Solo from Taynuilt to Fort William

Date walked: 19/04/2018

Time taken: 5 days

Distance: 100km

Taynuilt ot Fort William en solo

I had one week holidays in the end of April and I decided to walk some of the remote country in the West Highlands. My flight timetable was not favorable, so I lost two days of travel and had finally 5 full days to walk. Here is the itinerary:
Day 1: Taynuilt -> Loch Etive shore (just 1h30 walk in the evening)
Day 2: Loch Etive shore -> Lochan Urr in Glen Etive
Day 3: Lochan Urr -> Glen Coe via Lairig Eilde
Day 4: Glen Coe -> Ballachulish -> Gleann a’ Chaolais -> Kinlochleven
Day 5: Kinlochleven -> Loch Eilde Mor -> Luibelt -> Glen Nevis
Day 6: Glen Nevis -> Fort William

Day 1: ALBA
Scotland, I’m back! How much I had looked forward to this moment. The plane landed at Edinburgh Airport in the afternoon and I took the Airport bus to Glasgow and then the train to Taynuilt. I arrived there at 19:19pm. I headed north from the train station through the village and then, at the church, towards the Bonawe Iron Furnace. The track then passes Bonawe House (there is a picturesque little pond in the woods on the left side, beyond the white gate) and leads, after 800m or so, to a point, where it bends right.

Here I left it to cross a sheep grazing area on the left, towards the suspension bridge over the river Awe. The field was very boggy and they had put wooden planks on the ground, so I tried to balance on them to avoid the muddy ground. Nevertheless, my left foot once sank into the mud. Less than half an hour after starting my journey, my trousers were muddy! Maybe this was to advertise me of the days that should follow.

I continued over the bridge towards the Inverawe Car Park, crossed it and turned right, signed Way Out To Main Road. After 800m, at the Forestry Commission sign for another car park, I turned left, up, through clear-felled woods. The track rises and falls, giving here and there views over Loch Etive.

Then it slants down to the loch side. There is no real shore, the rocky slopes go straight down to the water. But at the first flat area, I stopped and pitched my tent, just above the high tide line. It’s about 5 minutes before arriving at the houses at Invernoe. It was very rocky, but due to the small size of my tent I can easily find some space nearly everywhere.

I woke up with the birds. At 6:30am everything was packed and I was on the road again. The track is very good throughout the whole southern shores of Loch Etive, until the pier beyond Ardmaddy.
By the way, on OS Maps, there are several fords noted on the stretch between Glennoe and Ardmaddy. But there are bridges everywhere, so no worries to get your feet wet. Beyond Inverliver, the track leaves the shore and heads up on the east side of Aird Eilein. From the top there are great views back towards Bonawe.

I had sunshine until now, but while I was sitting on a boulder beside the track and admiring the views, a strong wind came in and 3 minutes later it rained. First glimpse of Scottish weather.
I made my way down to Ardmaddy,where the track through Glen Kinglass heads off on the right.
I crossed some deer (a welcomed alternative to the all around sheep).

At the jetty the track suddenly vanishes and there is some sort of path (more or less) following the high tide line. But it was often muddy, fainted, or vanished completely and so I decided to simply walk on the shores.

Sometimes I had to head inland to cross a stream, but nothing difficult. The only inconvenient was the melting snow which came down the slopes during the last days and weeks; on the flat areas the water accumulated and the paths got wet and muddy. But this was a very beautiful area. And there were only me and the birds, it was so calm, so remote. Sun and rain battled in the sky. Finally it was rain that won today.
I reached Inverghiusachan. Whenever I see ruins like this I try to imagine how life would have been here. Now there’s nobody left. Behind Inverghiusachan the path got better.
It then vanished approaching the former bothy at Kinlochetive. The last mile was real bog, I had to stop very often to get sorted out the best option to continue. I warmed up a little bit in the bothy’s appendice before heading towards Coileitir. I managed to find the path again before arriving at Allt Mheuran. This stream is really awkward in spate, so I could not ford it but had to head upstream to the footbridge.

