The blogger meets his destiny, on LEJoG Day 73
LEJoG Day 73 pre-amble
You could argue that the whole of LEJoG was leading up to this. I called myself “Ben Wainless”, knowing that ‘Ben’ was a Scottish word for mountain. The reveal of my real name was always going to happen in Scotland. And, at the end of the West Highland Way, another big reveal would take place. The real Ben. Britain’s highest peak.
Ben Nevis? Arron Wright. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.
LEJoG Day 73 (Thursday 24 September 2020)
Kinlochleven to Fort William (15 miles)
Cumulative: 1,048½ miles
Facts: Time on walk: 4 hours 50 minutes. Average speed: 3.10 mph. Weather: Cloudy; mild, although very cool (almost cold) on higher ground.
Practicalities: Socially distanced breakfast at Tigh na Cheo 8am. Smoked salmon and scrambled egg: a delight after so many “full Scottish” breakfasts (I may have mentioned this once or twice). Checked out at 9:50am. Thoroughly recommend Tigh na Cheo. Some places have, understandably, felt less welcoming as a result of Covid: the inn at Linlithgow springs to mind. But, like the Inversnaid Bunkhouse (caravan notwithstanding!), the effort made at this guest house really shows. Hope some readers take the chance to stay here under happier circumstances.
Start: Tailrace Inn, Kinlochleven, 10:10am. End: Statue and bench marking the official end of the West Highland Way, Fort William, 3:30pm.
The whole of today’s walk can be followed on OS Explorer map 392, Ben Nevis and Fort William. Kinlochleven is very near the bottom of the sheet.
You don’t get much of a chance to ease yourself in today. A couple of hundred metres on the road, and then a footpath on the right takes you into the forest, where a 250m climb awaits. It’s fairly steady compared to the Devil’s Staircase, apart from some familiar zig zags near the top. This was actually the busiest section of the walk since Bridge of Orchy to Inveroran three days earlier. I overtook most people on the climb or shortly afterwards.
As you emerge above the treetops, there are splendid views of Loch Leven to the left (south).
The eponymous Loch Leven, on the climb out of Kin-loch-leven
At the top, a wide path carries you westward along the glen, below the fringes of the Mamores range. This is the great Lairig Mor pass. It’s a much gentler climb, scarcely noticeable in fact, with expansive views of southern Lochaber. The next two photos give you a good idea of the gradient, as well as a sense of remoteness. It’s what Highland sceptics might call “bleak”, but to me it was serene and pleasing.
After 2-3 miles on this track, you will pass some ruined farm buildings. Soon after that the path turns northwards and begins to descend through a cleared forest. There’s an entry gate to the forested area, which may be closed off for grazing. If so there’s a short diversion to the right hand side. Progress here is swift, although it’s one of the less inspiring segments of the northern half of the Way. By now, the walker may have become blase about the glorious scenery, so here’s a little corrective to make you more grateful for what’s still to come.
Having left the walkers from Kinlochleven behind on the pass, here in the valley bottom I came across several other groups. Perhaps 20-30 walkers within a few hundred metres, some having stopped for lunch. Overtook a few, but soon decided I might as well take lunch as well. The path had began to ascend again, and the approach to Ben Nevis was close. A perfect time to rest. Found a spot about 20m off the path, in the open moorland on the verge of Nevis Forest. Stayed there from 12:50-1:10. I might have stayed longer, but the air was quite noticeably chilly once you were inactive. Zipped my coat all the way up for maybe the first time all week (except during the rest day rain of course).
Within 10 minutes of the restart, I caught my first glimpse of the Ben. I did take a photo, but the summit was distant and in cloud, and the trees were obscuring too much of its bulk. So I haven’t kept it for posterity. About half an hour later, reaching the end of the felled area and about to descend through the forest proper, came a much better opportunity:
Hello Ben Nevis!
