West Highland Way Race 2017

It’s been too long since I last posted an update on here. Home, family, work have all had to take priority for most of this year and that statement sums up the foundation I took into my main race for the year. Then, as if poor training and lack of race experience weren’t enough, Scotland decided to throw some weather at us on the day too. And so goes the story of the 2017 West Highland Way race.

If you are not familiar with the WHW race, take a look at my blog from last year or at the race website. In summary, it is a 95 mile race along Scotland’s most famous long distance trail. It has a unique status in the running community due to the awesomeness of the achievement, but also due to the family nature which the race enthuses in everyone who takes part. You can’t appreciate the sense of community until you take part, but once you do, it’s easy to see why so many people keep coming back for more.

This year, I was one of those who came back for more. After finishing in 22 hours and 49mins in 2016 and learning so much about how to run the race, I wanted to go back and see if I could apply the lessons I’ve learned and improve on that time. My two main areas of improvement were going to be about the time I spent in checkpoints and pacing the earlier sections of the race better. In 2016 I spent a couple of hours in total stopped, so I hoped that limiting any stop to 10 mins would help shave some time off. I was supported this year by two friends from Falkland Trail Runners, Carole and Susan, who were just amazing.  We spent some time before the race going through the details of how I wanted to approach it and, feeling prepared, we arrived in Milngavie at 9:30pm on Friday night.

My fabulous support crew before the race

After registration, I curled up on the back seat of Carole’s car and had a couple of hours sleep before the race. The 1am start time is the first challenge the race throws at you. Like most runners, life has to keep going and I’d been up since 6am with William, then a few hours work until lunchtime followed by some last minute preparations. By the time Friday evening arrived, I’d already had a full day under my belt so a 95 mile race was going to be tough. And it was.

I caught up with a bunch of running friends at the start line before the gun went off, then it was away into the darkness ahead of us. The early sections are straightforward enough and allow you to settle into the race. I was happy with my pace as we neared the Glengoyne distillery, but then a twinge in my right calf was a familiar feeling and, as I feared, before long the twinge turned into the sharp pain of a calf tear. I stopped at the side of the trail easing it out with some stretches and hoped it wasn’t as bad as I feared. It didn’t ease up so I started to walk it off, knowing I had to move forwards anyway. As I moved, I found that I could manage a hobbled walk, then a light jog, but my calf wasn’t happy. Meeting my crew at Drymen, I explained what had happened and they showed me exactly why I’d chosen them. They patted me on the back and said ok, see you at Balmaha, let’s see how you are feeling there.

Last year the weather was a crystal clear day right from the start, meaning the night-time section was run against a backdrop of clear night skies full of stars and the mid-summer sun rising early, meaning head torches were off long before Conic hill. This year was much different with grey skies overhead, that early sunshine was obscured meaning the torch stayed on until Balmaha. I tried turning it off on the way down Conic hill but immediately stumbled on a rock and rolled an ankle on the same leg as my calf. Now I felt completely justified in feeling sorry for my self. I kept moving forwards knowing food and a few minutes rest was waiting for me at the bottom of the hill. My crew were amazing again. Porridge was waiting for me, fresh water bottles and gels, then a push in the back and told to get going.

Loch Lomond from Conic Hill

By the time I reached Rowardennan I was in a poor state. My leg was still hurting and to exacerbate things, I’d become slack in my food intake thinking the CP was closer than it was. As I reached the girls, I was doing my best junkie impression looking as white as a ghost and shivery. More food, some paracetamol and some strapping, then the now familiar push in the back and a hug and I was off again.

The loch side section from Rowardennan to beyond Inversnaid has been my nemesis in every one of the three races I’ve run on the WHW so far. It is a gnarly, root and rock laden trail which feels impossible to me to maintain speed over. For whatever reason, I found it enjoyable this year. I felt like I managed to keep some momentum and the food I’d had at Rowardennan and the tablets had put paid to my aches. A quick pit stop at Inversnaid for some water and before I knew it I was running into Beinglas and my anxious crew. My smiles as I arrived put us all at rest and it was time to get moving up to Auchtertyre.


