Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Day 8 (Part 2): The End of the West Highland Way

Continuing to head down Ben Nevis.
Sept 15 (Part 2): I left part one of this very long day descending Ben Nevis and the highest point in Britain. I hadn't made it all of the way down yet, though--which might seem odd since that was the "Ben Nevis" post. But near the base of the mountain, the trail split with each side heading to one of two different trailheads. Which one I picked, ultimately, would decide my route into Fort William.

I walked up from the southernmost trailhead by the youth hostel, so I took other route down that led to a visitors center. It looked less steep, and it was different than I had already done as well. I'm always a big fan of walking in loops whenever I can!

The trail led further north than I expected, and I started despairing having to backtrack so far to the West Highland Way. As I neared the visitor center, I studied my maps wondering why I should even go back to the West Highland Way at all. If I walked directly into Fort William from here, I could make up a little extra time from my day on Ben Nevis and it looked like I'd only miss a couple of miles of trail--but also there was nothing particularly interesting about those couple of miles anyhow. Most of them were in trees and the trail followed a dirt road. Those couple of miles of trail was essentially just a connector--to get hikers from the "real scenery" on the trail to Fort Williams.

So I stopped into the visitor center and asked the clerk there if there was any trail between the visitor center and Fort William. One thing I did not want to was walk on the road between here and Fort William. I wanted to use a trail, distinctly separate and off the road.

I had told him of my adventure on Ben Nevis, looping around the backside, then up and around the ridge.

"You did that today?" he asked.

I nodded.

"That ain't nothing," he said.

I had to laugh. That was the understatement of the century. "Yes," I agreed. "That ain't nothing!"

Since I had his attention, I also asked him about where I might be able to camp in woods. Originally, my intent was to hike completely through Fort William then find a place to camp somewhere outside of the far side of town. At this point, I'd given up on that idea. I just couldn't make it before dark. And camping in town is always difficult.

He didn't seem to have any ideas, though. He pointed out a campground, but I didn't want to stay in a campground. I wanted to sleep out on my own.

But he did show me a map with two possible walking routes into town to choose from. One followed along a river and the other went over Cow Hill. The river route seemed likely to be more pretty, though, so I decided to do that one. It was also flatter and more direct and after climbing Ben Nevis the hard way, I felt like I had nothing to prove. An easy, scenic route sounded like just the thing I wanted.

I left down the Riverside Trail. I lost it at one point, mistakenly following a road parallel to the river instead of the trail, but found my way back to the trail soon and reached the edge of town where I reached a marker for the former end of the West Highland Way.

I knew that the end of the West Highland Way had been moved a mile into the center of town at some point, but I didn't realize they actually put up a marker to mark the former end of the trail. That amused me. =)

I took a group photo of some other folks who were there wanting their photo, and they took a photo for me. The sign said to go in for an end-of-the-trail certificate, which I did. Not so much that I wanted a certificate, but I figured if they were giving away end-of-trail certificates, they probably had a stamp to stamp my passport too. Hiker-friendly places would have the stamp, wouldn't they?

Not this one.... but I did get a certificate. Proof I had done it? I guess I just had to look tired and grimy because there was no proof. I just told them that I had finished the trail which was mostly true. Technically, the new end of the trail was still a mile away, and I missed a couple of miles of "official" WHW tread with my detour up Ben Nevis, but my detour was considerably longer and more difficult than the couple of miles of official trail that I missed. And I did walk there all the way from Milngavie. I earned that certificate, damn it!

They also had patches of an exhausted hiker, slumped and sitting on the ground. One was labeled they had succeeded in hiking the West Highland Way, and next to it was an identical design but the words saying they had succeeded in hiking Ben Nevis. I took a Ben Nevis patch--that mountain was a heck of a lot harder than a thru-hike of the West Highland Way! If I was going to brag about doing something tough and difficult, my story would center around Ben Nevis and not the West Highland Way!