The last 15 minutes or so of forest was slow going for a few reasons. The air was a little humid, I’d caught up with some of the people who passed me during lunch, and there was a sharp little ascent away from the stream. Once that was done, I emerged onto a track – wide enough to be a road – which would run for several miles above Glen Nevis. And it would bless those on the final stage of the West Highland Way with their finest views of the high and mighty Ben.
Here I overtook a couple I’d seen several times on different days, and a woman who had been in the breakfast room at Tigh na Cheo. The track begins to wind its way towards the foot of the Glen. First, a right hand bend. And… time to grab your camera.
The first dramatic view of Ben Nevis, from the Glen Nevis track
A left hand bend, another right and left, descending more steeply, and now you’re on the long, straightish section heading north for Fort William.
Camera out again, because this is an even better view.
The western slopes of Ben Nevis (summit just visible below cloud, top left)
Hard to believe, but it’s still another 3 miles to Fort William. The single track road would be quite boring if you couldn’t keep turning your head to admire Ben Nevis. There are a couple of key junctions towards the end, from which the Trailblazer guide offers two alternative routes into Fort William. As is my wont*, I stuck to the official route. (*usually; I did of course go off-piste during the Pennine Way.)
Eventually the track meets the public highway through Glen Nevis, more or less opposite the Visitor Centre car park where most ascents of the Ben commence. No getting away from it (if you’re a purist, at least): after 90-plus miles through stunning scenery, the West Highland Way finishes with two miles of road walking. Stopped for a 10 minute rest here. There isn’t much else to report now. There are two minor curiosities though, dutifully photographed below:
The Wishing Stone (or Counsel Stone), Glen Nevis
Original end of the West Highland Way, a mile before the official end
The last half mile is on a pedestrianised shopping street, which meant it was wise to don my Covid mask. A bathetic ending, really, to what is without doubt the greatest long distance walk I have done. Honestly, if you’re debating this one, just book it (pandemic permitting, of course). It’s not as strenuous as you might imagine – you’re not compelled to climb 1000m mountains in the middle of a stage like I did, of course! The West Highland Way is genuinely exilharating and beautiful to look at. It’s much more manageable time-wise than the Pennine Way, and pound for pound it delivers more memorable moments. OK, there’s one caveat: I was extraordinarily lucky with the weather. Five ridiculously sunny days, two cloudy ones and the only rain was on my planned rest day. But hey, I think I earned that during a wretched August. And anyone British who loves the outdoors knows you can’t allow the weather to dictate your goals. If not now, when?
Failte is Gaelic for ‘Welcome’… the rest is self-explanatory
Statue of the tired but happy walker at the end of the West Highland Way, Fort William
These two photos don’t show the walkers gathered around the marker post and statue, taking selfies and congratulating each other. There were maybe twenty others there at the same time. Sometimes I do feel slightly empty that there’s no-one to share in my achievements, and that all the memories are my own, but it soon passes.
After the walk
Checked in at the Alexandra Hotel, on the green at the outskirts of town, near the railway station. Very well-organised for Covid, with a one-way system in place throughout. Booked my evening meal for 6 o’clock. A much more extensive selection of whiskies than beers, which seems unsurprisingly typical for Scotland. I had a 12-year-old Glenmorangie this evening, which is definitely not new to me. Decided I could be a little more adventurous after conquering Ben Nevis.
Which was/is of course the plan for the following day, Friday 25 September. Checked the weather forecast a few times in my room. It’s certainly much cooler in Fort William than anywhere else en route: temperatures in single figures this evening. Went to the local Tesco a couple of times to stock up for a serious mountain walk. Booked an early breakfast and went to bed before 10:30.
For the story of my day on Ben Nevis, see ‘Sidetracks‘ (post to be published before Christmas).
Picture (24 September 2020) is my third and most extensive photo of Ben Nevis, taken from the Glen Nevis single track road. Unfortunately WordPress cuts the top of header photos, which means you can’t quite see the summit. However, that’s one spectacular bulk, right? And there will be plenty of summit on show in the Sidetrack…
For completists, this is what it should look like:
Header photo, with summit
Next: Day 74 (summer 2021, all being well)… in which I start the Great Glen Way.