walkhighlands

West Highland Way: Solo From Drymen to Fort William

Date walked: 16/07/2016

Time taken: 9 hours

Distance: 130km

I finally got to write the report :)
My WHW trek was a bit different to what it usually is for many others: it took me longer and I did one day of rest. I'm 39 and was pretty out of shape when I started. My backpack was too heavy (right after restocking close to 20kg :shock: )

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After reading many descriptions of the trail, I decided to skip the first stage and start from Drymen. Why? Because I prefer hills and mountains to pastoral landscapes. A few people I met on my way agreed with me that it was a good decision, but others preferred to do the whole thing in order to feel they really “did it”.

I kicked off my West Highland Way adventure by taking a bus from Glasgow to Drymen with a wonderful, chatty driver, who even stopped on his way to show me the Queen View. Left in the middle of the little town (village?) I wasn’t even sure where to go, but there was a number of walkers around so I simply went after them.
My plan for the day was to get to the Sallochy campsite, where I even booked the night ahead of time, but I didn’t make it. Sallochy is a semi-wild campsite, with very few facilities and is pretty cheap (£5).

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I climbed the Conic Hill with difficulty, especially that right before the peak, the skies opened. It is a quite popular spot, as many people make it into a day hike from Balmaha. When I completed the challenging down hill walk, I stopped at Balmaha for a longer break and filled myself with a nice coffee and ice cream to boost my morale. The break was really long, over an hour, which was exactly what my tired knees and feet needed, but it significantly shortened my day.
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After some more walking I’ve realized I wouldn’t make it to Sallochy, so I stopped at Cashel campsite, which was pretty expensive if you were not a member – £12,5.

The next day my initial plan was to stop at a bothy – either at Rowchoish or Doune, but completely miscalculated the distances and my own strengths, so ended up wild camping by the shore of Loch Lomond. By then I was past the area where it is forbidden to wild camp.

Walking along Loch Lomond is… grueling. It can be beautiful and satisfying, but after a few hours the undulating, rough route is just taxing. With every mile walked I had less and less pleasure from watching the water on the left and growing hills to the right. But still – for a few hours I felt really good walking through the dense forestry, over roots and rocks or passing burns, so when I got on the level with the Rowchoish bothy, I decided to push on, feeling pretty good. But the soreness and growing blisters on both feet screamed just an hour later. Finally, I found a piece of flat land between the Loch and the path, and made my camp. Not the perfect place, as it’s always better to make your camp away from a path, but there was no flat spot anywhere! Of course, I don’t complain – the place was beautiful and magical, I loved waking up to the view of fog raising over the Little Hills on the other side of Loch Lomond!
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The next day I’ve realized how much I miscalculated the mileage – I was sure I camped just a mile or so from the Doune bothy, but in reality it was more of a 3 – 4 miles, so I was pretty glad I pitched my tent then and there, as I don’t think I would have made it to the bothy!

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Hiking the next day was a real challenge as I developed nasty blisters on the inner sides of my heels (I bend my feet that way) and my feet were simply tired and in pain from hitting the ground under a heavy pack. When I reached the Beinglas Farm Campsite I decided to take a day off, to let my body regenerate.

The next day was really hot and sunny, possibly the hottest day in that year Scotland’s summer – I spent it washing my clothes, letting my worried friends and family know I was still alive and making light walks around the campsite. I also had no problem refueling all my devices and power bank – the pub’s owners didn’t mind me basically camping in their pub for hours, or leaving my charging devices there while away for a walk.
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The Beinglas Farm Campsite is really great. It has a really big area for tents, so no need to camp really close to one another, the pub is very cozy and they have a really practical and well made shelter for walkers, with spots to cook (even pots and pans to use!), wash your clothes (either by hand or washing machine) and dry them. It is sheltered from elements and is a really nice place to eat and chat with other walkers. The views up the hills are also spectacular.

Over the next two days of my female solo hike along the West Highland Way, the trail took me beyond Loch Lomond and into rougher and tougher areas. I discovered the mighty midges and battled the famous Scottish weather.

