May 20, 2012
We were woken up at 3 am by the sound of helicopters above Kinlochleven. This lasted for about an hour, during which it was impossible to sleep. Finally it became quiet, and it was not until we walked over to the Tailrace Inn for breakfast and saw the Search and Rescue squad on the bridge that we realized that something serious had happened. At breakfast we were told by an upset waitress that one of the young men from the town had fallen from the bridge into the fast-flowing river and had drowned. He and his buddies had been drinking in the pub during the evening while watching the soccer final.
After our breakfast we headed back to our little house to finish packing, then we set off on the final leg of the West Highland Way. Our route started by following the road through Kinlochleven, then veered off onto a forest path which rose steeply up the hillside before it joined a forestry track. High up on the hillside the views over Loch Leven, the town, and the large water pipes coming down the hillside were quite good. The weather was sunny and warm for a change, so whenever a breeze came up it was welcome.
As usual there were numerous groups of walkers starting up the hill, all going at various speeds. Today there were also a few mountain bikers; we hadn’t seen any of those since the first day. Our route for much of the morning was the old military road which undulated through the wild valley. It was rather rocky in places, so you needed to pay attention to your foot placement, but generally the going was good. The hillsides were covered with heather, but there weren’t many smaller wildflowers to be seen except in the wetter areas. As usual there were sheep and lambs sporadically in groups along the way.
All in all the area was quite desolate, with only a few buildings which were in ruins. We stopped for lunch around 1 pm and then carried on. The military track kept going and going and we definitely had no need for a map or guidebook along this section. At one point we had to walk through a large clear-cut area, which was very unpleasant. We were glad to see some trees again, but that didn’t last too long. We were very glad when we met another couple similar in age to us, who we chatted with as we walked down the logging road towards Fort William. Finally we got down to the paved road in the valley and followed it into the town, a very anticlimactic end to the trail.
We had our photos taken at the roundabout and then set off to find the Bank Street Lodge, our home for the next three nights. The views of Ben Nevis had been spectacular during the later part of the afternoon, so we decided to make the steep climb tomorrow, weather permitting. Once checked into our room, we had a cup of tea and then showers. This lodge had a laundry service, so we gathered all of our dirty clothes and took them down to the reception desk. For £4 we had all our clothes washed and dried, which was far better then the usual method of wash in the sink, dry on the radiator.
We had one last task to do, which was to get the final stamp in the passport and our certificate of completion. We did this at the Grog and Gruel pub, where we also decided to have dinner. Keeping up with tradition we had fish and chips. They were good fish and chips, but not nearly as good as the ones we had had at the end of the Hadrian’s Wall walk.
After leaving the pub we walked along the waterfront to the old fort before heading back to our room to finish up journals and check e-mails. Sleeping tonight should be quieter, except maybe for the woodpigeon cooing from its perch just above our window.