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West Highland Way in a leisurely 9 days

West Highland Way in a leisurely 9 days

Postby LaurenAlexandraAgain » Thu Feb 14, 2019 2:24 am

Route description: West Highland Way

Date walked: 29/08/2017

Distance: 154 km

Ascent: 3155m

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Tuesday 29 August 2017

Milngavie to Drymen: "Introduction and Rondo"
Distance: 12 miles
Start: 9:15am
Finish: 3:45pm
Weather: Cloudy and cool, with a stray shower or two

I had low expectations for this day. When people talk about the West Highland Way, the first stage is usually talked about as the one to be gotten through before the *real* scenery starts. So I was pleasantly surprised when what I would describe as *real* scenery began only a couple of miles out of Milngavie!

After the initial forest/river walk out of Milngavie, there were the Trossachs, in particular Dumgoyne, which would be my companion for most of the day. I took copious pictures. Even the downhill bits over rock couldn't get me down. I enjoyed myself thoroughly, and I made good time. I used a baggage transfer service for this walk, so I was only carrying a small daypack rather than my entire rucksack, and it helped IMMENSELY. While eating lunch by the trailside near Glengoyne Distillery, I had the novel experience of consulting my map and realizing that I had actually traveled FURTHER than I initially thought. Wahey!

After passing the Beech Tree Cafe, the WHW mainly shadows the road most of the way to Drymen. The scenery was slightly less diverting than at the beginning of the day and footsoreness was setting in, but I still managed to motor along. A little short of the village of Gartness, I sat under a tree to eat a Snickers bar and drink some water, and was promptly accosted by a robin. It got so close to me that I thought it was going to hop up onto my foot!

This first day ends on tarmac, which is a trial. Luckily the last little stretch is through a cow pasture with nice, springy grass.

Song of the day: "What You Want" by the John Butler Trio


Wednesday 30 August 2017

Drymen to Rowardennan: "I am one with the Force and the Force is with me."
Distance: 15 miles
Start: 9:15am
Finish: 6:00pm
Weather: Mostly sunny with occasional drizzle. Cool in the morning, warm in the afternoon.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

This morning was brilliant. A gentle climb out of Drymen led up to Garadhban Forest and the intersection with my old friend, the Rob Roy Way. There's a signpost there now! I had great views of Conic Hill and Loch Lomond almost at once - a great way to start the day.

Instead of taking the high route via Conic Hill, I decided to save my legs and energy and take the low route into Balmaha. All told, I made it from Drymen to Balmaha in an amazing (for me) two and a half hours, so I was feeling pretty pleased with myself and the world at large. I stopped in Balmaha for an hour to eat lunch and rest the legs, and then I set out again.

The second half of the day, from Balmaha to Rowardennan, was much harder. The ground got slightly rockier underfoot, and the route got much hillier. The hills were fine at first, but then I got to the climb out of Sallochy Campsite. Jeeesussss. This was probably the most severe climb of the day, but it was by no means the last. A memorable moment: a group of three walkers from Paisley caught up to me at the precise moment we came into view of a big climb. Cue four f-bombs muttered in rapid succession, at varying volumes but with identical sincerity.

After a while my vision tunnelled and I just put one foot in front of the other the rest of the way to Rowardennan. I did try to admire the early evening sun on the loch and Ben Lomond, though. I lost some time wandering around the Ben Lomond carpark, thinking I'd missed the SYHA hostel where I was staying for the night. It turned out to be a little bit further on.

I'm in pain. I've got a cramp developing in my left calf that is going to be ~*dazzling*~ when it blooms. But I've walked 27 miles in the last two days and I'm feeling pretty pleased and accomplished.

I saw another robin when I sat down to eat my Snickers today. Or maybe it was the same one?

Song of the day: "Eh Hee" by Dave Matthews


Thursday 31 August 2017

Rowardennan to Inversnaid: "The Obstacle Course, Part 1"
Distance: 7 miles
Start: 9:40am
Finish: 3:00pm
Weather: Sunny and warm, humid near the lochside

They said the Loch Lomond section of the WHW was the hardest part, and they were right. I'm dubbing this section "The Obstacle Course." Rocky ascents, rocky descents, massive tree roots, steep gradients, boulder scrambles, burn crossings...you name it, this section has it. There was one section in the middle where the terrain smoothed out, thank goodness. But after re-entering the forest we were back to the obstacle course.

Toward the end of the day I began to suspect that I had died and gone to hell, and my punishment was to continue walking up the eastern shore of Loch Lomond for all eternity. But then the Inversnaid Hotel finally came into sight. I had a celebratory pint and fish and chips with the group of three from Paisley who I met yesterday, and then called the Inversnaid Bunkhouse for a lift.

