Today was the day. The big one. My longest day yet on the trail, and one I’d heard mixed reviews on – 20 miles from Tyndrum to Kingshouse. I was equal parts nervous and excited. Would I be able to do it? Not only physically, but mentally? Would the terrain be as challenging as some of the days that came before?
I woke up early today to get a timely start. In the breakfast area, it was only another couple and I. I knew I’d need a good breakfast to keep me going for the day. I was grateful for the spread of pastries, yogurt, and porridge provided at my B&B before the main breakfast. My knees were aching, but I was more worried about how I’d fare mentally.
The couple at breakfast with me was only going to the Bridge of Orchy, about 6.5 miles from Tyndrum and only a third of my route. It was disappointing that I didn’t run into my West Highland Way companions over breakfast. I hadn’t seen them since leaving Rowardennan and unfortunately did not run into them for the rest of my journey. I’m sorry for being terrible and not remembering your names, but if you recognize me here, please give me a shout!
So long, Tyndrum
I was on the trail by 7:45 that morning. Per my norm, not as early as I’d hoped, but early enough that I didn’t worry about time. So far, it was a nice morning. Cloudy, but comfortable. The trail picked back up to the right of the Green Welly Stop. My savior at the end of day four, providing an option to shop for a knee brace and pain relief.
Not long after I started walking, the couple who referred to me as “Hufflepuff” caught up to me. We didn’t chat for long as they were notoriously faster than me. Still, it’s always nice to start the day with a West Highland Way Companion, knowing you’re not truly taking it on alone. I wondered if Deb and Kris got an earlier start than me. They seemed to be the most common companions I ran into thus far.
Finally Getting Emotional
This first stretch out of my 20 miles was easygoing with limited incline and smoother paths. There was a point where I rounded a corner into a beautiful glen, complete with big, beautiful green mountains and cows. I found myself feeling emotional. I’ll admit, I even cried some happy tears as I walked. I couldn’t believe that finally, after years of planning, rescheduling, and going through the motions at a dead-end job, I was finally here doing this in such a beautiful place. It was exactly what I needed at the time and feels so unreal to me still.
I guess it finally sunk in now that I’d reached the highlands and was more than halfway through my West Highland Way adventure. As it started to rain, my spirits stayed soaring. I welcomed the rain. It was all part of the Scotland experience, after all.
Another funny thing about long solo hikes is the number of times you get random songs in your head. I remember passing a railway line on this particular stretch that said “Stop Look Listen” which put “Rubberneckin’” by Elvis in my head for several miles.
Passing Through Bridge of Orchy
I was still in an incredible mood when I reached Bridge of Orchy. I thought of the couple at breakfast and how they would have a chill day on the trail with this as their destination. I’m sure it was a strategic call to avoid doing the full 20 miles. As you walked downhill into the village, you passed a railway line and the Bridge of Orchy station. Below, sat the Hotel on the corner with the village’s namesake bridge (and river) to the right.
I took a pitstop at the hotel, grateful for a place to stop and use an actual restroom. It was rare occurence on the West Highland Way. For the short time I was in there, the staff was friendly – directing me where to put my walking sticks and where to find the restroom.
After my bathroom break, I hopped right back on the trail and snapped a picture of the River Orchy over the bridge. As promised, I took time to pause there and be in the moment, savoring the sound of rushing water below.
Out of the Lowlands
It was clear we were no longer in the Lowlands anymore as I hiked on. One of the best parts about walking the West Highland Way is experiencing the change in landscape and elevation as you go on. What starts off as farmland and shoreline gradually transforms into more rugged terrain throughout.
You can think you’re in decent shape until it’s time to go uphill. On this stretch of trail past Bridge of Orchy, I remembered my Conic Hill climb day as I listened to my heavy breathing during the climb. Hikers coming in the opposite direction passed me up, seeming unbothered. Of course, they were going downhill.
When I reached the top where it leveled out some more, I realized I was entirely alone on the trail. At least in this section. I hadn’t seen another soul in a while or any of my West Highland Way companions. I imagine they got an earlier start than I did. My WHW companions from this morning were also much quicker than myself.
I welcomed the solitude. I was able to take in the scenery without distraction and it was a wonderful quiet up there on my own. Perfect for my sentimental mood that day.
Up the hill (which I later discovered was Mam Carraigh), I walked through a small stretch of forest. I came over the crest to the heather-covered hillside. Stunning views of Loch Tulla below greeted me as a backdrop for my descent.
Down From High Ground
As my time on Mam Carraigh came to an end, I found myself back on the low ground walking along a paved road. This road cuts right through Inveroran (another common place for West Highland Way Travelers to break up their day). I did not stop there, but thought it looked like a nice place to return to one day. Behind it was a backdrop of lush rolling hills and the loch. I saw several campers camping out beside the loch. It was another moment where I wished I was confident in my wild camping abilities so I could pitch a tent in a spot so beautiful.
I looped around towards the other side of the loch, still walking along the main road. I was loving the scenery here and found myself less mentally preoccupied with how far we still had to go. Around 9 out of the 20 miles were complete, almost halfway there!
Sharing Footsteps With History
Eventually, my path diverged onto Telford’s Parliamentary road. Named after Thomas Telford, a Scottish engineer commissioned to improve travel throughout Scotland. There was a plaque explaining the history, which I found quite interesting. In the past, these roads were used not only by military troops but by local farmers driving cattle and other livestock to market.
The path was made of small stone stone, washed out from the Scottish rains. This made an uneven surface underfoot. On this first stretch, I saw a small tree-covered hill with views of the loch. I decided it was as good of a place as any to stop for lunch. I sat on the edge of the hill to dig out my brown paper bag lunch from my recent bed and breakfast.
