Day 4 on the West Highland Way had me walking out of the tiny hamlet of Bridge of Orchy with nearly all my clothing hanging in rather wet clumps from the back of my pack. Two pairs of underwear, a sports bra, two pairs of socks, two tshirts, and a towel. In fact, I’m sure I hadn’t managed to strap all of this to the outside of my pack so some of it was rolled up into a plastic bag inside my pack, something I’ve never had to do before.
I was wearing dirty hiking shorts but this was fine, because my shorts were often dirty. But both of my hiking shirts were wet so I had to wear the only other shirt I had- a black tank top that I’d been using to sleep in.
I knew I was going to run into this trouble two days before, when I’d walked all day and didn’t feel like washing my clothes at 8:30pm. And the day before, despite getting to my train station hostel around 5, I still didn’t have enough time to sufficiently dry my clothing. The evening was cool, my room at the station was chilly, and my clothing was still almost dripping wet in the morning when I set off.
This has not been an uncommon experience for me on these long walks, but usually I only need to pin a pair of socks from the back of my pack, maybe a pair of underwear. At first I felt strange doing it, but I quickly got used to it. After a few hours of walking in the sunshine, the clothes dry nicely.
And this fourth day was no exception- after a few hours of hiking the sun was brightly shining and my clothes were drying and I was feeling good.
I was feeling really good. It was another beautiful day on the West Highland Way- a long, challenging day, where I would walk over 20 miles, some of them very difficult miles (the miles at the end, of course). At first I was daunted by the elevation profiles in my guidebook, but after an initial sharp ascent and descent out of Bridge of Orchy, the next 8 miles were a very gradual ascent. It was the kind of climbing that I barely noticed, and by this point in the summer, my legs were strong.
I may not have noticed the climbing, but I did notice what was surrounding me. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the landscape, and every five minutes I realized that I was turning in a full circle, and sometimes even walking backwards for a few steps because the landscape- every bit of it- was stunning.
I’m going to post a bunch of photos but it was really difficult for my camera to capture what I was seeing with my eyes. I couldn’t capture it, and maybe that’s a good thing, because my memory of that morning’s walk is one of my favorites from the entire summer.
I was walking through open moorland, in the wildest and most remote section of the West Highland Way. Every once in awhile I would pass another hiker or two, but mostly I was totally alone. These miles are desolate and isolated- there are no roads, no buildings, no shelter, no way out. If the weather is bad this could be a very difficult section of the walk, but since I had clear skies and sunshine, the walk was just… incredible. Land and sky, land and sky, stretching out as far as I could see.
From what I can remember, there are no fun stories from this day, no unique interactions, no good anecdotes. Just beautiful walking. I stopped for lunch at a climber’s bar in the back of an Inn- the only place to stop for miles and miles- and then I kept walking.
The last part of the day’s hike included the dreaded Devil’s Staircase. My guidebook promised that it wasn’t as bad as the name would suggest, and locals I’d encountered in the past few days said the same thing.
And certainly, from where I stood at the bottom, the “staircase” (or long and winding path) didn’t look impossible. But then I started climbing. And my legs burned. And I was tired. I had been walking great distances day after day and a difficult climb to cap off what would be 35 kilometers was simply not appreciated. But I remembered what the woman in the bar the night before had told me- “It’s only walking”, and so I just put one foot in front of the other and kept going.
At the top was a large pile of rocks and lots of day-hikers posing for photos and selfies. I paused for a moment but after spending the entire day pretty much alone, this little summit felt crowded.
So I kept walking, and walking, and walking. I thought Kinlochleven would never arrive, the descent was longer and harder than I thought and I got a bit confused when I finally arrived in town and was unable to find my campsite. But eventually I did find it after asking for directions, and I was once again directed to a cabin which I had all to myself. And it was beautiful- a line of small wooden cabins and a lawn filled with tents, all set against a backdrop of rugged green mountains.
Dinner was in the pub next to the Inn, and I feasted on a large bowl of cullen skink (which is basically a delicious Scottish fish chowder), a hunk of bread, and a big glass of red wine. Hearty and warm and satisfying.
My cabin had a toasty little heater and a door that wouldn’t stay latched, and it banged open and shut throughout the night but I barely noticed. I slept soundly and comfortably. Day 4 on the West Highland Way was in the books, and now only one more day of walking remained.