Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
(← home page for Roof of Britain Dispatches)
2008.09.14 : West Highland Way
Day 9 : Last Walking Day! 12.5 Miles from Kinlochleven to Glen Nevis
Part i : Full-Colour Valleys (and MacDonald devils!)
"It would have easier if I had been able to obtain maps."
- Graham Greene, Journey Without Maps

Did I mention the nicely-appointed hostel kitchen – and the well-stocked Kinlochleven shops? Well, this morning I had a lovely breakfast of coffee and muesli with soya milk, purchased at the latter, prepared in the former. All consumed at the dining room table over a copy of the Independent. I forget what Tim had, but I think it included some of my fresh strawberries. I could get used to this self-catering lark.

Well, it was the last walking day, and all we had to do was climb out of this strangely industrial Shangri-La. That of course meant Up.

Up… …into the forest… …past the hippies. View back to Kinlochleven in the valley. Zig… …zag… …and up. Loch Leven itself, from which the town obviously takes its name. (I'm going to go out on a limb and guess Kin means 'near'…) Funnily enough, this was just about the first time on any of these walks when the path clearly split, and one way went up, and one way went down (or flat) – and our route actually went the low way. Yip!

As we rounded a bend, we spied . . . hmm, blonde head, cigarette smoke . . . could be Caroline and Natasha! We stopped in the path and had a very nice chat, while the two of them puffed on the rocks. Before we left, they gave us some Basler Leckerli – the traditional Basel honey cake, they explained, and which totally rules.

Me: They're nice folks. I liked the baggie of fag ends Caroline had tied to her pack.
Tim: They're definitely cheerier when they've woken up and had coffee and cigarettes.

    We were somewhat bemused by this truly unique stile. We finally guessed it must be for the passage of quadbikes (which some farmers use to get around their billions of hectares).

It rained briefly as we descended into the wide valley that would be our setting for most of the day's walk – but then turned totally lovely with the sun out(-ish) and warm air and cool breezes.

The Final Miles

Get the Flash Player to see this movie.

The awesome valley.

The shooting here was just fantastic. With the (relatively) great light, the foreground objects, and the red clay in the streambeds, it was almost like doing colour photography!

Though I artfully kept them out of most of the photos, there were actually (unusually) a fair number of other people walking this stretch with us. And not all of them were, well –

Me: Okay, iPod culture is officially a blight when bastards are walking the WHW with their headphones in. God may be a DJ, but he still thinks you're a twat.

We dubbed this one pair the DJ and the Shuttermonkey. Somehow the latter's obsessive photography was even more annoying and ostentatious than mine. I laughed heartily when he dropped his lens cap off a bridge. Ha ha ha! You can actually see him digging around for it in one of the photos way above. Okay, here he is again.

Me! That's me! <img style='height:16px;width:16px;' src='graphics/smilie.png' /> 'Sup.

I kind of like this high-zoom series of Tim, which I hereby christen "Your More Bad-Ass Highlander Uses SPF 45."

One thing about a (sheep-populated) valley – everything roles down to the path at bottom, so there are generally only two surfaces to walk on: rocks or sheepshit. Luckily, this was nothing new.

Here be sheep.     We finally exited the valley through sheep pens. As I may or may not have mentioned, Tim fairly recently did an IT contract, um, writing software for managing a farm in Devon. He worked onsite – in a barn. Anyway, due to this unique career experience, he was actually able to explain to me the pen system we saw here.

Me: Guess you had to become a bit of a domain expert. "What's your vertical? Finance? Retail?" "Sheep."

    This was, hands-down, the single coolest cartoon lecture on the whole Way. Check it out. "Pray God these MacDonald devils do not pursue us any further!" Though, bet these guys never imagined that their clan name would one day become synonymous with bad fast food worldwide.

Next: First Views of Ben Nevis! And our home for the next three nights – Achintee Farm, Glen Nevis.

2008.09.14 : West Highland Way
Day 9 : Last Walking Day! 12.5 Miles from Kinlochleven to Glen Nevis
Part ii : The Ben – And the Glen – And the Pain

    Exiting the valley, we would be climbing and descending amongst dense conifer plantations. Tim was excited to keep moving as this would likely be our first look at the crown jewel of the trip: Ben Nevis. And with the bright light still holding out behind us, we might also get some winning photos – the drama of a grand entrance. But, then again, you do have to stop for sheep.

Do Something With The Sheep Day

Get the Flash Player to see this movie.

This is awfully pretty – when you keep the logged areas out of the frame. We skirted, then climbed up, this here hill on the left.

    We came round the side of a hill and caught sight of this bad boy. I immediately started snapping; but it turned out only to be sort of a Ben Nevis foothill. However, the real deal came into view very shortly after. We climbed up the hill we'd been skirting, for the better views.
There she is, on the right. There she is up close. Here she is being <a class="weblink" target="_new" href="http://timcorrigan.com/index.php/2008/09/14/ben-nevis-first-view/">moblogged</a>. Here's me, kickin' it.

By the time we'd stopped, all but the very summit was out of cloud. Within 20 minutes, even that was completely clear.

Tim: It's totally out of cloud – this would have been an amazing day to climb it. Imagine the views.
Me: This may be all we see of the mountain. They say the weather up there can turn in a heartbeat.

