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Jam Side Down
Traveling the West Highland Way by William Kerr
Chapter 8

Friday 07.00am

“Are yies up” James is at the door, no one is answering.

“Its seven o’clock and the breakfast is getting burnt”

“Aye right, we hear yi” Peter shouts, his voice then softens to a mumble,” for Gods sake is that no terrible the way he goes on in the morning” Peter is not a morning person.

We all crawl out of bed at the same time, Kenny kicking me in the head as he swings his legs over the bunk above me.

“Sorry Wullie”

“That’s me wakened now”

We quickly get ourselves together; I put on my shorts and follow Kenny and Peter into the kitchen. Johnny is already there helping the Sherpa prepare breakfast. There is no one else up at this hour other than the Spikey Shoe boys and I am sure if anyone hears us they will think there is someone breaking into the place, daylight is barely broken.

Now the breakfast is looking good. James supplies us all with a mug of tea. Johnny brings over a plate of food for each of us that could fill a battalion of infantrymen. I have six slices of bacon, three tattie scones, two Lorne sausages and two fried eggs, and he asks me if I want anymore.

“Are you insinuating that I am some sort of greedy bastard,” I joke with him.

“No, no, its` just there is plenty here”

 “Ah thought we should just cook as much as possible and what we don’t eat we can put on pieces and take wae us”

Sounds like a plan I think.

I can now conclude that the Spikey Shoe boys are not morning people. There is hardly a word spoken, but in saying that everyone is too busy eating and fighting their way through this breakfast. I cannot handle it and pick off all the meat to be made into sandwiches for later.

“Are you no hungry Wull?” Johnny asks

“Too much John boy, too much, but superb, compliments to the cooker”

As we leave the kitchen to get ready the two French blondes that were with the Coatbridge two come in still in their pajamas, not very French I think, I can only assume to see what was going on in the kitchen as they just said hello and went straight back out again. We left James to do the tidying up. It was time for the shower, get ready, today is our finale, fifteen miles left and I feel a sense of achievement this morning, here’s hoping nothing stops us now.

It’s a bit of a muddle in the room. Three men all wanting the same things at the same time. Kenny decides to use Johnny and the Sherpas room as there is not much going on over there as James is still in the kitchen. We are all up and running at eight o’clock. All the bags are in the van and we are just waiting outside for James to give us our packed lunch for the day. As this is the last day and the weather forecast is to be dry all day we decide that we don’t need back packs, as it will only be water and the packed lunch that we need to carry. Our Akeala reminds us that such necessities as first aid kits, whistles, phones and waterproofs would all be advisable as after all it is the Western Highlands and the weather can change with no notice. Johnny says no problem as he will carry what he wants in his pockets and wear his waterproofs. Peter doesn’t have any gear anyway and I decide to do the same as Johnny. Kenny offers to be the water boy, carrying twelve 330ml bottles of water, (we will carry one each), first aid kit and four packed lunches. As James is meeting us at the other end we will not need anything else as long as we all stick together.

   We notice the two French blondes; they are hanging out the window of their room, built into the roof of the hostel. They wish us well as we do them. The conversation this time is all in English and it makes me wonder if they had been taken the proverbial piss two nights previous.

It is a fine morning; spring is in the air, no sore heads, well not on my shoulders and no sore feet, well not in my boots. So from my outlook it is certainly a fine morning. I ask both Johnny and Kenny how the blisters are coming on and they both seem quite optimistic that no great pain will prevail, but I am sure that is a brave face as I saw the blisters last night, as big as the palm of my hand. Peter is back to his usual jolly self as compared to his grumpy outlook when James woke us all earlier. All in all we all seem quite happy with life this morning, after all today we are walking home, the final furlong.

Johnny breaks into `Amarillo`, we are all at and once again the French dames are at the window looking to see what all the singing is about. James appears with the packed lunch and we are informed that it is full of surprises; I think he has probably put enough meat on the pieces for once to call it a sandwich, surprise in deed! I open the hippy and make today’s’ toast;

“Sore legs, sore feet, blisters”

“Slanj”,  “Slanj”,  “Cheers big ears”, “That’s the way it goes big nose”

We all take a swig with James again being the exception to the rule. The Sherpa is given his final instructions of the week, where to meet us in Fort William and at what time, well as approximate as we can give him. The plan is for him to meet up with us so we can change out of our walking gear and into something less associated with walkers so we can all go and get a meal and a few beers before catching the train back to Airdrie.

