and pu’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne
His name was Pepe and he was from Badajoz. She came to Fort William sixteen years ago, fleeing a divorce, with the intention of staying there for a few months. He found a Galician woman there, and never returned. He is a taxi driver and owner of a small taxi company, the father of two Scottish children, and has a client who spends her alcoholism subsidy on bingo and the taxi that takes her there, as she is abstinent.
Pepe took me from Fort William to Kinlochleven. There was a bus at 7:50, and another at 10:25. Since I arrived at the station at 8:10, I had no choice but to spend £45, so I could start walking at a decent hour. The bus company has cut the frequency of passage by 20% by seeing the subsidies it received from Fort William Council cut by 20%. And the main cuts have been on Sunday. If you want me to tell you the truth, I don’t know that it’s Sunday.
At Fort William it was dripping, and at Kinlochleven too. I went to the supermarket, which is also open on Sundays, to buy a sandwich and stamp the Passport, which I only have three stamps on thanks to having thought about it so often. At the supermarket I was told that I have to pick up the stamp at the post office, and they close on Sundays. I don’t know if he really understood the stamp that I was looking for, but it didn’t matter, I have only three stamps and I wanted to start walking.
Starting the last day: Fort William is waiting
The road crosses Kinlochleven on the north side, following the same road, the B 863. It leaves it a few hundred meters after leaving the village, and enters a grove, gaining height quickly, and therefore with a considerable slope. Going up, I was overtaken by two men who seemed to be arguing with each other, especially the one in front of me pretending to be quite angry. The one in the back seemed to me to be the Dutchman from Glenardran House, but I thought he should have already finished the route.
As the path ascends the slope of Am Bodach and gains height, the views over Loch Leven are gaining drama, as they would say here. In the end, when the forest ends, the path towards to the mountain and the lake disappears. From this point, the path crosses the slopes of different mountains, and does not enter another forest until it reaches halfway. Therefore, it remains completely exposed to the elements for about 10 kilometres. And the elements of Scotland, as we already know, are, above all, wind and rain, which have increased as soon as I have lost the protection of the forest.
The path ascends gently around mountains that are beginning to turn green, and by small flocks of sheep that appear randomly. The falling water already forms streams that cut the path, more and more frequently and more and more wide and difficult to cross without putting your feet in the water. So, balancing on rocks and with a half-cracked knee, I found the two German girls I had met leaving Inveroran. I am glad that, despite the injury, they have continued to walk and are close to finishing the West Highland Way. And the German couple came to my mind, hoping that in a couple of days they could reach Fort William as well.
In Lairigmór, the path descends to cross the river Kiachnish, and climbs up again. Here the rain has stopped falling, and the wind has blown hard again, I suppose to leave us all well dry for the arrival at Fort William. But no. The rain, when I was already very dry, has returned, and the wind has not loosened at all, so again I was soaked from head to toe.
Will we see Ben Nevis?
The rain has stopped reaching the Glen Nevis valley, at an altitude of about 300 meters, and with very good views of Ben Nevis, which was covered by clouds. I thought maybe the wind would blow them away, and we could enjoy the privilege of seeing the highest peak in the UK up close. But no. The weather is unforgiving. Not even the last day.
This stretch, apart from showing the beauty of the Scottish Highlands, also shows the opposite side: large expanses of felled woods. The scenery, really, is devastating. Grand expanses of what were once immense forests and are now only ingrained stumps that give the feel of a military cemetery of those of the Vietnam films.
It impresses, above all, when you cross the forest of Blar a’Chaorainn: what for a good while is a leafy forest of tall and thick trees, suddenly becomes the mirage of the destruction to which men subject the planet. It should be a must-visit area, although perhaps the furniture factories would not agree much with it.
Reaching Fort William…
After this area of total desolation, you re-enter the woods, and do not leave until you almost reach Fort William. About halfway there is a signpost for the Battle of Inverlochy. It is one of the few panels of its kind on the road. While reading the defeat of the Campbells, a girl from California who was making her way from north to south arrived, without a map or guide, in shorts and well loaded. Another that I hope I can finish.
Although the sign indicates that this point is halfway, it seems much closer to Fort William than to Kinlochleven. Perhaps because of the protection of the forest, perhaps because of the desire to get there, but the road is made quickly, especially from Dun Deardial, an ancient fortification of the Celts and later the Picts, which was burned, and offers fantastic views over Ben Nevis, and from which the goat path which is the old military road is abandoned to enter an asphalt track. As the clouds continued to cover Ben Nevis and it continued to rain heavily, I kept walking ignoring the historic visit, because Fort William could not be very far away.
And it wasn’t. After a while, the path deviates: straight on it goes towards the Wallace Parking, and to the right it leads us to a road. It’s a shame that such a spectacular road ends with a couple of miles of walking on the side of a road. The rain has increased, and it has begun to thunder. Finally, houses begin to appear on a regular basis, and it already looks like a town. And when the rain was already heavy, the symbol of the old end of the road has appeared in the distance!!
… and Gordon Square in Fort William
At last, the end!, exclaimed, in an English of marked Scottish accent, the girl who was coming after me. No, no, you still have to get to the center! I wasn’t the only one who came to Fort William in a hurry. From this point to the city centre there is still a good kilometre. And what a kilometre. Raining in boats and barrels and with my boots full of water, my trousers, which were not waterproof, completely soaked, and the feeling of being carrying four or five kilos of water, I came to High Street, the shopping street. I just had to cross it.
And finally, in the background, in the middle of the rain, and with thunder of soundtrack, Gordon Square and the statue Sore feet have appeared with the company of a seated, red-haired, bearded hiker, who does not it mattered too much to get a little wetter. The name of the statue is not accidental.
Sitting next to a statue, under a flood, dock from head to toe, with an ankle, a knee, a thigh, and a foot bandaged, and a sore shoulder, I have finished the great experience of the West Highland Way.
And the happiness has been immense.
Photos of the Kinlochleven Road to Fort William
The route, in detail
Map and profile of the West Highland Way between Kinlochleven and Fort William
Total climbing: 2712 m
Total descent: -2709 m
Total time: 07:24:10