My Anaesthetists for the race – Carole and Susan


As I passed Crianlarich, the weather started to turn. It had been grey and cool with a little wind so far, which made it a) perfect running weather and b) the perfect antidote to midges who had pestered us here last year. As I came into the checkpoint at Auchtertyre, the rain and wind started and the mood of the race was changed. I reached Auchtertyre in 11h 21m, which was almost 30 minutes slower than last year. The injuries earlier in the race had put a big dent in my hopes of a faster time, but things were going ok now, so I settled into my run. The section from here to Bridge of Orchy is generally quite fast so I knew that it would be a confidence boost if I can make it through that without any more problems.

Arriving into Bridge of Orchy

By the time I reached my team at Bridge of Orchy I felt like I was on cloud nine. I’d had a great run, taking 2h 23m, which given the driving rain and headwind we were all running into, I was happy despite being a further 10 mins slower than last year. My running was settled, I felt good about drink and calorie intake. These long races mean that you have to ride the lows to get to the highs.

Next up was Rannoch Moor. This long, desolate stretch of path was miserable last year because of the dehydrating high temperatures and lack of places to hide from the sun. This year, I was begging for that sunshine to come back as a biting northerly wind took hold of the heavy rain and turned it into a weapon against everyone one of us crossing that barren landscape. Determined to get through it, I was faster over this section this year by 15 mins. Sheltering in the car in the car park at Glencoe was like a haven from the horrible conditions. After some more food and a change of clothing into full on cold weather gear, I was kicked out of the car and sent on my way.


From the 2017 wild weather collection on the Devils Staircase


My crew met me at the bottom of the devil’s staircase. The run from the ski center to this point had been horrible. The wind and rain had increased and Glencoe is a bleak place when weather like that is blowing through. There was nobody ahead or behind me in sight so it felt continually more and more isolating. Carole and Susan came up the staircase with me encouraging me on which I was hugely grateful for. I left them about half way up so they could get around to Kinlochleven in time for me. As I went over the top of the hill, I rolled my right ankle again for the second time. This time it wasn’t something I could run off. I’d slipped on some wet rock and was struggling to keep upright in the high wind. I kept moving and eventually limped down to Kinlochleven in just over 3 hours, 20 minutes slower than last year.

Soup-er food for runners

With warm soup waiting for me and the knowledge that there was ‘only’ Lairig Mor left to do, I wasn’t going to give up here. Some strapping for my ankle helped, as did a change into dry clothes, some clean socks and a different pair of trainers with more grip. The by now familiar kick up the arse and sent on my way was administered and I promised to see the girls in Fort William.

The climb out of Kinlochleven is always longer and steeper than I remember it being. It was tough and then, just as you reach the top, you step into the driving rain that you’d been protected from as you climbed up through the trees. From this point onwards, there was only one story and it involved the weather. I was tired, cold, wet, hurting and long out into the distance was that lonely track. Half way across it was Jeff Smith and his Wilderness emergency team, looking out for people like me stupid enough to be crossing that lonely place in exactly these kinds of conditions. He took this photo which gives you a sense of what we were dealing with:

Lairig Mor. Pic courtesy of Jeff Smith

There was so much rain, the rocky track was inches deep in water and it was like running through a river. Lundavra eventually appeared on the horizon and I was so happy to know that the worst was over. The trail from Lundavra through to Glen Nevis used to be a pleasant experience but recent forestry work with some heavy machinery has put paid to that. In the darkness, one section of trail appeared to end as it went head first into knee deep tracks left behind by a digger of some sort. The familiar trees were gone which made for a disorientating experience for those of us who knew that area. Finally, the last small climb to the fire road which winds down through Glen Nevis was in front of me and I could see the head torches of other people ahead of me for the first time in hours.

