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Not quite a Murder Mystery: The West Highland Way Novel
by zatapathique » Sat May 09, 2020 4:00 pm
Route description: West Highland Way
Date walked: 05/10/2003
Time taken: 7 days
Distance: 157 km
Ascent: 3200m6 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
In the past weeks, I tried to make most of the confinement we have here in France, during which we are allowed to leave the house only for a handful of reasons such as work, going to the doctor's, shopping. For physical exercise, we are allowed one hour per day away from your house/apartment, in a maximum radius of one kilometre, on foot (no bikes, no going anywhere nicer by car first). So there's much time spent in the house, which I used to do some translating, and here's the result.
This was the first walk report I have ever written, back in 2003 after having completed the West Highland Way as a student with David, a friend of mine who lived in Cambridge at the time for an abroad semester at the University of Cambridge.
This is the English translation of my original text, followed by a few notes about my observations during my second WHW, 11 years later with my wife.
People’s names have been changed where I deemed it necessary for the sake of privacy.
The original text is full of puns and wordplay which are hard to translate into English or even to transcribe if you’re, like me, not an English native speaker. So, if anything strikes you as weird, it is just my failed attempt to translate sentences that are already bizarre in the original into a foreign language... When translating, I noticed that in the original text, being young and foolish, I used quite some idioms in contexts where they do not fit. Also, that I have no clue about tenses. In none of the languages I speak.
As you will notice, I did not have much of a clue about walking long distances at the time either, and neither about Scotland. It was however already my second visit to Scotland, having made a round trip by rental car the year before with another friend, after having been entitled to a quite expensive free flight to Edinburgh, but that's another story...
My 2003 photos were all taken on a 1975 Asahi Pentax KX SLR, on slide film. David's were taken on normal film with I don't know what kind of camera. The 2014 photos were taken on a Pentax K-5 II digital camera.
Finally, a word of warning up front – the text is quite long, rather a long short story or a very short novel instead of just a report. I hope you enjoy reading it anyway. 😉
Prologue – Arrival, Sunday September 28th, 2003
Needless to say that just in time for departure, the weather changes, rain clouds are moving in. Even though Scotland is quite a distance away, the satellite weather image does not really nurture my hope for sunshine in the highlands. Into the bargain, Hahn airport no longer has free parking, as I realize much too late to have time to organize arrival by bus. After one and a half hour of eventless driving, I have no choice but to park the car, unguarded, behind a barrier that won’t open again after my return unless I pay three Euro per day parked. It starts raining.
In the airport, the usual procedures and the usual questions via the PA system for a passenger with destination Oslo, who checked in a black suitcase and is kindly asked to report to airport security. After check-in and a warm croissant, I move to the waiting area and scan my fellow passengers for hiking boots and a possible “hello again” on the West Highland Way. Negative. I wonder if there is even one other person flying to Scotland for hiking in this weather.
The gentleman with the black suitcase and destination Oslo is being called for the fourth time already.
No, certainly neither the blonde with noticeably too much make-up, looking as if she would dismiss any activity involving physical exercise right away, nor the young lady with the disproportionally big mouth, nor the Indian extended family, nor the group of loud English speakers will be going hiking. Most of the backpacks were queuing up for Oslo anyway, there are almost only suitcases on their way to Glasgow.
Again the airport announcement:
“Ladies and gentlemen, may we ask you for your attention for a brief moment.”
Certainly this is again about the missing gentleman.
“We are looking for a passenger who will either fly to Oslo, Glasgow-Prestwick or Bologna and who checked in a black suitcase.”
Interesting, they don’t even know where he’s going… Just as I’m about to focus again on the other passengers, the announcement continues:
“In the suitcase, there are among other things a beige jacket and a birthday card addressed to a certain Carsten. Please immediately report to Security next to the counters.”
I wonder what they would mention of my backpack’s contents. The tiny and super-light sleeping bag? The original Aldi outdoor clothing in mouse grey and dirty blue? Or rather the 750g rye bread for David?
Shortly afterwards, the flight to Scotland is ready for boarding. We walk directly onto the apron and are given directions by a lady:“Please board the second aircraft on the left-hand side.” The flight is rather dull, nothing to be seen through the dense blanket of clouds. In preparation, I read a little in my Lonely Planet “Walking in Scotland” before the aircraft touches down in Glasgow Prestwick. My backpack soon arrives on the belt, no black suitcase to be seen.
The train to Glasgow Central for half the fare is twice as full as it should be to feel comfortable. The tickets are sold by a jovial conductor with unmistakably Scottish accent. In the door compartment where I am standing, various suitcases, backpacks and five people are piled up, one person is crouching on the floor, dozing and not letting himself get disturbed by the masses of people squeezing past him at every stop. A few stops before Glasgow, two teenage girls get in who should have had a better look in the mirror before dressing in belly tops. Or maybe the typical British adolescent woman has a distorting mirror at home – in the next days I should see the proudly displayed flab flowing over the belt many times more… Anyway, the two provide entertainment for the door compartment by singing silly nursery rhymes. However, after the third song, the performance is abruptly interrupted by the cry “Conductor!” and a hasty flight towards the rear end of the train. A few stops later, the train has arrived at Glasgow Central, and the masses pour out of the train.
Glasgow Central had already impressed me the year before as a sightseeing tourist, and it gains even more in fascination when you arrive there as a traveller. Nevertheless, I do not stay long and use the city walk described in the Lonely Planet as guide to the hostel, which is about a mile from the train station. It looks as if it would rain soon, a few drops have already started falling. After half an hour, I arrive at the hostel, and my shoulders ache from the weight of the backpack. And with this thing I really want to walk more than 150 km on narrow paths through the highlands? Here in Glasgow, at least the ground is reasonably level… I put away the thoughts about the 15 kg in the backpack and go back to the train station right after checking in. In the meantime, it’s bucketing down and not really warm, even though just a few minutes earlier the bearded host wanted to convince me of the contrary by opening wide the window in “my” dorm. The watertight Aldi jacket defies the elements water and wind and brings me back to the station relatively dry, where David soon arrives by train from Cambridge - he had to start there earlier to get to Glasgow than me who started a 1.5 hour drive from the airport in Germany... We reach the hostel dry-shod and live yet another proof that the world is a village. In our dorm “lives” Marco, a German having just started his studies in Glasgow. He is from Koblenz and has studied in Mainz until now. When David says that he’s from Geltow, a small place near Potsdam, Marco just says “Oh, right next to Werder!” Of course, both have a common acquaintance – a friend of Marco’s girlfriend (from Werder) studies in Mainz and went to the same school as David…
We spend the rest of the evening shopping for the hike (which means walking again the mile to the city centre) and cooking our dinner in the presence of a gentleman from Munich with the urge to talk to somebody. There is no real international atmosphere – apart from the Korean girl declaring us crazy for wanting to walk so far and a Japanese girl also starting her studies in Glasgow, the rest of the guests are Germans… After a short look at the hiking map, we go to sleep to have enough strength for the first stage.
by zatapathique » Sat May 09, 2020 4:06 pm
We both felt uneasy and restless through the night. Whereas I, as usual, had trouble falling asleep the first night in unfamiliar surroundings (which is great with the perspective of staying in a different place each night for the next ten days), David struggled with the not really copious length of the dorm beds. On top of that, somebody was looking for a socket in the middle of the night to charge his mobile phone, and unfortunately the only socket was behind my big backpack, on top of which I had piled up all kinds of things.
