Kinlochleven to Fort William

(I did it!)

Distance: 16.72 miles

We did it! We completed all 96 miles of The West Highland Way!

Weather: Perfect! A light breeze and warm but not too hot. I couldn’t ask for anything better.
Health: My feet feel battered but just in a tender “you’ve walked 100 miles” sort of way. No blisters or painful ankles. I’m super exhausted but in a good way.

SUMMARY: What a day! It was rather emotional as after over 100 miles of mountains, valleys, rocks and gnomes I walked through the town of Fort William and touched the Northern Terminus of The West Highland Way. It was even better as I walked with Angie & Lou who I met on day one and we have been on this journey together from the start.

The Long Winded Version

12.35am – “Julia! Julia” – I hear a panicked voice outside of my tent. I scream as I’m not really sure where I am as I get pulled awake from a deep sleep! “Is that you Bobby?”, “Are you ok?”. In his deep Glaswegian accent, he proceeds to tell me that he can not find his phone anywhere. He thinks he’s lost it. I try calling his number but it just rings and rings. “You are better off waiting until the morning as it’s too dark to find it now”. He claims he won’t sleep a wink if he doesn’t find it. I’m not sure what he is expecting me to do? He’s all panicky and goes back to his tent to continue the search. 

5.06am. I can hear Bobby snoring and he is about 100 yards from me. I conclude that perhaps he found his phone or was simply exhausted from all the phone hunting! I fire up the stove and make a brew. I’m pitched by a Loch and I was the geese fly over and land a few feet from me. This is why I love wild camping. 

6.10am – all packed up and enjoying another coffee and chocolate porridge by the loch but the midges are out in force this morning.  I grab the “skin so soft” and hopefully that will make a difference, it also makes me smell a bit better!! If there is one thing that gets to me on these sort of hikes it’s the lack of showers and constantly feeling dirty. I need a better solution to this for the trail otherwise I’m never going to survive the PCT! 

6.30pm – I’m ready to leave this pretty little camping site. I haul Hal onto my pack (this pack is super comfy!) and wander over to Bobby’s tent to tell him I’m leaving. The tent vibrating with his snoring so I leave him to sleep. I know he had a stressful night and I hope he found his phone! 

7am – I wave at the weird gnomes again as I head back into the village. I spend a few minutes looking for Bobby’s phone outside the pub that he was in last night. No phone. I nip to the co-op to buy a bottle of water I’m all set for my last day, I just need to find Angie & Lou. 

7.30am – I meet up with Angie and Lou at Highland Getaway Hotel for breakfast. They are making egg and bacon sarnies from leftover breakfast. They have been doing this every day apparently as it makes a good lunch! 

8.15am – We are on our way! We see Will & Kit and have an opportunity to say goodbye. Hugs all-round. 

9.22am – We all wave at the gnomes (still weird!) and then just before the MacDonalds Hotel the trail leads off to the right. The Gruesome climb out of Kinlochleven begins. Just at that moment, my phone starts ringing! It’s Bobby!! “Hey Bobby, you found your phone!, did the pub have it?”.  In his Scottish accent “ney, it was in my tent!”.

Deep breath as I’ve got this mountain to climb!! 

10.21 – Eventually the climb evens out and the track runs through the mountains. It’s just beautiful. It seems that everyone is walking today and this little track is like a busy A Road! Little did I know that it would become like the M1 a few hours later.  We are above the tree line now and the path zig zags merrily along. Switchback after switchback. 

10.42am – We are now walking and leapfrogging with lots of familiar faces. You can see hikers in front of us for miles and also behind us. It reminds me so much of the Camino de Santiago.  We come across an old farmhouse that can provide some shelter in a storm but today it is glorious sunshine. The sign says “Dangerous Buildings. Please Keep Out.” But we are rebels and we nip inside to pose for photos. 

11.07am – A couple of fell runners go by with numbers attached to their chest (like a marathon). One guy is puffing and panting and walking slowly so I ask him how far the race is today? “A place called Milngavie” he replied. “We have 36 hours to get there”. OMG! I’m not sure of my reaction but the idea of completing the whole of the West Highland Way in 36 hours is bonkers!! One man was running with nothing on but shorts… god knows where he put his number!!

11.19am – A helicopter is circling the highlands and it looks like a mountain rescue. I hope no one is injured! 

11.49 – Ange, Lou and I sit down for a well-deserved break! I munch st my snacks and air my smelly feet/socks. It’s like the M1 today and for each ultra runner, we have to move to the side of the narrow path. 

Pastoral Glen Nevis is surrounded by some of the finest mountains. As we walk through the forest which has mainly been chopped and cleared (sad face), we turn a corner and there it is! The famous Ben Nevis in all its glory. Blimey, that mountain is intimidating!  It’s 4406 ft and we could see a slight slope to the south and a sheer face to the northeast.

3.15pm – After a long descent we eventually arrive in Glen Nevis. We are now getting neck aches from the constant looking up to take in the beauty of Ben Nevis. 

A quick toilet break and ice cream bliss at Glen Nevis Visitor Centre, we continue on our journey. 

3.50pm where is the end? This last bit is taking forever! Then we spot Liv & Georgia from Oz! We high five them and they are on their way back to the hotel. It’s about 20 mins they said. 

3.55pm – We see the old West Highland away sign and pose for photos.  I also took a photo of Lou & Angie, plus Kevin and James who are walking to raise money for Friends of Frankie.

4.05pm As we walk into Fort William it feels like we are finishing a marathon. People are clapping and cheering and familiar faces are grinning at us! I was on a real high! 

The pedestrian-only High Street now panders to the eclectic taste of the Highland tourist, from tartan and tweeds to a plethora of outdoor shops and plenty of West Highland Way memorabilia. The official route of the West Highland Way leads you past all this – rather like having to walk through the gift shop as you leave any tourist attraction today.

There it is!!!  As I sat next to the statue at the northern terminus I breathed in deeply whispering to myself… I did it! I walked The West Highland away and what an amazing adventure!