The next leg of our hike was the 18 mile day across lonely Rannoch Moor. The scenery is hard to describe, but having a little undergraduate geology, it definitely felt like walking across the final haunts of an old but once great ice sheet. The land looked flat, but really was lumpy, and covered in low heath and moor plants, lots of boggy ground, and peppered with large erratics. One of the larger is called the Menzies Stone (pronounced ‘Mingus’), and marks the boundary of Perthshire ( I think we saw it, but the boulders all kind of looked the same). The hike across starts at Rannoch station, which feels like the end of the world in some ways, through a patch of forest, and then out onto the moor. The only real landmarks we had were the lake on our left and a line of power poles that we followed across the heath. On a foggy day it would be easy to lose oneself out here, and I can’t imagine what it would be like in a winter storm. We did not see the Large and Harmless Man (best monster name ever) that supposedly haunts the moor, but I did have a rare sighting of the Rainbow Sasquatch.
So, after our 18 mile day across Rannoch Moor, we hiked down out of the high moor and to the inn at Kingshouse. This old building has been an Inn since the 1700s, and it has a great vibe. It sits at the base of two great Munros with unpronounceable Gaelic names that translate I believe to the Great Herdsman and the Little Herdsman. The Inn sits at the end of Rannoch Moor, at the head of the famous and ill fated Glen Coe, and at the junction of a major road and the West Highland Way, which looks like and is-the most popular hiking trail in Scotland. Woe to the traveler who did not have a reservation, although everyone was welcome at the bar, even those sleeping in tents. There was a great mix of hikers, mountain climbers and tourists of all ages. The bar had a great selection of scotches, and I had haggis for dinner. I didn’t know enough to ask whether it was highland (venison) haggis or lowland (sheep) haggis, but it was wrapped in pastry and very good. I had a snoot of a well aged single malt scotch called Scapa that was excellent…..not too hot, not too peaty, just perfect. The building is low and dark and rambling, and very comfortable, just like you would want an old Scottish Inn to be. After so many days of hiking alone, it was rather lovely to be in the bustle of this crossroads. For the last two days there would be lots of people hiking along with us (ok, mostly past us).
The next day started out dry and sunny, and we started our hike past the Great Herdsman (Buchaille Etive Mor), which is a really spectacular and uniquely isolated mountain, and one of the most photographed in Scotland. Our hike this day took us over the Devils Staircase, our greatest elevation gain on the trip, which topped out with great views to the north and west, including our first glimpse of Ben Nevis and our final destination. We were now on the West Highland Way, and sharing the trail with lots of hikers. There were a few characters on the trail, including a fellow we called ‘shinsplints’, who had hiked hard to beat his own personal record and crippled himself. We met him when we crossed the highway, where he was waiting for the bus. He named all the prominent landmarks for us, and bubbled over with enthusiasm for “me scottish playground”. We also heard about and saw, but never met, two french brothers who hiked the entire Way in Scottish kilts and French berets. The word was a wool kilt was very appropriate wear for hiking the highlands….well ventilated, yet warm and reasonably water proof. Not to mention extremely stylish and culturally appropriate.
From here we hiked down to the town of Kinlochleven, a town built by an aluminum company at the head of Loch Leven. Loch Leven communicates with the sea, and is salt. We had crossed the Highlands! Our last day of hiking took us over a final pass and into Fort William, the biggest town we had seen since Glasgow. We took a brief side trail to another ancient stone age site, this one was some kind of fort or defense, that had a stunning view of Ben Nevis.
We spent the night in Fort William, where I had another fairly memorable meal of wild boar burger and ‘neeps and tatties’, washed down with a good local ale. Our next adventure: renting a car and driving to the Isle of Skye for two days. The car of course was a stick shift, and everything was on the wrong side, which took some getting used to. Happily there is not a lot of traffic in N. Scotland!
On the way we toured the castle of Eileen Donan (if you have ever seen the movie Highlander, you have seen the exterior at least of this castle).
Skye was beautiful. The night we arrived we hiked out to Neist Point, which has a beautiful lighthouse that was engineered by Robert Louis Stevenson’s father. At one point it was a holiday rental…what an amazing place to stay!
The next day we took a hike a little ways up the coast from Neist Point, round a headland called The Hoe. This was one of the best hikes of the trip for me…ruined crofts and sheep featured prominently, along with stunning views of the North Sea and outer Hebrides.
Next we visited Dunvegan Castle, ancestral home of Clan McLeod (not Eileen Donan, as portrayed in the movie Highlander). Dunvegan has a ‘fairy flag’ that supposedly when unfurled means the McLeods will defeat their enemies. According to the tale, it could only be used so three times, and has one good victory left in it. This castle also had beautiful gardens.
Food on Skye was excellent. We had lunch at a place that specialized in local food that was spectacular, called the Red Roof Cafe. Our vegetarian B&B served amazing breakfasts, and there was another cafe near where we stayed that made wonderful sandwiches. Other highlights of this leg of our trip were a stop at the Crofter’s museum, a walk round the Fairy Glen, and the hike up to the Old Man of Storr.
Och aye, it was a lovely trip. I’d love to go back and explore the outer Hebrides sometime, and do some sea kayaking around the islands and the sea lochs.