I will declare straight away that this was the best of the 4 days I spent walking from Crianlarich to Fort William. After a fairly horrendous night in my Hilleberg Soulo, I woke to completely different conditions. For the first time since I’d arrived in Crianlarich on Monday morning, there was sunshine! Having had a distinct lack of sleep, I started the day with a couple of coffees and a bacon roll from the cafe, before packing up. I left a bit later today, partly because the mileage to Kinlochleven isn’t that high (8-9 miles, despite also traversing the highest point on the West Highland Way) and partly because I was a bit dull from tiredness.
Once packed up, I headed back down the road towards the A82. I had driven down here two weeks ago and seen hikers crossing the road, now I was one of them. I crossed the road and headed towards Kingshouse hotel. They seem to have public toilets, showers and water available there but I didn’t stop. The path continues alongside the road, but the views down Glen Coe are really quite spectacular so it wasn’t too spoiled by the road or traffic noise, at least at this point where the path is a fair distance from the road.
Soon the path comes very close to the A82, almost directly beside it, before turning sharply uphill. This uphill section is steep and leads to the Devil’s Staircase, a zig zag winding track that works it’s way up the hillside to the highest point of the West Highland Way, at 550 metres. I found this part hard work with my heavy pack, made heavier now just about everything inside it was wet and I had to stop regularly for ‘photograph breaks’. At one point near the Devil’s Staircase I sat on a rock to have some water and a snack and realised in my efforts to get up the hill I hadn’t really admired the views. The views do really open up and it was a pleasant few minutes spent surveying the scenery.
Eventually I reached the top of the staircase and enjoyed the views down before I made the final push up to the cairn that marks the highest point of the way.
I then walked up to the cairn, where some other hikers were gathering. Quite simply at this point, the views are phenomenal, easily the best of the four days. Several walkers were also tackling the summit of Stac Mhic Mhartuin, which sits at 707 metres and is reached by an easy path straight off the West Highland Way. I had considered doing this before I even started the walk, but standing here now with the amazing views all around, I couldn’t really see how they could be much better and decided I didn’t need the summit that badly and would rather save my legs.
At this point I met another walker, who had started at Milngavie, and had also taken a day out to take the train to Fort William and summit Ben Nevis via the CMD arete when the weather was good before returning back to the trail. We got chatting and in the end walked together all the way down to Kinlochleven, as we were also staying in the same place, Macdonald Hotel and Cabins, which has a small campsite. The path winds through truly spectacular scenery, and the weather was dry for once and you could see for miles. even as far as Ben Nevis, which I would be seeing much closer on day 4.
Anyone who walks the West Highland Way will confirm that the descent into Kinlochleven seems to go on forever, and indeed it does. Part of the problem is that Kinlochleven can be seen quite early on in the descent almost vertically below you, but it’s a winding path down initially the hill and then the forest area to actually reach Kinlochleven itself. There is an impressive hydroelectric dam section with pipes carrying water down into the town from Blackwater reservoir, that gives the final part of this walk a bit of an industrial feeling. You can see the pipes in one of the images below. The eagle-eyed may also spot that there’s a Dubh Lochan to the west of reservoir. Following such a long downhill stretch, my legs and knees were certainly feeling it as we arrived into Kinlochleven itself.
Kinlochleven is a relatively large town, with shops, cafes, pubs and a variety of accommodation options. The Macdonald hotel is a further kilometre or so around the town, but lies almost on the West Highland Way right at the head of Loch Leven itself. It’s therefore well located for the start of the final leg to Fort William the next day.
I was, again, the only person camping. The pitches are in front of the cabins, and the ground is level and sheltered. The forecast was for light winds but a clear, cold night with the chance of some snow. I pitched my tent and used the showers, which were clean with a nice changing area and there was also a heater. The toilets were a bit outdated though.
I had chosen to eat both dinner and breakfast at the hotel, to save any unnecessary walking, and ate an evening meal with a couple of pints in the bar whilst I read my kindle and chatted with some of the other walkers. The food was quite average, but I did justify a sticky toffee pudding on the basis that I was probably in calorie deficit anyway with all the walking, plus I’d need the calories to keep myself warm under my slightly damp quilt. This proved to be a good move as it was very cold, but I remained warm all night. In contrast to the previous night, it was very still and in fact in the morning the tent was dripping with condensation as a result. I set my alarm for the morning as day 4 involved another 15 mile day, and I wanted to be sure I had time to eat a meal before boarding my sleeper home. I was also aware that I had tired legs and aching feet and it may take longer than day 1 to complete. In any multi-day walk, particularly when carrying a heavy load, it is important to be realistic about what you can achieve.
Day 3 was my favourite of the walk, and I went to sleep happy. Day 4 was all about reaching Fort William. If you’d like to read about it you can click here.
I used the excellent Harvey Maps West Highland Way strip map for this walk.
There is also an excellent Cicerone guide to the West Highland Way, which you can purchase at the below link. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. This costs you no more and helps me to maintain the site. Thank you.