Speaking of mobile phones – I won’t have to care about charging mine at all during our stay in Scotland. The key lock of the device manufactured by a very big German company has once again proven to be very poorly designed, and the phone has tried in vain three times to enter the PIN by itself in my trouser pocket. It will now be waiting for the PUK for the remaining days, which I do not have in memory nor with me. More unnecessary dead weight for the way.
Not quite fully awake, we set out for Partick Station right after breakfast. The backpack does not feel comfortable at all on my back, and on top of that I had not considered the additional two litres – that is: two kilograms – from my daily water ration.
The sky is grey, but it does not rain yet. At the station, we buy our tickets to Milngavie, the official starting point of the West Highland Way. The Lonely Planet guidebook says that Milngavie is pronounced “Mullguy”, with the stress rather on the second syllable. The ticket seller understands us, but then again, our equipment might have been a rather big clue about our intentions and destination. At the platform, I adjust the straps of my backpack to a more comfortable position, which luckily is possible thanks to a cleverly devised system.
- 2014: Milngavie Station, photo by Mrs. Zatapathique
- Start of the West Highland Way, photo by unknown stranger
After a short train ride, Milngavie is terminus. From here, it is only a few hundred metres to the official starting point of the West Highland Way, an obelisk in an unimposing precinct behind a small bridge. Three very fashion-conscious guys are sitting on a bench around the corner – the crass opposite of my low budget equipment end even more of David’s equipment which hasn’t even got Aldi standard. The three are about our age, and one of them is solicited right away by David to take a picture of the historical moment of our start. After this is done, we set out at 10 a.m. sharp – a very pleasant feeling! The route leads us along the Allander Water through some kind of park, first on an asphalted path, later on the surface changes to the usual gravel path of which consists much of the WHW. This section is used by many people walking their dogs. Most of them ask us whether we attempt to walk the West Highland Way, which we proudly affirm. After a bit more than one kilometre, the WHW leaves the “dog path” and leads slightly uphill into Mugdock Wood. Shortly before leaving the wood, we catch up with a lady who introduces herself as a journalist from Edinburgh who wants to write “something” about it, which is why she is walking it now. With our approval, she takes a photo of us walking on. She wants to mention us as her first encounter on the way – two guys from Germany. After about 5 km, we take our first break at Craigallian Loch, where again we meet many people who chat with us while we are eating our second breakfast. The three guys from the starting point walk by, and also the journalist, who asks us smugly if we will ever be able to walk all the way if we need a break already…
- 2003 Pausing at Craigallian Loch
Just as we are about to go on, it starts raining. No problem – we are well equipped after all. Only David’s trainers are not really suitable in rainy weather, especially when it comes to crossing muddy patches or walking through big puddles, where I can just thunder through with my soles of several centimetres thickness. In his green rain cape, stretched over his backpack on his back, and hanging over his sleeping bag, which he carries in front of him, David looks like a wood gnome out of a Tolkienesque story. As we go on, we see that the three guys ahead of us have opened big umbrellas, and in view of this “professionalism”, we from now on call them the “Umbrella Guys”. After a short distance on a road, the route leads through a cow pasture and directly over a stone wall, which we would have missed if it weren't for the journalist having her lunch behind it. The rain, which had subsided for a moment, begins again with full force. If this will go on like this for the next 7 days – well, gee, thanks! For reasons of weight, I had left my contact lenses back home (just begun a new contact lens solution bottle, heavy), and now my glasses are fogged up beneath the hood of my jacket. I basically don't see anything at all. Walking without glasses doesn't really make sense either with my short-sightedness, but as the clouds hang low and wrap the landscape in a shroud of grey, is doesn't matter much anyway...
Soon the path meets on old railway line of which there remains nothing but the embankment, under which now runs a drinking water pipeline from Loch Lomond to Glasgow.
- 2003: Glengoyne Distillery
- 2014: Glengoyne Distillery
When we are level with Glengoyne Distillery, it finally stops raining. Shortly afterwards, we reach the hamlet of Dumgoyne with a restaurant with outside tables. However, we do not have our second meal of the day there – as a sign warns us “If you want to eat your self-brought food, go anywhere else in Scotland“ in Scottish cordiality – but on the cover of one of the inspection shafts for the pipeline. A little further on, we catch up with the Umbrella Guys who are sitting under a bridge and cooking a meal. We decide to go on, but stop as well under the next bridge – for one thing it has started raining again much too strongly, and for another our backs and feet imperatively need a break. I find some comfort in knowing that my backpack will be a little lighter every day as I gradually will eat all the things I brought with me. Oh how much weight six apples can have...
- 2014: On the way... photo by Mrs. Zatapathique
- 2003: Hill between the clouds
- 2014: Nice forest edge, photo by Mrs. Zatapathique
- 2014: A stream, photo by Mrs. Zatapathique
- 2014: Open landscape, photo by Mrs. Zatapathique
A look at the map tells us that it isn't far anymore, so we walk on as soon as the rain slackens a bit. Shortly afterwards, it stops entirely, and the last two kilometres are quickly covered on a very narrow asphalted road without traffic. Suddenly, Easter Drumquhassle farm appears at the left roadside, our accommodation for the night. It is exactly three o' clock, which means we have walked the 18.5 km in five hours. As nobody answers the doorbell, and in the farm yard nobody is to be seen except a cat, we make ourselves comfortable on a bench next to the stables, sheltered from the wind, eyed curiously by the cat. After some time, the owners of the farm arrive, much younger than we had expected, maybe in their mid-twenties. They are accompanied by two dogs, with which David immediately makes friends. While we are getting the keys for our wigwam and David reluctantly has to break away from the dogs, the smaller of the dogs starts playing peacefully with the cat. When I ask the farm owner if the two of them get along well, he tells me “The dog thinks he's a cat”. Uh-huh. Our wigwam is located on the farm's camping grounds, a few metres along the road. In the small wooden building, there are some thin foam mattresses on two beds, or rather larger benches, at each side to sleep on. It smells a bit funny and the light doesn't work. When we enquire about the light, our hosts give us a torch and explain to us that a couple of “bad guys” stayed there recently and have obviously done more damage than just break the light. A Belgian guy of our age occupies the second wigwam. Between the wigwams, two ladies stay in a tent, mother and daughter. They are from Denmark, but only speak English with each other. The daughter lives in England.
- 2003: Zatapathique entering the wigwam, photo by David
Because the sun has come out once again, we decide to continue along the way for a bit until we can see Loch Lomond, which allows us to take some nice photos. When leaving the farm grounds, we notice a young couple aiming for the farm. They greet us in an exaggerated way and wave or rather flail with their arms. On our return, we see that they have pitched their tent near the Belgian wigwam.
After my last year's round trip through Scotland (my first ever visit to the UK), I thought to have encountered all different types of flow-type heaters – far from it! The model in the showers reserved for campers and wigwam residents shows differences to all other models I have seen so far. Even when set to the thickest red dot and at level five of five, the water won't get as warm as I would like to have it. So much for the shoulder relaxation and the warming up I had longed for all day. After David had his shower, he enlightens me: I should have set it to level 2, where the water was almost too hot. At five, it was cold... Anyway, at least the shower revealed the nationality of the young couple: “Sandra, gib mir mal das Duschgel!“ – “Wieso?“ – “Gib schon her!“ – “Was?!“ (“Sandra, pass me the shower gel!” – “Why?” – “Give it!” –“What?!”) I save myself from having to listen to the rest of this friendly conversation by a hasty retreat...
