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Solo On The Cowal Way

Solo On The Cowal Way

Postby mountainburd » Mon Feb 18, 2019 11:32 pm

Route description: Loch Lomond and Cowal Way

Date walked: 26/05/2018

Time taken: 4 days

Distance: 90 km

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Having done the West Highland Way in May of 2017 I wanted to complete another long distance walk across Scotland, but one that I could do without taking too many days off work! For this reason I chose the Cowal Way and planned the walk over 4 stages/days. I had stayed in hostels and BnBs along the West Highland Way and wanted to have a go at wild camping on this solo trip, so it was my first trip where I wild camped by myself too.

My partner drove me up to Portavadie on the Friday night, where I camped in a park just off the road. Suitably cosy between some bushes with a lovely sunset for my first night, suitably midge ridden too!

Portavadie > Tighnabruich > Glendaruel — 17.8 miles

Started off around 8am from my camp spot and made good time across sloping fields and grassy tracks and roads across to Tighnabruich. I stopped at Kames at around 10am for some breakfast, having got a good 5miles under my belt. After my initial burst I started to find the going a bit tougher, especially pushing on through the winding scrambling path above the lochside — bit of a sweat in the sunshine! I wanted to make it to Ormidale lodge and the flatter road before stopping for lunch. That took me to about 1pm and 10miles done. Felt as though I was making good progress and the lochside was particularly beautiful.

Then took the slightly less scenic route along a private road/track which then becomes a public road, still just a single track but busy enough with traffic! At this point my feet started to tire after walking so long on the tarmac. Had a quick breather in the shade after taking a footbridge track off from the road — it was nearing 3pm and the sun was hot and high. After the footbridge it was back to roads again. I was beginning to feel the weight of my pack and the distance I'd crossed that day and began to take it a little slower, but with not much places to rest my pack along the roadside, I kept moving. Stopped long enough for a sit down and a snack after passing the small Georgian church, it was very peaceful and after a little sunbathe I felt as if I could have snoozed the afternoon away!

After that it wasn't that much further at all to a white gate in the wall — leading to my campsite for the night. I arrived around 4/4.30pm and enjoyed the use of a picnic bench and a sink for my dinner prep. Absolutely wiped from my first day, so an early night saw me off!

Views above Asgog Loch near the castle

Trees lining the quieter tracks between Tighnabruich and Glendaruel

Glendaruel > Strachur — 17.5 miles

I set off from Glendaruel Caravan Park around 8.30am, after some amount of faffing with my pack — everything seemed to be overflowing. I wore my trainers to start the day, as I knew there would be some distance to cover by road. I'm so glad I did as the flat tarmac walking would have been hellish in boots. The morning was fairly warm considering it was still early and I managed to make some good time on the flat, reaching Garvie Farm by 10.30am. I came across a small grass snake on route lying across the middle of the road — although it more closely resembled a giant worm! I gave it a nudge with my pole to see if it would budge from the path of potential oncoming cars and receive a curt flick of his tongue in reply! Probably happy enough in his warm sun spot.

After passing Garvie Farm I pushed on, seemingly herding some sheep up the winding farm track. The crest of that small hill was a perfect spot for some breakfast and I welcomed the breeze after the heat on the flatter ground. Carrying on took me into the forestry area, where I was expecting to reach an exaggerated bend to the left in the road, as per the map... Well I must have been distracted or day dreaming because after what felt like far too long I realised I still hadn't noticed it. Naturally I was watching the clock to time my walk and when it got almost an hour past my breakfast stop and still no sign of the bend I began to panic that I had taken a wrong turn. Turns out that would have been impossible anyway as there was no other 'turn' to take other than the road I had been on! Finally I got frustrated enough to grab the map and compass and pin point myself properly, only to find that I hadn't accidentally wandered off course and added miles to my day as I worried I had, but had in fact been right all along and was actually 6miles further along my route than I realised. Result!

I did admittedly feel pretty dumb for thinking I had gone wrong in the first place, but quickly realised I was well over due a lunch stop and reaching the end of the forestry track brought me to a scenic viewpoint across the hills, just the right place to enough some grub. After that seemingly never ending forestry track it was a much more pleasant meander downhill. I came out at Glenbranter in what felt like extreme heat. I used the facilities there and pushed on for my final stretch to Strachur. This was along another single track road, but the dappled trees and green pastures made it more bearable that the previous road walking.

After reaching Strachur I treated myself to a fizzy drink in the sun and enjoyed the wee break before my final stretch of the day — the farm road up to Succoth where I planned to camp that evening. I found a good camp spot just over the burn and realised I had reached my destination far too early as it was only 5.30pm. Annoyingly I was then caught between a midge central camp spot and a tent that was just too stifling hot to sit in for longer than 10minutes! I tried to keep cool by wading in the river, but the midges were fiercest there, so contented myself with wandering around the forest nearby where it was slightly cooler in the trees (but no less midge ridden!) I thought about relocating the tent to under the trees but couldn't be bothered with the faff. I learnt a valuable lesson there to pace my day better in future, or to at least make the most of the daylight and be flexible with my planned camp spots.

