The idea originates a few years back, when my father and two
brothers organised a “bachelor’s party” for me, two weeks
before my marriage. The bachelor’s party was a weekend of walking in the Vosges area in France. We took our rucksacks and two tents, drove by car to France, walked a few days and returned home.
The success of this exercise needed a follow up. Soon we took up a
plan to walk in the autumn or winter, as to add the factor of bad
weather to the experience. As we all love the Scottish countryside,
it was soon decided to walk our next walk in Scotland. At this point
we are not too familiar with walking in the winter, and therefore, we
decided to walk in autumn.
The West Highland Way being a famous and well-known walk in our
country, we chose the West Highland Way as our route. The preparation took quite some time, as we all did not have appropriate clothing for the harsh Scottish weather in the autumn.
As we are all limited on off-days, we decided not to walk the
complete route, but skip the first two and a half stages though the
lower Highlands and dug right into the higher Highlands. So, we
skipped the part from Glasgow/Milngavie to the northern part of Loch Lomond. To compensate for this, we included the climb of the Ben Nevis in our plan.
On the above picture, which is a wall painting in the MacDonald Hotel in Kinlochleven, you can see the route. We skipped the first 2 or 3 stages from Milngavie to Inverarnan and got off the bus in Ardlui. The first night was in Inverarnan.
- The official website: http://www.west-highland-way.co.uk/
- Weather forecast:
The last week before
During the last week before the walk, Stefan took part in a
football (soccer) match and returned badly injured to his ankle. His
ankle was at least twice its normal size. Despite Paula’s able
treatment, his ankle did not allow him to walk before the start of
Two days before leave, I turned very sick and spent two days with
my head over the toilet, spitting out every drop of water I drank.
Things did not look good and we feared the worst. Luckily, I was more
or less back healthy again on the day before our journey started.
Stefan’s ankle still did not allow him to walk, so at the last
moment, we decided to go with only the three of us: Piet, Tim and
myself. We only took one tent with us, as my tent has nearly enough
space for three people 🙂
Some days before we took off to Scotland, I bought a digital
camera to take evidence of the walk back home. This resulted in the
following 160 photographs, sorted by day. Please note, that not all
the pictures are perfect. I still have to find out when to use which
setting. Especially the extreme weather we had, influenced the
automatic settings of my Olympus C150 camera in a bad way.
Day 1 – Airport to Inverarnan
We used our first day (15 october 2003) to fly to Glasgow and take the bus to Ardlui, where we started our version of the West Highland Way.
From left to right: Piet, Tim, Jeroen and Stefan (injured).
Elly brought us to Schiphol airport
I brought my MSR Whisperlight International stove, which I usually fill up with unleaded petrol. Since it was not allowed to take any fuel
on board of the plane, we had to refuel in Glasgow. We found a Shell
station near the airport, but the minimum sale was 2 litres, and the
bottle can only hold 0.7 litres. This lady was so nice as to donate
us a bottle of fuel.
In Glasgow, bus 915 took us to Ardlui
The start of our walk in Ardlui
The first 4 km were not that interesting. We had to follow the main road, whereas the WHW followed a path on the other side of the river
I bought my digital camera (Olympus C150) a few days before we set off to Scotland. Piet brought along his convential 35mm camera. He took this photo of me experimenting with my new digital toy.
This is the result of above situation.
Preparations for the first night in the Highlands
Along the West Highland Way, the Scots have placed several signs, explaining something about the Scottish history.
Cooking a meal of instant pasta with Pesto taste. This was the last time we ate pasta, as Tim turned ill the night after and re-tasted his pasta a few times…
Testing the timer function on the camera. We get into the Highland mood with a wee dram of Glenmorangie.
Tim kept a diary during the walk. Writing it wasn’t that easy, as the nights fell early.
Day 2 – Inverarnan to Tyndrum
Tim went ill during the night. He had to throw up a lot and felt awful in the morning. So did we, as he wake us early.
We had nightly visitors: sheep from the neighbouring farm.
After Piet and I had a good full Scottish breakfast, kindly prepared for us
by the tenant of Beinglass farm (officially, it wasn’t the season anymore for
full breakfasts, they only serve some rolls after September), we took of on the
first actual stage of the West Highland Way.
The path of the WHW makes excellent walking. The weather was already better than ever dreamt of, it wasn’t raining at all!
