John Muir Way and Ben Nevis, Scotland, UK

posted in: Mini Adventures | 0

Written by Lucie.

In August 2018, Lucie and Mark were travelling around Scotland. In addition to lots of camping and some short walks (including one up to the peak of Beinn Dorain at 1076m above sea level), they hiked up Ben Nevis – the highest mountain in the UK – and Lucie did a short section of the John Muir Way in Scotland (note that there is also a John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevadas in California, named after the same person).

John Muir Way

The whole trail runs for 134 miles (215km), but Lucie only had a couple of days before needing to be in Edinburgh and so hiked the section from Falkirk to Edinburgh.

One of the many signs for the John Muir Way.

Day one

A801 to Blackness, 19.5 trail km
The hiking started just outside of Falkirk, at the crossing of the A801 with the Union Canal. Lucie headed eastbound on the tow path and met lots of people cruising amount on their narrow boats. The weather was great and everyone was in high spirits. There were LOTS of blackberries along the path (this would become a theme for the hike) and she wandered along picking and munching.

A teeny little canal boat.

A short while along the canal she crossed the Avon Aqueduct, which is, apparently, the second longest aqueduct in the UK. There, the trail turned north, leaving the canal in favour of the River Avon. The John Muir Way was well signed the whole time and she walked along the banks of the river and the Avon Heritage Trail, enjoying the quiet of nature.

Along the River Avon.

At the Linlithgow Bridge she left the river to walk a short way through the small town before getting out into the country lanes. She passed Bo’mains Meadow and then went through the Kinneil Estate, which is the site of James Watt’s (the inventor of the steam engine) ruined cottage and the semi-ruined Kinneil House. After Kinneil Estate the trail worked its way up to the coast path, crossing a railway line with an old stream train still in operation.

Next, the path went to the village of Bo’ness, where Lucie decided to detour into the high street for lunch. She found a cute cafe, mainly catering to old people having tea and cake or people having coronation chicken baguettes (very British!). Back on the coast path the blackberries got out of control! She had to really hold back.

The path wound through wilderness areas, a boat yard, more open grassland and wooded areas. Then, it came to the hamlet of Blackness, which conveniently had a public toilet and drinking water available. The hamlet is next to a small castle that sits right on the edge of the water and is very pretty. Despite having taken her sweet time, stopping to pick blackberries, take photos and sit on beaches, it was only about 4:30pm when Lucie reached Blackness. However, looking at the map, it was clear that in order to space out the distance to Edinburgh, she needed to stop for the day. As such, she spent a long time exploring the woods and around the beach, searching to find the best campsite for the night. She eventually chose a spot on the grass just above the beach, sheltered from any wind by trees and a small bank, but with amazing views out across the Firth of Forth and to Blackness Castle. She sat on the beach for a while, pitched the tent, had dinner sat on the sand, went for a long walk along the beach and out onto the mud flats, did yoga, watched a beautiful sunset… and finally decided it was an acceptable time to go to bed! It was very comfy and a great spot to sleep.

Sunset near Blackness Castle.

Day two

Blackness to River Almond, 17 trail km
Lucie woke up just before dawn and watched the sun rise over the water. Then, it was time for breakfast on the beach (complete with fresh blackberries, of course!), which let the dew dry off of the tent. There was plenty of time.

Sunrise near Blackness Castle.

After packing up she started the day’s walking by going through the woods. She stopped to take a photo of some pretty flowers and a passing cyclist stopped to tell her about it. Apparently it was Himalayan balsam, which, unfortunately, is an invasive species that can also cause skin rashes. Shame.

There were lots of dog walkers and cyclists out and the weather was lovely. The trail went through the Hopetoun Manor estate, with its resident sheep and the manor house. Here, she met a very friendly old chap, walking his cocker puppy, Rocky. He wanted to tell her various parts of his life story, including how he’d been in love with an Aussie girl and (even though he wasn’t a betting man) had put a pound (because Australia used pounds back in that day) on a horse from New Zealand called Rainlover… It went on a little while but the puppy was getting too eager to move on, probably for the best! Although it was a lovely chat.

The gates to the Hopetoun estate.

Past the estate the path re-joined the shore and soon went underneath the three bridges at South Queensferry: the M90, A9000 and railway. In the town, Lucie stopped for lunch and back on the trail started picking blackberries again. She came across some people with metal detectors, said hi and asked if they were going to search on the beach at Whitehouse Bay. The young teen in the party enthusiastically said yes, but one of the adults seemed very suspicious of being spoken to. And when he saw the blackberry picking he seemed positively disgusted. It was very weird.

South Queensferry.