 We go our way and James goes back into the hostel. We follow the road across the hostel car park past the camping ground and out buildings of the old smelter heading up towards the four big black water pipes that feed the generators that bring power to all that surrounds us and more and flings its remnants into the River Leven behind us. I am looking forward so much to getting home, to share all my stories with all there, I hope there is no hiccups today after all so far it has went fairly well with no major catastrophes.

We approach what looks like one of the local residents and Johnny tells him that he is going the wrong way for Fort William. There is no reply, only a grin and a nod of the head in recognition of the statement, a look of `who are these cowboys` as if he is telling us I have seen it all before, I reckon he knows something we don’t and he is not for telling us. We pick up the way where we left it yesterday walking over a bridge and into a wood, turning back in the direction that we have just come from on the opposite banking of the river.

I am thinking of home again, not far to go now, fifteen miles on foot and another one hundred and fifty by train. My own bed tonight and a long lie in tomorrow, superb. It will be good to see Bernie, Susan and the boys and share with them all what we have done this week. Like the kid going the school trip last Saturday morning I am now the eager kid wanting to get home and tell his mother and father about the great adventure he has been a part of.

  In no time we are back in line with the hostel again to our left but across the water and we notice the bridge that we could have crossed at the hostel bringing us to this point and possibly saving us about eight hundred yards. But honest men we are we feel pleased with ourselves that we have done the entire walk and not cheated.

As we walk out the wood we almost knock down the local man who refused too talk eight hundred yards earlier. This time was no different except his grin had now grown to light laughter, no a snigger. We had to join him in his moment when once again Johnny asked him if this was the right way to Fort William, this time. We now walk through Kinlochlevens other half, Kinlochmore. Now according to my map the WHW doesn’t touch Kinlochleven but it goes through Kinlochmore so I have learned something this morning. This part of the way walks through the residential area of the village along the B863 where we would cross into the wood and start our walk proper for the day.

Ceann Loch Leamhain (Kinlochleven), meaning head of Loch Leven is situated 15 miles south of Fort William on the WHW. It has a visitor center that specialises in the history of Alumimium in the town and the part that industry has played here in this community. With a population of just over a thousand it is not really a town as such but is recognised as one in the Highlands as it is one of the biggest populated areas in the northwest. The village that I was brought up in has a population three times as much. The Aluminium smelter was one of the largest in the world and was in production for almost one hundred years closing down at the turn of the millennium. One thing I have noticed is the distinct lack of a highland accent. It is more Lanarkshire what I have heard as a few families moved to these parts bringing their experiences from the Lanarkshire iron and steel works.

Kinlochmore (Ceann Loch Mhor, this spelling is a guess) does not seem to be recognised out with the area but it is mentioned on most maps.  I am lead to believe that Kinlochleven has the biggest (18 metre) indoor ice climbing facility in the world, called 'The Ice Factor'. Not into climbing in any way at all I had to take the word of the local barmaid last night, that this is in fact true. It also features the UK's largest articulated rock climbing walls and offers training for all levels, claiming to be the perfect place to learn every skill required in mountaineering.

In the forest above the village, are the remains of a POW camp, built for prisoners of the First World War and also nearby is the Grey Mare's Tail Waterfall - one of the most spectacular falls in the country I have been led to believe. I’ll take the locals word for that as there is no way I am going out of my way to confirm it, onwards and upwards there is one way only today and that’s direct to Fort William.

As we leave the village we are approached by what looks like an outward-bound group being herded down the road towards us by their young group leader. They all look in their senior years, about sixty at a guess, Wearing identical kits I can only assume that SAGA holidays have moved into the outward-bound business. We all acknowledge one and other and Johnny again cannot resist passing a remark. This time he tells them that Fort William is the other way and it has the best accident and emergency department in the country. We all laugh together wishing each other well and we march on.

“That’s a responsibility taking that lot out for a walk,” I say

“Ah hope they are well insured” Kenny adds.

“Not a Zimmer or catheter in sight either”

“Just as well as I wid have stole the Zimmer aff wan of them“ Peter threatened

“Are you sure its no the catheter you need” Johnny asks.

“Aye for all that piss that comes out his mouth” I add as Peter just smirks, with the `you’re one to talk look` on his face.

