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West Highland WAYHEY!!
by LailaQuiche » Mon Jun 10, 2019 7:38 pm
Route description: West Highland Way
Date walked: 22/05/2019
Time taken: 7 days
Distance: 151 km17 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Milngavie to Drymen (12 miles)
After weeks of excited anticipation, the day had finally dawned for my friend and I to start the West Highland Way. I felt both excited and very nervous as I walked down to the train station in Partick. I hopped on the train where I met my friend Anna and we travelled the short 20 minute journey to Milngavie. As we got off the train, a kind man spotted our big packs and asked us if we were doing the WHW. When we said yes, he kindly offered to walk with us to the start and chatted to us about his own experience of doing the Way many years before!
After a few obligatory pictures at the official beginning, we set off in great spirits! We thought the locals of Milngavie would be fed up of all the walkers traipsing through and we were both surprised at just how lovely and friendly they were towards us, many of them stopping to chat to us and wish us luck.
The first day of the walk was very pleasant; it was warm and bright and the going underfoot was very easy. We passed a rather unusual looking house at one point and a man came out to offer us some pineapple and then insisted on us coming to meet his cat, Thomas! He was rather eccentric but a lovely chap and seemed to love catching the craic with the passing walkers!
We bumped into another man attempting the Way, also carrying all his camping gear. He was aiming to stop in Balmaha that night but seemed a bit weary. We offered him some encouragement and carried on our way.
As we neared Drymen, our feet and backs were beginning to hurt. We went down into Drymen to get a can of beer and a snack before heading back up along the Way to find a good camping spot. Nick70 had recommended a good spot in the woods just outside Drymen and we found a lovely wee patch in a clearing. We set up the tent and cooked some dinner...Pasta'n'Sauce which had never tasted so good! We chatted about the first day. Walking with a big pack was a lot harder than either of us had anticipated and we were having some reservations....Had we bitten off more than we could chew?? We spent the rest of the evening relaxing before getting an early night. We were both rudely woken up at about 3am by a sneaky mouse who had broken into Anna's stash of nuts!!
Drymen to Rowcouish Bothy (18 miles)
After some porridge and coffee for breakfast we packed up and set off at around 8.30am. The day was cloudy but warm and dry, perfect conditions for the walk ahead. My hip was doing an unpleasant snapping thing which was causing some mild discomfort, possibly in response to carrying the heavy pack. We headed off towards Conic Hill, enjoying the walk through the forest. We had both expressed some fears about the ascent ahead and had plenty of snacks as we walked to provide us the fuel to get up it. And apparently all the snacking worked, we absolutely bounced up and were at the top in no time at all with beautiful views looking down onto Loch Lomond!
We were so delighted with ourselves we decided to go for lunch at the Oak Tree Inn to celebrate. I ordered a baked potato which for some reason also came with a serving of chips...not that I was complaining, I demolished the lot! We bumped into the man we had met the day before. He was not having a good time...He had not managed to make it to Balmaha last night and instead had camped at Drymen. He had run out of water for the walk today and was really struggling with his pack. He was even threatening to throw away a pair of trousers to save him some weight! We offered him lots of encouragement before we topped up our water supplies and set off for the next leg. We were both soon regretting the pub lunch which had made us feel sluggish and full. We dribbled along the edge of Loch Lomond like a pair of slugs though we did eventually perk up once our meal was fully digested.
The walk to Rowardennan started off pleasantly enough but then begun to feel like it was dragging on and on and on. There was a LOT more ascent than we had anticipated which was maddening as we could see the long FLAT road to Rowardennan below us as we traipsed up very steep hills?! The last 2 miles to Rowardennan seemed to go on forever so we had a singalong to keep the spirits up...which got us some very strange looks from other walkers. We finally arrived at Rowardennan and I was literally dragging myself by this point. We collapsed on the grass and had a rest. After airing our feet out and eating a peanut butter bagel and some Skittles, we tried to psych ourselves up for the next 4 miles.