I'm in awe of anyone who does Rowardennan to Inverarnan in a single day. Most of the people taking a break at the hotel were planning to go a few more miles and then camp in the vicinity of the bothy across from Ardlui. I'm not sure I met anyone today going the whole 14 miles to Inverarnan. For my part, I'm really glad I decide to split the Loch Lomond section in half.

While eating my fish and chips, I was remarking to someone that I hadn't had my daily visit from the robin, when one promptly hopped up on the table. I swear it was posing for photos.

Song of the day: "The Two Trees" by Loreena McKennitt


Friday 1 September 2017

Inversnaid to Inverarnan: "The Obstacle Course, Part 2"
Distance: 7 miles
Start: 9:55am
Finish: 4:45pm
Weather: Sunny and warm

F&@* boulders.

The first half of the day repeated all of yesterday's challenges and upped the intensity. Yesterday I think I had to do maybe one butt-scooch down a steep rock; today I had to do several, including one particularly memorable one down a huge boulder that put me in mind of the "in the way of a big effing rock" scene from Wild. F&@* that boulder in particular.

But it was a gorgeous day today! I found one very pretty lochside beach on which to eat lunch, and another very pretty lochside beach on which to take a snack break later on, both with spectacular views of Island I Vow. I had my daily robin visit during my snack break. I fed it a tiny bit of orange, and it hung out with me until I left.

After that second pit stop, the WHW swung inland for a bit and conditions underfoot got easier. This was fortunate, because at the north end of the loch the path starts to ascend. I was getting tired at this point, but the new scenery kept me putting one foot in front of the other, and soon the path descended to Beinglas Farm. I had to backtrack along the highway for a short bit to get to the Drovers Inn, where I had a nice dinner and a good sleep in a not-too-haunted room.

Song of the day: "Superstars and Cannonballs" by Savage Garden


Saturday 2 September 2017

Inverarnan to Tyndrum: "I think this might be the top!"
Distance: 12 miles
Start: 8:55am
Finish: 4:10pm
Weather: Mostly cloudy, with increasing sun in the afternoon

My friend Kath came down from Stromeferry this morning and joined me for the day! It was really nice to have company.

We crossed the road from the Drovers Inn back over to Beinglas Farm and began walking. The first half of the day was mainly lovely open walking through Glen Falloch, with mountain views all around. The trail was mainly packed gravel - mercifully easy going after the purgatory of Loch Lomond.

After some pleasant riverside walking, we crossed to the other side of the glen and began the climb up to the turnoff for Crianlarich. More great views, and an extremely well-timed honesty box full of water and snacks! I had what was to be my final robin sighting at the Crianlarich turnoff - the halfway point of the day, and of the whole West Highland Way! We stopped for lunch at a picnic table just up the hill from the turnoff and admired the view. Several people passed us, huffing and puffing up the hill. I reckon they had gone down into Crianlarich and were now having to come back up.

There was a lengthy section of climbing into the forest, and then we began the drop down into Strathfillan. There were fairy toadstool mushrooms absolutely everywhere. After a couple miles we emerged from the woods, crossed another river, and made our way across the valley floor to Kirkton and the remains of St Fillan's Church. We admired these for a bit, then continued to Strathfillan Wigwams. A final toilet break and water top-up, and then it was time for the final push to Tyndrum!

The final three miles to Tyndrum may have been the most pleasant of the day. The path was easy, the heather was in bloom, and there was interesting Robert the Bruce-related stuff to see, including a lochan where he may or may not have dumped his sword. We made it to By the Way Hostel a little after 4pm. I retrieved my rucksack, Kath retrieved her car, and we drove to the Real Food Cafe for celebratory cheeseburgers before driving up to Stromeferry.

This was a very enjoyable day - varied scenery, mostly reasonable walking conditions, good weather, good company, and now I'm more than halfway through the West Highland Way!

Song of the day: "I'm On My Way" by The Proclaimers


Tuesday 5 September 2017

Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy: "Little bitty stinging rain"
Distance: 7 miles
Start: 10:25am
Finish: 1:35pm
Weather: Cool and rainy, clearing later on

My first day back on the WHW after a two-day break up in Stromeferry with friends. The day dawned rainy, so I got a purposely late start to let some of it pass through. I got a final meal at the Real Food Cafe, and then it was time to start. (NB: If you're passing through Tyndrum, eat at the Real Food Cafe and NOT the Green Welly. The Green Welly does a decent cullen skink, but the rest of their food is AWFUL.)