Our Akeala sees the familiar thistle logo and we cross the road and enter the wood. Immeadiately we start to climb and it is a climb. No gradual ascent here, this is quite steep. The locals in the bar last night had warned us that the first mile was a very steep climb and was recognised as one of the harder climbs on the walk. I had never heard of this untill we got here but so far they are right. In no time I am feeling under pressure and the other three had put a bit of distance between myself and them already, it`s going to be one of those days, I can feel it in my bones. There is not much to see as I walk through this wooded area with only about two gaps in the wood that allow a great view looking back down on Kinlochleven and KinLochmore. It is alpine like and a welcome spot for some respite, this is as hard a climb as I have experienced so far this week and I dread to wander what it would have been like doing it without doing the eighty miles we have already done to prepare ourselves for it.

Realising that the more I wait here the more distance that is being created between myself and the others. I must have walked more than half this walk on my own I think, well it seems that way to me. The legs are strugling, as well as the breathing, its deep long breaths and I now know that this is the toughest climb so far, the Devils staircase is a dawdle in comparrison. Constantly aware of the others not in view I push on upwards. Taking about ten yards at a time and then a very brief stop. This continues for about half a mile until I come out of the woods proper at what looks like the final part of this climb. The others are waiting for me here and I am pleased to hear that they have not been waiting long.

The WHW meets another path and according to my map it leads up to Mamore Lodge. I take a welcome break and the other lads discuss the climb with me and we all agree that it is the toughest yet, as I said the Devils staircase was a dawdle in comparison. As I gather my composure and allow my breathing to come to its natural pace I realise the beauty in the picture post card scene that lies in front of me. Of all the scenes that we have come across this is the one that would be classed as a tradtional view, the one you see in all the magazines, mountain peaks are plenty and Loch Leven is flung in to finish it off. In the distance the Pap of Glencoe is obvious, the weather being kind to us this morning is allowing us to see all around for miles. I take back what I said earlier that the scenery is not as appreciable without the rain and the grey skys, if its picture post card sights like this you want then fair weather with high cloud, or none is a must.

It has always been a long held ambition to complete this walk and I’ll be honest with you when I say I was deeply jealous of folk who would tell me that they had done it but also mad when they said that it wasn’t for everyone, I was envious and annoyed, I had to do it some day and I knew I could do it. It was one of those things that would be put off, `next year seems like a good time`.

These sights and experiences are something that should be available to everyone, especially our young to force a bit of knowledge about the land and what it offers. It gives us more than our basic needs of food, water and heat but a great awareness of all its other wonders; the space, remoteness, loneliness, history, culture, beauty, sharing, home, freedom, all words that are far from most peoples daily use. What is also very clear is we have a country that so many others don’t have, never will or never will see. A country that is too precious not to share and to allow the generations that come after us to ignore what Scotland has to offer would be ignorance itself on our part and a sin if we didn’t share it with our own as well as all others.

These experiences should not be kept for the privileged few whom by their own means get off their backsides and come and see it, but should be shared by all and everyone encouraged too do so. The yobs, the wasters of others peoples lives, why don’t we show them something different. The majority of folk we have come across this week are not Scots. They are people who have come from further than Airdrie because they have heard about what we have here and because they want to experience it for themselves, to take a little back home with them in the shape of a memory, something that is free for all but only a few, the lucky few realise it, we have to give it all away, share this and the world will be better for it. 

We are now on the Lairigmor track a five-mile long walk through a mighty glen surrounded now by high mountains on all sides. With Am Bodach, Stob Ban and Mullach nan Coirean high above us to our right the walking is easy although the track does rise and fall, running along the side of a hill the track pursues a lonely course west towards the pass around Sgun na h-Uillinn below Mullach nan Coirean, with only a line of small but interfering power poles like sentries stationed along the glen for company.

I am walking with Johnny as Kenny and Peter move away. I know he is suffering from sore feet but the brave face is on, but what the face hides the walking shows. The talk is all about what we are doing next for the Hospice. Dates are decided for the fundraiser dance and the raffle is planned. I volunteer my sons to do a gig as well and hopefully by the end of November we will have raised a wee bit of cash for our good cause.

Our biggest obstacles at this point is the amount of burns that we have to trape through as they spill over our path, thank God for waterproof boots. Johnny takes them in his stride as I have seen him do all week, I try and doge them jumping and skipping around them but he ploughs on through like the eight year old showing off his new wellies.