On the other side the path became better (at least, you can see a path, even if it is still muddy). At Coileitir a sign asks you to go around the farm instead of going through (which I entirely respect). But the ’path’ to follow is again nothing more than a stretch of wet earth, you just now it’s a path because there is no grass on it.
How big was my satisfaction when I eventually reached the entrance track and could walk on hard ground. When I arrived on the main road, I saw the first person since I left Taynuilt, finally.
I now had to do a choice. Initially, I wanted to go down to the loch shore and then westwards through Glen Ure towards Glen Creran and north through Gleann an Fhiodh to Ballachulish. But seen the muddy conditions of Loch Etive, I was convinced that pathless Glen Ure would not be better. So I decided to change my travel plans and to visit Glen Coe instead. I walked out of Glen Etive (at least in this direction). After a mile a car overtook me (Need a ride? - No, that’s kind of you, but thank you. – It’s a very long walk out this glen. – I know, I’ve time. – Good luck.) and some miles later I pitched my tent up above Lochan Urr.

There I saw the third person since I left Taynuilt the day before. A policemen (Everything’s alright? – Yes, thank you. – Don’t forget to take your litter with you. – Sure.) I have to say that I had seen some plastic bottles just some minutes ago beside the road and I really can’t understand these people who don’t have anything in their brain and leave the litter in the most beautiful countryside of the world.

Again I woke up with the birds, this time it was a coocoo, which didn’t want to stop until I had packed all my gear. I walked the road to Dalness, with a great view towards Bidean nam Bian and Stobh Coire Sgreamhach from the bridge over the Allt Fhaolain.

As I started early I weared my jacket, but as soon as I arrived at Dalness, I took everything off but the t-shirt. The sun was shining and shall not stop the whole day. What a great day for walking! At Dalness I followed the sign up the slopes for the path to Lairig Eilde. It was a bit confusing, as on OS Maps the path is situated between the river and the fence, while in reality the path in on the left side of the fence. But it is really easy to follow, stony most of the time.
As someone said about Glen Coe: You walk high or you walk in bog. Here, I walked high (OK, mounteneers reading this will laugh, as the col is at just 489m. But if you walked the whole Loch Etive the day before, 489m IS high). The views are getting better and better, back down into Glen Etive, up to Beinn Fhada, on the left handside Stobh Coire Sgreamhach, on the right handside Stob Dubh of Buachaille Etive Beag.

There was a woman coming down from the col while I was heading up (person nr. 4), and then, when I reached the col, there were 7 or 8 walkers in a group. I thought: I’m approaching Glen Coe, there will be more tourists now. I was wrong, nobody until the car park at the end of the lairig!
But what a lairig!

The very good, stony or gravelled path follows the river, more or less closely, crosses it through a ford to its west side. There are some very fine waterfalls and increasing views of the Eastern Aonach Eagach Ridge.
The crossing back to the east side was a bit tricky, as with my short legs and a 15kg backpack there seemed to be a stone missing in the stretch of stepping stones. The path then slants towards the car park at the busy A82. Before arriving there I sat down on a boulder, put off the boots and socks, leaned back, closed my eyes and let the sun shine on my skin. What a great day this was until now!
The first half of the day I followed the river, now it will be the road. I crossed the busy A82 to the cairn on the north side and forded the stream beyond to the bridge of the Old Military Road. Stretches of the track were wet, but it was nevertheless a good path. Eastwards there is a view of whole Buchaille Etive Beag.

The track goes high above the A82, so you are not disturbed by the cars.

Eventually, near the house at Allt-na-Ruigh, I crossed the A82 again to use a path on the other side, which goes down to the entrance of the Hidden Valley. I didn’t enter the valley, but diverted westwards to follow the track, which later becomes a path and runs parallel to the main road the whole way to Loch Achtriochtan.

The path runs below the road, so again, you can easily keep the cars out of your mind. Behind the loch the path runs out into a car park. Just before reaching the car park there is a good view through Coire nam Beitheach towards Bidean nam Bian.

I crossed the A82 again, this time to take the minor road towards Clachaig Inn. This is far too touristic for me and I didn’t stop here. I used parts of the Orbital Track which runs from Glencoe Village to An Torr, more or less parallel to the road, to reach the Red Squirrel Campsite.

12£ for a tent and 1 person is not the cheapest price for a basic camping (there is no laundry, shop or else, just toilet and shower (clean) and a wifi spot, mobile phone charging for 1£) but, God, this location! Squeezed between the River Coe and Sgorr Nam Fiannaidh, you can pitch your tent where you want, right by the riverside or far away from everybody behind a hedge…
Fire is allowed on fire places and near the river bed, and when the sun goes down and the mountains gleam rose and violet in the evening light, it’s just magic.

