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Thursday, 22 September 2016

A nice 100-mile stroll along the West Highland Way

Looking back at Loch Lomond from the north

I've just had a week away from my desk, hiking the full length of the West Highland Way. It's a route of about 100 miles that starts just outside Glasgow and takes you mostly along an old military road, occasionally an equally old drovers' road,. It runs the full length of Loch Lomond and on to Fort William. Most days we walked 14-15 miles, but there was one exceptionally long section, the 20 miles from Tyndrum to the isolated Kings House pub, about eight miles short of Kinlochleven.

We found the path so well maintained that even that long slog didn't truly exhaust us. Better still - and how I wish this was always the case with these long-distance paths - it was very well marked, to the extent that we didn't have to make all those irritating stops to check the map, and as a consequence managed an average walking speed of 2.5 to 3.0 miles an hour.

There's plenty of accommodation along the Way, and there needs to be: one of our local sources told us that between 50 and 60,000 people make the trip every year, which suggests an average of 2-300 a day during the lighter part of the year. We certainly found we had a fair bit of company during the early part of each day - and soon started to recognise a few familiar German, French, American or Canadian groups who seemed to make up a sizeable proportion of the hikers. Some were young, and camped in the wild; others were more our age and booked into hotels and guest houses. Mostly we were in bed-and-breakfast places, but at  Rowardennan (day two) we put up at the delightful Youth Hostel.

Rowardennan - surely one of Britain's most attractive Youth Hostels

All things considered, we were extremely lucky with the weather. After an unusually wet summer in the Highlands ('usual' up there means around 80 inches of rainfall per year), we had seven consecutive dry days, most of them on the sunny side with very little wind. It could have been an awful lot worse. There were just a few times when mist closed in and a light drizzle had us reaching for our waterproofs - but we almost welcomed it, for the atmosphere it generated.

This was as close as we got to a wet spell, on the climb from the Kings House (tucked in amongst those trees) towards Kinlochleven

The scenery was wild in places, even barren, but we were rarely more than an hour or two from a stream or river.

Alder trees crowding in on a tranquil Highland stream

We arrived at Fort William on the seventh day and next morning caught the train back to Glasgow, along with a hundred or two fellow-hikers.

So now it's back to the desk, to finish off the bounty hunter project and prepare for another major piece of work which will fill the autumn months. 

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