In this section, I walk the West Highland Way and summit Ben Nevis in the most perfect conditions. I descend into Fort William and start the Great Glen Way. You can read my wild camping LEJOG challenge from the start in February here and my rough route plan and gear list here.
Day 49: Saturday 6th April 2019
My camping spot last night had been idyllic, right by the shores of Loch Lomond. I could hear the sound of the water rippling 4 metres away , but also the sound of very distant traffic – the West Highland Way follows a road most of the way. It wasn’t the total silence that is often found in remote Scotland.
I was late getting to my pitch last night, and still felt tired in the morning, so I left at about 8am. My pitch was well away from the path and I knew I was allowed to be there, so there was less of the usual urgency to be on my way. I was also more relaxed as I knew finding a camp site each night wouldn’t be as difficult as it has been on earlier stretches of my route.
It was a nice walk on an undulating foot path in the trees, with views through to the loch and the mountains beyond. I passed a few campers within half an hour of setting off, but there were very few possible camping spots initially on the trail. After about an hour, or 2-3 miles, there are a lot more options.
I made it to the hotel near Inversnaid, which was a big posh hotel in a gorgeous setting. The place was very busy, but all they offered for breakfast was a bun with two sausages in it and a pot of tea. Sitting there resting for an hour made up for this slightly, as I was feeling the mileage of the past couple of days. The path has also been quite strenuous in places.
Once I left the hotel, the rain got heavier and so I stopped when I came across a bothy. Coffee and olive bread in the dry was a treat, and it meant I could burn my rubbish.
The route then left the loch and followed the river, until I found a campsite bar at Beinglas Farm (Inverarnan). This was another very welcome break and a great Lamb Madras with a pint!
From leaving here, it was better, more level walking by the river, passing the Falls of Falloch which were pretty good. There were still people looking at them at 6.30pm. I camped shortly after this (7pm) as it looked difficult further on, and I had found a nice spot by the river. Everywhere was pretty wet and boggy, and there was some road and railway noise, but this is unavoidable as the West Highland Way shares the same valleys. I felt a lot better that evening after the curry – it’s amazing what difference decent food makes. It was also great to camp with a dry tent.
Day 50: Sunday 7th April 2019
The day started dry, but overcast with a cold breeze. I made coffee and fruit bread for breakfast, working on the principle of eating the heaviest things first. Plus that is all I can stomach first thing!
I had camped in the open by the river last night, and the breeze was good, so I had no issue with condensation. By 7am I was on the move again, and I made it to Tyndrum by 10.55am. That 5 minutes was important, as it got me a cooked breakfast and coffee at the Real Food Cafe. I needed it, too, as I was struggling today; the paths weren’t as rough as yesterday, but there were still some stiff climbs. I had no worries about wet feet, though, as the path was well surfaced.
The track remained easy going all afternoon, through big, long open valleys (with the road and the railway running through too). I stopped at the Bridge of Orchy for fish and chips and a beer, but the prices were horrific so I won’t be going here again.
Moving on from here was hard going on a rough stony track, but it did get nice and remote with good views. The trail also lost the road and railway line, which was lovely. I made it to the Loch Ba bridge and saw a good camp spot. I put the tent up, filtered some water and soon a lovely couple came past and asked if I minded if they camped nearby. There was plenty of room, and he had heard this was a good spot – I really should have read up more on this walk, then I’d know these things.
I had a nice chat with them, and it turns out he was called Mark, and from King’s Lynn (about an hour from me), now moved to the Lake District. His partner was from Scandinavia and spotted that my boots were a bit different straight away. We had a good conversation about the down sides of Goretex boots! I would have happily chatted for longer, but it got pretty cold.
There was no mobile signal here, which was the first time since I set off that I had no contact with home. More happily, it was the second night running that I had put up a dry tent, which was great considering the weather had been quite damp. I was in a breeze again so hopefully the tent would be fine in the morning. Night time temperatures had also been warmer, at around 6 or 7 degrees. As I fell asleep, I was considering the mileage for the next day – I needed to do a long day if I could to get closer to Ben Nevis. Otherwise it would mean climbing it with the crowds and missing the shops once I got down, as they would be closed.
Day 52: Monday 8th April 2019
Awake and making coffee at 5.30am, and away at 6.15am as soon as it got light. It was a gorgeous morning with a bright red sun coming up and the valley opened up ahead of me as I went over the pass to Rannoch Moor. I passed two herds of deer, which was lovely (and later a coach load of tourists, which was not). A group of youngsters were in the car park, and they asked me directions to the top of the mountain. I refused to tell them, saying that they shouldn’t go up there without a map at least.
