Thursday, June 28, 2012

Scotland Part Six ~ Kinlochleven to Fort Williams

Davie, my friend from Glasgow as you will recall, and I had made a great plan for him to come and join me on the last day of my West Highland Way adventure.  Now, Davie is not a runner but that was entirely okay with me because after 4 days of doing 20+ miles per day I was alright with walking the last 15 miles of the trip.  And as it turned out, it was the hottest day of the trip, so I don't think I could have run anyway.

I had to wait around until about noon for the bus to come from Ft William carrying Davie.  I ate breakfast early at the Tigh na Cheo guesthouse and then went back to bed for about an hour.  I was really worn out.  The owners told me not to sleep too long, because they would need to start getting the room ready for the next guest who would stay there.  Not to worry!  At 10am I awoke again, and went down to the kitchen to tell Martin thank you once again and that I was out of his hair.  He was really a very nice fellow.  I paid an extra 5 pounds and got a sack lunch with a sandwich crisps, an apple, and a Mars bar for my trek.

I decided to do a bit of strolling through town and went down to a path by the river, which had a plaque explaining how Kinlochleven had been an aluminium smelting town and how it had been powered by the hydroelectric plant from the Blackwater Reservoir.  Aluminium production ceased in the year 2000, but the hydroelectric plant was converted over to the national power grid.

River Leven in Kinlochleven
Rhododendrons near the Guest House
I met a few people walking their dogs along the river and then cut through some buildings over to the main square.  It was only 10:30am and it already felt about 80 degrees in the square.  The Swedish ladies were there, cooking in the sun and getting grumpy again, and as I talked with them I realized that I had left my logbook in my duffel bag and it was up in the drying room at the Guest house.  Blast!  So I walked the half mile back to the guest house and retrieved it, thankful that AMS-Outdoors had not picked up my bag for transport yet.
Historical plaque explaining the history of Kinlochleven.
As I was walking back through town, I seemed to have misplaced my camera, and hustled back to the Swedish ladies to see if I had set it on the bench at the bus stop where they were sitting.  I had not.  I felt like I was losing my marbles as I dug through my daypack and found my camera in a pocket that I never, ever put it in.  Well, at least I had found it.

I decided to leave the Swedish ladies to complain to themselves in the hot sun, and seek out a more comfortable locale in which to wait for Davie.  I went over to the Ice Factor (Ice) climbing gym, but it was really hot in there as well.  So I strolled along the river and found a nice shady spot near the trailhead where I had seen the waterfall the night before.  There was a really nice small park-like green space, and I got my iPhone out (which has my Kindle loaded on it) and began reading.  Thanks again be to my mother who always told me to bring a book with me.

I read a few pages, and then who should I see but Brey!  Her dad had left for the last leg of the walk, and her blisters (nay, hamburger feet) were too bad to continue.  She too was waiting for the bus to Ft. William.  We chatted for over an hour ~ it was great!  When it got to be near noon, I told Brey that I had to get along and meet Davie and we said our goodbyes and hoped that we might meet up at the pub in Ft. William at the end.

Davie had just arrived at the climbing gym when I was crossing the bridge after visiting with Brey.  We set right out on the trail and the first 800 foot climb was very hot.  We kept thinking that the farther we went and the higher we got, and the closer we got to the sea in Ft. William, the cooler it would get.  But it never really did.  There really wasn't much of a breeze blowing either.  It was sort of just stagnant, hot air.

Above Kinlochleven
Davie taking the high road to the breeze that never materialized.
Near an old homestead in the highlands.
The fat sheep that wanted to eat my sandwich.
The landscape was gorgeous, however, going through old highland sheep pastures, logging areas, old forests, and views of Ben Nevis, the highest peak in Scotland.  We hit the final climb before the descent down the forest road and came upon a girl who looked like she had just had it and maybe wouldn't make it to the top.  Davie and I were glad when we finally hit the downhill portion down the road and I was especially grateful to get to the Glen Nevis to the visitor center that had a bathroom where I could splash water on my face and refill my water bottles (I had nearly run out).  We still had a few miles to walk through town.
Smiling despite the heat.
The trail that never ended.
Davie and I felt like the town section just dragged on forever.  We passed the guesthouse where I would be staying and eventually got to the High Street in town (the pedestrian zone).  The West Highland Way markers continued on through the zone and we asked several people where the end was and no one really knew (some told us that we had passed it already, and some said it was just up ahead).  Turns out it was all the way at the end of the pedestrian zone where there is a small square and a large marker shouting, "Failte!" which means welcome in Gaelic.
We both felt quite elderly towards
the end of the day walking through town.
I had made it.  Davie and I were pretty much too hot and tired to be ecstatic.  And to tell you the truth, although I was excited to be finished, it was quite bittersweet.  There is a comfort in knowing that you will have a set routine everyday and a certain goal to meet.  And there is a satisfaction in knowing that you have met your goals along the way.  I was really sad to see that consistency coming to an end.

