There are times in our lives when we drift off to sleep wondering whether the day that just happened was real or not. Events or activities so surreal or that came about through nothing more than a series of strange coincidences run through our minds as if to convince us that we weren’t dreaming. I’ve had a number of such occasions in my life, the night after I carried the London 2012 Olympic Torch through Lincoln, the night I found out I had been chosen as a GetOutside Champion, and the night after I spent several hours with an ITV film crew following me on a section of the West Highland Way…
A happy photo of me walking the West Highland Way – taken by Julia Bradbury!
The West Highland Way takes hikers from Milngavie just outside Glasgow, to Fort William, some 96 miles further north (ish). The route is a very popular hike, so popular in fact that it will appear somewhere in the countdown on tonight’s Britain’s Favourite Walks: Top 100. A full two-and-a-half hours of walking on prime time television, the show (as you may well imagine), will feature 100 walks here in the UK, as voted for by members of the public – including me. More on my personal favourite walks another time, but for now I thought I’d let you in on a few secrets of the filming process, and give you an insight into the walk from a first timer’s point of view.
Buachaille Etive Mor from Glencoe.
Being filmed for ITV’s Britain’s Favourite Walks: Top 100 came about for a number of reasons – I was put forward by Ordnance Survey as one of their GetOutside Champions and ended up chatting to the production team on twitter with friends Chelsea and Jenni who were the other two ladies in our West Highland Way adventure team. But in the end it was all down to a set of happy coincidences; basically we were walking the walk they wanted to film during the week they wanted to film it. Very handy!
Walking towards Kingshouse.
By the time Wednesday morning – filming day – came, Jenni and I had already been walking for five days and had covered more than 70 miles in that time, with nearly 30 left to go. Chelsea had unfortunately had to go home due to an unfortunate and non-hiking related injury (she got glass in her foot, read about it here), so it was just the two of us, who spent a restless night in a hut at the Glencoe Mountain Centre with 75+mph winds and sideways rain coming off Rannoch Moor. We’d agreed to a later-than-normal start as it was a short day and the film crew needed the light, so we had a decent breakfast in the mountain café (that comes highly recommended from me…) before packing everything up and getting ready to go.
Jenni taking the famous photo!
Julia Bradbury and her six-strong crew were with us for around four hours, during which time we walked around four miles of the 13 mile total for that day. It was always going to be a short day, which was a good thing, as filming for television is a time-consuming business. We’d walked nearly 20 miles the previous day and so a short-distance day meandering through moorland was very welcome to us. You may not be surprised to hear that Julia didn’t actually walk the whole way with us… while I can confirm she is indeed a walking enthusiast, and would have happily done the whole long-distance hike, this was work for her and she was on duty. She walked just a mile or two with us, during which we chatted about all things outdoors and walking – it was like we’d known each other for years.
Jenni, Julia and me at Buachaille Etive Mor.
The short section of the West Highland Way we walked on day six of our trek was from Glencoe Mountain Centre to Kinlochleven is arguably the most iconic, easily the most photographed, and quite possibly the most beautiful. Whatever the weather is doing – sunshine or black clouds – the dramatic scenery and rugged landscape speaks to the soul of whoever passes through, however you might be travelling.
The ITV crew joined us for the first part of the day, from Glencoe Mountain Centre, passed Black Rock Cottage, through Kingshouse, over to Buachaille Etive Mor, and then up the Devil’s Staircase. Jenni and I were very happy to share our love of hiking with the people of Great Britain; I’m sure it’s perfectly normal for someone on their first long distance hike to be joined by a film crew… but as it happened, while it was definitely surreal, it couldn’t have been more normal. Yes, we were filmed putting our packs on and leaving the hut, which may or may not come across as natural acting (you decide this evening…), and we had to walk the same section of path two or three times so the drone could get the best shots, but apart from the obvious it was a really fantastic thing to be involved in and a great memory for the box.
Black Rock Cottage, Glencoe.
The path from Glencoe to Kingshouse and beyond picks up the Old Military Road across the moor, and runs pretty well parallel with the A82. Just like the rest of the West Highland Way the path is easy to navigate and generally easy going underfoot, although the rain overnight had turned parts of this section into more river than path, but nothing that our hiking boots couldn’t cope with. Even Julia’s very clean ones!
Our ITV film crew.
From Kingshouse it is just a short distance to Buachaille Etive Mor. As one of the most iconic mountains in the Highlands, sitting right at the head of Glen Etive, we just had to detour back over the A82 for a better look (careful, that’s a super busy road!). I mean, it just looks like a proper mountain, with its pointy peak and metallic rivers running down the sides, it is simply stunning; no snow in October though. We didn’t bag the munro on this occasion, but it is definitely on my list for a future trip up to Glencoe. Instead, we sat on the riverbank by Lagangarbh Hut with the crew around us and chatted all things outdoors while eating snacks and dodging the rain. I’ve no idea what, if anything, of our conversation made it into the final edit of the show, but discussing hiking, camping, the outdoors, blogging and all kinds of related things with Jenni and Julia was a real joy. One of my biggest pleasures is to harp on about how important I think spending time outdoors, in nature, whether it is having an adventure or just squeezing in a few minutes in the fresh air, is. I am so proud to have even the tiniest input into a television programme that has been created to encourage people to go walking in Great Britain by taking over ITV for an entire evening. How fantastic!
Our view for the interview section.
With a camping spot earmarked in Kinlochleven, around another seven or eight miles from here, Jenni and I were packed up with some more snacks and hot hands (amazing little things, who knew?!), to continue our journey on foot. We said our goodbyes to a group that had become old friends, crossed back over the A82 to re-join the West Highland Way, and zigzagged our way up Devil’s Staircase. The drone followed us all the way up, which added a little pressure on this somewhat significant ascent – we couldn’t stop now, but thankfully the climb was nowhere near as bad as the name suggests and we were able to enjoy the rather spectacular views from the top in no time. As we turned around and looked back, always an important moment in any hike, we were greeted with the wonderful view of Buachaille Etive Mor, Glencoe and Rannoch Moor off in the distance, a fitting reminder of the distance we had already covered and the reason we were hiking the West Highland Way in the first place. The feeling of reaching the top simply cannot be beaten.
Buachaille Etive Mor from Devil’s Staircase.
Britain’s Favourite Walks: Top 100 aired on Tuesday 30th January over on ITV, and you can find it on catch-up here. It’s a whole two-and-a-half hours long, so get comfy; although being ITV there will be adverts so you can get up and run around, make tea, do the Tuesday night chores in between the good bits! Naturally, I actually had no idea how much of our hike with the crew will end up in the show, or how much of our day with the team will be featured, but apparently Jenni and I do make an appearance in the final edit and we’re told we should be happy with it, so let’s see. You’ll know at the same time I do!
Leaving the crew to continue our hike.
For all the routes and some extra information about walking in Great Britain (including from yours truly), visit the Ordnance Survey 100 Walks website. I’ll be looking out for fellow GetOutside Champions Lucy and Fi of Two Blondes fame and Shell from Get Out with the Kids. And you might recognise some other people too.
And if you have any questions at all about the West Highland Way please do ask. There are people out there who’ve done it five or ten times and so are way more experienced than I, but the adventure of this particular long-distance hike will stay with me forever and I am very happy to help anyone else out who wants to take it on. Just ask.
This footage was reused in the Scotland episode of For the Love of Britain, aired on Tuesday 15 December on ITV1.
More words from our West Highland Way adventure: