Stage 5 – Into the Land of the Giants

Kinlochleven – Fort William

After visiting the little shop one last time for more doughnuts, we climbed out of Kinlochleven on a rough track through the trees. I was feeing much happier than the previous evening and was enjoying the trail thoroughly. We stopped for a doughnut brunch at the top of the hill overlooking the town and chatted about how far we’d come since leaving Milngavie. I think we all knew we would be finishing the hike tomorrow and all had mixed feelings about it. Proud and happy at what we’d achieved but sad that we didn’t have long to go.

We chatted to an American guy who told us about how he used to live in one of the old crofts we would pass later and a couple who were out for a day hike and thought we were doing the same. I will include the conversation in full, below.

“Where are you heading?”
“Fort William”
“Oh, you’ll get there today”
“No, tomorrow is the plan, that’s day 10”
“Sorry, what?”
“Yeah, we started in Milngavie, last Sunday”
“F***, Good Effort!”

We hiked on in good spirits, I’d spotted a place on the map that might hold a final wildcamp for us so we were planning on an 8 mile day. Walking under the big mountains it again felt that the landscape had changed around us again. The peaks of 3000 footers looked down on us and as we passed the old stone croft buildings, Stob Ban looked increasingly accessible. It really looked like 20 minutes up and 10 back and I pleaded to be allowed to leave the group and have a quick run up the nearest Munro. My sensible head won however and we carried on the trail.

Soon we were approaching the woods that I hoped to camp in that night. They were right there, green, on the map. In reality the woods had been clear felled recently and what was left was just a boggy mess of narled and twisted brash and windblows. It’s ok, I said, we’ll find somewhere in the next bit, its a bigger forest. We were passed  by a group of mountain bikers, and then another hiker who had brought his dog on the trail, complete with its own pack. We got our first views of Ben Nevis and continued to find a camp for our last night on the trail.

We got the area marked as forestry on the map to find devastation as far as the eye could see. It was like some post-apocolyptic scene from a movie, just clear fell and windblow everywhere. We had to climb through brash mats laid down across the trail and it was clear that we would struggle to camp up here.  It was like this for 2 miles and we were tired and feeling down but we pushed on. Evan led us onwards and really helped to keep us motivated to get to the campsite at Glen Nevis. We were really looking forward to a final wildcamp on the trail but it just wasn’t safe to do so. We got to camp and pitched up in the dark and the rain after hiking around 13 miles, knowing that tomorrow we would be done.

The morning greeted us with a cloudy start, the Ben which was really clear about 12 hours before was now hidden by its usual grey cloak. We watched people on the upward ascent but just knew that we didn’t have the energy to tackle the mountain after hiking from Milngavie. We stopped in the little visitor centre for a nose around and wandered into Fort William with a feeling of anticlimax.

As we passed a row of B&B’s with meticulously manicured lawns we spotted another hiker, on the opposite side of the road coming towards us.

“How far have you come?”
“All the way”
“Holy Sh**! Waydago little dudes!!”

His American accent carried loudly over the noise of the road and really lifted us. A shouted conversation across the road informed us he had been hiking on Skye and was now heading south. He was clearly enjoying his adventure and I was rather envious of the tiny pack he was carrying. We could have stayed at Glen Nevis as our train wasn’t for a day or two but it would have felt dishonourable to leave the massive bags and slackpack to the finish line, especially after lugging them all this way.

Walking through town felt wierd. We were tired, dirty and hungry and a little surprised when we came upon the end of the trail. Suddenly we were there. The hike was over and we had done it. Both Hazel and I needed a moment as we comprehended what our children had achieved (I’m not sure about Hazel but I wept a little) before taking the obligatory photos and chatted to other finishers.

We hung out in Fort William for a couple of days, cleaned some clothes for the train ride and just chilled out. We found a campsite and spent our time relaxing, hiding from the rain and eating burgers, but that was it. But not for the kids. After hiking 96 miles in 10 days they finally found a play area.

 

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