Views from the on going forestry track after Garvie Farm

Camping by the burn on the 2nd night

Strachur > Lochgoilhead > Ardgarten — 12.5miles

What a difference a day makes! This was my favourite day so far of the walk, the scenery was spectacular from the get go and the terrain was tough but finally interesting! I much preferred the full stretch of today, even with the rough boggy bits and combing the two height climbs of the walk into one day. It was great! Realised I'll take a rough hillside over a flat road any day.

Started from my Strachur/Succoth campsite having finally got my packing up routine down — here's a top tip: it's essential to wear long sleeves and tuck everything into everything to avoid those pesky morning midges! After sometime wandering through the very cool and peaceful forestry, the path became pretty boggy and indistinguishable, but the white marker posts make this section still fairly easy to navigate. Bit slower going to pick through the bog. After leaving the treeline the route opened up to a magnificent morning view of Curra lochain, which looked pretty splendid in the morning sun and even a few Canadian geese hanging out there. After passing alongside the Lochain, the paths winds down the hillside and emerges next to Sruth Ban Falls — totally beautiful cascading falls! I had a quick stop here to splash in the falls and take in the magnificent views. I could see clearly in every direction thanks to the scorching May day, Scotland as its finest.

After the falls it was a straight forward forestry track walk to the main road and loch front at Lochgoilhead. Such a picturesque spot and I decided to take my time with a lochside paddle, some food and a phone home moment. I'd originally planned to stop that evening just near Donich water just pass Lochgoilhead, but changed my plan to keep going until nearer Ardgartan for my camp. It was only 11.30am by this point and I knew that I didn't want to be leaving Lochgoilhead before 1.30pm, so that I would have less time to kill in the evening.

So after a fair bit of sunbathing, I headed into Lochgoilehead proper and went through the caravan park to stop at the shop there (on the advice of a local Gran on the beach!) After the town there was a very steep climb through a dense forest, I climbed steadily and cleared the forest just after 2.30pm. Then carried on up to reach the cairn, passing a friendly group doing the day in reverse and also another solo-female hiker doing the way in reverse too. Getting to the top of the hill I wondered if I should pitch up tent there and make the most of the windy (midge free!) spot, but it was still only mid-afternoon so decided to push on. After coming down through the trees I crossed over a bridge with a nice cascading burn and with a little exploration I found a perfect spot for a tent pitch. There was just enough space to fit comfortably on a small plateau bit, right by the burn. The mini waterfall also had some small pools in the rock, perfect for an evening swim! This was my best wild camp to date and was the one I found with the least amount of planning. Typical!


Curra Lochain in the bright morning


View from my perfect campsite on the 3rd night

Ardgartan > Inveruglas — 8.9miles

I packed up from my perfect camp spot and was on the route again by 8.30am and made good time down the hill towards a picnic site (handy toilet spot) to then cross the busy A82. Then there was a gradual but fairly steep climb through a forest path, eventually levelling out to more of a track. I ended up missing the turn off for the cobbler path here and came down the very steep route to Beinn Narnain instead (having been that way before). This brought me out by the loch and I had a wee rest and waited for my partner to join me for the last few miles of the way together.

The path from Arrochar to Inveruglas was fairly steep going, fair bit of up and down before reaching the high point and levelling off through a forest path, which later links to the main road, follows along and finishes at Inveruglas. And so the day was done by 1.30pm, perfect timing for an easy drive back to Glasgow and well earned pizza & beers!

View of Loch Long

Shaded forest track from Ardgartan


My pack was the Osprey Atmos 65L and it contained about 10-12kg of weight I think — I'm a light sleeper and so had gone for the (perhaps excessive) option of an inflatable vango sleeping mat, plus an insulated sleep bag beneath plus a pretty cosy sleeping bag. That added to my 2 man Banshee Vango tent, food and supplies made for a pretty huge pack! I did use everything I took with me though, so perhaps it was right. Probably could have took less food and planned for a proper resupply or two along the way instead. Got on okay with the weight/pack but felt sheepish meeting a fellow wild camper with a pack half the size of mine!

If I was to do again I would opt for approach shoes or trainers as most of the first part of the walk is on tarmac roads or forest paths and I'm sure that approach shoes would have been fine.

Although the walkhighlands route uses km for distance, I took a guidebook by Rucksack Readers (highly recommend) which was mostly in miles, so have recorded my walk accordingly.

All in all I covered more ground each day than I expected and I probably could have either gone a bit further each day to make a shorter trip overall, or conversely just taken my time a bit more each day. Also it was cracking weather, couldn't have been sunnier or drier, so that made the going fairly easy.
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Joined: Sep 29, 2017

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