The West Highland Way – Stage 8: Kinlochleven to Fort William – 15 miles/24km
Day 8 the last day of the multi-day trek and hopefully a triumphant march into Fort William and the finish line. The day started with some mild drizzle but the forecast looked promising for later in the day.
We left around 8:00 am eager to get going with the thought of 15 miles to cover ahead of us. The initial sharp climb out of Kinlochleven burnt almost all our consumed calories from breakfast but the fantastic views across the loch made it almost worth it.
Once at the top we followed the path into the wonderfully remote valley of Lairig Mor a wholly unexpected glen concealed behind high ridged summits. We followed this remote valley past deserted sheilings onwards towards Fort William.
At the end of the glen we swung northwards leaving the military road and entered an area of lovely cultivated forest and stuck to a now narrow and winding track towards Glen Nevis.
Ahead of us we could at long last see the towering mass of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain.
It was hard to believe that we were finally in sight of the end of the trail. By now we had become so accustomed to waking, eating breakfast, putting on our walking gear and then setting off into the fresh morning air that the thought of anything else was incomprehensible.
The track gently meandered as it rose and fell tentatively picking its way through the forested hills. Ben Nevis never seemed to get any closer as we trudged onward.
The distance was beginning to tell on us and for the first time my feet really began to throb. We still had several miles of forestry road to trek down before we would reach the foot of Glen Nevis and the sight of the Visitor Centre. The Ben was mean and moody looking from afar as the clouds slowly drifted in and out across the sky casting shadows about its steep flanks.
The final two miles were along the Glen Nevis road, a brutal finish on tarmac for tired and aching feet.
Finally we came to the sign that marks the official end of the trail, or was it? Dejectedly we realised that the sign at the roundabout to the entrance of Glen Nevis has now been relegated to being the old end point! To be fair I can see why Scottish tourism wanted something more memorable as a dull busy roundabout and an old tatty sign outside the The Ben Nevis Woollen Mill shop is an anticlimax.
But my feet we not so understanding of the situation as we started out on the last mile into town to find the new finish. While it was true to say that there had been no great sense of arrival, finishing beside a glorified road sign this last mile was just brutal punishment on the mind and body.
Wearily we limped into the pedestrianised high street of Fort William. Dodging our way between Saturday shoppers and day-trippers we finally crawled at a snail’s pace up to the new finish point in Gordon Square. The new end has a Caithness stone map of the route, very welcome benches to sit on and a sculpture to have your picture taken with. The backdrop is now of Loch Linnhe and Ardnamurchan rather than traffic. I had to admit it was a more fitting finish.
We had made it! 96 miles, 8 days, plenty of rain, sun, wind and miles and miles of dramatic scenery. It was hard to comprehend that one could actually walk that distance and still be in relatively one piece but here we were living proof that the human body can do way more that you think it can.
We took our obligatory picture and then sloped off to the nearest pub for a well earnt drink and so ended our odyssey across Scotland. The End!