Me and Davie, taking a seat next to the West
Highland Way walker statue.
Loch Linnhe at Ft. William. 
Views of Loch Linnhe reaching out to the sea.
We proceded to the Grog and Gruel Pub on the High Street for the final stamp in my logbook and my certificate of completion.  We also each drank a Shandy and I ate my bag of crisps (Davie is much to healthy to eat that sort of thing).

We walked to the carpark to pick up Davie's car and he drove me to my hotel and he proceeded to his hostel (I'm much to light of a sleeper to sleep in hostels.  And after hearing some of Davie's stories about the crazy situations he has been in in some hostels, I was willing to throw down a little extra cash for a hotel room).  Little did I know...

I arrived at my hotel to find a very friendly staff-woman who showed me to my room on the second story.  I didn't really notice at first that the door I was entering was signed with not only my room number but also the fire exit door for the entire floor.  My bathroom was across a tiny hallway (which anyone could enter, really, if they got the notion to push the fire exit door open.  Or they could simply walk into my room:  I had to keep my door open and the outside door to the fire escape, because it was like 200 degrees in there.  I kept the outside door open most of the night because it just didn't seem to want to cool off.  I think I got a few midge bites, but it was the price I was willing to pay to keep cool.  And I felt like I had had really good luck with the (lack of) bugs so far, so I was willing to get a few bites.

Look closely:  "Fire Escape" + Room 10, with
Exit sign above.
Davie picked me up for supper (tea) and we had some really awful cheeseburgers at a restaurant in town.  That is, once we figured out how to drive through the crazy-confusing streets in Ft. William.  Although the views from the hotel terrace were quite nice and the people were friendly, it's not a town that I would highly recommend visiting.  I was looking forward to the drive back to Glasgow the next day to retrace some of my steps and recount some of the stories of my adventure.  Needless to say with the hot room, I didn't sleep too well that night.  I was also all wound up from completing what I had set out to do.  
Good views from the Guest House terrace.
All in all, I really only had the vague heel pain in one heel and it never got worse.  I found two blisters on the ends of two toes on day four, but they never really bothered me and drained quite easily.  I had minimal nausea throughout the trip (which is something that has plagued me heavily in the past) and although I was over-all tired, I felt really strong.  I rate the trip a great success!

On the day ~ 15.7 mi, 5hrs 40min, 2700 ft gain

Monday, June 25, 2012

Scotland Part Five ~ Inveroran to Kinlochleven

Despite being kept up late by the Scottish [not so melodious] band until 11:30pm the night before, I awoke at 7am ready to take on Day 5.  I packed up my bag and left it again in the drying room [hot!] and hoped that my chocolate bars would not melt by the time the AMS-Outdoors van came to pick it up.

Fiona, the hotel receptionist had arranged with William (the driver from the previous day) to take me at 8am to my starting point at Inveroran.  After a quick breakfast in the hotel dining room (with 50 or 60 grey-haired guests) I hopped in the truck with William.  I pointed out the campground where I had gotten the free bags of crisps the day before and not to be outdone, William offered me the bottle of Fanta that had been left by someone in the hotel truck.  Score!

I was sad to leave William and Fiona at the Crianlarich Hotel, as they had taken such good care of me and hoped that my luck would continue.  As it turns out, it did.
Start of Day 5 at Inveroran
House near the start of Day 5
I started out early at 8:20am and soon met up with the "couple from Chicago" whom I had met the day before just before Tyndrum ~ Breyan and her dad, David (originally from Australia).  I walked with them for a little ways but when they stopped to take a break in the shade I continued on.
Farmlands opening up into true Highlands

This section of the Way was along old cobbled military roads and was really nice, open running.  The views soon became spectacular and open and really started looking more like the "highlands" of Scotland as opposed to the Scottish farmland of previous days.  I started realizing how vast and unpopulated northern Scotland really is.

