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Kneedeep in a bog & high on heights: Cowal Way & the Cobbler

Kneedeep in a bog & high on heights: Cowal Way & the Cobbler

Postby nitamiriam » Tue Jul 25, 2017 9:37 pm

Route description: Cowal Way

Date walked: 20/07/2017

Time taken: 5 days

Distance: 105 km

Ascent: 870m

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After walking the WHW last year, I promised myself I'd go for a long-distance hike every year, if possible. This year I was drawn to the Cowal Way.

When I realised that I was going to be walking solo (not the original plan), I decided to go for the budget option of wild camping – despite my back-destroying experience of carrying camping gear last year. However, buying an ultra lightweight one (wo)man tent, a tiny sleeping bag and a very compact cooking setup served me well, and I managed to carry my stuff all the way to the end this time. :)

I travelled from Edinburgh to Gourock by train via Glasgow, caught the passenger ferry to Dunoon and hopped on a local bus to Portavadie. I met three other hikers on the bus, but they didn't head off straight away and I didn't see them on the trail again.

DAY 1: Portavadie - Glen Caladh (aka Puppets galore)

Distance: 10 mi / 16km

I set off from Portavadie at 3.20pm and couldn't have asked for a better start for my walk: the sun was shining and there were pretty wildflowers everywhere. White butterflies and bright blue damselflies were my constant companions until the path lead to a pasture past the ruins of Asgog castle.

Looking back towards Portavadie.

I had fun spotting various characters in the villages too: everyone from Millhouse to Tighnabruiach seemed to have created a puppet out of old clothes and other bits and pieces. My favourite was a pirate with his ship full of flowers.


After Tighnabruiach, I walked on while keeping an eye on potential camping spots, but with a sign upon entering the Caladh forest saying 'no camping', it took me a while to find one. As I walked a deer was making its way to the path but saw me and thought otherwise.


Eventually, I pitched my wee tent on a narrow strip of grassy ground by the shoreline – and was immediately engulfed by a thick cloud of midges while the first drops of rain started to land on my head. So much for having a cooked dinner...


DAY 2: Glen Caladh - Allt Robuic (aka The tarmac day)

Distance: 18mi / 29km

Strong winds and some noisy birds woke me up in the morning (well, in truth they woke me up several times throughout the night), and thankful for the dry weather, I quickly packed up my stuff and began the mile-long scramble up and down a path of moss covered trees and rocks with some superb views over Loch Riddon.


For the rest of the day there was some walking on roads in the rain. Well, a lot of it.

Meckan's Grave by the road.

I stopped by at the Kilmodan Church to take a look at the carved stones.


At lunchtime I visited the Glendaruel caravan site to fill up my water bottles. There I met a family of five also walking the Cowal Way (henceforth referred to as 'the family'). Then it was onto a very long stretch of a monotonous forestry track... I had had enough walking for the day, but with the road and the occasional passing place the only flat and non-soggy bits of ground around, I had to keep going for a few more hours (during which I forgot if I had decided to do this hike to enjoy or punish myself). The monotony was at least interrupted briefly by a fox trotting across the road. :)

Eventually I came across a place where there was a little patch of almost flattish and not completely soggy ground beyond a passing place and I set up camp quickly, taking advantage of the lull in the rain.


DAY 3: Allt Robuic - Lochgoilhead (aka The Boggy McBog Way)

Distance: 15mi / 24km

I woke up from a dream in which I had pitched my tent by a road in a busy urban area and people were stopping by to tell me off. In real life I heard a car approach, stop, and carry on.

Heading down to the Allt Robuic Gorge made for a welcome change in scenery: 'Gobling Woods', I dubbed the place in my head. The oak trees were all wrapped up in coats of moss and sported wispy lichen beards. I nibbled on some wood sorrel and admired the waterfalls. Too soon it was time for another stretch of road walking... Was happy to spot a red squirrel on a bird feeder though. :D

Also, this was the day I promised never to moan again about walking on roads! Around Strachur I overtook the family, then headed toward what promised to be proper hills at last. Well, there were hills and they were wonderful, but there was also a lot of extremely boggy ground and not a path to speak of for two miles. I managed to sink knee-deep into the bog and the guidebook took a dip too (I thought it lucky that the publisher had had the good sense to print it on waterproof paper). Thankfully it was just the one leg too – otherwise I would have been a sorry sight indeed, stuck there waiting for the family to catch up and rescue me. :lol:

Approaching Curra Lochain

It was the same story with Curra Lochain and the Sruth Ban falls: a feast for the eyes, death to my feet... After I managed to slip and slide down the mudfest of a steep hill, I nearly cried of joy to see a forest road leading towards Lochgoilhead. Though I may not have spotted the wild blueberries had I not slipped and landed on my bottom in the mud a few times... :wink:

The Sruth Ban falls

Past the town, I started another mucky walk up the hill. The guidebook warned of another boggy section after the 'big rock', so I set up camp there under some trees, fully enjoying the dry and midge-free evening, and cooking proper dinner for the first time. Taking off those soggy boots and socks and airing my feet was heaven...