After some dice and card games which all end very much to the disadvantage of David, we hide in our sleeping bags quite early. Our limitless optimism conjures up nice weather without pause while we sleep our well-earned sleep.
by zatapathique » Sat May 09, 2020 4:15 pm
In the morning, astonishment beyond belief: blue sky! Sunshine! Our wildest hopes have come true. The night was quite chilly, all the more we are happy about the sun and the prospect of keeping warm by walking. While we are still preparing for the day, the Belgian has already left, and the Danish women have already struck their tent and wait for the baggage service to pick up their bags and the tent and bring them to Rowardennan for a few pounds. When we return the key to our friendly hosts, they give us hot water for a thermos full of tea. Suddenly the female part of the young German couple comes barging into our quiet early morning conversation with a snappy “I want you to call the baggage service for me!”. Isn't that rather first “Good morning” and then “Could you...” and most of all “please”? When we are leaving, the two Germans call out to us, much to our regret, that we will surely meet them again on the way. But, as nothing can ever upset us, we start into the second day in high spirits, not suspecting that it would be one of the two toughest days.
- 2003: Spider webs in the morning sun
Five minutes after setting out, the first break. In the shrubbery at the roadside, dozens of beautiful spiderwebs glitter in the morning sun. We cannot resist and take out our cameras. The Danes use the opportunity to catch up with us for the first time this day and express their doubts about our stamina – a break after five minutes? We walk on more or less together, until the two ladies follow the asphalted road to Drymen, while we follow the West Highland Way onto the open hillside. Our initial concerns that the ladies might have missed the turn-off give way to the assumption that they go to Drymen to have breakfast.
The sun shines the whole day, and it is comfortably warm. Much to the pleasure of David's wet socks, which he has fastened to his backpack so that they can dry. After the first kilometres, I determine only to walk next to or in front of David today. Crossing a cow pasture, we start going uphill, then follow along a short section of road which I remember from last year. Finally the path turns left and further up the hill, initially along the edge of the forest, until the path leads into the forest. Here, it is noticeably cooler, and the forest a complete contrast to the rather rural area we have been passing so far.
- 2003: View over southern end of Loch Lomond
After a little more than seven kilometres, we have our first longer break on a clearing with a beautiful view over the southern end of Loch Lomond. Just as we have finished eating, the Danes arrive and peacefully conquer our picnic area when we go on.
- 2003: Entering the forest. This beautiful "gate" and the whole forest didn't exist anymore in 2014
- 2003: Fairytale mushrooms
The path leads along the forest edge slightly uphill and then between two thick conifers through a grown gate directly into the gloominess of the forest. In the undergrowth, beautiful fly agarics grow. Patches of light on the ground thickly strewn with needles make for an almost magical mood – I wouldn't be surprised in the least if an elf suddenly stepped out from behind a tree. After a bit less than one – elfless – kilometre, the forest ends and we see Conic hill in front of us, the first “challenge” on our way.
- 2014: Conic Hill ahead, photo by Mrs. Zatapathique
- 2003: David going uphill, with his socks hanging from his backpack
Halfway to the hill, the path offers us a beautiful panorama. We use the opportunity to take some breath and a few pictures – but we need to hurry up because we have spotted the two Germans from the farm behind us. Too late. The Scottish idyll is abruptly torn apart by a German sentence: ”You must take a picture of us now!” As a small comfort, the direct order saves us from the exaggerated greeting we received yesterday... David has no choice but to take a photo of the two, who have defied death by going some metres away from the path into the moorland, striking a victor's pose. We flee as soon as we can and direct our course towards Conic Hill. First, the path leads down into a small valley before climbing up 150 m over roughly a kilometre. The combination of the sun, the climb, and the heavy backpacks make sure that we are considerably wetter up there than we had been at the foot of the climb. In spite of this, we still feel strong enough to let us decide to climb one of Conic Hill's four summits – according to the Lonely Planet, there's a splendid panorama of Loch Lomond from up there.
- 2003: Zatapathique struggling up Conic Hill's eastern summit, photo by David
We opt for the first summit, which is the highest one. There is no path, so we go up the remaining 60 metres in a straight line. Up there, there is a draught, and indeed the panorama is splendid. However, the last summit would have been the better choice, as we now only see Conic Hill's three other summits instead of Loch Lomond's southern part. All the same, we stay for a short break during which we have something to eat and I regain my stamina which has suffered quite a lot during the steep ascent with the heavy backpack. The descent on the western side is much easier, as there is a small path which finally leads back onto the West Highland Way.
According to our map, the descent down to almost sea level is quite steep, which particularly worries David because of his knees. It does not dampen his spirits, though, and standing on a little rock with an extensive view, he sends a loud cry of joy down into the valley which doesn't go unheard.
- 2014: Zatapathique enjoying the panorama behind Conic Hill, photo by Mrs. Zatapathique
Panorama 2014: A good reason for a cry of joy. Click to see larger.
- 2003: View of Loch Lomond
- 2014: Almost the same view, Mrs. Zatapathique going downhill
Behind the next corner, the two “You Must” Germans have their lunch and are expecting us, grinning. After the briefest exchange of words (“See you later!”), we go down into the valley.
- 2014: The steep descent from Conic Hill
The descent really is very steep, and down in Balmaha, we need a longer break on the picnic benches of the parking where Robert and I had left our car the year before. As David is about to run out of bananas and we haven't got anything to prepare for dinner yet, we stop after only 200 more metres along the road at the shop marked in the map. However, shop is a big word for this small postcard-selling place with refrigerator, tourist stuff, a few sweets and a tiny shelf with instant meals – and without bananas. In spite of David's aversion against British convenience food, we decide to buy two rice based meals. As they have postcards on sale, we grab a few and extend our break with some writing. My postcard will go to Andreas in Frankfurt, but I don't have the correct postcode with me. No matter for someone who considers himself being resourceful. The Lonely Planet has the address of the British Tourist Authority in Frankfurt, so I just use this postcode, which will delay the arrival of the postcard by two weeks, as I will find out later.
We now feel that we have extended our break way too much, another 13 kilometres are waiting for us. And these are no picnic. All the time the path veers away from the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, uphill, and then again towards the loch, downhill, which makes of even almost forget the beautiful weather.
- 2014: Up and down along the Loch
Halfway between Balmaha and our goal, we rest another time and can almost not pull ourselves together to get up again. The backpacks press on our shoulders, the feet ache, and also our backs start telling us to please stop. Finally we get into gear and trot on towards our goal, the Rowardennan Youth Hostel. On our way, we pass the point where I made a panorama shot of Loch Lomond last year. At the time, I had wished for beautiful weather. Now I have it, but rather wish for the rental car I had then. One can never be happy... At least I know that it is now not much further to our accommodation. The last kilometre on asphalted road is a real torture for our feet until we finally see the youth hostel in front of us.
- 2014: A bit further away from the Loch
- 2014: View towards Ben Lomond
- 2014: Rowardennan in sight
- 2003: The Youth Hostel
The building is very nice and big, there are enough available beds for us. Although we are very hungry, we spontaneously decide to have a shower when we take off our boots. In the common rooms, we meet the Danes and the Belgian. The hostel kitchen is full of Asians loudly preparing their meals. The kitchen is big enough for all, and soon our rice meals are simmering on the cooker. David is already quite sceptical, as he had made bad experience with British convenience food during his time in Cambridge. He doesn't really like his meal, and also I don't feel particularly well while eating, but which I rather attribute to the strenuousness of the day.