Old military road just south of Glencoe Ski Area
Just before the pass near Glencoe Ski Area, I met up with another runner who was going the opposite direction.  He asked me if I was going to do the West Highland Way 100 (a 100-mile race, similar to the ultra-marathons that I take part in in the US) and said no, not this year, but that I have considered it in the future.  He was out on a 20-mile training run for said race.  I wished him luck, and his jovial, lighthearted attitude carried me for many miles.
Cairn at the pass near Glencoe Ski Area
After reaching Glencoe Ski Area, I had to cross Route A82, the main highway through these parts.  I felt like a rabbit trying to cross the road and not get squished!  Thankfully, I looked both ways a half a dozen times (still having trouble comprehending the whole "driving on the left" business) and safely made it across.  The Way parallels the highway for several miles at this point and eventually meets up with Kings House, a very nice hotel.  I went in and used the restroom, and asked the young bartender to fill my water bottle and stamp my logbook, which he gladly did.
Kings House Hotel
On the Way near Kings House, paralleling the A82 highway.

Dominating Peak ~ Bouchaille Etive Mor (left).
There was lots of noise along Route A82 from motorbikes and weekend traffic and eventually I got to the base of the Devil's Staircase, a steep climb to a high point.  Looking across the valley, there was a large peak dominating the skyline and I thought to myself how I did not envy the people who were climbing that peak on this hot day.

I proceeded up the Devils Staircase with my head down and my hands on my knees, but it really was not nearly as steep nor difficult as I had anticipated.  There was one crazy young fellow pushing and carrying his mountain bike up the path which did not look like fun at all.  His intention was to ride down the other side to the same town that would be my destination, Kinlochleven.

I got to the pass just as a group of four German men was leaving, and actually had the place to myself with beautiful views of the Blackwater Reservoir, Bouchaille Etive Mor (the peak across the way), and even Ben Nevis (the highest peak in Scotland) off to the north.  The breeze was just perfect up top and the temperatures were so pleasant.  I ran comfortably down the other side of the hill for about a mile and then decided to take a nap for a few minutes.  The late night was catching up with me a bit, and I was way ahead of schedule for the day, so I snoozed in the sunshine and cool temperatures for about a half an hour.  It was delightful.
Atop the Devils Staircase
View to the north from Devils Staircase
I continued on down the hill and met several groups of folks along the way down, and near the bottom was passed by the mountain biker (I had started wondering if he was going to make it, so I was actually quite relieved to find that he had not suffered a debilitating injury on the steep descent).  Just as I was about to cross the river and head into town, I was confronted by a very grumpy couple of middle-aged Swedish women.

"WHERE is the TOWN?!?"  They demanded of me.  "Uh... I think it's just up ahead a little ways.  About a half a mile, "  and then clarified that a half a mile was approximately one kilometer, perhaps 2km at the most.  "Well, it had better be!  We are tired of this.  This heat is too much!  We want to be finished!"

"Follow me, I'll take you into town.  It's no problem.  Where are you staying?"  I asked.  As it turned out, they were staying at the same B&B that I was!  Oh, joy.  "No.  We couldn't possibly ask you to slow down for us.  You want to run along ahead."  They replied.  "Nope, I'm fine with walking.  We will find it together,"  I insisted.

We meandered along by the river and crossed the bridge through town, then hit a sticking point when my written directions to the B&B from AMS-Outdoors stated to turn left past the Post Office in town.  One of the Swedish women screamed across the street at a poor little elderly man, "POST OFFICE!!!  Where IS IT?!?"  And he came hustling across the street, looking quite afraid to ignore the woman and go about his business.

Quaint town ~ Kinlochleven
He explained that there were actually two post offices in town:  the new one, and the old one at the end of the main street.  He clarified that we needed to go to the old post office just up the street and then turn left and go up the hill to our B&B.  The two women looked like it was just about the end of the world to hear this news and they insisted that they were through with me being their tour guide and that they would find it themselves.