 There are two ruins in the glen and according to my map they are known a Tigh - na - sleubhaich, and Lairigmor. It has been a long time since they were inhabited as only bare dry-stone walls survive. I can only assume that they were crofts or shelters for shepherds, but crofts would be the likely use as they could both definitely support a whole family going by there size.

As we leave Lairigmor the way starts to rise very gradually away from the Allt na Lairig Moire (burn of the great pass) that has been with us most of the way through the glen. It rounds Meal a'Chaorainn, a ridge on Mullach nan Coirean about a hundred yards above the burn and continues its gradual decent now heading northwards and down into the pine plantation. It`s at this point Kenny points out the eagle flying in front of us just above the ground. It lands and starts to hop up the side of the hill. It’s very hard to pick out against the brown moor so to allow for a photo opportunity to take place we start to make a bit of noise (well we are from Airdrie what do we know) to try and frighten it into the air. Its not budging one bit as it continues to hop along the hillside. We do try the cameras but I am certain that the bird will not show clearly as it is well camouflaged against the hill. We decide to leave the poor bird alone as it obviously wants to leave us as it continues to run up the hill. I am feeling quite pleased that the others have saw the eagle as yesterday I am sure they didn’t believe me when I saw it (could it be the same one?) at the top of the devils staircase. So that’s two eagles, two live deer and two dead deer been seen, as well as lots of sheep and lots of cows. Thank God it’s not a safari I am on, as I would be looking for my money back. Listen, I am sure there is more wild-life around Calderbank than there is in the Western Highlands, and if I am wrong well it must be down to the Teughter variety being great at hiding.

We take a break as we reach the plantation; it’s time for the Sherpas surprise. Well I was right on one count. He has cleared out every last piece of meat and bread and gave us a sannie that a navy would be proud us, but the icing on the cake was the Tunnocks Carmel Wafers and Tunnocks Tea Cakes, where did they come from? This guy has been holding out on us yesterday with the tea biscuits, or maybe he bought them out of guilt after buying cakes for him and Pat the hostel owner.

Kenny dishes out the water, two bottles each at this point; I can assume that one is to be drunk now and one for walking.

“Look at this daft bastard” Johnny points out, “Ah hate people like that, here wi ir struggling to walk the bloody thing and this guys running it”

Running towards us there is a lone runner.

“Aye and running it the hard way too” Kenny adds. Its well known that doing the walk from north to south is a lot harder than our chosen and the chosen route of the majority of walkers, south to north.

The runner nods on the way past. Johnny waits until he is out of reach and flings one of his pieces at him. “Fit Bastard”

Thanking God that the sannie never made contact or that he never heard what was said we gather ourselves together and start to move on.

“Johnny wit if that guy was an SAS soldier and that piece hit him on the head, what would you have done”

“Telt him Peter flung it, whit di yi think”

We have a laugh and start to walk off now further into the plantation.

As I walk on with the other guys I realise that this is not only a walk for charity or a means of insuring that my bread will land Jam Side Up but by doing this with five other guys can also be very therapeutic in itself. A long walk, not a walk around Strathclyde Park but a walk of around One Hundred miles over seven days in all types of weather in some of the remotest landscapes that can be found on the planet. You cannot do this and fall out with your fellow walkers, to live with all these guys this week you have to accept them, warts and all and not be choosey as they have not been with me. If you are a guy who is finding it hard to be accepted, cannot get on with people well this could be a start, I am not saying that this would solve all your problems but if you are able to stand back and look at others and accept them for what they are then maybe they will do the same with you. I know that this week has brought me closer to Kenny, Johnny, George, James and Peter and I can only hope that they think the same towards me, as I would be hounered. Friendships have been cemented here. If we only see each other once a year from now on, I am sure that that time will mean a lot more then than if it had happened a year earlier. I have seen sides of them all that I never saw before, and again I am sure they will say it about me also. But I know now that I can never ignore or close my eyes or heart to these guys after what they have done this week because I know they came here with me to support me in what I wanted to do.

The social gatherings over the past six nights will be a great memory along with all the sights that I have seen, everyone as special as the other. We have shared in each other’s pain, we have laughed together and they have helped me conquer every demon that I faced on the WHW.

…They showed when I needed them,
Supported me through,
When I fell I was lifted,
My fears they chased with the support they gave
Nourished my eagerness and
tolerated my weaknesses
If friendship is sustenance
then I am fulfilled

The forest we are in is no way heavily wooded. A good wide path easily shows us along the way, we quickly move northwards now making up the time that was lost on the slow ascent out of Kinlochleven. As previous there are many small burns to cross but other than that this is a good walk at this point.