It turned out that some of those torches were from my crew who had come out to meet me as they were so worried after seeing my ankle at KLL. I was over the moon to see a friendly face after the experience of Lairig Mor. I explained that it was downhill all the way and that I had something like 48 minutes to get in under 24 hours and, providing my ankle would let me, I was planning on going fast down the track all the way to the finish. I’m not sure they quite expected it, but running 5min\km downhill at the tail end of a 95 mile ultra wasn’t quite what they were expecting.

Sadly, it wasn’t enough and I crossed the line in 24hrs and 2 mins. It didn’t matter one bit though, I was so happy to have finished given how tough things had been throughout the day. I know that if it hadn’t been for my crew, I would have given up on the race early in the day and missed the opportunity to finish. They were amazing and I will be forever grateful to them. Races of this length require more than just physical fitness. You can plan for things going well, but you have to accept when things don’t go well and disrupt that plan. The experience of doing this kind of race is incredible and as someone reminded me at Bridge of Orchy, there is a world full of people who can’t imagine what it is like to complete something like this and we are all doing this on their behalf. I feel proud of finishing this tough race twice in respectable times. All the people involved in making it happen contribute to those of us lucky enough to run in it and I say a huge thank you to all of you.

Proud to receive my 2nd race goblet

The award ceremony on Sunday morning was another emotional experience. The winner, Rob Sinclair, set a new astounding course record of 13h 41m. An incredible performance which is really difficult to comprehend how it is achieved. The final finisher finished 20 minutes before the ceremony and was handed her goblet by the winner, as is the tradition of this race, and was given a standing ovation by everyone in the hall as a mark of respect.

Now, it’s time to recover. I put my body through some serious conditions on Saturday and I suspect it is going to take a lot of time to recover. That’s ok though. I’m happy to relax, take the time to recover and be satisfied with what I’ve achieved.

My fabulous crew who deserve the goblet as much as I do


Sunday on the WHW


Officially, it was the first day of British Summer time. That meant that we’d had one hour less sleep due to the clocks changing, but it also makes you hope that you might get some clear, sunny weather. But this is Scotland, in March, on the West Highland Way. We had wind, rain, sleet, hail, snow and some sunshine. But nevertheless, it was still epic.

My mate, Scott, and I are both signed up to run in the West Highland Way race in June. This is some test of endurance as it is 95 miles over some of the most remote trails in the British Isles. We have both spent some time on the trail, either from the Hoka Higland Fling race or from various reasons to walk in this part of the world. But running it. The whole length. Well, that’s something entirely different.

In preparation, we’ve both been increasing our mileage but we know we need to spend some time on the trail itself to train effectively. Knowing where you are and what comes next in a long race like that can make all the difference. So with that in mind, we planned a long run on Easter Sunday, starting at Bridge of Orchy and running north to the top of the Devils Staircase before turning around and running back again. The whole route was expected to be just over 30 miles with about 1000m of elevation.

We met up at 5am after losing that hour of sleep I mentioned and drove over to park at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel. After a quick hot drink in the hotel and a bowl of porridge, we set off. The first section is what’s affectionately known as Jelly Baby hill. It’s not much of a hill at all in comparison with some of the Munros around the area, but in the race itself it comes about 60 miles in and will be the last thing tired legs will want to climb. With that out of the way, the path meanders up on to Rannoch moor which is a bleak, open landscape.

Rannoch Moor

Rannoch Moor

The WHW rises up over the moor for about 10 miles. It is one of the many old military roads built through the highlands centuries ago and they were built to stand the test of time. The surface is like a cobbled stone and whilst it looks smooth enough, after running on it for an hour or so you are happy to reach the tarmac at the road to the Glencoe ski centre.

WHW over Rannoch Moor

WHW over Rannoch Moor

We stopped by the A82 to take in the views down Glencoe. It is probably one of the most photographed places in Scotland and with good reason. For the next couple of hours, we were spoiled with the huge scenery, which thankfully distracted from the achy legs. We reached Kingshouse in about 2h 30mins and after a quick pit stop to refill our water bottles, we headed back out for the Devils Staircase.