We had a slightly serious discussion – with Tim on the slightly more serious side – about doing it today, right now. If the weather were crap in the next two days, we were going to be gutted. And, moreover, we were there, the mountain was right there, the weather was perfect (which nearly never happens). The problems with this idea, of course, in increasing order of seriousness, were:

  1. We'd just walked 10+ miles.
  2. Our bags were full.
  3. We didn't have a current mountain weather forecast.
  4. It was then 2pm – meaning we wouldn't get down again until 10:30pm at the earliest. (Also we weren't exactly at the base yet.)

In a word, it wouldn't have been remotely safe.

So instead we just kicked it there for awhile, enjoying the views. Caroline and Natasha caught us up and settled themselves down. By the time we got moving again, incidentally, the summit was in cloud again.

A nearby valley, down to our left. The enlarged group of loungers. What would perhaps be the only picture of me and the Ben… Yes, Caroline and Natasha travel with coffee, as well as cigarettes. My never-popular short-sleeves-with-gloves look, which I find regulates my temperature well during vigourous walking on chilly days.

Perhaps to take our minds off the missed opportunity (if we'd been a day earlier, we would have had a near-miraculous ascent day), I finally told Tim the genesis story of the ubiquitous "Nice day[/night] for it" catchphrase. (I'm not going to include it here, though Knoll is invited to add it to the comments section.) Obviously, Tim had had an awful lot of time, and data points, to ponder the meaning and significance of this. He's not one to blab every thought that comes into his head, but his internal conclusions had been as follows:

Tim: When it's nice, Okay, fair enough. When the weather's crap, it's probably either ironic or else bucking people up. But when the weather's totally middling, it's just baffling.
Me: Precisely the intended effect.

We had to negotiate some forest before reaching Glen Nevis – and then most of Glen Nevis, actually, as our lodging, Achintee Farm, was at the far north end.

Me with the sexier gloves-in-hand look. That's actually the first part of the Ben Nevis ascent. Sort of at the V there is where the CMD route splits off from the tourist route. Ben'n'me

Me: It's like they've got a wall behind their town… which they do. And that isn't even it!
Tim: It's the foothill.

Tim: I don't understand.
Me: Me neither, but I've got to photograph it.

Our walk to "base camp" took us by the Ben Nevis Visitors Centre. We picked up a few "Please don't die on our mountain" mountain safety pamphlets. And then we spent nearly a half hour talking with an extraordinarily nice woman (*) reviewing the CMD route – including looking at digital rotating 3D topographical maps. She told us only 1 in 100 people who climb the Ben manage the CMD route.

Have I mentioned that I could barely walk at this point? No, I don't suppose I have. More on that in a second, after we've checked in.

This is a bit more walking to get us in. This is a cow. This is our lodging coming winningly into view – Achintee Farm. This is also a cow. <i>'Sup, Gs?</i> This is our tiny – but extremely clean and pretty and comfy – room.
These are the Times Sunday magazines I actually humped from Kinlochleven
    So allow me to commend you to Achintee Farm when you're making base camp in Glen Nevis. Just lovely and winning and reasonable and run by the nicest old couple – whom we'd happily get to know a bit over the next few days.

After dropping our stuff off, we popped up the hill to the Ben Nevis Inn – which was the only joint remotely on this rather isolated side of Glen Nevis. Luckily, it was totally awesome – housed in a beautifully restored 200-year-old barn, with great beer, great food, and great people. Also, it was only 25 metres away.

This was particularly lucky – as I was, at this point, only barely able to hobble up the 25m of hill to get there. Back to that walking problem.

I guess it must have been coming on for awhile – but it came on really fast, and really strong, in the last few miles of this last day. It was sort of somewhere between my left shin and ankle – and was causing increasingly dire pain everytime I put weight on it.

I called Anna for some remote medical support. Her diagnosis, based on my reported symptoms: shin splints. Recommended treatment: ice, compression, elevation, and anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen. However, the web-MD-type stuff she looked at also indicated: 3-6 weeks of total rest, followed by only flat, soft, undemanding walking or running – half one's normal distance, at half one's normal intensity. Prognosis: outside chance of permanent debilitating injury; but it would probably just go away with the time and rest. However, if I ignored the recommended treatment (time and rest), it was possible just to bull on through with it – but the condition would get worse (i.e. more painful) the whole time I did so. Cause? Just one of those things. Could happen to anyone, and sometimes just does.

Tim was looking very worried out of the corner of his eye as he watched me drag one foot sideways up the hill to the Inn. That distance to the Inn again: 25 metres. And the height of Ben Nevis? 1344 metres.

Things were not looking good for our heroes.

Next: A Summit Attempt? Or Total Abject Failure? Tune In Next Time to Find Out – Same Ben Time, Same Ben Channel

Only Michael could manage to make a feature out of me putting on sun tan lotion! Good one.         (hide)
Was this the day that I finally stopped messing around with starters and just ordered 2 main courses at once?         (hide)

  anna     danger     humour     mountains     people     photography     tim     video     walking     west highland way     wildlife  
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 : Operators, Volume I - The Fall of the Third Temple by Michael Stephen Fuchs
from email:

to email(s) (separate w/commas):
By subscribing to Dispatch from the Razor’s Edge, you will receive occasional alerts about new dispatches. Your address is totally safe with us. You can unsubscribe at any time. All the cool kids are doing it.