Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
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2008.09.13 : West Highland Way
Day 8 : 8.5 Miles from Kingshouse to Kinlochleven
Part i : Brothers Unaware

Awoke from a series of long, vivid, detailed dreams (probably something to do with being in a real bed!); and Tim and I went down to the dining room (a dining room!) for a leisurely continental breakfast (breakfast!). As I tore through every mini-box of Fruit and Fibre going, I seemed to recall some nightmare of flooding.

Well, today was going to be no nightmare. For starters, we only had 8.5 miles to walk. On the other hand, we'd be climbing up to the highest point on the whole WHW: the Devil's Staircase, at 259m (850ft). Of course, after Ben Lomond – and before Ben Nevis – this little climb would be a doddle. Also, we had met somebody last night whose one-stone, seven-month old puppy had just done this climb.

So, today really did promise to be a stroll. And, the divertingly named hill aside, the highlight was going to prove to be a family we met along the way.

This, as mentioned last night, is how they separate out the riffraff. You might recall from Day 1 the sign warning us that historical figures would be lecturing us along the way. This wasn't the first, but it was the first that occurred to me to capture for posterity. Worth a read. Some of our predecessors had left this – though, they were on a different schedule, so this originall read 'Day 5'. We changed it for our photo; then changed it back. (Yeah, I know this is Day 7, but it was our 6th walking day.)

Scotland's most kick-ass mountain. Oh – before we get too far out of Kingshouse, I wanted to throw in a few words about Buachaille Etive Mor. Pictured here in a photo from yesterday, it is said to be Scotland's best-loved mountain (I didn't know this initially) most likely because it's almost absurdly picturesque (which everyone knows who sees it). And at 1011m it's supposed an awesome day out. If I have one regret about the planning of this trip – and I think I do have only one – it was that I didn't add in an extra day to climb it. (We toyed with the idea of doing it this morning, then carrying on – but even an 8.5 mile walk on top of an 8-hour mountain ascent would have been mad.) Anyway, if you ever do this walk, do yourself a favour and take a day out in Kingshouse for Buachaille Etive Mor.

Into the misty mountains! And up the enchanted trail.

And thence did we come upon the family in the path. The mother (the one with the horns) was absolutely beautiful. And the father (with the ring in his nose) was terrifying – mainly because I'm an idiot, and didn't clock that he was a bull until he was six inches from me. But the two brothers were just about the most lovely and adorable creatures in the Highlands. Hold onto your heart.

Yeah, mime taking a 1200 pound animal with huge horns from behind. Brilliant. See how that turns out. Pretty girl. Aww! Mom! Aww! Dad! Uhhh…

And this is where tragedy – fueled, as usual, by stupidity – nearly struck. Dad must have wanted to know a bit more about the mooks ogling his wife and kids. So he came and got all right up in my face. I thought this was so cute. It was only when he was satisfied and wandered off that I noticed his enormous swinging bollocks; and his nose ring. I'd been four inches from a bull. Don't be fooled by the fact that the woman wears the horns in this family. This guy could have stomped me into bloody peat.

What's that in your face? Oh. Shit. Aww!! <i>Ohhh!</i>

Then, after wiping a tear from our eyes, but with smiles permanently on our faces, it was merely a short stretch alongside a loud (but of course picturesque) road . . .

No way to go but up.

And then up the Devil's Arse Staircase!


Next : Obviously! Plus Maniac Mountain Bikers! And the Industrial Blight, and Alpine Beauty, of Kinlochleven! Also – Amusing Nicknames for All the Regulars Along the Way!


2008.09.13 : West Highland Way
Day 8 : 8.5 Miles from Kingshouse to Kinlochleven
Part ii : The Devil's Staircase

So the theme of this next bit is pretty straightforward: we climbed over a really big hill. I also shot a lot of pictures, a few too many, which I've been a bit too lazy to prune down as much I probably should. On the upside, I took very few notes, so there's very little to read.

Oh – when we got to the sign at the bottom, one of us did quip, inevitably perhaps, "Speak of the Devil."

This lonely white structure with the fracking enormous mountain behind it was a nice scene setter, and more so as we climbed higher. Here are some maniac mountain bikers trying to drag themselves up this beast. This same group had spilt into the Hotel Restaurant last night, looking all grimy and rugged and bad-assed – or, at any rate, very much as if they thought they were bad-assed. Tim sucks! And blows! Score!

