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My West Highland Way

My West Highland Way

Postby AimieBowman » Mon Jun 29, 2015 6:07 pm

Date walked: 29/06/2015

Distance: 149.5 km

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Day One – Thursday 21st May

As we set off on our journey for the next 5 days ahead, it was filled with excitement and unknown. The first leg of the trek would see us walk from Milngavie to Sallochy Bay campsite, just two miles short of Rowardennan equalling 25 miles. It was a lovely day for walking, dry with a slight but cool breeze which was welcome especially as we were carrying all of our kits on our back equalling a total of 12kg each.
The starting point is particularly dull, however this is because we are local to this area and seen this point one too many times. For me, this was my 5th time completing the Milngavie to Balmaha stretch so you can imagine I didn’t find it quite as exciting as I did the first time. However, as always I thoroughly enjoyed the scenery after Carbeth huts when the view of the Campsies came into sight. By this point we had some swollen ‘sausage’ fingers which is a sign of dehydration so decided to drink as much as we could – thankfully this worked. First pit stop was the Beech Tree in for a toilet stop and to refill on fluids however this was closed as we had set off so early. First outdoor pee of the trip coming right up! I had 3l of water so shared mine with Nicole who had ran out. I opted to wear my trainers for the majority of the walk up until Connic Hill as there is a lot of road into Drymen and hard flat terrain which can be daunting on any feet let alone in walking boots. We stopped just outside of Drymen where we had our lunch before carrying on towards the Queen Elizabeth Forrest which leads you towards Balmaha. The view really comes into play here as once the initial 45 minutes through the forrest passes and you move onto higher ground and the view onto Loch Lomond opens up. Approaching the field towards Drymen I changed my shoes as I knew the steady path was about to become tougher on ankles and a short but steep hill climb was about to occur. As I was changing my shoes, a little Robin perched itself on a tree next to me and hopped around me for a lengthy 10 minutes, unusual for these little timid birds who are rarely spotted at this time of year and keep their distance from humans. We moved on to Connic Hill which at this point which felt steeper than ever with the added weight on my back. We made it up and over the hill with the usual gorgeous views over the Loch coming into view before a well-earned pit stop for 2 pints and a packet of crisps at the Oak Tree Inn. We sat for 2 hours and met a lovely couple, Gill and Cliff, from Edinburgh who were celebrating Cliff’s 50th birthday. Gill is a nurse and Cliff an ex-marine, and they couldn’t come to terms with the fact we had been carrying our bags. They gave us advice on courier services and campsites to stop at and warned us of the path ahead as this was Gill’s third time completing the West Highland Way. However we wanted to carry our bags as we were determined to see if we could complete this the hard way. A group of young boys arrived – some whom had already given up completely by Drymen and the remaining group opted for the bag carrying service! Safe to say we were proud of ourselves!
We left the Oak Tree Inn and made our way around the Lochside and 4 miles North towards Sallochy Bay where we set up camp for the night. We were the only tent in the Central Pitch which was daunting on the first night wild camping but had two ducks for company, which being an animal lover, kept me happy! We had some pasta and (under cooked) rice and a bottle of Budweiser before calling it a night in preparation for Day Two that would lie ahead. Sallochy Bay is a gorgeous campsite and has toilet facilities as well as a sink which was ideal. It was actually quite relaxing to fall asleep to the sound of the tide crashing against the shore