At the hostel entrance, I look for the whether report which should normally be there. I meet a very taciturn hostel employee who also seems to be some kind of ranger. When I ask him about the weather, the ice melts and he shows me a lot of weather data on the internet, arriving at the conclusion that “they” in the met office make up the weather reports, as none of last weeks' forecasts was right.
For tomorrow, they announce good weather.
The final notes for the day were many cups of tea and a long conversation with Roland, the Belgian, who lives and studies in Amsterdam.
by zatapathique » Sat May 09, 2020 4:23 pm
On this day we finally succeed to start at 9 o'clock already. When we leave, the “You Must” Germans are still striking their tent. We quickly suppress an upsurging lust for sabotage and call a curt greeting to them. As always, the two Danes are already ahead of us. The first 11 kilometres to Inversnaid Hotel are not very spectacular, but nice and not difficult to walk. Loch Lomond glitters through the trees to our left while we are advancing northward towards the Highlands, walking approx. 20 metres above the shore in the shade of Ben Lomond. At Inversnaid Hotel, located picturesquely above a tiny bay, waterfall included, we have our first break and second breakfast. On a bench at the shore, directly in front of the hotel restaurant's picture window, David uses the opportunity for a topless sunbath – in Britain! An elderly lady from a senior travelling party is soon magically attracted to the scene and tells us everything about their friendly bus driver who at the same time is postman, knows everything and everyone in the area and admirably entertains the party with anecdotes. She is very interested in our route and would like to know how far we still have to go today. As an autochthonous Brit, she cannot do anything with our metric response of 10 kilometres, smiles at us bemusedly and joins her husband and party.
- 2014: At Inversnaid Hotel
- 2014: The waterfall, photo by Mrs. Zatapathique
While we are preparing to set out again, the Umbrella Guys walk past us. Roland shared a room with them in Rowardennan and told us they were probably from Switzerland and not very communicative. A few minutes later, we set out with new energy.
- 2003: David walking along Loch Lomond
The path leads us along the east shore of Loch Lomond and gets narrower and narrower. Stony ground joins the repeating up and down. We imagine that it is quite slippery here when the ground is wet, but the sun shines even stronger today than the day before. Even for “made-up” weather, it is extraordinarily good. We make good progress until roughly a mile from Inversnaid Hotel, where we see the journalist taking pictures – we are at Rob Roy's Cave, the cave of Scotland's Robin Hood. However, all we can see is a signpost for the cave. The journalist, whose name is Rita, would like to take our picture, standing next to the signpost. Of course we agree, and give her our e-mail addresses to be able to learn later on if her report was published. In the meantime, an inquisitive robin examines Rita's big backpack, and she confesses to us that she is a little bit afraid of the robin. She can read in our faces that we don't think she's serious and proves it to us by letting out a small scream when the robin approaches her once more.
- 2003: The offending robin
While David and I are still exchanging incredulous glances, the Danes come up from the shore and tell us that they have found the cave. I leave my backpack at the side of the path and join David and Rita on their way down. The cave can only be reached by scrambling up some big boulders. At least it is easy to spot – caring rangers have painted the word “cave” in huge white letters on the rock wall, an arrow indicates the correct crevice where Rob Roy is supposed to have hidden from his English pursuers. Whether he was really here cannot be told even on closer inspection of the cave. The (used) toilet paper certainly is of a more recent date.
- 2003: Rob Roy's cave
When we have dawdled away half an eternity like that, we continue our way. However, today should not be the day of fast progress, but of talks and photos. No further than two kilometres behind the cave, we meet the Danes again who are having a break. The introduce themselves to us as Nina (mother) and Rita (daughter). A short while later, the other Rita arrives as well and we get lost in small talk. At this occasion, my backpack is eternalised as the journalist decides to take a superb photo of Loch Lomond with my backpack in the right foreground. This activity alone takes a quarter of an hour...
- 2003: The photo set-up, photo by David
- 2003: Loch Lomond, view to the north
- 2003: More Loch Lomond
At last we can wrest ourselves free and leave the ladies and their endless conversation topics behind. Our eagerness does not last long however, because with the good weather, David feels like having a swim. We make our way through the trees to the bank where David strips naked and dives into the floods. I try the water temperature and decide rather to eat an apple as a refreshment than to have a swim.
- 2003: It's a wee bit cold, but David can never resist the water
Cooled off, we arrive at Doune, where there is a “Bothy” next to two old houses and considerably more sheep, a small building without any equipment, where people walking the West Highland Way can stay the night for free.
- 2014: The hardest part is behind us
- 2003: Doune
- 2014: Doune. Hasn't changed much...
After just one kilometre more, the end of Loch Lomond invites us again to have a rest. In wonderful weather, this is our last break before today's destination. There seem to have been some “hikers” before us judging by the big amounts of rubbish, which makes us think and sad. The rest of today's stage now finally leads us into the Híghlands which begin directly behind Loch Lomond. To begin with, the path rises something less than spectacularly between some hills, until we reach Beinglas farm in the valley behind the hills, our destination for the day.
- 2003: Looking south from the north end of Loch Lomond
2014: Panorama from almost the same spot. Click to see large.
As on the first evening, we stay in a very basic wooden wigwam, but this time with working lights and without funny smell. There is even a small shop in the farm building with bananas – although quite old ones – and hot showers. The Danes and the Umbrella Guys are already here, but not the Belgian. He seems to have gone on to Crianlarich, after all another eleven kilometres from here.
- 2003: The wigwams
- 2014: The wigwams, photo by Mrs. Zatapathique
- 2014: The inside of our wigwam, the same one as 11 years ago, photo by Mrs. Zatapathique
The farm's restaurant is closed, and the two other restaurants which we found in the valley, a kilometre or so from the farm, scare us off despite their seemingly cosy atmosphere by displaying their exorbitant prices next to the door. Well, at least we can reduce our baggage weight a bit by eating our provisions as our last activity for the day.
by zatapathique » Sat May 09, 2020 4:34 pm
We begin the day at a quarter past nine and start without a determined destination. As the following stage from Tyndrum to Kings House Hotel seems a bit far (31 km), we consider walking to Bridge of Orchy today (which however would mean today's stage would be 31 km). In the Lonely Planet, we spot, conveniently located between Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy, a place called “Auch Farm” with Bed and Breakfast for astonishingly few pounds, and decide to keep this option open.
We are the third ones to start this morning. Rita the journalist is already ahead of as as well as an American who had complained about his aching and even hurt feet the day before. He is with a very alternative-looking girlfriend. The Danes are still waiting for the luggage service when we leave.
- 2014: Zatapathique trying to leave the wigwam with his backpack, photo by Mrs. Zatapathique
For today, we have the intention of not letting ourselves get involved into so many conversations. In this spirit, we say goodbye after a couple of minutes to Rita and the Americans, who have met for a talk five kilometres behind Beinglas Farm.
The West Highland Way now more and more lives up to the standard it carries in its name: it leads deeper into the Highlands. The path leads through the glen, next to the stream, the road and the train tracks, on which a train passes by from time to time.
- 2014: A railway bridge
- 2014: Highlands!
After a while, the path crosses the railway line by a narrow and low underpass, then climbs gently uphill on the other side of the valley.
- 2014: Mrs. Zatapathique struggling through the low underpass
Here, the young American couple passes us at an incredible speed. So much for the credibility of the American foot injury.
