortcut to Fort William, leaving the path at Lochan Lunn for the shorter road. He is taking the overnight train to London at 5 pm and can’t chance missing it. We stayed at the Tailrace for a long time, its such a pleasant place to be.
Naomi’s feet are much better today. The compeed seems to be healing her heel blisters. However, Chris is having trouble with his knees and may take a bus to Fort William. He is worried about the joints getting worse and affecting his judo practices. He says he should have paid more attention to my conditioning instructions.

DAY 7 Thursday 25 Sept

Kinlochleven to Fort William 14 miles

Edencoille breakfast was the most voluptuous we had in Scotland. First, porriage all around, then I had smoked salmon w/scrambled eggs while everyone else had the local fresh trout (10 in. long). We could only eat half our fish. There was also fruit, melon, cheeses, sliced meats, biscuits and jam. A sign sternly said “no food to leave this room” and they meant it. We had an early breakfast at 7:30 with the idea of getting an early start on the 14 miles to Fort William, but we couldn’t get out until 9:20.

                                                                  Is This All For Me?

Chris still has a problem with his knees, so he has decided to take the bus to Fort William. Peter and Naomi and I get lunch food at the co-op grocer and we start up into the hills. It's a long ascent to 1000 ft through a sunlit birchwood. Then, above the valley, the path is fairly flat giving nice views of Loch Leven. We pass quite a few walkers going up over the pass including our friend Pete. We won’t see him again.

                                                           Leaving Kinlochleven

                                                          Glen of Lairigmor

                                                           Anybody Home?

                                                  On and On Through the Glen 

                                                           Allt na Lairigmor

After the summit, the glen stretches ahead with mountains on both sides, quite impressive in a bleak sort of way. We descend gently to the ruined house of Tigh-na-sleubhaich where we stop for Bray’s feeding and playtime. Today, Chris has taken Peter’s backpack. Peter and Naomi are alternating carrying Braylon and the daypack.

After passing the second ruined house, Lairigmor, I was looking forward to walking through forests as shown on the map, but we were very disappointed to find only tree stumps on a desolate land. It had all been clearcut. Eventually, we did find a beautiful, green forest and found a lovely spot to stop on the edge of a stream and do the baby routine again. Here we met a New Yorker who had just finished school in Edinburgh and was seeing the country before going back to the states. From here, it was mostly downhill for two hours to Fort William. Traversing around a mountain with Ben Nevis directly across, we could see the paths that we will be on tomorrow, but the top is covered in clouds.
                                                       Ben Nevis First View

                                            See Path Up Ben Nevis

Finally, in town, we stop at the “End of West Highland Way” sign for photos. Sorry Chris that you weren't there for the photo. On to Guischan House, our B&B for two nights, where we find Chris asleep in the room. He had enjoyed shopping and eating and just spending time in the “big city.”
                                                       Four Of Us Made It

Peter and Chris have to go to another hotel to pick up the baggage. Travel-lite delivers only to their depot/hotel in Fort William. Strange! They are the only baggage carrier that does not pick up bags at your b&b in Milngavie or deliver to your b&b in Fort William. Needless to say, I would not use them again or recommend them. After coffee, cleanup and all those little things you do after a day’s walk, we all go into the town center, lots of shops and restaurants. Everyone wants to go Indian, and we do. Its good but the food needs more spice and flavor, obviously catering to Scottish palates. I had a vegie biryani (getting my rice fix) and Tennents ale. Stopped at a Spar grocery for some energy food for tomorrow’s climb up Ben Nevis plus a Rioja wine for a celebration afterwards. 

DAY 8 Friday 26 Sept

Ben Nevis Climb 12 (or 6) miles

Nice dining room for breakfast, cereal and yoghurt, ham, scrambled eggs and cheese, no fruit. Many people here, most not walkers and not climbing Ben Nevis. Chris’s knees are better, so he has decided to walk with us. However, except for Peter, we only plan to go halfway to Red Burn. I would like to hit the summit, but I should stay with the little one. Peter has decided to run to the summit (4400 ft) and back down (12 miles). He has been inspired by tales about the annual Ben Nevis Foot Race, held last weekend and it has stoked his interest. The record is 1 hr, 25 min, but last week was won in 1 hr, 40 min. The West Highland Way has a race also. The record is 17.5 hrs, done in a forced military march in one weekend, or so we were told.

