Tuesday 10th August
Ever since I started getting back into walking a couple of years ago, I’d been reading a lot of personal blogs and websites and have generally been doing a bit of armchair travelling. Out of all the long-distance walks I’d read about, the West Highland Way had been high on my priority list. And out of all the walks in the world, Bridge of Orchy to Kingshouse had become my dream walk. This was going to be the big one, the Great Crossing of Rannoch Moor, ending with staying overnight at the hotel. I thought it was something that wouldn’t happen until way into the future, and yet here I was, about to fulfil a big ambition.
I woke up fairly early in the bunkhouse and was dismayed to hear the rain. It had been forecast to rain anyway, but for some reason it made me feel uneasy. I was a bit nervous about crossing a moor and getting stuck somewhere in the middle. There had originally been a forecast for thunderstorms, although you really can never trust the weather forecast in this part of the country. There’s an old Scottish saying that goes something like “If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes and it’ll change”.
I was just going into the hotel for breakfast when I met Steve, a Scottish guy who was walking the West Highland Way for the fifteenth time. He said it was his favourite walk in Scotland and he just kept returning again and again. We walked together for the rest of the day, and he obviously knew the route.
We made our way up the hill in the rain. I still felt tired and I very nearly dropped out and turned back. There were great views from the top though, and less than an hour later we were already descending towards Inveroran.
We went into the Inveroran Hotel for a drink. It seemed very crowded, full of groups of people who were about to walk across Rannoch Moor and there seemed to be a great excitement surrounding the plan for the day. This included a couple of guys I’d met the night before who were wild camping. As soon as we got moving outside, the midges were swarming around us everywhere. I sprayed Skin So Soft at them and all over myself, but it was one of those days where even that wasn’t going to work. Midges gather where there’s sweat, and I already had an array of bites across my lower back. It had stopped raining and the sun was getting hot again.
Off we continued up the road, eventually reaching Forest Lodge.
It was time for the vast expanse of Rannoch Moor. After leaving Inveroran, the weather was perfect. Steve said that out of all the times he’d walked the West Highland Way, this was the only time he’d ever walked across Rannoch Moor when it hadn’t rained, and he said he felt absolutely blessed. He’d walked it in all weathers, even in the snow when a map and compass was necessary to try to stay on the path.
We walked for several hours through the most incredible scenery I’ve ever been through. There really are no words to describe it, and no photos that could capture the feeling of being in the middle of it all, of being surrounded by such beauty from all angles. My humble phone camera in particular could never do it justice, but even if you filmed it you could still never capture the feeling of actually standing there, standing in the middle of it all and almost becoming part of the scenery yourself. It was truly awesome.
The only downside of the day was the sheer number of midges. Midges, midges, midges everywhere. I would’ve loved to have stopped at Ba Bridge for a picnic, but every time we stopped for more than twenty seconds the midges would swarm around us, fly in our faces and generally made a nuisance of themselves. Midges tend to get put off by rain and wind. See what a problem perfect weather can be?!
After the highest point of the path, the slow descent towards Kingshouse was slightly hard on the knees and ankles because the path was quite hard and gravelly. It really didn’t matter though, because the scenery was so beautiful. It was a day of pure perfection, apart from those irritating little insects.
Near the end of the descent we stopped to speak to a group of ladies who were going the same way as us but had stopped for a rest. I finally managed to eat some food without it getting full of midges.
Getting further along, what do you expect to see near the edge of a moor? Why, this, of course:
This was followed shortly afterwards by a sign advertising Glencoe Mountain Resort, complete with a cafe 200 metres away that’s open 9am – 5pm and has ski lifts. Later on in the hotel we met the ladies again and they said they’d been up in the ski lift and the view from the top was amazing.
We continued further on to Blackrock Cottage, possibly one of the most photographed cottages in Scotland. It really is a lovely building, and I’m really pleased with how this photo turned out considering my lack of photography skills and lack of proper camera.
Just as I have always wanted to walk across Rannoch Moor, Steve pointed out the nearby mountain that he’s always wanted to walk up, Buachaille Etive Mor. I hope he gets to do so one day. It is a slightly different colour from the other mountains and does seem to stand out.
Finally we started the approach to the Kingshouse Hotel.
Okay, I’m going to put this bit here since it’s something I’ve been wondering about and I found very little information online, so hopefully this will help someone. Basically, the Kingshouse Hotel is not 100% alone. If you look on an Ordnance Survey map, there are three or four other buildings marked. I had always wondered what these buildings were. It turns out that they are private houses. I have no idea who lives there or if they are connected with the hotel, however one of the houses is called either Tigh Na Coille or Tigh Na Choille. This website suggests that it’s a B&B, as does Mark Moxon’s accommodation page from when he walked from Land’s End to John O’Groats. I did speak to someone that day who tried phoning them but couldn’t get an answer, but this information may be worth looking into for anyone needing alternative accommodation near Kingshouse. If anyone happens to be reading this who has any more information, please feel free to leave a comment.
Anyway, we finally arrived!
Steve went over to the river to pitch his tent and came back for a drink later on. I went to check in at the hotel, and I felt like the luckiest person ever to have got a room. I’d met several people who hadn’t booked in advance and were disappointed. They’d run out of single rooms so I had to pay extra for a double room, but it was absolutely worth it because I’ve wanted to stay in this hotel for years. It’s a wonderful place, and you really do get the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere. All you can see from the windows are mountains, and deer which come right up to the window and aren’t scared of humans.
The only downside of the evening was the ongoing midge invasion. According to the hotel staff, it had been going on for three days. I went outside to say hi to people I recognised who were just arriving, and the midges were literally flying right into people’s faces. I saw a succession of people walking towards the hotel who were constantly wiping their faces and waving their arms in the air, trying to get rid of the things. I felt a bit sorry for the people who were camping.
The hotel itself is lovely, and has a comfortable lounge with huge windows which act as picture frames. I wish I’d booked for two nights and spent a rest day there, in fact one day I’d like to come back here, stay for about a week and spend days on end just staring at the scenery. Talking of which, the scenery is constantly changing and moving. The clouds never stay still, changing the shadows and changing the colour of the mountains.
The food in the bar is excellent and I sat with a group of various people who I’d met at different points over the last couple of days. There’s a great pasta dish which is perfect for hungry walkers, and the desserts are wonderful and comforting. I’ve certainly been consuming a lot of calories this week. I’ve been eating huge meals that I would usually struggle to finish.
When it was time to go to bed, the view from my window was so amazing that I slept with the curtains open.
The lifespan of a midge is a very short one. When I woke up in the morning, there were about a hundred dead ones on my windowsill.