The West Highland Way – Part 5

The West Highland Way – Stage 7: Kingshouse to Kinlochleven – 9 miles/14km

Day 7 and today was the day to tackle the dreaded ‘Devil’s Staircase’. We set off with aplomb as we hiked along the glen. From Kingshouse we followed the old military road along the valley floor as far as Altnafeadh, which gave great views of the famous ‘weeping glen’ and site of the Glencoe Massacre of 1692.

Gathering our breath for the big push we knew was surely coming we started to zigzag up the infamous Devil’s Staircase. Climbing steadily we breathlessly topped out at the highpoint of the entire West Highland Way the 548m cairned gap between Beinn Bheag and Stob Mhic Mhartuin. We were rewarded for our efforts with stunning views towards Ben Nevis still a small speck far away in the distance.

Despite its reputation the ascent of the Devil’s Staircase was not too arduous. The switchback path known as the Devil’s Staircase was constructed sometime around the 1750’s by troops under Major Caulifield’s command. The name probably originated from the mens hatred of working on the wet, cold and steep slope, hauling around giant stones and slabs to lay the path up the hillside and not a description of the actual path itself.

Having conquered the staircase we wound our way down the other side of the pass working our way around the eastern end of the north Glencoe summits. Following the twisting path ahead we gently wound down through a desolate landscape until we came to some quiet woods. Weaving our way through the woods and following the path which now widened we eventually emerged into the small village of Kinlochleven.

Kinlochleven rather unfairly gets a bit of a bad rap as a post industrial blot on the landscape, but the town has tried hard to improve its image by transforming the old victorian buildings such as the aluminium smelting plant into modern day centres, it now houses the Ice Factor Climbing Wall reputedly the largest indoor ice wall in the world!

That evening the annual Salomon Skyline Scotland Skyrunning Races were about to get going with the village centre as the start and finish hub. Ultra Runners from all over the world were due to converge in Kinlochleven, famous past entrants have included Kilian Jornet and other luminaries of the sport.

We stayed overnight at the lovely Highland Getaway by far the best pub in town with hearty meals and a good selection of beer. Before dinner we took a gentle stroll along to the edge of Loch Leven to reflect on our little adventure so far. The evening was tinged with excitement at the thought of tomorrow being the last day on the trail with Fort William on the horizon but also touched with a modicum of sadness that it would all be coming to a rather abrupt end so soon.

We were firmly in the hiking groove by now with nothing else to worry about other than the path ahead of us and the thought of what we would be eating for dinner that night, the thought of anything else interrupting this simple and pleasant lifestyle filled us with a certain unease. Early tomorrow we would leave for Fort William.

Read more about our trip to ‘Bonnie Scotland’ in Part 6 of The West Highland coming soon ………

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