I started as early as always (with a good warm shower this time) and continued on the Orbital Track. This is a very fine woodland walk beneath green trees, mossy stones and lively streams. At the edge of the village I took the road towards the Glencoe Lochan.

The area is superbe and I guess that on a sunny autumn day, when the leaves are golden and orange, this should be a wonderful spot. Today, unfortunately, it began to rain as soon as I started my way around the lochan. And it should not stop today. There are some benches on which you can rest and have a picnic in a sunny summer day, but as none of them are sheltered, I made my way round the loch very quickly. Then I went down the minor road and through the village, passing the church, to the shores of Loch Leven. I had planned to get some supplies at Ballachulish and, whilst there, having a look at the old Slate Quarry. The first half mile can be walked on a street parallel to the main road, passing the Craft and Things Café and some fine sculptures, but then you have to walk alongside the road, on a bicycle track.

The first glimpse of the local history concerning slate is seen on the left side, where an arch can be seen, over which wagons with slate came down to the harbour. Ballachulish has everything you need, a TIC, public toilets, a Co-op, a Fish & Chips…, and some fine short walks. I started at the supermarket, then passed the TIC. Beyond, in one of the old slate quarries, a path has been built with information boards. They are really good and help you understand this very important part of history and daily life in the area. I spent about an hour in the quarry, strolling along the lochs, having my second breakfast in a shelter there.

Unfortunately, I let my camera fall into a puddle of water some minutes later and it didn’t want to start again. I was so upset. I hoped it would dry again during the day, but with the rain and the low temperatures this was not guaranteed…
Iniitally I had planned to walk back to Glencoe, and then the B863 towards Caolasnacon Campsite. A path then should take me through Gleann a’Chaolais to head up Meall Dearg on it’s northern slope and then camp in the glen. But there is a bus stop right in front of the quarry and as the next bus was to come in 15 minutes, I decided to use this instead of walking the whole way to the campsite. I think this was the best decision I did this week. While in the bus, I realized, that there was no verge beside the road after Invercoe, and so walking this stretch of a bit more than 3 miles would have been close to suicide. The driver was so kind to let me get off at the campsite. From there it’s just a short walk over two bridges to the start of the path.
A boggy path, of course, why it should be different? I know about boggy paths now. I thought, as I would be higher than at Loch Etive, it should be less wet, but the streams coming down from the slopes on my left handside literally thwarted my calculation. I got wet feet again when I crossed the Allt a Chathaidh Riabhaith, but at one point feet cannot get wetter, so it didn’t matter to me any more.
The non-stop rain broke my morale and when I arrived at the bealach south of Garbh Bheinn, I changed my plans again. I’m a traditional backpacker which means that normally I go around the mountains instead of climbing them. But here was an occasion to tackle a mountain from a quite easy angle, as the northern slopes of Meall Dearg are smooth in comparaison to all the rest of the Aonach Eagach ridge. But with all this rain and wind I wasn’t keen to do so.
So from the bealach I just went down, trying to find a walkable path on the north side of Allt nan Lab. I would not camp here tonight. Hell, was I happy when I reached the dam at the reservoir! The way down to Kinochleven on a real path was heaven. I booked a bed in the Blackwater Hostel, had a very long hot shower and took my clothes to the drying room. I borrowed the hairdryer which is at disposal of everyone on the floor and tried to get my camera dry. And yeah, it came back to life. Just like leaving an iphone on a heater for 10 minutes when it got wet.
I passed a very pleassant stay at Blackwater Hostel with friendly staff and friendly walkers which let me forget about this hilarious wet day. I had in mind that Scottish weather was meant to change quickly. Today it changed from rain to heavy rain to not so heavy rain to very heavy rain…but it changed at least.

Day 5: BIG SKY
Since the beginning I really looked forward to this part, as this should be the most remote of the whole week. And it was. I literally saw nobody at all today. I started a bit later as usual, maybe as I didn’t have the birds to wake me up in the hostel. No rain for the moment. Not a soul outside when I headed through the village of Kinlochleven to the Grey Mare’s Car Park. From the head of the car park a trail goes off left towards to waterfall.
I had a look, then went back to the footbridge I passed earlier, and headed straight ahead now up the slopes.

