The West Highland Way: Kinlochleven to Fort William [Day 7]

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 7: Kinlochleven (Listen KIN-lock-leven) to Fort William
May 7th was our last day on the trail. I’m not going to lie — the Way is tough, and we were glad to be so close to the finish line. But we still had almost 16 miles to cover before we could celebrate. The weather was perfect as we woke from another lovely slumber in Kinlochleven, and we enjoyed our Scottish breakfast in the company of many other walkers; some of which dressed in kilts.

2016-05-07 08.40.22
The last push to Fort William begins with a single step.

Wanting to get a jump on the group as to not get stuck in traffic, we left, bags on our backs, at 828a. Unfortunately, the sun that so generously warmed us the day before was gone, but we still had one more chance to admire the Highlands. We walked through the other side of the strange little town and found ourselves at another massive ascent. It was as if the trail wanted to make sure we were not without a challenge before our coffee kicked in. But the climb was still lovely in the thick trees, surrounded by wilderness.

2016-05-07 09.08.11
Through the woods, you get a clear view of the River Leven.

After a couple of miles of sheer solitude and peace, I heard something rumbling in the distance. I couldn’t put my finger on it thinking it was another helicopter, but then I looked right in front of me. Jeff had his head down watching the rocks beneath his feet to not trip on the tricky terrain, so I shouted as loud as I could so he could hear me over his headphones, “Motorcycle!” Finally, Jeff looked up and saw a wily machine hurtling toward us at alarming speed for a walking trail.

2016-05-07 09.14.00
Nothing like a motorcycle hurtling toward you.

These pathways were not big. How we were climbing, we would not be comfortable side by side to give you any indication of their width. So, to have a motorcycle race on the West Highland Way was a terrible idea. Thinking it was a one-off occurrence, we resumed our climb shaking our head, but that was not to be. The race produced a constant stream of hurtling machines for the rest of the trail. The clean, clear air we were now used to was dashed with diesel and dust, and silence was now a distant memory. We were furious with the obvious lack of thought for safety.

But we had to continue on because the finish line wasn’t getting any closer to us. The majority of the trail (bikes excluded) was pretty non-descript. Most of the surroundings were just vast and open with felled trees creating an almost ugly appearance. I know, how dare I say the Highlands are “ugly,” but the logging enterprise left behind quite a destruction site.

We did come across some remarkable looking ruins along the way, though. They were a popular place to stop and enjoy your sandwich in between rain showers, but we just admired them for what they were: relics into history.

About halfway through the trail, we found ourselves in a very dense and thick forest. It was about here the motorcycles were diverted, so we finally for our peace back, and the thick overgrowth acted as a carpet for our picnic. Three-leaf clovers dotted the trail and acted as a sort of beckoning trail to push on to the finish.

Our trusty walking poles were pure god-sends. Without these light sticks of support, the trail would have been much, much tougher. My hands were sore at the end of each day because I leaned on them so much, but I cannot recommend highly enough to get a pair and bring them. Just note that you cannot bring them as a carry-on. You have to check them in cargo luggage. Pro-tip: we didn’t want to check our backpacks, so we went to a local charity shop and bought a really cheap bag that would house our sticks and then we donated it in Glasgow. Then, as we came to the near end of our adventure, we gave our sticks to a couple of walkers starting their own hike. A little karma goes a long way, but without the poles, we would have struggled.

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Ode to the best walking poles a girl with sore knees could have asked for.

Through the woods and up another hill through decaying trees, we found ourselves at a path divided. To the right was the ancient foundation of Dun Deardail. We saw the sign and we knew it was something to see, but we looked down the path to the left and saw Fort William below us. The town beckoned us, and we were just tired enough to plough on without seeing the Iron Age fort. If you have the energy and constitution, I have read it is something to see. Built in 700BC by the Celts, what stands is an ancient foundation that can easily spark the imagination.

As we continued on, we found ourselves with a small spring in our step. Exhausted, absolutely, but we were so excited to be nearing our final destination. We started the long climb down and saw to our right the massive and beautiful Ben Nevis. This famous mountain is the tallest peak in all of the UK and is a recommended day 8 climb for the adventurous. If we had an extra day and better shoes, we would have considered the climb. But every year, the mountain does claim lives, and with our exhaustion, we knew it would be a bad idea. Nonetheless, it was beautiful to see from all angles.

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Ben Nevis, the tallest peak in the UK.

We were now about 3 miles from the end, and Fort William was in our sights. We passed day-walkers out for a casual stroll on the trails and still more beautiful trees and waterfalls. Starting the West Highland Way from Fort William is growing in popularity, but I cannot imagine ending the trip with our day 3 debacle.

2016-05-07 13.37.26
You can just barely make out the town in the distance.

Finally, at 3pm, we made it to the original ending for the West Highland Way. We sat on the bench for a quick breather and to celebrate finally being in Fort William. But we didn’t want to get too comfortable. The real “official” new end for the Way was another mile and a half in town. I cannot imagine why they moved the finish line except to be sadistic for the poor walkers who have just covered 96 miles except to drive up tourism and make people buy things in town. But we were singularly focused on dropping our backpacks. The finish line wasn’t moving any time soon.

On top of a small hill inside Fort William is Stobahn Guest House, a lovely home with an even lovelier host. This was clearly not his first rodeo, so with grace and understanding, he ushered us to our room quickly and quietly, asking us minimal questions before closing the door and letting us collapse.

We had a gorgeous view of Loch Linnhe and the town, which made for a peaceful end. Before the soreness set in completely, we went right back out to find this mobile finish line. Tucked way in town at the far end of the high street, we saw it. The “Sore Feet Statue” is mounted on a bench, and you haven’t completed the Walk without sitting next to this old man and taking a selfie. Relieved we had completed over 100 miles in the Highlands, we stumbled into the first pub we saw and ordered celebratory drinks and I finally had my long a-waited bangers and mash.

2016-05-07 16.13.47
The “Sore Feet Statue” at the official end to the West Highland Way.

A quick note about traveling back to Glasgow: since our flight was on a Sunday, we did not plan correctly. The train schedules are abbreviated and the buses filled quickly. We should have booked the trek back during our initial planning, but we were so concerned with finishing the walk that we didn’t even plan how to get back home. This was a massive mistake. Trains did not start running until 11a and the bus was completely booked. We had to order a taxi to take us to Glasgow at a staggering price.

We joked that because we didn’t spend the money on the baggage service, suffering for it, we deserved a little luxury in a private ride to Glasgow airport. It was not an ideal situation, so make sure you add your ride to the airport in your West Highland Way planning.

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A poem taped to the finish line.

I already miss the Highlands and find myself wishing I was back out there soaking in the outdoors, but I am truly glad we made the trek. It was everything we hoped for in terms of difficulty, beauty, and self-reflection. If you’re planning on trekking the West Highland Way, I would love to hear from you. I hope my tales have helped and will help you plan your own journey.

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The finish line!

One of the books I read along the trail was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. This quote stood out to me, and I’d like to share it with you.

Making a decision was only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of.


Thanks for following my West Highland Way adventure.

Kinlochleven to Fort William
A map of Kinlochleven to Fort William.

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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