 We come across two walkers heading our way, walking north to south towards us. We stop and blether and enjoy a bit of craic with them. It turns out they are father and son; the father who is seventy-seven years of age and the son is about the same age us. They are doing the WHW for the seventh time, what a team. As this is the fathers last planned walk he has decided that he will take the north to south route. Now I am impressed with this old buddy. I am totally amazed at his commitment to achieve this goal and the fact that they are planning to achieve it over fourteen days is simply amazing. They come from Ayrshire and Peter and the son seem to recognise each other, one of those familiar faces moments but cannot put a name to it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Peter did know the son as he has knack of meeting someone he knows everywhere he goes. Kenny offers them some water as he sees they are carrying a small pack and only one visible bottle. They tell us that they take all their water from flowing streams, now these guys are going up in my estimation at every turn, maybe the secret of the old guys longevity. They gladly accept a bottle each and walk on as we all wish each well and safe journey.

“Is that no fantastic, seventy seven years old and doing it the hard way,” Kenny points out.

“Ah know the sons face from somewhere” Peter looks puzzled.

“Ah you probably dipped his pockets wan night,” Johnny suggests. Peter is getting it tight today, but I know he will come back with a vengeance.

“You never danced against him, did you” I ask.

“Don’t go their boy, don’t go there”

I am frightened off. 

We emerge from the forest and the way splits in to two. We look at the map and notice that there is only one option for the WHW. A notice board placed at the junction tells that the road to the left is a shorter road route to Fort William, but not the official WHW. So there is no option here for us. Our route will take us to Glen Nevis. The board also tells us about where we are going to be walking, into the Nevis Forest and clearly marks out the WHW and other walkways to be found. It also supplies us with various points of local interest.

 From this point we see a bit of wide-open space to our left, following the road that according to the map will eventually take you into Fort William past Loch Lunn da Bhra and through Lundavra and Blarmachfoldach. But not for us we are not taking the easy way out. The barmaid in the Antler had spoken of this route last night and told us that it was an easy walk and the old buddy from Ayr had also told us that through the Glen Nevis forest was a hard walk and thinking of him only gives me the jolt of encouragement that I need to get on my way and get this finished.

We start off climbing steadily. I believe the greyhounds can scent the hare now as they pull away from me. I do not see them again until I come to another opening and I notice the three of them ahead as I climb the stile out of the forest that is a gentle climb over a kame on an area of open moorland that looks towards more pine plantations about half a mile ahead. I cannot say for sure, but I think this is the first sighting of Ben Nevis. Our Akeala is not here to confirm this but straight ahead there is a hell of a big hill that I notice from the top of the kame where I rest for short while. As I walk down off the kame I have to give way for a lad on a mountain bike, aye a bike, what is he doing out here in a bike?

The others are waiting for me at the end of the clearing, before we enter back into the forest. Logging to our left scars the area and I can only imagine what it will look like once all the trees are felled, more Armageddon than Brigadoon but I suppose that this is another natural resource that our country is so full of and as long as every tree that gets cut down is replaced I don’t see why not.

“Did you see the boy on the bike” Peter asks “He nearly ran me down, the bastard came out of nowhere, ah don’t know who got the biggest fright me or him”

“That’s easy it would have been the boy in the bike” Johnny says

“Ah thought bikes were not allowed here,” I ask.

“Your in the British capital for outdoor pursuits here in Fort William, if you can do it outside, you can do it here” Kenny throws his knowledge at us.

“Aye, but surely they should be kept away from walkers”

“No there are parts that bikes are allowed”

“The next wan that comes at me without ringing a bell is getting a wee shove to the side” Peter informs us; the angry head is back on.  

 We carry on daring a cyclist to come near us. The way re-enters the forest and drops down to cross a burn the Allt Coire a Mhuilinn by a footbridge according to my map. It's pleasant enough here, a nice woodland walk. Once you're into the main section of forest the path starts to play tricks on you. We are in dark woods not much light getting here and nothing to see except imaginary shapes that at first seem alien, then on approaching just natural inhabitants. The tree cover is much thicker than what we have seen at any other part of the walk. Alone again I come across an opening and I am now sure that what I see is Ben Nevis straight ahead, but I know again I could be wrong as map reading is not my strongest point in fact it has never been seen in my bag of competences.

