Date walked: 18/05/2017
Time taken: 7 days
After a bit of organising, taking deposits off the guys and booking places to stay, we eventually had 8 of us all 'signed up' to do the WHW in May 2017. We picked May as it was before midge season, would be a bit quieter than the summer months and didn't interfere with our families summer holidays.There were 8 of us in total - 5 of us in our 40's and 50's, 1 guy at 70 and 2 of the guys grown up sons were coming along too.
Eventually the day arrived and 5 of us found ourselves in Milngavie at 9 am ready for the off. As it turned out, one of the young lads had a job interview that morning so was making a later start with his dad and the other younger guy and would meet us at our first stop in Drymen.
Day 1 - 12 miles
The weather was great as we set off and once through Milngavie the scenery opened up and we made good progress through the woodland and farm tracks towards Dumgoyne and the Beech Tree Inn for lunch. Making the most of the weather we sat outside and had a couple of pints and some food (you'll find having a few pints is a common theme during our walk and I make no apologies for that!). The Beech Tree has made the most of their location right on the WHW and must be a goldmine. The barmaid told us we were more than halfway to Drymen but it didn't feel like it during the second part of the days walk - it seemed to take ages to get there though I think walking on the road in the latter parts and the warm weather took it's toll. It was only 12 miles in all and we'd all done some pre-walk training but still we were looking forward to reaching Drymen. We arrived at the Drymen Inn around 3 o'clock and of course headed straight to the bar for a couple of pints until our rooms were ready. This was our only night at a Hotel/B&B as we'd booked camping cabins/Hostels the other nights and I'd have to say looking back we would use B&B's throughout if available. Some of the camping cabins were basic, not very comfortable and really tight for space but you get what you pay for. We had dinner in the hotel and then the other 3 caught us up in time for some research of the local Drymen hostelries.
Day 2 - 15 miles
After a great breakfast we set off in 2 groups towards Balmaha our next midday pit stop, When in large groups you tend to split up as there's always one guy not ready or faffing about so 5 of us set off 10 minutes in front of the other 3. We reached the bottom of Conic Hill in no time and started the climb. I've read various accounts of climbing Conic Hill and it's not that high I suppose but in warm weather it's a killer! After several stops to catch breath, and after sweating about 8 pints of lager out we made it to the top - and what a view we had - it was magnificent seeing Loch Lomond and beyond in glorious sunshine. Downhill was a bit easier though you did have to be careful on some of the steeper parts as you drop down towards Balmaha. About a third of the way down we were embarrassed to see a young woman carrying her baby in one arm as she galloped up the slopes without breaking sweat, it was obviously easier to climb up the Balmaha side!!
Once again we had a few more drinks in the sunshine at the Oak Tree Inn as we waited on the others catching us up. We spent nearly 2 hours soaking up the sun and re-fueling before the next leg to Rowardennan. The walk out of Balmaha is quite steep and hard work to start with but eventually you're right on the shore of the loch and passing all the places you used to visit when you were younger for overnight BBQ's. The level parts by the loch are easy and you make good progress - there are some parts along the loch side though which are uphill and tiring but you have to keep plodding on. Eventually - the 2nd part of each day always seemed to drag on - we reached the Rowardennan Hotel and carried on to the Youth Hostel to check in. I'd booked a dorm room for 6 of us to share (and a 2 bed room for the younger lads) as I thought it would be a good laugh to be in the 1 room for a night. After a visit to the hotel for some excellent food and drinks we made it back to the hostel for a couple more drinks and shared a few stories and laughs in the dorm room.
Day 3 - 14 miles
After breakfast in the Hostel we gathered outside ready for day 3. The midges were ferocious outside and after a few quick pictures we set off in slightly damper weather. The walk passes through some ancient woodlands for a couple of miles and then heads towards the loch side and that's were the real hard work starts! Parts of the east side of Loch Lomond are regarded as the most difficult part of the Way and I'm not going to argue . . . it's a constant scramble up and down rocks, squeezing through narrow passes, 2 hands are needed in parts and the walking poles are a big help. We saw people with very large rucksacks and some of us did the walk ourselves many years ago carrying full packs and i'm not sure how managed in this area as the packs would have been a nightmare.