I descended from here to the Kingshouse Hotel (I had passed the Glencoe Ski Centre, but I was too early for the showers and cafe). The hotel didn’t have a clue what they were doing for walk-in walkers at breakfast – I could easily have eaten and left without paying. However, the views from the panoramic windows were the best I’ve ever seen and it was a nice place. I managed to get a shower here, which was cold but better than nothing and no limit on the water. A good start to a long day.
It was a steep climb and descent into Kinlochleven and Kinlochmore. I found a pub for a sit down, and realised that my Teko socks have given up. The insides had started to feel rough. I took them off to have a closer look at them (the pub was deserted), and the bar maid was straight over telling me that there was a rule about no bare feet. Not the smell? I had just washed them in the shower!
The West Highland Way is definitely best walked from south to north, as the scenery just gets better and better. It was really dramatic here and will continue to be tomorrow, with views of Ben Nevis and dropping into Glen Nevis and Fort William.
The sun had been out all day today which meant my solar panel had charged my Flip 10 fully. At no point had I set the solar panel directly facing the sun, so it was never ideally placed to charge it. I was happy it had as it meant I could half charge my phone (it has a big battery). The phone has never got below 50% on the whole trip and it has been essential for my camera, GPS and checking in with my family.
I finally camped next to a gorgeous river with views of the next day’s target – Ben Nevis. It didn’t look too far away and was totally clear, not a could in the sky. I had walked further than I expected today, which has put me in a great position for tomorrow and also leaves time for shopping.
Day 53: Tuesday 9th April 2019
It had been blustery in the night. My forecast from two days ago showed light winds, so I hoped it would settle later. The upside was that I had no condensation and I loved the novelty of dry gear.
I set off by 6am with my head torch, following a good path through old woods. It led me into Glen Nevis by the Youth Hostel and camp site, ready to climb Ben Nevis.
I started the climb at 8am, and reached the summit at 10.45am. There were no other people at the summit when I got there, and I was wearing just a T-shirt. No wind, bright sunshine and amazing views.
The climb had been dangerous and I quickly realised I should have had crampons on. The snow was frozen solid and very slippery, and I had seen two men leaving the summit before I got there with ice axes and crampons on.
The descent was better as the sun had softened the snow so I could get a good grip. Half an hour down and I passed a family just putting their crampons on for the ascent. I then started to meet a few people, some asking if they were going to need their crampons, and how far it was to the top!
I made it down to the Ben Nevis Inn at 1pm. It was a nice place but I couldn’t charge my phone, and I didn’t feel particularly welcome. I decided to move on to Fort William to eat. I was aiming for a pub there that I like, The Crofter, that I hoped would be better value too. Scotland is quite pricey, especially compared to Wales.
The Crofter was immediately welcoming, even bringing my beer to my table. The prices were way less so that was good. I celebrated my final peak by having starter, main and pudding, which I decided was OK at these prices and the first time on the trip that I’ve ordered three courses. The path up Ben Nevis had been rougher than I remembered, and I was feeling the climb – my ankles were throbbing.
After my meal, I walked the entire length of Fort William high street and only found Cotswolds worth shopping in. I was reluctant to go in and I knew I could get a discount there, but I didn’t have any of my cards with me. I needn’t have worried – they gave me the discount anyway by checking my spend history. They also made me very welcome and I had a great chat with people who really knew their stuff. Highly recommended.
I bought new socks, three dehydrated meals and two breakfasts, so perhaps I will eat better in the mornings. All I had eaten so far today was one pastie and a few chocolate chewy bars.
It did feel strange having accomplished a target that I had been heading towards for so long, only to carry on and set a new target. It was also odd being in Fort William again as this is where I finished the Cape Wrath trail two years ago. The weather was perfect, though, and I felt very lucky to be there.
I stocked up my food shop, but forgot kitchen roll so I was heading towards a loo roll shortage! I knew I would be following canals for a while and I don’t risk filtering canal water (it’s too slow moving), so it was a little difficult finding drinking water. Eventually I found a tap, and also filled my two-litre bladder from the river I climbed down to just before camping. I finally pitched my tent where I stood, as I literally couldn’t walk any further.
What a day – I was so proud of what I’d achieved. My next stage takes me along the Great Glen Way to Inverness, and you can read about it here soon.