Day 6 West Highland Way

“Really, it’s a short, easy walk. It won’t take you more than a few hours. I’ve walked there and back in a day. Sometimes I don’t even take a water bottle.”

The Lady Owner of the Inveroran Hotel had reassured us that today’s walk to Kingshouse was so unchallenging we should take our time in the morning, enjoy a nice breakfast, not rush off, because “after all, you can’t check in at Kingshouse until – what? – three o’clock?”

I also didn’t want to rush this day of hiking. Today was Rannoch Moor day and I was very excited to finally be here, in this place I’d admired so many times from a train window. If I could have done only one stretch of the Way, it would be this day. (But that is not The Way.)

After two overcast days, we woke to sunshine, always a good start to the day. The breakfast at the Inveroran Hotel was just as elaborate and delicious as dinner the night before had been. Our Lady Host berated the group of Dutch men at the table next to us.

“You can’t just have toast?! What will I tell my husband? He’s a chef, he takes pride in feeding people. If you just have toast he’ll feel like he’s failed.”

We made up for the Dutch men’s lack of interest by ordering eggs royale (Husband) and fisherman’s rest (me). I regretted my choice later in the day as the taste of smoked fish stayed with me longer than I would have liked.

We left Inveroran in the sunshine. I had my sunglasses on and I was walking into Rannoch Moor. All was good and right with the world.

Looking forward
Looking back

Except my wrist. Several days of heavy use of the hiking poles had triggered an old wrist problem and my right arm had pain when I tried to grip the pole. Today I gave my hiking poles and wrists a rest and walked unsupported. It was going to be relatively flat walking so the lack of support and propulsion wasn’t an issue.

The first part of the walk took us past the wild camping site, where the young German couple and the Czechs were packing up their tents. They would catch us up and pass us later on. But that’s OK. Everyone walks their own Way. It’s not a race.

By the time we reached Rannoch Moor proper, that blue sky was disappearing under clouds and the sunglasses had come off and been tucked away in a pocket. But that was OK too. Walking across the moor in bright blue-sky sunshine wouldn’t have been quite right.

Rannoch Moor is 50 square miles of boggy and peaty landscape but also a Site of Special Scientific Interest and one of the last remaining wildernesses in Europe. Some people may use the word ‘bleak’ to describe it. I use the word ‘beautiful’. We all see beauty in different things. For me, to be in a place that is so empty makes me feel full.

The walking was easy and the long straight (military) road stretched out flat in front of us and (eventually) behind us. The straightness of the road gave us a good perspective on how busy this stretch of path was, with colourful dots of hikers dispersed at regular intervals along the path. We saw the Canadian ladies for the first time in a few days. They were having a late morning sandwich break with smoked salmon left over from their breakfast. We stopped for a late morning break of our own a little later and they passed us by, not to be seen again until the end of the day.

We also passed the Bothy Boys who we had first seen on Day 3 at Doune Bothy. (I call them boys but they were grown men with beards.) They had paused by a stream to enjoy the scenery. Judging by the smell of the cigarette they were smoking, they really were enjoying the scenery.

The gentle undulations of the path eventually became a gentle climb, marking the turning point of the walk. We were leaving Rannoch Moor and entering Glen Coe.

The scenery here was just as beautiful as anything we had seen so far, and although I was sad to leave the moor, the sight of Buachaille Etive Mòr (the great herdsman) rising up from the valley in front of us was enough to make you pause and take a deep breath.

The Great Herdsman of Etive

We had also paused on the path to take in the view, take some photos, and let the two fast-moving German men behind us get past. That was when I fell off the path.

It sounds very dramatic. What happened was I paused and moved to the side of the path to let the Hermans past; my feet were unsteady on the gravel underfoot; without my hiking poles for support I lost my balance and toppled sideways, into a thick bed of heather.

The German men stopped. “Are you OK?” they asked.

Then, seeing Husband and with the phone, about to capture the scenery, “Would you like us to take your photo?”

Then, “…when you get up, of course.”