After a few hours of scrambling we made it to the Inversnaid Hotel around lunch time. This hotel caters mainly for coach parties and I have to say we were pleasantly surprised by the welcome that walkers receive. The food and drinks are reasonably priced, the bar staff were happy to fill water bottles and we were well looked after.
The second part of the day was a repeat of the first part, lots of scrambling, sweating and exertion but I have to say in a perverse way I actually quite enjoyed it. My right knee gives me a bit of pain when standing or just walking but the constant bending and pushing off it actually helped. After a couple of hours we could see Beinglas Farm in the distance but it seemed like an eternity before we dropped down towards it and checked in. We'd booked 2 of the camping cabins for the 6 of us and the boys were supposed to book a third but they decided to share with us which to put it mildly was a pain, these things are built for 4 people but 4 adults is just too tight a squeeze. I'm happy to say the bar restaurant at Beinglas more than made up for the cabin sizes as we had a great night with live music, good food and the beers were flowing. This is another place who have made the most of the WHW being on their doorstep and they provide an excellent service.
Day 4 - 12 miles
After a good breakfast in the Beinglas bar area, we set off towards Tyndrum via Crianlarich. This was to be an easier 12 mile stretch today which was planned as we knew day 5 was an 18 mile walk. The walk out of Beinglas is fairly straight forward with a few short ascents, under the A82 sheep crawl and onto open farmland and some very muddy areas.
We chose to descend into Crianlarich for a stop as walking straight onto Tyndrum would've meant arriving at about 2pm which was way too early. After lunch at the Crianlarich Hotel we walked along the side of the A82 towards Tyndrum, eventually picking up the WHW as it veers right towards St Fillans. This part of the walk is easy going, along level farm tracks and it wasn't too long until we were checking in at By The Way camp site. We'd booked the Camping Cabins and these were a good bit more spacious with decent beds.
We spent the evening in the Tyndrum Hotel with some decent food and drinks, and caught some of the Super Sunday football action. We called it a night earlyish as I think the previous night had caught up with us but that mean we were in time to get fish and chips from the well known Real Food Cafe on the way back to the site - result!
Day 5 - 18 miles
The 5th day started with some breakfast at the Real Food Cafe and it wasn't long before we were on our way again. This part of the walk is fairly flat and easy going along some farm tracks and we were soon in Bridge of Orchy, too soon as it turned out as we were in the bar before it opened and had to wait a while before being able to order food. We spent a while in the hotel waiting on the stragglers catching up - these were later to be labelled the 'Tail End Two2'. Again, and despite the hotel being reasonably up market, the hospitality was great and we were made to feel welcome - spending a bob or two on food and drink in the bar always helps of course.
We set off after lunch with the target of reaching the White Corries ski centre by late afternoon. This part of the walk was fairly exposed although the scenery with Loch Tulla and Rannoch Moor was great. After a couple of miles we decided to have a wee refreshment in the Inveroran Inn, this is a small hotel/pub and we only stopped for about half an hour to sample the place.
We left Inveroran and got the head down as we still had 8 miles to cover to our next stop. It wasn't too long before the heavens opened and the waterproofs were on for the first time in earnest. The rough tracks and torrential rain made it hard work and we soon discovered the quality (or lack of quality) of our waterproofs and boots. The track was like a river and it was useless avoiding the puddles and running water so we more or less waded straight through it. The rain was constant all the way to the White Corries and after was seemed like forever we turned up like drowned rats to get the keys to our cabins from reception.
