Good morning Ferals – and happy Saturday to you!
This is a little write up on my 3rd day on the West Highland Way and the 4th instalment in my little WHW series. It’s coming about 4 MONTHS after I actually ran the WHW – who’s surprised? Not me. Unfortunately, life, as it always does, totally knocked me on my backside and my blog had to take a bit of a backseat for a while. But all is well and I’m excited to start writing again!
As far as weather and trails are concerned, this was the most brutal day by far. Steep climbs, teamed with heavy rain and winds that tore through the valleys made it an incredibly eventful run. I finished day three soaked through to my bones, covered in thick mountain mud, wild-eyed, alone, cold and ripped apart from every angle – yet somehow I held it together, ran well, had great conversations with myself and finished the day feeling like I could conquer absolutely anything I set my mind to. But let’s start from the beginning…
💨 Day 3 💨 Tyndrum – Kinlochleven – 45km (28 miles)
And that’s where all of the good weather stopped. The panoramic views, dry, hard-packed trails, warm sunshine were replaced with driving rain, trails that had turned into shin-deep streams and winds that ripped through the long, deep valleys.
I stirred at around 7 am and before I could even gather my thoughts enough to get out of bed, I realised that I could already feel my legs – and not in a good way. They felt like they had TV static coursing through them – it wasn’t painful, but it wasn’t comfortable. As my brain tuned into reality the first thing I heard was heavy, large raindrops blowing up against my bedroom window. Ahh – Scotland! Honestly, I was just relieved I hadn’t had this weather for the entire trip. I could stick out one or two days of this.
I gathered my things, repacked my running bag and heading down for breakfast – a little more tentatively than I had done the day before. I filled up on baked beans and coffee and then dressed head-to-toe in my waterproofs. As I was getting ready to head out the door I felt my phone buzz – It was Eliane! She had decided to run the first 11km to Bridge of Orchy instead of taking a full rest day – I was elated! We met up outside the Good Food Cafe and headed North up the trail.
The Trail to Bridge of Orchy is slightly undulating and easy-going. It hugs the West Highland Railway line and I’m sure on a clear day would boast gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains. We, however, kept our hoods up and our heads down for most of the run there. We reached Bridge of Orchy in just over an hour – which felt surprisingly good on tired legs. We stopped for a coffee so we could say goodbye properly (and so we could get out of the elements for 20 minutes).
After an emotional goodbye – and Eliane telling me to be safe about 23 times – we headed our separate ways. I trotted up the path following a forest track through a deer gate and up over a low ridge. At the top, I was rewarded with gorgeous views above Loch Tulla, before dropping down to the Inveroran hotel and then heading up the private road into the Forest Lodge estate.
This is where I joined the old Glencoe drove road – it’s wide, hard-packed and hard-going on tired feet. It gradually climbs up to the moorland above. Suddenly the trees clear and you are in a scenic wonderland. To the left is the Blackmount – the mountains of Stob Gabhar, Stob a Choire Odhair, Beinn Toaig, Clach Leathad and Meall a Bhuiridh. To the right is the moor of Rannoch, a wilderness of scrub and bog stretching for miles, clear across the watershed into the basin of the Tay. This was the only part of my day where the weather cleared and I could see almost everything except the very tips of the mountains.
I pulled out a half a piece of cake from my side pocket on my running vest. The genius in me wrapped it up in a paper napkin after dinner the night before, not knowing I was going to be in driving rain for most of the morning. I pulled off most of the sodden paper napkin and then just ate the rest anyway… I was hungry and not fussy – Plus, I was never going to waste cake!
After about another 10km the track climbs up to a shallow col beyond which is the area known as White Corries. As I dropped down from this col I passed Glencoe Ski Resort on my left and kept trotting down the path, past a few grumblie walkers and over the road towards Kingshouse Hotel; reputedly Scotland’s oldest inn. It stands in stark isolation, watched over by the twin summits of Creise and the Buachaille Etive More on either side of the entrance to Glen Etive. The weather had taken a turn for the worse, so I ducked into Kingshouse for a pint of coke and some hot soup.
I emerged a bit warmer and properly fed around half an hour later – unfortunately, the wind had only grown stronger and more ferocious. I pushed on down the trail into the strong headwind, unable get into much of a run at all. The wind was so strong it was almost flattening. I contemplated getting a taxi to my accommodation and picking this back up in the morning. But, despite being unable to open my eyes because of the pelting raindrops, I was still in really high spirits. Maybe it was because of the soup, maybe I excel in adverse weather? Who knows. All I knew is that I wasn’t ready to call it a day yet.