Laughing, I pushed myself to my feet and dusted myself off.

“No photos thank you,” I tell them, laughing. “And nothing injured. Only my dignity is bruised.”

We all had a little laugh, and they marched on down the path. Once I made sure there were no bits of heather stuck to me, we marched on as well, but slowly and carefully.

“If that had happened in Madeira you’d probably be dead,” Husband remarked cheerfully. Yes, let’s look on the bright side.

We passed the turning for the Glen Coe Ski Resort. This had been one of our accommodation options for the Kingshouse overnight but we’d opted for the Kingshouse Bunkhouse instead. We didn’t realise until we passed the turn off that the ski lift was running. No skiing, obviously (no snow! Obviously), just a view. If we had known about that, we would have gone up for the view and to kill a little time because, as predicted, despite us dawdling and taking a generous lunch break and many many photo stops, it was still some way from 3pm, check in time for the bunkhouse.

The cottage that graces a thousand postcards

The path joined a tarmac road (the approach to the ski resort), which felt hard underfoot after a day on dirt and gravel. We found ourselves at the crossing point of the main A82 road that passes through Glen Coe, but traffic was light so we had no issues crossing. It was strange to be doing something like crossing a road. A busy traffic road felt out of place against the empty scenery we had passed through in the morning.

The Kingshouse Hotel came into sight. We walked past several buildings, unclear which one was the bunkhouse. We stopped in to the Way Inn (a low key bar and snack area for hikers; the cynical people believe it’s to keep the grubby hikers out of the hotel proper. I think it’s more of an informal place for people camping or passing through or staying at the bunkhouse, who want somewhere to sit and eat and drink but not at Hotel prices.

We asked about checking in but were told to wait until 3pm. We walked around, looked at the semi-tame deer that hang out on the Kingshouse lawn, and at 3pm joined the long queue of hikers waiting to check in.

“I’m sorry the bunkhouse isn’t ready yet,” we were told after standing in the queue for half an hour. Husband, wretchedly sick with a cold, was not impressed. “You’re welcome to go have a drink in the bar while you wait,” the helpful receptionist offered. “I’ll come get you when the bunkhouse is ready for check in.”

We headed to the bar area, Husband muttering, “they’ll get none of my money.”

A friendly waitress approached us as we settled in a sofa to ask if she could get us a drink. Husband grumpily snapped something about having a seat waiting to check in and not needing a drink. The friendly waitress left us alone.

As time ticked on to 4pm and no one had come to get us, Husband started muttering again.

“Let’s go check at reception again,” I said, as action seemed better than inaction.

Indeed the bunkhouse was now ready.

“I’m sorry I didn’t come get you,” the receptionist apologised, “but it was very busy here and I couldn’t get away.”

Never mind, now we had our keycards, our luggage, and directions to the bunkhouse. Outside the hotel a cluster of people were gathered around two deer that were grazing on the hotel lawn.

Deer at Kingshouse

The Bunkhouse was adequate. Two bunks, two towels (we paid extra for this), clean communal bathroom and kitchen with free tea and coffee supplied. Our two bed room was small but there was a big storage area for luggage and lockers to keep anything secure. The bunkhouse also had a large drying room for any hikers who came in from a wet walking day.

We ate dinner at the hotel bar. Husband had soup, I had a fish dish. I also had a beer and a whisky. When we went to the bar to pay, the waitress told us the hotel added a 10% service charge to our bill but she could remove it if we wanted. Her face indicated she expected us to ask it to be removed.

“Can you tell us, do you actually get this money?” we asked. I would always prefer to give my server a cash tip (although who has cash these days?) as I am suspicious about what happens to this money that is added to the bill “for your convenience”.

“Oh yes,” she said. “They’re very good about that.”

In that case, no concerns on our side about paying it.

As we headed back to the bunkhouse in the darkening evening, we heard the sound of hooves. My first thought was “horse” but what came trotting past us was a large deer, on a mission to get somewhere. It felt a little bit like being in that REM video.

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