Day Two – Friday 22nd May

Waking up at half six to the sound of the birds that were flying around above was a nice feeling. Completely in touch with nature and a natural alarm clock was fantastic! We got up and done some stretches, bandaged up our feet and got dressed. We made some porridge for breakfast on our camping stove which was ridiculously but equally amazing at heating up food quickly. We were packed and on our way for 8am. Our feet were already weary and upset at the 25 miles we had completed just over 12 hours ago. We headed north towards Rowardennan and managed to stop at the Rowardennan Hotel for some breakfast since we knew our food supplies were running low already (completely misjudged just how much hungrier than usual we would be walking these distances and so the supplies which would normally last me five days were already low after one day. This would not last me until tonight! We were just about to miss breakfast, but thankfully the wonderfully accommodating staff checked with the chef’s if there was any breakfast remaining and there was plenty to provide us with food! After breakfast we headed outside and while we were getting organised for the next part of the trip heading to Inversnaid we met a lovely girl who had come all the way from Canada .Unfortunately she hadn’t been so lucky with the weather and was having to cut her trip short to make sure she made it back to Glasgow in time for her flight home. We walked alongside her towards the Waterbus as she was going to spend the day in Luss. From Rowardennan the way ran along a roadside and thanks to a diversion and continued along this route for quite some time which was not easy at all on tired feet. I was beginning to feel quite grumpy about this as I was beginning to wonder if this is what the path would be like for the full way to Inversnaid/Beinglass! Matter of fact, my blood was boiling truth be told. This was a diversion to path maintenance and wasn’t sure how my feet would cope with this kind of terrain for another four days. We later learned that apparently this part of the Way has been shut for at least one year! However, soon enough we came to a fork in the road which led us back down on to the WHW through the forrest and my feet were already feeling more at ease and so grateful for the softer woodland paths. The views were nicer and the forrest was interesting with ancient cottage ruins and two houses hidden within the fir trees that reminded me of something from a Disney movie. Soon enough we were onto rougher terrain which was more like a trail and this is where the walk became interesting and fun! The path became a particularly narrow and it runs the full way along the eastside of Loch Lomond giving view and access to the hidden secluded beaches and bays dotted along this path. There is more attention to be paid here as it is rough/rocky terrain with tree roots and a small but persistent ascent followed by descent. We made very good time along to Inversnaid Hotel where we stopped for a pint and had some crisps. We bumped into Cliff and Gill again who had advised we use Beinglass campsite as their facilities are fantastic and was a nice area. We set off for Beinglass and the path continued in the same manner all the way to the end of Loch Lomond up to Ardlui farm. After here it was a long tiring stretch of 2/3 miles to Beinglass. It actually turned out to be our shortest distance day however the terrain – fun at the time – must have used up more energy than we realised. The scenery that surrounded the loch was absolutely outstanding as the path wound uphill which made the short steep incline worth it. We quickly set up camp at Beinglass and headed into the bar for some drinks and food where Gill, Cliff and a dutch girl, Muriel, were sitting at a table. Cliff had looked out the window and seen Nicole sitting on the ground and ordered us a pint each ahead of entering. Today was the day of my b*tch fit at the diversion, and then a miniature breakdown from Nicole as the pain was becoming pretty severe. My sorest points were in the morning and Nicole’s seemed to be the opposite which we learned throughout the trip. We had a wonderful dinner at Beinglass and met loads of people including a dutch girl who had dinner with us who was doing this on her own. Nicole was even handed a phone number from a guy that works at the camp site – not bad for minimal make up, no showering and being disgusting campers! It was a Friday so there was an acoustic act with live music and a generally great atmosphere. In the bar everybody was really friendly, we met two lovely people who were best friends, Nicola and Steven who were hilarious. After a night with too many beers and chatting to some guys about Rum (They call themselves The Rum Club) we finally called it a night and went to bed!