I jogged through town and went up the hill, just as the man said, to the most delightful guesthouse ever:  The Tigh na Cheo (or House in the Mist) which was owned and operated by Martin and his wife, a semi-retired couple from England.  He told me that I had run much too quickly today and that my room was not quite ready.  I could have a seat in the sitting room while his wife finished up.  Then I told him about the Swedish women who would soon be showing up and he just rolled his eyes, "It's amazing that people can be on vacation in one of the most beautiful places in the world and still have a bad attitude about it."  I agreed.  This place was heaven.

My comfy bed in my cozy room at Tigh na Cheo B&B
My room was amazing, clean, comfortable, and quiet.  I made myself my standard cup of afternoon coffee and ate some cookies that had been set out.  I asked Martin for a place to eat and he recommended The Highlander, a pub that I had passed on Main Street on my way through town.

After a nap and getting cleaned up, I went down to the Highlander and had some delicious house made lasagna and, as to be consistent with Scottish cuisine, it had a side of french fries!  There was also a small heap of coleslaw and a cucumber salad on the side.  I ate every mouth-watering bite.  I also drank a Shandy tonight (I earned it in that heat!) which was half Sprite and half Fosters lager.  Refreshing.
The Highlander Pub
I also should mention that just after I had ordered my meal, the Swedish ladies came into the pub for dinner!  They sat at the table next to me and also had the lasagna.  As it turns out, they were twin sisters, both retired.  One was a nurse who had worked at a disabled kids' camp in Michigan when she was in her twenties, and her sister had worked as a physical education instructor in Boston.  The one who was a nurse suffered from high blood pressure, and the exertion of the heat and the day had just brought her to her limit.  I can't explain why the other sister was so grumpy, but maybe she was concerned about her sister.  Maybe they had just both had enough.  Maybe they were just Swedish!  Or maybe a little bit of all of the above.  In any case, I really enjoyed their company and it was nice to have someone to chat and eat dinner with.

After dinner, as if I had not had enough exercise, I decided to take a stroll through the town of Kinlochleven and check it out.  I found a trail on the edge of town leading to an amazing 50 foot waterfall and then a trail that went up on the hill and overlooked the entire valley and the Loch after which the town is named.  I could see up to the trail that I had come down earlier in the day and the hydroelectric plant from the Blackwater Reservoir down to town.  The views were incredible.
Gray Mare's Waterfall
Views up into the hills on the evening hike.
On my way back through town, I decided to stop quickly by the "sponsored" business with the official stamp for my logbook.  Low and behold, whom should I find inside at the bar, but Brey and her dad, David.  As it turned out, Brey had suffered from some horrible blisters on her way to Kings House and had gotten a taxi the rest of the way to Kinlochleven.  She was going to look into taking a bus the rest of the way to Fort William, as her feet were in too bad of shape to make it the rest of the way.  I told her that my friend Davie was taking the bus from Ft William in to Kinlochleven to meet me at noon and travel the last section with me.  I was sure it was the same bus and she could plan on it.
Happy to have found this evening hike.
Views of Loch Leven

Views of the quaint, friendly town ~ Kinlochleven
(you can see the hydroelectric station and tubes
if you look closely).
I left the pub with a smile on my face and a lightness in my chest.  What wonderful people I had met on this day and what beautiful countryside I had traveled through.  I counted my blessings that I was happy and healthy and would finish my journey the next day.

On the day ~ 19.5 miles, 6 hours (+ evening hike ~ 22+ miles 7+ hrs)

Tigh na Cheo B&B
Continue to Part Six here.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Scotland Part Four ~ Inverarnan to Inveroran

I had to ask what "Inver-" means, because it seems that there are so many towns in this part of Scotland that start with that prefix.  Apparently it means "inlet" to a Loch (or lake).  Makes sense.  What doesn't make sense is the fact that so many of the locals say the name of the town so quickly, that they all kind of sounded the same to me.  "Inverarn..." is kind of what they all sounded like.

So when I was arranging my taxi ride to Inverarnan in the morning, I wanted to make sure that everyone knew exactly where I wanted to go.  I said it quite slowly and clearly, enunciating the "-Ar-Nan" part of it.  I did the same with the name of the place where I was getting picked up: "Or-An".  Everyone just looked at me like I was a retarded American.  Oh well.

