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Milngavie to Inverness via the Ben

Milngavie to Inverness via the Ben

Postby MattyAnderson » Wed Nov 21, 2012 9:06 pm

Route description: West Highland Way

Date walked: 16/10/2012

Time taken: 9 days

Distance: 285 km

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This is the story of an epic eight day walk from Glasgow to Inverness via Fort William, completed by two sixteen year old boys, with memories that will last a lifetime. Parents, Grandparents, Siblings and Aunties were all involved but essentially we did the walking, camping, cooking and route finding. This story is written on how we saw this walk, what we did well, what we didn’t do well, what we learned and what we can’t wait to forget! Hopefully many more young adults or youths will be inspired to follow in our footsteps!

The idea came about as I was thinking on how to raise funds for a charity expedition to Costa Rica in 2013 that I have committed to. A sponsored Walk seemed like a plan but I knew that for my friends, local community and family to sponsor me it would have to be challenging. Twice round the Balloch just wasn’t going to cut it! I am part of a family that “bags” and have been playing in the mountains since I was wee so began thinking about established long distance routes that would be do-able in the tattie holidays. The West Highland Way was the obvious first choice but not long enough...but the West Highland Way runs very nicely onto the Great Glen Way...and I could include a jaunt up the Ben for added excitement – JOB DONE! One month to plan – shouldn’t be that hard :idea: . Get my mum to print off some sponsor forms and try to remember where I put the big rucksack, and stop off in Tesco’s on the way down the road for some supplies. I was telling my friend Gavin on Monday back at school and he said he really fancied it as well...now I’ve got company.

So Monday 16th October arrives – I was hoping to have a rest day due to the exhausting next nine days but mum said I had to do my own packing, so I was thrown out of bed at nine :crazy: – took me until lunch time to locate my rucksack and find enough clean socks for the expedition - thank heavens for big brothers. I can tell you he was none too pleased to discover he had no socks for the whole time I was away. 5pm finally arrives and we pick up Gav from Keith, head over to Aviemore for Fish and Chips and then the long drive down the A9 – I am happy to say this journey time was not wasted and “Mud, Sweat and Tears” and the “SAS Guide to Survival” was picked through – best to be prepared!

Mum, Dad and little bro will be supporting us in the camper van and with the exception of Fort William all our camps will be wild. By the time we parked up around the Carron Valley Reservoir it was pitch black – never daunted we found ourselves a nice little spot just off the beaten track and pitched our tent. Enthusiastically we made hot chocolate before turning in – actually we made luke warm hot chocolate because the gas ran out on our stove. At this stage I began to wonder if perhaps more planning should have been in order! We both slept well and poked our sleepy little heads out of the tent in the morning to marvel at the great outdoors and the freedom that we have in Scotland to wake up anywhere we choose...eeermm...I was being eyeballed by a cow! : :wtf: Lesson one learned; when pitching in the dark, check for live animals in the immediate vicinity! (I think Bear Grylls does tell you to do this!)

Day 1: West Highland Way
We set off at about 9:00am from Milngavie, both packs weighing in at about 14kgs each, including a full canister of gas! It was raining and the forecast for the next couple of days was not good - but we both agreed we were up for the challenge and spirits were high.
Lesson Two was about to be learnt – we found ourselves temporarily geographically challenged and it took us four an half hours to navigate our way out of Milngavie finally becoming familiar with the “Thistle” logo which marks the West Highland Way. The maps had seemed like extra weight (they were left in the camper van) and we both agreed that “surely we could not get lost on a walk that is walked by an estimated 30,000 people a year”. I am now confident I can offer guided tours of Milngavie.

We walked until it started to get dark which saw us on a lower plateau of Conic Hill. It was about 6pm, the sun was setting over Loch Lomond and there was no wind! We made a simple lean-to tarp to eat our tea under. Massive chunks of Matteson’s sausage added to undercooked spaghetti and topped with a packet of bean sauce. Also we shared our shelter with rabbit and deer excrement. Does life get any better – well perhaps when we are eighteen and then the whole lot could be washed down with a beer (legally)!

