Cowal Way in August 2020 (Part 1)

Date walked: 20/09/2020

Time taken: 3 days

Distance: 53km

Ascent: 2860m

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First half of the Cowal Way, plus 4 memorable/ scenic/ fun Corbetts which I managed to pick up on the way past. I would highly recommend this 3-day/4-day walk, though it is fair to say that last stretch (from the nice bit of Glen Branter to Garvie Farm) didn't have an awful lot to recommend it and could probably be missed out if you didn't feel the need to tick off all sections and can organise some other way of getting from Glen Branter to Glendaruel. Another possibility would be to do the the whole of the Strachur to the Clachan of Glenaruel section on a bike, which would take the sting out of this long 26Km tramp on forest tracks and tarmac roads?

I did this 3-day walk as Days 1-4 of TheBold Family holiday in August 2020 - Day 1 (Sunday) was Arrochar to Lochgolihead via Cnoc Coinnich & the Brack, Day 2 was a Rest Day (where I popped up Ben Donich and walked back to Lochgoilhead), Day 3 (Tuesday) was Lochgoilhead to Strachur and Day 4 (Wednesday) was Strachur to the north end of the minor road along Glenaruel, between Garvie Farm and Dunans Castle (on the A886), where my support team picked me up and took me down to our overnight accommodation in Tighnabruaich. (NB I had previously walked the 3 Lochs Way, so didn't need the Arrochar to Inveruglas section (which is lovely and should not be missed!).

And obviously if you are adding Corbetts to the Cowal Way, you should include the Cobbler, before leaving Arrochar.

I will describe the 2nd half of the Cowal Way (Portavadie back to Garvie Farm) which I did on days 5 & 6 as a separate walk report, to avoid confusing the reader and to simplify the route map..

I was accompanied throughout the week by Mrs TheBold, who walked bits of the Way with me each day, before turning back and picking up the car and driving on to the next overnight accommodation and various other aspects of the logistics - checking into and out of the various hotels, buying provisions for lunches etc. In particular, she picked me up and dropped me of where the Way goes through Strachur, which meant I avoided the walk between there and the most-excellent Creggans Inn where we stayed on the Tuesday night and, as noted above, at Garvie Farm/Dunans Castle, which allowed me to split the section from Strachur to Tignabruaich into two fairly equal 6-hour days. So, can I give a big shout-out to her for all her assistance.

I was also accompanied by my adult son, who walked much of the main Cowal Way route with me (excluding the diversions up the three Corbetts and the rather dull bit from Glen Branter to Garvie Farm on the 4th day - it was great to have his company (and to share a laugh when my/our route finding let us down!)

I have previously described Days 1 -3 as separate 1-day WH walk reports (focussing on the Corbetts), so will not repeat all of the details here, but just provide a quick summary of the Cowal Way bits, with a few photos to give the flavour.

Day 0 - Beautiful sunny evening in Arrochar, beers on the lawn of the Village Inn, where the staff and we struggled to cope with the processes they had put in place to help ensure social distancing. The Cobbler was looking particularly stunning in the summer evening sunshine.

Day 1 - Slow start, so failed to find a space in either of the two car parks in Arrochar, where the only 2 spaces free were for electric vehicles to use the EV Charger, which provides a very good incentive to switch to an EV asap.
Time to buy an EV?

A 15-minute out-and-back diversion to tick off the connection with the 3 Lochs Way, more uphill than expected and fewer Waymarkers and no decent maps or the Guide Book, because Mrs TheBold had both these with her, but had been unable to join us as planned, due to us failing to find a car parking space in Arrochar, so a bit of head-scratching and debate before we eventually found a Waymarker confirming we were still on the right track.
Intersection of CW and 3 Lochs Way

En route to Ardgartan

Very pleasant walk (with views down Loch Long and up Glen Croe to the Cobbler) before dropping down to Ardgarten, to be rejoined by Mrs TheBold for a nice walk along the tarmac road through some nice pine woods to the Mountain Bike Trail car park at Coilessan, where we parted company and my son and I headed uphill westwards through the woods (including a short-cut on a very narrow path past some very jaggy young pine trees) and, just when we were about to get bored climbing uphill on a fairly hot summer's day we popped out of the forest by a gate/stile, crossed a boggy/rushy field (with fine views of the Brack) and one more little uphill push took us to the cairn marking the highest point of the Cowal Way, and the branching off point for the Brack.
Between Ardgartan and Coilessan

A rowan between a rock and a hard place?

Heading up to the highest point of the CW, past the Brack

Out of the woods at last - looking back

The highest point of the CW looking north towards The Brack

Here we met a group of 3 mountain-bikers coming along the CW west-east and who had clearly found it a bit of a slog getting their bikes up to this point from Lochgoilhead - I'd say only the bottom 1/3 of this climb is suitable for bikes.