We put some tunes on to help motivate ourselves and set off. We didn't met a soul on this stretch of the walk, everyone else had clearly (and sensibly) decided to terminate at Rowardennan. So it was just me and Anna walking through the beautiful woodland which was actually a really nice feeling. The forest was absolutely beautiful, there were bluebells growing all over the place and it all felt very serene.
When we finally found the bothy, a short distance from the main path, we were almost deliriously excited. We burst in and found a small group of Slovakian men and an English woman who had completed the WHW from South to North and was now walking it North to South all in the one trip! We spent the evening cooking some noodles for dinner (they tasted like the most gourmet food ever after our long, tiring day!) and chatting away to the other people. My hip was feeling very sore by this point and I was starting to feel a bit worried about what was in store for me on the infamous stretch to Inverarnan the following day.... Everyone then settled down for the night at roughly 10.30pm. A group of young people arrived just as we were settling down to sleep. They were not on the WHW but had come to the bothy from Inversnaid for the night. I think they were hoping to have a little shindig and seemed disappointed when I informed them we were all going to sleep! They set up their beds and left the bothy for a few hours before returning later to go to sleep which I was grateful for. What I was not so grateful for was the man snoring VERY loudly in my ear! I resorted to giving him a poke in the ribs...I don't think he was very impressed but he did stop snoring.
Rowcouish Bothy to Inverarnan (9 miles)
I woke up stiff as a board and with my snapping hip feeling worse then ever. Every step I took, I could feel the inflamed tendon pinging and it was extremely uncomfortable. I was feeling very doubtful of my ability to make it to Inverarnan and my morale was very low. After some porridge and coffee and painkillers, we set off on our journey.
We had both read and heard that this section of the Way was notoriously difficult so felt well prepared with this knowledge and reassured ourselves it was only 9 miles and we could take it nice and slowly. I could just about walk with minimal pain by using my hiking poles like a pair of crutches. The walk to Inversnaid Hotel was delightful, the sun was really beginning to shine and everything was lush and green. There were loads of bluebells everywhere and it really was just a delight on all the senses. We stopped at a beautiful little bay for some snacks and a rest and really, we were just loving it all!
Once we reached Inversnaid Hotel, we enjoyed a bag of lentils for our lunch and treated ourselves to a fizzy drink from the hotel. We then headed off for the last 3 miles to Inverarnan. The going underfoot was very rough but honestly, we found it quite fun scrambling over rocks and tree roots. I find that when the terrain is challenging, it actually takes my mind off how tiring the walk is. However, I did manage to take a tumble down some rocks and my hiking pole got bent in half! There was some momentary panic as I had been relying on it heavily to help relieve the pain in my hip, however, a passing walker managed to bend it back into shape...Phew! The sun was beating down so much that we actually had to put on some suncream!
However, the last mile to Beinglas campsite did seem to stretch on forever and we were both very relieved when we finally arrived! We both treated ourselves to a pint of cold cider before setting up out tent and enjoying a shower...BLISS! We headed over to the Drover's Inn for dinner. The place was absolutely hoaching and the staff seemed run off their feet though all so accommodating! Me and Anna ordered some food and had what I can only describe as the best worst meal I've ever had....The food was terrible but we were both SO hungry that we devoured it in seconds! We then had a little boogie to some of the live music before heading back to the campsite and settling down for the night.
Inverarnan to Tyndrum (12 miles)
After our usual breakfast of coffee and porridge (though this time with a bit of dark orange chocolate melted in...YUM!) we got packed up and set off towards our next goal...Tyndrum! My snapping hip had subsided but was now replaced with a painful snapping knee!! Seriously, what is wrong with my body?! The walk to Tyndrum was pleasant enough. The day had started off bright and dry but soon the drizzle begun to encroach. The rain was very manageable though and only really started getting heavier just as we neared Tyndrum. We stopped about halfway to join some men for some coffee at the side of the path. They were a large group, most of them from Israel, one Austrian, and one American. Their friend had organised the whole trip but sadly his wife had fallen ill and he was unable to make it. After some refreshments we marched on. My knee was becoming increasingly painful and was almost unbearable on the descents. We bumped into our new pals again and stopped for some lunch. Due to the lack of vegetarian sandwich options in the shop at Beinglas campsite, me and Anna had opted for the classic Crisp Sandwich...delicious! Feeling refreshed, we trudged onward for the final stretch. Many runners passed us throughout the day. One stopped to speak to us, informing us them were RUNNING the whole of the WHW. He had started at midnight last night and was hoping to finish it in 24 hours! Can you believe it?! Put mine and Anna's 7 day itinerary to shame! I have a lot of respect for these crazy men and women! (We later Googled the fastest time to complete the WHW and the best record yet is under 14 hours! INSANITY!)
We finally arrived in Tyndrum and nipped into the Green Welly where I managed to get some Ibuprofen gel for my knee and Anna bought us both a West Highland Way t-shirt! We then set off to try and find a good wild camping spot and eventually found one about a 15 minute walk on from Tyndrum. We hobbled across a river and found a nice patch to set up our tent. The rain drizzled down constantly and I knew that night would be a good test of my tent's ability to protect us from the elements.
Once we had our camp set up, we headed back down into Tyndrum for a hot meal. We went to Real Food Cafe and had the most DELICIOUS meal. Honestly, I cannot recommend it enough. The vegetarian/vegan options in there are brilliant. Usually the only veggie fare at a chippy is the chips but they had a whole selection of delights. I enjoyed some delicious grilled halloumi and chips and Anna had a grilled vegetable platter. With happy tummies, we headed to our next destination...the pub! We were very grateful for having some warm, dry spots not too far from our tent. It would have been a miserable night to sit in a tent! We met an Australian couple who were also on the Way and chatted to them for quite a while, exchanging stories about our different homelands. We then bumped into our new pals and enjoyed a game of pool and several drams with them. By the time it came for me and Anna to leave, we were both feeling a bit tipsy. We had, very stupidly, left our head torches at the tent thinking we would be back well before dark. We struggled to find the tent in the pitch black and ended up looking at ViewRanger which had tracked out movements earlier and found roughly where we had stopped to pitch. Thankfully, we managed to locate the tent, crossed the river and settled down for what was actually a very good, warm sleep thanks to all the whisky!
Tyndrum to Kingshouse (19 miles)
We awoke to a wet day but thankfully, a nice dry tent (thank you, Vango Banshee!!) We made some breakfast (Anna almost set fire to the tent...) and packed up our stuff with difficulty (it's hard packing up when you can't get out the tent due to the rain!)
We then had a rather 'Into The Wild' moment...A lot of rain had fallen in the night and the river we had happily hopped across the day before, was much fuller, deeper and faster. A man in waders who was panning for gold saw us stranded and offered to carry us across...thanks, mate but that definitely would have ended in a full on dunking! We walked further upstream and eventually managed to climb across. My knee was feeling very sore indeed and I was feeling very apprehensive about the long walk ahead. We decided to see how I felt on the way to Bridge of Orchy and then could make a decision whether to stop there. However, the first 7 miles to Bridge of Orchy were so flat that they flew by and I could just about hobble along at a reasonable pace as long as I didn't bend my leg. We enjoyed a lovely hot coffee at the hotel and then carried on towards Inveroran.
We had not intended to stop here however, the rain and wind were beginning to pick up so we stopped into for a cup of tea and got chatting to a father and his two children who were doing the WHW to raise money for Parkinsons UK! We were amazed that these 2 young children were doing it and offered them some words of encouragement. After a wee heat, we set off for the final leg of the journey. Despite the rain, the views were absolutely beautiful with all the clouds swirling over the mountains and the rain did not dampen our spirits.