I walked through the fields on the edge of Tyndrum, then crossed the highway and climbed up onto the Telford road. The walking was straightforward and unchallenging today, except for one slightly rocky bit down to a sheep creep. But passing out of the shadow of Beinn Odhar and into that of Beinn Dorain, my luck with the weather finally ran out and it began to rain. Forrest Gump would have called it "little bitty stinging rain." It wasn't all that heavy, but it had enough wind behind it to pack a punch and gradually soak through anything not waterproofed. And so it was head down and keep going all the way around the foot of Beinn Dorain. Thankfully the weather eventually cleared, and the sun even came out during the last mile into Bridge of Orchy.

The WHW stays within sight of the A82 and the railway tracks for almost all of this stage, which I think is kind of poetic: three modes of transportation from differing eras of recent human history, all running parallel.

Song of the day: "Hush" by Deep Purple


Wednesday 6 September 2017

Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe: "A spiritual experience"
Distance: 12 miles
Start: 9:25am
Finish: 3:25pm
Weather: Clouds and sun with occasional misty rain

This was a grand day.

I started out from the Bridge of Orchy Hotel under a lowering sky. The climb up the ridge to Inveroran wasn't too terribly strenuous, but it seemed to go on for quite a long time, twisting and turning with views of Loch Tulla eventually coming into view. The heaviest rain and wind of the day began just as I reached the top of the ridge, and I got a little nervous. But it gradually let up as I descended into Inveroran, and by the time I got all the way down it had stopped and I could see blue sky to the north. Rather than stopping at the hotel in Inveroran for a break, I took advantage of the break in the weather and kept going.

A tarmac road led through the village, eventually dead-ending into the beginning of the famous drove road over Rannoch Moor. After a quick swig of water, it was off the tarmac and onto the packed gravel road over the moor for the rest of the day.

Rannoch Moor sneaks up on you gradually. For the first little bit, you're climbing gently uphill with a stand of trees to your right. Then the trees fall away and the path levels out, and in every direction there are mountains. Threatening clouds brooded to the south and east, but apart from a couple short bursts of mist (just enough to make rainbows), it stayed dry. The finale to Bernstein's Mass came on my iPod at one point, and I was reminded of why I do this sort of thing: walking in nature, through brilliant landscapes, under a neverending sky, is where I feel closest to the divine.

The path ascended very gently after Ba Bridge, and after turning a corner, Buachaille Etive Mor came hulking into view and I knew I was close. I walked almost directly at it until coming to the turnoff for the Glencoe Ski Center, my destination for the day.

Song of the day: "Games Without Frontiers" by Peter Gabriel


Thursday 7 September 2017

Glencoe to Kinlochleven: "I'm sure the views are breathtaking when you can actually see them."
Distance: 9 miles
Start: 9:45am
Finish: 4:30pm
Weather: Rainy

Today was the first day on the WHW where I really didn't enjoy myself all that much. Maybe I would have if I could SEE anything at any point.

To begin the day I walked from the Glencoe Ski Center down to the A82, crossing over and passing the Kingshouse Hotel. After that, the trail shadowed the eastern side of the highway as far as Altnafeadh, where it turned right and began to climb the Devil's Staircase up the Aonach Eagach ridge: the highest point on the trail.

The Devil's Staircase isn't especially steep, but it is stony underfoot, and on a day like today it can seem to go on for a long time with little to show for it. I'm sure the views of Buachaille Etive Mor are spectacular in fine weather.

Hazy sunshine appeared as I reached the top of the Devil's Staircase, and then disappeared, not to be seen again. At or around this time my left boot sprang a leak. It started raining more heavily, and I learned firsthand just how prone this section of the WHW is to flooding. Before long, I was walking in a creek bed. At some point I had to abandon all pretense of keeping my feet dry, because the stepping stones over the larger burns were practically underwater themselves.

The descent into Kinlochleven is the longest, windiest, most tortuous, and most aggravating thing ever. Again, I'm sure the views are great when the weather is good. But today I couldn't see anything and I just wanted the day to be over. Finally, the sign for Blackwater Hostel and its affiliates appeared. Finding the West Highland Lodge was another small headache due to confusing signage, but I got there eventually.

Song of the day: "Concertina" by Tori Amos


Friday 8 September 2017

Kinlochleven to Fort William: "The Big Finish"
Distance: 15 miles
Start: 9:00am
Finish: 7:15pm
Weather: Rain to start, then mostly cloudy with intermittent drizzle and hazy sunshine

I perseverated about this day A LOT. I knew from the very beginning that if I chickened out, it would most likely be on this day. When people asked me if I was doing the the whole thing, the answer was always "Hope so!" rather than "Yes."

Then at some point in Stromeferry last weekend, Kath abruptly said to me, "You know you've got to finish it, right?" I did indeed. There was an inevitability to it. The WHW demands it, even. Plus, my track record for finishing long-distance trails is very poor, and it was time for that to change.

So I left the hostel at 8:50am, was back where I left off yesterday by 9:00am, and ten epic hours of trudging ensued.