This was wonderful walking. It was steep in places but through birch woods, with moss all around, boulders and stones in every colour, a flower here and there waiting for a warmer spring sun. It’s a stony path, sometimes slippery, but easy to follow.
Sometimes the path devides, but most of the time they rejoin a bit later. I got to a waterfall and just afterwards, a bit higher, big sky above me, power lines over head, to a very good path above the trees, over open land.
There are stunning views across to Mamore Lodge and back over the long and narrow Loch Leven.
It follows the spur, crossing some streams on fords or stepping stones, to reach a track high above, which can be seen very soon, but needs some time to be reached, as the path slenders left and right.
On the track there is a bench looking towards the loch. This is a very windy spot, and I still wonder why they didn’t built the bench 5m further eastwards, where it would be sheltered by the hillock with the same fine views. One last view back to the loch and then I followed the very good, broad gravel track that winds smoothly up to the bealach just east of Loch Eilde Mor.

Shortly aftet the col there is the first glimpse of the loch and it is reached quite soon.

The track follows the whole loch on its westside, crossing numerous streams which come down from Sgurr Eilde Mor.
At one point there’s a ruined house with a fireplace aside, just on the shores, where I had a short break, taking off my rucksack and my jacket as it became warm and sunny. This is a very idyllic spot.
I continued towards the boathouse which is on the southern edge of Loch Eilde Beag. But there was so much water, rain, melting snow and so on the last days, that both lochs where just one. When I reached the boathouse I was surpised to see it already and had a look back if I missed the northern edge of Loch Eilde Mor somehow.

But indeed, there was water all around. I passed the boathouse and Loch Eilde Beag and continued on the track winding through moorland, first up, then down, towards the broad valley of the Abhainn Rath.
Meannanach bothy comes into view very suddenly and surprising. Some minutes later Luibelt also comes into view. The spot is so lovely with a handful of trees sheltering a tiny little ruin (sadly littered inside), the broad river behind, the bothy on the opposite slope, sheep grazing all around.

It was midday, until now this whole day was great in every way. I was alone, away from any hustle and bustle, sun was up, birds were singing, no one there, just me and the wind on my skin, and the earth under my feet. That seems to be a bit too much maybe, but here and now I was in peace.
The wind got colder. If it was because I was out of the sheltered area east of Sgurr Eilde Mor or because it simply got stronger, I don’t know. But I put warmer clothes on and left Luibelt westwards, direction to Glen Nevis. Right beyond Luibelt the track becomes a path and then peters out on a broad boggy area south of Abhainn Rath. Here and there I could see where it continued, but in between some stretches were missing. But after all I knew that I had to follow the river until it derives northwards. I had to ford two streams which were in spate and for the first time today I got wet feet.

But the views along the valley were fantastic. When I managed to cross the last stream and reached the westside of Abhainn Rath, I followed a higher path on the slopes of the hillock of Tom an Eite, leaving the river and passing above a wide swampy area.

This is where the Water of Nevis is born. Not a glorious source, just swamp. The path follows the Water of Nevis, but on higher ground. It is still very boggy and narrow, faints out sometimes. I often stopped to check where it went on. The easiest way was to search for the path on the oppposite side of a stream, where flat grass and broken muddy banks revealed where others had tried to jump over the streams.
The wind got stronger and rain set in, I was in some kind of a wind channel, as the valley went straight from west to east, and the wind had no barrier that could stop its force. The path got better with every foot that it went higher above the stream. This soon fell down into rocky gorges, the path going on right on the edge.
Sometimes, I used the several trees to get same hold, sometimes I grasped some grass on the slopes just to my right. It was really narrow, two men cannot go side by side here. The wind became stronger and sometimes I stopped when a really hard gust hit me. It was still early, around 5pm, but I got tired, the wind coming right in front of me, pushing the rain onto my glasses. So I decided to pitch my tent at the first area wide enough to hold it. I eventually found a spot south of the slope of Leachd nam Freumh, just behind a fallen tree, on a small, more or less flat grassy ground, not too close to the cliff edge.
I pitched the tent up, went in and didn’t leave it until the next morning. The wind blew across the tent, then rain came back again also. Below me I heard the water rushing over the boulders. I heard the wind before it reached the tent, as it was groaning down the slopes. But if you have a good tent, no worry about wind and rain. This was an awesome day, and despite the wind, this was an awesome night, right in the middle of nowhere. I was tired and slept very well.

