The West Highland Way – Part 5: The End (Kinlochleven to Fort William)

Just one more day to do, but the longest daily distance of all, and a deadline to do it by. Our train was booked for 19:50, which shouldn’t have been a problem, but nevertheless it was still a deadline. If you add time to clean up and have a celebratory pint and meal, the real deadline was nearer 17:30.

Paul had plenty of time to kill of course as he was getting the bus, and even more so when I set off at half past 8. I actually made fairly short work of the climb back up out of Kinlochleven – it seemed much longer coming down it on the TGO Challenge in May.

Having crested it, I allowed myself to put some music on, and then hit the long downward slope, cruising past the ruin of Tigh-na-sleubhaich and generally having a much easier time of things than last time fighting my way upwind.

I was going so well that I didn’t want to stop for lunch, suspecting that the break would break my rhythm. And so it proved. I stopped in the wood that we stopped in last time, and chatted with a chap also resting there. A sharing of hot water and snacks ensued before I got on my way again.

The undulating walk back to the point where Darren and I had joined the WHW on our route over from Glen Righ in May was followed by a mix of undulating and harder ground that prevented me gaining much of a rhythm. The chap from lunch caught me just after I entered the Nevis Forest.

As Ben Nevis itself came into view, there was very much a feeling that the end was near.

The reality though was that there was quite a bit more to do – a load of forest tracks and then road. I opted to follow the officially signposted WHW which put me on the road a bit earlier, rather than stick with the forestry tracks for a bit longer.

As I rolled into Fort William at Nevis Bridge, Paul was waiting on the other side of the road as he’d been following my inReach track. We walked down the high street together to the end. The mandatory “copying the sculpture” photo was of course taken.

At only 15:30, I’d made it easily. We headed for a pub for beer and food before trying to find a way of killing time before the sleeper train.

Some Afterthoughts

First the trail itself. Unbelievably it’s taken me several years to get to the point of walking the West Highland Way, and I’ve probably read more accounts of other people’s walks along it, and watched more videos of it than for any other trail. So I turned up feeling I already knew it on some level. Of course this wasn’t entirely true, although planning the daily sections and stopping points on the hoof was pretty easy.

Generally I enjoyed the walk, once you allow for the time of year and the fact that it’s Scotland weather. It was a deliberate move to walk it in autumn after the success of last year’s Great Glen Way, but we didn’t really get the autumn effect to quite the same degree we got previously.

Paul seemed happy with his decision to walk only parts of it, once he’d realised he probably was going to struggle to do it all. On my part, I actually enjoyed the variety of walking some days solo and some days in company – the only real problem with this was that it tended to be the harder days that I found myself solo. The hard days being the roller coaster lochside bit and that last longer day. The main problem with the lochside was that the novelty wore off quickly and it started to become a bit of a chore.

Would I walk it again ? Well the easiest answer to that is that I wouldn’t not walk it again. With a long list of trails (over 100) that I want to do, I’m unlikely to find the time to prioritize a re-walk of the WHW in its own right. But if I had a much shorter list, then it’s the sort of trail I’d consider a repeat of in a few years time. Most likely, I will walk parts of the trail again as part of TGO Challenges, or maybe even a LEJOG (?).

Secondly gear. Given the time of year with cool and unpredictable weather, and long night in the tent, this wasn’t the trip to cut gear to a minimum. A certain degree of comfort was appreciated. Given that most people who thru hike the trail do so with more traditional, and hence bulkier and heavier, kit, I could afford to take a few luxuries.

So I took my largest pack, the Atompacks Mo 60, and didn’t worry about filling it. I chose my most comfortable tent, the Tipik-tentes Aston. This has plenty of space to move about in, meaning I’m not spending 16 hours lying down. It held up well to the conditions. My decision to stick with summer trail shoes also worked well.

Copying Paul’s example, shortly before the trip I made a tweak to my cooking set-up, taking a Trangia triangle and compatible burner which gave me a versatile and cold weather friendly cooking solution. Due to worries about getting gas in Glasgow (which proved groundless, but I’d have been buggered otherwise), I also took an alcohol burner and alcohol, and used both on the trip. Indeed, I was surprised how efficient the alcohol was with this configuration compared with other stove structures I’ve been using. I had a Trangia triangle previously but sold it and during the pandemic they were, like much gear, out of stock. Seeing Paul combine one with a gas burner (previously I’d thought the Trangia burner only worked with the main windshield structure), was all I needed to get back in the game. This has the feel of a go to setup for me.

For clothing I basically reused my TGO Challenge solution of leggings and shorts below and a Montane Dart above. I did swap my Mountain Equipment Switch vest out for the version with sleeves as a small nod to the time of year. But that was pretty much the only change.

For sleeping, I managed to get away with my 3 season bag – the Cumulus Quantum 350, but beefed up my mat to the Thermarest Xtherm which I’ve been avoiding using for much of the year – partly to preserve it, and partly to train myself into less bulky alternatives in the warmer months. I’d forgotten how comfortable it is, and what a good night’s sleep it gives. Since the trip I’ve had the sleeping bag cleaned (after 10 years it was probably due) at Scottish Mountain Gear, and I also got them to top up the down. The bag has just come back in an enormous box, extremely lofted and now probably allowing me to go to colder temperatures. The bag itself is rated to -6C, and with the extra down it should be nearer the -10C of the Quantum 450. Just as well as I recently sold my winter bag due to lack of use.

Now for travel. The decision to get the coach overnight is always something I regret in the immediate aftermath when I have to deal with the zombieness that it inflicts on me. But it saves so much money. The sleeper train home was a right pain though. We sat at Rannoch for a couple of hours while a broken down freight train was hauled up the line towards us. Then the train from Edinburgh was packed and everyone was pretending to be asleep when we got on so claiming a seat was hard. Really the sleeper offers minimal extra comfort over the coach, but costs several times more. The only positive was we arrived in London so late that delay repay meant the whole journey was refunded.

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