I didn't have to do this leg at all. The idea of this thing is to be able to say that I have walked every step of the way from my house in Islington to my mum's in Stornoway. It doesn't really have to be in sequence, though that is more satisfying.  And I have already done one small section out of sequence when I plugged the Hathersage to Edale gap. I don't have to do this because I have done it before. More than once in fact. The first time was when my mum walked The West Highland Way and I met up with her in Glencoe to walk with her for the final day. Some years later I was on a winter meet with the London Mountaineering Club and did it again.  And a year or so ago I went from Kinlochleven, up the West Highland way for a spell before branching off to climb up and over the Mamore ridge and then down into Glen Nevis.

And I have walked up and down Glen Nevis more times than I care to remember. So why do it again? Well, it didn't seem right to just skip it altogether. But there is another factor, and that is you, dear reader. If I did not do it now there would be a big hole in this blog and the blog, an afterthought to the project, has become quite precious to me. So I don't get the bus to Fort William, but sort out my gear, make myself  a flask of tea, eat some hot cross buns and step out into a morning which is freezing! 

I leave the hobbit hole or hutch in the gloom of Highland winter morning, but there is promising blue sky above. I consider trying the Ice Factor cafe to see if I can get breakfast but as it is probably still shut, I just use the recycling bins and head on out of Kinlochleven, over the river and away.

Before long I come to the sign that points me up a path through birch woods. This is flat for a brief spell then climbs behind some new housing and then heads up properly. This is, I recall a fairly brutal up bit. Everything but the more substantial streams is frozen, but I am not cold because there is no wind.

And then there is the effort. The path to start with is not as bad as I remembered. It meanders upwards through the woods, giving me a glimpse back to Kinlochleven and I can see the track I came down yesterday.

A bit more meandering and there is The Pap of Glencoe framed by bare birch branches.

I come to the little road that goes up to Mamore Lodge. Oh yes, I remember now. On one of my three previous walks up here I actually got a lift up to the Lodge. Definitely cheating.

This is an effort but the path is lovely and though any standing water is hard frozen there is not so much of it to make a real hazard. I think a hint of fitness must be returning. But then the path gets steeper. I catch a glimpse of power lines above. Far above. I remember them now. They run along the track I am taking and they look a long way off.

But eventually the trees get fewer and I emerge into more open country.

 I passing a spray of isolated icicles. Curious.

The path becomes more of a track and, at long last, levels off, meandering round to meet the main track, an old drovers' road.

This is a bit dodgy as though there is not that much ice it is hard to spot. The rocks and gravel of the path are very light, almost white, and in many places the ice is milky, making it hard to tell what is good footing and what is rinky.

And the views ahead, down Loch Leven are spectacular, with The Pap of Glencoe, marking the western limit of the long Aonach Eagach ridge (which The Devil's Staircase took me up over the far Eastern end, yesterday)

Beyond it the Ballachulish Horseshoe, (Beinn a Bheithir) snow covered and increasingly sunlit, way to the west.

The views down the loch are slightly to the south of west, due west, on the other side of Beinn na Caillich, the drovers road can be seen, almost straight heading westwards for miles.

This is a strange, bleak passage.  I am not sure if the emptiness is due to the clearances or if it was always too high for cultivation and year round cattle grazing. It is less than three hundred meters up but ruins are few and far between, and it is a wind tunnel of a glen. Still, clearances would seem to be the most likely explanation.

As I progress down the glen then I start to get views of the Aonach Eagach proper, the proper scary if you have trouble with exposure (I have chickened out twice on the descent tot he ridge from Am Bodach) notched ridge between the benign aforementioned ends.

Certainly it looks awesome from here; a completely impassable, crenellated wall. It distracts me until Beinn na Callich intervenes its bulk between me and Loch Leven and all points south. Now there really is nothing to see except the track snaking away ahead and the slopes of the mountains on either side.

