This leg may be the longest of the entire West Highland Way, but it is far from being the hardest. A stiff 750-foot climb out of Kinlochleven leads onto the southern flank of the Mamore Hills. Fortunately the ascent is followed by an easy undulating path through the Lairig, a valley that separates the summits of Mam Na Gualainn and Beinn na Callich to the south from the main hill range to the north.
The trail then heads westwards through the Lairig, passing two ruined farms on the way. After a while it curves to take a more northerly course, eventually entering a cleared area of forestry that grants grand views of Ben Nevis ahead. This is followed by a rather bitty stretch of path then heads through a series of plantations before eventually descending towards Glen Nevis.
Unfortunately the last few miles of the trail follow roads north through Glen Nevis, eventually swinging to the west to heads into Fort William. A roundabout on the outskirts of the town marks the old end point of the trail; in 2010 it was moved further into the town. The trail follows Belford Road before heading through the pedestrianised centre to reach the Sore Feet Statue in Gordon Square. It is a fitting end to one of the better trails in Britain.
7 hours 57 minutes
Map of the leg
Maps courtesy of Google Maps. Route for indicative purposes only, and may have been plotted after the walk. Please let me have comments on what you think of this new format.
This leg starts at the B863 in Kinlochleven at NN187619, near to the Tailrace Inn. Turn left and head northwestwards along the B863 road though the town. At a bridge over the Allt Coire na Ba the road turns sharply to the left to head westwards. Follow the road as it does so and continue on along the road until you approach a school on the left.
Near the school a West Highland Way fingerpost designates a path leading up the hillside to the right. Take the path as it heads sharply uphill through a wooded area, soon crossing a surfaced track that leads to the Mamore Lodge Hotel. The path continues to steeply ascend up a zig-zag with some steps. The path is obvious and easy to follow on the ground as it crosses a couple of streams. Eventually it leaves the wooded area and rises to meet another track that leads west from a TV transmission mast at NN170630.
Join the track and turn left to start following it westwards. The track, part of an old military road, skirts the hillside to the north of the Allt Nathrach. Almost immediately the pretty Allt Coire na h-Eirghe stream is crossed on a bridge, which is followed a little over a mile later by the Allt Coire a' Bhutha.
The track then continues for a further mile westwards until it reaches the ruined farm at Tigh-na-sleubhaich (NN135642), next to where the Allt Coire na Sleubhaich comes down from Stob Ban to the north. This is the top of the valley, with the Allt Nathreach flowing to the east from here, and the Allt na Lairige Moire to the west.
From Tigh-na-sleubhaich the track continues westwards along a valley called the Lairig for a little under a mile, crossing a series of small streams on bridges until another ruined building at Lairigmor is reached at NN122640. This is very decrepit, even when compared to Tigh-na-sleubhaich, and comprises of little more than a jumble of fallen stones. The track continues along the southern flank of Meall Chaorainn and above the Allt na Lairige Moire as it turns from a westwards course to a northwesterly, gently undulating with the stream to the left. Eventually it meets a large area of forest by a sheepfold at NN101649 (it may be necessary to divert around the sheepfold if it is in use).
Here the track enters a wooded area and heads northwards; note that this area was cleared of its trees in 2009. After about a mile a break in the trees is reached, where there is a shelter and signboard next to a short track that leads down to a surfaced road. The road forms an alternative, shortened route north to Fort William.
The trail continues north-northeastwards from the signboard, passing into a wooded area once more before emerging into a clearing. The path over the cleared area is fairly undulating for just under a kilometre, passing through gates as it leaves the woodland before entering another area of trees. The trail is well signposted and easy to follow; forestry clearances mean that the pattern of woodland frequently changes.
Once the path enters the woodland it soon passes over the Allt Coire a Mhuilinn (NN105682), where it turns to take a northeasterly direction. A very short break in the woods is followed by another wooded area as the path heads to the crest of Sgorr Chalum, passing through more gates as it does so. Eventually it turns to a northerly heading and descends steeply just to the west of Dun Deardail (NN127701), a prehistoric fort. Part of the descent is stepped. This whole area is part of Nevis Forest, a large forested area on the southwestern side of Glen Nevis.
The path winds, climbs and falls, crossing a stream on a footbridge before eventually reaching a wide unsurfaced track near the Allt Ghas-araich. Turn right and follow this track as it descends, winding in a rough northerly direction. Just under a mile after the track is reached a junction is met with a track coming in from the right on a lower level; continue along these merged tracks to a junction with a path called the Peat Track that leads up Crow Hill at NN118727.