Once in it was wet stuff off and into the drying room and after a shower and a change of clothes it was straight up to the restaurant bar area. I knew the place didn't open too late at night (8.30pm we found) so I wanted to get there and settle in for a few drinks and some food. The rest of the guys arrived in dribs and drabs and the last 2 to get in were too late for food - schoolboy error! At 8.30pm we were back to the cabins and with not much else to do, and after checking our wet gear was drying okay, headed off to sleep in the cramped cabin.
Day 6 - 11 miles
The next morning we were up early only to discover the cafe area didn't open for breakfast until around 10am which didn't go down well with since we were up and ready to go before 8. We decided to head off in the hope the Kingshouse Hotel which was being refurbished and had a temporary cafe/bothy arrangement, could rustle us up some breakfast as there would be nothing else until Kinlochleven.
It was around 1.5 miles to the Kingshouse and we hit the jackpot! Breakfast was being served in the newly built cafe and it was excellent - full breakfast all round with mugs of tea and coffee and it absolutely hit the spot!
Fed and watered we moved on ready to take on the Devil's Staircase. In truth it wasn't too bad, we took it steady, having a breather as we went along and it wasn't actually as bad in my opinion as Conic Hill or some of the long climbs on the east side of Loch Lomond. We took a break at the top taking in the views and appreciating the good weather after yesterday afternoon's monsoon conditions.
From here it was the long, and I mean long, winding path down to Kinlochleven. The town comes into view after a few miles but takes ages to actually get to. By this point we were all strung out with the Tail End 2 in their usual positions! We stopped at the Tail Race Inn to sample the local beers and wait for the rest of the guys, and then had a few more beers. This was to be our last night on the walk so we headed along to our accommodation for the night, the McDonald Hotel where we were staying in the cabins at the back of the hotel We put our gear in the cabins, laid out the sleeping bags etc and headed straight to the Bothy bar at the rear of the hotel. The bar looked okay and it lacked atmosphere but that all changed after a couple of hours. The food was terrific and the bar was getting busier as more people arrived and we had a great night playing pool and have a catch up with other walkers we'd met at times over the days of the walk. It was a late night and we eventually made it to our cabins, trying to get up to the top bunk after a night in the pub wasn't easy but I made it.
Day 7 - 15 miles
The next morning we were up for a terrific (pre-booked) breakfast in the hotel then it was back to the cabins to get ready to go. It was a damp start to the day and the midges were swarming so it was quickly on with the waterproofs and off. The climb out of Kinlochleven was quite steep and it wasn't long before the waterproofs were off as the drizzle had stopped and we were just too hot with all the layers on. The walk this day I found to be long and fairly dull, I think the fact we had nowhere to stop at a mid point to break the day up, and we'd forgotten to order packed lunches from the hotel the night before, meant we had 15 miles of fairly constant walking with only a snack or two to keep us going. After what seemed like hours we were heading towards the forest areas of Glen Nevis and, like the second part of most days, this seemed to go on forever as we dropped down to the glen nevis road which would take us to Fort William.
This road walking was tedious and sore on the feet but it was a case of getting the head down and clocking up the miles. We had a late lunch and a few beers in the first place we came to to let everyone catch up and to be fair the Tail End Two weren't too long behind on this day - wonder if they took a short cut somewhere?? We then walked through town to the new end of walk markers and then headed for our train to Glasgow.
All in all it was a great experience and I think we all enjoyed it in our own way. I would definitely do it again though would 'upgrade' to B&B's where possible as some of the cabin type accommodation was a bit tight for space and not always particularly comfortable.
Finally, one thing I do have to mention is the standard of the places we stopped at for lunch, dinners and drinks as the vast majority of these were excellent, a long way from the standard of service and rubbish a lot of these places would serve up to unwary visitors a decade or two ago. They've obviously raised their game and realise the value of looking after WHW walkers who will maybe return or recommend these places to others - so cheers to them!
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- Corbetts: 2
- Long Distance routes: West Highland Way Three Lochs Way
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- Distance: 150 km
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