- 2003: Path with American couple, Keilator farm in the background
The path passes the “Keilator” farm, the name of which animates our imagination (Note for the translation: “Keilerei” being German slang for a brawl, a Keilator might be a machine-like person who gives someone a good thrashing, you know – Terminator --> Keilator). We don't see anybody brawling, but many dogs locked up in kennels, barking madly.
The WHW turns to the north-west on the slopes of a hill and ignores Crianlarich further to the east in the valley. As our map shows Crianlarich to be bigger than Tyndrum, and after our experience with the “shop” in Balmaha, we decide to do the side trip down into the glen (steep 1.5 km one way) to restock our food supplies.
Crianlarich is smaller than we would have guessed from the map, but there is a shop where we fill our backpacks to maximum weight. At the train station, where the two most important highland rail links (from Loch Lomond to Fort William and to Oban) meet, we have a comfortable lunch. To my disappointment, there is no Haggis, but at least there are public toilets. Oh well. When we climb the hill again to get back to the West Highland Way, the Umbrella Guys come walking towards us. Only two of them. Where is the third of the trio? We would never know, as on that day, we saw the guys for the last time...
- 2014: Impressions from along the way
- 2014: Near the forest, the path goes down to Crianlarich
- 2014: Impressions from along the way
- 2014: Impressions from along the way
- 2014: Munros!
Whereas the weather was still good in the morning, the sky now gets more and more overcast and the clouds reach deeper into the valley. The path goes up and down through the forest until we reach the floor of the valley again.
Behind the frail ruins of an old abbey near Auchtertyre Farm, the rest of the path is quite unspectacular. The only change in the monotony is the “Loch of the Lost Sword”. However, we do not find the sword even though the loch is really tiny.
- 2014: The old abbey's graveyard
- 2014: On the valley floor
- 2014: More Munros!
- 2003: The Loch of the Lost Sword
- 2014: Still the same
- 2014: Ah, it's “The Loch of the _Legend_ of the Lost Sword”. That explains why we couldn't find it...
- 2014: Here it is, it wasn't there in 2003...
- 2014: Approaching Tyndrum. The ground is barren from old mining works in which mercury was used to extract gold from the ore
When we arrive in Tyndrum, it is finally raining. The village boasts with two railway stations, one on either side of the glen – and with several bigger shops. For the next time we know now that we can easily give a could shoulder to Crianlarich. As it is already five o' clock, the remaining distance to Bridge of Orchy cannot be done anymore during daylight. A phone call to Auch Farm gives us the insight that the farm hasn't offered B&B for the past ten years already... Instead, the Tyndrum By the Way presents itself to us with a big sign – a camping ground with a few wooden huts. We rent a Camping House for the night, which is similarly small in size as the wigwams, but has two real beds – although too short for David. And it has a good heater. The sanitary block is almost only a building shell, but the water is wonderfully hot.
- 2014: The cabin with three “apartments”
- 2014: Real comfort for the night
Behind the building, in a pile of rubble and junk, David finds an old discarded broomstick which he wants to use as a walking pole, and hides it in a shrubbery outside the grounds. If only I had such a bad conscience about some of the things I do...
In the cold common room, where we take our frugal dinner, there's an altitude profile of the West Highland Way which shows us what we still have to expect. David is not very happy this evening, as his foot hurts a lot. From the outside, nothing can be seen. He tells me to give it a try the next day, and go back by train if walking hurts too much. I decide to walk on to the end in any case.
As we have booked the hotel for the next day shortly after our arrival in Tyndrum, and also the backpackers in Kinlochleven for the day after, we can nevertheless face the big and long stage without anxiousness, and do not even let the rain disturb our sleep. Of our “companions”, no trace could be seen after Crianlarich.
by zatapathique » Sat May 09, 2020 4:45 pm
The biggest daily distance is on the menu, so we force us to get up before the break of day and start with the first light for shooting. David finds his walking pole in the shrubbery and is perfectly armed for the day. At first his foot hurts a little, but with a refined walking technique, the pain goes back to a tolerable level after a few kilometres.
- 2014: What for? Photo by Mrs. Zatapathique
The path to Bridge of Orchy is good to walk. In next to no time we have passed Beinn Odar, and in front of us, the clouds lift higher and higher up Beinn Dorain – an impressive spectacle of nature. The mountain's slope has a perfect angle, it positively challenges you to climb it by just walking up the slope. Mountains over 3000 feet (914 metres) are called “Munro” in Scotland, named after the gentleman who has climbed them first. There are 284 of them [note: back then, now there are 282], and a first thought to climb one or the other Munro begins to bud inside my head.
- 2003: Approaching Beinn Dorain
- 2014: Approaching Beinn Dorain, photo by Mrs. Zatapathique
- 2003: Watched by a sheep fro above, photo by Mrs. Zatapathique
- 2014: Near Auch Farm
We also pass Auch Farm – indeed no B&B sign, but a permanently barking dog. West of the farm, the railway leads picturesquely on a bridge over Auch Gleann, the valley between Beinn Odar and Beinn Dorain. I am already looking forward to the journey back by train from Fort William, this bridge is on the route. I quickly discard this thought, as I first want to look forward to the rest of the West Highland Way, and do not already want to be on my way back. The sun joins our positive mood, trying to break through the clouds. Much faster than expected, we arrive at Bridge of Orchy, which is indeed nothing but a bridge, a railway station, a school, a few houses and a fire station, in front of which he have our breakfast in shelter from the wind, while the Scottish primary school pupils noisily have their break.
Behind the village, the path leads up a hill and then back down again on the other side, which is nice, but seems entirely pointless to our feet and shoulders, as it wouldn't have been much further around the hill. Down the hill, the path leads to Loch Tulla, where the lonely Inveroran Hotel is located at the end of a small road. The next 14 kilometres will lead us through no man's land, according to the guide book, the only landmark is Bà Bridge, a bridge over the river Bà flowing into Rannoch Moor.
- 2003: "Wood gnome" David
- 2003: A stop in the forest plantation
We make our next stop in the first of three forest plantations along the way through the moor. Just in time for our break, it starts raining. Along the entire way through Rannoch Moor, showers and sunshine take their turns, accompanied by a strong wind. The effects of the light in the constant change between sun and shade are very beautiful. The wet ground reflects the light in a very particular way.
- 2003: A dramatic scene
For over an hour, a rainbow is our constant companion, just out of reach in front of us. Both ends of the rainbow touch the ground to the left and right of the path. Who might already have disappeared in the Moor on their search for the pot of gold? It is said that Rannoch Moor, after all 50 square miles big, contains so much water that you can swim from one end to the other in summer, and make the same way back on ice skates in winter. We are glad having neither to swim nor to skate and stick to the path.
- 2003: “Our” rainbow
- 2003: The glittering light
- 2003: Zatapathique with pullover, rain jacket, bonnet, freezing
- 2014: Zatapathique at the same spot in a short sleeve shirt, sunglasses, sweating. Photo by Mrs. Zatapathique
- 2014: Mrs. Zatapathique leading the way
- 2014: All those lovely hills...
We stop again at “the only landmark” Bà Bridge. The sun is well-disposed to us during the break and shows us the west end of Rannoch moor and the surrounding mountains from their best side. We stroll around a bit to find the best spot to take some photos, and notice that it is indeed very wet, muddy and soft away from the path.