And the last day is indeed epic. It starts with the infamous climb out of Kinlochleven. Honestly I didn't think it was any worse than the Devil's Staircase. My one moment of despair came when it started raining, and I thought I'd be in for a day like yesterday - unrelentingly wet and cold. But the rain had stopped by the time I got to the top, and I could even see blue sky!

Then came the epic trek through Larig Mor. This was my favorite part of the day - walking on the hillside with some of the highest mountains in Scotland all around me, the path ribboning on ahead and the river ribboning down on the valley floor below. It was magical.

Then came the epic trek through the forestry lands. By the time I came to the end of the Larig Mor section and the signpost saying I was halfway between Kinlochleven and Fort William, it felt like I had walked much more than seven and a half miles and I had my first misgivings since Kinlochleven. Not least because I was out of food and getting quite hungry. Most of the forestry land here has recently been harvested, so I was trudging through an undulating, apocalyptic landscape of tree stumps and mist. At some point I became cognizant of how slowly I was walking. Fortunately, not long after that some people overtook me and gave me their spare food - a chocolate energy bar and some bread rolls. Carbs! Energy! I kept going. By that point all I had left was the final climb out of the valley, and then it was onto the long descent into Glen Nevis on the wide, smooth forestry road with Ben Nevis brooding alongside.

By now I was eight hours in and every body part was beginning to mutiny. I spent the descent on the forestry road fantasizing about hailing a cab at the earliest opportunity and finishing the walk in the morning.

Then I hit the bottom of the glen and the tarmac road into Fort William.

Ipod on, head down, trudge for all you're worth, let's get these last three miles DONE.

A German girl named Leonie joined me for a mile or so, and I gave her advice about getting to the Hebrides. Buoyed by human contact, I continued to trudge. I passed Fort William's train station. Belford Hospital. There's the High Street! The Bench is at the far end, go go go! A breathless "I'm nearly there!" to passersby looking at me curiously. A few "Well done"s received in exchange.

And then, at 7:15pm, I collapsed onto The Bench, alongside a couple of kids playing with the statue of the tired walker. Their mom was kind enough to take my picture.

My day wasn't over quite over yet. I went to a chippie to get dinner, to a nearby hostel to retrieve my rucksack, and then FINALLY to my Airbnb. My room had its own bathroom with a tub. I had an amazing bath. Then I ate my (by now lukewarm) scampi and chips, watched the BBC Proms on TV, and slept the sleep of my life. I finished it, y'all.

Song of the day: "How Many More Times" by Led Zeppelin
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Re: West Highland Way in a leisurely 9 days

Postby Sgurr » Mon Mar 04, 2019 11:01 am

Hmmm. Husband always said he prefers ascending to wending, so have never done this. Thought that if he had to get a new knee, I might do it the "easy" way while he recovers and maybe meets me at the end of some days (luckily he doesn't "do" the intenet, so doesn't know what I am plotting). However, this makes it all look a bit......hard :crazy:

Well done on finishing anyway.
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Re: West Highland Way in a leisurely 9 days

Postby Sack the Juggler » Mon Mar 04, 2019 3:38 pm

A fantastic journey, and one that I would have enjoyed doing with you, had I the time, will look to do it one day, and I hope to finish it as you did, with the sleep of my life - there has to be a poem in that somewhere, probably ending with "the sleep of my life is here, and I.... zzzzzzz"
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Re: West Highland Way in a leisurely 9 days

Postby LaurenAlexandraAgain » Tue Mar 05, 2019 2:09 am

Sgurr wrote:Hmmm. Husband always said he prefers ascending to wending, so have never done this. Thought that if he had to get a new knee, I might do it the "easy" way while he recovers and maybe meets me at the end of some days (luckily he doesn't "do" the intenet, so doesn't know what I am plotting). However, this makes it all look a bit......hard :crazy:

The WHW can be made even easier than I did it! The Drymen-to-Rowardennan day can be split roughly in half with a stop in Balmaha, and the Inverarnan-to-Tyndrum day can be split in half with a stop in Crianlarich. Inveroran is available as an alternate stage-break between Bridge of Orchy and Kingshouse, although it's only two miles further beyond Bridge of Orchy. And if you're the camping type, the first day can be made shorter by using a campsite a couple miles short of Drymen. Really, the only long day that can't be gotten around (unless you're camping) is the final day from Kinlochleven to Fort William - there simply isn't anywhere to stop in between. But after the ascent out of Kinlochleven, the day isn't hard, just long. I will say that the Loch Lomond section is the most challenging bit of the WHW and not to be underestimated, but splitting it up by overnighting at Inversnaid like I did breaks it into manageable chunks. I found that the mantra "I'm only going 7 miles today" gave a helpful mental boost when I needed it!
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