OK, so having just tried it, I really wouldn't advise walking 14 miles while suffering from the aftermath of food poisoning. I might have managed to get pretty much everything (and I mean everything) out of my system last night, but there's a debilitating dizziness that comes along with the nausea of food poisoning, and that takes a lot longer to shift. It's not exactly the best hiking companion I've ever had, particularly as Scotland hasn't turned out to be the easiest walking environment in the first place.
I dithered about leaving at all this morning; it's not terribly sensible to head off into the hills when you've thrown up your last two meals and your energy levels are low. I figured I'd wait to see what happened to my breakfast before deciding what to do, and although I felt pretty queasy and didn't exactly relish the climb over to Fort William, something in me wanted to try. I've walked through miserable weather and through the pain of blisters, and I've put up with inflamed tendons and strained muscles, but I've never walked this sort of distance with food poisoning. Besides, the thought of an extra day in Kinlochleven didn't exactly fire my synapses; pleasant though it is, it's hardly a metropolis.
In the end it was certainly an experience, and experiencing things is half the point of a walk like this. At least, that's what I'll tell my shrink...
I sweated more today than at any other time on this walk, even on my sun-beaten stomps along the shores of Loch Lomond. From Kinlochleven the Way heads steeply uphill before turning west into a long valley, and during this ascent of about 250m I swam in sweat. I kept having to wipe my eyes from the rivulets pouring down my forehead, and beneath my Gore-Tex jacket I slowly soaked my T-shirt until it felt as if someone had poured a pint of water down my neck. To add to the hassle the weather consisted of blustery showers one minute and hot sun the next, so I thought it best to leave my jacket on, as wearing a soaked T-shirt in cold rain is not the best way to conserve energy when you're already running on empty.
The dizziness was the worst handicap, though. While a hiker's high is a pleasant, dreamy state in which to walk through the hills, the nauseous aftermath of food poisoning is another matter altogether. I'm used to the miles passing by quite quickly as I get into a regular step, but today it took forever to claw my way through the map. I didn't really take in the scenery, though seeing as it was generally dull green hills under dull grey skies, I'm not sure my lack of appreciation was entirely down to my physical state. Whatever, I dutifully followed the Way as it looped towards Glen Nevis, the valley below Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis.
Ben Nevis isn't one of the most impressive mountains in the world, but then it's not exactly towering. According the my map it's 1343m high, or around 4400 ft, which is pretty paltry when you think of mountain ranges like the Alps, but even if the Ben isn't one of the highest peaks on the planet, it's still a bulky bugger and it's hard to miss as you make your way through Nevis Forest towards the southern face of the mountain. I thought the most intriguing aspect of the mountain was the clearly visible path that zigzags up the southern slopes; from the Way the entire ascent can be seen and it's easy to see why it's a popular and relatively straightforward day's walk to the top of the highest peak in the country. But that still doesn't explain my End-to-End guidebook's exuberance over Ben Nevis. Get this:
Since you're connecting the two most extreme ends of the country on foot why shouldn't you bag the highest point while you're at it? It almost seems churlish to ignore the opportunity! ... It's a steady climb, but not particularly difficult, and although the actual summit gives very little impression of the mountain's sheer height and size (especially its rugged north face) the chance to add yet another noteworthy highlight to the trip is surely irresistible?
Churlish? Well, that's me then. Why make life harder for yourself than you have to? Then again, this is the guy who also suggests that it's quite possible to go from Kings House to Fort William in one go, a hilly romp of 23 miles. As he says:
If you don't feel fit by now, 950 miles on from Land's End, then perhaps you never will!
Thanks Andrew. That makes me feel a whole lot better, as I sit here all churlish and unfit. Perhaps it's because I've only done 900 miles to get this far, rather than 950 – that's what you get for being slack, eh.