When we’re not walking Paul, Nat and I watch movies. Lots and lots of movies.
Every year we each cover the Glasgow and Edinburgh film festivals; most weeks we attend press days or talker screenings; and just about every day is spent either reviewing movies or planning to see more.
I had so far enjoyed my break from the cinema (Monday passed had been one such press day); not only was it nice to get some exercise after so much time spent inside, but it was high-time that we had a few adventures of our own. For four days now we had slept in B&Bs, eaten in restaurants and marvelled at some of the most beautiful parts of the world, all the while giving The Proclaimers a walk for their money.
By day five, however, our routine was becoming…well, a little routine. We woke at eight (well, I woke at five, but technically my alarm didn’t go off for another three hours), filled up on sausages and potato scones, and left warmth, comfort and WiFi behind for another day of toil. The first hour was always the hardest (except, perhaps, for the last hour), and today we would be spending it on The Devil’s Staircase.
To get there, we had to walk for a mile or two along the A82 through Glen Coe. Visibility was an issue from the start (from Milngavie, even), and any hope of seeing the locations used in Skyfall were dashed as we eventually veered right and began our snaking ascent of Beinn Bheag. It was torture. The path materialised a few feet ahead and then vanished from view almost as soon as you had passed it by, meaning that it was nearly impossible to gauge how far we’d come or how far we still had to go. It was cold, arduous and incredibly tiring.
We were eventually overtaken by two English guys from Brighton, both of whom had walked the Way before. They chatted briefly at the summit — marked as usual by a somewhat precarious cairn — before proceeding to powerwalk down the other side of the hill. The descent didn’t look quite as steep as the ascent, but that never seemed to matter: going down was always worse than going up. We stopped for a brief break, and then — with rousing cries of “on y va” and “pashlee” — set off after them.
We passed Mags and her friend on the way down. Goodness knows what time they had departed that morning; we hadn’t noticed them at breakfast (just the Australian girls from the night before, rating The King’s House’s butter for spreadability) or seen any sign of them on the track ahead while walking. Pushing on, we followed a raised ridge around the next hill before making another descent, this time into the woods of Leven valley.
I’m not sure when we first spotted Kinlochleven, a serene but rather sorry-looking town that shares the valley with River Leven, but it was hours before we actually reached it. As we approached the Blackwater Dam — our only indication on that misty morning that Blackwater Reservoir even existed — the path seemed to lose all sense of direction, and took us on lengthy, languid laps of the hillside as Kinlochleven appeared and then abruptly disappeared from view.
We weren’t entirely sure how Kinlochleven got its name, given that Loch Leven was over a hundred miles away near Kinross in Perthshire. Paul and I had visited it a few months previously, after attending the inaugural JAM Film Festival at nearby Tullibole Castle. It turns out that there are in fact two Loch Levens (three if you count the one in California, though that’s surely a lake), though I haven’t been able to determine quite why that might be. A lack of imagination on somebody’s part, I’m sure.
The path was more of a road, though clearly one never intended for use. My feet were sorer than they had ever been, and every time I lost my footing on an angular stone or concealed divot I feared that I might twist an ankle. Today it was my left leg’s turn to hurt, and I soon found myself falling behind as I took increasing care negotiating my next step. Even when the path caught sight of the pipeline, as if suddenly remembering that it had somewhere to be, it seemed to take an eternity to reach the bottom of the valley.
Once in Kinlochleven we made a beeline for the Co-op (the first we’d seen since Drymen, a stone’s through from something called The Aluminium Story) to stock up on beer and other essentials. I bought some lunch, and a Magnum, and we made our way to the B&B for a leisurely afternoon in front of the TV. Paul had booked this place specifically for its promise of a DVD player, and as we marched through the town with renewed purpose we tried to come up with a fair system by which we might choose which film to watch.
We were early — ridiculously early — but our room was ready so we were allowed to check-in regardless. Our suitcases had yet to be dropped off, so we showered, put on what dry clothes we could find, and wrapped our remaining naked parts (in the name of decency, and the absence of trousers) in throws from the room. We then retired to the guest lounge where Rat Race was just starting on some channel or other. We followed it up with George Clayton, by which time our cases had arrived and we were able to set out in search of dinner.
I had seen a fish and chip shop on the way in, and eager to get back to the lounge before someone stole out seats we went in for a bite to eat. Ordering one black pudding supper and two battered sausage suppers we sat down at one of the restaurant’s two tables, next to an old man who was eating his fish with his fingers. We talked for a bit — he was telling us about similar walks in Europe — but packed up and left when things turned a little bit racist.
That night we watched The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which somehow Nat had never seen, then finished the night off with a few episodes of The Trip, which Paul had brought on DVD, before returning to the room so that they could watch Match Of The Day (I think) and I could make some notes in my journal. It was hard to believe that there was just one day and fifteen miles to go until Fort William. I guess we probably could have completed the West Highland Way in five days if we had pushed ourselves, but really we were in no hurry to finish at all.
That said, with hindsight I half wish we had just ended it there. The next day was going to be no fun at all.