DAY 4: Lochgoilhead - Arrochar + The Cobbler (aka High on heights)

Distance: 8mi + 8mi / 13km +13km

In the morning the family walked past me as I was packing up. As much as I loved the solitude of this quiet trail, I also really enjoyed my chats with them. :)

The 'path' up to the cairn was boggy as promised but not nearly as bad as the previous section. I left almost immediately after I reached the highest point of the Cowal Way – all the local midges flocked to me like moths to a flame as I tried to enjoy the views!


Forest paths and roads lead me to Ardgartan, where a picnic table on the hillside after the A83 served as a very scenic lunch spot. I cooked my couscous while a massive dragonfly flew in circles around me.


It got really sunny suddenly, and by the time I got to where the path up to the Cobbler diverges from the official route, it was very warm indeed. I stopped to chat with a couple who had just been up there and told them that I was thinking of heading into the village first to find a place to stay (wild camping is not allowed in the area) and get rid of most of the weight I was carrying. The guy suggested that I hide my rucksack in the bushes, and that's exactly what I decided to do. And I'm so glad I did – I know that if I'd kept on walking then, I would have walked all the way to Inveruglas and caught a bus to Glasgow...

The Cobbler

Without my heavy rucksack, going up the hill was easy. The path was well defined all the way and, most importantly, dry! It also felt like a highway after the quiet of the Cowal Way, with dozens of people heading either up or down. (I even spotted a Munro-bagging 3-year-old with her dad!)

Past the treeline the landscape was what I'd imagine parts of Middle Earth to look like with big boulders jutting from the grass, a merry stream bubbling alongside the heather-lined rocky path, and the three peaks of the Cobbler rising like fangs out of the hilltop. All that was lacking was an 'eagles are coming' moment!



I climbed up the North peak to enjoy the breathtaking views. This was definitely the highlight of my trip and only added an extra 4 hours / 8 miles of walking. Well worth it! :D




I felt like dancing down the path when I left but restrained myself in order to appear reasonably sane. :lol: I grabbed my rucksack from the bushes and continued down towards Arrochar. I found a campsite instantly: it was conveniently located almost directly on the Cowal Way. I met a lovely old lady there who told me about the local caves (perhaps I'll go explore them on another trip).

I had a hot shower (well overdue!), cooked my dinner watching the sun set behind the hills and tried to get to sleep with people chatting loudly, music playing and an owl hooting in the distance.

DAY 5: Arrochar - Inveruglas (aka The final stretch)

Distance: 5mi / 8km

Since it was my last day and I had only a little bit of the trail left, I walked at a leisurely pace, enjoying the glorious sunshine and the views. I spotted two huge birds soaring high up in the sky, and though I can't be sure, I'd like to think it was a pair of eagles.


The number of people I came across increased as I approached Inveruglas, and by noon I had reached the end of the Cowal Way. I walked up the An Ceann Mor monument for fabulous views over Loch Lomond. I spotted the Inversnaid Hotel on the other side, and thought of last year when I walked past it on the West Highland Way with my ex. I waved goodbye to the phantoms from the past and enjoyed a cold drink in the café before heading off again.

I was delighted to see the family was there as well and we had one last chat before I hopped on the Scottish Citylink bus to Glasgow. :D



In conclusion: I loved that both sea and mountains feature on this route, and for the most part it was an introvert's paradise with very little traffic. The lengthy road sections got a bit tiring and the boggy sections were challenging to get through (I'll definitely take walking poles to navigate those bits if I ever come back!), but overall I really enjoyed the trail. Going up the Cobbler was by far the best part for me and I'd definitely recommend everyone to include that in their plans.

Also, thinking back to my opinion last year that rain is better than midges, I now think that either is actually fine. The wee beasties only really bothered me on few brief occasions...

So I've enjoyed April and July walking, I guess I've got to go for an autumn hike next time? :)

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Re: Kneedeep in a bog & high on heights: Cowal Way & the Cob

Postby nick70 » Wed Nov 01, 2017 2:09 pm

Hi there, a very enjoyable report which I thoroughly enjoyed reading :) . This is a walk I am considering doing next year. I take it you took your own food with you for the duration?

Are there many places to enjoy pub grub or town/villages to replenish supplies?

Once again an excellent report with very nice pictures. :D
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