I continued following the trail deeper into town. As I passed the train station, I waved to it like Karolina was still there waiting for her train. It was just that morning we parted ways, but it seemed like a lifetime ago already. I looked at my watch--about 5:00 now--and figured she was probably at the London airport by now. Maybe on a flight to Amsterdam already.

I followed the trail to its end at a statue of an old guy sitting on a bench. People were crowded on both sides of it, sitting on the bench. None of them looked like thru-hikers, but just tourists in the area. Fort William, I seemed, was a big tourist town. I squeezed into the small space between the statue and the guy on the bench--normally, it would be very awkward if someone sat so close to you unexpectedly, but I made it clear I was taking a photo of the statue as a selfie and told him I had just finished the West Highland Way.

He seemed shocked by that. "Yep, I've walked here all the way from Glasgow's Central Station."

He definitely wasn't a thru-hiker given his shock--he seemed surprised that he was "lucky" to be there when a hiker had finished the hike. I didn't tell him that there might have been over a hundred people that day who had likely finished before me. He offered to take a photo for me of me with the statue, though. "Yeah, sure. Thanks!"

I chatted for a couple of minutes, then wandered off in search of the visitor center. I knew they'd have a stamp for my passport--the last stamp for my passport. In fact, I wasn't sure how I had passed it without seeing it, but I missed it I did.

Not that it would have done me any good, though. The visitor center had closed a half hour earlier. Darn it!

I remembered seeing another banner on the side of a restaurant imploring thru-hikers to stop for an end-of-the-trail certificate a few blocks before the actual end of the trail and decided to go in there. Surely they'd have a stamp for the passport, right? And I was ravished with hunger. I needed to eat anyway.

But no, they didn't have any stamp. Argh! They did get me another end-of-the-trail certificate, however, so now I had two of them from two different establishments. The first one they hadn't even bothered to fill out my name on the blank line and I figured I should send it to Karolina. She got into town so early in the morning that I doubted that she was able to pick up an end-of-trail certificate, and now I had two of them! But since the one was blank, I could just as easily put her name on it as mine.

In the meantime, I ordered bangers and mash for dinner, used the restroom facilities, then wandered outside to the Tesco to resupply food. I'd need a couple of days of food to get me to the next grocery store on the Great Glen Way. I never did find a place to stamp my passport, and I'd be leaving town too early in the morning to hit up the visitor center for it again. So my passport has two empty spaces in it: Crianlarich because I didn't hike a mile off trail to get the stamp, and Fort William because I couldn't find any businesses that were open which had a stamp available!

By the time I finished shopping, it was now just after 7:00. I really needed to find a place to camp before it got dark.... I figured I'd hike back to the edge of town, a miserable half hour walk away from where I was, and camp in a small park which I passed on my into town. I hated to do it because it was next to a noisy, busy highway and a lot of people probably used that path to walk and jog for exercise. It likely wouldn't be a peaceful or quiet sleep. And setting up after dark might not be a bad idea.... In the dark, people walking by would be less likely to see or disturb me. It's not like I needed photos anymore since I had already taken photos all of the way into town.

The Riverside Trail follows along this river, the River Nevis.

With that in mind, I was walking out of town when I passed the library and thought, Hey! Internet!

And somewhat surprising to me, the library was actually still open this late at night. I went in and got a guest card which let me on the Internet for a half hour. I updated Amanda and my mom on my progress, and even sent a quick email to Karolina letting her know that she was probably glad she didn't do the hike I did today. =) 

A half hour later, I left the library and was ambushed by a long, skinny guy asking me if I knew where the start of the Great Glen Way was located. He pulled out a map showing me where he thought he was, and pointed to the mark on it that was labeled as the start of the Great Glen Way. I was a little surprised he needed my help at all. He had a map, knew exactly where he was on it, which was marked with the start of the Great Glen Way, and even knew what direction we were facing. So what was the problem?

