Beyond the West Highland Way

posts-whw1The West Highland Way is probably Scotland’s most loved long distance trail. This Ninety-six mile trail from Milngavie, just on the outskirts of Glasgow, runs through the industrial heartland of the country to Fort William, deep in the Western Highlands.

It’s a walk that see’s the hiker pass through country parks, wander along the banks of the longest loch, cross remote wilderness and end up under the watchful eye of the highest peak, Ben Nevis.

Sticking to the clearly marked trail treats the adventurer to some of the best views to be found in this lush green land. If one would take a step off the trail and venture a few miles north just at the northern edge of Rannoch Moor, you would find yourself at the very gates of the mysterious and majestic Glencoe, or as it’s known locally, the Glen of Weeping.

In order to do this, you have to deviate from the official trail and creep alongside the often busy A82. This is the chosen route of the four wheeled sight seer, as they hurtle themselves through a few million years of landscaping, while all the time staring out of a window vandalized by smudges.

If they are lucky and the weather is being kind, they might just get to step outside of their climate controlled man made environment and snap a few pictures to share with the world via their social media device. And just as instantly as the picture posts to Instagram they will move on, never stopping to look past their camera lens to the adventure that awaits them.

posts-whw2But for the two footed traveler the first-hand glories to be discovered when you escape the vast open loneliness of the Rannoch Moor, parting company with the roadside, submerging yourself into this eerie but beautiful glen, are never to be forgotten.

The very air around you seems to silence, like Mother Nature saying “hush” in some ancient outdoor library. Sun, rain, sleet or snow, the same heavy atmosphere commands your attention, as you gaze with wonder high up to the southern side of the glen, while it towers over you from above.

These massive buttresses of rock are known as the three sisters. And many a time I have stood at their feet craning my neck upwards and feeling intimidated as these huge dark ladies of rock glower over me with an almost disapproving look.

The sounds of cars nearby or even jet airliners passing thousands of feet overhead are lost down there in the belly of the glen. It’s just you and the sounds that have been haunting there for longer than man has been present. Wind rushing down through the pass, heavy with  tales from other lands, bestowing them upon you before carrying on north west  to Loch Leven, where it will whip the waters to a frenzy of excitement, making the small fishing boats jump up and down as if dancing to its merry tune.

We dare to glance at the northern side of the glen, where a mighty forbidding wall of rock rising straight up from the glen floor and ending in a rugged sharp looking row of dark decayed teeth, tries to bite the very sky itself. In this world fit for mountaineers and eagles, our minds begin to roam as we think of traversing the pathway up there that runs the length of the glen, the Aonach Eagach ridge. This task, not to be taken lightly, is one that would grant you a thrill beyond measure.

We are brought back to earth with each step we take further and deeper into this remnant of a once powerful glacier. The damp Scottish air grows thicker now, as the streams run riot down the rock faces from high above, as if wanting to extinguish the sorrow and despair cast upon this historic land when the infamous massacre took place in 1692. Countless souls lost their lives in a murderous act of cowardice that destroyed families, burnt crofts to the ground, left children orphaned and a proud country  bearing a scar that will never heal. All in the name of that age old evil that mankind hides behind in order to carry out its self-gratifying deeds, politics.

posts-whw3Still under the stern watch of the three sisters, we pass a long looking gash of a cave high up on the mountainside. This cave was once the home of the Celtic seer and poet Ossian. Looking up at his cold and gloomy abode our imaginations are turned loose as we picture this legend of Celtic folk lore taking refuge high above the pass, writing his stories and receiving offerings from the natives. It’s in this moment we tell ourselves that we will one day scale the bleak rock face and see with our own eyes the hidden interior of this legends lair.

Eight miles later, after we first sneaked entry into the glen, we stumble out onto green pastures fed by the river Coe. Scottish royalty, the red stag, can be found in late spring grazing on the new growth before taking to the wind and disappearing up into the high untamed corries of the mountains, away from the prying eyes of mankind, where he can rule as king alone.

Our wander has passed in what seems the blink of an eye. Only eight miles have gone by but millions of years of evolution have passed under the reassuring soles of our trusted hiking boots. We have wandered through the scattered remains of a once violent volcano, dreamt of high altitude scrambles, smelled the burning of the heather and heard the cry of the innocent, where a bloody massacre once raged on.

We have trodden paths once stalked by the mighty clan chiefs of the all-powerful Clan MacDonald, been guests in the dining room of the four – legged king of Alba and walked the steps many a great man took before us, all because we ventured off the beaten path.  So if you find yourself in Scotland walking the West highland Way, pause at the bottom of the Devils Staircase and listen. Maybe the wind will call your name and invite you to wander the Glen of Weeping.

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