The last day! Such a weird feeling: in one way it felt like the whole thing had gone by so quickly, yet in another way it felt like I had been walking forever. I had very mixed feelings – happy at the thought of achieving what I’d set out to do but also sad that the West Highland Way would be over by the end of today …….
I was also expecting today to be tough. At 15 miles it would be my second longest day and it was due to start with a steep climb out of Kinlochleven. Dave and I had breakfast together at the hotel and then he set off ahead of me – I wanted to walk most of today on my own as it was the last day, so we arranged that we would meet up 3 miles outside Fort William and walk the very last bit together.
So off I set bright and early, although with it being such a long walk today I knew there was no way of avoiding the hottest part of the day! Not a problem I had expected to have on this walk and I really can’t complain – I was incredibly lucky with the weather, only getting rained on briefly a couple of times on the very first day. More than just not wanting to get wet, I had hoped for clear skies so I would be able to see all the amazing views, and I certainly managed that so it seemed churlish to complain about being too hot! Mind you it did make it tough, particularly today – with no pubs or cafés along the way until Fort William I had to carry 3 litres of water with me which made my pack rather heavier than usual!
The path left Kinlochleven right opposite our hotel so that was handy🙂
It was a really pretty path, lots of trees and streams to cross on stepping stones. Once again I was grateful for the amazing weather – some of them looked like they would have been trickier to get across if the water was higher!
With today being a long 15 mile day and my feet already being tired, obviously the sensible thing to do was not to add on any off path detours. Of course I didn’t do the sensible thing so a mile into the walk I was away scooting up this hill to a viewpoint over Loch Leven. Totally worth the extra walking!
Back on the path there were lovely views over to the Pap of Glencoe.
First selfie of the day!
The path was once again rocky underfoot and my feet were pretty sore today with all the accumulated miles I had done! However this part of the trail was lovely too – it had a very wild feel with nothing but heathland and mountains to see for miles.
At the 4 mile mark I arrived at this derelict farmhouse which was to be my first rest stop for the day. I had also decided this is where I would scatter my last wee bag of ashes. I had not expected to feel any more emotional today than I had when I’d scattered any of the other ashes, but I guess because it was the last lot it really felt like saying a final farewell to Eddie and Neo. I was in tears even before I got to the cottage! I was all on my own at this point which was nice, so I was able to have a good old uninterrupted cry as I scattered the last bit of their ashes. Crying out of my system, I settled down for a snack and a rest. It wasn’t long before my Canadian friends caught me up and we chatted for a while before I was ready to set off again.
The trail was still rocky underfoot but still beautiful🙂
Around the 7 mile mark I passed Dave, Chris & Stuart having lunch in a shady spot but decided to push on with my usual rule of not having lunch until I’d covered at least half of the walking! But when I got to the halfway point there was quite a crowd of people there so I decided to carry on in search of a quiet spot. This proved to be a rather tiring decision as the next bit of trail was all uphill, in the blazing sun and on the side of a hill where it was very sheltered from the wind! At one point I thought about stopping but it was just waaaaaaaaay too hot, so I carried on until I reached the top of the hill where there was a nice refreshing breeze. This was actually a lovely spot as the first views of Ben Nevis ahead opened up. So I was glad I’d carried on and got the hard part out of the way. I settled myself down in front of this gorgeous view to air my feet and eat my lunch.
Dave, Chris & Stuart all scooted past me while I was sitting there chilling out. along with some of my other trail buddies. I was in no rush to set off again, enjoying the nice breeze and the views! Also I wanted to savour this last day and drink in every minute of it.
Eventually I decided I had better get on as I still had about 7 miles to go! The path entered some lovely woods but I was clearly getting tired by this point as I only seem to have one photo of this part and my memory of it is all a bit hazy!
The trail emerged from the woods onto a forest road and I could see from the map that there was still another 5 miles to go …. I was definitely struggling at this point but some closer views of Ben Nevis provided a welcome distraction.
At the start of the forest track it opened up and I could see Fort William ahead … it still looked a long way off!
The path twisted back again and got even closer to Ben Nevis. Definitely need to get up the top sometime soon!
After this it pretty much became a slog to the end – as evidenced by the lack of any more photos! Dave & I had arranged to meet at a café at Glen Nevis, 3 miles before Fort William – it was about a mile off the trail but it had seemed like a good idea this morning! As I approached the turn off for the café my feet were killing me, I was boiling hot, I had drunk nearly all of my 3 litres of water and the thought of adding on a couple of extra miles suddenly seemed like a nightmare! I was wondering whether Dave would have his phone on and thinking I would call him to say meet me back on the trail when I arrived at the junction and hooray! There he was sitting on the ground eating jelly babies! He had had the same thoughts as me – NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO to extra miles! Feeling extremely relieved at not having to walk any extra, I sat down and had a 10 minute rest, used the last of my deep freeze gel on my poor, battered, overheated feet, and then we set off together for the last 3 miles. It’s fair to say the last bit was horrible! The final 2 miles was just on pavements walking in to the middle of Fort William. It seemed to go on forever!
