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Not the Not the West Highland Way...

Not the Not the West Highland Way...


Postby maryhillmoose » Sun Aug 25, 2013 9:46 pm

Date walked: 05/07/2013

Time taken: 4 days

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"That Cheryl Strayed has a lot to bloody answer for" was my mum's response when I casually dropped into the conversation that I was planning to do part of the West Highland Way, that I'd be going alone (my husband was going away on a lads weekend to Munich) and that I planned to backpack and wild camp rather than stay in places with proper roofs...There was a note of truth in her muttered offerings, I had read that book and it DID make me want to have an adventure. "You are fast approaching 40 and possibly having a mid life crisis" she ventured...

To date my experience of camping has been to drive my car to a proper campsite, pitch our nice roomy three man tent (with sizeable porch), fire up a BBQ, drink some beers and maybe do a munro or two, or maybe not. So a few months ago I started to squirrel away bits of kit, picked up bargains in various places and loaded up a rucksack whenever I could to get used to the weight. I bought a wee solo tent cheap off the internet, the bizarrely shaped Wild Country Aspect 1 and read up on backpacking tips. I mean, it was only four days, it was the back end of the West Highland Way - hardly the wilderness, what could go wrong, just the bloomin weather as usual. (Except it didn't).

Day One.
I waved goodbye to my rather bemused but nonetheless proud family on Friday morning and caught the train to Crianlarich, having weighed my rucksack on the scale in Boots and been horrified to see that it was a whopping 15 kilos....I thought I was going lightweight! What the hell was in there that I didn't need for four days? I sat on the train which took AGES, leaving me time to start fretting a bit. Too late, I had to get off. I had no idea how to join the WHW path from the station. A good start. A guy came down the hill. Rucksack? Check. Waterproofs? Check. Dishevelled and a bit smelly? Check. He showed me the way, a nice chap who was doing the WHW for the second time, choosing to escape the lively offerings of his south of England home town for a summer wandering wild around Scotland. I suddenly realised I was walking through a woodland with a total stranger, nae a rough sleeper whom I'd only just met and I was not at all scared. We walked and chatted awhile but soon said our goodbyes. It was overcast, no views of the hills above Crianlarich but muggy and warm, perfect midge weather and they were having a wee party all around me the minute I stopped, which I did every 15 minutes to adjust the straps on the pack, take off my jacket, put it on again, get water, take jacket off again etc etc. I reached Tyndrum via the pleasant if unremarkable path that follows the river where a wee old couple near the caravan park stopped me to ask what I was doing and then gave me a mint humbug. I was a bit underwhelmed, I thought the WHW path thus far was rather boring and it didn't improve much as it drafted alongside the A82 for a large section of the hike to Bridge of Orchy, my intended camping place. The hills were still in clag but the odd time I got a glimpse of Beinn Dorain which is very impressive from this side. I was getting tired, my shoulders starting to ache, my hips chafing against the waist belt. At last the Bridge of Orchy Hotel appeared on the horizon and soon I was crossing the bridge at the river to scout out a good spot. It was 5.15pm. Woe. There was not a soul to be seen, in fact I'd only seen 5 people the whole day. No other campers but plenty of evidence of their existence, scorched grass, hand made fire pits with rubbish in them, a nice view of the A82 and some builders bums on the scaffold of the half constructed house on the opposite side. So much for leave no trace, I immediately concluded that the place was about to be invaded by weekend party animals from Glasgow such was the mess, and sat down at a picnic table to consider my options, it was 5.30pm and I was knackered. A young couple with backpacking gear breezed past out of nowhere and headed on up the path. I chucked the pack on and followed in hot pursuit, setting myself a one hour time limit to reach Inveroran. The path heads up a steep hill then levels off at a cairn where it drops down to the Inveroran Hotel far below. There was a lovely view of Loch Tulla and remote hills shrouded in mist, I suddenly felt excited for the first time that day. This was what I was looking for, I was doing it! I made it to the wild camp spot at 7pm. The young couple were pitching on one side, a small area but closer to the hotel. We chatted for a minute, they were Belgian and I was to see them several more times on the trip. On the other side was a larger tent pitched quite far down the river, a french couple with a young boy of 7 or 8. We each waved hello and I instantly felt calm and relaxed. I picked a nice spot facing away from the other tent, pitched the wee WCA quickly, changed into my night time stuff and got dinner on the go. There were a few midges but a light breeze kept them at bay. At 9pm I crawled into the tent, I was worried that i'd be scared or anxious about noises etc outside but I felt totally safe and slept like a deid body.
Day two.
Woke at 4.40am with light streaming into the tent...rookie mistake, forgot eye mask. When I got out of the tent two hours later I was overwhelmed by the beauty and peacefulness of the spot, the bubbling of the river and the hills of the black mount and glen etive watching over me. I packed up, sun peeking through and already warm. A gaggle of noisy American women broke the spell, Wow! What an amazing camp spot! Wow, what a cute tent! Wow, keep your voices down a bit ladies!