Well, in hindsight, I possibly should have done. But did I die? Well… no. Did I even hurt myself? No. Did I think both were possible the entire run to the BnB? Yes. As I started up the Devils Staircase – a loving name given to the mountain pass that runs between Beinn Bhaeg and Stob Mhic Mhartuin, and the highest point on the WHW – the wind tore at my back and my waterproofs had become redundant – water was coming in over my collar, up my back, up my trouser legs – there was nothing much I could do. They still acted as a valuable windproof layer and stopped me from getting cold despite the amount of rain.
As I came over the top of the mountain pass I expected to see, well, something. Anything. Instead, I was met by a wall of grey (I don’t know why I was surprised) that shrouded the valley that should have been at my feet. I’ve seen the photos, the view from the top is spectacular, so hopefully, if you’re reading this about to embark on your own adventure, then I hope you get to see these views! I didn’t. Instead, I tipped my head back, brought my hands up to my face and signed loudly into my hands. I looked back down the valley and then turned around to look at the trail behind me. I saw no one. No ponchos, no bright rucksack rain covers, no trudging hikers. No one. I was alone.
I shrugged my shoulders, unwavered by the solidarity and leant forward into a trot. The rest of the trail now descended slowly into Kinlochleven but took much longer than I thought it would. It was too wet to take out either my map or my phone, so I just had to keep plodding in the knowledge that I literally had no other choice and I was definitely on the right trail. I lept over streams that had now become cascading rivers, tearing their way down the mountainside.
After what felt like hours (it probably wasn’t) the mountains started to give way to forests and the first signs of life started to appear. Electricity poles and water pipes at first, then the first farm, then a water station. Despite everything being drench and battling a strong headwind, my lips pulled back into a smile – I’d done it, I’d pushed through weather I wouldn’t advise anyone to go out in, I’d kept going when it was easier to stop and find a different way, I’d proved the negative voices in my head wrong and I’d come out the other side – wet, dishevelled, wide-eyed, laughing like I’d lost my mind and feral. I felt connected to the earth, connected to the wind and the rain and the most bizarre feeling, was running down into Kinlochleven after having this bonkers adventure, just to see everybody going about their daily lives, completely unaware of the day you’ve just had (obviously).
I stayed at the Allengrange BnB and I must just emphasise how blown away I was by the hospitality of the couple who owned it. The check-in information pointed me in the direction of the reception of a nearby campsite (I’m assuming they own that too). I trotted in, dripping from… everywhere and introduced myself. Before I even started telling the man about my day, he nipped out from behind the desk, ushered me out of the reception, closed the door behind him and walked me over to his van, where he bundled me in, put the heating on full and drove me all the way up the road to the BnB. He listened attentively to my stories like I was the coolest person he’d ever met (I’m definitely not) and shared stories of his own. When we got to the BnB he showed me up to my room, not even letting me stop to take off my sodden shoes or waterproofs. My room was the perfect size for me – a stylish little single room with a drying rack. Before I had even bent over to take off my shoes he’d turned up the heating, unfolded the drying rack and was fetching my towels and showing me to the bathroom (I think he was worried I was going to get cold quickly now I’d stopped moving). My biggest regret is that I don’t remember his name – He absolutely introduced himself, but I was in such a state that I can’t remember it!
I wrung everything out and hung it all up to dry in my room – the entire contents of my bag were wet too – luckily, my dry bags had protected my bits from the worst of the rain. I ran my shower hot, much hotter than I usually have it, and stood there until I felt my core temperature come back to a normal level. Unfortunately, the closest place to eat was about a 10 and it was still bucketing it down outside – so I got dressed, pulled on my still-very-wet waterproof jacket and jogged down the road to the first pub. I ended up in the Highland Getaway – honestly, it wasn’t something to write home about, but the food was hot and I didn’t have to wait long for it – which was fortunate, because as soon as I arrived I realised how tired I was!
After dinner I ran home in the ran, tucked myself into bed and fell asleep before I’d set my alarm. The next and final day of the West Highland way was considerably shorter, and I had a great friend of mine joining me. The perfect end to an epic few days!
I’d love to be able to promise you Day 4 next week, but you know how life goes! I promise you it WILL be written (it’s already half done) and it WILL be soon.
Thank you for your patience!
Have a great weekend!
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