Last night was not a very sheltered pitch, and the tent was reeling under wind yet again. As we pack up it starts raining – even though we’ve largely extricated ourselves from our previous spot of bother, the weather has not given up the battle.
It is, however, an easy walk along the track, penetrating further up Glen Righ. At it’s north eastern limit the track curves around to head back a similar way on the other side of the stream we’ve been handrailing. It’s here that we leave the track, but not before taking advantage of the bridge.
A pair of trolls duck under the bridge and perch on rocks under its shelter. It’s time for the first “Brew Under a Bridge” of the trip.
This is not a concept that Darren is familiar with, and so it’s an educational time.
What Darren is familiar with, though, is the route from here onwards – he’s been this way on a previous Challenge. We climb a stile to cut cross-country past Lundavra. I’ve heard various tales about this place being a bit unfriendly to passing Challengers, but we see none of this. Walking in Essex, where every public footpath is a potential confrontation with reluctant landowners, you get quite used to projecting your right to be there whilst simultaneously being alert for the possibility of hand-to-hand combat. Scotland access is a piece of piss in comparison. Luckily the issue doesn’t arise today.
We don’t hang around on our way through though. The views are nice, but the ground underfoot is poor and we’re slipping and sliding through mud for much of the way. It’s a relief to hit some aggregate underfoot.
Just along a short lane we meet the West Highland Way, which we will follow all the way to Kinlochleven. So this should be easy.
It’s not as today the wind is coming from the south east, and we are headed…. south east. We’re facing a strong headwind, and to add to this we are swimming against a tide – of people. We get a fair few stares in the vein of “why are they going the wrong way?”
Not to belittle the WHW, but I have little time today for the embrace of its community. The people we pass are on their last day, and we still have more left than it takes to do the whole WHW. I don’t want repeated conversations about how many days it’s taking us to walk it (backwards).
There is one couple we see going our way, and it turns out that they aren’t stopping in Milngavie: they’re on day 17 of a JOGLE. As such they are very much in “take it as it comes” mode. We pass and repass each other a few times for the rest of the day. We have allies in our swim against the tide.
We stop in a wooded section for a brew and a bite to eat, and it’s a popular spot with WHW walkers distributed evenly at the pathside. Step a little way off into the trees and it’s a minefield of shit and toilet paper.
The wind is making it hard going, and I for one am struggling to inject any pace into my legs. It’s with some relief that we duck into the shelter of stone walls at Tigh-na-sleubhaich for a brew. It’s only early afternoon, but someone is already setting up his Lanshan 2. We chat a while.
The final drag into Kinlochleven is slow and steep, and it’s a relief to hit pavement. We find our hostel, collect re-supply parcels, shower and go in search of dinner and supplies. There are two deer milling about on the village green, chasing off any dogs that go near.
Dinner is taken in the pub before an early night – tomorrow we’re back on rough terrain again.
We are late leaving Blackwater Hostel, due largely to the fact that the Post Office doesn’t open until 10am. Paul may have scurried home, but he’s left a trail of parcels that had already been posted out. They all need sending back. I take the opportunity to send a small parcel home myself – there is no way I’m going to need my sun hoodie on this trip (lol), and I force myself to skim off enough additional semi-luxury items to make the parcel worthwhile.
We also grab some further provisions, having deliberately left fresh/chilled stuff for this morning as we’d have the time. A bacon roll from the cafe near the Co-op also helps kill some time.
Back at the hostel, we leave our mark amidst a sea of WHW messages, and set off – well almost.
Before we’ve got very far we encounter Rolf, a fellow Lochailort starter on Friday 13th. Moreover, a fellow veteran of the Black Hole, although with a less positive outcome. Rolf had attempted the frontal assault on Gleann Donn, but slipped on a narrow ledge and although he didn’t get hurt found himself in a precarious position it was dangerous to attempt to move from. He’d pushed the button and been extricated from there. And he’d also been told by Control to keep it boring from now on!
Rolf does leave us with one piece of information – the path by Blackwater Reservoir doesn’t exist. This information is relevant as we’ve decided to head a slightly different way. We were due to take the path by way of Loch Eilde Mor which would leave a possible tricky river crossing at the other end. We’d already decided overnight to go by Blackwater and Loch Chiarain instead, avoiding the river crossing.
We go for it anyway, and the walk along the River Leven is really pleasant – some nice woodland and tumbling waterfalls, it’s a welcome change after bleak open ground. We stop by a stream for the morning brew up and reprise a pose from the day before…
We gain some height and climb above the waterfalls that fall from Dubh Lochan. I’m really quite liking this. Neither of us are in the mood for anything too epic today, and the mention of the existence of a bothy at Loch Chiarain sets a train of thought in motion.
Not far past the Lochan(s), I take a tumble stepping across a tufty patch, and soon after have to literally step over another casualty. Bambi lies on its side on the path, eyes staring into nothingness.
At the reservoir, it’s quite nice (for a reservoir), and I’m even open to the idea of stopping here for more than just a quick break. But it’s too exposed, and too early.
Instead, we head off along Rolf’s non-existent path, the going easy and well-defined, following the Allt an Inbhir. It takes a while, but eventually we see the loch ahead, and a roof slowly emerging above the ground in front of us.
At the bothy, we take a look around, but ultimately decide to camp instead. I much prefer having my own space. We find a pleasant spot near the loch shore, the wind mostly broken by the Corbett to our east. It’s 5pm ish, and we’d never have done today’s full planned walk, so we didn’t even try.
Darren tends to go for a lot of stops and a late finish on his Challenges, so today is a chance to introduce him to the joys of an early chill out camp. A pair of walkers slowly come our way from the north and then come over to chat. One of them is a former Challenger from donkey’s years ago. They’re taking the bothy tonight.
And so, all is calm until about 8pm…
Dinner eaten, and snuggling down we’re well ensconced into our camp when we detect the wind changing. It’s now starting to blow more from the north, or strictly speaking starting to gust randomly between south east and north. Either way, it’s right in the door, and when the rain starts it’s a hurried scramble to shut up shop. Darkness is falling, and it’s just too late and we’re too far gone to break camp and dash for the bothy. We’ll have to tough it out.