I huffed and puffed my way up and down Cnoc Coinnich and then up and down the Brack, while my son headed straight for Lochgoilhead - see separate walk reports for details of these two Corbetts, lovely walk across the saddle with great late afternoon views out the the ridge west of Lochgoilhead, steep drop down a boggy grassy slope and into the woods for a very pleasant descent through the woods to Lochgoilhead and a close encounter with a cute red squirrel.
View of the ridge to the west of Lochgoilhead

I then made the mistake of following the CW Waymarkers for a merry dance round the village and the golf course to the footbridge (which I could have reached 15 minutes quicker if I'd just looked at the map!) and on to the Drimsynie House Hotel for an emotional family reunion (???), a well-earned beer and some great comfort food!

Day 3 (after a Ben Donich-filled Rest Day on Day 2) - after a big leisurely cooked breakfast in the Drimsynie House Hotel, the three of us set of round the very-pleasant shoreline of Loch Goil, a slightly surprising left-turn in Lettermay (where the straight ahead option felt more-likely and we nearly didn't spot the Waymarker) and into the woods, on a steady climbing forest track and increasingly nice views across Loch Goil to Cnoc Coinnich.
Leaving the Drimsynie House Hotel in Lochgoilhead

Along the shore of Loch Goil

Climbing away from Loch Goil

My wife turned back a bit after the obvious right-turn (to check out from the DHH and drive round via the Hells Glen road to Strachur), while my son and I carried on up the hill and round the corner to the junction on the track at NN177000, where there was no Waymarker (possibly due to recent clear-felling) and my trusty and highly-respected friend, the UK's Ordnance Survey, let me down, big-time!.

Check out the 1:25,000 Explorer map at this location. The track to the right leads towards the river and the Cowal Way continues along the river to Sruth Ban, right? Nope! The track to the right leads to a little building and stops and there is NO path anywhere through the ankle-twisting, boggy, pot-hole-ridden, fallen-tree-filled, energy&morale-sapping clear-felled hellish wasteland that lies between there and the track that we should have just have stayed on. So, not really a navigational error (we knew exactly where we were, we just didn't want to be there!), just too much faith in the map and not enough in what our eyes were telling us (which is that there was clearly no path along the river bank!

I reckon this blunder added about 40 minutes to the walk-time and significantly lowered energy & morale levels in team TheBold

We eventually floundered our way back to the track we should never have left and had a snack by a bridge over a wee burn, before climbing up the south side of the very-scenic Sruth Ban Falls and a steady climb on a slightly-boggy path to the fence on the 310m contour, east of Curra Lochain (not yet in view), where we parted company, with my son continuing on westwards to Strachur, while I tackled the cloud-obscured Beinn Bheula - see my separate WH Walk Report Scotland report for this 'out-and-back' Corbett-bagging extension.
Approaching Sruth Ban

Sruth Ban Falls

Back to the CW and heading west, past the pretty Curra Lochain and the very pleasant cross-country Cowal Way tramp down to Strachur , with some great views back to the long ridge (Carnach Mor to Creag a' Bhuic), which looks like a fun route to Beinn Bheula from Strachur. I eventually made it down to where the CW hits the A815, where my obliging and long-suffering chauffeur was waiting for me and drove me the couple of Km west and north to the most-excellent Creggans Inn, on the eastern shores of Loch Fyne, for a a well-earned evening of beer, fine dining and a 2nd-floor bedroom with a stunning view down Loch Fyne.
Curra Lochain

A rather-bizarre clump of pampas grass

View of Loch Fyne from Creggans Inn

Day 4 - Strachur to Garvie Farm/Dunans Castle.
Very pleasant solo stroll along the almost-entirely traffic-free country road that runs parallel to the A815 through some of the nice moss-covered woods that Argyll & Bute is famous for, met up with my wife & son at the Glen Branter car park and we had a very pleasant walk following the Waymarkers through the woods and along the side of the Allt Robuic gorge and down to a footbridge with a good view of the main waterfall.
Mossy woods between Strachur and Glenbranter

Nice woods in Glen Branter

Allt Robuic Gorge

Note that the Waymarkers do NOT follow the route which is is shown for the CW on the current OS Explorer 1:25,000 map, so I spend most of this bit of the walk trying to reconcile what I was seeing with where the map suggested i should be, before eventually realising for the 2nd or 3rd time on this walk that I should probably pay more attention to the handy guidebook that I had purchased and carried around for four days and have less blind faith in where the OS map suggests the CW goes.