A bit like Jelly Baby hill, the staircase isn’t actually all that much of a hill when you compare it to some of the nearby monsters which look down on it. However, after running for miles, it commands a level of respect and swiftly reminds you if you don’t show it sufficient levels. By this point the weather was starting to allow some sunshine to poke through the clouds and we were treated with some of the best views the planet has to offer for all our hard work.

Scott making the climb to the top of the staircase look easy

Scott making the climb to the top of the staircase look easy


Hard not to fall in love with this place – Glencoe

With the hard work done, we celebrated at the top of the staircase with a cereal bar before turning around. With 15 miles in the bag already, we were both feeling surprisingly ok, especially Scott who had already run the best part of 100 miles that week.

Heading back down we had the enjoyment of passing all the people we’d ran past earlier, all of whom described us collectively as mad, insane and other similar badges of honour for any runner. We stopped at Kingshouse Hotel for a quick coffee and cake before crossing back over the road towards the ski center and the path back down Rannoch moor. Thankfully mostly downhill from here, we enjoyed the views some more until a freak hail storm blew in.

Anyone who has experienced a hailstorm will know they can hurt. When you are wearing next to nothing and running in temperatures which are hovering just above zero, and the hail in question is desgined to be the pointiest, sharpest bits of hail you can imagine, they hurt even more. Combine that with about 25 miles of running by two grumpy old men, then the result is a lot of muttering and swearing. I put every piece of clothing I had with me on and I could still feel the hail biting through the thick mountain hat and waterproof jacket. Thankfully it stopped just before we reached Inveroran and we could enjoy the final climb back up Jelly Baby hill and back down into Bridge of Orchy.

By the end, we’d done 32 miles in just over 6 hours. We both felt worried about what the WHW race has in store for us, but equally, we are more content now we’ve run some decent mileage on the route. We are planning another run or two on other sections before the race in June, so look out for more updates. All told though, this was a fantastic run with great company, thanks Scott! It gave me more confidence for the races ahead as my longest run otherwise had been about 20 miles. I’ve managed to get up to running about 100km a week now with a couple of longer runs mixed in so my training is going well.

I hadn’t mentioned this before but I’m being interviewed in the run up to the West Highland Way race in the podcasts series expertly run by John Kynaston. Head over to the race website to hear the first two instalments.

West Highland Way Race

I heard on Monday night that I have a place in the 2016 WHW race. For me, this is one of the ultimate challenges in UK Ultra running and is a considerable stretch beyond what I’ve entered so far. It covers 95 miles of some pretty rugged Scottish countryside from just outside Glasgow all the way up to Fort William.



I’m nervously excited to have a place, but that really does feel like the easy bit is now over. Training for this is going to take a completely different effort from what I’ve done so far, but I’m determined to train hard and put in the best performance I can. I’ve been watching and listening to the various videos and podcasts that exist about this legendary race and they are all helping. For now, I’m going to enjoy a few weeks rest leading up to Christmas, then begin to build the distances up in the New Year. Exciting stuff!


Caledonian Challenge 2015

At 05:16am on Saturday morning, wet, tired and aching I crossed the finish line of the 2015 Caledonian Challenge with two team mates from the Sleakit Beasties. During the previous 20 hours and 16 minutes we had walked 54 miles from Gairlochy to Strathfillian, mostly on the West Highland Way. In the process, we had raised over £4000 for Foundation Scotland.

