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West Highland Way July 2012

West Highland Way July 2012


Postby stuart mclovin » Fri Apr 12, 2013 2:12 pm

Route description: West Highland Way

Date walked: 12/04/2013

Time taken: 5

Distance: 154.5 km

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Finally getting round to posting up my report for this! I undertook this with a friend from 23/7/12 - 27/7/12 but unfortunately they had to bow out at Tyndrum due to the state of their feet, but they plan on returning to finish the walk this year.
Perhaps I have left it too long to truly reflect on the walk while it was fresh in my mind, but to be honest I don’t think my memories of this walk will ever leave me. It had always been a goal for me to undertake the West Highland Way for no other reason than to test my endurance over the 5 days and to experience a part of our Country that few will know unless they live there or undertake the walk.

Day 1
Up nice and early to arrive in Milngavie in pouring rain and dropped baggage off at the train station with AMS. Then it was off for the obligatory photo at the obelisk that marks the start of the walk at around 9.30 and then onwards and upwards to cover the 19miles to Balmaha. This day was nice and easy and if I’m honest it did feel a bit of a chore simply because I never really felt I was getting into any sort of wilderness, it just felt like a back walk round towns and was ground I had covered on walks when I was younger. Despite this I did enjoy the walk through Garadhban forest, it was an absolute swamp due to deforestation and resembled scenes I had seen on TV when Bosnia was war-torn, but it was a welcome relief from pounding tarmac through villages etc. beforehand. Conic Hill was out of bounds when I undertook this due to the deforestation and state of the ground, which was a bit disappointing but at the same time I was quite relieved that I was essentially being given a shortcut to Balmaha. This did not deter a group of guys who decided to tackle conic regardless and off they headed in high spirits that they would get through no bother. Arriving at the Oak Tree Inn around 5pm I can only describe the feeling of getting a warm shower and into dry clothes as total elation having being sodden wet since we departed the train station! It was then off to the restaurant for a bite to eat and it was around 7.30 when we went to the shop next door only to be confronted by the sight of the group who decided to head onto Conic finally coming in. Their high spirits seemed to have been lost on the hill somewhere…...
due to the weather i only managed 1 picture this day :( Image

Day 2
The day when it really felt like the landscape was shifting. Setting off from Balmaha after a hearty breakfast I was feeling good about today. I knew it was to be the hardest in terms of what people had said before about distance and the state of the ground but I set myself with an open mind for what lay ahead. The weather was sunny and warm which only added to the beautiful scenery as we made our way along the banks of Loch Lomond. The walk was busy today and we met quite a few people and exchanged the customary questions about timings, where we were staying, what shape we were in etc. There was a couple who we constantly passed and were passed by them throughout the walk and I can’t for the life of me remember their names, but it was always nice to catch up with them every few miles to compare wounds! I’ll call them John and Jane for the sake of reference. We stopped off at a pub in Rowardennan for a quick refresher at around 12 and then it was off again. And this is where the walk for me really came into it’s own. A lot of the section is through woodland tracks and is comfortable enough to walk although there are sections of steep military road and staircases which are a case of up then up again before you head down and then back up again. It’s quite undulating at times and it can take it’s toll but the rewards when you can look through the woods out onto the loch make it all worthwhile. We toiled onwards and were passed by 2 guys who had the ingenious idea of only carrying backpacks full of beer on the walk. Obviously did their research of the walk by watching that episode where Rab C Nesbitt and Jamesie Cotter undertake the WHW! They were happy enough though and on they toddled at quite a pace. Eventually arriving at Inversnaid Hotel around 5pm we stopped to rehydrate as well as banging down peanuts to replenish salt levels as we were starting to cramp a bit. Throughout the walk I found it really difficult to eat, I had virtually no appetite and was living off snack bars and fruit along the way, even when I stopped walking it took me a few hours to eat something substantial. Chatted to John and Jane for a bit then we were off for what I had been told was a bit of a killer walk. The walk between Inversnaid and Inverarnan is very rocky, a lot of hopping over burns and up a ladder at one point. It’s entirely achievable but it really does take it’s toll with a lot of tight paths. This really ruined us, arriving at Doune Bothy at the tip of Loch Lomond we were both feeling the strain in our legs and the final climb in the 2 miles (more like 3-4) to Beinglas campsite had me screaming “F*CK” as I made my way up and over the hill with daylight fading fast. We arrived at the campsite around 10.30 and booked in. Food had finished being served but the chef kindly offered to make us something if we liked but unfortunately we were done at this point, sleep was the only thing we needed! The 2 guys who had passed by with the rucksacks of beer were sat at a table full of emptys and they looked to be very happy, as they should have been, the pub was bouncing and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, wish we were in a better state to join in the festivities. And with that, we got our heads down to recover.