This part of the way now is up and down; ascent and descent. I know where there is a long slope downwards there is going to be a long climb upwards. I can hear water running fast but I cannot see it. The daylight is struggling to get through at around one o’clock in the afternoon; I wouldn’t like to be here in the dark. I descend very steeply and then again a hard climb back up, as hard as this morning but not as long. It repeats itself again, the same scenario, dark woods, deep descent, hard ascent. After another never-ending path again we are down, this time helped by steps, as the way is very steep.

I take time to myself as at the bottom of the steps I stand alone and stare at the water that runs down off the cliff in front of me, surrounded by trees in a space no more than five by ten yards. Its practically tropical the only bit missing is heat as the sun tries to break through the trees high above, the only sound is the water falling, hitting the stream that flows under the small stone footbridge. I am glad to be alone at this point; I want to be selfish for a short while anyway, this is mine. I step off the bridge about two feet below me into the ankle deep burn. I take an empty water bottle and fill it with the water that runs over my boots. I drink it, apprehensive after what the doctor told the giant at Tyndrum, bloody marvelous, cold and the taste is what water should taste like, not the chemical, fluoride, polluted stuff the council pumps into our homes, this is real water. If I could bottle this scene I would and take it home with me, will this be my small part, my lasting memory, the piece I take home. As I know I am only about four miles from the end of this great walk, no escapade is better.

I realise that I am low down and no sign of the forest ending, so that means only one thing, I’ll have to climb out of this haven.

The path climbs, and climbs and climbs, I reckon I am climbing for about half an hour. A rise that is every bit as hard as the hike this morning out of Kinlochleven and the staircase all rolled into one. But this is eerie, almost scary. The tree cover gets thicker as the pine is thin and long growing on a brown dry looking earth that has never seen daylight to allow grass to grow. The wind blows slowly through it, trees creek, and trees whisper. I am sure there is someone here watching me, murmuring into my ear, hurrying me along. I don’t want to rest, but I do, but not for long. The way carries on, now zigzagging, only two foot wide. I am toiling but no way am I going to hang around here, but I do, again I rest. I move on, as there is nothing to see well that’s my excuse. Day light gets stronger, I see a gap in the trees, it gets bigger and daylight is all around me as the way flattens out. I hope this is the end of the forest, I want it to be. No more climbs as I know at the end of the forest according to my map it’s all down hill, freewheeling home all the way to Fort William.

I hear the others, good! They are all sitting on a stile waiting for me and I can see over them straight ahead, above them clear blue skies with just trees to my left and right for fifty yards, natures corridor is pulling me to the light. No hills, no mountains that means only one thing, I am going down hill one last time. They come off the stile to let me climb as I now leave the wood for the last time and to my right as I leave the trees, it’s there. I let out a roar as I see it; Ben Nevis officially welcomes us all to Fort William, this is the sight we had been walking towards for the last seven days, two and half miles to go, only two and half.   

We don’t want to start the back slapping, not just yet, not just because we see Fort William in the distance on the long narrow plain that runs down to the sea, after all we have two and half miles to go and we will not tempt fate so near the end. We are a bit besieged by Ben Nevis, staring at it as if we haven’t seen a mountain at any time this week, its bulk dwarfing all around us. I don’t know if this is a sign of disappointment or awe. I have mixed emotions about it. It is the biggest mountain in all these Islands and it deserves all the respect it holds for being that but it looks like the big dumplin` of the family that we have walked upon and through from Ben Lomond in the south to here. We are standing staring at a big dumplin`, not saying a word. Buachaille Etive Mor and Ben Dorain, the thoroughbreds of this family never even got a second glance from this crew. I gather it creates its own reputation through size, and this confirms once and for all that size isn’t everything!

We waken from our gaze as Kenny calls for a team photo with the big Ben in the background. Johnny, Peter and I take the standard pose and I just know Peter is standing behind me with two fingers raised above my head. I change places with Kenny and then Johnny with me, it should make a good photo I think.  I bring out the hippie to toast the Ben and I am quickly chastised by our Akeala, toasting at this point is inappropriate as today’s walk is not yet over. Not wanting to explain what my intentions are, like a good boy scout I do as I am told and carry on walking showing more accord than conformity.