Day 2: West Highland Way
I was woken up the next morning by the soggy inner fabric of the tent slapping off the side of my face (properly tension tent – lesson number three). Almost gale force winds meant we were unable to light the stove so we forgot the porridge. Taking the tent down was a challenge... and we realised something was missing-the tarp had blown away. (This was later retrieved from Balmaha car park). We had breakfast from the convenience store in Balmaha around 10am and continued on just as it started pouring with rain! We made it to Rowardennan at around half past 12 and went to the Inn for some refreshments. We took advantage of the corridor leading to the toilets and used it as a drying room hanging up all our clothes anywhere possible, everything was soaking (sorry if we upset anybody). The walk had been easy enough though, mainly forestry paths along the side of Loch Lomond. My Auntie Kerry and her dog TJ joined us at Rowardennan; she had offered to walk the last leg on day two which was around 15 miles. It has to be said that this part of the walk was by far the greatest challenge of our full 8 days. We left the Rowardennan just before 4pm (she had to walk/jog the final two miles to get to us as she had missed the window for the road closure up the side of the loch). The rain was coming down in sheets; soaking wet, this journey felt like it went on forever. We reached the Inversnaid Hotel at just after 6pm and without her encouragement and moral support, I think we may well have given up at this point. Our support crew (mum, dad and the camper) had arranged to meet us at Beinglas, so we knew we would have to navigate this last part in the pouring rain AND pitch black. I believe this is the trickiest part of the walk no matter the weather or time of day; enormous tree roots, slabs of rock and frequent streams crossing the paths. At one point Gavin just disappeared off an embankment (which Auntie Kerry found very amusing; one minute he was there, next he was gone!) and I nearly ended up in the loch from slipping off the path down a small waterfall being saved only from the bottom of my pack getting snagged on a rock; the first blood of the trek and the graze to back up my story! Head torch ran out of batteries and the spares were safely packed in the dry bag at the very bottom of my pack...that’s where they stayed – I walked between Kerry and Gav! Arrived at the Beinglas Campsite at 10:30pm, grateful for the parental intervention of homemade hot chilli and tokens for the tumble dryer!

Day 3: West Highland Way
Today we had planned to go to Bridge of Orchy, the weather looked a lot better and we were both feeling quite fresh, everything was packed up, we were both fed and watered and by 11 we were off. We had walked about a mile when my little bro appeared on his bike telling us we were going the wrong way. Great start. After about 20 minutes of footering on Gav’s ‘View Ranger’ app we were finally Tyndrum bound. The paths made easy walking and were busy which I guess had something to do with the weather! We made Tyndrum early afternoon and after a short break we were off again Bridge of Orchy bound along the ‘Old Military Road’ an easy stroll for about 4 hours. We spotted some interesting orange sheep. Missed the very clever horses (the horses can’t read or shut gates up by Keith). Tried to make friends with a very pretty cow and found some holy poo! The scenery and colours my mum would have loved so I took some photos for her.

We stopped in the Bridge of Orchy hotel and had a few “refreshments”. Met some great people in the hotel, most of them also doing the West Highland Way and one guy, a photographer sponsored us £10!! Massive thanks to the chap (didn’t catch his name!) Spirits were high when we arrived at our wild camp site (met up with the support team which since the morning had expanded to include my grandparents!) Pitched our tent, got a beauty of a camp fire going and had supper. (mince and tatties – courtesy of the support team). Bedded by about 11pm!

Day 4: West Highland Way
Woke up at around 9am and it was raining again. Got a great, if not cold wash in the River Orchy – it’s been a couple of days now since the last one! After a breakfast of BBQ bacon rolls we were off again. Today was planned as an easy day, much shorter than what we are used to; finishing at the Kings House Hotel. The first part of the walk was through forestry paths and was the usual – up and down and up and down, nothing strenuous. After we emerged from the forest we were on moorland, very easy walking conditions. We did see some birds making ridiculous noises (we were later informed they were black grouse). As we approached the moor the clag came down and for about five miles we saw nothing. After our previous navigational challenges, it was probably good that the path was wide and well defined. It felt quite eerie and very lonely – silent except for the crunch of our boots on the path. This long yomp over moorland took its toll and by the end of it both mine and Gavin’s feet were in pieces. We stopped at the Glencoe Mountain Café for refreshments not realising the King’s House Hotel was all of 2 miles away. Arrived at Kings House Hotel about 5pm, as expected a short day but the 2nd toughest after Rowardennan to Beinglas. There was a bit of a commotion on the hard standing beside the hotel, loads of big wagons and lots of people milling about – curious we went for a closer look and started speaking to this guy in the middle of it all, we even invited him for a drink – he declined saying he had to shoot off. Well Leonardo, that’s the last time I offer to buy you a drink!! The support team had set up camp in Glen Etive, a short walk from the Kings House. I like Glen Etive, the river, the waterfalls, the pools, the mountains but what I hate is the rubbish! I do lots of things that I probably shouldn’t, I’m sixteen and I love adventure but I don’t understand why there is so much rubbish about in Glen Etive...why can’t people take their rubbish home? Or at least do some reading on how to answer the calls of nature in the wild!!!!