I told him that I hadn't been there yet, but that I was going to start hiking the Great Glen Way myself the next morning and we could look for the starting point together. I pointed to the map at the train station, "It's right here next to the trail station. Let's go!"

Off to the side, I heard an exasperated voice say that it wasn't by the train station. I looked up and saw a woman sitting on a small wall and my wheels in my head started clicking. She was with him. I thought the guy was by himself, but these two were a couple and I immediately understood why he couldn't find the start of the trail: She wouldn't let him.

"Umm... okay...." I said, somewhat lamely. I was a little surprised at the outburst since I hadn't realized she was there or had any say about directions. Once my initial surprise wore off, though, I asserted that it was, indeed, by the train station. Says so right on the map.

Another nearby guy overhearing the conversation asked what we were looking for.

"The start of the Great Glen Way," the woman told him.

He pointed down the road, towards the west and completely opposite from the train station. "It's a few blocks that way," he told us.

A look of hope and happiness crossed the woman's face. Now those were directions she liked and could get excited about! But I knew the man was completely and utterly wrong. Absolutely, 100% wrong. Because I had just come from that direction.

"That's the end of the West Highland Way," I said to the man, politely but firmly. "We were looking for the start of the Great Glen Way."

"Oh!" The man seemed perplexed for a second then pointed to the south. "That's a few blocks away in this direction."

I wanted to do a facepalm right there. The guy clearly wanted to help, but he obviously didn't know what he was talking about. Just the fact that he confused the West Highland Way with the Great Glen Way should have been a hint that he didn't know what he was talking about.

The girl's look of pure joy at being pointed to the end of the wrong trail faded and now held more of a confused look. I, however, was still firmly on solid ground and had absolutely no doubt--zero doubt--that the start of the trail was a block north and slightly west of the train station.

"Well," I told them all, "I'm going this way." I shrugged my shoulder, turned around and left. I didn't really care that much where they wanted to look for the start of the trail, but I wasn't going to let them lead me astray.

And I was kind of annoyed at them too. Just because I hadn't been to the start of the Great Glen Way doesn't mean I didn't know where it was supposed to be located. I'd already walked through a pretty good slice of the town and generally knew my way around already, plus I had a good map to follow. And what business does an admittedly lost person have telling me that I didn't know what I was talking about? Originally I planned to look for the start the next morning since it was getting late, but now I really wanted to find it right then and there.

I spent more time contemplating this post than I did the area! =)

I walked through a tunnel under a busy road above and caught sight of a sign pointing to the Great Glen Way to the north. On the train station. Literally, the sign pointing to the Great Glen Way was on the building that made up the train station. I followed it through a parking lot for Morrisons and by a McDonalds, where I found another sign pointing to the "terminus" of the Great Glen Way to the east. I crossed the street and followed it east where--ah ha!--I found a marker saying that that was the starting point of the Great Glen Way. Less than five minutes after leaving the lost couple, I had found the start of the trail without a single wrong turn.

The marker is part of a small park that used to be a part of the fort that Fort William was named for with information signs all over the place about the area and the old fort. (As a side note, absolutely nowhere did it mention that Jamie--from Outlander--had been flogged to an inch of his life at the fort. A deliberate oversight, I'm sure!) The bulk of the fort had been where the train station stands today and had been demolished to make room for the train station. That struck me as horribly short-sighted to deliberately destroy a fort that had stood there for hundreds of years. Nothing to do about that now, though.

I explored the park for five or ten minutes taking what photos I could in the dwindling light. Now it was getting so dark that I had to rest my camera on a wall or bench for it to stay steady enough for photos. The couple looking for the start of the Great Glen Way never showed up while I was there, probably looking for it on the other side of town where the guy who couldn't tell the difference between the West Highland Way and Great Glen Way had directed them. Poor bastard, I thought for the guy. He actually knows I'm right but still can't get his girl to go in the right direction.