Deer at Rowardennan;
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looking back to Loch Lomond as we battled on to Beinglas
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Day 3
Up and showered and then a quick treatment of the old feet and we went to the shop to get some rolls in for breakfast. Another lovely day with the sun shining and we decided on a later start to allow the legs to ease up and so we set off around 11am. This day was glorious, at this point the walk really feels like your heading into the real countryside of Scotland as you make your way along to the forest above Tyndrum, with the halfway point of the walk also being in the forest (around the point where you can divert a mile to Crianlarich for supplies). A lot of undulating paths again and of course the customary meeting of John and Jane as well as many others undertaking the walk. We plodded on the whole day with the occasional stop for a drink and a bite of fruit or whatever we had in our daysacks. Making good time we arrived at Tyndrum about 5pm and stopped for a bite to eat at Paddys pub, sitting outside in the sun enjoying the break – food was excellent. The walk had at this point taken it’s toll on my partners feet and it was decided I would head onwards on my own to Bridge of Orchy and they would take a taxi. The section between Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy is stunning, flat open ground that is an easy undertaking and was a more than pleasant walk in the sunshine. It was at this point that I met an Englishman heading back toward Tyndrum. I didn’t just bump into this gentleman however, he was walking on a field on the other side of the railway track and then proceeded to cross the track (fenced off by the way) to come and say hello. It was then I realised he was quite p*ssed as he asked for directions to Tyndrum! I sent him on his way and started off on mine again. We stayed at a lovely B&B next to the Bridge of Orchy Hotel, the owner was a great guy who couldn’t do enough for us in terms of advice and making up a packed lunch for me to take with me on Day 4. This day stays fond in my memory for the scenery on that walk between Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy, there’s not a lot to see but walking along with the sun starting to go down and it being so peaceful was just bliss.

Views from the rest point on way to Tyndrum;
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walking to Bridge of Orchy;
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Day 4
Up early for breakfast and I was off on my own for 9am. Having been born to two parents who were in the military I am quite accustomed to the old adage of “no pain, no gain”. I can’t argue with this logic having left the B&B walking like a 90 year old cowboy, only to find myself power through the first 12 miles of this walk in three and a half hours. The climb out of Bridge of Orchy is a little strenuous and I did wonder why the hell the military path went up this hill rather than follow the water and head round the base, but nonetheless I headed on and loosened up very quickly. The views once you are up there are lovely and as I looked down on Rannoch Moor I was practically salivating to walk through the area. When I got there however I encountered the first real swarm of midges and by that I mean my arm was black within 2 minutes with them all descending on me. I had a midge net (thank god) but opted to stick with short sleeves and covered my arms with skin so soft to try and banish the hordes. The walk across Rannoch Moor was very busy with walkers, joggers and cyclists and again I talked to a few here and there as I took on water but I still powered on through the moor, feeling fantastic at the pace I was setting myself. Some would say you can’t enjoy the scenery when you go quickly but I took it in just fine. Weather was overcast and dark throughout with light showers and despite how busy the moor was it still seems eerily quiet when you look up at the mountains. My feet were taking a pounding on the military road and I opted to “off road” it at certain sections so as to get the comfort of the heather and moss under my feet. Arriving at Kingshouse at 12.30 I treated myself to an ice cold pint of San Miguel and ate the packed lunch I had outside on the wall and spoke through broken English (on both parts) to a group from Netherlands who were doing the walk and wild camping along the way. With that I departed knowing I had the Devils Staircase coming up. To be honest a lot is made of the staircase but it’s actually not too bad, few stops on the way up to catch breath and it’s over and done with relatively quickly. A group of scouts from what looked to be Germay were marching down the hill carrying flags which I did think was just a bit strange, even after some of the sights I had seen so far! Once up the top the sun had come out and offered beautiful views as I looked back down to Buachaille Etive Mòr. Heading downwards on a gentle slope towards Kinlochleven, I still felt fantastic and full of energy but the walk into Kinlochleven is deceptively longer than it appears. You can sight the town from a fair distance and the walk down is winding and long and I can see why so may complain of their knees after this as they do take a fair pounding. I arrived in at around 4pm staying at the Blackwater Hostel and staying in one of the fantastic Hobbits they have there. After chilling out with a shower and a bit of a rest we headed over to the Ice Factory for a look around and something to eat. The Town I have since discovered has many nice pubs that do lovely food but we opted for the first place at hand such was my appetite! My partner got talking to another few ladies who had started the walk and were now bussing and taxi’ing their way around the stops due to injuries and it was strange to hear some tales including one who’s boots had fell apart on day 2 and she was thinking of attempting the rest of the walk in flip flops! She changed her mind which I could only think was a good thing after walking Rannoch Moor.