Day 5: West Highland Way
Another diabolical nights sleep but happy to say it was the last day of the WHW. Up at the usual time, porridge’d and off by about 10am. Both Gavin and I were not looking forward to the Devil’s Staircase; our legs in agony, our blistered feet and the tales of how hard it is. To our amazement after we did what seemed like a short climb up a traversing path we checked on the GPS and we had completed the Devil’s Staircase... barely even breaking a sweat. This lifted our spirits and the next part of the walk towards Kinlochleven seemed like nothing; the weather had cleared and we spectacular views of the Glencoe Mountains and the Mamores. It was magic to be so far away from everyone, enjoying the peace and the solitude. After a short walk from the top of the Devil’s Staircase you can see Kinlochleven down below and the path starts to get a lot steeper and zigzags alongside water pipes. Gavin and I found these great fun as many of them had punctures and were spraying water 30 feet into the air. They held us up from getting to Kinlochleven by about an hour. Arrived at Kinlochleven, had lunch and a look around the indoor ice climbing wall... amazing, already organised a trip back to it! We set off on the final leg with my mum; Travis and Freyja (our dogs) about 3 o’clock. Weather was still pretty ideal. A short climb through woodland joins us on to a military road through a massive glen towered on all side with mountains, magic views! A few abandoned old buildings along the way begging to be explored, ignoring the ‘Dangerous Building Do Not Enter’ signs we just had to satisfy our curiosity. Another path through forestry drops us into Glen Nevis and were thrilled by our first view of Ben Nevis, tomorrows challenge.

Day 6: Ben Nevis
After the first decent night sleep in about... well 6 days I was actually feeling quite fresh! Gavin slept like a log, once again, last night and we were ready and raring to go by about 11 o’clock with Travis and Freyja. Ben Nevis is pretty self explanatory, as well as being the highest mountain in the UK, it is probably the steepest and most strenuous mountain I have done! The weather was great, I had strategically picked a suitable t-shirt whereas Gavin Was wearing a grey cotton one... Not a day for a grey t-shirt. After the first assent of about 400 metres it was drenched with sweat. So was mine but you just couldn’t see it ha ha! We got to the half way lochan in no time at all, over taking half the mountains users. I spotted a girl not much older than me and wow... I think she was foreign, Spanish or something maybe, purple jacket and a beige bag. Highlight of my climb probably. Seriously get in touch if you ever read this! We found the paths way too main stream and decided to take an easier route by going straight up the middle of them. Travis loved this and it must have saved us a good 20 minutes, the scree was great fun too. When we got to the snow covered top of Ben Nevis, we only stayed about 20 minutes; the amount of other people kind of put us both off hanging about for two long. We followed Travis down the scree slopes again and ran down most of the remaining mountain too. To the top and back down in 4 and half hours. Not too shabby if I say so myself! Got down to the bottom and walked towards Fort William looking for somewhere to swim in the river, found magic deep pools with rocks to jump off in to the water. Water was absolutely freezing still managed to stay for about 45 minutes. Back to camp and had tea.

Day 7: Great Glen Way
Gav and I got up fairly early. We both wanted to finish by Wednesday (Gavin was working and I had football training) and decided to lighten the load in our packs to make it easier to move a bit quicker; scrapping the things we probably wouldn’t need. Out came the notepad and pencil, sheet of tarp, toiletries (toothbrush stayed), spare tent pegs, kettle and spare clothes. Oh and the lighters and matches- we didn’t realise that we would need them until it got to the time of lighting our stove. The weather was brilliant and we set off at from Fort William. Getting ourselves out of Fort William without maps was quite a hassle and we ended up at Neptune’s stair case at about half three at least 3 hours behind schedule. We found an abandoned boat on one of the beaches along the way and this just added to the time we would have to make up but boys will be boys! The boat had barbed wire around the edges (perhaps a deterrent...maybe?). Ropes were positioned, making a difficult clamber aboard, however this was an opportunity not to be passed by and team work got us both on board.
Personally I found the walk from Neptune’s staircase to our camping spot 9 miles away the most boring bloody thing I had ever done in my whole entire life. I love walking, what I don’t love is walking 9 miles with the same thing either side of you. Paths were easy and flat. Scenery was nonexistent, unless of course you like observing birds and stagnant canal water. We set up camp and realising that we had not included lighters or matches in our packs, Gav used his years of scouting experience to remedy this situation by heading towards the nearest house, knocking on the door and asking to borrow a lighter. We were now able to prepare our soggy super noodles for supper.