Caledonian Challenge route profile

Caledonian Challenge route profile

As weekends go, this one was pretty amazing and certainly memorable. Taking on this challenge was my idea a year ago. I was catching a flight from Edinburgh to London for a business meeting this time last year and picked up a copy of the Scotsman newspaper as I boarded the flight. In the paper was an article from one of their reporters who had taken on the challenge last year and had written a piece about the experience. At the time, I’d never stepped a foot on to the West Highland Way, so I was captivated by his descriptions of the scenery along the route. There was also a lot of talk about the team work required to complete such a challenge and the impact it had on the workplace as a result. At the time, our local office where I worked was needing an injection of excitement beyond every day work, so I posted a message on an internal social media site asking if anyone wanted to join me taking this on. Surprisingly I got 6 other suitably crazy individuals signed up within a week and the Sleakit Beasties, a traditional name used by Microsoft Scotland for teams entering sporting and charity events, were born.

We had some fun training for the event, then the weekend of the challenge came around and we were all loaded into a coach heading for Fort William. The challenge is a supported event and you have the option of providing your own support teams or signing up to a support package provided. We chose the latter option as we couldn’t hustle together enough people to run around the highlands after us cooking food and attending to our blistered feet. In the end, we were really glad we did as the support team provided were exceptional. The package also included a night in the Alexandra hotel in Fort William for the Friday night before the start.

We arrived into Fort William on a sunny afternoon for registration in the Nevis center. The formalities were easily worked through and we were delighted to discover that we had actually won a t-shirt each for our fundraising efforts. Once we had checked in to the hotel, the Grog and Gruel pub provided us with dinner and drinks before an early night.

The start line the following morning was out in Gairlochy. We were amongst the 9am start group, which was the third wave of people to start, with others setting off at 7 and 8am. Our estimated finish time was 20 hours which earned us a place in this group, the objective presumably to have most teams finish around the same time. The conditions at the start were near perfect with a light breeze and cloud cover. We were ready.

Start line team selfie

Start line team selfie

Gairlochy to Glen Nevis

This section was probably the easiest we were to take on. It gave us a chance to settle into a steady pace and adjust our clothing to match the temperatures. The route follows the Caledonian Canal from Gairlochy down to Neptune’s Staircase before heading off towards Fort William and the bottom of Glen Nevis. The field split up nicely along this stretch, and by the time we reached the first CP we were towards the front of our start group and ready for lunch in the support tent.

Feeding the Beasties

Feeding the Beasties

The support package we signed up to meant we could provide a bag each with bits and pieces in which we didn’t need along the way. This worked exceptionally well throughout all the CP’s, meaning we could leave heavy items we didn’t always need, spare changes of clothing and snacks in the drop bags to reduce the weight. By the time we made it to the next CP, our bags were magically waiting for us.

Glen Nevis to Kinlochleven

This was the stretch we had started our night walk on a few weeks earlier, so it was the first time I’d done this section in daylight. We knew it was a steep ascent from the CP up into the Glen and towards Lairig Mor, so we hit the carbs in the CP, dropped as much weight from our bags as we could and made a start up the trail.

More selfie action in Glen Nevis

More selfie action in Glen Nevis

Within our group we had a range of abilities and the track up the glen was the first place where this started to really show. Some of the team were taking things slower to ensure they made the distance, whilst others worked at the hill to get it over and done with as quickly as possible. Before long though, we had all made it up on to the mor. It’s amazing how your memory plays tricks on you, I remember doing this section through Lairig Mor from the top of the Glen to Kinlochleven a few weeks ago and was sure it was much shorter than it actually is. I was painfully made aware of how long a stretch this section of the WHW actually is on Saturday, just as light drizzle started to coat everything. By the time we reached the descent into Kinlochleven, our group had split up into two groups, with one slightly slower and one, which I was in, pushing ahead.

Blister administration

Blister administration

The CP at Kinlochleven was in the Ice Factory, they put on quite possibly the best lentil soup I’ve ever tasted as well as pasta or chilli to feed us. One of our advance party group had some significant blisters appearing at this stage, so we extended our stay here to allow some medical treatment before heading out.