The Inveroran road winds on a little, a path rises through a woodland and emerges at the edge of Rannoch Moor, a wilderness of staggering beauty, I felt privileged to walk the path, meeting only two others in route. I made good time even though I was sure I was dilly dallying, such was the temptation to stop, sit, take photos, daydream, soak up the warm sunshine. At 2.30pm I reached the summit and Glencoe was laid out before me, glorious blue skies in the foreground, black, threatening cloud in the distance. It was early, should I push on to Kinlochleven? I reached the Kingshouse Hotel at 3.30pm just as plops of rain started...decision made, I found a cracking wee private spot right on the river a few hundred metres from the hotel and pitched in super quick time. Not much else to do in the now pouring rain so grabbed my book and settled in at the walkers bar with a beer, soon joined by nice older american chap, chat, beer, chat, then a lovely English couple, more beer, more chat. Dilly dallyed the evening away, four beers later and I said my goodbyes and tottered back to the tent to cook a gourmet dinner of tuna with couscous -zonked out at 9pm.
Day three.
Brilliant blue skies, the smell of wet grass, fluffy clouds wisping across the Buchaille and total silence next morning. I waited until the sun had dried the flysheet a little then packed up quickly, determined to reach Kinlochleven by 1pm to watch the tennis...C'mon Andy!!! Two guys with a nice dog stopped me to chat as I headed off, the reaction I got from people when I said I was backpacking and camping alone ranged from disbelief to admiration to thinly veiled concern for my mental health...
It was a truly gorgeous day as I headed out, at first close to the A82, then heading away and up the Devils Staircase...I was basking in the sun, feeling fit, healthy and strong, I blasted past the day walkers and Sunday strollers with surprising ease. I've never been up this hill so had no idea what to expect at the rather piddling summit of 600m or so...but wow, my breath was taken away as a vista to rival any panoramic mountain view in Europe was laid before me. I stopped, sat and stared for ages...I just enjoyed it. I met the american chap and his wife and pointed out various hills including the Ben, much to their delight. Public duty over, I headed off, my 1pm deadline was on a shoogly peg. The walk down into Kinlochleven is really pretty but it seemed to go on for ages, I passed the Belgian couple, struggling now with blisters and sans le rucksacks. Reached the Blackwater Hostel, pitched tent quickly and then realised I was not fit to be seen nor smelled in public so improvised a shower using soap from the hand dispenser and an old t shirt as a towel. Sorted, off to Tail Race Inn, 3 beers and good chat with strangers...Murray is the Singles Champ, woo hoo!! En route back to the tent I decide to ascend the path to the grey mare's tail waterfall...it takes longer than expected, the path is rough and I'm wearing crocs with bare feet, but as the sun starts to sink I get the most beautiful view down the loch to the Pap...perfect. The camp area at the hostel is busy but no one chats, that's okay with me though. A family in a nearby ecopod take pity on me and my pathetic dinner of noodles and give me some BBQ chicken, result. The air is still warm, I sleep on top of my bag in the tent. Long haul to Fort William coming up
Day four.
I am up early, breakfast of porridge, packed up and set off at 8am, I am booked on the 5pm bus to Glasgow and I have a kind of plan... By 9am it is around 20 degrees, sun is blazing and I resolve to sook every last moment of joy out of this day.
The path ascends through woodland and then traverses a hillside above loch leven before gradually dropping to follow the floor of a long glen, nice, nice, but not for me. I read in my wee Not the WHW book that there was an alternative offered for the fit and the mad...so just before the path started to drop I scanned the slopes to my right for a faint path snaking upwards alongside a stream. Before I had a chance to change my mind I turned and headed up, up, up. The path crisscrossed the stream a number of times, and I glanced back I could see the mighty Aonach Eagach ridge, with the hulk of Bidean Nam Brian looming up behind. I found myself giggling out loud, far below I could see groups of walkers starting to come through on the path and here I was, high above and totally alone with that view of our great hills all to myself. I reached the ridge later than expected, oops, dumped the rucksack and quickly headed off on a gentle path to the right, reaching the summit of Am Bodach with little effort before returning to the col and drinking in a fine view that took in the Ben and the Aonachs, the grey corries and the Mamores either side of me. All framed against the bluest of skies. But I was starting to worry, I still had to descend to Fort William, first via the deleted top of Sgurr na Lubhair, then via a steep path with fine views of the devils ridge, to Glen Nevis. I remember very little about the last few hours of the walk, I was totally focussed on catching my bus, I was hot, burnt and smelly and in no mood to dilly dally now. I did not meet a single soul all day until I got close to the youth hostel. At 4pm I marched into the large Morrison's on the edge of town, purchased a bottle of Fanta, an impulse body spray and a bag of chocolate peanuts. After consumption of all three I just had time to walk up the high street to the official end of the Way. Even though I hadn't technically done it, I felt I needed to acknowledge the end of my adventure in some way. The bus sped south, whisking me past all the locations of my previous days' adventures. I creaked my neck to catch glimpses of the Aonach Eagach ridge even though I had been staring at it from the perfect vantage point just four hours earlier.

I made it home at 815pm to discover that I was locked out. I sat on the step and ate a fish supper in the fading evening sun. Adventure over, I wonder what's next???!
Some pics on flickr...
www.flickr.com/photos/62356406@N02/sets/72157635232403986/
maryhillmoose
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Re: Not the Not the West Highland Way...

Postby maryhillmoose » Sun Aug 25, 2013 9:59 pm

:lol: Bidean Nam Brian!!!! It's a very naughty hill!!!
maryhillmoose
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Re: Not the Not the West Highland Way...

Postby dunrock » Mon Aug 26, 2013 8:08 pm

Great report maryhillmoose. Sounds like you had a good adventure. Pity about being locked out tho. :roll:
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Re: Not the Not the West Highland Way...

Postby mrssanta » Tue Aug 27, 2013 7:36 pm

lovley, you had me giggling - anyhoo, what's wrong with a bit of midlife crisis if it gets you out of the house?
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Re: Not the Not the West Highland Way...

Postby weebirdie » Fri Aug 30, 2013 10:43 pm

Brilliant report, an absolute joy to read. I would LOVE to disappear off on my own for a while; but I have enough trouble with my own shoelaces, let alone a tent!

Wonderful photographs, too.
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Re: Not the Not the West Highland Way...

Postby maryhillmoose » Wed Sep 04, 2013 7:29 pm

mrssanta wrote:lovley, you had me giggling - anyhoo, what's wrong with a bit of midlife crisis if it gets you out of the house?


Couldn't agree more! :D
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Re: Not the Not the West Highland Way...

Postby cecilsson » Thu Mar 06, 2014 3:54 pm

Thanks for the report. I thoroughly enjoyed the read and the pictures on Flkckr got me excited about my WHW trip coming in May. I too will be solo backpacking but my trip is a bucket list trip to celebrate my 60th. My camping experience is not unlike yours and although I have done some wild camping, I have never done it solo. Your report gives me a little more confidence.
Much appreciated.
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