Author Interview: Helen and Paul Webster, Day Walks in Fort William and Glen Coe
- Thursday 11 March 2021
Following a metamorphic 4,000-mile continuous hike around Europe between 2003-2004, Helen and Paul Webster quit their careers to dedicate their lives to the discovery of Scotland’s great outdoors. In 2006, the duo created Walkhighlands, a free online guide which is thriving as one of the busiest websites for walkers in the UK. They have written fifteen guidebooks with an insight into the natural beauty of Scotland and their latest, Day Walks in Fort William and Glen Coe, features twenty routes between 4.4 and 14.4 miles in length that span the Scottish Highlands.
Each of the four sections of the book explore a corner of the Highlands that the Websters wish to share with others. The book reveals a variety of walks with different lengths and challenges alongside stunning photography courtesy of Paul Webster himself as Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year (2018).
Here, the Websters discuss Scotland’s organic film studios, fantastic views, and a post-lockdown surge in adventure seekers.
On the Mam Na Gualainn Ridge. © Helen and Paul Webster.
Fort William and Glen Coe have been chosen for the locations of many films and TV productions from Monty Python to James Bond, what makes the area so attractive?
Aah where to start? I, like most people, first approached Glen Coe from the south, climbing up over Rannoch Moor on the A82. As we drove onwards, the great peaks of Glen Coe rose on either side looking absolutely majestic. I was genuinely awe-struck if not a little intimidated. As well as being a playground for serious mountain days, Glencoe has some hidden secrets on lower-level routes, such as the old coffin route that squeezes between the mountains linking Glen Coe and Glen Etive. As the road descends to the sea at Loch Leven, a different environment opens up: lovely peaceful lochs and islands that provide the endless scenic backgrounds that TV and film producers crave. In my opinion, one of the most perfect views in the area can be seen from the summit of the Pap of Glencoe, a prominent knobble of a hill and a fantastic place to play ‘name that mountain or island’ on a clear day.
TV crews have also been drawn to the sheer variety of landscape that Fort William and Glen Coe have to offer. The image of the train steaming over the Glenfinnan Viaduct on the way to the coast proved irresistible for the makers of Harry Potter, and being able to immerse yourself in the mountainous background by hiking in it is a much better way to get a taste of the same drama rather than a quick visit to the location itself.
The mix of west coast and mountainous habitats means there’s loads of wildlife to be spotted: otters, seals, red squirrels, red deer can be found in addition to Golden and White-Tailed eagles.
Finally, the big one, Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain and a fantastic achievement for walkers as well as an iconic filming backdrop. The mountain is really one of two halves. Seen from Fort William, it looks huge but fairly rounded. Head around the back and the north face of Ben Nevis and the Càrn Mòr Dearg arête provide dramatic gullies and buttresses, airy scrambles and serious climbs. This hidden side of Ben Nevis sums up the Fort William and Glen Coe area: loads of variety, an awesome landscape, and lots to be discovered for those willing to put some effort in.
Ben Nevis from Stob Ban. © Helen and Paul Webster.
How did you organise the book and decide which twenty routes to include?
We wanted to include a good mix of routes which cover both higher mountain routes and lower-level options, whilse adding some of our favourite places and lesser visited walks. The landscape means there are few very easy day walks in the area but we’ve included a couple of them. For example, we’ve included an exploration of Blackwater reservoir above Kinlochleven which is comprised of waterfalls, mountain views, and the historic dam, in addition to the atmospheric worker’s graveyard and a taste of the West Highland Way on the return.
There are plenty of Munros in the mix too, but we were wanting to show that many of the hills and mountains sometimes overlooked by dedicated hill baggers are very rewarding in terms of views, wildlife, and often, solitude. Hopefully, the book provides enough walks to keep most keen walkers busy on a holiday in the area, with enough left over to tempt them back for further visits or day trips.
Descending from Sgurr nan Coirea. © Helen and Paul Webster.
For anyone looking for walks to explore after lockdown, can you recommend any that might be less frequented by other people?
One of the more strenuous routes in the book is the mountain of Streap. Not quite high enough to be awarded Munro status, it tends to be less climbed but is very rewarding both in terms of views and the remote mountain experience, and the challenge provided by both the climb and narrow ridge leading to the summit.
Out of the twenty routes featured in the book, do you have a particular favourite?
Often, favourite walks are a combination of the route itself and the memories that accompany them. I have a soft spot for the Druim na Sgriodain, a hill located directly above Ardgour, just over the Corran Ferry from the Fort William side of Loch Linnhe. We climbed it on an unpromising November day with good friends after a night of a few too many drams. We found the ancient graveyard of the local clan Maclean and cleared our heads on the rugged, but shortish, climb. The clouds parted, and from the two summits, we were treated to an amazing view over to the Glen Coe peaks and out to the west coast islands. It could not have been more perfect and yet it’s a hill that relatively few walkers have been up.
Do you think the restrictions put in place last year (such as the closure of indoor spaces) encouraged more people to get outside and embark on walking adventures?
There have been record numbers of people taking up walking during the pandemic. While many may have started out because there was nothing else to do, what we’re finding at Walkhighlands is that most of those people are finding they really love exploring on foot and are seeking new places to go when restrictions allow. Last summer, we saw more diversity in people on all walks, including many more young people. While very well-known spots were busy, and there were challenges in coping with this, it’s generally a very good thing. Scotland at least has so many places to walk that it’s not hard to find a spot for yourself.
Click HERE to buy a copy of Day Walks in Fort William and Glen Coe.