- 2014: At Bà Bridge
- 2003: After more than an hour, the rainbow is still with us
The way through the Moor is an old, long-abandoned road consisting of many single stones, which makes its surface very uneven. In spite of this, I find walking on this surface quite comfortable because the pressure is not always applied on the same spots of my feet, it is rather like some sort of a massage for all areas of my soles. David begs to differ, but his foot is holding out.
- 2003: Looking back along the way
Behind the highest point of the stage, where from a distance we see the journalist Rita standing on a hill taking pictures, a heavy shower pours down on us, and the wind is now really strong. My throat does not feel too well. Soaking wet, we finally see the Kings House Hotel ahead of us on the other site of the road. Feelings of triumph start to rise in us, joined by the pleasant anticipation of spending the night in this unique hotel. What a location for a hotel! To the east, vast Rannoch Moor, desolate, bleak, denying, and scary. To the west, the narrow entrance into Glen Coe. The mountain Buachaille Etive Mòr thrones like a silent guardian over the entrance to the glen and over the hotel.
- 2014: Mrs. Zatapathique almost running to the Hotel in anticipation of a good rest
- 2003: The hotel
- 2014: Nice room, it's a pity the hotel isn't what it used to be anymore, with its quaint out-of-time charm. Photo by Mrs. Zatapathique.
After all the wigwams and camping cottages, the hotel is “pure luxury” for us, although we have booked “the cheapest room you offer”, which still costs an impressive lot of British pounds for (non-British student) hikers. In return, there is a generous supply of instant coffee, cappuccino and hot chocolate in the room, and we help ourselves equally generously to it. While David has some rest, I have a short conversation with Rita in the hotel bar. She tells me that she didn't have any rain all day long. Very lucky! She soon retires to her room to continue writing her report.
We spend the rest of the evening taking pictures of the mountains in the dusk and of two red deer in the hotel yard, sitting in the room with the fireplace, reading. Oh yes, and we eat a “Death by Chocolate Cake” in the bar, a huge pile of chocolate cake, brownies and ice cream – pure energy for the next day...
- 2014: Buachaille Etive Mòr
- 2014: Glen Coe entrance
- 2014: Buachaille Etive Mòr through the window of the comfortable room with the fireplace
- 2003: Oh deer, what a lousy photo. Well, that was before I had the digital camera, and every photo on slide film cost a fortune – and you only had 36 of them. ;-)
The big distance was much easier to walk than we had imagined, no complaints from our feet, only my throat doesn't feel up to the mark. Luckily, I brought a scarf in wise precaution. Directly underneath our “cheapest room”, there's the Climber's Bar. Good music reaches our ears which motivates to pay a visit to the bar. However, my throat says “no”, and my head has joined in in the meantime. David wants to sleep anyway, so we sink deep into the soft beds of the Kings House Hotel, in the middle of nowhere.
by zatapathique » Sat May 09, 2020 4:53 pm
Right after waking up I know I have a cold. Sore throat, I cannot talk without it getting worse. Silenced, the beautiful morning with sunrise over the Moor in emphasised. The summits of the mountains are dusted with the first snow, the air is clear, but the next shower clouds are already lurking on the horizon. Rita starts along with us, but soon stays behind to take photos.
- 2014: Setting out
- 2003: Setting out
- 2003: Bridge in the middle of nowhere
- 2014: Same bridge
- 2014: Buachaille Etive Mòr
- 2003: Glen Coe entrance
The path leads us a bit into Glen Coe, then turns north, directly over the hills that separate Glen Coe from Loch Leven. The Devil's Staircase isn't as steep as its name suggests, but I am glad all the same to see its end. The “stair” leads us up the hill in almost a direct line, up to the highest point of the West Highland Way at 550 metres above sea level.
- 2014: Mrs. Zatapathique fighting her way up Devil's staircase
- 2003: Zatapathique almost in the top, rejoicing already
2014 Panorama: Looking down Devil's staircase. Click to see large.
Up here, it is very cold and windy. Whereas healthy David enjoys the view and has something to eat, I walk a bit further along the path to get some shelter from the wind and the rain. However, there is not really less wind there. It starts snowing a bit. In spite of the adverse weather, this section is very scenic, although a bit arduous, as we descend to sea level in only seven kilometres distance.
When we stop for our next break, an American couple catches up with us. He is 78, she is 71. And hale! We get into a conversation with them. When the elder gentleman retired, he asked his doctor what he could do to stay in shape. The doctor advised to often go for a walk. Said and done. Possibly the doctor meant the local city park, but in any case since then the spry senior citizen has travelled through Europe and walks along hiking trails. His wife can only come along every second day, as she has weak knees.
Somewhat sobered in view of our own performance, we leave them our resting spot and continue going down the hill.
- 2003: Behind the highest point
- 2014: Mrs. Zatapathique starting the descent
- 2003: The path towards Kinlochleven
- 2003: Kinlochleven in sight
The path runs next to the impressive penstock lines of a hydro power station which used to supply electric energy for an aluminium smelter which is now out of service. A mountain biker with flat rear tire very carefully cycles past us downhill. A short while after, two other cyclists with intact tires follow, enquire anxiously about their friend and then race after him at breakneck speed.
- 2014: Penstock line with leakage
- 2014: Interesting fact: in the time between the two walks, from 2005 to 2011, I worked in hydropower and would have wanted to get this fixed. I sent the photo to my old colleagues later, but there was no call for bids for the refurbishment of this penstock line. Photo by Mrs. Zatapathique.
Not long after, at a quarter to two only, we have arrived in Kinlochleven. We wait in front of the Blackwater Hostel, which we had already booked, and spot Roland the Belgian. He spent the night in Glen Coe village, where a driver took him from Kings House Hotel. In the morning, he hiked up east the whole length of impressive Glen Coe, which I still remember from last year, before rejoining the West Highland Way. My voice has come back as well in the meantime. The hostel has two buildings in the village, and we do not know if we are at the right one. We try calling the host. The phone in the lower hostel accepts and keeps our coins, but does not work. We walk up a hill to the hostel's other building. Nobody there. Not locked, but completely empty. Back again, another try with the phone. This time it works, the right building is the upper one where we arrange a meeting with the host. We march uphill again and finally get a room, together with Roland.
- 2014: Lower Blackwater Hostel, photo by Mrs. Zatapathique
As it is still early, we take a stroll through the village. By taking the direct way to the hostel, we cut off a tiny bit of the West Highland Way, which we now, naturally, have to make up for and walk it. Next to the former aluminium smelter, the water shoots from the artificial canal into the River Leven. The impressive rapids fascinate us for quite a while.
- 2014: The rapids are still there
The village is peaceful and homey. We take a few pictures, David poses on an old construction vehicle which was left on a piece of lawn. When we buy some food, the shop is awfully familiar to me, even though I am pretty sure Robert and I did not stop here one year ago but just drove through the village. Possibly a déjà vu. Today we are not stingy with our food and buy fresh meat to refuel some energy before the last stage.
- 2014: Kinlochleven, photo by Mrs. Zatapathique
- 2003: Kinlochleven
- 2003: David ridin' da machine
Back at the hostel, we suddenly find ourselves among a big group of English motorcyclists, all around 40. I, or rather my eyes, take more pleasure in a group of four unfortunately very taciturn Norwegian girls. My sore throat has turned into a cough, and I am in competition with one of the Norwegians who spends her evening coughing and drinking tea.
While we are preparing our meal, we have a conversation with two of the Englishmen (“Mike and Mike on the bike”) who do not want to believe that we can eat our 3-person meals each. Which we certainly can. From the window, we watch the sun setting beautifully over Loch Leven.