I am beginning to feel thirsty and a bit hungry but I remember a ruined house half way or so along this glen and decide to wait in the hope of a handy sitting stone.  The little bits of ice are becoming bigger and bigger, joining up so that in some places the whole path is covered by a gleaming sheet.

It is enough to make me consider putting on my crampons which I brought instead of a sleeping bag (I had to hire the rubbish one I used last night). But I don't use crampons much and am as liable to trip on them or spike myself in the calf as I am to save myself from slipping. And so far, at least, the ice is all avoidable though sometimes I do have to step off the track itself.

The ruin its time coming into view though. After a while I reach a zone of fresh snow fall. Not much but it makes the icy path much easier to walk on. And then I encounter sheep.

A group look at me warily and two on the path move out of the way, only to appear over small rise, checking me out with quite unsheeplike gravity.

Finally I see the ruin in the distance, though far enough away that I am gasping by the time I reach it. But even then there is no obvious place to sit, and a stern warning about the remaining building being unsafe discourages further instruction.  A couple of sheep hang around the building and there are sheep pens beyond so I continue for a bit hoping to find somewhere better. There is still no wind so shelter is not really an issue today.

A little further on there is a bank at about the right height, so I stop for tea and something to eat.

And on through the snow covered and often icy path.

A kilometer or so from the ruin is another old iron sign post marking the path off to Callert on Lochleven. Looking back to take photos I notice two distant figures by the ruined house, obviously following my footsteps. Cannibals or members of a blood cult? In this desolate landscape you have to wonder. Of course they are more likely winter walkers but I decide not to hang around to find out.

The path is slowly rising. There are icy bits and other bits dusted with snow that makes them easier to walk on. But the ice is still avoidable though sometimes it takes a bit of thinking about and care. Every now and then I look back to see if I can see the following figures. But I cannot until  they get to the Callert path branch off. I am surprised because they must be moving very fast. I wonder if they can be skiing but dismiss the idea as there is not nearly enough snow.

Just quick walkers I guess.

The track continues to climb and wibbles a bit before curving round to the north decisively, taking me into sunshine. After a short while I can see the tops of trees from the forestry by Lochan Lundavra.

A buzzard wheels around and then flies below the skyline before I can get a photo. It is back to plentiful ice and little snow again as the path starts to descend.  A helicopter crosses the glen ahead of me,  interrupting what is silence apart from the crunch of my boots on icy ground.

The ground begins to drop more quickly as I approach the forestry which is not what I was expecting from the map. There are a few trees, most of which look dead. Beyond them devastation.

The plantation has been almost entirely felled. I go through a gate by some sheep pens, flanked by a fringe of conifers. But only a few meters through these it is the familiar chaos of clear felled plantation.

I pass another interpretive sign written in the first person. This one claims to be written by  Dairmad Cambell of Inverawe and marks the spot where the chase was abandoned when the Campbells, fleeing after the battle of Inverlochy, were pursued by their enemies.

This devastated plantation is long and the track winds a good deal for a full two kilometres but finally I see a couple of vans parked in the distance and another, larger sign.

Which turns out to mark the point at which I leave the West Highland Way. From here the way goes north east, winding through endless forestry plantations, up and down relentlessly until, just when you think this will continue until the Orkneys it goes into Glen Nevis.

But I am taking the small road that comes out just south of Fort William today. And I set off down what starts as a dirt track but soon becomes a gleaming black tarmacadam road, glad to be on completely new ground for me for the first time today.

Loch Lundavra shows to my left, clearly frozen and it looks like snow has dusted the ice as it is completely white, though there is no snow on the ground around it, making a curious sight.

But my attention is soon given to walking as the road goes up steeply. I realise that I am getting tired as this is quite an effort.

Behind me the sun is struggling to spill over the  low mountains to the south.

But in front, once over the crest of the hill, though a completely different landscape confronts me. It is green with neat white houses dotted amongst it. Trees in clumps amongst rolling hills. After the bleak ice bound emptiness I have escaped it looks like another country altogether. Switzerland perhaps.

