WHW Day 6 – Kinlochleven to Fort William

The rain had been tapping on the window above my bunk all night and when the time came to get up it didn’t look good outside. ‘Dreich’ is, I believe, the Scottish word for the conditions.

The forecast however was more promising. The rain was due to stop between ten and eleven. There was a discussion about delaying the start for a couple of hours but in the end we agreed we would rather get underway and take our chances.

The initial climb out of Kinlochleven was sharp but short thankfully. Then, yes, you’ve guessed it, the old military road. “Trudge along the old military road” doesn’t have the same appeal as “West Highland Way” but to be honest that’s what it is in the main part.

It’s popular though, as the photo above illustrates. There just isn’t enough variety for my liking. Wide grassy paths are my favourite terrain and there were virtually none on this walk.

Ian pressed on ahead after a couple of miles, in the relentless rain and Kevin and I followed on behind. The burns were all in spate and every fifty yard or so there was another to negotiate

The rain eventually stopped about 11.30 so I stopped to take my waterproofs off. Five minutes later it started again. Bearing in mind Angela’s advice, I stopped again to put my jacket back on. Angela is the Ray Mears of Jigsaw choir so I knew it would be foolish not to.

There was a small section of ‘proper’ footpaths with a bit of ups and downs before we rejoined our old friend the OMR for the last few kilometres in to Fort William. The weather had finally improved by this point.

They had thoughtfully moved the official end of the walk to the far end of Fort William. We stopped for the obligatory photo at the ‘Sore Feet’ statue before repairing to the Black Isle bar behind the statue.

We were able to catch up with a few faces we had seen during the week and they served great ale and great pizza. It was nice to take the rucksack off and chill out knowing we didn’t have to do it all again tomorrow. Ian and I also had the Caledonian Sleeper to look forward to!

The walk, which had been recommended to me by a few different people was a disappointment. The rip-off prices everywhere probably contributed to that. Ian and Kevin were great walking companions even if they do bicker like an old married couple, as only true friends can!

WHW Day 5 – Kingshouse to Kinlochleven

Yesterday’s exertions (54,000 steps according to Kevin’s Fitbit) had bought us a morning off. We treated ourselves to a sandwich from Londis for breakfast and chilled out in the refectory of the hostel. The 11:45 916 City link bus would take us back to Kingshouse to pick up the trail so that left us time to catch up on Popmaster.

Today’s stage was only 9 miles but with a 350 metre ascent up The Devil’s Staircase to add some interest. The bus was, again, bang on time but this one was nearly full. We set off at 12:30 in the persistent, but fine, rain.

Scottish Ladies Mountaineering Hut

We got our WHW passports stamped at the hotel before setting out. ‘Heads down and keep going’ was the mantra, given the conditions, but knowing you are only walking 9 miles, as opposed to 20 plus, lifts the spirits! Let Mother Nature throw at us what she will!

After a quick climb of 100 metres or so we traversed across the hill side for a mile before rejoining the main A82. It was there that we began the climb of the infamous Devil’s staircase. The lads sped off, as is their wont, and I adopted my 100 steps and then let my heart rate recover approach. They were waiting for me at the summit cairn.

The next couple of hours were very pleasant as the rain abated a little. We caught up with people we had met on the trail over the previous days and before we knew it we were at the hostel in Kinlochleven.

The final leg tomorrow is to the finish line at Fort William. A 350 metre climb to start the day but that is pretty much it in the heart rate stakes. Should be a nice run in and the forecast is looking better than it was earlier in the week.

Kinlochleven from above

WHW Day 4 – Crianlarich to…….

The original destination for today’s stage was Bridge of Orchy. This would mean a very pleasant 12 mile walk from the Youth Hostel with a cake stop at Tyndrum at half way. After the two arduous previous stages this was just what the Doctor ordered…. It would however leave a really tough day on Thursday of 21 miles.

When organising the trip at the end of last year the only place we couldn’t find accommodation was Bridge of Orchy. As a fall-back we had booked two nights in Crianlarich as we could get the bus back there from the B of O hotel and the next morning take the bus back to pick up the trail. It wasn’t ideal but was the only workable option.

The weather forecast showed rain in the morning clearing about 10:00 so we left about 9:20 in wet weather gear. By the time we reached Tyndrum it was already trying to brighten up and the waterproofs were stowed away by 11.

Our companion from the previous afternoon, the ‘old military road’ was to be with us all the way to Bridge of Orchy and for the first time the scenery moved up from ‘nice’ to ‘spectacular’.