As we approached the end, we passed the Granite House where I knew I could get my passport stamped and buy a West Highland Way t-shirt. So I popped in there, exhausted and in need of rest, only to be told the t-shirts were upstairs. UPSTAIRS?! Just too cruel!! I dragged myself up the stairs, got the t-shirt and emerged back outside to find Dave chatting with Simon & his friend! They had arrived at Fort William the day before and been in the pub most of today – they had spotted Dave out of the window and came out to see us! It was great to see them one last time as they had been good trail buddies throughout the walk. We hugged and said our goodbyes and then set off for the very last stretch.
Finally ….. we were at the end!
We posed for the obligatory photos alongside the “tired walker” statue.
And I managed one last selfie next to the sign🙂
And we were finished! Of course, I had a good old cry – I was happy, and sad, and just generally overemotional!
I had booked a B&B about half a mile out of town which had seemed like a good idea at the time – it was a lovely location alongside Loch Linnhe – but now I was wondering WHAT I HAD BEEN THINKING adding any extra walking at all onto this last day!
We staggered along, this last half mile feeling harder than any of the miles up the Devil’s Staircase! Every step was painful at this point. Once we eventually got to the B&B we enquired about rooms, but once again they were fully booked and my room was a proper single, so Dave was banished to the B&B next door! We had arranged that we would go out later for beers and curry with Chris & Stuart so we both headed off to our respective rooms to shower and change. There was a lovely surprise waiting in my room – some chocolates and a congratulations card from my dad & stepmum! Naturally, this made me cry again🙂
The first thing I did once I’d necked a pint of water was to sit in the shower for half an hour running cold water over my feet! Anyone who knows me will know how much I HATE being cold – I have never been one for cold baths or showers – so this should give some indication of how sore and inflamed they felt!
Once I’d showered and changed into my shiny new “I walked the West Higland Way” t-shirt it was all starting to sink in and I was feeling pretty chuffed. I contemplated my passport – annoyingly I had forgotten to get it stamped at Bridge of Orchy and Tyndrum!
However as it turned out, after Dave & I had our wee holiday we ended up driving back along the A82 so stopped at both places to get my missing stamps – this made me happy!
I had left my pedometer running for the whole of the Way, even putting tape over it so I wouldn’t accidentally reset it – the final count was 266,421 steps, an average of 33,302 every day! No wonder my feet hurt!
My trusty Salomon Fellraisers had seen me through every one of those steps and what must have been over 100 miles by the time I’d added on all my extras, without a single blister – awesomeness. I was very grateful to my mate Mark for recommending them. Mark is a lunatic fell runner who RAN the 53 miles from Milngavie to Tyndrum in 12 hours – that took me four and a half days!
Dave doesn’t drink, so bless his heart he was happy to drive us all into town for food – honestly at this point I think I would have paid for a taxi rather than attempt to walk the half mile! So off the four of us went for some celebratory beers (orange juice & lemonade for Dave!)
Then it was away for a curry and more beers🙂
I was happy but also sad to get to the end of this adventure. It really was everything I had hoped it would be. Do I feel like it has been a life-changing experience? Yes, I think so. Not in any particularly dramatic ways (I’m not planning on ditching my normal life to become a nomad – tempting though that idea is in some ways!) but I feel like it has changed me as a person. Like I said back on Day 6, I feel stronger and more resilient. I feel like I am more likely to say yes to things I want to do in future, without being held back by being scared that I will fail or scared that I will look stupid or any of the million other things that are scary about pushing out of your comfort zone. As an example – my makeshift shorts on the last day! Not that long ago I would have put up with the discomfort of being too hot, rather than wear something that looked unflattering and ridiculous. Now, I am brave enough to not care that I look weird🙂 The whole trip was a very emotional experience for me – I think I shed a tear at least once every day – and now I feel like I am more raw and more emotional – like everything is in high definition. Again this ties in with the mindfulness practice I am learning – I love this feeling of being more aware and awake and fully immersed in life, not just drifting through it.
The other very important lesson I learned on this trip was that if you decant your toiletries into travel sized bottles and don’t label them, you will end up rubbing conditioner into your face instead of moisturiser. You have been warned!
And one other feeling I am taking away from this is immense pride in my adopted country. Scotland is such an amazing place and I am so grateful to live here. When you see how many people come from all over the world to walk the West Highland Way – I met people from America, Canada, Israel, South Africa, Australia, and all over Europe – it makes me feel so proud and blessed to have this amazing scenery practically on my doorstep.
In summary: The West Highland Way was amazing. 10/10 would walk again.
…. in fact, I fully intend to walk it again!