Welcome as the change is I am getting very weary and none too pleased to see from the map that the road plunges down steeply and then back up again with an equally brutal gradient.  A farmer passes me in a landrover, giving me a wave. The road, which had looked newly laid above becomes cracked and fissured, bulging in the middle. The result of the record frosts this year I suppose.

As the road plunges down towards a river I pass a sign warning of a slippery surface, to which some wag has added the words "weee!" which makes me smile.

I cross the bridge and start the grind up the next hill. More wooded now, deciduous trees too. This must be lovely when they are in leaf. I have only once looked into this little glen (which I will come to) but have never been this far. It surprises me because it is nothing like the glens around it. The bleak upland emptiness of the one I have just come through. The drama of Glen Nevis to the north. It is cosy, rather like the landscape around Selkirk in the borders (if you ignore the distant snow covered mountains).

I even pass an old fashioned red telephone box, right next to  a house. I did not know that they still existed as public phones but it seems to (a sign says it does not take cash). What is this place, Brigadoon?

A van turns into the house by the phone box just before I get there and as I walk down the road it passes me, the driver giving me a wave.

The scenic qualities of the glen are rather marred by power lines and, worse, a line of bigger pylons comes marching in from the left as I continue out of the scattering of farms that makes up Blarmachfoldach.

I can see a hill ahead that must be the hill just beyond my friend Anna's house. I was staying there before starting this expedition and her house is most conveniently situated at the end of this road. Still it is a fair way and I am tiring fast. Hungry and thirsty too though it does not seem worthwhile stopping now.

How those pylons were allowed here mystifies me as the landscape becomes wilder once more but still immensely appealing. I find myself walking alongside a tree fringed little river. I wonder if Anna and her partner Al bring their dog, Minch  along here.

The pylons are hideous and intrusive though.  There is one last steep pull uphill and though it is not very big it seems a great effort. Still, I finally get up and then see something I have been looking out for just ahead.

A picnic spot with a picnic table.

This place has special importance to me as it is the place where I played a role in saving someone's life. In the late 80s I went sailing with a guy I had met hitching called Eddie. Eddie was 70 and fulfilling his ambition to sail around Britain. I met up with him in Troon and we sailed to Stornoway over two weeks. Midway through,  the yacht moored in a marina near Oban, Eddie's family came to visit and we went for a drive.

I messed up the directions and we took this road instead of Glen Nevis and stopped by the picnic table. I was showing Eddie's grandson how to use the table to steady his arms using my binoculars and I spotted a tiny black dot on an isolated snowfield on distant Ben Nevis. The dot was moving and at this distance we decided they must be skiing as you would not have been able to see motion if they were walking.

Everyone took a turn. Eddie and his son were using binoculars when his son said: "I've got them. They are going to the edge. They have carried on, still moving."

"Hold on," I said or something like it, "The kept moving after they left the snow?" Eddie's son was sure that they had.

I said that we should go and tell mountain rescue because if they really were moving after the snow they would be on scree or a boulder field and you cannot ski on scree.  Eddie was not keen. He was a fine sailor who hated to bother the coastguard without sound reason. And it was just a very distant dot. Hard to say what had actually happened.

But I said we should go and  tell them what Eddie's son had seen and let them decide if it was worth investigating. So we piled into the car and went to Fort William police station. Eddie and his son went in as I had not actually seen anything I stayed in the car. They came out a bit later on and said that the guy the had spoken to said that people came off there sometimes skiing and they would send the "paraffin budgie" up to have a look.

We went on to Glen Nevis and peered up hopefully but saw no sign of a helicopter. So that was that.

Only when Eddie finally got back home after circumnavigating Britain, he got a letter from a woman thanking him. She had had a really bad accident, had severely damaged her legs, but would have died if we had not happened to see her ski off the snow and told the mountain rescue about it.