Day Three – Saturday 23rd May

The day of the almighty hangover. That’s all it can be described as. It was a hard task even to brush teeth before setting off that morning which is when the realisation hit me that today was always going to be a definite struggle. The sun is out and I’m not sure if I’m still slightly drunk or hung over as everything is too bright and slightly fuzzy by this point, but an all day breakfast and a pint of water helped to sort that out. We left Beinglass at 10am for Bridge of Orchy – a lengthy 19 miles we had to cover feeling like death. Very slowly but surely we made our way alongside the River Falloch through fields before reaching the Old Military Road up into the hillsides. Again the view is something quite spectacular and when you get to this point, you begin to realise quite how far you’ve travelled as Loch Lomond and it’s hillsides are left far behind. This part is a long walk and we had decided to stop at the junction point on the path for Crianlarich/Tyndrum for a well-deserved rest. After drinking a lot of water to combat the self-inflicted dehydration, it was time for a toilet pit stop and I decided the forrest would be the best place for this out of view. As I made my way into the forrest and took my pit stop I heard some giggling happening but couldn’t work out where it was coming from, nor could I see anybody around, I presumed this must have travelled through Ewich glen as it was the middle of nowhere. Anyway after some lunch and a 40 minute foot rest we got the bags back on and decided to carry on with our ascent into the forrest towards Tyndrum. When we reached the top, we then realised there was a picnic area in a tree opening that looked directly into the forrest where my toilet stop was… excellent. My bottom had been public viewing! Although it definitely provided us with some laughs for our third day! We carried on through the forrest before having another rest at Strathallan Wigwams. By now, Nicole’s hips and feet were definitely starting to feel in a lot of pain and the descend through the forrest was a slow and steady pace. This day by far took us the longest to travel so we decided to make good time from here on and to just have some dinner in Tyndrum for the Real Food Café’s famous chippy and charge our phones before the final 7 miles to Bidge of Orchy. Leaving Tyndrum at half 7 we were racing against the clock to ensure that we arrived at our destination before the sun went down at 10pm. The rain had been battering down from 7pm so we were completely soaking in the middle of nowhere racing the clock. On arrival at 9.45pm, we decided to pitch the tent in the fastest possible way at the wild campsite just behind the hotel and would go into the walker friendly hotel for a beer and to dry off. We took our bags and waterproofs with us once the tent was pitched so that after a beer and some heat we could put ou pyjamas on, cover up with our waterproofs on over to run to the tent so we could get in and get cosy as quickly as we could… This didn’t happen. Nicole was first to get into the tent and was the bearer of bad news that the tent was wet inside. We had presumed it was the airing net above the tent that was letting the water in, so with some improvisation I put a plastic polly bag over this to prevent anymore entering the tent… that didn’t work. The tent we had brought with us turned out not to be in any way water resistant and the torrential rain was now entering at every angle right through. We put down the towel that I had brought with me which was sodden in a matter of minutes and the sleeping bags were now soaking up the cold rain water which obviously meant our own clothing was turning cold and wet - we were not escaping this horrific weather. I hadn’t been in a situation like this before and worrying we would end up ill, I called my mum and had her check to see if there were rooms available in the hotel, if there was anywhere to go but there wasn’t. Taxi’s were called and quotes were obtained to check availability as a last option however there was nothing available in the middle of nowhere. Throughout this time, I had spent it sobbing and pretty upset at the situation we had found ourselves in for around 15 minutes. After realising that there was nothing we could do, I decided I just had to accept it to move on with the night ahead and tell myself ‘it won’t last forever’. I lay in the sleeping bag thinking of homeless people who are in worse weather than this and those with terminal or long term illnesses that suffer day in and day out and that got me motivated. I was wondering what supplies we had with us to help us in our situation and I heard Nicole starting to dose off when a light bulb moment came to my head - we had brought foil blankets in our first aid kits. We might not be able to stay dry but at least warmth to prevent any illness can help! I woke Nicole up and we wrapped our foil blankets around us over our clothes and got back into our sleeping bags. There was already a difference made and this stopped too much water soaking into our clothes and reflected our body heat back into our bodies. It allowed us to get around 4 hours of broken sleep. I could already feel the excitement that if I can get through this night in this situation lying in a flooded tent, then there is no doubt that both of us can get through this to finish it. It’s amazing how sheer determination can push you through any situation and also help others through situations.

