Day 7 – Kinlochleven to Fort William
We woke up with mixed feelings this morning – excited that this was our last day and we were almost finished the walk; but at the same time felt a little bit sad that it was all going to be over. We’d had such an amazing time this past week, and met so many nice people that we didn’t want it to end!
The spot where we camped at the MacDonald Hotel was positioned right at the head of Loch Leven, so we had a fantastic view. The sun was already glistening over the surface of the water even though it was still early morning. We made sure to put lots of sunscreen on before setting off, as it looked as if it was going to be a hot day!
The day’s walk started with a steep climb out of Kinlochleven, but we were so used to climbing hills by this point that we hardly noticed it. From the top we could see back down overlooking the town and where we’d come from the day previously. We stopped for a few quick photos before moving on.
“It must have been one of the hottest days of the year!”
The next stage was a long path over the hilltops which went on for a good few miles. There was nothing too strenuous here so we were able to keep a decent pace up. The sun was starting to beat down though – I’m sure it must have been one of the hottest days of the year! We passed an old ruined cottage and stopped for a quick break, but Andy was getting sunburnt so we didn’t stay for long. We agreed that we’d have a proper break as soon as we found some shade.
Well the path just continued on and on, without shade. It seemed never ending, and we were both starting to struggle a bit in the heat. We passed a sign next to where the road intersects, and we learned that we hadn’t even reached the halfway point for the day yet! That put us on a bit of a downer, as we thought we’d walked much further.
We came to another cairn at the bottom of the pass. It marks the spot of the Battle of Inverlochy (1645), between the Royalists (MacDonalds) and Covenanters (Campbells). The sign told us that if you sympathised with the MacDonalds you should add a stone to the cairn, or if you preferred the Campbells you should take one away. I added one to the pile.
Eventually we came to a small wooded area next to a stream, where we stopped and had lunch and were able to fill up our bottles with fresh water. We chilled there for about 20 minutes before continuing on, and I felt much better after getting a decent break.
We had a quick look at our guidebook and were relieved that the rest of the walk seemed to be through some forest, which would give us a break from the burning sun. But no! Our guidebook had been published a few years ago, and since then all of the trees had been cut down, which meant we were still getting burnt!
The cutting down of the trees did give us an excellent view of Ben Nevis though (Britain’s tallest mountain) so at least that gave us something to aim for, as Fort William is located just below. We walked another mile or two, and then at last we reached a small patch of woodland. It felt amazing to finally get a bit of shade.
The path then descends down the side of the hill, twisting and turning as it goes. Ben Nevis was now towering above us, which was an impressive view so I can only imagine how amazing it would be from the top – definitely on my bucket list to climb some day!
We knew we were almost there now, only a few miles to go – so we practically raced down the hill, overtaking other walkers as we went.
The last 2 miles of the Way follows along next to the road once you reach the bottom of the hill, so it was a total anticlimax compared to the spectacular views we had only an hour previously. I was exhausted by this point and my feet were in agony. I limped along reluctantly, disappointed that the only view we had now was a main road filled with traffic.
We eventually rounded the last corner and spotted the green and blue sign of the old woollen mill, which is traditionally the end of the Way. I let out a manic laugh that sounded like a B-movie bad guy when I spotted it. We posed next to the sign for a photo, then I went inside to collect our free certificates. The place was filled with tourists, all buying overpriced tartan mugs, t-shirts and other useless stuff. I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.
“Probably one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life!”
A few years ago the end of the Way was moved to the centre of town, so really we hadn’t finished yet. The official finish line is now in the high street, which is really just to try and get you to spend money in the shops. As far as we were concerned we’d reached Fort William so we had already made it. We walked the last mile to the town centre though, and posed for photos again at the new finish line. The sense of achievement is just indescribable – probably one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life!
The one good thing about the new finish line is that it’s right next to the pub!! We went in and ordered drinks and congratulated each other. We found seats next to the window so we could watch other walkers crossing the finish line, and spotted everyone that we’d overtaken on the way down the hill.
We also spotted Christine and her husband, who we hadn’t seen since Rannoch Moor. They sat with us for 10 minutes and we swapped stories of things that had happened to us along the way.
We had another drink, then I went into one of the shops to buy razors, body lotion and conditioner. I hadn’t shaved the whole week and was just using basic soap and shampoo, so I was really looking forward to a luxurious shower in the hotel later on.
“I looked like the Man from Del Monte”
We went for another drink in a pub down the road, but we were both feeling a bit self-conscious about the way we were dressed. Towards the end of the week you start running out of clean and dry clothes so just have to make do with whatever you have left. I looked like the Man from Del Monte with a combination of florals, stripes and Andy’s straw hat!
We got a taxi down to the hotel – the Clan MacDuff – which was located just outside Fort William, overlooking Loch Linnhe. We could have found a much cheaper room elsewhere but thought this was an occasion worthy of splashing the extra cash.
We showered, then went down to the restaurant and ordered steaks and wine, and ended up spilling a drink all over the table – eek! We decided to head through to the bar for a whisky to round off our trip. The decor in the bar area was like taking a step back in time – wood panelling, vintage railway posters, and the barmaid even had a mullet!
We were just completely exhausted after that, so had quite an early night. Our train home was at 7:30 the next morning and the hotel had prepared a take-out breakfast in a bag for us since we would miss the normal breakfast – nice touch.
We had time on the long train journey to reflect over the week as a whole. It was difficult in parts, and there were some bad times as well as good. But the bad times just fade into insignificance when you think about the sense of achievement, as well as the feeling of excitement and wonder at discovering the landscape around you. We also met some fantastic people along the way and made lots of new friends. I’d recommend the West Highland Way to everyone as it is such a unique experience, different to any holiday or trip I’ve ever been before. Andy and I had such an amazing time that we are considering doing another walking holiday this Summer, and I’m sure we will probably be back doing the Way again in a few years!