Day 5: SONA
The day started very well, still windy and heavy clouds in the sky, but for the moment without rain. I followed the Water of Nevis and came eventually to a flat open area where the path devided. I tried some steps on the lower one, but it quickly ran out into deep bog, so I urged to reach the upper path, bearing in mind: Stay high, see more, walk safer! This is the area around Tom a’ Choinneachaidh. The lower path on the OS Maps is really not recommendable. Also, one of my boots gave up. I think 3 days of mud and bog after 6 years of good service were enough. So I changed and packed out my sneakers, which should carry me for this last day down to Fort William.
How joyful I was, when I saw the former bothy at Steall glooming at the far end of the valley below me.

I knew that from here the path should improve, but in order to reach the outskirts of Steall, I had to cross some more streams and very boggy stretches of something that once was a path but had obviously decided to become a stream. Approaching Steall, there is a footbridge and close to it the path gets stony and very clear.
There are some ruins to explore and the great Steall Falls are rushing down the slopes a bit further on the left.
Behind Steall the path really improved and I felt freed to walk on something better than mud and bog again. This is a superbe wooden, rocky gorge with huge boulders and stunning surprising views beyond each corner. I really loved this part. The boulders can be slippery when wet and sometimes I had to use my hands to get down from bigger boulders, but it is wonderful landscape.

Still, I was alone. For this moment, all the nature around me was there only for me. If I think about all the tourists who come in summer and follow this path to the Steall Waterfall, it seems so unreal to me.
I eventually reached, after an hour of superbe walk, the car park at the end of the road and I laughed. I made it! I did it on my own! I made it through the rain and the wind and the bog, from Taynuilt to Glen Nevis, all the way up here! If there were somebody at the car park he should think I went crazy. Hopefully, I was alone.
I slanted down the road, from here on it was mile after mile on a minor road, passing the Lower Falls, and later broad meadows with fine views to Carn Dearg.
Once a car passed and the driver asked me if this mountains just on her left were Ben Nevis. Nope, this was Carn Dearg, Ben Nevis was in the clouds for at least 2 days now. I had tried since yesterday to get a glimpse of its summit, no luck.

At the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel (which seems to be under renovation), I crossed the Water of Nevis on a footbridge. There is a bench and a picnic table just on the other side and as the sun came out, I set down and held my face into the sun a while. The path is very well and follows the east bank of the river from the Youth Hostel down to the Visitor Centre.

From here I went along the road to Braveheart Car Park where I switched to a path higher on the northern slopes of Cow Hill. There are good views down to Fort William, and into the Great Glen. This path then went down in serpentines to a car park near the Leisure Centre. On the main road I turned left and the next left, higher again, on Alma Road as I had heard of an Independent Hostel which should be there. It was closed, so I went down again, through some sort of a park with a playground and via Victoria Road and Bank Street, passing the beautiful St Andrews Church, to High Street.
(Sorry, 25 pics max allowed...)

It was about 1h30pm and I decided to visit the West Highland Museum, before searching for a bed to sleep. This is a tiny little museum, old fashion, with dark brown vitrines, but SO great!
There is plenty of information about Inverlochy Castle and Fort William, the Clearances, the Glencoe Massacre, the Lochaber Commando, geology and wildlife with eggs and stuffed animals, daily life items, costumes, the hidden portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie, letters...
I finally went down the whole High Street to get a room at the Travelodge Hotel. Tomorrow I will take the train back to Glasgow and the bus to Edinburgh and fly home. It was too short, as always.

Next rendez-vous with Scotland is in July when I’ll come back for two weeks to Arran Island. Looking forward to it !!!

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Location: Paris
Occupation: Trying to travel to Scotland as often as possible, despite being a busy IT woman and single mother with an 8 year old boy.
Interests: Travel! And Scotland ! And travelling to Scotland !
Activity: Backpacker
Pub: Too many people in pubs..
Place: Loch Eilde Beag
Ideal day out: Birds are singing, while the ridge to the west, across the loch, is reflecting the rising sun. Walking through heather, pastures, moorland and native woods while the clouds are coming in and the light changes at every step.
Ambition: North Coast 500 by foot ?

Long Distance routes: West Highland Way    Arran Coastal Way   

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Trips: 1
Distance: 100 km

Joined: Feb 11, 2018
Last visited: Sep 06, 2018
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