Walking the West Highland Way: Kingshouse to Kinlochleven

We woke up to the drumming of heavy rain on the window but according to the weather forecast the weather was due to improve later in the day. Originally we planned to take the 9.30am bus back through the Glen Coe valley to Kingshouse where we had left the Way three days before. Our guidebook suggested that the bus driver might drop us off at the bottom of the Devil’s Staircase, the climb to the highest point on the walk, which would save us walking 3m on a path parallel to the busy road from Kingshouse. This sounded like a welcome shortcut given that I was not sure whether my blisters had healed enough to walk without pain.

During breakfast it continued to rain heavily and the clouds were very low. We debated whether we should take the next bus at 11.30am instead as the actual distance of the day’s walk was only 7m/11km. At breakfast we met a couple from Seattle who were also walking the West Highland Way. Our host told us that she wasn’t sure that the bus driver would be willing to drop us off and suggested that we could all share a taxi instead. However, neither of the two taxi companies had a driver available until the early afternoon. Eventually Bob, the B&B owner’s husband, offered to give us a lift on his way to work. We accepted happily and set off around 10.15am. It was so grey and misty that the glen’s stunning beauty was not obvious and we realised how lucky we had been with the weather on our arrival in Glencoe.

The other couple decide to start the walk at Kingshouse, but we are happy to “cheat” and start climbing the Devil’s Staircase around 10.40am. The actual climb up to 548m is steady but not too steep. The rain has made the path slippery, the water level in the streams is very high and we struggle with some strong gusts of wind. I find myself wondering a couple of times whether it really is a good idea to be out on a day like this.

We reach the top around 11.45am and only stop for a very quick photo at the top as wind and rain don’t make it a very pleasant spot. Once across the pass, at least we are sheltered from the wind. Soon after we struggle to cross a raging stream which had risen in size due to the heavy rainfall. The rocks that normally allow for a safe passage are covered by fast flowing water. We try to find a crossing further down the stream but the heather is so dense that there is no access. We eventually get across with the help of an elderly Canadian woman, but not without being up to our ankles in the water. We later hear that this crossing had been a struggle for everyone walking this route today and that at least one woman lost her balance and took an unexpected dip. I hadn’t been in any discomfort from my blisters until then but was a bit worried that my wet socks would result in more rubbing. Luckily the blister plasters did their job and we only needed another 90 minutes to descend to Kinlochleven. The rain eventually stopped for a while before we got caught out by another heavy shower just before we reached the village.

Once we reached Blackwater Hostel, we couldn’t wait to get out of our wet clothes and the drying room was in high demand. Several other walkers decided not to pitch their tent but to book into the hostel instead and all 39 beds were eventually taken for the night. Luckily the hostel has a large kitchen and common room to accommodate everyone and we got a chance to thank the Canadian woman who was also staying in the hostel as part of a group of walkers. We get some food from the nearby supermarket and enjoy cooking our own dinner for the only time on this trip. For some of the campers it is the first night with a shower and a kitchen in over a week!

Kinlochleven is a planned village built in the early 20th Century for the workers of an aluminium factory. Is is not particularly picturesque and struggled to survive when the aluminium smelter closed down in the late 1990s. The village has seen huge regeneration efforts in recent years and benefits from the creation of the West Highland Way. An unusual attraction is the Ice Factor, a large indoor rock and ice climbing centre housed in the former carbon bunkers for the smelter. Whilst the climbing walls looked inviting, we were too tired to have a go. We went to bed early to catch some sleep before the long walk to Fort Wiliam tomorrow.

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