We haven’t walked twenty yards when the phone beeps, signaling a message. It’s Tom Sinclair. He has actually remembered the song for today or does he want me to pick something up for him at Morrisons in Fort William, stranger things happen at my work but it is the former. Walking back to happiness and last train to Glasgow Central, two songs for one today, he has a guilty conscience after forgetting Wednesday I know he has.

Peter chooses to break into the Helen Shapiro number as this is from his era but I am glad to say that he only knows the one line. This leaves an open mike for myself to steal the show. Last train to Glasgow Central we all know this one, well the chorus anyway. Marching on further down towards the road that will lead us to the finishing line we sing to our hearts are content. Peter steals the mike again, he is back to the old Airdrie favourite Doe-a-Deer, but this time the actions are all there as he impersonates the Von Trapps running through the Austrian Alps, singing and playing at airplanes at the same time, arms stretched wide, running from side-to-side. We all follow; all that is missing is the nun leading us off and our clothes being made from curtains. Next it’s a hymn, he never fails. Johnny doesn’t know the words and he protests profoundly. He breaks away and starts a rendition of the Sash, disorder breaks out, the hymns get louder and the Sash gets louder.

“Fuck it” Johnny says “A cannae beat yies, so I’ll just have to join yies”. He breaks into `Deep and wide`. We all follow suit, we are no longer an orange band but a Salvation Army band, but Johnny still insists on flinging the imaginary stick, no one picks this up as our now happy band march onwards and downwards to our final meeting place with the Sherpa.

We had arranged to meet James in the car park of the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre. We start to play at spot the van, “A pound for who sees` it first” is up for grabs. Johnny’s phone goes, thinking its James he opens it but informs us that it is George. We are all keen to know how he got on at the doctors and Johnny asks him relaying back that all is fine. He tells him where we are and after some other chat the conversation ends and the phone is hung up.

“That’s strange,” says Johnny “ He was wanting to know where we are and how far we were from Fort William, you know, ah think he has come up here to meet us”

“Maybe Gerry brought him up,” Peter says

“Maybe Bernie has come too” Johnny adds, but I think no as I realise that she wont have the time since she was working this morning.

“Did he not say where he was?” Kenny asks

“No and ah didn’t think of asking, I’m just not thinking that he is going to be here waiting on us”

“Phone him back,” I ask Johnny

“No, maybe he wants to surprise us, we’ll leave it alone” We bow to Johnny’s comprehension of the conversation and we all agree that it would be good if he was there to walk in with us.

The phone goes again. This time it must be the Sherpa.

Answering the phone Johnny tells James that we will be at the car park in half an hour, but as we still cannot see the car he tells him to keep an eye on the hill to his right for us walking down.

It’s a pleasant walk down through the remaining woods sitting above the Glen Nevis Centre and campsites, the fields looking like a green patch work with miniature dwellings spread sparsely about it. The Way is kind to us, the sun is shining and the path is a wide forest track. We are all feeling `chuffed to the gutty` or the walking boot in this case. For the first time the guys start to talk about how they feel and I sense a great mood of achievement coming from them all. At this point there is not one hard part of the walk, they were all great parts, wonderful, not sore, not spirit breaking or shattering emotions, it’s all good stuff, but I know for sure when we are all alone tonight thinking of what we have done we will be more honest with ourselves and realise how hard it really is and how it can drain your emotions as well as leave you with bloody sore legs, knees and feet playing with your mental as well as your physical state.

“There’s the van”, Johnny spots it first “Where’s ma pound”

“Sing for it” I say

“No, he only knows wan kind a song and we’ll have no more of that, here I’ll gie yi a pound” Peter is not into the communal singing, not Johnnys anyway and hands him a pound note.

Johnny phones James to let him know that we can see the van.

“Ah can see you standin` beside the van… up to your right… no your` other right” We fall about laughing at Johnny’s remark. “Can you no see us now… you stay there, we will come to you, you’re in the right car park”

The WHWs route drops down to the roadside taking a sharp right above the road, directed by the finger post that also informs us that there is an alternative route to Fort William via the `Braveheart` car park, I ask myself how tacky can the council get if they think calling a car park after a Hollywood movie would encourage folk to come running to the area but again maybe William Wallace had a frightening experience when confronted with a medieval car park attendant, I am surprised that Mel Gibson didn’t have anything as surreal as that in the movie!

