Lunch: Bought from Green Wellie – Cheese, crackers and branson pickle
Camping dinner: Chicken tikka camping meal
At sixish, I woke up at Ba Bridge to a masked sky. Rays of sun striped through gaps. I sizzled up some tea, packed up and set off at 8am. I climbed up onto the path and turned back one last time. Two deer stood on the path, ears turned towards me, eyes beaming like headlights. I said good morning and set off on slightly refreshed feet – following the grass verges bordering the path. A black bird rose up and its call laughed like a mixture of a turkey and a sheep.
The problem with this landscape was also its very beauty – its vastness. I could see Kingshouse from miles away, and it seemed close, but it wasn’t. You walk for hours and for miles, with the scenery changing very little. It is the same. The same mountains, the same moor, the same path – it doesn’t vary quickly. There are no covers for toilet privacy.
The cold, hard mountains were accentuated with a heavy grey sky. The Southside of Buachallie Etive Mor mountain was brutal and jutted up like The Lonely Mountain. The river and bridge at Kingshouse offered a moment of relief from the moor. Boxes of pine trees surrounded it, a brief popup of life and vitality before moving back under the gaze of the mountains.
A large group of young Germans overtook me on my way to the Devil’s Staircase. Three of them I’d met the day before. The path skirted around Etive Mor, and I ate lunch while gazing up, trying to put my finger on why I didn’t like the mountain. Clouds oppressed its head, severe crags and crevices split the tip, and streaks of white bled out from the base.
When I picked myself up, I met two Scottish men – Gordon and Eric – who walked with me until the bottom of the Devil’s Staircase. This was their seventh West Highland Way walk and they knew it well. They were good company and picked up my pace as well as my mood. He showed me a patch of rubble under the mountain. “You see that,” he said. “That used to be Jimmy Saville’s holiday home,” he said. I asked him what happened to it, but he shrugged. I wondered what sort of person would live under the scowl of that mountain, and it didn’t surprise me.
The Devil’s Staircase had been bigged-up online and by other walkers as a murderous, so I had a brief sit down before and said goodbye to Gordon and Eric. Gordon dropped his backpack and started to rummage. He gave me a dressing, hand warmers and a pack of wine gums. What a lovely guy! They wished me luck and I started to chat to the German couple boiling soup. I’d seen them before, and they’d seen Bothy Pete a few times too, including when his eye swelled up from a mozzy bite. We swapped stories about The Way.
The Devil’s Staircase is aptly named, not because it’s deadly, but because it is deceptive. I kept thinking ‘I’ll stop at the top, I’m almost there.’ But what I thought was the top, was never the top. It kept winding. The way after that was a beating to the feet and felt like it was forever turning, never reaching the reservoir.
Since time was on my side, I decided a while back to go the extra mile (literally) and press on to Kinlochleven to sleep at a campsite. I’d heard the climb after Kinlochleven was steep, and would be best handled first thing in the morning. I felt lonely again too. The heavy grey clouds saturated the skies and it was just me and my pain, with the occasional sighting of a walker. And I was glad I decided to stop at a campsite. The forest around the reservoir was steep and blunt on the feet. There didn’t seem to be enough flat land for camping, especially off the path.
I practically ran down the last part because my feet were so sore and I wanted to be off them. I set off my tent at Blackwater campsite with a cloud of midges around my head. I cooked up the BEST chicken curry that I’d saved for my last night and made a huge hot chocolate for dessert. All the Germans I’d met had caught up, or I had caught up, and were there too – although not camping. Lucky jammers.