Daily Packed Lunches
As an option on my booking with Mickledore, I chose to have packed lunches from my accommodations. This seemed less stressful than figuring out food on my own. On many days, I had a ham sandwich. This was something I’d never eat at home. I’m not a big fan of ham, but most things tasted wonderful after miles on the trail. I wasn’t picky and would have whatever my host provided each day. I was only happy to have a meal each day.
Often my lunches consisted of a sandwich, fruit, and crisps. Several hosts even packed two sandwiches and a treat. Some even gave protein bars and a couple of drinks. I never went hungry on the trail thanks to their kind hospitality.
As I sat, my West Highland Way Companions, Deb and Kris, passed me by. I assumed they were ahead of me this time, but perhaps they’d made other stops along the way. They waved and carried on as I finished up my lunch, munching on an apple on this beautiful hill.
A New Enemy: The Old Military Road
As I trekked more miles on this cobbled path, this old road and I were no longer friends. The uneven surface wrought havoc on my already sore knees and hip. I felt every step throughout my body and worried this pathway was going to make the rest of my long day feel even longer. Would 20 miles feel more like 30 by the end?
As Rannoch Moor approached, a stretch I’ve heard both lovely and not-so-lovely things about from other West Highland Way walkers online, Scotland decided to be, well, Scotland, and give me some intermittent rain. The rain quickly pooled on the uneven path and, after a time, even permeated my trusty hiking boots, making my feet feel damp underneath.
Keeping Up Spirits
Arriving at the Rannoch Moor stretch of the trail, I reunited with Deb and Kris. They seemed to be faring well as we got closer to 20 miles, though they were used to long hikes back home. We walked near to one another for much of the journey, taking turns passing each other.
It was a scenic stretch, and I found myself stopping often to take out my good camera, rather than using my phone. Not taking it out more was something I’d regretted thus far on the trip. It felt like a hassle. But now that I was getting in a better groove with walking these long distances, I liked capturing the sights. Kris even commented that she was happy to see me finally using it. Her camera always remained strapped around her neck and covered with her raincoat.
I loved the moody views in the rain and found it a great distraction from the pain in my joints. I captured some of my favorite shots on this day. The feeling I had taking it all in was indescribable.
Cold, Wet, and Tired
My spirits stayed high for much of the day. It wasn’t until I saw Kingshouse in the distance, that it began to dwindle. I knew it was not as close as it appeared and the rain was starting to pick up. I also think my dampened spirit (no pun intended) was in part due to some mental terrorism. Today wasn’t the usual day of arriving at my accommodation, showering, eating, and resting up.
Due to the popularity of Kingshouse, I couldn’t get a room or a bed there. I would be picked up by a transfer service upon arrival. The next day, they’d bring me back to pick up where I left off. Knowing that once I reached Kingshouse, I would have to wait for my much-needed shower and meal made it loom ahead of me on the trail. I knew my mind played tricks on my and this close landmark was nowhere as close as it seemed. Mentally, this was the toughest part of the entire 20 miles.
As I grew nearer to Kingshouse, I was hoping for a better view of Glencoe Valley. The day was so overcast that you could barely see Buchaille Etive Mor as it had a cover of hazy clouds. I loved the dramatic rainy setting, but still felt a bit bummed I didn’t experience the epic views.
The trail passed Glencoe Mountain Resort and I thought how the lifts might be a fun thing to do one day when I return, hopefully on a clear day. I still had to walk down the hill and cross the motorway before I’d be closer to Kingshouse.
This paved stretch wasn’t very exciting and, at this stage, I was ready to reach my destination. I frequently had to move out of the way of vehicles as they passed.
What Felt Like 20 Miles More to Kingshouse
After what felt more like 20 miles in itself rather than 4, I finally reached Kingshouse. I walked into the warm pub to peel off my soaked layers and grab a hot drink while I waited for my driver. I sat down at a table in the corner next to a table with a dog and waited.
Deb and Kris ended up having a spare bunk that they offered me. I was grateful for their kindness, though I already had my arrangements and would stick with them. (I’m incredibly glad that I made this call – more on that soon).
Before long, a man entered calling my name – my driver. He had come up about 30 minutes earlier and picked someone else up since I had yet to arrive. I hopped in and was on my way. My lodging would be in the next town I was to walk to tomorrow – Kinlochleven.
As the driver sped through the windy roads faster than I ever could, I felt equal parts exhaustion and accomplishment. I took in all the breathtaking scenery of Glencoe from the car as we drove by, loving its rugged beauty. The valley was stunning even with the low lying clouds on this overcast day.
My Favorite Lodging So Far
The driver dropped me off at my next accommodation: The Highland Getaway Inn. He told me to meet him in the same place tomorrow morning to bring me back to the trail. I didn’t see my lodging right away and went to a pub to pick up my room key and reserve a spot for dinner.
I expected to be in a room somewhere above the pub, but instead the owner directed me down the street to a separate building. Inside the building, there was a drying room and a few floors with rooms. To my surprise, my room was actually more of an apartment, with a hallway and two bedrooms (although one was closed up).
As I stepped inside my bedroom, I was completely floored. Not because it was anything fancy, but because outside of my window I had an absolutely beautiful view of the River Leven. I immediately cracked the window to listen to the sound of rushing water. I felt more contented than I had in a long while.
After my much-needed shower, I sat in front of this window before it was time for dinner. I would do so again when I got back. I felt so grateful that I would spend two nights here. It was the perfect end to accomplishing longest day on the West Highland Way.
Another 20 miles down. Only two more days to go.