|Kingshouse to Kinlochleven (14.5 km)|
Bridge of Orchy
The West Highland Way crosses the Devil's Staircase today, which sounds scary but in fact is fairly easy in good weather. The climb of 250 metres from valley floor to the saddle is made easier by generous zigzags in the higher portions of the path. In clear weather, you get the best views of the entire walk but this is a serious undertaking in bad weather with no shelter and rough terrain all around the track. Map and compass should be carried (and used!).
|Kingshouse Hotel||Hotel||01855 851259|
I was lucky in having some blue skies in the morning with banks of cloud sweeping in from the north to give dramatic outlines to the hills. By the saddle, the entire sky was grey with high cloud which descended even faster than my drop into Kinlochleven.
Head directly north from the hotel crossing the fine old bridge spanning the headwaters of the River Etive. At a T-junction there is a signpost pointing eastwards across the empty moor to 'Rannoch by Loch Laidon'. We though turn west (left) back towards the A82 road. The track to the east reaches Black Corrie Lodge in 4 kilometres, degrades to a path at the regional boundary between the Highland and Tayside Regions (another 4 kilometres) and vanishes as it approaches Loch Laidon. Rannoch Station on the West Highland Railway line is a further, mostly trackless, 8 kilometres away.
The West Highland Way departs the tarmac nearly a kilometre from the junction where a stile leads to the old military road which climbs up the slopes a bit and then descends to parallel the A82 road. There is an alternative route that continues down the old Glen Coe road to the A82 and then follows the banks of the River Coupall upriver to Altnafeadth under the rumpled cliffs of Stob Dearg (Buachaille Etive Mor). This alternative gives the walker a close look at the many moods of the River Coupall and the rough walls of the mountain. The main route though is shorter, drier and gives a better overall view.
As you proceed up the glen, the conical mass of Stob Dearg ("red peak") reveals itself as the the nearest end of the Buachaille Etive Mor - a long and complicated ridge paralleling Glen Etive. The dramatic valley of Coire na Tulaich (above Altnafeadth) is one walking route to the top of Stob Dearg and the other Munro (Stob na Broige) at the far end of the ridge. Buachaille Etive Beag (a similar but lower ridge) shows itself further down the glen.
|The Three Sisters of Glen Coe|
The two routes join at the few buildings of Altnafeadth where the West Highland Way climbs steadily past a pine plantation and then onto the bare hillside beside a babbling burn. The Devil's Staircase is actually only the zigzags below the saddle but the name is usually applied to the entire track between Altnafeadth and Kinlochleven. These well engineered zigzags were built in 1750 by 450 men and officers of Rich's and Guise's Regiments and were probably christened by the troops. There has been plenty of erosion by time, walkers and motorcycles (this is a traditional stage in the Scottish Six Days Trial held in the early summer each year) but some original kerbing and construction can still be seen. As the path climbs there are improving views into Glen Coe (the site of the infamous Glencoe Massacre) with the impressive buttresses of the Three Sisters across the valley.
Reaching the saddle with its untidy cairn gives a chance to recover and drink in the new vistas presented to the north. The Mamore ridge rises above the green Leven valley presenting a roller-coaster of peaks stretching from left to right (primarily Am Bodach, An Garbhanach, Binnein Mor and Sgurr Eilde Mor). Above them looms the massive bulk of Ben Nevis contrasting the great North-East Buttress towering to the left with the shapely cone of Carn Mor Dearg.
There are a couple of worthwhile excursions from the saddle but these should not be taken in the deer-stalking season. These are both uphill but your pack can be left at the cairn. Just remember to take your camera. Either or both of these walks can be done even on a short winter day.
The Way drops from the saddle into a boggy glen and then along the side of a spur in its western flank. The dam of Blackwater Reservoir can be seen to the northeast as the path swings around the end of the spur and on the slopes below the path are the access road to the dam and the culvert bringing water towards Kinlochleven. The West Highland Way descends gradually to meet the access road at the penstock where the water enters the six massive pipes that take it down to the aluminium works. This is a great viewpoint down into the valley and into the birchwood clad tributary glens. The woods clothing much of the hillsides is both a result of the roughness of the terrain and the industrial development providing alternatives for the crofters and shepherds of the area.
The access road is joined for the final drop down into Kinlochleven. The pipes are abandoned as the road wanders into the valley of the Allt Coire Mhorair and crosses the stream. A nice detour is to follow a rough path upstream to look at the dam for the town water supply and the little gorge that the stream has cut below the dam. The pipes are rejoined about a kilometre from the stream and the road heads straight down to the back of the aluminium works (quite a shock after the wilderness of the past few days). A colourful white and red chequered bridge brings the Way to the far bank of the River Leven where it turns left through a housing estate and along a riverside path to the centre of town next to the main bridge across the river.
Kinlochleven is a much quieter place than it used to be when the loop road around the shores of Loch Leven was often the only way to get from Glen Coe to Fort William. For nearly 50 years, this long detour was needed whenever the Ballachulish car ferry at the foot of the loch was packed or had stopped running for the night. The opening of the Ballachulish bridge in 1975 cut the traffic dramatically. Recently the smelter plant has reduced its labour force and the many factory buildings that crowded the banks of the Leven along the West Highland Way have now gone. The town now provides a nice place to gird your loins for the final day of the Way. It amenities are many: a good range of shops, a tourist information centre, bank, B&B accommodation, a bunkhouse, restaurants and a couple of good pubs. I camped in a field next to one pub (rather stony ground but cheap), had my evening meal there and a whiskey tasting with a couple of other West Highland Way walkers at another pub in town (comparing the fine Isle of Islay whiskies).