In the common room, “Who wants to be a millionaire” (in pounds not euros of course) is on the TV, and we watch it with the Mikes. The candidate, a gentleman, answers the first questions without turning a hair, until he gets asked the 32'000 pound question: “How many square yards are in one acre?” David and I, long-standing friends of the imperial system, can hardly hide our schadenfreude when the up to now totally confident candidate has to pass. The Mikes do not know the answer either until the solution is given: 4840. The two Englishmen leave the hostel after a bit more small talk with us about units of measurement and the current news, to join their pals in the local pub where these have gone some time before already. When David wants to get his shoes from the drying room, we notice that Roland's shirt is hanging there, telling us with emphasis that it apparently is his only shirt for the whole way...
by zatapathique » Sat May 09, 2020 5:00 pm
The day begins with the departure of the horde of motorcyclists who have the dubious pleasure to return to England on the motorbike in the rain, without seeing much of the scenery. Roland sleeps in, but as he walks faster than we do anyway, we are sure to see him again. Down in the village, we meet Rita in the streets of Kinlochleven. When she has told us that the Danes have already continued to Fort William yesterday, we cross the village to the other side of the valley, where the path begins to climb uphill. There seems to be a motocross race going on. All the time, motorbikes on their warm-up lap pass us on narrow forest paths. Luckily, the race course does not lead deep into the forest, and after a few hundred metres, we leave the rattle behind us.
- 2003: Looking back to Kinlochleven
- 2014: The same eleven years later. Spot the differences.
The ascent is steep, and we say goodbye to Rita, who cannot keep up with our pace. Due to the long climb, we get warm, which is good, as it is wet. Very wet. It does not rain very hard, but incessantly. On top of that it is chilly. However, this fits well to the scenery, we enter a hidden highland glen at about 250 metres altitude. If we didn't have the map memorised and didn't know that Fort William is only 12 km away as the crow flies, one could feel very remote here.
- 2014: Entering the high valley
- 2014: It's raining all day, much like 11 years ago
- 2003: In the high valley
Meanwhile the grade of the ascent has lessened, and we can walk quite comfortably. Still, our feet and backs feel the efforts of the past days, so that we do not honour the scenery in the way it would have deserved it. We stop for a while at the ruins of Tigh-na-sleubhaich. Roland, who apparently hasn't started that much later after us, catches up with us and walks on after a quick chat.
Who might once have lived here in these ruins? In any case, they lived in a remote Highland valley in a poor stone hut. The scene challenges our imagination, one would like to travel back in time to see who everything looked 100 or more years ago. Possibly there was much more forest here, as we have read that once almost the entire Highlands were forested before the trees were cut down for sheep, and not least for ammunition boxes for the two world wars. Now there remain only bleak hills, fallen ruins and contemporary rubbish. One can still discern the foundation walls of the stables or of whatever underneath the grass and the bramble.
- 2003: Tigh-na-sleubhaich
- 2014: Tigh-na-sleubhaich
- 2014: Tigh-na-sleubhaich
- 2014: A very remote feeling up here, even though Kinlochleven and Fort William are not far
After David has finished climbing around to his heart's content in the crumbling ruins, we finally plod on. The rain increases in force, and after a few kilometres more, we have another break in a forest plantation with a bit shelter from the rain. We creep deep into the dry, very dense undergrowth and scare innocent hikers by making strange noises that would make any fairytale monster turn green with envy from behind the low branches that reach to the ground. Possibly we are already half monsters, I for once, with my cold, exhaustion and weather-beaten hair style am glad not to have a mirror with me. David's image as a wood gnome is emphasised by his being soaking wet, his appearance dishevelled by the wind.
- 2014: I think that's where the forest used to be where we hid in 2003...
- 2014: Another forest plantation, photo by Mrs. Zatapathique
- 2014: Find the four-leaved clover
- 2014: Mrs. Zatapathique entering the forest
While we are resting, Rita and the elder gentleman, without his wife, pass by without seeing us, walking together. A while later, we pass them again at a signpost showing the bus and train departure times from Fort William. On the way, we read on an information board about the bitter fight between to clans, there is a pile of stones next to the board. It says to add a stone if you're in favour of the one clan, and to remove a stone if you're a friend of the other. Unfortunately I did not write down the name of the clans.
2014 Panorama: still some way to go... Click to see large.
The rest of the way almost destroys us. The two Danish ladies may have been without luggage when they walked from Kings House Hotel to Fort William in one go the day before, but in our thoughts we tip our hats to them (although very shortly because of the rain) for this brave effort. The path leads steeply downhill several times to cross streams, and seems to have no end. On the whole way, we have never taken out the map so often to check how far we still have to go, counting the remaining kilometres. Glen Nevis is in sight, the last descent all the way down is really tough. My cold does not make things any better. There is no place to rest in sight, everything is soaking wet. We rest for a few minutes standing up, leaning against some smaller rocks in the flank of the hill next to the path, before pulling ourselves together and walking the remaining three kilometres into the valley in one go.
- 2014: Zatapathique trying to run away from the rain
At Glen Nevis Visitor Centre, we find shelter under the porch roof and rest for a moment. From here on, it is still two kilometres on an asphalt road to the end of the West Highland Way. David leaves behind his walking stick at the entrance to the visitor centre's parking, and we march towards Fort William, ultimately in a passably good mood. The signs of human settlement thicken more and more, and finally we have arrived at the end of the West Highland Way, a simple unspectacular sign.
- 2003: We made it! Photo by self-timer.
- 2014: He made it, too. New official end of the WHW in down-town Fort Williams
When we have captured this historical moment with our cameras, our only thought goes to Fort William Backpackers, which I know from last year. They have enough space for us, and after a wonderful shower, the world is looking much better. However, my cold uses the calm as an excuse to strike at full force.
In our dorm stay Peter from New Zealand as well as Falco and Marc, two Saarlanders who study medicine in Freiburg. We pretend for some time to be English, which they believe, but then we cannot bother anymore and switch to German.
After a copious serving of haggis and chips – finally – for me and fish and chips for David in the town centre, we spend the rest of the evening in very nice company in the Hostel's common room. There's a warm fire, the seating is comfortable, and through the window there's a nice view over Fort William and Loch Linnhe, which however can only be identified by the absence of lights, as it is already dark outside.
We chat with two Australian girls, both 26, from Melbourne. One of them got fired, so she decided to travel through Europe for a few months. Her friend liked the idea and quit her job to come along. That's how you do it down under. Two other Australian girls, hardly 20, travel with a Canadian girl who performs some songs on the guitar, singing with a beautiful voice. There's also a very nice German couple, extremely pleasant after our experience with the “You Must” Germans.
And so ends our adventure in Scotland with this beautiful evening, after 157 kilometres and 51.25 hours of walking.
by zatapathique » Sat May 09, 2020 5:04 pm
David leaves the hostel very early to catch his train back to Cambridge. At 7 o' clock, he is already gone. I sleep in to keep my cold in check- Falco and Marc want to climb Ben Nevis, which is located just next to Fort William, and would like me to come along. Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in Great Britain (1344 m), and in the clouds 300 of 365 days. Referring to my weak constitution, I sadly refuse and instead take a stroll through the nearer environments of Fort William. I pass Inverlochy Castle, illuminated briefly by the sun between showers. I can even catch a glimpse of the Ben Nevis summit, black and mighty behind the hills around Fort William.