It was good gentle walking and we were chatting to other walkers as we made our way along the track. There are lots of Europeans and we have spoken to a couple from San Diego on a couple of occasions on the route.

We got to Bridge of Orchy about 1:30 pm and we’re delighted to see they had Bitter and Twisted on the hand pump. It had been a nice relaxing day and the plan was to catch the 15:05 City link bus back to Crianlarich.

Bridge of Orchy

It was over a cheese toastie that the idea occurred to me that, instead of going back to the Youth Hostel, on what was now a bright and sunny afternoon, we could walk the next stage to Kingshouse and that way get to cross the much revered Rannoch Moor in the dry weather. The forecast for tomorrow was awful so it made a lot of sense from this point of view but it would make it a 24 mile day.

The cheese toastie, Kev’s salmon sandwich and two pints each only came to £48.50 so they were virtually giving it away.

There was a bus from Kingshouse to Crianlarich at 20:01 so we had a deadline to work to. The book estimated 5-6 hours for the stage but we were generally faster than they said. At 2:20pm we set off…

It was a climb immediately after we left B of O but we made good progress and were at Inveroran within an hour. A mile or so along a newly tarmacced road took us to a beautiful stream with people camping alongside. There was a small herd of red deer in the woods just further on.

There was an interpretation board just further on explaining that the next six or seven miles would be on one of Thomas Telford’s Parliamentary roads. It had certainly stood the test of time but the steady uphill trudge on the cobbles began to tire the feet out after a few miles.

Still some snow clinging on

Rannoch Moor begins at the bridge in the photo below. There were a couple wild camping just out of shot to the left and they probably had the pick of the views.

Rannoch Moor

There was a climb to the top of a ridge about three miles out from Kingshouse and my legs were sending out distress signals as it began. I could feel my hamstrings starting to cramp up but kept going at a slower pace. After reaching the top you could see the hotel we were heading for…. and it seemed a long way off.

As we rounded the ridge at the top a really cold wind came down the valley at us. I thought about stopping to put some layers on but didn’t. Mistake.

Heading down to Kingshouse

It probably took another half hour to get down where Kevin was waiting, having put on a burst of speed earlier on. It was 6:45 pm so we had plenty of time for the bus but I was feeling a bit ropey; probably a combination of exhaustion and the cold.

A Glenmorangie and the remnants of a sandwich perked me up a bit. For the walk back up for the bus I was wrapped up like Nanook of the North and Ian and Kevin looked after me! When we arrived back at the hostel at 8:40 I went straight to bed while the lads went the pub. Toughest day in the hills I have experienced… but we had bought ourselves a morning off when the worst of the weather was forecast.

WHW Day 3 – Rowardennan to Crianlarich

It was always going to be a tough day so after a quick breakfast at the Bunkhouse we started out at 8:20. The walk was going to be made up of three sections really, all of about 6 or 7 miles. The middle one being the toughest.

We opted for the higher road option at the start to limit the amount of scrambling required down by the Loch shore. This was a fairly gentle walk along a mountain track and we covered the ground at a good pace.

After a few miles the two tracks joined up again at the Loch shore and the scrambling began. You really had to watch were you were putting your feet. Also, if you were wearing a wide-brimmed hat, perhaps a Tilley, and were concentrating on your feet, you might not see a tree branch sticking out and might bang your head. If you were really daft you might do this twice.

Eventually the Lochside section was over and we could look forward to walking along the old military road that climbed up to Crianlarich. There was a constant call of cuckoos and a couple of nice stonechat along the way.

We made the mistake of stopping for a pot of tea at a Campsite with a bar. The service wasn’t what you would call welcoming and the £6 for a pot of tea for three (2 teabags) seemed a little excessive!

The long trudge along the military road eventually ended and we arrived at the Youth Hostel just after 5.30pm. The Rod and Reel pub in Crianlarich kept an excellent pint of Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted. A few of these and a veggie currie and the lumps on my head didn’t seem quite so painful.

WHW Day 2 – Drymen to Rowardennan.

If yesterday’s stage was easier than expected then today’s was much tougher than expected.

We left Drymen just before 9am and quickly turned off the main road to head up into the forest. I got a good look at a Lesser Whitethroat and before we knew it, it was time to take a quick breather to listen to Ken Bruce and Popmaster. There were misgivings when Ken announced that there would be new prizes from next week….

Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond made its first appearance as we were heading for the first target of the day – Conic Hill. As it was a Bank Holiday there were lots of walkers as well as the WHW crowd. It was quite a tricky section as well with lots of tree roots desperate to snare the unwary foot.

Conic Hill

After a careful descent we were soon at Balmaha were it was thought wise to rest a while at The Oak Tree to recharge the batteries before the trek up the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond to Rowardennan.

Gentlemen who lunch

The first section along the Loch was nice and gentle but the undulations quickly followed and after one seemingly endless flight of wooden steps I was convinced that the second lunchtime pint had been a misjudgement. Hindsight is 20/20 of course. It had seemed an excellent suggestion at the time.

The last couple of miles were tough but just after 4.30 we arrived at Ben Lomond Bunkhouse and after a revitalizing shower I was already looking forward to tomorrow’s stage…. until I read the description of it in the guide book….. The toughest of the lot… Oh well. How tough can it be? It looks so nice…

WHW Day 1 – Milngavie to Drymen

It was an early Sunday morning start for day one after a Saturday afternoon sampling Edinburgh’s finest hostelries. Kevin is joining Mountain Goat and me for the walk and we had enjoyed his and his wife Claire’s hospitality in Musselburgh.

Claire dropped us off at Waverley Station for the 8.30 train to Glasgow (ouch) and after a short wait at Queen St we were on the train to Milngavie where the trail starts.

We had arranged to have a communal bag transported to our various accommodations for the week and after handing this over at the station we were on our way.

The most noticeable thing about the walk that hits you immediately is how popular it is. We wanted to get to Drymen in time to watch as much of the Everton Chelsea game as we could so we set a good pace. We must have passed a hundred other people during the four hours it took us. Compare this with Glyndwr’s Way where I saw six people over eight days!

The birdlife was interesting once we got four or five miles in. We heard a couple of cuckoos but didn’t see them and then heard – and saw – a solitary curlew. A few miles from the end a lapwing flew over our heads as well.

The walking was pretty easy today to be honest. No real climbs to speak of and clearly waymarked paths in good condition. The only difficulty in navigating was finding Platform 8 at Glasgow Station!

We were able to complete the section without stopping and arrived at Drymen at 14:15, so 12 miles in 4 hours. We will be able to saunter a lot more for the rest of the walk and take in the stunning scenery.

The Clachan in Drymen claims to be the oldest pub in Scotland (one of many no doubt). We have renamed it The Chisellers Arms. £5.50 a pint! The other pub was the same so Drymen might be an apt name…

Tomorrow’s stage is thirteen and a half miles to Rowardennan so it should be a nice stroll. Most of the stage is overlooking Loch Lomond and there is a pub halfway at Balmaha which should make for a nice lunch stop.

Day 11 Bodfari to Prestatyn

After yesterday’s tougher than expected stage I had checked the route and profile of the final stage more than once. Every time I did, it was clear that there were two reasonably challenging climbs early on and a lesser one before hitting the streets of Prestatyn for the long, straight run in to the beach and the finish point.

Pete from the (excellent) Farmer’s Arms dropped us off in Bodfari at 9.40 and the first of the three climbs was upon us straight away. With the increased heart rate came the great views. Even though we were no longer in the Clwydian range AONB the scenery was still breathtaking.

We were making good time and envisaged a finish in Prestatyn of about 14.20. That left us plenty of time for the brass band to run through their repertoire and for the Lord Mayor to say a few words….

The Irish Sea

The progress was steady and in one field we found a football and had an impromptu game of headers and volleys. Kev ‘the carthorse’ Carbery and myself weren’t on top of our game but the Mountain Goat was in great form as goalkeeper of the 5 bar gate.

At one stage Kevin and I decided that GOAT stood for Gone On Ahead Today as MG put a spurt on and left us for dead. The years quickly caught up with the old fella though and we were all soon happily reunited.

A few miles later and Prestatyn hove into view. On the final short, sharp and in my view totally unnecessary, climb up on to Prestatyn Hillside we met up with two walkers who Ian and me had first bumped into on Friday afternoon in Llandegla and nicknamed “Dad and lad”. Dad had walked the path in the 80s and was back for more with son in tow. We met them again at The Dinorben Arms in Bodfari and as we went past them today we said we’d see them on the beach.

1 mile to go

It was a long, straight, walk along the shopping street of Prestatyn to the finish line at the beach but it was a welcome sight. 177 miles later and £897 raised for Cuan Wildlife Rescue.