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After the hot and sunny weather the day before, the night and next morning brought the Universe back to balance by providing extremely heavy rainfall. I am generally pretty slow early in the day, but after it was raining non-stop for hours, I decided to move on – rain or not. I packed my tent in the total drencher and left the lovely Beinglas Farm campsite. Not even half an hour into my walk the rain stopped. But of course.

It was a chance for me to try – for the first time – my rain pants, though. I had a pair I got second-hand, as a new pair of high-end rains pants were just too expensive. Those were the kind with mesh inside, typically they are 2-layer membrane, not the better one with 2,5 or 3 layer membrane. I walked for about 40 min with them on (only half of it in actual rain) and was soon changing into my regular hiking pants by the side of the road. Good that no one was walking the trail at the moment, as I was just in my undies.

Why I changed? Because I was soaking wet under them – from sweat! I decided that even if it was to rain again, I preferred to get wet and let my pants dry fast, than hike around in my own private sauna. In the end, that was the only time I wore them while actually hiking. But they proved useful when I was cold at night a few times, or when I was washing everything else. So it wasn’t a complete waste of space in my backpack.

But, back to trail: the walk to Tyrdum was really rewarding. I welcomed a different kind of terrain with genuine pleasure after the drudging path along the Loch Lomond. With every step I was more and more in love with what I saw. The trail is rich in historical elements – it passes by a historic graveyard (dating back to the 8th c.) and the ruins of St Fillan’s Priory from the 13th century.
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On the way to Tyndrum you pass the spot of the battle of Dal Righ, or “King’s Field” where the English troops defeated Robert the Bruce in 1306. You can even see the lake in which, according to the legend, Robert the Bruce and his men abandoned their swords to escape the English. If I considered for a second to dive in and check for the swords, I was quickly discouraged – the educational board informed me that a group of scientists had done a throughout search of the lake and didn’t find a thing. Alas!

I planned to find a nice spot to wild camp before I reached Tyndrum, but there was no chance for that – the ground was really wet and boggy, covered with low bushy grasses, so I pushed on till I got to the By the Way campsite. I was happy to pitch my tent there to let it dry (I packed it in pouring rain) and get acquainted with the famous midges. As my tent was completely wet, I had to be very careful about not touching the walls of my inner tent – there were actual drops on them! But by morning it was more or less dry. I must have been really tired that night… I slept for more than 10h! The next morning proved lucky for me: there was some wind and sunshine, so I spread the tent over the car park ground to let it dry from both sides.

FYI: the campsite is closed from 11am to 2pm for maintenance – you won’t be able to use the bathrooms. How did I find out? Well, I have generally slow mornings.

Before I hit the trail again I decided to go the Real Food Café in Tyndrum for a lovely and delicious gluten-free cake. I’ve read about this place beforehand and wanted to make sure I visited it. It was well worth the time and I highly recommend the place – not just for gluten-free goodies!Image

With every hiked mile, the West Highland Way was getting more and more magical. The views were getting better and the terrain more steep. Soon after crossing the bridge at the (appropriately named) Bridge of Orchy, the path climbs steeply among forestry along the Old Military Road. I found walking those roads difficult on my feet. They are made of irregular stones and you could twist your ankle or hit a tender spot (like a blister) on a sharp stone if you were not careful.
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But after the difficult climb I was soon admiring fabulous views over the Loch Tulla and surrounded area.
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I camped at a designated wild camping area not far from the Inveroran Hotel in an absolutely beautiful setting, at a river bend.
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There is a walkers friendly pub at the Hotel – good for a pint or a tea (and charging your phone for a bit), but not much of a choice in terms of food if you are GF. Still – it was nice to sit down, have a nice cup of tea and write down notes on the day’s walk.

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At this point started my favorite part of this trail. After the initial soreness, my body slowly was getting tougher and used to the life afoot. I also learned how to better pack my backpack and properly adjust it, so it was much less of a burden. The few days on trail helped me accept my limitations and figure out my own tempo and my body’s limits. Most of my anxieties and worries left by then, I felt happy and calm (if still slightly sore). But what was most important – the terrain. Wherever I looked I was astonished with the vistas, I couldn’t believe that I could be surrounded by so much beauty.
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I was lucky – I had a good weather when crossing the Rannoch Moor, a 50 square miles area, filled with bogs, heather and lochans. The path leading to it was somewhat boring; along tall ferns and trees I couldn’t see a thing. But then it opens up… and I was simply speechless.