We are now on the road, about a mile and half to Fort William and about a hundred yards to the Visitor Centre car park. We cross the road and attract James attention telling him to park the van as near to the toilet block as possible. We gather our change of clothes from the van and all head to the toilets to get a quick wash and change. James hurries off but not before we all got the chance to thank him for all the running about he has done for us this week, some men would have told us to “F off” for asking what we have asked of him. I tell him that if he is ever looking for references as a Sherpa I will be happy to oblige. We all shake his hand and wish him a safe journey home with the van with Johnny reminding him not to crash it. The departure of the second member this week makes me think of all that he has done, the laughs that he gave us, the friendship he showed, nothing was a bother although if I had a gun at Glen Falloch I think I would have shoot him if I had the chance when he told us that he couldn’t make a cup of tea because it was raining and I will never forget the look on Georges face when he told him that he had forgot to buy the Gin, and even better when I told them all that he had dropped the carry out the day after that, superb.

Having now changed from walking attire into travel home on the train apparel we placed all our old walking gear into the van along with our backpacks prior to the Sherpas departure and we are now back on the way, the final mile and a bit into Fort William. It now looks like a four ball without the clubs, only a carry out bag containing whisky, vodka and a couple of beers that I am left to carry on the way into town, some light refreshment for on the train. With our slacks, casual jackets and white and blue ` polo shirts we are no longer serious walkers, were we ever I think. For one of the few times this week I am the lead walker along with Johnny. There is nothing being said, strange with Johnny at your side, even the two behind us are very quiet. Maybe its knowing that it is now almost final and it may as well be at this point as we walk on pavement there is no sign anymore of the WHW, just tarmac, asphalt, blacktop, civilisation just around the corner.

“So when will we get together next John boy, when is the next outing” I ask him.

“My night out next Friday night” he replies.

“Night out! What’s that for?”

“My Confirmation, yous Bastards have managed to convert me with all your hymn singing, if I cannae beat yies I’ll join yies”

My laughter spurs the others on and I share Johnny’s proclamation with them when they catch up.

We are now practically racing, racing to catch a train that is due to leave in three hours with a mile to walk to the station. I know this is not the case; the race is on to the line. Like the thoroughbreds we keep the second wind until it’s really needed as we step up a gear. We are walkers, champion walkers. There is no longer any pain the only thing that is felt now is liberation, emancipated from all the hurt we can only feel elation in completing the task that we set out to do not seven days earlier but in my case ten months earlier. Something big in my life is coming to an end here.

“Whit’s up now” Johnny points to James returning towards us in the van. As he approaches closer we all notice George riding shotgun. It is good to see him.

“Look what a found walking down the road” James informs us as George jumps out and crosses to meet us. We all welcome him back, shaking hands we meet an old friend that seemed lost for a while but has came back to join the group that he started with and had to leave too soon. He hands me a bottle of whisky, `Ben Nevis` 10 year old single malt. I don’t know what to say, touched by the sentiment.

“Something to wet our heads with when we walk over the line” George tells me.

“No way, this is a special bottle, this is going home and put away, this bottle is now a memory, thanks” I walk on myself I cannot say an other word. George catches up and walks by my side I am so pleased he is here as he was the first volunteer to join the corp. James drives past sounding the horn, now wouldn’t it be great if the Sherpa was waiting at the finish to see us home.

“Wait” Johnny shouts at James, he slams on the breaks, what’s up I think. Johnny runs ahead opens the back door of the van and starts to rummage. As we approach he hands me Georges Gin to add to the carry out that has lay in a lonely state waiting its masters return. James now drives on.

We pass the wishing stone and follow the River Ness on into town.  We approach the road signs that signify a thirty-mile per hour speed limit, for cars, not walkers; we are now in Fort William. I take out my phone and call home, Liam answers and I tell him that we are now in Fort William having completed the West Highland Way. I find it difficult to say these words, my heart is trembling, my hands are shaking, the `bottom lip` quivers. After congratulating me he shouts our news to his mum and there must be a houseful as I hear a loud cheer going up in the background. Bernie comes on the line first congratulating us all and enquiring about our health and at what time we would be home tonight. After giving her all the details I pass the phone to Peter as Liz his other half is also in our home waiting for news of our ending. Ahead is the Nevis Bank roundabout that decrees the official end of the West Highland Way. ` Ceud Mìle Fàilte - An Gearasdan`.

The sign reads `This is the end of the West Highland Way`. A bit of back slapping now takes place. Grown men fill up and cuddle each other, its over.

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