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Musings Along 'The Way' - Part 1

Musings Along 'The Way' - Part 1

Postby NevJB » Fri May 10, 2019 4:17 pm

Route description: West Highland Way

Date walked: 30/03/2019

Time taken: 7 days

Distance: 153 km

Ascent: 4038m

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It is some time since I have written a blog – the last being in 2016. My walking partner and younger brother (Neill) died of cancer in 2017 and that somewhat took the wind out of my walking sails. However, last summer in an unguarded moment, I suggested to the husband of one of Neill’s daughters and to the long term partner of the other daughter that I was thinking of walking the WHW and would they like to join me. They mulled it over for a couple of days and then said ‘Yes’ they’d love to. Now there is a bit of an age disparity – the boys (as I shall call them) were 27 at the time of walking, I was 66 and 5/6ths; I am reasonably fit for my age, but they are fitter and obviously bounce back far more quickly, particularly Chris – nicknamed ‘Tigger’ at school for his inexhaustible energy and enthusiasm. Miles is a rugby player and built accordingly – wonderful Sherpa material I thought.

We had a practice tent putting-up session in the back garden in early March – it was our intention to backpack and camp. Good game!

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Putting up the Tent Practise

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Chris and Miles testing the tent for size

Two weeks before the walk I went down with ‘the cold from hell’ – as late as the Sunday before we left I doubted whether I would have the energy to do the walk. But, aided by Lemsip and rest I was ready for the ‘off’ on Friday 29 March. The one positive of the cold was my decision to have my pack transported from place-to-place – definitely a good decision as there is no way I would have carried a pack for more than a day. The boys opted to carry their packs – I secretly hoped that this may slow them down a little – however, as the week progressed there did not seem to be much evidence of this.

Friday 29 March
On a gloriously sunny and warm morning we got the train from Kelvedon (Essex). Then from Euston to Glasgow Central and finally on to Milngavie. Just a short walk to the Premier Inn.

Saturday 30 March – Day 1
Retraced our footsteps back into the town and found the granite obelisk – cue traditional ‘starting pics’.

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Traditional 'Start' picture

Then on our way by Allander Water, through the park and Mugdock Wood. Loads of people about – going for a walk and lots of lithe, keen types running – there were even a few fellow WHWers. There were a few little ups-and-downs, but this was easy walking.

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In Mugdock Park

Spring was just getting going and the air was full of birdsong; despite a grey start the sun had come out and all was right with the world (insulated as we were from the daily BREXIT shenanigans). Stopping for water Miles nearly ended a frog’s journey to find water – this was one of the few genuinely wild creatures we saw all week. I had hopes of seeing eagles and ospreys (OK probably a little early), but this proved not to be so.

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Nearly an ex-frog

Out of the woods and past a few holiday cabins, including one informing us that we’d done 4 miles, with only 92 to go; just the sort of encouragement we’d been looking for.

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Encouraging sign

There were some early season anglers on Craigallian Loch – Miles would have liked to have cast a fly, but onwards and now upwards a bit past Dumgoyach, a small wooded hill.

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Dumgoyach in the middle distance (right) - looking north

On the way down towards Glengoyne Distillery we passed evidence of some ‘happy hikers’ – I’ve never tried Buckfast Tonic Wine; I’m told it’s an acquired taste.

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Only for Medicinal Purposes!

The distillery was tempting as we all like whiskey, but once in we may never have got out.

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Glengoyne Distillery - very tempting

Instead, a stop at the Beech Tree café for lunch. It was pretty full of day-trippers and walkers, but service was friendly and quick and the food good.

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Beech Tree signs

The walk from the Beech Tree to Gartness is fairly uneventful, but the countryside is pretty and varied. The weir at Gartness is worth a picture, especially in the afternoon sun. The view from the road back to the Campsie Fells was lovely and helped to keep our minds off the trudge along the road.

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Gartness Weir

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Chris & Miles on the Gartness Road - Campsie Fells in the background

We had originally intended to camp at Easter Drumquhassle, but were told by Travel-Lite that it was not open until the 4 April; and as we passed it looked very shut with a sign saying ‘No campers’ for good measure. We had booked a B&B (without the second ‘B’) in Drymen – opposite the Drymen Inn – good move. The landlady was a stereotypical lowland Scots lady of the house – if you are old enough, imagine ‘Janet’ from Dr Finlay’s Casebook. Very nice and welcoming, but was keen on having the money in her hand – cash please, there’s an ATM next door. We were prepared and she went away happy and we did not see her again. The evening meal in the Drymen Inn was excellent and well washed down by Bellhaven’s.

Sunday 31 March – Day 2
The clocks went forward – great – breakfast came an hour earlier. ‘Hikers hunger’ was making itself felt and we had only done one day. Back to the Drymen Inn and a ’Full Scottish’ – excellent way to start the day - then back across the road to the B&B to collect our stuff – well I left most of mine for Travel-lite – then along the road to re-join the WHW. It was cold, but crystal clear with the promise of another fine day. Somewhere in the forestry we caught up with a group from Ayrshire whom we would see most of the week. Once out of the forestry the views opened up; the southern end of Loch Lomond to the left and Conic Hill ahead.

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The southern end of Loch Lomond in the distance

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The path up Conic Hill

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The Boys approaching Conic Hill

We could clearly see the path winding up the side of Conic Hill – it proved to be a steady climb rather than anything strenuous – only the last bit to the summit was steep. Once on top the view were stunning and it seemed that half the world was there – not just differing accents, but languages from all over. I had no idea this place was so popular – what would it be like in July and August?

