Sunday dawned and the rain obligingly quit as we were ready to emerge.
There’s a certain art to getting into and out of a two-man tent; you can only do it one at a time as there just isn’t room to have two people moving around inside it at once. I packed my gear while Chris had an extra ten minutes in his sleeping bag. Once outside we skipped the granola and instead breakfasted on malt loaf and cereal bars. We were packed and back on the trail before 7am.
As expected, about an hour into the walking the rain returned and got steadily worse and worse: Not the persistent drizzle between occasional showers of yesterday, this was large volumes of water being dumped on us, along with a strong, gusting wind which kept trying to blow us off the path and made sure the rain got everywhere. Within an hour of it coming on properly, I was feeling water seeping through the zips on my trousers and after a couple of hours I was absolutely soaked to the skin.
The one redeeming feature of that long slog into Fort William was that my feet stayed dry; apart from the zips, the trousers seemed to keep most of the moisture off my legs and away from the socks. Lee, on the other hand, suffered quite substantially as he had blisters developing, so he was moving quite painfully by the time the woodland path reached the forest road reached the main road reached the edge of town.
We had been dreaming of warm showers at the leisure centre, but as we hobbled past it, we checked and it was closed – with no sign of any opening times published – so we carried on. Chris was keen to reach the Nevis Sports shop rather than stop at the first café we found and, while I think we all really wished we could have stopped sooner, Nevis Sports turned out to be the ideal place: It’s an outdoor equipment shop, but upstairs they have a café (which is clearly used to handling tired and wet hikers) and downstairs they have a bar!
We arrived a little before 10am, occupied a table for four and then spread over the two adjacent tables, laying out our packs and wet clothes to begin to drip dry. Four large teas were ordered and quickly followed by four full Scottish Breakfasts (with four more large teas) which, in turn, were followed by a selection of goodies. By this time, I really was past caring what I ate and washed down a large and delicious homemade scone and jam with a mug of hot chocolate and cream.
Various trips to the toilet followed to towel off, change into dry clothes and/or wring out what could not be changed. There was also a certain amount of hand-drier abuse to deliver warm air where it was most welcome!
While we recovered we chatted to the others who came and went. Mostly they were hikers who had overnighted in Fort William and decided to abandon their walking plans for the day because of the weather – which continued to lash down on the windows of the shop. Trekking in to town through the weather gained us a certain kudos with some, which was nice.
At 12:30 the bar downstairs opened. As promised they had a log fire burning and a Sunday Roast in the kitchen. We made sure we were the first people there and monopolised one side of the fire to dry out our gear. Then it was some lovely local ale and a large plate of roast beef please! Despite having not long had a very full, second breakfast there still seemed to be space for a roast with all the trimmings.
To cut a long story short, we spent the rest of the afternoon there, sipping beer, drying out and warming up. It’s hard to articulate just how good it felt after the cold and wet and discomfort that had preceded it.
There was football on TV and Lee had a bit of a Man U. vs. Man City thing going with one of the other hikers hanging out, but it was a very relaxed time. Later we talked about going bowling at a nearby(ish) venue but nothing came of it.
Around 4pm we started to come to life again, took turns in the Rail Station’s showers – you don’t miss a shower particularly, until you get into one after a few days and then it’s just, oh, bliss! We also did a quick sweep through the adjacent Morrisons to pick up stuff to call dinner.
We hung around in the station waiting area for our coach, as the bus station didn’t have anything indoors. Lee took the opportunity for a few more handstand pushups and we got one of the friendly station staff to take a team photo for us under the Fort William sign.
The coach journey to Glasgow was remarkable only for the weather we were driving through; as we left Fort William, you couldn’t even see the surrounding hills through the grey mist and cloud. As we drove south there was ample evidence of heavy rain in the Highlands. Every hill and mountain we passed had its sides littered with rushing streams – which looked oddly like slug-trails down the hillside! – there were several impressive waterfalls, including one where the wind was so strong it was actually blowing the waterfall away before it reached the ground! Rannoch Moor, where we skirted it, was virtually a lake!
The weather only eased as we got down to Crianlarich and then the skies began to clear up as we came down Loch Lomond. When we finally reached Glasgow sometime after 10pm, the weather was mild and dry with no hint of what was happening further north.
Despite eating during the coach trip, the first stop at Glasgow Central was Burger King (the only place open, actually). I only needed water to rehydrate after the sweltering coach but Lee and Chris both fancied a burger and Huw was after a strawberry shake. We were shown to our cabins by a forthright attendant who ran us through the facilities, took our orders for complimentary tea/coffee/juice for the morning and left us with various warnings about not eating our own food in the lounge car or blocking the passage or door with our packs.
When I’ve used the sleeper before, I’ve usually gotten a cheap First Class ticket through work, so I’ve always had a cabin to myself which, while small, is okay. It’s a lot more cramped with two people in the same space – particularly if you’re each bringing a loaded backpack instead of a suit carrier. There was a certain amount of logistics in getting ourselves stowed away – but it was all worth it for that moment when you lie down on the white cotton duvet and sink into the mattress. Oh, yes!
We convened in the Lounge Car for a nightcap, Huw declaring that sipping a Gin & Tonic while speeding southwards through the night almost – almost – felt like he was on the Orient Express. We did wonder whether somebody would keel over dead, just to add atmosphere, but ScotRail are far more prosaic about how they entertain their passengers; no murder victim or glittering array of suspects were provided for us to sleuth our way home. Instead we ordered Single Malts and toasted each other and an enjoyable, successful weekend; we’ve covered the distance, endured the elements and managed it all in good spirits. I suppose it helps that we are, both collectively and individually, complete and utter lunatics…
Despite the Laphroaig (which I suspect was not actually to his taste) Lee didn’t snore and we both slept quite well in our cosy, soft bunks until our cabin attendant (stewardess?) brought us our hot water and tea-bags/sachets of coffee with the news that we’d arrived at Euston.
See the photo album for this trip HERE.