Saturday, January 30, 2010

West Highland Way, Day 8: The Devil's Staircase

We have nine miles today, not a long walk, and we will be climbing the exposed Devil's Staircase and descending to the little Highland town of Kinlochleven. Now that we've crossed the Rannoch with weather matching the brooding moor, I'm ready for the rain to stop. Enough already. Nobody up there is listening to my petulance as we set off from Kingshouse in a light rain. The only consolation is we get to climb uphill to the highest point on the West Highland Way at the top of the Devil's Staircase.

We walked about three miles through the valley toward Glencoe before turning to ascend the Staircase, a zigzaggy trail built as a military road in 1750 as part of General Wade's plan to keep control of those rebellious Highlanders. The word is the Devil's Staircase got its name from workers who had to carry road building materials up this 1000' ascent.

The wind and cold were punishing but I had to admit the view back toward our Buachaille Etive Mor and farther to the Black Mount beside our Rannoch Moor was incredibly beautiful.

I had no room for whining about the weather. Jan was climbing with knees that measured a day's difficulty by how many Vicodin she needed.

We hung out on the col for our summit picture,

and to take in the views to the north toward the jagged ridgeline of the Mamore peaks where we were headed.

The next six miles were an easy traverse across the flanks of these high hills, then a steep descent into Kinlochleven, so we walked off into the mist.

We were in no hurry to get into Kinlochleven so Kathleen and I hung back taking pictures of the wee flowers and rock gardens of the mountain. All this rain wasn't for nothin'.

I caught one of my favorite pictures of the Port Townsend pair.

Another when they joked about Q-Tips when I asked for a picture with their hats off.

And Sally leaping a small burn*.

*burn = Scottish for stream. Here for more Scottish words.

The skies cleared briefly on our path,

and closed just as quickly, leaving us to lunch again on another wind-blown rock.

We descended through the forest of Coire Mhoraire and across River Leven into the little town of Kinlochleven. It had been an industrial town of aluminum smelting through the twentieth century, but with the smelter now gone the town has reinvented itself as a tourist center and base for outdoor enthusiasts. The town dwellers fill their yard, and I mean fill, with weird little colored statues, a lot of dwarfs, and I regret not getting any pictures of a statue filled yard.

We had a wonderfully luxurious bed and breakfast at Edencoille, also filled with all kinds of little statues and tchotchke. Kathleen and I had the attic room

with a view to these mountains, the River Leven just below the trees.

We had a wonderful and talkative - as Scots are wont to be - hostess who regaled us with tales of the West Highland Way race. Runners have 35 hours to complete what will take us nine, granted leisurely, days. The record for the race is 15 hours for men and 17 hours for women. Elsie's Royal Air Force son is one of the 544 runners who have completed the course in the last 24 years. Elsie told us of a woman who was a frequent guest and who ran the course. The lady came back to the Edencoille after finishing the race and was unable to get out of bed for the next three days and had trouble walking the next two weeks. I asked whether Elsie had taken her to a doctor and she responded, "why no, it was self-inflicted", as though this was something an American would think to do. I like that Scots attitude. Perhaps we would have less self-infliction in the world if we had to take care of the consequences by ourselves.

We made up for the short day walk - 9 miles by now is a short walk - with another couple miles to the Bothy Pub for dinner, set on the banks at the head of Loch Leven. And another Scottish beer. For Jan and me, it has been a 95 mile pub crawl and we love the end of the day beer, tonight a chance to try Three Sisters brewed here in Kinlochleven and named after the mountains of Glencoe.

Tomorrow, some ancient history and a beautiful last day.


Pat said...

As always, a great post! I especially love the q-tip (I totally sympathize!) and the "why no, it was self-inflicted!" comments.

Katharine said...

As always, you are my #1 fan.