Tuesday, August 23, 2016

#WestHighlandWay - A Drinker's Guide Part 4

The last two days of Mrs V and I's West Highland Way hike covered the 26 miles from Glencoe to Fort William, with an overnight stop in Kinlochleven. 26 miles of some of the most dramatically beautiful scenery anywhere on the planet. Rugged, moody, mountains, innumerable streams tumbling down the hillsides, lochs reflecting the ever changing sky, and, in the distance, the great hulk of Ben Nevis.

Before setting out from Glencoe, there were things to be dealt with, namely the blister that had been slowly building over the previous few days. It had got to the point where I couldn't actually get my boot on that morning, something had to be done. Given that hacking the entire toe off wasn't really an option, I made an incision in the blister and drained it thoroughly before Mrs V went into full on nurse mode and taped it up. Suitably booted we went up to the centre's cafe for a bacon roll, to discover to my joy that they had a full fry available, and so it was back to plates of protein and a pot of tea for breakfast. There really is no finer start to a day of hiking. Re-fuelled we headed out past the Blackrock Cottage, toward the Devil's Staircase and Kinlochleven.


The weather was perfect for hiking, cool, overcast, with the ocassional shower. Once I got going, the toe was fine, but if we stopped for more than a couple of minutes, getting going again was a pain that bordered on masochism. Sometimes though, you have to forget the pain and just revel in the countryside.


I have always loved this part of Scotland, and whether it when travelling home from university, Eastern Europe, or wherever I had been, it was when I got to Glencoe that I really felt back in my element. I love this part of the world, and still have a vague notion that one day I'll stop my wandering and find a place to settle among the mountains, preferably near the sea as well. The big challenge on this particular day would be scaling the Devils Staircase, which takes you to the highest point on the West Highland Way, about 1800ft above sea level, and affords you one hell of a view.


The rest of the day's hike is literally downhill, an almost dis-spiriting downhill at that as you follow the switchbacks into the valley with just tantalising glimpses of Kinlochleven itself. It was on this downhill trek that we ran in to Søren again, bedecked with new hiking shoes and as happy as the day was long having found an English chap to walk the way from Rowardennan with. As we continued on our way, Mrs V commented that she was glad to see Søren again and that he had found someone to walk with, soppy moment alert, but Mrs V really is a wonderfully compassionate soul.

Eventually we reached the bottom of the hill and headed for the centre of Kinlochleven in hopes of remembering where our guest house for the night was. Having failed miserably at the memory game, we popped into the Tailrace Inn to use the free wifi, and naturally slake the inevitable thirst that had built up. The Tailrace is a cozy little pub, just off the main drag, opposite the chippy, and with a draft selection that didn't really appeal in the moment, so I broke with my tradition and joined Mrs V on the cider, Bulmers I think it was, with an unnatural orange glow to it.


I drink much quicker than my lovely wife, so having located Tigh-na-Cheo, our room for the night, I went back to the bar for a closer inspection of the bottled selection, and joy of joys my old friend Bitter & Twisted was there. We would head back to the Tailrace that evening for food and another couple of pints, Bitter & Twisted being available in half litre bottles, before turning in for the night.

If ever you find yourself staying in Kinlochleven, Tigh-na-Cheo is a fantastic guest house, comfortable, a cracking fry in the morning, superb service (again with an Eastern European flavour, this time I think the staff were mostly Czech), and with an excellent range of bottled beer available on an honesty box basis, If you've spent the day hiking, they have absolutely massive baths, which are positively luxuriant after 6 days of just showers. Safe to say, Mrs V and I enjoyed our stay there.


The final 16 miles starts with a steep climb to make the Devil's Staircase weep, then on to the Lairig Mor pass that goes through yet more stunning countryside to Fort William. My feeble words can't do justice to the magnificence, so here's a few pictures instead.




It was walking through Lairig Mor that we needed our rain gear for the first time since Conic Hill as finally the famed Highland weather smashed into us, lashing us with driving rain and a stiff breeze that made limping along almost miserable, but for the growing sense of achievement of being on the final leg. Eventually you scale the last hill, just shy of Dun Deardail, and start the descent into Glen Nevis, with the Ben looming over you. We had originally planned to climb Ben Nevis the following day, but the state of my feet and the weather forecast put pay to that idea.

Coming down into Glen Nevis you are jarred back into civilisation as the final couple of miles are on a tarmac path into Fort William, past the original end of the hike, and along the high street to the official end. After 94 miles of mostly well maintained mountain trails, walking on tarmac again is a brutal return to the real world. Thankfully right next to the end of the West Highland Way there is a Wetherspoon's pub called The Great Glen. It seemed only apt for my first beer having completed the West Highland Way to be the Devils Backbone IPA, brewed specifically for Wetherspoon's.


My memory of the IPA is somewhat hazy now, and note taking wasn't really a priority with an aching body, and trying to decide where to have dinner that night, as well as the thought of the extra mile uphill to come in order to get to our accommodation for the night, an excellent place called Braeside House. I remember that it was very much an East Coast style American IPA, and that was just fine by me. We would return to the Spoon's that evening, having sat on a bench eating a fish supper, and a pint of Innis & Gunn's Craft Lager was downed with some disappointment, it was pretty dull stuff to be blunt, before taking ourselves off to the Grog and Gruel for a nightcap couple of pints from their beer engines. I don't recall what they were, but the condition was excellent, and the spot was duly hit.

When you take into account the getting to and from various guest houses, microlodges, and B&Bs, we must have walked close to about 110 miles in the 8 days we spent on the West Highland Way. The vast majority of pubs were exactly what I would expect from a Scottish boozer, and it was great to see beers from the likes of Harviestoun readily available pretty much everywhere we stopped. One thing that this trip reminded me of was that a good pub is not defined by its beer selection, its number of taps, or the hipness of the breweries they stock. Good pubs are places of banter, relaxation, and shared experience, good beer can help, but it's not a requisite. The night at the Climbers' Bar will stick in my memory for a long time as an almost perfect pub session, and they had all of 2 handpulls besides the more generic big brewery offerings, and the two hot toddies seemed to do the trick for Mrs V's sore throat.

Of course there was more drinking to be done while I was home, but we'll get there.

3 comments:

  1. Swoon. Never done that bit of Scotland. Yet. Orkney is on the horizon middle of September.

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  2. Very enjoyable. And Mrs V's sore throat?

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    Replies
    1. The toddies seems to do the trick. We decided to make clove studded lemon part of our toddy recipe in future.

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