However, as we turned a corner onto Rannoch Moor, we were suddenly blasted with intense horizontal rain and wind! The last 3 miles towards Kinghouse were absolutely brutal. There was no shelter, no reprieve, just constant battering wind and rain almost blasting us off the path. We decided to have another singsong to try and keep ourselves going and belted out Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody for Rannoch Moor to hear! We were both absolutely soaked and freezing and honestly were beginning to feel a bit delirious. The road down to the Kingshouse stretched on forever and when we finally tumbled into the Walkers bar, we almost couldn't believe it! We stripped off all our wet clothing and the staff kindly let us hang it up in the drying room, despite not being residents.
Cold and soggy but still smiling!
We enjoyed a pint and bumped into the dad and his children again. The kids had had a very hard day but had made it all the way. We both gave them a huge cheer and told them we were absolutely amazed they had persevered in those conditions! Me and Anna then enjoyed some DELICIOUS dinner with our friends. We both looked and smelled an absolute state and were probably putting every else in the restaurant off their food (Anna didn't even have any shoes on!). We had planned on wild camping outside the Kingshouse that night but our lovely WHW friends had a spare bed and offered to let us stay in the bunkhouse with them. Me and Anna did not hesitate to take them up on the offer and enjoyed a hot shower and a warm, dry sleep.
Kingshouse to Kinlochleven (9 miles)
The rain had thankfully disappeared and it looked like it was going to be a nice day. Me and Anna got up and organised and set off towards the notorious Devil's Staircase. The Buchaille looked absolutely magnificent as we walked, the clouds melted away and the summit was clear.
We both agreed that although we had really struggled with our big packs on the first day, we had definitely gotten used to them and barely thought about them on our backs anymore. We reached the bottom of the Devil's Staircase in no time at all, scranned some Skittles and begun the ascent. Anna was like a woman possessed and basically galloped up the path. People were doing double takes as she passed, poles flailing and a demented look in her eye. I was took a slightly more leisurely pace however, enjoyed the ascent up. I don't know why this section has such a bad rep, I would take the Staircase over that stretch from Balmaha to Rowardennan any day!! The views that greeted us over the over side were spectacular and we enjoyed some lunch while we gazed at them.
The walk to Kinlochleven was beautiful and I loved looking at all the mountains. The descent down into Kinlochleven was very hard on my sore knee and I was extremely relieved when we finally reached flat ground. Lots of passing people had expressed concern and offered me painkillers which was very kind but beginning to make me wonder whether it was a wise idea to continue walking on it?
We stocked up at the Co-op in Kinlochleven and then headed to the McDonald hotel to enjoy some much deserved pints. We met two English guys, one who was walking from John o Groats to Land's End and his brother who was joining him for a couple of days. They were both very interesting chaps and we enjoyed a good chat with them. Our tummies were beginning to rumble but we didn't quite want to leave the pub yet so we decided that as the tide was out we would go across the sands of the loch to a little island and make our dinner over there...We gathered our supplies and snuck a bottle of Sriarcha from the pub and trotted over to the island where we drunk our pints and cooked up some noodles. This was all very fun until the midges begun to descend and we were soon getting swarmed! We bid a hasty retreat and finished our noodles behind a bush next to the pub....
We then went to set up our tent and found a nice spot just along the path of the Way. We nipped back to the pub and said goodbye to the group we had befriended. They were going canyoning tomorrow and wouldn't be completing the last leg of the Way until the day after. After lots of hugs and promises we would go to Israel to visit, me and Anna headed off to bed.
