As we awoke in Glencoe, as opposed to Kingshouse, it dawned on us that we had reached the penultimate stage of the walk. The morning was bright and the forecast for the next two days was very promising. As was the scenery.
The first buildings at Kingshouse arrived in the 17th century. The drovers road ran between Skye and the cattle markets of central Scotland. This road was improved as a military road through Glencoe and the building was used as a barracks for the soldiers of King George III after the battle of Colloden. Hence the name.
The Kings House Hotel, despite welcoming walkers, drovers, armies and even skiers for almost 400 years, was closed. Extensive renovations were ongoing at the time of our arrival so we had to divert to accommodation in Glencoe village. It gave us the opportunity to enjoy a beautiful, still morning view across Loch Leven before jumping in the taxi to take us back to the ski resort. This was a day which would begin and end with stunning reflections.
So Kenny the taxi driver picked us up first, followed by two solo walkers who we would frequently meet between here and Fort William over the next two days.
They jumped out of the taxi at the bottom of the approach road up to the ski resort. The West Highland Way emerges on to this road about half a mile up the hill. However, just like the previous day, we insisted on being dropped off at the ski resort itself. It was the lure of coffee that made us do it. And it would go on to explain why our recorded route ended up being more than the official 96 miles. That plus the diversion into Drymen on the first day.
With the required amount of caffeine in our system to ease us into the day, we set off down the approach road and rejoined the West Highland Way before crossing the busy A82 towards the building site that is sometimes known as the Kings House Hotel. Hammers clanged and drills whirred as we passed through the grounds, crossed the bridge over the River Etive and walked parallel to the road past the hulking shape of Buichaille Etive More.
The scenery was wonderful as we looked towards Glencoe. The footpath was easy and progress was good.
This stretch of the path lulls walkers into a false sense of security. Between Kingshouse and the top of the Devil's Staircase, there is a climb of 305 meters. But the steepness doesn't kick in until the path leaves the side of the A82 by a lay-by and crosses a wooden bridge to start the ascent proper.
The Devil's Staircase isn't quite as devilish as it may sound. The path is well made as it zig-zags its way up the hillside. The name was given to the route by soldiers who were part of General Wade's military road builders. During the building of the Blackwater Reservoir on the other side of the hill in 1909, the name became more relevant. Kingshouse was the nearest pub for the workers to visit when they received their wages and the combination of poor weather and unsteady legs often meant that the "devil claimed his own".
Our legs were perfectly steady, though, as we gradually made our way up to the highest point of the whole of the West Highland Way at 548 meters, between Beinn Bheag and Stob Mhic Mhartuin.. The views back towards Glencoe before we crossed the summit were breathtaking.
After lots of zigging and zagging, we made it the the cairn at the top, from where the view North suddenly appeared, looking towards the Mamores and the looming shape of Ben Nevis, with Blackwater Reservoir below us the right.
It was here that we decided to have a quick break for lunch. Our kind hosts in Glencoe had provided us with lunchpack bursting with supplies. Not one but two rolls each, along with the usual suspects.
We found a pair of rocks to perch on and opened our backpacks in anticipation. My face fell. My lunchpack was still on the table in Glencoe village. Disaster.
The good news was that this was the day with the bumper lunch pack. Two rolls. One each then.
No. Col proceeded to eat both rolls himself (one cheese and ham, one cheese and pickle for the record). I watched him in the same way that my springer spaniel watches me. It didn't work.
He threw me a bag of ready salted crisps. "You can have these," he muttered, with his mouth full of cheese and pickle. "I don't like them anyway."
It was all downhill from there. Quite literally. Downhill all the way to Kinlochleven.
This was probably the least scenic section of the whole walk so far as the path tricked us into thinking that we were descending straight in to the village before it turned sharply and meandered down the valley, accompanied by huge black pipes bringing water from the reservoir to the power station at Kinlochleven. The reservoir would originally have provided water for the aluminium smelter.
The village also lays claim to being the first village in the world with every house connected to electricity, courtesy of the hydro electric scheme. The Electric Village.
A combination of the long descent and the food deprivation made this stretch seem endless, but we eventually passed through the forested lower slopes and emerged at the side of the power station.
What we weren't expecting was the welcoming committee as we entered Kinlochleven. A whole host of locals were gathered in a garden to cheer us as we marched to our destination. They were mostly quite short, each was wearing a hat and a there was an inordinate amount of beards, but it was appreciated nevertheless.
Kinlochleven had one last treat in store for us. We headed to the excellent Bothy Bar for food and drinks, which is located on the far side of the village within the MacDonald Hotel. We would have no hesitation in recommending a visit to the bar, not least for the amazing view across the River Leven. As we said, it was a day that started and finished with a reflection.
We had fully intended to respect local culture and pay a visit to the Aluminium Story Visitor Centre, but it was closed by the time we arrived.
So we were foiled.