Fort William to Kinlochleven – The West Highland Way – Day 1. Our first day’s 16 mile walk, North to South from Fort William through mountain forest and glen with spectacular views of Ben Nevis to our accomodation in Kinlochleven.
In May, Lady Lynne, our friend Jen and I completed the 96 miles (154Km) West Highland Way walk North to South from Fort William to Milngavie in 6 days.
This is our day by day recap of that walk.
The traditional, or more popular way to do the West Highland Way is from South to North, starting in Glasgow and ending in Fort William.
However, having completed the West Highland Way previously in 2012 by this same North to South route, I highly recommend doing the walk this way, in reverse. If not for the fact that it’s quieter but mainly for the fact you’re mostly walking downhill to Glasgow!
The three of us travelled to Fort William from Glasgow via the world famous West Highland Railway line on Sunday 29th April.
Lady Lynne and I had a last minute panic when our pre-booked taxi didn’t turn up due to a major football match being on at Hampden football park in Glasgow, near to where we live.
Fortunately a quick call to another taxi firm saved us. On arrival at Glasgow Queen Street Station for our scheduled 12.20 train I just had enough time to run and literally scoop some sandwiches and beers off a local Sainsbury’s store shelf straight into my basket and get back to the station, just as the train was boarding!
In Fort William we stayed that night at The Premier Inn. On arrival and checking in we dropped our rucksacks off in our rooms and went for a wander around the town.
Fort William is the home of one of my favourite sea food restuarants, The Crannog (above). We didn’t eat there this time though, we had dinner in The Alexandra Hotel which was very good with an adequate menu to suit all tastes and budgets.
The statue of the seated walker at Gordon Square just off Fort William High Street is the official end of the West Highland Way. We took this picture of Jen there.
We deliberately chose to do the West Highland Way the first week in May to avoid the 7th May Bank Holiday which is a popular time to start the walk and for visitors to flock to Fort William.
Although Fort William was relatively busy as it generally is all year round being The Outdoor Capital of Scotland, it certainly wasn’t as busy as it gets in the summer months.
On this Sunday, the weather was amazing and that meant the scenery from the train ride up had been stunning and clearly visible, with the mountains not shrouded in clouds as they more often can be!
That train journey from Glasgow to Fort William is something you MUST DO if you are ever in Scotland.
The other thing you MUST DO if you are ever in Scotland is sit outside and enjoy a cold beer!
Fort William to Kinlochleven – Day 1
We started our first day’s West Highland Way walk from Fort William to Kinlochleven on a bright and sunny morning with no clouds to be seen.
Leaving the town centre it’s a short walk up the main road coming in from the North past the old West Highland Way finish at the roundabout.
Then you follow the road into Glen Nevis where you can go through the Braveheart Carpark (yes they filmed Braveheart here) or walk further up the Glen to join the forest track, near the Youth Hostel, which we chose.
We stopped for a quick comfort break at the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre.
This is where the car park and start of the path to the summit of the UK’s highest mountain begin.
It’s also the last modern comfort break before Kinlochleven.
After this you’ll be using the facilities provided by nature!
So, we joined the forest track just up from the Youth Hostel.
Actually the forest track backtracks a bit here to re-join the part from the Braveheart Car Park but it doesn’t really take much more time or distance off that official route.
The whole of the West Highland Way is signposted by this emblem.
In some places the signposts are quite weather beaten though so I was still checking my official West Highland Way Map (amazon affiliate link) throughout!
The forest track is definitely a good warm up for your legs and feet for what’s to come on the day’s ahead.
For us on this warm Monday, being sheltered from any wind within the trees meant that our fleece’s were soon discarded as the path climbed upwards.
Of course there was the obligatory factor 50 sunscreen we covered our faces and arms in. A must as the sun beat down on us!
Looking back down into Glen Nevis the Glen Nevis Campsite is just visable first, and then in the distance the outskirts of Fort William.
Frequent stops for drinks of water from our day sacks were in order as the day gradually got warmer.
Fortunately our day sacks were relatively light to carry, only containing the essentials needed to make it to our daily destination.
Our main large rucksacks with all our other gear (changes of clothes etc.) were being transported on a daily basis by a baggage tranporting company. The same as what we did when we did The Hadrian’s Wall Path last year.
The spectacular view of Ben Nevis bathed in sunlight, still with some of it’s winter snow cover, and for once without any cloud cover was breathtaking.
Just taking in this view and enjoying the fresh open air was enough to make the first seven miles of today’s 16 mile walk a joy.
