Saturday 22nd April. 7:45 in the morning. Waiting for a coach to Glasgow. I have waved goodbye to the bronzed statue of the walker at end of the trail and walked up the high street one last time. A week ago, I was in Drymen, shuffling around in my tent preparing for what was actually one of the hardest walks of the whole trail to Rowardennan. Today, having had my last Full Scottish Breakfast of the week, I am set for a journey across Scotland, to Glasgow, then Edinburgh, before heading south to London and then Essex.
This section of the journey to Glasgow will see me undo in three hours what took me seven days to complete, but, as it was at that moment in time, I was looking up at the same old grey sky that greeted me to Fort William two days ago.
And it’s wasn’t for the first time I had seen it in this particular part of Fort William having decided on Friday, unencumbered from Gigantor’s weight for the first time in a week, to undertake an early morning recce to determine my public transport options for the next couple of days. As information gathering exercises go, it was pretty sub-optimal: there was no discernible timetable information for either my trip to Glasgow, or even my trip to the distillery later in the day. On top of that, it was raining and, ironically considering how much bad weather kit I had just dragged across the Highlands, I was under-dressed for any prolonged staying outside.
So, where does a walker like me go in a town like Fort William shortly after 9 am on a Friday morning? Well, nowhere as it happens as nothing appears to open before 10, however, I did manage to glimpse the Hogwarts Express whilst waiting for the town to wake up so, although I couldn’t get through the wall at platform 9 & 3/4 due to it being fully booked, the day was starting to get more magical. And who needs to enroll in any potion making lessons when you can learn about the history of the area at the local museum: the formation of Ben Nevis; its founding as a Cromwellian Fort, its role in the Jacobite Revolution and training commandos during the World War II.
So educated to the hilt as I was, I still hadn’t managed to find out how to get to the Ben Nevis Distillery, and, with not wanting to walk due to a slightly dodgy left foot, my hopes of a visit to the local whiskey factory were disappearing in to the same cloud that had been hiding the mountain that shared its name.
So, a cup of coffee, the previous day’s slightly too warm for its own good Tesco sandwich and half an hour of hideous daytime TV later I resolved to check Google for the best way to get the two miles across town and, by 3 pm I was gazing down in to a massive mash tun and surrounded by the sweet smell of and fermenting malt and with a shot of whiskey included in the £5 tour price, the sun had started to shine both inside and outside, to the extent I finally caught a view of the peak of Ben Nevis.
Back to Saturday, the coach turned up and off we set down the A82 along the side of Loch Linnhe and to the tip of Loch Leven at which point the obvious dawned on me. I was going to be able to track my previous week’s journey in reverse: passed the Devil’s staircase, whose summit I could finally see from its base; passed the Glencoe Mountain Resort along with my Hobbit Hut; passed Rannoch Moor and the Bridge of Orchy Hotel; the field with the scary bulls; Tyndrum and it’s Inn; Ewich Forest and the crossing point of the A82 where I took my life into my own hands and then finally along the opposite side of Loch Lomond, the trees hiding the difficulty of the trail but not the Inversnaid Hotel; the Rowardennan Youth Hostel or Conic Hill: the landmarks of my two days by the Loch.
And once Loch Lomond was out of site, so was the trail for the final time as the coach motored on in to Glasgow with 15 minutes to spare for the connection to Edinburgh. With a four hour wait for my train to London, or a massive £100 cost to change my booking for an earlier train, I tried as hard as I could to do the tourist thing, but with Gigantor not liking the crowds, I settled down in the pub for a couple of pints and fish and chips.
Finally, at 9:45 in the evening, 14 hours after leaving Fort William , I arrived back home exhausted and ready for a long night’s sleep . . .