We had a really lovely break at the top. Here's that.

It's good to be King of All Creation. Only you can prevent cairn erosion.

And then we climbed down the other side again.

Walky, walky. A truly long and winding road… erm, path… erm, Way. Throwing myself out on the slab. Perhaps I should catch up at some point here… Looks like someone's expensive backyard landscape design. Nice. The followers behind. Get the feeling Tim is about to break out into a musical number here? Something from The Sound of Music, I should think. Everyplace is a good place to moblog. (Hence the 'mo' bit.)

And then we ambled into Kinlochleven. The guidebook warned, well: "The planned factory village of Kinlochleven was called 'the ugliest on two thousand miles of Highland coast' by WH Murray in his 1968 guide to the West Highlands. Sadly it is no more picturesque today, even though the aluminium smelter which necessitated its construction has closed."

Tim: Wow.
Me: Yeah. But, on the other hand, are they not allowed to have industry? Should they be poor so we can have a nice view walking into their town the one time in our lives we're going to do it?

The book went on to say: "Despite this utilitarian feel, the village is a pleasant place to stay largely because of the magnificent surroundings and the friendliness of the people." Just so – as we discovered when we got into town proper.

The town was positively alpine – so mountain-nestled was it. Helluva climb up to our hostel, though – 'That's gonna hurt at the end of the night.' Rather alpine architecture, too.

We checked into the main hostel building – from which they sent us up the hill (see caption above) to their annex. This was nice, and elevated, and slightly lonely. The accomodation was spare, but adequate. Nice kitchen, actually, which I'd make good use of. Once we got settled, we considered next steps:

Tim: I quite fancy a beer, actually.
Me: You've come to the right place – Britain.

I thought the name of this fruit machine was very amusing. We crossed a bridge into the busier part of town, and repaired to the nicer looking restaurant/pub. Over day-end beers, we worked on an index of nicknames for people we'd met on the way:

  • The Ill-Shod Couple: These were the Dutch couple, whom we bunked with at the West Highland Way Sleeper – the female of which had bought boots right before the walk which completely murdered her feet, and they both actually had to catch the train from the platform there into some town to buy new shoes.
  • The Belgian Girls: I don't know who these were. Unless we really meant "The Swiss Girls", Natasha and Caroline.
  • The Goofball: This was a guy we'd also bunked with in Bridge of Orchy and seen once or twice elsewhere. He was so completely geeky and maladroit and always so hopelessly chatting you up looking for some kind of interaction that you just instinctively wanted to get rid of him as quickly as remotely possible. When we considered the fact that he was actually perfectly nice, as nice as anyone we'd met, this prompted a soul-searching discussion about what might be wrong with us that we would so viciously shun this guy simply for not being cool enough.
  • Tick Guy: The Faux-Aussie from Kingshouse with the tick story.
  • Las Chicas Locas: Lena and Rocio.

I was having a grand time drinking, and Tim was hungry so he didn't feel like waiting for me to finish drinking, and nothing on the menu much struck my fancy, so I decided to dart out to one, or both, of the two enticing-looking shops to pick up my dinner for consumption in the hostel. When I did duck out, all these dramatic clouds were rolling down the mountains.

← That's our hostel, actually.

In the end, I prepared a totally winning salad – in the well-appointed hostel kitchen – of lettuce, fresh tomato, fresh mushrooms, tinned beans and corn and peas, with basalmic vinaigrette and a bag of whole wheat roles, which I devoured while devouring a current copy of the Times. Nice. Sleep. Tomorrow would be our last walking day!


Next : The Last Walking Day! Plus The Lovely Valley(s) – and the First Views of Ben Nevis!

To those who know me as the bike trip organiser that predicts a flat days riding only to find definitions of flat being hugely subjective, please observe this and cut me some slack!
In addition to this - I think these guys were even more hardcore than Michael makes out - when we saw them in the bar at 10 or so in the evening I think they were actually heading out again for some night riding!         (hide)

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about
close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

You can reach him on .

my latest book
ARISEN, Book Fourteen - Endgame by Michael Stephen Fuchs
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