Day 8: Great Glen Way
Got up quite early and had our porridge in a bag. (Porridge oats, dried fruit and sugar in a roasting bag, fill with hot water and leave for two minutes). Not quite sure of the time because both our phones were out of charge and neither of us wear watches. We left our spot beside the loch and could still see Ben Nevis towering above all the other hills in the distance. We walked along road for about a mile and then back on to a mixture of woodland paths and canal paths, straightforward walking all the way to Fort Augustus. Both Gavin and mine feet were in complete agony, both of us feeling pretty sorry for ourselves. We went into the convenience store and got some food, the lovely shop keeper must have felt sorry for us because she let us sit in the CLOSED café to eat our food and use the phone to make contact with the support crew. Whoever you are you are a Legend. Massive thanks to her :clap: . The support crew had set up camp just outside Invermoriston ... another seven miles of which we would be walking in the dark. The fact that we would have completed 28 miles that day when we finally got to stop gave us the motivation we needed to keep going...that and the thought of some clean dry socks! The scenery was pretty bland on this last seven miles of the day mainly because... well, it was pitch black.
We got to Invermoriston finally - it must have been about 9 o’ clock and no sign of the support crew so we went to the Glenmoriston Arms. We must thank the staff who cooked us some chips and supplied us with coke and a comfy seat – we had completely run out of money! At last the support crew turned up and in the privacy of our little tent I popped the most horrible blister on my foot, must had been at least a litre of puss in it. Yuck.

Day 9: Great Glen Way
The last day and a near overwhelming sense of relief. Got up at 7, we needed an early start to cover the 28 miles we had to do to complete the day. My mum walked with us to Drumnadrochit which was an enjoyable walk, although I don’t think any of us were prepared for the accent, decent and then more accent! Climbed up 600 feet above Loch Ness and had an amazing view of the cloud inversion covering the Loch. We also saw some amazing spider’s webs in the dew. Perfect blue skies and easy paths all the way to Drumnadrochit made this stretch the most enjoyable part of the Great Glen Way. We refuelled on Lucozade and sandwiches in Drumnadrochit. I also took the time to rig up an entertainment system to keep us both motivated for the last stretch, creatively constructing a jukebox by using insulating tape, an iPod dock and the back of my rucksack. Powered on ahead at the fastest pace we had been walking at so far, motivated to get finished. Gavin and I were both unbelievably exhausted and our feet were in agony, the sooner we finished this the better!! Paths were easy from now on although it is a long hard climb out of Drumnadrochit. The walking ranged from moorland to forest paths and a good 2 miles on the road. When it started to get dark and we had our first view of Inverness, it felt amazing. Both our feet being numb from the pain but also being so motivated to finish we decided to run all the way to Inverness from here and it must have been a good 6 miles until we emerged from the forest and started heading downhill to street lamps. As we both came flying out onto the pavement we pretty much collapsed in a heap. Our parade was then **** on when a local told us we still had a couple of miles left. Now you can’t imagine the pain our feet were in when we started walking again. Like nothing I have ever experienced in my life. Soon enough we reached Inverness Castle and it’s up there as one of the best moments of my life. The support crew and more Grandparents, Gav’s dad and some friends were all there with Champagne. We were both utterly exhausted but so pleased to have completed the whole trek – and on target.

I had an amazing time doing the walk and my biggest thanks goes to Gav for sharing it with me. I managed to raise nearly £1500, so thank you to all who sponsored me. It was great to be taken seriously by all the other walkers/landlords/shop keepers and those memories will stay with me forever. Thank you to my support crew. Thank you to my big bro for the loan of his socks and to my little bro for directions. Thank you to Islavale for letting me have the time off and I’m sorry I missed the win against Luncarty!
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Re: Milngavie to Inverness via the Ben

Postby mrssanta » Thu Nov 22, 2012 7:30 pm

Brilliant report, really enjoyed reading that.
any pictures?
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Re: Milngavie to Inverness via the Ben

Postby MattyAnderson » Fri Nov 23, 2012 10:56 pm


Thank you Mrs Santa :-D . We enjoyed walking it!!
The photos are on Flickr - not sure if have done it right but the link is above
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Re: Milngavie to Inverness via the Ben

Postby peter tindal » Sat Nov 24, 2012 7:54 pm

:clap: :clap: :clap: :clap:

Well done young man, I am so pleased when I hear great stories from youngsters out enjoying our great outdoors

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Re: Milngavie to Inverness via the Ben

Postby The Rodmiester » Sun Dec 30, 2012 1:02 pm

WELL DONE MATTY A, and Brother, I guarantee you will remember that experience for the rest of your life :clap: :clap: . This was a walk I was considering doing last year, but for reasons did not manage. As you suggested the Great Glen Way is probably nicer to cycle than to walk. Anyway a tremendous effort, no doubt character building and I'm sure your family is very proud of you both. It's just a pity more of our youth are not so enterprising as you. WELL DONE again :D
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