Scotland Day 20 - Bridge of Orchy to Kingshouse
Yesterday afternoon Magda commented on how much admin there is in doing this walk. There's routes and weather to check, obviously, but she was talking more about the process of walking, the brain power involved in keeping on the right track and making the constant small decisions. It's certainly true, there isn't any empty space to fill my mind with big thoughts, but the rhythm of it is satisfying. I probably spend twenty minutes at the beginning of the day packing up my stuff in various dry bags, replenishing my hydration kit, making a new thermos of tea, checking that I've got enough food, repacking the waterproofs and the rucksack cover, then checking the tech for the navigation before finally setting off. And there's always a sense of excitement about what the day will bring, because whatever it is it will be new.
Today was again supposed to be a wet day, with the worst of the weather later on. So I was out by 8, hoping to make the most of the better period. There was a choice at the outset of either following the quiet flat road to Inverornan, or to climb up to Màm Carraigh, a hill at the northern end of Ben Inverveigh. Because I'm not here to do the whole of the West Highland Way, I wouldn't have been worried about doing the lower, easier option if it had been raining. But just at this moment it was dry, with even patches of blue. So I went for it.
At the bottom of the hill I met a couple of Canadian women, one quite quiet, with headphones, the other more ebullient. This was demonstrated by her shouting to me 'we've got this!' And then whooping. My close friends will know that if there's something I can't handle, it's exhortations of encouragement. I hope she didn't see me actively recoil.
The hill wasn't especially strenuous, though fairly continuous for a mile or so. As I neared the summit I could hear some loud grunts and shouts some way behind me. I was worried that someone had injured themselves, but no, it was cries of self motivation. Her friend was mainly some distance ahead of her.
The hill was worth the effort. Actually, when are they not? I could see lochs and fells, and although it wasn't crystal clear, the views were longer than yesterday's. There was a valiant little tree by the cairn that I enjoyed too.
Coming down was quite rough under foot, and theee times I slipped on loose stones, giving my limbs a bit of a surprise. I stopped and took my breath. I don't want to have to go home because I tripped over a stone.
Magda would have been delighted with today's route, in that there was coffee available after the first 3 miles. A charming teenager at Inveroran hotel apologised that his coffee was only instant (it was fine) asked where I'd come from today and then looked at me appraisingly and said 'you've made good time?'.
There was a map of the WHW at the hotel. It was quite stern about the equipment to be brought (climbing boots or walking boots at a push, woollens, compass and torch) the knowledge that is required (first aid training, especially the symptoms of exposure) and the necessity that anyone tackling the route to Kingshouse should be a fit and experienced and walker. I decided I was. Don't have any woollens though.
As I climbed away from Inveroran I met Dave and his dog Coco. He was interested in the walk, appreciated the work that Samaritans does and said that he would share my page on his WhatsApp group. He later said it was for singles Campervanners. And then added, 'that's not what it sounds!'
Most of today was a gradual hill over about 8 miles. I passed over one of many little rivers feeding Loch Tulla, and then passed onto another old drove road. I was interested to read that Thomas Telford had been instrumental in improving the quality of these roads that were mainly used for moving sheep and cattle. He made them with a deep bed of gravel to prevent damage to their hooves.
The road was clear, if quite hard underfoot with the uneven stones, maybe Mr Telford hadn't been bearing twenty first century boots in mind. The weather wavered between mist and occasional patches of blue, and the cloud moved up and down the tops of the hills. I had some sponsored music today, and enjoyed Magda's Operator by Jim Croce very much, it was a complete story in a song. I then went to listen to a track that I'd Shazammed earlier to identify at breakfast at the hotel. It was by Skipinnish, a band who'd been recommended to me by Liz and Anne back at the borders. Not my normal style, being bagpipes. But if ever there is a time to listen to bagpipes, it's surely on Rannoch moor, this wildly remote bit of Scotland.
For a few minutes everything aligned. The music was exultant, with fantastic harmonies underpinning brilliant playing. The path was stretching out empty in front of me, there was blue in the sky, the hills were clear, I was strong and fit. I was utterly overwhelmed with joy.
If you want a wonderful thing to listen to, try 20th Anniversary Jigs by Skippinnish.
And although the rain returned, the happiness never left. The path climbed and climbed, with great views opening and closing. There were more people walking today, mainly sticking to their own pace and appreciating this extraordinary place in their own way. Finally it was possible to see across to the ski lifts at Glen Coe mountain resort up on the skyline, and to look down over the moor to Kingshouse, where I'd be stopping tonight.
The last couple of stony downhill miles flew by, as I was chatting to Gabrielle and Mathilde, two young teachers from France. It was lovely to share the similarities and differences between our two country's educational systems. And also to learn about long distance hikes in their country. The Chemin de Stevenson was a new one on me, named after Robert Louis. Sounds good.
The girls and I were talking about deer in Scotland, and Mathilde was saying how much she would like to see a stag. We parted ways for lunch, and I went into the hotel for a drink. There was a commotion outside, and looking up I could see that there were two buck deer just outside the window. I ran to find Mathilde. She was so delighted, saying that she could now die happy. They were fantastic beasts, quite young I think, with their antlers covered in almost translucent down.
I had an hour or so before I was able to book into my bunkhouse, and a thought grabbed me. The weather was greatly improved, with the skies much higher. It would be a perfect time to go up to Glen Coe. I guess it's testament to me indeed being a fit strong walker that another 3 miles of hill was definitely not an issue. The ski chairlift at the Mountain Resort works through the summer, and it afforded absolutely wonderful views across the moor and over to the hills at the other side. It also allowed a wonderful up close look at one of the many waterfalls falling down to fill the lochans on the moor. On my way back down I could see tomorrow's walk winding up towards Devil's Staircase. It was another joyous interlude, and well worth the extra three miles.
Kings House hotel was originally built in the eighteenth century, and although an inn, it was used to house the British army during the subjugation of the Highlands. It has continued as an inn ever since. The new iteration after a complete rebuild opened in 2019, and it is very welcoming and comfortable, even away from the flash hotel and in the more basic bunkhouse. Far better than when Dorothy Wordsworth visited in 1802, describing it as 'a wretched place', and JH Bell described having to put up an umbrella in bed if the weather was wet.
No such problems tonight. The bunkhouse has good showers and a companionable tea room where it was good to spend time with Han, Yael, Nir and Miriam, together with two others whose names I didn't get, sorry! They are extended family, and between them they live in Israel and Australia, and they have met up in Scotland to walk the West Highland Way together. Another joy, meeting new people. What a brilliant day.
Stats (not counting the extra 3 miles to the chair lift!)
Distance travelled: 12 miles
Total ascent: 1602 feet
Calories burned: 1758
Local tipple - pale blonde from Glenspean brewery
Dinner at Kings House hotel - lovely
Cauliflower and smoked cheddar soup
Spinach and bean curry with rice and naan
Sponsors' songs - thanks to Magda
Operator by Jim Croce
Video of the day