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It’s a completely open terrain – so it can be quite challenging in heavy rains and winds. But to me the biggest challenge proved to be the distance I could make without stopping and taking photos. I am open to more challenges of that kind!
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The trail passes a few burns and one bigger river Ba, which flows dramatically over rugged rock formation. When walking downward you are welcomed by the view of the Great Herdsman of Etive (Buachaille Etive Mor), foretelling the entrance into the Glencoe. I took a detour to the White Corries ski areas in hopes of a campsite, but to no avail – there is hardly any spot for tents. But they have a café with a stunning view – well worth to take a break there.

I pushed on to the Kingshouse Hotel, passing by the iconic hut for the Ladies’ Scottish Climbing Club, and found a spot behind the hotel to pitch my tent in the designated wild camping area.
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Although my view to the left was towards the back side of the Kingshouse Hotel, the view I had directly ahead from the entrance to my tent was just absolutely stunning. I spent a long time watching the sun setting behind mountains. Cooking my dinner in that setting felt purely magical.
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I’d read it was a common spot for the red deer to frequent, but I was unlucky to see any. Not just here – throughout my whole stay in Scotland I had never seen a deer! It just means I have to go back :wink:

The next day, knowing that the famous Devil’s Staircase awaits me, I decided to splurge on a big, full Scottish breakfast. There was no problem with ordering a gluten-free version and I was well fed and ready to face the climbing challenges of the day.
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It might be the breakfast or some other change in my body – but I felt fresh and with spring in my step. I approached the Devil’s Staircase head on, resting often, but climbing it with no bigger issues. The views, again, were breathtaking – I kept looking back, anxious to miss a view, trying to fill my memory with every inch of the vistas.
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The downhill walk to Kinlochleven was a huge anti-climax. Some parts of it were really steep (bad for the feet and knees), some were simply boring. I thought the walk took forever! When I reached the Blackwater Hostel and Campsite I was absolutely exhausted, but decided to push on even though I was on my last feet. I didn’t fancy pitching my tent opposite a huge power plant. I’m all for post-industrial climates, but not this time. They managed to conveniently crop the huge and ugly power plant from all their photos at the site.

Finally, I got to the MacDonald campsite on the other side of Kinlochleven and was pretty happy with the place (not the midges). I had a breakfast at their hotel the next day and liked it a lot. It wasn’t as rich as the one I had at Kingshouse Hotel, but it wasn’t also as expensive :lol:

The final day on the West Highland Day delivered some great views. After a very steep path through the woods one is able to see stunning views down to Kinlochleven. Farther down the route we pass some otherworldly area with fallen trees and abandoned buildings. There are also some interesting cultural and historical spots along the way – battle sites and a loch where it is said Lord MacBeth lived.

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After a while we can see the highest mountain in Britain – Ben Nevis. I wasn’t lucky to properly see it though – for the next few days it was always hiding behind a thick cover of dense fog and clouds. Another reason why I have to go back one day :wink:

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I diverted from the trail to make my stop at the Glen Nevis campsite, where I would spend three nights, resting, exploring Fort William and getting soaked. By the way – the campsite is huge, but thanks to it has amazing facilities. I highly recommend them! There is a bus that stops right next to the entrance, but it does’t run too often, unfortunately.

The next day I reached the official end of the West Highland Way and took the obligatory photo with the tired walker. I’ve done it!
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Comments: 11


Owca


User avatar
Location: Warsaw, Poland
Occupation: school teacher and blogger at awomanafoot.com
Activity: Walker
Gear: Salomon Quest 4D boots
Camera: Sony rx100M3

Grahams: 2
Long Distance routes: West Highland Way    Great Glen Way    Skye Trail   



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2016

Trips: 1
Distance: 130 km


Joined: Apr 30, 2016
Last visited: Mar 29, 2017
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