Bridge of Orchy;
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Gloom on Rannoch Moor;
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view from the top of the Devils Staircase;
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Descending to Kinlochleven;
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Day 5
And so it was upon me, the final day in what had been a fantastic week so far. I started off felling a bit sad about this day as I honestly wished it had another 90 or so miles to go despite my feet now feeling the toll of the last 4 days pounding. The climb out of Kinlochleven was an early livener to get my body loose again and I passed a group who were walking with an 80’s style boombox playing some absolutely horrific 80’s pop. That really spurred me on to put some distance between me and them! The climb it has to be said is quite an undertaking and I felt it to be tougher than the devils staircase, especially as the military road was wet underfoot and made it quite slippy at the steeper sections. Eventually though I was up and well on my way to Nevis Forest. The weather now ranged from severe rain and hail to the sun splitting the clouds every 15 minutes, it really was that interchangeable. I passed John and Jane early on and walked with them for 5 minutes or so before breaking off on my own pace again. Plenty of walkers on this section although there were noticeably fewer than the day before - whether they packed it in or were only walking the moor, I don’t know - but all seemed to be battling through with one or more ailments form the previous days walking. Great views when the mist and rain cleared, I did enjoy this section but it is very barren.There was a Ranger station set up about 500metres from the start of the Forest so I stopped for a brew and they said they were up to do some hill work as well as just check on walkers etc. Eventually arriving at Nevis Forest, the place was teaming with people digging drainage ditches to get the water off the hills and through the forest. It has to be said that this area is fairly well marked to guide you through and unless you go off the path you’re not going to get lost – or so I thought anyway. Queue 2 kids about 17 year old shouting on me from just down a hill in amongst the pine. I waited on them coming up and they informed me they were lost, could I point them on their way. I knew at this point I was only a matter of miles from Fort William so said sure, we’re just around the corner to get through the rest of the forest and onto the road down into Fort William. They then informed me that they left Fort William at 8am and they were doing the walk in reverse. I was astounded at this, I was only around 2 hours walk from Fort William and it was now 1pm. They had managed to go off trail and get lost for the best part of 5 hours. I sent them on their way and told them that there was a Ranger station just as you leave the forest and that they should stop and talk to the Rangers to see if they had a copy of a map they could offer them. Heading through the rest of the Forest and the deforestation area I finally arrived onto the tarmac road than took me down to Fort William. Ben Nevis was shrouded in clouds (as usual) and I promised myself to return and conquer the beast next year. Eventually arriving in Fort William and at the original end of the way I had my photo taken and I have to admit I was overjoyed at having accomplished the walk. I knew that there was another mile to go to get to the new end of the walk but went to meet my partner first to walk in together and get some food to eat. After this, we got a few drinks and started to watch the Olympic opening ceremony, of which I can barely remember as I dozed off half way through!

CND sign that was on display in Kinlochleven;
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familiar site to anyone who has undertaken the WHW;
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The original end;
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On reflection I can still remember some of the bad points of the walk, the aches, the weather on day one and of course that final “2 miles” (pfft, aye right) to Beinglas campsite on day two but more so I remember how absolutely stunning the scenery was and how peaceful and serene the surroundings were. Some of the tales you hear and the characters you meet along the way are just unbelievable and hilarious at times and the hospitality I encountered along the way was second to none.
I have never had a happier week despite the exertion required to achieve the walk in 5 days and my advice to anyone considering doing the walk would always be “YES!! DO IT!”. Had you asked me in the week after the walk though, my answer probably would have been more of a groan as my bones cracked and creaked…………………………….
Last edited by stuart mclovin on Mon Feb 17, 2014 5:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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stuart mclovin
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Re: West Highland Way July 2012

Postby Gordie12 » Fri Apr 12, 2013 7:45 pm

Thank for taking the time to do this report.

I have the same schedule as you planned for next month so this was a really good read for me.
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Re: West Highland Way July 2012

Postby stuart mclovin » Wed Apr 17, 2013 1:55 pm

Gordie12 wrote:Thank for taking the time to do this report.

I have the same schedule as you planned for next month so this was a really good read for me.


No problem Gordie, sure you will love it, look forward to reading your report afterwards!
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stuart mclovin
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Re: West Highland Way July 2012

Postby The Rodmiester » Wed Apr 17, 2013 3:07 pm

Excellent read, really enjoyed that. Can you tell me if you did a great deal of additional walking before undertaking this walk or was it your hill fitness that pulled you through? :)
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Re: West Highland Way July 2012

Postby stuart mclovin » Mon Apr 22, 2013 1:51 pm

The Rodmiester wrote:Excellent read, really enjoyed that. Can you tell me if you did a great deal of additional walking before undertaking this walk or was it your hill fitness that pulled you through? :)


i had increased the distances i was walking on the hills but nothing too taxing too be honest. I also do a bit of cycling when i can so that had helped with the fitness as well.
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