We spend some time at the Ben Nevis visitor center talking to the ranger before starting the climb. Peter took off running as we cheered him on. Its a nice day with beautiful mountain scenery and, like the last five days, cloudy and no rain. The footpath is mostly stone, but very uneven and rocky in places.
                                                     Starting Up Ben Nevis

                                                         Higher And Higher

                                                           Come On, Lets Go

                                                              Chris, Wait Up

After two miles, we turn a corner and meet cold, ferocious winds blowing down the burn (a large ravine). At three miles, we came to a loch and then a stone windbreak just before the path crossed over the burn on the way to the summit. We had a bite to eat and Naomi decided to take Braylon down to calmer, warmer climes for nursing. After a little exploring, Chris and I followed Naomi down the trail, meeting her just in time for a diaper change.

                                        Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe Near Red Burn
Path crossing Red Burn

                             Observatory and Shelter on Ben Nevis Summit

                                          Peter At Ben Nevis Trig Point
                                               How Do We Get Down?

                                                   Mountainside Flowers

Peter appeared, running, stopped to say hi, and kept on. We descended and met him at the visitor center where he was talking with the ranger. Peter’s time was 1 hr, 41 min up and 1 hr 10 min down with about 12 min on the summit to take photos. Trying for a faster time, he had cut across the switchbacks between Red Burn and the summit. On top, Peter said clouds were cold and dark, hardly able to see anything through the mist (I lightened the trig point photo). The ranger told us that earlier this summer, a four year old reached the summit.
                                                        Is This Real?

                                                        Ahh, Saved

We had our little  “End of Walk”  celebration with the Rioja and went into town for shopping and dinner. We found an upstairs restaurant over a pub, good ale, good food and, everyone’s favorite, sticky toffee pudding with hot custard.

After the Walk

The breakfasts here at Guischan House are exceptionally good, in fact, the best of the trip. Afterwards, Peter and I walked into town to see the local museum. It was well worth it, we learned a lot about Scottish history and the local clans.
We all took the noon train to Malliag, a fishing village on the coast, and stayed at Shalimar B&B. Chris, Naomi and Braylon took a six hour ferry through four nearby islands, Eigg, Muck, Rhum and Canna, then met Peter and I for dinner at Cornerstone restaurant. Outstanding was the mussels in wine/cream/garlic broth, oven baked haddock, Red McGregor Ale from Orkney and the best yet hot sticky toffee pudding.
                                               Island of Eigg From Malliag

 Mallaig Port Entrance

                                           Fishing Boats In Mallaig Harbor
                         On The Way To Glasgow - Finally I Get To Go Home

Next morning, five hour train ride back to Glasgow passing many places we recognize. We are booked into Victorian House B&B, near the center of town. On a nearby pedestrian street, we saw musicians playing some nice African rythyms. The gang will stay an extra day in Glasgow to tour the Art School and an art museum. I will leave tomorrow morning to spend two days walking Hadrian’s Wall, but that’s a story for another day.

                                                      "Glaska" Street Music

Final Thoughts

Inevitably, the WHW is compared with other walks I have done in the UK. It is certainly the easiest except for the Dales Way which is shorter with less elevation gain. Consequently I had little need for pain pills. The scenery was not disappointing, very spectacular except for the first day. However, I wouldn’t be tempted to walk it again, but would like to come back to Glencoe and Ben Nevis.  The food in the pubs was surprisingly good, creative, fresh and tasty. Much of it was seafood and locally sourced. Of course having my family with me put a spark on everything and created a whole different atmosphere at mealtimes.

The biggest disappointment was lack of grassy paths and the abundance of tarmac and hard, rocky paths. But this was more of an afterthought than anything I thought much about during the walk and certainly preferable to the harder limestone paths on the Pennine Way.

The 800 pound tiger on the walk was my grandson, 14 pound Braylon. Chris and Naomi did a splendid job of providing for him and keeping him fed and happy. Having him along changed the whole tenor of the walk and made it more unique in terms of contacts and exchanges that would not have happened otherwise. It was a once in a lifetime experience.

I enjoyed starting out in Glasgow and finishing in Fort William. Glasgow is a very accessible walking city with many interests and good shopping. I loved making the acquaintance of Charles Rennie McIntosh and his architectural designs.  Fort William is a delightful little town to ease off the path and has nice restaurants and a great little museum of Scottish culture. The tradition of climbing Ben Nevis the day after puts a great cap on a relatively short LDP. I didn’t make it to the top this time, but I vow to come back with my wife and climb to the summit, hopefully, under a clear sky.

1 comment:

  1. Ahh, will you see this post but a mere 8 years later? I read your whole journey and having family along made it real and personal. One day I will leave my beautiful Franklin, TN USA and head to my homeland, or at least that of all my ancestors. Thank you for this, and I would LOVE to know if you have better suggestions now? And I be that 'little' 14lb Braylon is now quite a bit bigger! haha! ...Oh, by the way, I simply came upon your blog by scouring Google for pictures to get an idea of what the 'Devils staircase' looked like! :)