- Day: 74 – Saturday 5th August
- Started at: Twechar, nr Kilsyth
- Finished at: Dunglass Rock
- Miles: 10.5
- Miles from LE: 891.5
- Duration: 7hrs (10:15-17:15)
- Trig points visited: 0
- Ales imbibed: 0.5x lager
I waved goodbye to William and headed back out on to the tow path. After a brief rain shower I made it to Kirkintilloch (I had to practice saying that one!) where I had a lovely coffee and brownie just above the canal. I wandered around a bit and stocked up on food, it’s a lovely town and wanted to spend longer there but knew I should keep going.
From Kirky (as it’s affectionately known) I left the tow path and took a disused railway line north – I can’t decide which is worse railway line or tow path? I don’t like either. Not a lot happened, there were occasional showers and I walked past the Celtic football club training ground – not visible from the path but I knew it was there.
I continued to just short of Strathblane to find a camp spot. On the map I had spotted a rocky mound called Dunglass Rock and I was excited to see that it lived up to my expectations. It was a 50m high rocky protrusion but with a gradual slope to the rear and a nice flat grassy top – perfect for wild camping. The only snag was the cows and sheep that were allowed to roam over it. I headed to the summit and concluded that the cows rarely visit the top – there were distinctly fewer cow pats up there. It was still early so I just relaxed and waited for the wind to die down as it was forecast to. I watched the attractive sunset and then dived into bed.
- Day: 75 – Sunday 6th August
- Started at: Dunglass Rock
- Finished at: Drymen
- Miles: 10.5
- Miles from LE: 902
- Duration: 5hrs (10:00-15:00)
- Trig points visited: 0
- Ales imbibed: 1.5x Local Ale
It turned out that the cows and calves do come quite close to the top of the rock but luckily they kept their distance to about 10m and didn’t disturb me. I think I’ve cracked my fear.
I left my temporary kingdom behind and passed through Strathblane. It was in the village somewhere that I think was the source of the fireworks that I could hear but not see late last night which gave me a temporary fright! I was still on a disused railway but it’s not marked as a footpath and so was overgrown – I had flashbacks to parts of Somerset and Shropshire where I had to bash my way through footpaths. I decided to take a parallel track but it led to the private grounds of a castle so I ended up scrambling up the embankment and over a barbed wire fence to pick up the railway line again. It was very damp and no sign of anyone just lots of deer tracks. That was until the West Highland Way (WHW) joined the track and all of a sudden I was on the footpath equivalent of a motorway – a constant stream of walkers with backpacks. It was weird. I think I said hello to every single one! Early on I met Susanne, a German nursery school teacher who was here to walk the WHW and then the Great Glen Way to Inverness – I would bump into her a few more times.
Drymen (rhymes with women) was heaving with walkers and tourists, it was blowing my mind. I stayed at Kip in the Kirk which as the name suggests is a converted church and is run by a lovely lady called Frances. She does what she can to help and due the the foul weather had 30 scouts staying in her 8 bed bunk room (not charging any extra) – I’m glad I was not in there! It was delightful chaos with all the coming and going but it felt like a home from home – she even served up tea and scones on arrival. Lovely! It was here that I met Luca and Rafaella an Italian couple who I would also see a lot more of, Florina – more about her later, and 2 girls (eek I’ve forgotten their names) who were on the last stretch of the WHW having walked north to south. I racked their brains about places to stay and the terrain etc – they were so helpful. As I was talking to them, I couldn’t help but notice how young they looked, but I thought maybe they were blessed with youthful faces like me(!). I was gobsmacked when I found out they were 14 and 15 and were walking the WHW unsupported – I have huge respect for them. If they are doing this at their age, what will they do in years to come? The world is their oyster. (Hello to you all of you, if you’re reading – hope you enjoyed the WHW!)
I headed to the Drymen Inn for dinner and enjoyed the live music – there was a great atmosphere. He even sang the Proclaimers – I Would Walk 500 Miles, how appropriate?! Although it should be 900, as that’s how many miles I’ve now walked. Whoop!
- Day: 76 – Monday 7th August
- Started at: Drymen
- Finished at: Rowardennan
- Miles: 15
- Miles from LE: 917
- Duration: 9.5hrs (10:00-19:30)
- Trig points visited: 0
- Ales imbibed: 1x West Highland Way
I left Drymen with Florina – a Romanian cardiologist – who arrived on holiday in Glasgow a couple of days ago and having not done any hiking before decided there and then to do the WHW – as you do! Frances had helped her out with booking accommodation but it wasn’t available all the way, so lent Florina a tent and sleeping bag. She was using a baggage transfer company and would be able to send them back to Frances via them.
We set off through the forest and then up Conic Hill (my first hill for over a week) where Loch Lomond comes into full view – and it is stunning. There are so many islands poking out from the deep waters and they look like little paradise havens. It’s just a bit of a shame to be sharing the experience with literally hundreds probably thousands of others. We spent the rest of the day walking along the eastern shore of Loch Lomond – I introduced Florina to the song the Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond and had it stuck in my head for the rest of the day.
