August 31 – Kinlochleven to Fort William

I finished the West Highland Trail today, which was my main goal for my visit to Scotland.  I am so grateful that I could do it and that I have had such great support from family, relatives and friends.  Here is my posting starting from this morning.

15 miles to Fort William today which is the end of this trail but not the end of my hiking adventures.

I got a full breakfast with my MacDonald stay so I had scrambled eggs and salmon which was really lox and it was good.  Had my coffee and orange juice and prepared for the last day on West Highland trail.  The trail started persistently steep as it climbed a hill out of Kinlochleven and then continued on the side of a hill and then up and down small hills all the way to Fort William.  It was the least spectacular part of the trip until we got to the view of Ben Nevis, the largest Munro (distinct mountain over 3,000 feet high in the UK).  Much of the last part of the trail was through de-forested land.  Thousands of dead tree trunks, small skeletons that replace what was a  forest until about four years ago.  Apparently the trees that had grown over many years were not natural to the area so they harvested them and are in the process of re-forestation with indigenous trees in a long term plan. 

Along the way I got some pictures of some old farmhouses and other structures that seemed to have been abandoned for a long time.  I once again caught up with my Vancouver friends Stewart and Darah.  Her feet were really sore after all those days with bad shoes walking in mud, water and on sharp rocks.  She had the yellow shoe covers with her but was not wearing them since today there was very little mud.  Fortunately, most of the way was sunny, if not even a little hot.  At one point, they were walking a little ahead of me and I thought one of them was saying something loud.  I saw them stop ahead and stare at some sheep.  It sounded like baby voices.  Then all at once I heard Hello.  I swear it. They would vouch for me.  It was a sheep.  He said Hello or something that sounded a lot like it.  He was the only one talking and the only one brave enough to be right by the road.  The others were off grazing and not interested at all. 

I came to a sign that described the Battle of Inverlochy.  I have a personal interest in this.  It “quotes” Diarmid Campbell who is wounded in a battle “undone by the blows of MacDonalds swords” on Feb 2nd, 1645.  An English commander, Montrose, lead English Royal forces which included several clans and Irish against the Campbells  and slaughtered 1500 of them.  Those remaining fled into the valley and returned to their homeland Argyle.

There is a large pile of stones next to the signs of the battle.  One sign says there is a tradition as you pass by to put a rock on the pile if you are a MacDonald (or a sympathizer of the Royalist cause) and take a stone away if you are a Campbell (or a sympathizer of their leader Argyll, spelled differently than the current spelling of the area, who followed Charles the exiled King). I took a rock off of the pile, although I chose the smallest I could find to keep the weight down. 

Towards the end of the trail before heading down to a car park from which it is another two miles to town, I saw an intriguing sign that pointed to a path to the right.  I met a couple coming down that happened to be from San Francisco.  I told them I was from Seattle.  They said “Oh, we’ve been hearing about a guy from Seattle”.  Just then Stewart and Darah came by (I had left them in the dust) and greeted them and it was obvious that they had met along the way several times.  I think they were the ones that mentioned me.  The San Fran couple said the trail takes about 15 minutes and it goes steeply up to the location of an ancient fort, although there are no remnants of it any more.  But they said the view towards Ben Nevis and the valleys was awesome.  I parted with them and made my way up.  It had been sunny most of the day but as soon as I got near the top of this very distinct mound, the wind was blowing ferociously and it rained buckets.  I couldn’t help putting my arms out and turning around a few times.  I felt like Julie Andrews in Sound of Music except I’m a guy … and it was raining  … and I can’t sing.  The view was spectacular as advertised.  Clouds covered the top of Ben Nevis as it does 75% of the time but still well worth the discomfort.

I walked back down and when I got to the intersection of the path to the main trail, I met up with two Scottish sisters, Sheena and Ann.  They were doing the trail for a cancer charity although they were paying for most of the cost since it was harder to get donations after doing the trail 10 years in a row.  Another sister died of cancer which is why they have this ritual.  They are from Stirling, Scotland, one of the places my son and I will visit.  Sheena works in public service helping unemployed find work (that is, she says, those few who want to work).  I told her Alana had that same occupation for the City of Seattle.  Ann is living a life of frivolity since she does not have to work.  We discussed politics a little.  They totally dislike Trump but think Teresa May is even more dangerous.  They voted to leave the UK in the last election and were totally against Brexit.  They said “Why would we still want to be under the rule of England and its Parliament.  We feel we have no voice”.  They seemed so jovial, talkative and best friends although they admitted that they had issues occasionally.  They gave me a lot of good information including the best route for the Fife Coastal trail.

I parted with them at the Nevis Visitor’s Center where I got some information about climbing the mountain.  I then walked the last two miles into town,   a very anti-climactic slog on pavement after such a magnificent journey.  I stopped at VisitScotland center and they gave me some directions to B & B’s that may have vacancies.  I found one, Constantia, that is right up the hill from the center of town and is only 45 pounds a night.  I signed up for three nights, one night to recuperate from the trip, another day to rest and wander around the area and a third day to climb Ben Nevis.

The host Shamus seems sad.  I have been looking but so far I have not found a personality.  He is not unfriendly, just kind of machine-like.  I don’t know if he has a wife.  He showed me a room, well a small attic space (the kind with the angled ceiling so you have to stand in the right spot to be upright) with a little cot, a small tv, a coffee maker, a sink and a shared bathroom one floor down.  In short, it was perfect.

I went down to the village to look around a bit and heard a voice yelling Dan.  I couldn’t tell where it was coming from.  I looked all over the place and then finally saw Stewart in front of the Grog and Gruel Pub and restaurant.  He and Darah were waiting for a dinner reservation.  They asked me if I completed the West Highland trail and I said of course I did, then they asked “Have you gone to the other end of town and sat down at the statue?”.  I forgot about that.  You are supposed to go all the way down High Street, which is the main street in Fort William, and sit next to a statue.  I promised I would meet them at the restaurant after their dinner but later when I went into the crowded bar I didn’t see them so decided to leave.  I am pretty sure they are going to book a room at Amanda’s Lodge some day so I will see them again.

After walking a good distance to the train station where my backpack was sent, I decided it would be fitting to carry the heavy backpack to the end of the trail.  At the end is a bronze statue of a man looking up into the distance.  I sat down next to him, looked in the same direction as he was and took a rare selfie. 

After that, I trudged back and got situated in the room.  I realized my tent and cover were still wet so I took them out of the bag and hung them all over the room.  I had to do some adjusting to get out the door since they took up most of the room.  I only had a pair of clean short pants to wear and a shirt with a bicycle on it that Alana bought and my Pacific Northwest hat that was clean so I ventured out to town not quite with the culture, but comfortable.  I had dinner at a popular restaurant and bar called Crofters which consisted of bbq ribs and fries.  I thought I would treat myself.  There was a lot of them slathered with a thick sauce that was the consistency of gravy.  Great stuff.  I had a Tennant beer which is popular in Scotland.  I listened to 5 or 6 olde Scots talking and arguing politics, sports, wives and ex-wives, children and ex-children, and all other subjects while I was there.  I think I heard some pretty rough language but it was hard to tell with their thick accents.  Every few seconds someone would say something which started with a low voice and then ended loudly with a big guffaw and they would all join in for the laugh.  I have seen this scene repeat itself in many restaurant and bars since being here.  They are the counterpart to the Starbuckys you see coffee clatching in the morning (Alana and I belong to that group – and maybe the other one too).

I wandered a little more around town and heard bagpipes.  There was a group of young Scots playing bagpipes in the square.  I recorded a little of their music and then shortly they got up and started parading and playing down High Street.