Here a fingerpost indicates that the West Highland Way descends down to the right, heading downhill to the east through the trees. It emerges from the woodland to cross the Allt an Luid Dhuibh and continues on to meet the Glen Nevis Road at NN122727. Turn left down this road and follow it as it heads northwards through Glen Nevis. It soon passes the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre is on the right. The road then swings to take a northwesterly and then a westerly direction, all the time with the river away on the right. There is a good pavement on the left.
The trail used to end at the roundabout beside Nevis Bridge at NN112742; however the route was extended in 2010 to go into the centre of Fort William. Carefully cross the roundabout and continue on westwards along the A82(T) Belford Road towards the centre of the town.
As it approaches the railway station make sure you are on the left-hand side of the road. Pass the Belford Hospital on the left and then diagonally across an area of grass, passing a couple of statues on the left. Turn left to follow the High Street southwestwards. The West Highland Way ends in Gordon Square at the far end of the High Street at NN100737, next to the perfectly apt Sore Feet Statue.
Places of interest
Kinlochleven and aluminium
Kinlochleven is a small town situated at the heads of Loch Leven, a large sea loch that juts eight miles inland from Loch Linnhe. It was originally two small hamlets; Kinlochmore and Kinlochbeag.
The nature of the villages changed when a massive aluminium smelter opened in 1907, powered by hydroelectricity provided from the Blackwater Reservoir in the hills high above. At times 800 men were employed by the smelter, meaning that it dominated the local economy. Sadly the plant's technology became outdated and the plant closed in June 2000 with the loss of nearly 100 jobs. Fortunately this has not led to the death of the village and several tourist developments have replaced parts of the factory. The large numbers of walkers who pass through on the West Highland Way must also help the local economy.
location UID #250
The Lairigmor is a small valley that runs west to east through the southern flank of the Mamore Hills, immediately to the north of Loch Leven. The summits of Mam na Guilainn and Beinn na Caillich lie to the south, whilst Mullach nan Coirean and Stob Ban lie to the north. The valley crosses the watershed of two streams; the Allt Nathrach flows eastwards towards Kinlochleven, whilst the Allt na Lairige Moire heads west and then north towards Loch Linnhe.
An old military road that used to link Kinlochleven with Fort William passes through the valley; this now carries the West Highland Way along a similar route. Two ruined farmstead lie within the valley; Tigh-na-sleubhaich and Lairigmor. They must have been truly wild and lonely places to live, especially in winter and once the military road dropped out of use.
A cairn at the northern end of the pass marks the aftermath of the Battle of Inverlochy in February 1645. Montrose's Royalist army (mainly MacDonalds) won that battle and pursued the defeated covenanting Argyll forces (mainly Campbells) through the pass. A stone called the 'Clach nan Caimbeulach' (the 'Stone of the Campbells') was erected to mark the spot where Montrose's men gave up the chase. This has since been replaced with a cairn. Tradition has it that sympathisers with the MacDonalds should add a stone to the cairn, whilst those whose sympathies lie with the Campbells should take one away.
location UID #251
Dun Deardail is an Iron-age vitrified fort in the hills to the west of Glen Nevis, possibly built around 700 BC. It is one of a long line of forts that stretch from Inverness to the west coast. The West Highland Way does not visit the fort, but a path leads off from the trail to visit it. Most people, however, will be keener to reach the end of the trail in Fort William.
location UID #252
Very few of the mountain tops in Scotland are well known to the public; some superb hills are virtually unknown outside the massed ranks of hillwalkers who climb them. There is one glaring exception, however: the highest mountain in Britain, Ben Nevis.
The granite bulk of Ben Nevis stands 4,409 feet (1,344 metres) above the sea at Loch Linnhe. Most people climb the mountain using the relatively easy route called the Pony Track (also as the Tourist Track), which was constructed in 1883.
Unfortunately the summit of the mountain can only be called a mess. If you are lucky enough to climb it in good, cloudless weather - itself a rarity - then you get view of Loch Linnhe and Loch Eil far below. The summit itself is a mass of rocks, some of which have been collected into little cairns.
A trig pillar standing proudly atop a cairn marks the very top; this is near to a little collection of stones that form an emergency shelter. This is all that remains of a remarkable Victorian undertaking - an observatory that was kept fully-manned year round from 1883 to 1904; the aforementioned Pony Track was constructed to supply the observatory. Hourly measurements were taken, except when the snow was too deep to allow the men on duty to exit the buildings!
Many walkers on the West Highland Way take an extra day off to climb the mountain after completing the trail. The Pony Track is not a particularly hard route and is invariably popular in good weather during the summer, but care needs to be taken. Some deep gullies on the summit can capture careless walkers in fog, so always carry a compass and know how to use it.