- 2003: Inverlochy Castle
- 2003: Ben Nevis
On my way into Glen Nevis to the Visitor Centre, I get soaked again by the rain. David's walking stick, of which I wanted to take a photo, seems like a surreal relic from the past, even though it was only yesterday. The mere view of an old broomstick lets me re-live though the whole hike in a flash. I decide to come back latest in a few years to see if David's walking stick is still there. More showers on the way back to the hostel, interrupted by beautiful and soft sunlight.
- 2003: David's walking pole. The entire wooden post where David put the pole in 2003 was no longer there in 2014.
I spend the rest of the day reading and drinking a lot of hot chocolate in the hostel's dry common room at the fireplace. In the evening, some cheeky kids come into the house, begging for alcohol without success, searching everywhere to possibly find a bottle. After the host has convinced them that the now have to go home, he tells of strange kids in town. The boys curse like old geezers, and the girls dress like Britney Spears. I don't know if I should find it comforting that this phenomenon apparently doesn't exist only in Germany...
Falco and Marc are back from Ben Nevis, soaking wet. They haven't seen anything, but at least they made it to the top. To end the evening, Marc tells me how the Saarland would almost have been football world champion in 1954 instead of Germany. In the qualification for the tournament, they shared a group with Norway and Germany and finished second. According to his very logical reasoning, if the Saarland had finished first in the qualification group instead of Germany, the Saarland would have become world champion instead of Germany. His detailed knowledge of the matches with all the names of the players can hardly surprise me anymore, as the two of them have contributed to the good mood in the hostel all the time with lots of anecdotes and sound bites.
[A short note in this translation for those not familiar with German and French history – the Saarland was founded as a political entity in 1920 after WW1 under a League of Nations mandate. It was returned to Germany in 1935, under French administration after WW2, and sort of an independent state until 1956, with its own currency – and national football team. In a 1955 referendum, the people voted to join Germany, and since 1957, the Saarland is a Bundesland. It now has roughly one million inhabitants on 2500 km².]
The next day comes with much better weather. Cold, but blue sky. After a chat during breakfast with another Canadian girl working in Scotland, and an Italian girl from South Tyrol, I take an early train to Glasgow. The journey from Fort William to Loch Lomond is fantastic, especially the part through Rannoch Moor. Within a few hours, I see again big sections of the West Highland Way, lined with snow-covered summits, lonely Munros in the Highlands. I decide to be, one day, one of those having climbed all the Munros. I have bought a book with many photographs about the Munros in Fort William and try to calculate how many years it will possibly take to climb all the Munros when you don't live in Scotland.
- 2003: Rannoch Moor through the dirty train windows
- 2003: The bridge over Auch Gleann from the train
In the evening, I stroll around Glasgow before I learn in Bunkum Backpackers, where David had left some of his luggage, that he had been there the day before, very much in a hurry, to grab his luggage. In “my” dorm, there is among others Dave (pronounced “dive”) the Australian who repeats the end of all his sentences (“Exactly! Exactly!”). Tiring listening to in the long run, in the long run. In the common room, I meet the “You Must” Germans who are whining and complaining how strenuous everything has been. I can only smile wearily at them and flee to my dorm.
Before the next day brings me back to the airport and to Germany, I spend one more night with Scottish hostel feeling, a bit tarnished by my rumbling stomach as a consequence of my visit to an American fast food chain.
My last thought before falling to sleep is the firm resolution not to have walked the West Highland Way for the last time.
Some afterthoughts from a 2014 perspective
As I mentioned in the beginning, I kept my promise and walked the West Highland Way again with my wife, 11 years later. It was also to be the beginning of my Munro plans that had spawned during the original hike. We had scheduled to spend two nights in Rowardennan so that we could hike up Ben Lomond as my first Munro – you can read about this here: https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=64976
The time of year was similar (two weeks earlier), but there were more people. When planning the trip, I was looking for other options to split the way in individual stages, but in the end we walked the same stages as in 2003. Booking ahead was essential, especially the Kings House Hotel, but also near Loch Lomond and in Fort William. Just walking and booking on a day-to-day basis wouldn't have worked in 2014.
At the end of five stages, we stayed in the same places as I did with David in 2003: Rowardennan (which seemed a bit run-down), Beinglas (a bit more modern), Tyndrum (now well-established), Kings House Hotel (they didn't serve the “Death by Chocolate Cake” anymore), Kinlochleven (the lower building this time).
Many more people than in 2003 used a luggage service. We were almost "exotic" in 2014 with our big backpacks. Hosts asked us why we didn't use a luggage service and bothered to carry these huge backpacks. Well, I thought that was part of the experience, or almost the point... Anyway, we used the luggage service once, for the long stage from Tyndrum to Kings House, which was a good choice, especially for Mrs. Zatapathique (I am still very much impressed how she handled all this without complaining). Whereas I think there was only one luggage service in 2003, there now seems to be a multitude. You can even book packages where everything is organised – accommodation, luggage transfer, transfer to accommodation a bit further from the WHW, and so on. You can also choose to walk only selected stages (one of my numerous sisters did that, booking such a "package").
The last stage from Kinlochleven to Fort William was equally wet and challenging in 2014 as it was in 2003, and I did not enjoy it more – rather even less. For the past two kilometres, where there was no decent shelter, it rained so hard even the locals told us they had never seen anything like this. We were literally soaked to the bone, not the least dry bit of cloth on our bodies. The clothes didn't dry until we came back home two and a half days later.
The spirit of the people on the way was much the same, however. This is one big part of the fascination for me – meeting so many people from everywhere, all with the same goal, exchanging the experiences of the day, the anticipation who you will see on the next stage and who not, all the stories you hear from everybody...
As always, there are people who you instantly take a liking to, and others like the "You Must" Germans who you don't want to see that often. In 2014 the latter was a group of French-Canadians behaving out of place for a hike through nature. The nicest encounter was a French guy whose memory card was full at some point and he couldn't take any more photos. He asked whether we had by chance an adapter cable to connect the camera to his tablet PC to transfer the photos. We hadn't, but we gave him our spare SD card and exchanged addresses. When he later sent the SD card back by mail, he had put all his WHW photos on it as a thank you.
By the way, back in 2003 Rita never wrote us, so until this day we don't know whether she has written her report or not. I have written my own instead, and if you have managed to hang in until here, I am impressed, happy, and say "thank you".
PS: About the “murder mystery” in the title – ever since that moment in Crianlarich when we met only two of the three Umbrella Guys, I thought about the idea of writing a murder mystery on the West Highland Way, the Tale of the Missing Umbrella Guy...
by MichaelMcE » Wed Jun 10, 2020 12:22 am
by campbellski » Sun Jun 14, 2020 1:46 pm
By the way the clans for the cairn are the MacDonalds (add a stone) and the Campbells (remove a stone).
by zatapathique » Sat Jun 27, 2020 10:52 am
And thank you for the book recommendation, I have just put "The Hills are Stuffed with Swedish Girls" on my wishlist. Sounds like a book I could really enjoy.
by Bonzo » Mon Jul 13, 2020 6:18 pm
by Alba Bhoy » Mon Jul 13, 2020 11:11 pm
by Alteknacker » Tue Jul 14, 2020 12:19 am
I've only walked a short bit of the WHW, namely about 7km of the last section from Kinlochleven on my way back from walking in the Mamores. Unlike you, I found the pebbly track really hard on the feet, and I vowed there and then never to attempt it.
Is Mrs Z joining you in your Munro quest??