Kinlochleven to Glencoe

This was the meat of the walk. We always knew it would be, and it didn’t fail to deliver. The initial climb up out of Kinlochleven is unforgiving and long. i remembered taking this on in our training weekend and took a stern approach of simply pushing on up the hill at a steady pace. I enjoy this type of climb and I’d like to go back and have a go at running this section some time soon. Once up out of the town, there is a slightly less steep section to cross before summiting over the Devil’s Staircase. As always, the view here down into Glencoe is sublime and makes the hard work worthwhile.

Ricky taking a breather atop the Devil's Staircase

Ricky taking a breather atop the Devil’s Staircase

From here, the decent down into Glencoe feels luxurious after the previous climb and the distant lights of the Glencoe CP taunted us with the promise of hot food, clean clothes and somewhere warm and dry. Sadly, the view across the glen is deceiving and it was another significant walk before we were indulged.

Glencoe to Inveroran

As we arrived in Glencoe, the weather intensified from mist to rain status. After a feed at the CP, by now it was 11pm and we were all tired. One of the team dropped out here due to intense blisters and the rear party were still making their way across from the Devil’s Staircase as the advanced party pulled out. This section of the walk crosses Rannoch moor, one of the bleakest parts of countryside you will find anywhere. Finding it on a dark and rainy night with around 15 hours of walking already done could be described as character building. I don’t really remember the rain being all that heavy, but looking back I realise that it was and I just had my head down and was stomping across this empty place, determined to get to the next CP. Our time through this section proved that as we clocked up a significant pace. The path here is hard cobbles too and in the wet they make every foot fall feel painful and slippery. Eventually the CP appeared out of the darkness and more baked potatoes were consumed along with chocolate cake and custard. As I approached the checkpoint, a lady from one of the teams I passed mentioned the chocolate cake and I thought she was simply dreaming of what she’s like to eat. I was delighted to find the cake waiting though, it was just the positive mood swing I needed.

Inveroran to Tyndrum

40 miles down, 12 to go. Our stop at Inveroran was a quick one as we just wanted to push no by now. We later found out that our rear party dropped out at this stage, struggling to keep on with the conditions. They had but in a great effort and will be back next year I’m sure. That left just three of us still in the team, myself, Ricky and Duncan.

Outside Inveroran is a small but perfectly formed hill waiting for any tired walkers heading south. As we left the CP, I felt my shins ache with pain from what I suspect was boots that were too tight throughout the day. The walk up and over the hill to Bridge of Orchy was slow and painful for me, the heavy rain was taking its toll too and the other two guys were rightly pressing on to get the hill over and done with. I passed another team near the top with one guy who was limping heavily. I commented that it looked painful but kept walking on, I later learned from Ricky that the guy had just fallen and was heading to the next CP for first aid. I felt terrible for not stopping, sorry if you are reading this.

By Bridge of Orchy, we were all in what I’d describe as overnight mode. Conversation had dried up, everything was wet, all we were ever focused on was the beam of light from our head torches in front of us. Water points came and went, three of them in total. In each was a team of volunteers who did everything they could to lift our spirits. Throughout the whole event, it was breathtaking to see how many people gave up their time to support the challenge. Thank you, all of you, for doing such an amazing job and making such a significant contribution to making the challenge so much fun.

From looking at the OS map beforehand, the path here seemed to contour around the side of a glen. It might have done, but it was too dark to tell and I was too tired to care by now. I remember heading under a railway that had some very ghostly looking carriages sitting in a station with some lights on, looking like a scene from an old movie. Beyond that, all I remember is more cobbled path, more rain, a soup kitchen and another short climb over a hill before heading down into Tyndrum as daylight appeared.

I do remember at one of the water stops in this section, seeing two guys in every day football shirts, shorts and trainers stepping back out onto the trail. They were both soaked to the skin, but by the looks of their race numbers had set off at the same time as we did. They both seemed in fine form and were moving on up the track as if they were on Buchanan street in Glasgow on a Saturday afternoon. Well done lads, I hope you made it back safely!

