West Highland Way Day 4: Kinlochleven to Fort William

Ben Nevis

I woke on Day 4 to a cold, clear day. A dusting of snow was visible on the higher tops, and I could tell the weather was going to be good today, which lifted my spirits. I had breakfast booked at 8am. I entered the dining room, where most people who were eating had stayed either in the hotel or in the cabins. There was one table with a label on it that just said “camping”, and I figured that must be for me, the only one silly enough to camp last night.

I enjoyed a really good cooked breakfast, with toast, apple juice and a couple of coffees to set me up for the day. I have noticed that I barely eat when hiking, I was quite restrained with what I took on this trip but even so I brought snacks home untouched. I prefer to set myself up and crack on, and eat when I reach the destination. I’d been to Fort William a number of times, and that destination could only be the Grogg and Gruel, my favourite pub there.

I quickly broke camp, refilled my water bottle and set off down the road to rejoin the West Highland Way. I knew that the first part of this walk is very steep, and this proved to be the case. I was soon working hard steadily climbing up through the trees onto the hill.

I don’t mind admitting I stopped for a breather more than once on the ascent. Just when you thought you had made it to the top, there was yet more of it. I consoled myself that a lot of today’s 15 miles or so were fairly level, and most of the ascent was here at the start whilst legs were fairly fresh. Soon enough I was looking back down onto Kinlochleven from my vantage point with the sun starting to rise above the hills.

The route now follows an old estate track down through the glen, with views up to Am Bodach, Stob Ban and Mullach nan Coirean to the north, some dusted in snow. This was a spectacular view, but slightly marred by a line of pylons running down the glen.

Further along the path it suddenly starts to feel quite remote. The weather was clear but cold and it was quite windy at this section, and I had to walk with my hood up to keep warm. The path is well made and easy to follow as it winds down the glen, eventually reaching an old ruined building, which I assume to be a crofter’s hut that includes a warning sign to keep out as it’s dangerous. There were a few areas along the path here that had flat grass suitable for wild camping, including near this ruin. It appeared from scorch marks on the ground that others had felt the same way.

Eventually the path turns quite abruptly north, and this signals the final leg towards Fort William is underway. Here the path passes through plantation, much of which has been harvested and therefore doesn’t match the map precisely. As the path turned north it immediately felt less desolate. There are a few sections of ascent here, which I will admit were tough on tired legs, but are thankfully quite short. Soon enough the path descends into Glen Nevis, again blighted by lots of felled plantation, which was more than made up for by the awesome sight of Ben Nevis covered in a dusting of snow.

At this point it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you’re nearly there. However, there is still a significant walk to complete, including one last final ascent followed by a long descent down to the road, which is mostly accomplished on a gravel estate track. That long descent is hard on knees and legs, and by the time I reached this point I was really feeling it. It was also at this point that it started to rain, which was a first for the day. I continued down the road for several kilometres before diverting off on the track that leads down to the road.

Even once the road is reached, there are still over two miles to the end of the West Highland Way, but I could now confirm that I was going to finish, however slow I was, and also that I would have time for some food before my train. I hobbled my way into Fort William, past the sign that marks the original end of the West Highland Way, and saw the sleeper train in the station, which would be my route home. The rain really picked up now just to ensure I finished the day soaked to the skin. I headed up the high street straight to the pub, where I ordered a pint and a pizza to celebrate finishing, later walking up to the official finish point to take the obligatory photos.

I boarded the sleeper and had a shower before turning in for bed. I was tired, everything ached, but I was satisfied that I had covered the best parts of this trail and made good use of my 4 days in Scotland and I went to sleep content. The sleeper rattled it’s way south and I woke to an eerily quiet ‘rush hour’ in London, clearly still impacted by the pandemic. I thoroughly recommend this walk, it has a lot of variety, is very well waymarked and in snow-free conditions is easy to follow (although always take a map). 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.

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