I parted company from the family after crossing the footbridge, nice path up to join the forest track at NS103965, where some careful studying of the map was needed to understand why the Waymarkers were taking me north when I clearly wanted to be going south, but I soon reached the sharp bend in the forest track which got me heading in a more useful south-westerly direction and I could put my navigational concerns behind me, put my map and GPS away and get into the unconscious tramping mode that provides much of the stress-busting benefits of long distance paths.
Glen Branter, en route to Garvie Farm

After a while the tall dark pine woods gave way to more-open hillside and moorland, but the views were never that great (IMO) and the afternoon became quite hot and sticky, which turned this whole section into a bit of a slog for me. Even the exciting 'earthworks' features that are shown running along several of the streams on the OS Explorer map (around NS 082 925) failed to materialise as anything interesting on the ground when I got there, so I still have no idea what they are meant to be showing - on the map they look like some sort of strange earthworks or man-made cuttings, but as far as I could see they were all just perfectly-ordinary small streams - can anyone tell me what I was missing here?

The fact that I only took a single photo between leaving the Allt Robuic gorge and reaching the A886 perhaps shows that this section of the CW is probably not going to be getting onto WH's 'Top 10 Day Walks' anytime soon!

On a more-positive note, I had no trouble from either midges or clegs or anything else 'bitey or stingy' on this (or any of the other) sections of the 6-day walk (apart from some midges on the evening of Day 0 in Arrochar and again briefly on the evening of Day 5 in Tighnabruaich) which is a pretty remarkable result, given that I was doing this walk in Argyll and Bute in mid-August.

About 1.5 - 2 hours after I had stopped enjoying the 'care-free tramping' and just as both my feet were thinking about developing a blister or two, to see if that would persuade me to stop walking, I reached the A886 at Garvie Farm and tramped the last Km up the main road to reach the north end of the back-road to Glenaruel, where my trusty long-suffering nearest-and-dearest was waiting for me (and had been for almost an hour, as:
a) I had managed to under-estimate my ETA by a full hour as we parted company in Glen Branter, by adding an accurate estimate of the duration of the remainder of the walk to the correct current time and managing to get an answer that was an hour too earlier; and
b) our mobile phones had gone into a huff and refused to speak to each other all day.

I am famous in our family for under-estimating how long a walk is going to take - they think I do this on purpose to persuade them to come on walks with me - so it was particularly annoying that I'd guesstimated the duration of this walk to within 5 minutes of the correct answer and I was still an hour late!

Hey ho!

We then drove down to Tighnabruaich and spend the next 3 nights living like Kings and Queens in the Royal An Lochan hotel. The original plan was for my wife to give me a lift back to Garvie Farm the following morning (Day 5) and walk from there back to Tighnabruaich, then finish with a half-day walk from TnB to Portavadie on Day 6. However, for a variety of reasons, we changed this plan and I ended up doing these two sections south-to-north (Portavaide to TnB on the afternoon of Day 5 and Tignabruaich to Garvie Farm on Day 6.

To avoid confusing the mapping, I will describe this 2-day south-to-north bit as a separate walk report elsewhere in the WH Long Distance Walks forum.

4 days well spent!

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Comments: 1

Overview of a Fun-Filled Week Walking the Cowal Way

Date walked: 16/09/2020
Distance: 85km
Ascent: 3100m
Comments: 1
Views: 1124

Cowal Way in August 2020 (Part 2)

Attachment(s) Date walked: 20/08/2020
Distance: 32km
Ascent: 600m
Views: 419

Beinn Bheula on the way past

Attachment(s) Corbetts: Beinn Bheula
Date walked: 18/08/2020
Ascent: 910m
Views: 548

Ben Donich North to South

Attachment(s) Corbetts: Ben Donich
Date walked: 17/08/2020
Ascent: 550m
Comments: 2
Views: 577

Cnoc Cnoc, I'm Brack

Attachment(s) Corbetts: Cnoc Coinnich, The Brack
Date walked: 16/08/2020
Distance: 20km
Ascent: 1250m
Views: 733

36 years @ 5.6 walks per year = Compleation on Schiehallion

Attachment(s) Date walked: 19/10/2019
Distance: 10km
Ascent: 780m
Comments: 9
Views: 1500

Symmetry in blue & white (x2)

Attachment(s) Date walked: 28/10/2018
Distance: 43km
Ascent: 1400m
Comments: 2
Views: 608

2-in-1: Seana Bhraigh and the Beinn Dearg Group

Attachment(s) Munros: Beinn Dearg (Ullapool), Cona' Mheall, Eididh nan Clach Geala, Meall nan Ceapraichean, Seana Bhràigh
Date walked: 21/05/2017
Distance: 40km
Ascent: 2500m
Comments: 1
Views: 1959

Top-mopping-up day out on Ceathreamhnanananan's North Ridge

Attachment(s) Munros: Sgùrr nan Ceathreamhnan
Date walked: 13/03/2017
Distance: 35km
Ascent: 1m
Comments: 2
Views: 2218


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Location: Edinburgh
Occupation: Transport Planner
Interests: Introducing others to the Scottish Hills DoE Trampolining
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