Thursday, 1 September 2011

West Highland Way

Tuesday 2 August: Fort William to Kinlochleven (15 miles). Warm, dry and cloudy. It's a steep climb up the glen but with good views across to the tourist path up to Ben Nevis and, later, forward to Kinlochleven where I fall into the last bed available in Blackwater Hostel.
Wednesday 3: Kinlochleven to Inveroran (19 miles). Sunny. Another steep climb with stunning views across the West Highlands before zigzagging down the Devil's Staircase to the Pass of Glencoe with more spectacular views up the glen. It's then a bit of a march past King House Hotel to more gentle scenery and a warm welcome at Inveroran Hotel with it's campsite nearby.
Thursday 4: Inveroran to Tyndrum (10 miles). Warm grey drizzly day. A short easy day along the route of the West Highland Railway line leads to the comfortable and well run By the Way Hostel at Tyndrum. Highly recommended.
Friday 5: Tyndrum to Inverarnan (12 miles). Cloudy with sunny spells and cool breeze. Still following the route of the pretty West Highland Line it's an easy jaunt to the overpriced campsite facilities at Inverarnan and nearby Drover's Inn.
Saturday 6: Inverarnan to Rowardennan (14 miles). Warm and cloudy with sunny spells. Dropping down to the northern tip of Loch Lomond it a difficult boulder-strewn path along the eastern lochside passing Rob Roy's Cave to reach the remote Inversnaid Hotel for lunch. As heavy rain starts to fall and the boulders become increasingly slippery I'm glad to reach the safe-haven of the YHA lodge at Rowardenan. This is where I meet Robbie.
Following a hot shower and dinner I'm changing footwear when a soaking-wet Glaswegian bursts into the room, his rucksack clanging loudly with a frying pan, two household cooking pots, a tin mug and a kettle hanging from the straps. Still swearing to himself he disappears and returns out of breath. Dumping a large holdall on the floor he flops into the nearest bunk and immediately starts snoring. I stroll down to the pub for a beer.
Sunday 7: Rowardennan to Balmaha (7 miles). Heavy cloud and rain. My morning conversation goes something like this:
Robbie: "Hello, I'm Robbie. I'm walking the West Highland Way." (nearly everyone staying in the hostel is walking the West Highland Way).
Me: "Good for you."
Robbie: (proudly) "Yes, I walked 9 miles yesterday!"
Me: "Well done."
Robbie: "I thought it would only take 4 days so I've run out of money. The wife's coming up with more money today." (He's already been walking for 5 days).
Me: "Well, it would take 4 days if you walked 24-miles a day"
Robbie: (enthusiastically) "You want to see my blisters?"
Me: "Not really". He shows me his feet anyway - multiple sticking-plasters on each foot.
Robbie: "Are the plasters still okay?"
Me: "Yes, did you try on your boots before starting?"
Robbie: (defensively) "Aye, for an hour or so last week. They were fine."
Me: "What do you have in the holdall?"
Robbie: "Food for the dug (dog)." Pets aren't allowed in hostels so he's put the dog in his tent and pitched it hidden in nearby woods (there are heavy fines for wild camping in this part of Loch Lomond). I'm sure it's well fed.
Good luck to Robbie, I really hope he finishes his challenge, that's what it's all about.
A short wet woodland walk along Loch Lomond's shores and I'm in the pleasant village of Balmaha and the comfort of Balmaha Bunkhouse which is run by Bob, an amicable Welsh mountaineer, and his wife.
Monday 8: Balmaha to Milngavie (20 miles). Sunny with cloudy spells. Up and over Conic Hill, through Drymen (pronounced Dri-men) where walkers are flocking out of Glasgow towards me, thick and fast. A couple, like Robbie, festooned with clattering kitchenware, approach me.
Man: "Hello pal, are we going the right way?"
Me: "I don't know. Where are you going?"
Man: (proudly) "We're going to Fort William!". Not nearby Drymen or Balmaha which would make more sense, but Fort William 90 miles or so further north.
Me: (pointing with my stick) "Yes, just carry on north for a fortnight and you'll be there".
Woman: (looking at man accusingly) "Is it north? I thought it was south. I'm dying for a pee".
Me: "Have a good day".
I guess many people start the West Highland Way but few finish it - it really is a bit more than a stroll in the park. As evening approaches I arrive in Milngavie (pronounced mill-guy) at the end, or start, of the wonderful West Highland Way.
Photos along the West Highland Way. I've now walked a total of 311 miles.

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