Sadly it is hardly a classic hillwalk; there are far better mountains in the area, yet alone Scotland. If you want a harder - and better - day then climb Ben Nevis via the standard Pony Track and extend the walk by crossing the Carn Mor Dearg Arete to reach its neighbouring summit, Carn Mor Dearg. Some scrambling is necessary on the arete. A hard descent leads from there back down to the Pony Track. Extreme care, good directions and careful compass work is needed on this walk.
location UID #253
Fort William is a small town that nestled in the knuckle formed by the junction of Loch Linnhe and Loch Eil. It forms an important strategic point as the low ground of the Great Glen meets the sea at the knuckle.
In historic times the main settlement was slightly north of the present town at the 13th Century Inverlochy Castle; there was little settlement at the location of the current town.
In 1654 a timber fort was built just to the south of Inverlochy Castle in to help control the local population; in 1690 this was replaced with a stone fort named 'Fort William' after King William III. The influx of money caused by the fort led to a settlement building up around it, and this soon took the name of the fort. In fact the town has had several names over the years; Maryburgh, Duncansburgh and Gordonsburgh. None of these stuck and the locals continued to call it 'Fort William'. The town's growth started to increase once the railway arrived in 1894.
A large factory complex just to the northeast of the town (and on the western flank of Ben Nevis) is the Rio Tinto aluminium smelter. This was commissioned in 1929 and, like the earlier plant in Kinlochleven, uses hydroelectric power to generate the vast amounts of electricity needed to smelt the metal. Most of the water flows from Loch Trieg and other lochs through a massive 15-mile tunnel that was driven through the surrounding hills. A total of 85MW is generated by the scheme, most of which is used by the Fort William smelter to create 40,000 tonnes of aluminium each year.
Although the plant employs about 174 people, the town's largest employer is undoubtedly tourism. Nestling in the lee of the country's biggest mountain, it is a hillwalking, climbing, mountain biking and (in winter) skiing centre, and many of the town's facilities have grown around that industry.
A statue called 'Sore Feet' in Gordon Square marks the end of the West Highland Way. Another long-distance walk, the Great Glen Way, opened in 2002; this runs from the site of the Old Fort near the railway station.
location UID #254
Inverlochy Castle is a ruined castle situated about a mile north of Fort William. It was built in the 13th Century by the Comyns and was the scene of two battles.
The 1431 battle was fought between the Clan Donald and the Earls of Caithness and Mar. The Donalds were one of the group of clans who controlled the west coast of the Highlands (called the 'Lords of the Isles'), whilst Mar and Caithness wanted to subsume that powerful Lordship into the Scottish Crown. The Donald's archers made short work of the combined army, although the start of the end for the Lords of the Isles occurred soon afterwards when they lost the Battle of Harlaw.
The second battle occurred during the Civil War in 1645. Royalist forces under the control of the Earl of Montrose defeated Covenanter forces led by the Duke of Argyll. The 1645 battle led to the downfall of the castle; Oliver Cromwell had a fort built nearby and the castle fell out of use. Some impressive stone ruins still remain.
A new castle was built nearby in 1836; this is now a luxury hotel.
location UID #255
Fort William's railways
Fort William was a relatively small settlement before the railway line from Glasgow opened on the 7th August 1894. In 1901 a branch line was opened through spectacular scenery to the fishing village of Mallaig further to the west. The town has a special place in the hearts of railway enthusiasts; not only is it the endpoint for the Caledonian Sleeper service from London Euston, but steam trains regularly run along the line to Mallaig during the summer months (the Jacobite service). Youngsters will know the line as being the route used by the Hogwarts Express.
Most of the stone fort was demolished to make way for the railway and only a few low stone walls remain. However the station was not in its current position when the line opened; instead it was next to a small pier at the southern end of the town. Unfortunately this prime position meant that the railway separated the town from the shore of Loch Linnhe. In 1975 a new station opened in its present location slightly to the north of the town; sadly the new station is ugly grey concrete rather than the old stone and brick building. Instead of the town being separated from the shore by a railway, it is now separated by a dual carriageway.
location UID #256
Lochaber Narrow Gauge Railway
The Lochaber Narrow Gauge Railway was a large network of railway lines built in the 1920s to help construct the tunnel that links Loch Treig with the hydroelectric power station in Fort William. The line was steeply graded to get through the hills, and was kept in service for maintenance of the works until a landslide severed it in the 1970s. A branch of the line headed through Inverlochy to reach the pier on Loch Linnhe in Fort William; rails can still be seen embedded within its surface, and there are other signs of the railway in the area.
Highland Country offers a bus servicee between Kinlochleven and Fort William, calling at Onich and Ballachulish on the way. It runs fairly regularly, with about fifteen services every day during the week.
As usual, Traveline Scotland is an excellent resource for planning public transport journeys.