Bagging the Welsh dragon in the Black Mountains
Crossing the Black Mountains, starting at Pandy and moving on to Hay-on-Wye, the route has incredible views and a line of trig points ending in one decorated with a Welsh dragon.
Read about why GetOutside Champion Zoe Homes chose the West Highland Way for Britain's Favourite Walks: Top 100, to be shown on ITV in 2018
The short section of the West Highland Way between Rannoch Moor and Kinlochleven is arguably the most iconic, easily the most photographed, and quite possibly the most beautiful. Whatever the weather is doing – sunshine or black clouds – the dramatic scenery and rugged landscape speaks to the soul of whoever passes through, however you might be travelling.
There are paths leading off in all directions around here, but we were on day six of seven of my West Highland Way hike, and so we came off Rannoch Moor at Glencoe Mountain Centre. We overnighted in one of the cute hobbit huts on the hill, which turned out to be the right call despite carrying our own tents and related paraphernalia; the wind got to at least 75mph and the moor was absolutely battered, confirmed to us by a fellow hiker who braved the weather and spent the night willing his tent to stay put and not send him to Oz. In the morning, which was thankfully much calmer, we met up with Julia Bradbury and the ITV 100 Favourite Walks film crew for this most beautiful hike within a hike.
We’d arranged to meet Julia Bradbury and her team just a couple of weeks before, when a happy coincidence meant they were filming the West Highland Way section of the countdown show the same week that we were hiking it. The idea was that the crew would join us for the first part of the day, from Glencoe Mountain Centre, passed Black Rock Cottage, through Kingshouse, over to Buachaille Etive Mor, and then up the Devil’s Staircase. Jenni, who was my hiking partner for the week, and I were happy to share our love of hiking with the people of Great Britain; I’m sure it’s perfectly normal for someone on their first long distance hike to be joined by a film crew… but as it happened, while it was definitely surreal, it couldn’t have been more normal. Yes, we were filmed putting our packs on and leaving the hut, which may or may not come across as natural acting (you decide…), and we had to walk the same section of path two or three times so the drone could get the best shots, but apart from the obvious it was a really fantastic thing to be involved in and a great memory for the box.
The path from Glencoe to Kingshouse and beyond picks up the Old Military Road across the moor, and runs pretty well parallel with the A82. Just like the rest of the West Highland Way the path is easy to navigate and generally easy going underfoot, although the rain overnight had turned parts of this section into more stream than path, but nothing that our hiking boots couldn’t cope with. Hiking with big packs almost along a main road is a strange experience, but one that highlights one of the main joys of hiking for me. When you are in a car, travelling along a road – main or otherwise – you can get great joy and satisfaction looking at the scenery through the car window. You can also park the car, get out, and wander a few paces to get a better look without other cars in the way. But, as you are travelling by car, you are looking at the scenery. You are viewing it. Voyeurs. When you walk long distance, relying on your own two feet for miles and miles, you are no longer just looking at the scenery, you become the scenery. The view is yours and you belong to it. I wonder what drivers thought as they drove passed us at speed that morning. Did they even notice us hiking along the path by the road?
I digress. From Kingshouse it is just a short distance to Buachaille Etive Mor. As one of the most iconic mountains in the Highlands, sitting right at the head of Glen Etive, we just had to detour back over the A82 for a better look. I mean, it just looks like a proper mountain, with its pointy peak and metallic rivers running down the sides, it is simply stunning. We didn’t bag the munro on this occasion, but it is definitely on my list for a future trip up to Glencoe. Instead, we sat on the riverbank by Lagangarbh Hut and chatted all things outdoors while eating snacks and dodging the rain. I’ve no idea what, if anything, of our conversation made it into the final edit of the show, but discussing hiking, camping, the outdoors, blogging and all kinds of related things with Jenni and Julia was a real joy. One of the biggest pleasures that being a GetOutside Champion provides is that it allows me to harp on about how important I think spending time outdoors, in nature, whether it is having an adventure or just squeezing in a few minutes in the fresh air, is. I am so proud to have even the tiniest input into a television programme that has been created to encourage people to go walking in Great Britain by taking over ITV for an entire evening. How fantastic!
With a camping spot earmarked in Kinlochleven, around another seven or eight miles from here, Jenni and I were packed up with some more snacks and hot hands, to continue our journey on foot. We said our goodbyes, crossed back over the A82 to re-join the West Highland Way, and zigzagged our way up Devil’s Staircase. The drone followed us all the way up, which added a little pressure on this somewhat significant ascent, but thankfully the climb was nowhere near as bad as the name suggests and we were able to enjoy the rather spectacular views from the top in no time. As we turned around and looked back, always an important moment in any hike, we were greeted with the wonderful view of Buachaille Etive Mor, Glencoe and Rannoch Moor off in the distance, a fitting reminder of the distance we had already covered and the reason we were hiking the West Highland Way in the first place. The feeling of reaching the top simply cannot be beaten.
If you are looking for a truly top Great British hike, the West Highland Way is an excellent call. But if you are looking for something a little shorter, you could do no better than a day hike from Glencoe Mountain Centre, Kingshouse or Buachaille Etive Mor. All the scenery, all he wonder, all the pleasure.
You can find the route on OS Maps here.
Britain's Favourite Walks: Top 100 is being broadcast on 30 January at 7.30pm. You will also be able to find the complete list of walks with links to each route here.
Zoe Homes has always been a lover of the outdoors. From a very young age she has enjoyed playing outside, hiking with her family, camping, and generally spending as much time outside of her house as possible. She is a huge advocate of the benefits of regular fresh air, and does her best to encourage others to make the most of the world outside their own front door. She is also a co-founder of the Outdoor Bloggers network.
Zoe loves to hike, and has done a number of hiking challenges in recent years, including the Yorkshire Three Peaks and the Lyke Wake Walk (Zoe adds that if you've not heard of it, look it up, it's a brilliant but quite challenging stroll in the North Yorkshire Moors).
You can read about Zoe's adventures at http://splodzblogz.co.uk