Day Four – Sunday 24th May

Nicole woke us up at around half five where we lay for a while scared to get out of the foil blankets into the remaining wet tent due to the coldness we were about to feel. I felt amazed that we had overcome that horrific night of lying pretty much in a puddle of rain water. I still had the mind frame if I was able to complete that evening, we would be able to finish the way no problem. Nicole said that morning that we would phone her dad to come and get us as we would end up ill if we carried on, but I suggested phoning my nana once we had been fed and dried off as the hotel welcomes walkers in where we were able to hang our wet clothes on the radiators to dry. Our rucksacks were soaked right through and must have added on around an extra 4kg each to our already heavy load. We had some breakfast and met Gill and Cliff. I was constantly thinking since waking up how we could possibly finish this in the situation we were in, as another night in an already soaked tent and a full day of walking in rain ahead we would definitely be sure to end up ill. Cliff and Gill said we shouldn’t give up now. Nicole was in terrible pain with blisters under her toenails and all over her feet. At this point I was willing to carry on myself because I was determined I would finish this somehow or another. Nicole didn’t want to leave me to go on myself and decided to try it but maintained she couldn’t promise anything. I spoke to my mum who managed to secure us a bed in the Blackwater Hostel which had a drying room and there was a bag courier service available from our hotel for Nicole’s bags to be carried to ease her pain on her feet and hips. The bag carrier service was £8 in cash as the card machine wasn’t working and we only had £4 between us and there were no ATM’s to withdraw cash. When fellow walkers outside who we had never met before overheard our story of the evening before’s events, Nicole was given £1 each from 4 different people who had been standing in the area outside the hotel to allow Nicole to get her bag carried – the kindness really could have reduced us to tears. The amount of amazing, kind, supportive people of Scotland you meet on this trip makes the pain so worthwhile. Everybody is on the same journey together and supporting each other which is something never to be forgotten. This was enough to motivate the both of us to finish the journey. We set off for what we didn’t realise was our second furthest day of 21 miles to Kinlochleven which was the final pit stop on route to Fort William’s finish line. Heading through the forrest and out onto the hillside where the Rannoch Moor and surrounding mountains leading up to Glencoe come into visibility, the walk becomes enjoyable once more. You become surrounded by beautiful hillsides which dulls the pain of the rocks on your already battered feet. Heading down to Inveroran and beyond before meeting the Telford’s Prliamentary road which leads you through wilderness, beautiful wilderness albeit, to Kings house. The views across Rannoch Moor is outstanding and the snow topped mountains surrounding you make it seem spectacular, more so when you reach the end of this in the approach to Kings House by Glencoe and the famous valley view opens up before you in dramatically beautiful scenery. Don’t get me wrong, it is an easy path to walk with no steep inclines but it is unforgiving on already tired, blistered feet where any opportunity to walk on the grass alongside the cobbled route is more than welcome! At Kings House we stopped for a toilet, beer, food pit stop and we managed to even hand feed a Stag standing outside the hotel. We met a group of 5 or 6 older men who were chatting to us about their experience and one man’s blisters were so bad there was blood oozing out of them after his shower that he had to give up and get taxis the remainder of the way! After a nice hour’s rest and some warm food, we set off for the final leg of the day heading to Kinlochleven. The soaked and heavy bag still feeling weary on my shoulders, we remembered we had the ‘Devil’s staircase’ to encounter. The rain was now battering down after a nice couple of hours in sunshine through the afternoon. We moved along and realised that our waterproofs were no longer waterproof due to how heavy the rain was and seen an ascent ahead which we presumed would be the lead up to the Devil’s staircase. I was expecting an excessively steep and scarily high staircase on an exposed hillside due to it’s name, however we have learned since that it is actually an easy hill walk. We were up and the hill in no time and actually overtook 10 young men on the way. It was a long walk on the way back down from the Davil’s staircase into Kinlochleven. The final mile descending into Kinlochleven was really testing on my ankles and my feet and it felt like I was being stabbed in the foot with every beat hitting the ground on the hard road. We also met a man who knew a woman that Nicole works with as she had told us he would be taking part and he had been looking out for her red hair. However, we eventually arrived at Blackwater hostel which to us at this point felt like a 5 star hotel! We dumped our stuff in the room and ran over to the bar for some food before it stopped serving at 8.30pm before collecting our lunch for the 16 mile walk the following day. Once in the hostel we washed our hair for the first time in days and the clean warm water was stinging the injuries on my feet so badly that I was trying not to scream or swear for the sake of the French girl who was sharing our room with us. I hung up as much as I could in the drying room overnight to lessen the weight we would have to carry on our final day before heading to sleep – a bunk bed now felt the equivalent of a queen size would normally and a drying room was just outstanding to us!

