Hike Southbound through Britain with Daryl May
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DS15 Puddled trail
DS15 Sheep on trail
Days S1 - S20                                                                   Scottish Highlands
Day S15 - Letterfinlay Lodge to Fort William 
Day S14                                 A big milestone                                 Day S16
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Scottish Highlands
Central Scotland
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Northbound Home
Saturday, March 8, 2008

Time of departure: 9.45 am
Time of arrival: 4.45 pm
Place departed: Letterfinlay Lodge, Highland
Place arrived: Fort William, Highland

Miles: 17
Cum miles: 201.7
Percent complete: 20.8

Bed sign Ben Nevis Hotel, Fort William ***
Cost for bed and breakfast: 30 ($60)
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DS15 Tree on trail
Fort William is a pretty significant milestone for an end-to-ender. Northbound, it's a signal that you've got this hike "in the bag" with 80 percent done, and the difficult West Highland Way behind you. Southbound, you've likely overcome blisters and muscle pain; you've earned your wings, and are deemed fit to move on to the rest of the route with a good chance of success.

In approximate mileage terms, I've done 200 miles, with 800 still to do. I'm halfway to the Scotland-England border. And it's taken me exactly the 30 days that I mentioned earlier to define slow progress.

There was a succession of squalls today, interspersed with light drizzle. I was determined to do a decent day's walk regardless. My feet behaved themselves, and I arrived in Fort William on the west coast, or more specifically on Lake Lynnhe,  after 17 miles of hard slog that was mainly free of traffic.

After just four miles of road, to the vicinity of Glenfintaig Lodge, I swung right on to a rough, multi-gated track in the direction of Glenfintaig House on Loch Lochy. This was the hardest part of the day, because the track was quite often muddy and occasionally just plain underwater, leaving me to find my way along its also-muddy, grotesquely uneven "banks". At one point, I became an accidental shepherd when a group of sheep retreated from me along my path, never quite realizing that they needed to step aside or their problem would just recur as I neared them again. The track improved in the vicinity of Loch Lochy, and took me to Gairlochy, where I turned left on to the Great Glen Way (GGW), which was here a canal towpath of six miles all the way to the outskirts of Fort William, which I reached in the overcast darkness after another three miles by road. (I declined a ride to town offered by a young lady whom I'd met hiking the towpath.)

As a reminder that this is all totally rural, I saw about six people all day, was close enough to speak to three, passed probably twenty houses and three lock-operator's cottages, and there was absolutely no possibility of buying even a snack. Most days have been like this.

I did not stay as dry as I hoped. A harsh Scottish squall will find its way to your skin no matter what. When I approached Fort William, my self-talk featured a B&B landlady who frustrated my boot-drying efforts by insisting I leave my boots in her unheated entrance. Raising the matter with her, she then took them to her water heater cupboard, where she fried them instead. That's why, I told myself, it's often nice to go to a hotel, where they can rightly trust me not to muddy up their room when I'm allowed to keep my boots. But, darn, hotels are expensive.

When I passed the once-stylish Ben Nevis Hotel and Leisure Club, I knew I couldn't afford it. But then, applying street-smarts, I noticed some tradesmen's vans and pickups in the guest parking area, so I hoofed up the driveway to the Reception area and got a pleasant 30 surprise. And another pleasant surprise at the dinner, bed and breakfast rate. This hotel competed with B&Bs even on price, and left me in charge of my boots.

Dinner was nicely served in baronial splendor. My soaked clothes, splattered trousers, and muddy boots nicely showcased the formal (kilts on) attire of other guests. I enjoyed Ayrshire chicken on haggis, and other good things, before returning to my quite-nice, well-heated, ensuite room. The only bummer was the smell of smoke, or I'd have rated it higher.

I've enjoyed several haggis experiences this trip. Always tasty, I'm not sure why there's such a fuss when haggis is mentioned. Mind you, I have no idea what I'm eating.

Welcome, hiker, to your right of way
DS15 Public right of way
 Day S14                                 2007 and 2008 Daryl May                               Day S16