Me and Kev at the monument at Prestatyn
Me having got my shoes wet

Thanks to lots of people for their support…

To everyone who donated to Cuan Wildlife and will make a massive difference to countless wild animals…

To Kev and Ian who got me over the finish line….

To Col and Ang and Jan who picked my spirits up in Montgomery….

To everyone who read and commented on this blog and made it worth doing and, again, encouraged me along the way….

To Pam who picked me up and dropped me off at the railway station numerous times….

…and to all the pubs, B&Bs, fellow walkers, corner shops, quiz setters and TV presenters. If you’ve ever thought of walking one of Britain’s National Trails do this one. It will get you hooked.

Day 10 Llandegla to Bodfari or Ice Cold in Bodfari

Joy, from the Raven in Llanarmon, picked us up as arranged to take us back to Llandegla to start the penultimate leg of the journey. The pub is leased by the community and run by volunteers so it was a real pleasure to support them.

The stunning scenery as we crossed the Clwydians was with us for most of the day and the sunshine and blue skies added to the sense of natural beauty.

What looked on the map to be a similar days walking to the previous day turned out to be a really tough stage! Goldilocks had definitely left the porridge in the microwave for too long today as well which didn’t make things any easier!

I didn’t know what our newest member of the team, my old Teesside Poly mate Kev, would be fit enough but he was fine and barely seemed to break sweat. He did slow us down though… by asking us to pose for photos all the time!

Lots of fields were crossed and LOTS of metres were climbed. There were almost 1300 metres of ascent in over 17 miles. The scenery made it all worthwhile though. It seemed to get better every time we turned a corner.

A herd of cows were blocking a stile in the corner of a field at one point and there was some wariness amongst the team. Fortunately the cow whisperer was on hand to save the day!

Moel Famau was the highest point of the day in a ‘metres above sea level’ sense but it felt unfortunate to be passing through on a Saturday, especially one with beautiful weather. There were lots of families and young people there, which is good to see, but I couldn’t help but feel they hadn’t put the work in I had to get there!

Another photo from Kev aka David Bailey

Moel Arthur was the next peak and the profile on my routing app suggested it would be all downhill from there. Sadly, that wasn’t the case and there were more hills to get over before Bodfari. Ian remarked that the first pint in The Dinorben Arms would be like the famous scene with John Mills in ‘Ice Cold in Alex’

Eventually, fuelled by Kev’s sizeable bag of snacks, we conquered one final stile to arrive in Bodfari. The pub was located, Covid protocols observed and we were sat on the balcony with suitable refreshments! Never have they felt more deserved.

Pete from The Farmers Arms in St Asaph, picked us up forty minutes later and a hearty dinner and more refreshments were enjoyed.

11 miles remain tomorrow of my 177 mile trek. I am looking forward to having a paddle on the beach at Prestatyn and not having to walk anywhere the next day!

Day 9 Chirk to Llandegla

The trains, as ever, were reliable and at 8.50 I met the Mountain Goat at Chirk Station, the two trains arriving almost simultaneously.

I had spotted a path through the grounds of Chirk Castle that got us back to pretty much the place on the path I left it at yesterday. So we were making great progress.

Chirk Castle

A combination of fields and quiet country lanes followed for the next hour or so and we then had the pleasant task of walking along the towpath of the Llangollen canal to, and over, the Pontcyssyllte aqueduct.

A climb through Trevor Halls Wood, who we thought sounded like a middle ranking official at the home office, brought us to the stunning Panorama Walk.

This was great scenic walking along a pretty quiet mountain road. We stopped to chat to a couple of ladies who were heading North to South. They must have got a bit distracted as they promptly headed off along the wrong path!

The next section of the path was like a cross between Mount Rushmore and the John Wayne film The Searchers. The path cut across the mountainside with scree above and below.

The terrain then changed again to more heathland. The path had been laid with slabs and duck boards and we made good progress and were by then only a mile or so from journey’s end at Llandegla.

The forest had been cleared here but as can be seen, they had left a thin sliver of trees either side of the path at the start, like an arboreal ceremonial guard!

The sign in Llandegla spells good news. Only 29 miles to go now to the end at Prestatyn.

It was great to have someone to walk with for a change on this walk. Like the Magnificent 7, we’re picking up new members as we go. Kev has now joined us and we set out in the morning for the last full, challenging day of the walk, an up and down 16 miles to Bodfari. Sunday, by comparison, is only 11 miles, mostly on the level, and ends with a paddle on the beach at Prestatyn!

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