17_Day 2_Loch Lommond from Conic Hill.jpg
Loch Lomond from the summit of Conic Hill

18_Day 2_Conic Hill summit 2_Chris_Nev.jpg
Just to prove that I was there!

A quick look at the map would tell me why – we were still only a short distance from Glasgow and Balmaha was geared up for day trippers and tourists who want a quick look at the (distant) highlands. The descent into Balmaha was short and fairly sharp – lots were huffing and puffing going the other way – rather unkindly, we started to pass judgement on whether would make it to the summit, or not.
We enjoyed a fine lunch in the Oak Tree Inn before setting off for Cashel Farm Campsite. Once again, the views up Loch Lomond from Craigie Fort were tremendous and the other half of the world was picnicking on the beaches.

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Loch Lomond from Craigie Fort

Arrived at Cashel and pitched our tents, showered and set about preparing dinner. Now I’m not a fan of dehydrated food as readers with a good memory will recall – 2011, Fisherfield and ‘Rice Satay’. Well, now it was Pasta Bolognese. I don’t know what it tasted of but it was not anything like any bolognese I’ve had in the past; in fact it was unlike anything. Pot Noodles would have been more satisfying. The ‘Chocolate Pudding with Chocolate Chips’ was better and thankfully did not have the after-taste of fatty dishwater as did the first course. The coffee at the end was the best by far. The boys, being twenty something boys, ate all theirs and the residue of mine.
By now it was getting cold, but the day came to a fitting end with a beautiful sunset behind the hills on the opposite shore.

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The view from Cashel

Monday 1 April – Day 3
Sadly, no pictures of today – it was far too gloomy under the trees and visibility across the loch was minimal most of the day.
We needed to rise early as today would be our longest and by all accounts the most testing. Fitting that it should be 1 April I thought. ‘Porridge with Sultanas’. It was OK although a little on the ‘gloopy’ side + coffee.
We eventually managed to pack up and get away by 8:30. Could have done without the early hill whilst going through Ross Wood as my legs hadn’t quite responded to their breakfast, but they had by the time we reached the Rowardennan Hotel. We were too early for the walkers bar to be open so a second breakfast was out of the question; had to make do with chewy bars and water a little further along. We took the high road when passing through Queen Elizabeth Forest Park – it may have saved a bit of time and certainly saved energy for what was to come later. By the time we re-joined the original path hunger was setting in and dreams of burgers and chips at the Inversnaid Hotel were becoming ever more vivid. The last little bit of this stage is cruel. You can see the hotel with its promise of hot food, but have to climb to reach a bridge that goes over the waterfall, and then descend by the same amount. Perhaps another bridge a little further down?
The hotel did not disappoint. Despite being aimed at coach parties (all part of Lochs & Glens) they have ‘thrown their doors open’ to walkers with a place for packs, coats and boots and a room where you can eat a packed lunch. Boots, coats etc off we headed for the bar and ordered – well, burgers and chips with a bit of healthy salad + cake for dessert + coffee. Chris and I had soft drinks, Miles beer – that would have sent me to sleep.
Suitably replete we set off again 12 miles down, 7 to go before we reached Beinglas. The ‘on-off’ drizzle of the morning had now turned to steady rain as we began to tackle what is essentially an obstacle course. Up-down, down-up, around rocks, over rocks, between (very large) rocks, over roots, around trees, over and under (fallen) trees. Neill and another friend, Dave, had done this in the 80s and said it was hard going + they were plagued by midges. It least we didn’t have that problem. It wasn’t so much hard as just relentless and mentally tiring – you had to concentrate fully all the time to make sure that you picked your feet up and put them down without tripping or having one foot skid away from under you. Did see a few of the famous wild goats – they looked bedraggled in the wet – a bit like us I imagine. Passed some guys biking (with panniers) in the other direction?????? Don’t know how they would have negotiated parts of the trail. My mind then wandered to those who run it – all of it. Rob Sinclair holds the record at 13:41:08 – he must have had wings on his feet and steel springs where I have aging muscles.
About a mile short of the Doune Bothy you have to traverse a few bridges with sets of very steep steps. An older guy – maybe my age – who was walking with his son had slipped coming down one of these and cracked his head on a rock. Thankfully, some experienced and fit walkers came by and helped him to the bothy, although that took an hour. They summoned the ferry and called ahead for an ambulance. We saw him the following morning as we were leaving Beinglas – the gash was not that bad, despite the amount of blood at the time, but he had bad concussion, so that was the end of his WHW. His son walked on to Tyndrum, he got a taxi. I think that they completed the rest like that.
As we neared the end of Loch Lomond – a welcome sight – the rain became heavier and after passing the wonderful flat bit by the little lochan (Dubh Lochan) there were a few more ups-and-downs before we could see the lights of the Drovers Inn. Then, around a bend, we were at Beinglas. It was 6:45 pm. Considering we had spent an hour or so at the Inversnaid Hotel + other minor stops, that was not bad.
About 5 miles back I had taken the executive decision of getting a cabin (if we could). At first ‘No’, then by some miracle, one of the staff came running out in the pouring rain just as we were about to pitch our tents. He had a wigwam – oh joy! In fact it was an ‘A’ framed cabin which put my mind to rest as I had been imagining canvas wrapped around poles – well, I grew up on westerns.
After the luxury of a hot shower and a change into dry clothes we tucked into some wonderful ‘scran’. Again, I was confused, but deduced that ‘scran’ meant food, or in southern vernacular, ‘grub’. Miles said that the army use ‘scran’. ‘Scran’, ‘grub’ whatever, it was hot, tasty and satisfying; quite unlike Pasta Bolognese. Digestion was aided by a few pints.
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Joined: Dec 11, 2008
Location: N Essex

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