Before long, we were wandering past the By The Way campsite in Tyndrum and the pleasant section of path that meanders along the river there. Memories of the fling came flooding back as I passed the point where the pipers stand at the finish. Not long after, we turned over the bridge near the Strathfillian wigwam site and the finish line was in sight.

The CEO of Foundation Scotland, Giles Ruck, was on point to welcome us at the finish with enthusiasm which was almost as large as his smile. he very smartly coached us to cross the line, arms in the air enabling the perfect photo opportunity.

Delighted to have finished the Caledonian Challenge

Delighted to have finished the Caledonian Challenge

After the finish, fatigue hit us all and with a hearty breakfast provided, some of us settled down to catch up on a couple of hours sleep in a tent before catching the coach back to Edinburgh at 8am. The sense of achievement was immediate. It is really quite a significant distance to be walking in one day and to do it under such a well organised event made it all the more memorable. It was the first year in the events 19 year history that a team from Microsoft has entered, but I suspect many of us will be back again next year. I had a ball leading the team, everyone really got into the spirit of the challenge and in the process raised a huge amount of cash. I’m exceptionally proud to have been lead Sleakit Beastie. Hopefully we will have many more challenges ahead together too.

Link to Strava activity.

The one thing that struck me on the drive home was that in just over two months I have completed the length of the WHW in a little over 30 hours. 53 miles in the fling and the remainder in the Caley Challenge coming from the other direction. Now I know where I’m going, I can’t stop thinking that perhaps the WHW race needs an application from me next year? My other though after finishing this, was that I much prefer running to walking. I remember being told at one point that it was 6 miles to the finish. In my head, that equated to about an hour, sadly, when you walk, those 6 miles took over two hours.

Next up for me is the Great Glen Way ultra on July 4th. I am really looking forward to that race now. It is such a beautiful part of the world that I am feeling more and more at home in. I need to build some more long runs in over the next couple of weeks to prepare and I should be ready to go, more on that over the next week.

A walk in the dark

Saturday saw me and five guys I work with take on walking a large section of the West Highland Way. I’m leading this team in the Caledonian Challenge in a few weeks time and this was a weekend I designed to be as physically and mentally tough as possible to make sure the team is ready.

First breakfast in Lairig Mor

First breakfast in Lairig Mor

We assembled in our Edinburgh office from our distant outposts. Amongst us we had people from Aberdeen, Fife, Auchterader, Glasgow, Oxford and Hampshire. Those latter two made the drive up to Edinburgh on Friday morning with a 5:30am start, which made their weekend achievements even more impressive. After a kit check in the office to ensure we all had the appropriate items, we headed out to fuel up at an Italian in Edinburgh. Once we had carbed up, we went back to the office to wait out the evening before eventually driving up to Fort William. We stopped en route to leave two of our four cars at Bridge of Orchy which was our target end point for the walk. 1:40am saw us arrive in the Ben Nevis visitor centre car park on a cold, crisp highland night. The stars were out and the sun had just about dipped below the horizon. One of the things I love about Scotland is how bright the nights are during the summer. On the challenge itself, we will be just about at the longest day of the year. That means that assuming the weather behaves itself then we should have bright night skies to accompany us along the night time sections of the walk.

2:45am skies just south of Fort William

2:45am skies just south of Fort William

After final adjustments by headtorch in the car park, we attached glow sticks to everyone just in case of emergencies and set off up a forest fire road following the WHW markers. The cold air spurred us on and before long we were well into Glen Nevis and heading south. With no view to distract us and the nerves of the day ahead still fresh in the back of our throats, we were subdued for the first hour as everyone got into their own rhythm. After a couple of hours, we had plateaued into the entrance to Lairigmor and we started to recognise that the sky was taking on a feint glimpse of light. By now the cold was biting and with the fatigue from the previous day, everyone was starting to drop a little. As the darkness turned to twilight, I suggested we stop and make tea and take on some snacks, ensuring everyone got some warmth inside them and some food. We still had a couple of hours to get to Kinlochleven and an even longer day ahead of us after that. The tea and snacks did the trick, lifting everyone’s spirits and giving the sky some time to fully expose the beautiful scenery we were surrounded with.



