I won’t lie, starting on the path of the West Highland Way was a bit nerve wracking. More so the lead up to it rather than actually putting my foot down on the trail. Being so remote I was overly worried about provisions and water and how strenuous it was going to be. Not to mention how heavy it was going to make my backpack. Admittedly I, again, read far too many blogs and articles about it, and thus was overexposed to the dangers and peoples perceptions/opinions. All that faded, however, after I had met the route just outside of Fort William shortly after noon and had walked my first mile.
Since my check out from the Travelodge wasn’t until midday I had a good lie in and popped to the Cotswold Outdoor shop around the corner to buy some energy bars, a few freeze dried ready meals, a nalprene water bottle and some ‘Smidge’ spray. By the time 10:30 am hit I knew I was stalling and prolonging the inevitable, so I hurried back to the hotel, repacked my bag, and hit the road.
I’d heard the first leg of the journey from Fort William was a steep climb. On my day off I had packed up some of the heavier and unnecessary personal items in my bag and posted them back to London to lighten the load of my pack if I was to encounter more vertical walking. Surprisingly, the trails I had encountered on the Great Glen Way were more intense. I’ve only walked 16 miles today, and I’m sure things will get a lot more physically challenging, but for a first day out all I can say is that it was thoroughly enjoyable. Walking around Ben Nevis through lush green valleys where your head is quite literally in the clouds was simply awesome and inspiring. The track was very stoney/rocky and took a lot of walking pole assistance to get through most sections. There was also a lot of areas where waterfalls had overflowed over the trail so you had to jump along muddy banks onto what bare rocks there were to keep you from plunging into the streams. There were also parts where big piles of timber lay across the track, covered in slick mud and branches, that required some special vaulting skills.
Though I had been walking for almost six hours my body still wanted to carry on. The rain, though only brief showers, ranged from light to heavy at times. I could see the little town of Kinlochleven down below me at around 6 pm and I could hear folk music coming from what I hoped was a pub (one that sold Guinness, of course). But I had to make a decision. Do I risk walking all the way down to the village, get some food and a few pints in my belly, and then find out there is no vacancies and have to walk back out of town to find a suitable spot for my tent? Or do I look around where I was, on the overlooking hillside, for place to camp and head into town in the morning for breakfast. I was still undecided until I stumbled across a ready made camp site someone had previously set up. The ground was already cleared and flattened and a fire pit assembled. It was under a grove of birch, so out of the wind and protected from the rain. The decision was made . After quickly setting my tent up I was keen to try out my new Jetboil and make Veggie Chilli con Carne; another great success…and then it was to bed (Oh, the excitement never ends!)
Photos: The official starting line (ok, finish line for most) was actually right outside the door of the Travelodge hotel. You can see it says West Highland Way if you zoom in. Most of the below shots are some of the lovely scenes I encountered today. Nice to see Braveheart has been relegated to a carpark (They may take your parking spec, but they’ll never take your freedom!). My family are descendants from Clan Campbell so I had to do my bit as a sympathizer of Argyll. You’ll get it if you read the sign.