I met some nice folks from my hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan in the breakfast room of the Crianlarich Hotel that morning (I decided with the long days and feeling hungry most of the day from the many miles of running, that I would try and at least get some toast, yogurt, fruit, and coffee down.  I kept it down and I think the extra calories definitely helped me get through the day).  They were super-cool folks and it was nice to hear their understandable, Midwestern accents.

I hopped in the cab with Ian, my driver for the morning (you might recall that I was overnighting at a hotel that is located half-way between a couple of my stages, hence the need for the morning and afternoon shuttles so that I would not miss any one section of the Way), and he was headed to the Beinglas Farm in Inverarnan anyway to pick up some girls who needed a ride in to school (no school buses in these parts).  And the school is in the town of Crianlarich.  We had a nice chat ~ I don't recall now about exactly what, but it was quite nice.

Warming up with a brisk walk ~ near Beinglas Farm.
I was excited to start day 3, but decided not to push it too hard, because today was going to be another 20+ miler, and let's face it:  I had all day to get it done.  I decided that with the hot weather each day, I would try to get more than half of of my mileage done by mid-day, so that if the heat was really getting to me by the afternoon, I could slow my pace a bit, and stop if need be.

Misty Mountains between Inverarnan and Crainlarich
Misty mountains dominated the first stretch of Day 3.
Picking up the pace a bit...
The fact of the matter was, though, that I was enjoying this bit of the countryside so much that I ended up alternating walking with running a fair amount of the first 6 miles or so.  I would walk about a quarter mile, then say to myself, "OK.  You're going to run the next mile.  Then you can walk another quarter mile, take photos, and look around some before you need to start running again."  But I would find myself slowing again to a walk after about a half a mile, looking around and enjoying the scenery.  But like I said, I had all day to get the miles done, so I wasn't too worried about it.

One of the highlights of my day was the section high above Crianlarich where there were stone walls that just seemed to go on for miles and miles.  The track meandered up through a pretty dense woods, and it was nice and cool and breezy up there.  I was pleased to find that the downhill on the far side of the first big hill was just as long as the uphill section that preceded it, and there were some mountain bikers pushing their bikes up this steep section.  I slowed to tell them that it would all be worth it on the other side when they hit the downhill, and they grimaced a smile for me.

Stone wall with moss, above Crianlarich.
A few miles before Tyndrum lies an old Augustinian Priory (monastery) that was founded in the 13th century AD.  I met up with the Dutch couple from the day before (we had met on the shores of Loch Lomond) and we looked at the Priory together and then walked together for a couple of miles.  I asked them how their night had been, and they had indeed had a long day the day before (as I had, too) and missed their bus to the hostel in Crianlarich.  They were lucky enough to have a car stop for them (they were hitchhiking at this point) pick them up and take them into town and made it to the grocery store before it closed so that they could cook dinner.  After chatting for a couple of miles, the husband told me to go ahead, because I was walking too fast for him and he didn't want to have to try and keep up with me.  I think he was a little frustrated with me, but I took his comment in good stride and wished them well until Tyndrum, assuring them that it was only a couple of miles just up ahead.  They looked relieved to hear that.

Ruins of the old Priory (monastery)
The Priory Graveyard.
Another highlight was was when I was coming into the town of Tyndrum, and I passed a woman about my age walking with an older fellow.  We leap-frogged on the trail for a couple of miles near the old lead mine because I had run ahead once and taken a wrong turn along the river just outside of Tyndrum, and another time I had run ahead and then stopped to pee.  I also met up with them after my stop at the Campground just before Tyndrum:  I had stopped to observe a fellow throwing the stick into the river for his black lab (because I missed my dogs so much on this trip, I tried to make contact with dogs along the trail whenever I could).  I asked if the campground had a spot where I could fill up my water, and he said the folks in the snack shop had a hose outside that I could use.

