To recoup after a couple of days on the road wild camping, we stopped over in a cabin at the desolate Glencoe Mountain Centre; the end of October clearly wasn’t a busy time for them. This year (2016) they celebrated their 60th anniversary as Scotland’s first ski centre. Phillip Rankin ‘the Scottish skiing pioneer’ alongside a couple of other members of the Scottish Ski Club opened the lift at White Corries in 1956. Roger Cox, in the Scotsman, explains that “many of the people involved in the project, including Rankin, had fought in the Second World War, and they approached a series of apparently insurmountable problems (like building a ski centre in Scotland) with an admirable, anything-is-possible attitude. No ski resorts in Scotland? Fine, let’s build one. We need permission to build one there? Fine, let’s ask the landowner. We need to move a load of heavy machinery almost to the summit of a steep, rocky, boggy Munro? No problem.” Today, with seven lifts and nineteen runs, this is not the largest resort but there are also downhill tracks and trails for riders…
That night we met the first people we’d seen out walking the West Highland Way, two friends – a Polish and a Belgian student from Stirling University – taking shelter in the warm dry toilet block, well away from their cheap pop-up tent pitched outside in the gales and rain. They had two days left of the hike but, by the sounds of it, they could’ve done with it being their last. For them, Fort William was still 35km away on foot, which highlighted one of the better things about travelling by bike – slow enough to immerse ourselves in places, but fast enough to cover distances and change plans.
As our camp kit dried, we ourselves spread the OS maps over the floor to check out our options for the last day-and-a-bit, given the weather hammering the cabin. Our original idea was to head over Devil’s Staircase to Kinlochleven and ride/hike to the MBA bothy just east of Kinlochleven on Loch Eilde Mor.
However, as amazing as this night could have been, it was at least 5km down an unknown boggy path which would have left us with a super sketchy timeframe to make our train home from Fort William, at 11.00am on the final morning. The weather didn’t help with our optimism either – there was a printout of the mountain weather forecast on the bar noticeboard – so Plan B Touring kicked in. We would head to stay in Fort William tomorrow night, check out Devil’s Staircase, but potentially return to stay down at the bottom of the glen, through Glencoe village and round to Kinlochleven instead if the weather and visibility was bad; we didn’t want to be ‘those guys stuck on the hill’.
As soon as the light rose the next morning, we packed the bikes and gave the downhill run a go before continuing down the glen towards Altnafeadh, where the track kicked up to Devil’s Staircase (a supposed route used in the Glencoe Massacre of 1692). At points, we could not see much further than 100m through the rain, wind and mist; the photos don’t do it justice. We progressed a fair way towards Kinlochleven, mainly hiking with the bikes, before deciding that it wasn’t the day for heading into the hills and so turned back to ride through Glen Coe, a more suitable route on the Sequoia bikes. This Glen Coe route was stunning anyway – the random white farmhouse providing the only scale in an otherwise epic and super moody Munro landscape – our detour in no way felt like a setback. The only reference to the Glencoe Massacre we noticed was at the awesome Clachaig Inn on the backroad to Glencoe village – a droving stop-off, and now a popular climbers pub, which has a sign on its door saying “No Hawkers or Campbells”. From Kinlochleven, it was back on the Old Military Roads to Fort William where, after a couple of beers and live music at the Grog and Gruel pub in town, we stopped over at the Backpackers Hostel, just a couple of kms away from our final calling point: the Ben Nevis Distillery.