A nice stream along the route in Glen Falloch.
Walking through the fields and meeting some local inhabitants. In this case Scottish Highland cattle. Tim was still feeling very bad. Every few kms he had to throw up.
Again a great view from the path between Beinn Glass and Crianlarich.
This was the point for Tim, where he showed his real value. The path to the right would take us to Crianlarich, where we could take the bus home, and the path to the left leads to Tyndrum, with no possibilities to return for another 15 kms.
We sat down and tried not to force a decision on Tim. After a few sips of energy drink, which did not came back right away, Tim decided to continue.
As you can see here, Tim’s step is getting more energised and he is quite happy with his choice.
The path between Crianlarich and Tyndrum was again very beautiful. Tim did not really notice this, however.
Tim requested another long stop, felling rather tired after walking more than 10 kms without any food or drinks. He tried some more energy drink, and again he did not throw up.
Passing once more under the railway, continuing our way on an old road in Glen Fillan.
Near Auchtertyre in Strath Fillan
This is the Loch of the Legend of the Lost Sword.
On the By the Way campsite in Tyndrum. It’s too bad you don’t have an alternative outside the season if you want to camp, because they charge you GBP 5 per person and the sanitary is not finished yet.
Having set the tent, we walked to Tyndrum to get some groceries. As we were rather cold already, we decided to get a decent meal in the village. Unfortunately, being foreigners and therefore ignorant of the UK restaurant chains, we stopped at The Little Chef and ordered pizza. We found out, they don’t make pizza, but rather shove a deep-frozen pizza into a microwave oven, which results in a very untasteful, chewy, soaking piece of cardboard with lots of cheese on it. Later on the Way, we learned that The Little Chef is a well known chain in Britain and not renowned for good quality food (except for Fish and Chips)
Day 3 – Tyndrum to Kingshouse
The third stage we walked, was from Tyndrum to King’s House, a 30 km stage. The day started off very cold, with a thick layer of ice on our tent. Later this day, the weather warmed up and we had another beautiful day.
The stage was long, and the second 15 km went over an old parliamentary road, which was quite painful to the feet, as the old paving was very uneven. We had also taken into account the possibility to spend the night somewhere along the route instead of on a campsite. Therefore, we took lots of water and food with us, resulting in very heavy rucksacks. The tent was still very wet when packed, which also added to the weight of the rucksack.
The tent was covered both on the inside as on the outside with a few millimeters of ice.
Although the campsite wasn’t that good, the view from our tent was again excellent. What’s not on the picture, is the railroad the passed by the campsite at a few meters distance. Luckily, it isn’t a busy railroad, so we had no inconvenience at all from it.
Once more the layer of ice on the tent. We figure that it must have been freezing at least 5 degrees C that night. None of us felt cold, though, since we all had good sleeping bags. In fact, my Rab with 750 grams of goose down was a little bit too warm.
We had to pack the tent still wet, as air kept freezing to the tent during packing. During the day, my rucksack kept dripping…
Since it was quite cold outside, we used the campsite’s “dining room” for our breakfast. It wasn’t much warmer inside, but at least there was no wind and an electric water cooker for our tea.
This is me, with my yellow towel hanging to dry outside my rucksack. As you can see, the weather was unusually clear for this time of year.
Tim fully recovered from his illness, but still found it a rather cold morning. Also, he did not particularly like his breakfast of Hartkeks (some sort of army biscuits). The mountain on the right is Ben Dorain.
The West Highland Way is clearly marked these poles with a styled thistle on them.
Another encounter with the railroad. This passage wasn’t too uncomfortable, we passed some other tunnels, where it was impossible to walk upright, you had to go on hands and knees to fit underneath.
More good views and Highland cattle.
The path was again excellent. On the right you can see the railroad.
A quick stop to eat and drink a little.
Bridge of Orchy hotel.
We just passed Bridge of Orchy and start the long climb of Mam Carraigh.
Right after Bridge of Orchy, the path ascends steeply.
The views during the climb are great. During the climb, we met a few fellow-walkers. It turns out that they were also on campsite Beinn Glass Farm, two days earlier. We walk together a few kilometers and then split again.
In the distance, you can see Inveroran. This is the last inhabited place until King’s House.
A view of Loch Tulla.