View from McDonald Hotel
Kinlochleven to Fort William (15 miles)
The last day of the West Highland Way had dawned. Both me and Anna were feeling very sad that it was almost over. We felt like it had been such a journey. From our worries and doubts about our abilities to complete it on that first day to the feeling of never wanting it to end. It had been a rollercoaster, especially with my gammy knee which I refused to stop me from getting over the finish line. We enjoyed one last breakfast of porridge and coffee, packed up the tent and set off. There is a quite long ascent out of Kinlochleven initially that neither of us had expected. However, my knee finds steep uphill much more manageable than steep downhill so there were no complaints from me. Once we'd reached the peak of the ascent, the views opened up and we were surrounded by beautiful mountains. It was chilly but the sun was shining which seemed so fitting and perfect for our last day! The walk through the glen was delightful.
We stopped for some lunch and tea and talked a lot about the last week, how we had found it, our favourite bits, the worst bits. We set off for the final leg and soon saw Ben Nevis looming ahead and knew the end was nigh.
The descent down towards Fort William was long and steep and I needed all the painkillers to help me through it. We were soon on the final stretch along the road, through the streets of Fort William which seemed to stretch on forever, until we finally reached the official end. We were ecstatic though it all felt slightly surreal. We had our pictures taken with the tired old man and headed straight of the chip shop for a well deserved treat!
We'd arrived in Fort William just in time for the train and enjoyed the long but beautifully scenic journey back to Glasgow.
I can't even describe how much I enjoyed the West Highland Way and the fact I still managed to enjoy it despite being in pretty intense pain from day 2 is a testament to what an incredible walk it is. And not just the beautiful scenery (every part of this walk is beautiful in its own way) but all the amazing people we met along the way. Everyone was so friendly, so encouraging, so kind. We made lots of wonderful friends over the week who we will hopefully meet again. I feel quite emotional thinking back on it all. It was definitely a LOT more difficult than I anticipated and I would say to anyone planning to do it the way we did it (carrying all the camping gear etc.) BE PREPARED for it being hard, especially if you're not used to carrying a heavy pack. However, I'm glad we it that way and if I was to do it all over again, I would do the same!
I've now got a real taste of long distance walking and already planning my next adventure....just need to get this gammy knee sorted out first!
And I would just like to say a HUGE thank you to Nick70 for offering me so much useful advice about the WHW and sending me his map which was extremely handy throughout!
by nick70 » Mon Jun 10, 2019 9:32 pm
Many, many congratulations to you both on completing .
Like you I also get quite nostalgic when having a reflective moment of everything that has just passed.
I kind of remember my train journey home soaking in the scenery as a wtf moment. Have I just really done that. The memories truly do last a lifetime.
Your report was excellent. Amazing pics of all the bluebells, I have done it the last 2 years at Easter week end, so nice to see a different perspective.I really enjoyed reading that. I'm glad you found the Drymen camp spot ok and you found the map useful.
by Alteknacker » Tue Jun 11, 2019 12:23 pm
Unfortunately my one exposure to it thus far was a 7km walk back eastwards along the track to Kinlochleven at the end of a long day in the Mamores, and I found the rough track - fist-sized boulders for most of the way - very hard on the trainer-clad feet, causing me to vow there and then that I would never attempt the WHW.
Well done for persevering!
by Sack the Juggler » Tue Jun 11, 2019 4:05 pm
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by goingforawii » Tue Jun 11, 2019 9:23 pm
Well done - a great report and some great photies
by Slothsuze » Thu Jun 20, 2019 1:16 am
I'm glad you got to eat well as veggies/vegans! I managed to enjoy living off noodles and porridge, but did begrudge having to pay £7 for chips at Kingshouse Hotel because as a vegan who hates beetroot (all 3 vegan options contained the devil's vegetable), my options were very limited!
by LailaQuiche » Thu Jul 04, 2019 10:14 am
Alteknacker - you should definitely give it a go, I can't recommend it enough! It far surpassed my expectations and while it is tough, it is still very doable.
Slothsuze - We actually ate in the fancy restaurant bit of the Kingshouse and there was only one veggie option on the menu but it was delicious - some kind of vegetable risotto with fried goat's cheese on top. Very tasty (though obviously not very vegan...)