Past Hound Point the trail went to Dalmeny House and golf course, and you could see across the water to Cramond Island and the fortress on Inchmickery island. It continued along the shore to the River Almond, where the path turned south, roughly parallel to the river. Lucie found a spot to camp in a wooded area up on the banks of the river. She later realised that it was directly under the flight path for planes landing at Edinburgh airport and that the footpath down on the opposite bank was a little busy. However, the planes were infrequent and stopped early, the camp spot was sheltered from view, and there might not be another camp spot available because the path would soon turn into the suburbs of Edinburgh. As it was, it was a very comfy spot to relax with a crossword, stretch, eat and sleep.

Dalmeny House.

Day three

River Almond to Lochrin Basin, 16.6 trail km
The weather was a bit grey and threatening rain, so in an effort to avoid a wet tent, Lucie got up and broke camp quickly. She also wanted to get moving because she was running low on water, and despite being next to the river, she couldn’t get to the water because it was down a steep, tall cliff.

She followed the last little stretch of wide river to Queensferry Road, and then crossed east, over the water, and walked along the Barnton Park golf course path. From there, the trail went through Davidson’s Main Park, some suburban roads and then came to the Corstorphine Hill Nature Reserve, where there were many more blackberries to pick. After reaching the top of Corstorphine Hill Lucie met another older gentleman walking a cocker puppy and got a bit of a history lesson about the area and John Muir. There was a view point that looked out across Edinburgh, which was interesting, but the weather was still grey and slightly damp on and off so it wasn’t super pretty. At the lookout is the start of the Edinburgh ‘Ghetto Zoo’, i.e., public land that is very close to the edges of some animal enclosures and where you can see some animals if you are lucky. The Edinburgh Ghetto Zoo provided the occasional zebra.

After Ghetto Zoo, the trail went along the Corstorphine branch railway route, featuring a house with an elaborately decorate back garden that professes to be a tram stop.

The tram garden.

Then, the trail went to Murrayfield Stadium, along the Water of Leith river and a few roads to reach Saughton Cemetery. Lucie made a detour to get to a nearby ASDA supermarket where she was finally able to fill up on water and bought some food for lunch. Then, she re-joined the Union Canal at another aqueduct, found more blackberries, and walked into central Edinburgh, this time with rowers for company in place of canal boats.

At Lochrin Basin the canal terminates and the John Muir Way continues east through Edinburgh. However, this was her finishing point and so she left the trail and headed north, past Edinburgh Castle, to meet Mark and get a key for an AirBnB where she got to enjoy a very interesting ‘jacuzzi shower’, a chill afternoon and bed.

Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis (Beinn Nibheis in Scottish Gaelic, 1345m above sea level), is just outside the town of Fort William. We started our hike from the youth hostel and the first part of the climb was on the Youth Hostel track. To prevent further soil erosion this path has been laid with large stones, embedded in the ground. The resulting path is not a staircase, but also isn’t an even uphill so we had to pay quite close attention to our steps. After half an hour or so we reached the junction with the main track and encountered many more walkers, mostly sat around snacking. We continued on and the path became a little less steep – now mostly consisting of a dirt slope with regular stone steps. The hillside was quite steep and rocky, with lots of little waterfalls and patches of heather and wild flowers. We crossed lots of little streams and a small bridge.

Amazing views across the countryside.

After another 30ish minutes we reached a saddle with a large lake. Across the lake we could see into the next valley and further mountains, and behind us we could see down into Glen Nevis, Fort William and the water.
A short while later (one hour and 20 minutes from the youth hostel), we reached the Red Burn river (Allt na n-Urchaire) and waterfall. We crossed the water via large stepping stones and stopped from lunch on the other side. Just above our heads the clouds were hanging.

Looking back down at the saddle.

After lunch we continued to ascend and walked into the cloud. Suddenly our warm, sunny walk became rather grey and punctuated with a cold, damp wind. The path became a jumble of small and large stones, most of which were loose, which slowed the pace a little bit. As we neared the summit and the path started to level out, we walked past several large, stone cairns.

We got to the top about three hours after we had started walking. We were still in thick cloud and couldn’t see very far in front of us. There were quite a lot of people at the top, more cairns, a tiny shelter on top of a big cairn, a ruined stone building, and the UK’S highest war memorial.

Amazing views at the top of Ben Nevis.

With not much to see and a cold wind blowing, we didn’t stay up on the peak for long. The clouds cleared just about Red Burn and we were suddenly bathed in warm sunshine again. Despite our knees starting to feel quite sore we enjoyed the walk and the beautiful views back down.

Back at the bottom of the mountains.