With Rick and Vivienne on the Mam Carraigh summit.
Tim stands on the cairn that marks the highest point of this climb.
On the left, you see Inveroran. On the right Victoria Bridge, where the the parliamentary road starts.
View on Loch Tulla and Black Mount.
A sign, explaining the origin of the parliamentary roads.
This is what the parliamentary road looks like, for the next 15 km. As you can see, rather hard on the feet.
The stretch from Inveroran to King’s House was very exposed, even though the weather was excellent. The wind was cold and strong.
The parliamentary road went through great plains of “nothing” on both sides of the road.
Rannoch Moor. We sought shelter for lunch. Without shelter it was too windy and too cold to sit and eat. We had two cups of soup, during which we were passed by the Australian couple, greatly upsetting Tim.
Tim urged us to finish Lunch quickly, so we might catch up with the Australians again.
Of course, we preferred to enjoy the scenery rather than catching up with people.
In the distance, at the lowest point of the ridge, you can vaguely see the pass we have to cross. During the climb of this pass, we could continuously see the Australians and the Tim’s great pleasure, we catched up with them slowly.
Ba Bridge, a point where we might have taken refuge and set our tent, if the weather wasn’t as good.
The few trees in this deserted area were marked clearly on the map and served as a good (one of the only) reference points for Tim, our navigator.
The sun is beginning to set already, giving many beautiful sights.
The last bit of the climb to the pass between Meall a’Bhuiridh and Beinn Chaorach.
No comments needed.
The top of the pass for today. We were told later that from the cairn, you could see Ben Nevis. As we did not know this at the time, we left the cairn alone.
Tim did run up to the cairn, but did not look around to discover Ben Nevis. This picture was taken with the no-so-excellent digital zoom function of my Olympus C150.
A view on Glen Coe.
Kingshouse from a distance.
Stob Dearg and Buchaille Etive Mor near Kingshouse.
Tim is on the point of running, as to “beat” the Australian couple that passed us earlier today. We convinced Tim not to run, but he couldn’t help walking faster.
The Kingshouse hotel. We finally made it to the end of this day. 30km is quite a trip!
Kingshouse was a great disappointment. The hotel is marked “walker welcome”, but walking boots are not allowed inside the hotel. The campsite isn’t a campsite, really. It is just a place were camping is not forbidden. However, if you camp there, the signs on the hotel clearly state that you are not welcome to make use of the toilets…
For walkers, they have a bothy bar, a simple, bare and concrete bar, where even the muddiest boots could not make things dirtier than they already are. We met the Australian couple again, Rick and Vivian. Rick and Tim have a great deal of fun, discussing their mutual intention to run at the end of the stage, in order to be the first to arrive. I think we decided on a draw, since we Rick and Vivienne arrived slightly earlier than we, but we started off later. I also think our tent stood earlier 🙂
I set off to taste all the non-lager beer thay had on draught, from the right tap to the left. After the third draught or ale, I found it more than enough an switched to Lagavulin whisky. This fitted much better in the environment. An additional advantage proved that I did not have to get out of the tent during the night for a quick pee (it was a cold night :-).
Day 4 – Kingshouse to Kinlochleven
Our fourth day was relatively short: 14.5 km only. However, this day led over a ridge with the prestigious name “The Devil’s Staircase”.
We had been in the pub quite long, and drank quite a lot (after 30km, any amount of alcohol feels like a lot), so we planned to start the day very relaxed and leave late. However, most of the beer you drink comes out again, so Piet and Tim woke rather early. I switched to whisky early enough not to have a full bladder in the morning, but Piet and Tim woke me anyway.
During the night, we continuously heard the deer around our tent, making their very distinct mating noises… Very mysterious indeed. In the morning, it was very mistly, which added to the mysterious experience.
A very misty morning. It was very cold as well. Out tent was not frozen this morning, although Rick and Vivienne’s tent was.
From this direction we heard the deer in their mating rituals… Piet saw a few during the night, when he had to go out.
Since it was rather wet, it felt extremely cold. After our late night, we really fancied a full Scottish breakfast. Great was out disappointment when we found out that the Kingshouse hotel bothy bar was closed and we were not welcome in the hotel’s breakfast room. They only served buffet breakfast anyway. So, we quickly ate some hartkeks with butter and jam (funny how much it tasted like scones with jam and clotted cream, when it’s so cold) and packed the tent.