I crossed the bridge over the river to the campground and easily found the hose at the snack shop.  I filled up all of my water vessels (two bottles and my 50 ounce bladder) and then decided to go into the shop to get a couple of snacks to supplement my calories.  I asked what kind of crisps they had (chips) and was not thrilled to find my choices were either onion or bacon.  But then the owner said, "Oh, but we have these salt and vinegar crisps that expired last week.  Do you want both bags?  I'll give them to you for free... "  Score!  The crisps were absolutely delicious and the salt really hit the spot.  I bought a chocolate bar as well and thanked them for their generosity.  The woman informed me that Tyndrum is the half-way point of the West Highland Way, and that I had just crossed it!  I was pretty excited to know that detail.  She informed me that a lot of people drop out at Tyndrum because the trains run back to Glasgow from this town, and I told her that I had no intention of dropping at this point.

I got through Tyndrum and went up the next hill to a beautiful pass that looks down into the valley where the town of Bridge of Orchy is located.  There was a fantastic stone wall all along this section of the route, with yellow Scotch Broom bushes blooming, the breeze was blowing steadily right into my face so it didn't feel quite as hot, and there were some Highland cattle in a field at a farm too.  It was probably one of my most favorite sections of the trail.

The fence goes all the way to the top...
Highlight~ breezy, beautiful views, stone walls.
I could have run this section all day long.
Between Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy.
Highland Cattle ~ how can he see anything?
I got to the Bridge of Orchy and again filled one of my bottles from the outdoor tap at the hotel.  I popped inside to get a stamp in my logbook, and then went across the bridge at the Orchy river and met up with some mountain bikers who had just passed me moments before at the Orchy train station.  They hit on me a bit at the bridge and I thought it was all fun and games until I started up the last steep hill to my final stop of the day and started to get a weird feeling... because I appeared to be the only one on this section of the trail, I was tired and it was the end of the day and by myself, and like they could totally over-power me if they wanted to.

Bridge of Orchy Hotel
Orchy River
Pass above Orchy, headed down to Inveroran.
I power-hiked the two miles up the steep hill, and ran at a pretty good clip down a couple of miles on the other side to the my destination for the evening:  Inveroran.  I had made it without even seeing the mountain bikers again.  I stepped inside the hotel (there's only a couple of buildings in this "town", one being the hotel, the other being a solitary house, probably where the hotel owners live) and bought myself an orange soda in the bar.  I went back outside to enjoy it in the shade and said hello to a nice French fellow who was taking a break with three teenage boys.

The mountain bikers came down the hill and hit on me again a little bit, but I decided that they were actually quite harmless.  They were riding between 30 and 40 miles per day on their bikes, and still had a good 10 or 12 miles to go for the afternoon ~ impressive.

Happily finished with Day 3.  More than half-way there.
I had used the pay phone in the hotel to call for my ride back to the Crianlarich Hotel for the night and after enjoying my drink outside, I went back in to return the glass.  I got caught up in a conversation with a nice couple who had been walking their dog in the final stretch to the hotel when a man came in and asked, "Is anyone here waitin' to go to the Crianlarich Hotel?"  "OH!  That's ME!"  I had almost missed my ride ~ whew!  That would have been a long walk back.

Hotel at Inveroran.
William worked at the hotel and had brought the hotel truck to come and pick me up.  We chatted about my day and the things I had seen along the way.  William gave me a little bit of history of the area and we talked about some of the things that I had passed:  like the lead mine, the people panning for gold in the river, and the TeePees that had been set up in a meadow near the pass.

I was thoroughly pooped from my long day in the sun.  I settled down with a cup of coffee and some cookies, then went to the local pub down the street for another orange soda and some fish and chips.  It was about 9pm when I was tucked into bed with my book and I heard the band tuning up downstairs... "Oh no, you have got to be kidding me," I thought to myself.  They were in the dining room which was located directly below my room and played until 11:30pm.  I actually went downstairs at 11pm and asked the boys working the bar how long the band was going to play, which they assured me was not much longer because they were all "really old".  **Sidenote:  my friend Davie, from Glasgow, had warned me about exactly this kind of thing at the Crianlarich Hotel and had even sent me a text the night before stating, "So, have the bagpipes started up yet?"  And I half thought he was joking.  He was not.  The old-folks bus tours from England come through here every weekend in the summer, and this was a Friday night.  Party.  Ugh.

Needless to say, I would be quite tired when my alarm went off at 6:30 am the next morning.

On the day:  21.6 miles, 6hrs 30min.

Continue to Part Five here.