By now, darkness was fast descending. The sun had already set and I started retracing my steps back out of town. About 15 minutes later, though, I was looking across the street to the back of some buildings and noticed what suspiciously looked like a trail heading into the woods. The guy at the visitor center had pointed to a second walking path into Fort William by Cow Hill earlier, and I wondered if this might be a part of that system. If so, it looked well off the beaten path. Away from the busy roads, up an undeveloped hill and included lots of trees for cover.

I jaywalked across the street and checked out the trailhead--which was, in fact, a trailhead and labeled Cow Hill. This would be perfect for camping if I could just find somewhere on the trail big enough to lay down and camp!

I hiked up the hill for about 5 minutes and went off trail near a switchback scouting for a place to camp. The grass was a long making the ground a bit uneven, but it would do. Yes, it would do just fine....

I set up camp for the night. The main road through Fort William was only a few hundred yards away, but it was far enough away that the noise from it didn't particularly disturb me. I was really excited about this campsite! It was vastly better than I had any right to expect so close to town, and it was actually closer to the center of town where I needed to start walking the Great Glen Way than where I had originally planned to camp. Perfect!

I wrote in my journal for the night--always important for writing these detailed blog entries later!--then went straight to sleep. I usually read a book before going to sleep, but I was too tired tonight. I just hit the sack and fell dead asleep.

The visitor center where I asked for suggestions about hiking into town that didn't require backtracking to the West Highland Way.

What the....?

A miniature time portal, perhaps?

I was a little perplexed why these small boulders had metal rods sticking out of them like this. It took me a minute to realize... hey.... they almost look kind of like curling stones, don't they? A nearby sign confirmed my hypothesis. Back before they used shiny, polished granite, they didn't have shiny, polish granite and used actual stones like this one. Unshaped and unpolished. And given the fact that there was no ice around, I was a little slow putting the stone into context!
The entrance to Glen Nevis is marked with this split boulder. I never did figure out the significance of the boulder, though....
The original end of the West Highland Way. Not to be confused with the current end of the West Highland Way a mile further into town!
It occurred to me that with the heavy pack I carried and my trekking, they could have captioned this sign "watch out for hikers" and this image wouldn't be far off the mark!
For the love of all things Scotish, a kilt towel?!
I hang with the statue that marks the current end of the West Highland Way.
Time to resupply at Tesco!

You see that red sign with the weird symbols on it? That's the icon to identify a train station. This building is part of the train station. See that blue sign just below it (most of it is cut off the image, but the important part isn't) ? The blue sign with the icon of a thistle in a hexagon--that's the symbol for the Great Glen Way. Notice that the sign is ON the train station building? I told that idiot woman the Great Glen Way started near the train station! (She was still a minute or so walk west of me, but I didn't go back to tell her about my discovery.)
Crossing through the parking lot of Morrisons.
A couple of minutes later, after crossing the parking lot for Morrisons and passing near a McDonalds, I found this sign pointing to the start (i.e. terminus) of the Great Glen Way.
This monument marks the beginning of the Great Glen Way.

Fort William at dusk! I had to set my camera on a stone wall to get steady images. (The photo is still kind of blurry despite that!)
One of the signs in the park said that an entrance used in the original fort was relocated to the cemetery on the way out of town. I took this photo at the cemetery on the way out of town on my way to find a place to camp. I think this might be the old, historic entryway for the fort!
Looks like a perfect place to set up a stealth camp for the night!


Baqash said...

You must have made it through the stones safely since you are still posting to the blog. Hmmmph no mention of Jamie.

Sue KuKu said...

The two parts of the split boulder look like they have feet and are about to walk away.

Ryan said...

> Hmmmph no mention of Jamie.

Yes I did! I mentioned that Fort William was where Jamie had been whipped to within an inch of his life!

> The two parts of the split boulder look like they have feet and are about to walk away.

For all I know, they might have done that after I left! =)

-- Ryan

Karolina said...

I totally remember noticing the sign pointing to the Great Glen Way when walking past the train station! It immediately caught my eye when I walked past it!