DAY 14: Fort William to Kinlochleven – 18.30 *WHW day 1
Leaving the flat by 8am, I headed back down into Fort William to tick off my list: a photo of the statue of the man with the sore foot, me stepping over the line in the pavement which signifies the start (or finish) of the West Highland Way, breakfast at “spoons”, picking up lunch supplies and a midge net (apparently I was going to need one). I then set off for Braveheart car park where the actual track leading up and in begins.
The first few hours were spent making a slow steady incline up through the Ben Nevis forest, with Ben Nevis a constant to my left. Although thick cloud, rain and mist all day meant I never actually saw the tops of any of the mountains. Annoyingly it was also here that I took a wrong turn, which probably cost me about an hour of walking. (See image below) Coming to a fork in the road, I took the track leading up which after about ten minutes of following, I knew was not right. Walking back down I then took the other option and proceeded along this track for another 20 minutes until the wide road like gravel track abruptly came to a dead end. Unable to cut through the thick deep valley of trees to where I now knew the trail was, there was nothing for it but to retrace my steps all the way back to pick up the badly signposted trail leading down.
For the next few hours the trail was good, and the scenery pretty spectacular. Also despite the pretty much constant wetness in the air, and walking through countless icy streams that crossed the path, there was not much wind (and amazingly zero midges) and for the 100th time I was thankful for spending the extra on my four main outer layers which kept me warm and dry throughout. In fact I spent much of today with a smile of my face, chuckling to myself as I said a bright and cheery hello to everyone who walked past and receiving a complete mixture of responses back. Sometimes I would get a hello, how are you back but more often than not I would be met with a miserable looking head, knowing that person would rather be anywhere other than out here on the side of the mountain in this weather. Hey, if you’re going to do it why not make the best of it right!
I’m not going to lie, it was a very long day and like when I arrived at Fort William the day before, seeing Kinlochlevin suddenly appear below me didn’t signify the end of my effort. As it then took another hour or so walking downhill to actually reach the town. By now I had started to get cold and even with my magic – but now soggy – Sri Lankan bandage covering each and every tiny little injury on my feet, each step was becoming painful. But of course, I made it down and grabbing the key for my cabin (pre-booked the night before and amazingly, if you book just one bunk out of the four, they give you the whole cabin?!) I whacked up both the main heating and the separate little radiator to maximum and simply collapsed in a pile on the floor for about an hour.
Once I’d managed to warm my bones, I grabbed a bowl of hot water from the laundry area and soaked my poor chewed up feet. Completing the indulgence I treated myself to a big pile of stew and mash in the busy bar. Tonight I released for the first time that somehow my “little walk” had suddenly turned into a full on trek. Completely different things, in that now after just one day of trekking I was completely exhausted. And this is just day one of about eight if I continued on the West Highland Way all the way to Glasgow. Not sure I have much alternative right now, I put that to the back of my mind as tomorrow my mum and sister arrive mid afternoon and I had a full on morning trek to do before I could meet up with them. Returning to my cabin after a few hours in the bar, I realised that I’d left all the heaters on in my tiny cabin and I almost struggled to get my breath as I stepped inside. At least all my stuff was finally dry and I went to sleep sweating, dreaming that I was on my holidays…