We arrived in Rowardennan late on, I said goodbye to Florina, she was staying elsewhere, but we thought we’d see each other again. I quickly pitched my tent at the youth hostel, with a stunning Loch side view, showered and then had dinner with Luca and Rafaella.
The WHW is turning into a bit of a whirlwind; so many people to talk to and such lovely scenery to appreciate but so little time to sit and reflect. I’m used to having so much thinking space that I’m finding it difficult to adjust, but rather than resist I’m just going to ride the West Highland wave.
- Day: 77 – Tuesday 8th August
- Started at: Rowardennan
- Finished at: Inverarnan
- Miles: 13
- Miles from LE: 930
- Duration: 7.5hrs (9:00-17:30)
- Trig points visited: 0
- Ales imbibed: 2.5x Bitter and Twisted
I rapidly packed up amongst the midges – the catch when camping by a beautiful loch. The little blighters are noticeably increasing in number. This was expected but doesn’t make them any less annoying. Without signal, I couldn’t arrange to walk with Florina but knew we’d see each other at the campsite in Inverarnan. Today’s stretch is widely accepted as the hardest day on the WHW as the path rises, falls and winds its way along the rest of Loch Lomond. It’s quite rocky, tree roots are tangled up amongst the path, there are numerous brooks to cross and the day ends with a short climb and fall to Beinglas Farm.
As I approached the halfway mark – Inversnaid – I met a couple coming my way who’d just managed to get their double pram down a flight of stone steps (luckily the children were old enough to walk and were doing so). I thought I’d do the right thing and let them know how much narrower, trickier and down right difficult it was going to get for them to take a pushchair along the route – they were planning to do the full 7 miles! They insisted that they were capable, they’d ‘done crazy stuff like this before’, so I shrugged my shoulders and let them pass by. I would like to know how they got on.
I bumped into Susanne at Inversnaid and so we had lunch together. In the afternoon the frequency of rain showers increased and by about 4pm I was drenched. The Doune Byre(?) bothy despite its disgusting state was useful to get some respite and dry off a little. I was approaching the lively Beinglass campsite and had more or less dried out but with just 100m to go the heavens opened so I made a run for it. I ducked under the first cover – an information board with a little roof, and was soon sharing it with about 10 German children. It was a very tight squeeze! As the rain was petering out I headed for the bar, beer always helps.
By the time I dragged myself away from the bar and had begun to pitch my tent the next rain cloud had rolled in. The field at this point was becoming saturated and the field was rather full so it was hard to find a suitable pitch. At this point Florina arrived and we hurriedly pitched her tent in the rain and off we went back to the bar for dinner. After 1 too many drinks, I returned to my tent to find that in the chaos I’d left my fly sheet unzipped and my tent now had a medium-sized colony of midges – I squished every single one before going to sleep. I already had enough itchy bites to scratch.
- Day: 78 – Wednesday 9th August
- Started at: Inverarnan
- Finished at: Tyndrum
- Miles: 11.5
- Miles from LE: 941.5
- Duration: 6.75hrs (9:45-16:30)
- Trig points visited: 0
- Ales imbibed: 2x Innis & Gunn IPA
After more overnight rain the field was most positively a quagmire – with the foot traffic it was starting to get muddy. It was another midge filled morning so I was very grateful for my head net which I bought a few weeks ago. With Florina’s tent packed up we headed off and left the bustling site behind. The path rose and fell through a much more open landscape this time and I was finding that conversation overtook my understanding and appreciation of the vistas. It nagged me a little but I knew that north of Fort William the views would be even more spectacular, I’d have the place to myself and all the time in the world to appreciate them, so for the moment I would relish the company as opposed to the scenery.
We were trying to keep up a decent pace as Florina needed to cover more miles than me today. We took a break for some lunch where we met some fellow walkers. One guy was wearing jeans (yes jeans, on the WHW) and had fashioned himself a pair of gaffa tape socks in an attempt to keep his feet dry as his trainers weren’t doing the job (yes trainers – and fashion trainers at that, not trail or approach shoes). It beggars belief. There was also a girl there with her dog Dougal a cute Westie terrier, on the WHW, whatever next?!
As we all got up to leave, the girl with the dog – Rawnie (pronounced Row-knee) looked to be in some discomfort which she put down to numerous bad blisters and a potentially infected one. Florina’s doctoring instinct took over and she persuaded Rawnie to take the bandages off to let her get a good look. It was clearly exceedingly painful but without sterile equipment or surfaces there wasn’t a lot of treatment she could give. She gave Rawnie some advice including; perhaps not walking the rest of the way to Fort William and going to get the blisters seen to by a nurse. Once she was back on her feet Florina and I said goodbye as we had to dash.
We arrived at Tyndrum at around 16:30 and headed straight to the Real Food Cafe so Florina could get a substantial meal, she still had about 3 hours walking to do. We exchanged numbers and parted ways, she said I’d be welcome in Bucharest any time. When I turned up at the campsite I found Rawnie hobbling around and we got chatting some more. She had found 2 others that she’d met earlier in the trip – Akshay and Sophie, so the four of us went out for fish and chips at the cafe.