LEJOG55: Kinlochleven to Fort William

The weather stayed equally amazing for another day. I was incredibly pleased, both for enhancing this section of the trip and because it meant that my mum was having such a great time. People joining you on walks is great but the further away I got the more risky it was for them. Three days of walking in the pissing rain with no view would be unpleasant but par for the course by me, but a waste of somebody else’s well earned holiday allowance.

The youth hostel my mum stayed in was nice but nothing special. The Campsite‎ I was in was brilliant. It consisted of a series of tree lined fields in the valley next to Ben Nevis. This meant that despite the large numbers of other people about it still felt quite tranquil, and the fancilities were clean and plentiful (there was even a snack van serving bacon butties!). The best thing however was the view. Looming over everything was the massive shape of Ben Nevis. It was so close and the view so clear that you’d didn’t realize at first just how big it was. I couldn’t even see it the first night I got there as everything was covered from half way up by cloud and mist. Overnight a mountain had sprung up next to my campsite‎.

This all served to remind me just how much our experience of the landscape is dependent on the weather at the time. In reality weather is part of the landscape because it completely changes what you see. Obviously it can obscure your view, such as with Ben Nevis in this case. But more importantly is how it alters the character of what you see. I saw two completely differeny Glen Coe valleys on Monday and Tuesday. On Monday in the mist and cloud I saw something threatening and dark, I saw two huge walls of rock overlooking a silver of road beneath. On Tuesday I saw a series of individual mountains, proudly standing to attention but not as connected to the land below, standing more individually and separately.

Our route initially took us west along a massive valley lined with hills and mountains which obscured the massive view of the previous day. On this flatter track I introduced my mum to my favourite game that I like to call ‘let’s overtake the people ahead’. It was good fun.

After a while the route swung a right so that it headed more north towards Fort William. Pretty soon we came
to the plantations surrounding Glen Nevis and a humungous view of the south side of Ben Nevis. This view disppeared and reappeared repeatedly as we wound our way up and then down through the forests. It gave me a chance to work on my contour skills, trying to match up rth squiggly lines on my map to the series bulging spurs and gully’s of Nevis’ south side. These kinda resembled a series of fingers and knuckles so that the mountain coulds beseen as two clenched fists laid side by side palm down. I could even make out the supposedly ‘boring’ tourist trail making it’s way up one of the fatter of these fingers. Later on we discovered that the summit of Nevis is obscured by clouds on all but (on average) ten days of the year. This meant that we, as tourists, were incredibly fortunate to get this experience. I felt that it was a good sign for my trip as a whole, that the clouds had parted as a matter of courtesy to someone who was making their way across the entire land.

Ironically although my original route had included an extra day to climb Ben Nevis I didn’t feel too bereft at not getting the opportunity to do so now (a result of my rejigged plan after my emergency home visit). I was now used to the feeling of passing through places and having to put them on a list of locations to visit properly later. Also there were tons of people going up everyday, which made it feel a less urgent activity. I’ll be back, and I’ll do it properly when I’m not feeling tired from over a thousand miles of Britain. Unfortunately I’ll probably find it tougher to do as my legs won’t be as strong, but then we can’t have everything!

On the way down into Glen Nevis we came across a striking sight. Only a few miles out of fort William we passed two teenage girls looking uncertainty up an the track we had descended. Although we had see tons of teenage Backpackers on the route already these stuck out for several reasons. One was the fact that were heavily laiden down with stuff, including tatty plastic bags hanging from the chest straps of their already overflowing rucsacs. As we got closer I could see that several items still had the price tags hanging off them. The other reason was their choice of clothing – sun visors, black tracksuit bottoms (remember that it’s baking hot and these would roast your legs), and neon pink and green leg warmers (?!?).

It got better. They looked confused so we asked them if they were alright. They asked us in a slightly flustered way which was the right route up and how far it was to the top. We told them and inquired about their plans. They told us that they were doing the west highland way north to south (opposite way to me) and that they were heading to kinlochleven, our starting location that day. It was currently about 4pm and we worked out that if they went at the same speed as us (unlikely because their direction was more uphill and they had far more baggage) they would get there at 9pm. They looked shocked and tired and informed us that they had started at 1pm but got lost straight away and spent 3 hours getting to that point when it should have taken them 90 mins maximum.

Me and my mum tried to hide our natural reaction, a sharp intake of breath and a look of concern, and encouragingly told them that it should be ok because it would be cooler in the afternoon. My mum had to fight her maternal instinct to tell them to put on more sunscream because they both had very pale Scottish skin. We moved off and suppressed our laughter for as long as we could until they were a respectful distance away. However, although their lack of ability, foresight and appropriate clothing was hilarious, I also felt that the fact they were doing it was a positive thing. They were very young and it would only be through making the kind of silly mistakes that they were that they would be able to make more considered decisions in the future. They were soon much better than I would have at that age and a lot of ages since.

That night we discovered another brilliant thing about the area-the Ben Nevis Inn, a fantastic bar/restaurant in a converted barn right at the start and finish of the track up the mountain. The food was fantastic and there was a big window looking out at the mountains behind. Even better, there’s a bunk house underneath the bar in which my mum was staying that night. As we ate a stream of walkers and climbers tumbled in on off of Nevis, and I couldn’t think of a better place to celebrate having reached and returned from the top of Britain. Next time!

Sent from my iPhone

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