The WHW is generally made up of rough stone tracks and this section was no exception. The going was great, the weather was looking good and everyone was in high spirits. Before we knew it, we were emerging at the end of the mor and overlooking Kinlochleven, which by this time at 6am, was still fast asleep. Nothing else for it, but out with the tea making facilities and take a pew. As we sipped our early morning brew, the sun made its first appearance of the day over the hills to the east, bathing both the town below and us perched high up on the surrounding hills in lovely warm sunshine. I’ve seen it many times from years in the army. That warm bath of sunlight can lift anyones spirit, no matter how low they might be. Kinlochleven, and more precisely the Tailrace Inn, served as our breakfast spot, which by this point felt like our third breakfast, or even lunch. The landlady was surprised to see 6 worn looking walkers waiting for her as she opened the doors at 8am.

Kinlochleven in the early morning sun

Kinlochleven in the early morning sun

After a hearty breakfast, the first big climb of the day awaited. The ascent out of Kinlochleven is a steady climb that saps tired legs. By the time we got to the top of the first section which is mainly well laid track, our group was strung out over a few hundred yards. We regrouped at the top, took in some food and water and the spectacular views to the east and Blackwater reservoir. Going from this point was easier on the legs and we eventually peaked at the top of the Devils Staircase. This is an iconic spot along the WHW and gives you the first view when heading south into Glencoe.

Yours truly with Glencoe behind me

It is a mighty view and gives you a thump in the chest as Buachaille Etive Mor looms up in a commanding position across the other side of the glen. We took our time on the top here, having plenty to eat and drink and savour the views. We were all surprised by the number of tourists making the trip up from the layby down in Glencoe. Most of us forgot the time, only to realise it when we talked to some folk on the top who gave us funny looks when we explained where we had come from. At this point it was 10am. Dropping down the Devils Staircase into Glencoe, we passed a big wave of people on their way up, our minds however were now on Kingshouse hotel and our next rest stop. Once down in the bottom of the glen, the WHW takes a fairly simple route with little to distract you away from the spectacular scenery. As we got closer to Kingshouse and our lunch, we passed a group of three ladies who recognised our hiking hound and cheered us on as they too were on their final walk before doing the challenge.

The hound in figure head formation

The hound in figure head formation

Kingshouse delivered the promised lunch we were all craving at this point and after some attention to blisters and packing of kit, we were heading across the road to the Glencoe ski center and the long path over Rannoch moor. This is bleak country with little to distract the eyes. Despite the recent food stop, some of our team started to feel the weight of the last 12 hours and the early start weigh heavy on their shoulders and our pace dropped significantly. I expected this around this time, most of us had been up over 36 hours at this point and the time of day was becoming irrelevant. Conversation amongst the group tailed off and we started to get a little strung out. On the day of the challenge we have to stay within 100m of each other for good safety reasons, so this is something we will have to watch out for and address during the event.

Final ascent before Bridge of Orchy

Final ascent before Bridge of Orchy

Despite the fatigue, the long path over Rannoch moor eventually deposited us down into Inveroran. From here it was one final small climb over the hill into Bridge of Orchy and our waiting cars. The day wasn’t over though, we still had two cars to recover from Fort William and a trip down to our hotel for the night in Crianlarich. We eventually made it, 5 minutes before the kitchen closed. With food orders placed, pints in hand, we all acknowledged what an epic day it had been. That strange exhausted tiredness you only get from ultra long exertions and its subsequent high upon finishing was clearly written across everyones face. We learned a lot of lessons over the weekend. Packs need to be light, we need less stuff for on the march, we need to pace more effectively and we need to do the challenge as a team and not individuals. All told, it was the perfect training exercise for what will be a tough challenge that we are all now looking forward to.

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