There are information boards placed throughout the West Highland Way at places of historical interest.
It’s definitely worthwhile taking the time to read the history on these boards and to grab a breather as we did here at the site of Dun Deardail Fort.
You can take a detour of the path in places, which you could here if you wanted to go up and see the where the fort once was, which is now covered in grassy turf. However, we chose to continue on.
Most people choose to start the walk at the beginning of the week, and as this was a Monday, most peeople were starting it in Milngavie, Glasgow.
That meant that the people we did meet on this Fort William to Kinlochleven stretch were few and far between.
This was good for us as it gave us the opportunity to make good pace as well as being able to sit for a while to eat our packed lunches and enjoy the view.
I looked back here to take in the magnificent view of Ben Nevis which was still in view.
I wondered if the ladies were talking about it and the breathtaking views? 😉
Most of the walk at this point is on open hillside. Previously we had been walking through coniferous forest.
There was quite a lot of evidence of recent tree felling here, with forestry, and sheep farming being the only things able to take place in such a barren and rugged landscape.
What was particularly noticeable was the complete peace and quiet. It’s always nice to be lost in nature every once in a while don’t you think?
Just after an information post, which is about half way between the walk from Fort William to Kinlochleven, this history board tells the story of the Campbells fleeing from Fort William after The Battle of Inverlochy.
The Campbells were pursued for many miles through this area by members of other Clans who they had done wrong to, seeking revenge.
Many perished in the battle and subsequently in the freezing temperatures.
With just over halfway to go to Kinlochleven the going was reasonably level.
All of these paths that we’re walking on throughout the next 5 days are a combination of ancient roads, drovers’ roads, military roads and old coaching routes.
This part of the walk is particularly exposed. Fortunately for us we didn’t have to battle with any snow or rain on this day.
By the late afternoon we reached the entrance to the Lairigmor (the great pass) which provides easy walking on the final 7 miles to Kinlochleven.
The path follows the glen eastwards passing by the ruins of tigh na sleubhaich which Lady Lynne and I walked to whilst on our Glencoe Holiday Week in 2015.
At the end of the Lairigmor, Loch Leven and Kinlochleven eventually come into view.
There’s a steep descent by path through Birch woodland to Kinlochleven.
In the distance above Kinlochleven is where we will pick up the walk tomorrow. Where we will start Day 2 – Kinlochleven to Inveroran.
The Bothy Bar at the MacDonald Hotel in Kinlochleven was a welcome site.
Actually, to be honest any bar at the end of each day’s walk was a welcome site!
It became routine for the week that on arrival at our accomodation we would first check in.
Then we would collect our main rucksacks that had been delivered by the baggage tranportation company and drop them into our room.
Then we would head straight to the bar for liquid refreshment!
Our accomodation in Kinlochleven was this cabin at the back of the MacDonald Hotel.
There are a number of these cabins which are part of the hotel and although pretty basic they were absolutely perfect for us being very reasonably priced.
Each cabin can sleep up to four people in two bunk beds. The cabins have a heater, light and electric sockets plus adequate space to hang your clothing and house your rucksacks.
There are clean toilet and wash facilities at the back of the hotel as well as a brand new shower unit, where the power showers were absolute bliss on our aching limbs and muscles.
The cabins also have seats at the front where you can sit and cook if you have brought your own cooking gear. There’s also a washhouse with a washing machine and kettle beside the cabins too.
The hotel serves great traditional pub grub as well as having a restaurant menu too.
We chose to sit in the bar and our food was brought to use very soon after ordering.
We were grateful that on check-in we had been advised there was a large party to be served in the restuarant and to try and be in the bar ordering food at a particular time to avoid a longer wait, when this party was served.
Kinlochleven also has an local Co-op supermarket where we went and bought some provisions for the next day’s lunch as well as eggs and rolls for breakfast.
The Co-op is adequately stocked with anything you may have found you’ve forgotten too!
The first day’s walk from Fort William to Kinlochleven had been extremely enjoyable and not really challening at all.
It was capped off by this stunning sunset looking down Loch Leven whilst we ate dinner and then a good nights sleep in the cabin. Ready for what tomorrow’s adventure might bring.
So folks that ends Day 1 Fort William to Kinlochleven. Be sure to check back soon for Day 2 Kinlochleven to Inveroran .
If you enjoyed reading this then you might also be interested in reading about our other adventures such as our trip to Hawaii and San Francisco where we went whale watching or when we went to Uganda on our African Adventures to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to see wild mountain gorillas.