Packing the tent after breakfast.
The mist gave us some pretty views.
After about 30 minutes walking with almost no sight at all due to the mist, it was quite a surprise to see a mountain popping up.
And another one, this is Stob Dearg.
The beginning of the Devil’s Staircase.
Halfway the Devil’s Staircase, once more surrounded by mist only.
After climbing for some time, we got on top of the mist and the clouds. The view was striking.
On top of the Devil’s Staircase. It wasn’t so bad after all 🙂 On the background, the second mountain from the left is Ben Nevis, our goal for two days later.
The three of us on top of the Devil’s Staircase.
This is the way to go, the descent of the Devil’s Staircase in the direction of Kinlochleven.
The last bit of the descent was very steep and partly went through a forest with some strems in it. We didn’t like this descent very much, as it was steep, uneven and had the looks of a motor cross track (for it was used quite often, in fact).
One of the streams.
But looking back, it wasn’t that bad, of course.
Picture of the fireplace of the MacDonald Hotel in Kinlochleven. The hotel also offers a campsite and bunkhouses. We chose the camp again.
The MacDonald campsite.
The sunset at Kinlochleven was magnificent. Rick and I tried to get the best picture on our digital camera’s. I think Rick won, partly because of his better Canon A70, partly because he took the manual of his camera with him and read it. My pictures weren’t that good when I downloaded them from the camera, but using The GIMP programma, they turned out not to that bad after all.
Same sunset, other spot.
The bothy bar of MacDonald hotel. We had diner in here, which was really execellent. Compliments to the cook. I had the “Leek-cheese bake”, a bake that I still try to imitate at home. Main ingedients: leek, pasta, patatoes and cheese… Just the thing you need after a day outdoors.
The Ben Nevis whisky was on sale, which is a good thing!
Day 5 – Kinlochleven to Fort William
Day 5 of our trip was the final stage of the West Highland Way. Although… we did not go all the way to the end today, but camped about 2 km south of the official end point, in Glen Nevis. The reason for our preliminary stop was that we wanted to climb Ben Nevis the next day and there was a good campsite in Glen Nevis, The Glen Nevis campsite.
Today’s stage was to be 22 km with not too much height differences. We started the day with a very full Scottish breakfast at MacDonald hotel. In general a good start of the day, but had been warned that it may be too much for the steep climb that would follow immediately after leave. We took the full breakfast anyway, and this proved to be the right choice. Although the first climb was steep and followed immediately after leave, the breakfast kept us walking for a very long time.
I only had breath to take a picture at the end of the first climb of that day, altough the whole climb was magnificent.
A view back on Kinlochleven.
Tim and Piet on the path from Kinlochleven to Fort William. On the right are the Mamore Mountains.
Piet and Tim near the ruin of Tigh-na-sleubhaigh.
We are walking in a big curve around Meall a’Chaorinn, on the right.
A few small forests cut our day into two parts. Navigation was hard today, as we had very few recognisable points.
Great views are never boring, but what comments do they need?
Today’s first view on Ben Nevis.
The forests we walked through today were quite dense, which gave magnificent pictures.
Lunch along the route, together with a woman from Holland, who happened to walk the same route.
Ben Nevis. On the left, you can see the Ben Nevis footpath we will walk tomorrow.
View on Fort William.
During the day, we met Rick and Vivienne again and walked together to Glen Nevis.
Once more the Ben Nevis footpath.
Our tent on the Glen Nevis campsite. The campsite was excellent, to a very good price. The sanitary facilities were clean and warm, something we really took advantage of. We dried our sweaty clothes and shoes and took a long shower.
On the campsite, we met Pete, who was already there for about a week. He advised us to change our plans and not to eat at the campsite’s own restaurant, but go to the Ben Nevis pub some 20 minutes walking away. This picture was taken on our way to the pub.
Enjoying beers and Ben Nevis whisky. From left to right: Tim, Rick, Pete, Vivienne and Piet.
Take two of a picture of Vivienne, whose first picture and the Macdonald hotel bothy bar wasn’t very flattering 🙂
Tim was so kind as to make a picture with myself on it (second from the left).
Some kind people on the table next to were so kind as to make a picture of the whole company.
