The West Highland Way: Kingshouse to Kinlochleven [Day 6]

This is a continuation of our journey through the West Highland Way. If you want to start reading from day 1, click here.

Our West Highland Way:

  • Day 1: Milngavie to Drymen 13.51 miles (419m elevation; 307m descent)
  • Day 2: Drymen to Rowardennan 15.28 miles (665m elevation; 815m descent)
  • Day 3: Rowardennan to Crianlarich 21.75 miles (1305m elevation; 844m descent)
  • Day 4: Crianlarich to Tyndrum 7.62 miles (431m elevation; 571m descent)
  • Day 5: Tyndrum to Kingshouse 18.85 miles (511m elevation; 434m descent)
  • Day 6: Kingshouse to Kinlochleven 8.70 miles (423m elevation; 659m descent)
  • Day 7: Kinlochleven to Fort William 15.76 miles (735m elevation; 737m descent)

wwhmap


Day 6: Kingshouse to Kinlochleven (Listen KIN-lock-leven)
After conquering a second 20 mile day from Tyndrum to Kingshouse, we were grateful for another short day ahead of us toward Kinlochleven. The hotel, King’s House Hotel, is the only one for miles in either direction, so I cannot recommend highly enough to book a room in advance. We were lucky to get the last remaining room for that day, and we had booked everything in February for a May walk.

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Waving to our fellow walkers — those brave few who camped outside.

At 841a, we bid adieu to the hotel and started our walk toward the Devil’s Staircase just 3 miles away. While the terrain between the two points was relatively flat and follows the highway, the landscape and views of Glencoe were breathtaking. [If you want to know more about the Glencoe Massacre, click here.]

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Goodbye hotel! Glencoe behind with amazing blue skies and streaky clouds.

As we climbed, we heard a strange noise off in the distance. We searched the sky and saw a rescue helicopter circling the Glencoe mountains. We hoped we would not be needing said helicopter ourselves in the coming hours.

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The majestic Glencoe Valley full of legends, terror, and beauty.

From the base of the Devil’s Staircase, it’s 1 mile, straight up, of climbing. It really wasn’t a bad climb considering the other hills, mountains, and terrain we had already walked through. But a new element came into play: the sun. We hadn’t had warm sun yet on this walk, and it was during this climb that we had gorgeous blue skies and rising temperatures. We had to take off our jackets and strip down to our zippered shorts to continue our ascent.

Behind us, the landscape of Glencoe was becoming faint in the distance, but in front of us were some of the most stunning mountain ranges we had seen to date. Our breath was taken away as we stopped for a few moments to re-hydrate and take in the views. We were completely engulfed and could not feel smaller against these rocky giants.

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We’re certainly not the first ones here, and we will not be the last. View from the top of the Devil’s Staircase.

The jagged rocks we had walked over for the last couple days were really tough on our tender feet, but the descent was even harder on my sore knees. It did take us a bit longer to go down the other side of the mountain than to climb up, but the descent was also much farther down.

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The views were just breathtaking. You can just barely make out some other walkers in the distance for scale.

After about 2 miles of this, Kinlochleven was revealed. The tiny white houses gave us hope in knowing we were 2.5 miles away from a bed and a shower. To this point, we were doing really well on the trail and having a great time taking in the clean and clear air. I know I’ve mentioned that before, but after these couple years living in London, clean air is a bit of a luxury.

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Way off in the distance, you can just make out Kinlochleven in the glen.

From the beginning of the trail, those many days ago, I had noticed a smattering of hot pink boa feathers dotted along the rocks and grass. At first, I was bothered by the obvious littering, but then I found it amusing and then reassuring that other walkers had obviously been here before me. While we were seeing more and more walkers on the trail, there were still long stretches of time where we saw no one. At one point on this day, I found myself avidly looking for the feathers just to make sure that I was not, in fact, lost in the Highland wilderness.

How you know you’re close to Kinlochleven is when you see massive water pipes leading into town. They aren’t the most picturesque, but they follow the path, and we found ourselves at the doorstep of Forest View Guest House at 130p. We were early and relieved to put our bags down. Our place was absolutely lovely (with an amazing DVD collection at our disposal), and our host recommended the Tailrace Inn pub for lunch. When we walked in the Tailrace Inn, we were transported to another time. I would say back in time, but it felt stranger than that.

But it wasn’t just the pub, it was the whole town. It could have been my dehydration and sun exposure, but the village had a sort of odd feeling to it, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Every house was stark white and perfectly manicured. Some homes were covered in lawn gnomes in various poses and others were void of any personality. I felt like I had walked into an Edward Scissorhands or Wayward Pines world where the people of the small and remote town don’t take kindly to visitors and give you “the eye” as you walked by.

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The idyllic River Leven and the perfect, white houses lined in a row.

Inside the pub, we were the only non-local diners, but we had a wonderful meal. As we ate heartily, we started to notice the other patrons. At the billiard’s table was a couple speaking either with incredibly thick accents or in another language. We had no idea what they were saying between their infectious laughter, but then it became completely clear when she put Adele’s Hello on the jukebox and started to belt out the tunes. Adele is universal.

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A bit blurry, but the interior of the pub with a jukebox on the left and a billiard’s table front and center.

There were three old men sitting in a back corner in a passionate debate about something I couldn’t understand, but it was fun to watch the fierce gesticulations and eyes of these men with their Guinness and crisps. We didn’t stay long enough to discern what they were talking about because fatigue was setting in, and we still had to stock up on supplies.

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The first shop since Tyndrum to stock up on supplies.

Just around the corner and across the river from the pub sits a Co-Op Food Shop. It was a bit of familiar in a quiet town except for the signs in both English and Gaelic. As we walked in, the guest house across the street was going through a primping stage. The hosts were outside planting idyllic flowers in their front flower boxes. Their smiles just added to the queer feeling of everything is perfect in Kinlochleven.

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Fly fishing on the River Leven with a massive waterfall breaking the silence.

We walked back toward our guest house by way of watching a man fly fishing in the River Leven. We stopped to admire him for a few minutes and see if he would catch anything, but also to marvel in the perfect simplicity of this town. Maybe it wasn’t strangeness I was picking up but rather jealousy. After all of the small and rustic villages along the Way, the perfectly manicured suburb was a surprising sight tucked in the middle of nowhere.

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The quiet simplicity of a tucked-away town.

Stay tuned to the final installment of the West Highland Way complete with motorcycle races, a two-thousand year old fort, and the finish line.

Kingshouse to Kinlochleven
A map of Kingshouse to Kinlochleven.

Click the image to enlarge the map.


Helpful Links for the West Highland Way:

WHW Elevation Chart
An elevation chart for the West Highland Way.
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