About the Author, Leah LaRocco: “Hi there, I’m a Long Islander who lives in Franklin, Tennessee. My first love was the ocean, but growing up camping and hiking around Vermont also contributed to a deep appreciation for the mountains. Public lands are some of my favorite places to hike and Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a regular weekend getaway. I work full time, but believe dreams and passions can and should be pursued outside of the everyday 9-5. As a naturalist, I hope to convey how incredibly healing the woods, water, and wildlife can be when we make the choice to step outside.” Find her via her Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Website.
Day 4, Inverarnan to Bridge of Orchy, 20 miles
Today was the toughest day so far because it had the highest mileage. We left the Drovers Inn and had a fairly even walk along a dirt road that soon began to go up, up, and up. We passed sheep pastures and flowing rivers as we ascended up the West Highland Way.
At one point, the trail opened into the most spectacular view as we walked through an old impressive sheep farm with ancient stone walls that went on for miles. The view was expansive and there were sheep grazing all over the hills with some munching grass with their lambs right next to the trail. Along the path were some puddles that must be constantly refilled with recurrent rains because they were full of tadpoles!
We didn’t see a soul the entire morning until we reached the turnoff for Crianlarich at the 6 mile mark. Several backpackers came down the trail, and it seems like another popular village where walkers stay. At the junction there was a bench where we sat eating snacks, staring at the hill we were about to climb. They have Snickers protein bars here and I’m so mad we don’t have them in the U.S. Talk about a missed opportunity for Mars with the way hikers consume Snickers on our long trails. Also, I’m taking shortbread on all my future hikes. It’s an awesome snack. We talked with a Scot who had hiked the WHW 13 years ago and had two adorable dogs with him. He said it’s pretty much the same with a few improvements.
There was another significant climb out of Crianlarich that took us into a shadowy pine forest. The path became red with needles that were soft beneath our feet, a welcome change from the cobbles.
The views began to get more dynamic. This was such an interesting section because it led us across a river through another huge sheep farm where a farmer and his sheep dog were moving a ewe and some lambs. He was whistling commands and I immediately felt like I’d been transported into a James Herriot story.
At this point in the day we noticed that the haze of the morning had lifted and the views had cleared, giving us a nice vista of the mountains ahead. The first snow came into view, just barely hanging on the peaks with the warmer weather. We continued to pass cows, sheep, and small camping accommodations that looked like hobbit houses. There was also some interesting history along the way, like the priory of St. Fillian.
We entered the Tyndrum Woods, a natural preserved area known for birds and wildflowers. It was quite a pretty moorland and we past the lochan of the lost sword. Such a cool story!
As we entered Tyndrum, we headed straight for the Tyndrum Inn for a pint and some burgers, which were delicious. They also had free WiFi and we were able to baby our feet a bit by adding blister gels and bandages. The Green Welly is next door and resembles a truck stop with a cafe and a couple of touristy gift shops.
The next 7 miles of trail were an old military road that went beside the incredible hills looming before us. The views were stunning. More sheep and a few Highland cows had left some serious patties along the road. As much as I adored this section of the WHW, it was also the hardest on my feet. The stony path nearly broke me. We stopped a couple of times and rested, ate some candy (Cadbury!), and continued around all the twists and turns that led to even more spectacular vistas. A couple of military planes flew quite low above us and it was really cool to get a good look at them.
When we finally saw the Bridge of Orchy Hotel in the distance, I nearly cried with relief. It’s a lovely hotel, and is worth every expensive penny we paid to stay there. The room is SO NICE after the dump we stayed in last night. The food in the restaurant was delicious, there are attentions to detail that I appreciate SO MUCH after staying in a hostel and the Drovers. There are lots of outlets in convenient places, a kettle with tea and snacks, a very clean, bright bathroom with a toilet seat that doesn’t slide halfway off when you sit on it, an entire vestibule where we can set all our clothes and packs that is outside of the room (!!!), gorgeous views from our little balcony, a packed lunch for the next day, etc. I can’t recommend this place enough. There is no WiFi in our room, but we’ve been reading, playing games, and I’ve been writing at night.
My feet are killing me. I have an awful rash that must be exercise induced vasculitis. This never happens to me on trails at home, but it did happen a few years ago when I walked on pavement from Boston to Maine with EverWalk. I can’t figure this out. I have a hunch that it has to do with walking on hard surfaces. It’s traumatic to my feet. It could also be my wool socks, but I wear these all the time.
The day just happened to be sunny and bright with huge puffy clouds that reflected perfectly in the loch. The Fleming estate on the opposite shore looked cozy among the pines that surrounded it. We stood atop each hill that the WHW gently crested, soaking in the view before us. The trail took us down to the Inverornan Hotel at 2.6 miles, which was the perfect stop for a toilet. There is a small walkers bar, and it too looked like a great place to stay.
Thing to note: there are no good places to go to the bathroom along the trail because it’s hard to get out of the view of people. There are few trees to hide behind, so I found myself running around curves real quick to pee, hoping the folks behind us would slow down!
As we continued down the road and back into some woods, we crossed the Victoria Bridge and the Forest Lodge. The WHW became an old road that was used to move livestock back in the day, and the cobbles were BRUTAL beneath our feet. The road continues up on a gentle slope, but it goes up for so long that you are winded the whole time unless you intentionally slow down.
Walking across the Rannoch Moor was my favorite part scenically of the WHW, even though it hurt my feet the most. The views are open and outstanding! There are places to stop and sit along the way, just gazing out on Britain’s largest expanse of wilderness. There are few places along the way where you feel like you are really out there in the wild, but this is what I imagined it would be like, and I drank it in.
When we finally reached the top of the hill that signaled our descent into the Glencoe Ski Centre, I was ready to be done. Tiny cars could be seen whizzing by on the A82, and since the day was so clear, we decided to ride the ski lift. Even though the price was 12 pounds each, it was a lovely ride up the mountain beside a huge waterfall. The sensation of being carried and moved along felt quite nice.
The Kingshouse Hotel was recently redone and now costs an arm and a leg so we got a taxi to Glencoe, which turned out to be the best decision we could have made. The bar and restaurants at the Clachaig Inn are wonderful, as are the people who run the hotel and provide a friendly, warm welcome.
I love this area so much that I decided to go for a walk (I know, I know…) down the road, across the A82, to my favorite house in Glencoe, which is likely the most photographed in the area. I can’t think of a place that is more perfectly situated and standing before it made me so utterly happy.
Even though Glencoe is out of the way, it would be such a shame to miss it. About 3 miles from the Clachaig is an area called the Three Sisters with several hiking trails. The tricky thing is getting there. There are several car parks, but sometimes the buses don’t stop there. You could always walk, but….the thing is, once you drive through that area and see it, you’ll be wishing you’d done everything you could to explore it. There is also a visitor center near Glencoe town with historical and hiking trail info. This is one of the most stunning areas we’ve been to on both our visits to Scotland and is really worth the side trip. The town itself isn’t much to speak of, it’s more the vistas. Clachaig and Glencoe Gathering are the best places to eat. Tomorrow we get a taxi back to the Glencoe Ski Centre where we’ll continue the trek to Kinlochleven.