Day 6 – Climbing Ben Nevis
The Ben Nevis is Scotland’s highest point. This fact was reason enough for us to want to climb it while in the region. The mountain itself proved to be an even better reason. The pictures say it all…
Ben Nevis is about 1350m/4000ft high, and the climb starts near sealevel. Hence, the climb takes quite a lot of energy. At the Glen Nevis campsite, we met Pete, who had already been on the campsite for some weeks and had climbed the Ben Nevis several times. He volunteered to be our guide for the day and show us some of the more beautiful paths on the Ben. He did indeed, but his “shortcuts” took even more energy than the official footpath.
We woke up early, as today was a busy day: first we planned to climb Ben Nevis, then we had to be back in time to walk to Fort William and take the 16.00 train to Glasgow. The night was very cold, as you can see.
The tent was covered with half a centimeter of ice, which gave a very beautiful sight.
View over the Glen Nevis campsite from the base of the Ben Nevis footpath. It was still freezing cold.
A view on Glen Nevis. We entered the glen yesterday via the path on the opposite site, here on the picture.
The Ben Nevis footpath.
Pete and Piet on the shortcut between Meall an t-Suidhe and Ben Nevis.
Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe.
Tim and Rick approaching the Ben Nevis zig-zag path.
View west on Loch Linnhe.
Another view west on Loch Linnhe, this time from a higher standpoint.
The top of Ben Nevis is very rocky. This is the start of the rocky bit of the walk. In this wheather, the path was rather easy, but the top part can be very difficult under harsh conditions.
The closer you come to the summit, the more difficult it becomes to follow the path, even under these excellent conditions. Every 25 metres or so, a stone man indicated the path.
One of the stone men.
The refuge hut on the centre of this picture was not along the footpath, but it gave an excellent view.
Snow on the top!
On top of Scotland! You can see the path, indicated by the stone men.
The clouds gave incredible views.
View north on Carn Mor Dearg and Aonach Beag.
The same view, but on this picture, you can see that the path can be treacherous at times: the edge was very steep and slippery as well.
Almost at the top… There once was a hotel and an observatory on the top of Ben Nevis, now it is not more than a ruin.
It was very windy, damp and cold on the top. In the ruins of the observatory, there is a little mountain shelter, which we used for lunch.
Pete started to boil water on his Camping Gaz stove, for tea and soup, which took too long for Rick. Rick demonstrated the speed of his MSR Whisperlight stove to Pete, who was quite impressed after getting comfortable with the flames and fuel damps. I wanted to compare the Australian version of the MSR with my Dutch version and also lit my MSR. With three stoves burning at full power, it quickly became warm and cosy inside the tin shelter.
View to the east
We walked a bit to the east side of the top to dive a little under the clouds to make these pictures. The views to the north and north-east were incredible, however the clouds prevented us to take everything on picture. This is the north-north-east view.
The east view.
Looking south into Glen Nevis.
Looking south-west to the sea. On clear days, one should be able to see the isle of Skye.
Ben Nevis is clearly the highest point on the island.
Rushing down to the campsite again. We spent too much time on the top, and time was pressing. Furthermore, Pete’s shortcuts were very heavy on our knees, so our way down wasn’t too fast.
Tim and Piet at the official end of the West Highland Way.
Jeroen at the official end of the West Highland Way.
After this picture, we set off to the Fort William train station for the journey back to Glasgow. The journey itself was remarkable. We took off our shoes to relief our heavily tired feet. After a while Tim noticed some strange smell and figure someone vomited at the toilet. People around us opened windows, although it was freezing cold outside.
Arrived in Glasgow, we noticed that the the other of the two cabin had been packed full, while our cabin was next to empty. We are not sure of it, but it have been Tim’s feet instead of somebody vomiting…
After the journey by train from Fort William to Glasgow, we slept in this hotel, to be able to leave early in the morning to the airport.
Day 7 – Flight back home
What need I say more?
You may recognise the shirts of some of the other passengers. They were quite fanatic (and rather drunk) Celtic fans, on their way to the match Anderlecht – Celtic. The stewardess had to threaten not to leave the airport, as these guys refused to listen to the safety instructions. Drinking in the early morning proved to give some unexpected problems in the plane: Right after take off, most of the lads had to take a leak, causing a queue in the plane from the front to the back… The flight was quite funny and otherwise very pleasant.