So I stand and look at The Ben now and wonder at the chances of that happening. Looking at the map and the mountain it is hard to be sure where the snow field was but I think it must have been five kilometres or three miles away from where we were, at least.

And I am very glad to see the picnic place again, though I doubt if it is the same table. In fact I think there were a few of them all those years ago. Turning there is a fine view over Loch Linnhe in the late afternoon light.

Now the road is sloping down quite sharply. I pass a family. A mother with a child walk past me, the father with a daughter about four,  a little behind. I guess they are walking up to the picnic table but the little girl is messing about jumping on lumps and things and her father is trying to be stern. "Come on, we will never get there if you keep being silly."

But his attempt to be an authoritative adult is fatally undermined by his hat, which is amongst the very silliest I have ever seen. It is covered with growths like some sort of sea cucumbers or elongated anemones.

We pass and they walk on. The little girl moaning. "Are we there yet?" and her father expostulating. "No, and we never will be if you don't get a m ove on." And me laughing at the scene.

Over the cattle grid which I recall from a few days ago when I was staying here, and I am at Anna and Al's. No one is home but that is OK as I have a key. I make a pot of tea and drink a few pints and get something to eat.

I would really like a shower but it strikes me that it would be good to walk into Fort William itself. This is a bit silly as, again, I did this exact walk five days ago. But I want to be able to hop off the train and set off with a clear conscience if it turns out that I arrive back with time for some walking.

So muttering darkly at my own madness I set off again. No bag this time though, just the camera.
The long straight road down to town from Anna's estate gives views over the loch.  I go on the road to avoid slippy looking compacted snow on the pavement.

The sun is starting to set as I walk along the main, pedestrianised street, stopping to check the second hand bookshop for Patrick O'Brian books that I have not yet read, without success.

I take the lurid but cheerfully painted underpass to the station. This part (though not the new colour scheme)  familiar from years of travelling to Stornoway by train and coach via Skye and mountaineering club meets in huts nearbye.

Past the station and I decide I have another mile or so in me. There are fairly regular buses here so I should not have to walk back.

On the road out of Fort William. Again all too familiar as this is the road between the shops and station and the head of Glen Nevis. Indeed walking down this road the other way was where I first got really bad shin splints around this time last year.

Passing the Nevis Bank I take a photo just to commemorate where my mum and her companions who walked the West Highland Way to raise money for Altzheimers research stopped to celebrate. If I remember rightly it used to be the official end. And I realise that I have gained little or nothing by coming this way.

It is getting dark and I am definately knackered as I cross the bridge over The Water of Nevis and pass the old distillery.  I would like to do a bit more tonight but have had enough. That will do me for today. In fact it will do me until Spring.

So I just go to the nearest bus stop and wait for a bus, which comes after ten minutes which, blissfully,  takes me not just back to the station but almost all the way back up the hill to Anna and Al's place.

View Kinlochleven to Fort William in a larger map


  1. Anonymous said...

    Yes you definitely had to walk this leg again - it would have been cheating not to, in spite of previous walks.

    Great story about Eddie and the skier - what a lucky fluke that you saw it and knew what it meant. And that you did something about it.  

  2. Spencer said...

    Thanks. That really was the first time I have been to that spot, and it must have been around twenty years ago now.

    And it was a near incredible fluke for the woman who was injured, considering how far away we were.  

  3. Anonymous said...

    Oops, forgot to include my name on the previous comment. Louise C

    Thanks for the maps too.  

  4. Anonymous said...

    I had no idea you'd set off again! You're madder than I thought.


  5. Spencer said...

    Not mad at all Pete. That was some of the most enjoyable walking so far. Right up there with Derbyshire in May or summer in the Dales.  

  6. Anonymous said...

    I think you would really suit a hat with anemones on it. Not sure about cucumbers though.
    Just looking at the blog in Lily's living room. She wants to know where you are now!
    Carole x  

  7. Spencer said...

    Still at Fort William. Next leg is timed to avoid the Royal Wedding, so next update should be in early May.  


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