Day Five – Monday 25th May

Waking up, we could literally not believe we made it to our final day after such a horrific third night and being soaked through to our underwear on day four, our feet in torture and Nicole’s hips suffering for the heavy loads, not to mention the fact she was walking with torn ligaments in two of her toes from a previous injury. It was a day of excitement and we quickly collected our stuff together, headed off out of the hostel after breakfast and began on our final day. The path out of Kinlochleven is a constant ascent for around 40 minutes but it is worth it once you come out of the forrest and look back onto the loch and the little picturesque village which could literally have been extracted from the alps if there hadn’t been a chippy and a co-op in it. The hills were more beautiful than ever, and despite the weary feet this was a beautiful walk to take part in. Every ascent and any corner turned would open up to a prettier view than the last with a number of Munro’s surrounding you. We had heard this to be described as a boring part of the walk, however I would say this was one of the most beautiful and enjoyable stages with old farm ruins and ancient cottage remains at your side. Along the way we had bumped into the older men we had met at Kinghouse now and then and would chat away to them. Their daughters and families were meeting them at the finish line which was really sweet! They were having a great time! Continuing to wind through the hills gradually descending as we headed towards Glen Nevis with a couple of very, very short but steep inclines here and there but it is worth it for the view looking onto the Glen and the beginning of Ben Nevis. The walk through the Glen is magnificent and the rich greenery which sits underneath the towering pine trees to either side of you makes it look like a glen where fairies could live. Once popping out of the Glen, the path meets a road where the descent into Fort William snakes for a while before meeting a road side which is the final two miles or so passing the foot of the looming Ben Nevis. This is possibly the longest two miles of the 96 miles encountered (it does not help when there are no toilet stops for 16 miles and this seems the busiest most open part of the route) West Highland Way finish line. The older previous finish line when the route used to be 95 miles comes into view first of all and I was feeling so excited before realising this was the old finish point and we still had another mile to go. As we knew we were so near, we managed to complete the final two miles at an incredible speed as a second wind carries you forward before meeting the legend ‘Sair feet’ on the bench at the finish line. The last we had seen Cliff and Gill was the beginning of Day three where we were on the brink of giving up, and to our amazement they were in the pub right at the finish line. It made our day to let them know we had made it and it made their trip to know we had finished this and they said it had made their whole trip to see us finish. We had dubbed them our ‘West Highland Way mum and dad’ as they looked out for us, were so caring and offered only the best advice as they had completed it numerous times  A lovely, lovely couple! Special thanks to Auntie Lauren and my mum for coming to pick us up from Fort William to take us home that night! Can’t believe it took us 2 hours to complete a journey which took us 5 days to walk haha!!

Truly magnificent experience, and views of which I will not be quick to forget not to mention the number of ancient ruins along the way which make for a patriotic, ancient feel as well as feeling as close to nature as you can possibly get. It really was a truly touching time in my life!
Despite the flooded tent, the pains, the bickers, the constant pain of your feet which you do eventually become accustomed to once you push by the pain barrier, I would not change my experience of the West Highland Way in any way shape or form as it made it my own experience and nobody else’s.
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