Monday 27th June Drymen
We had the alarm set for 6.40 am, but woke up – and got up – before it. Breakfast, pack, walk to the station. The Met Office forecast said no rain today, but they were wrong; we left in a dry patch between showers, but it didn't last long; luckily we were in the covered walkway to the station before the rain got too heavy.
We got to Milngarvie smoothly, and there at the station was the man with his van for our luggage. We gave it to him and went off and had a coffee. Milngarvie was full of people walking around with backpacks and walking poles; the West Highland Way looks like it is going to be much busier than the Dales Way.
We set off. Only 19km today. It began as a wide path by the river but turned into an ordinary foot pad further on. It wasn't very long before I had to take my legs off, and soon after that my poncho came out. I wore it for the rest of the walk; sometimes fully on, sometimes just over my back. The rain kept coming and going all day, never getting really heavy, but also never giving you any confidence that it may have decided to stop.
It was only after 2 hours, and getting over halfway there, that we stopped for a break; with it raining and nowhere dry to sit, stopping earlier was not an option. But we eventually got to a hotel who had provided some picnic tables, which – when we arrived – were dry. (It didn't last.) the walking was easy enough, except for the muddy track with lots of puddles you needed to keep walking around; not as straightforward as it would have been if it were dry.
The track took us onto a road for the last 2km or so into Drymen. Despite all the people in Milngarvie, we had seen very few people on the track. As usual, the last km seemed to take ages; and we got to our accommodation just after 2pm. Too early; our room not ready. So we ended up sitting in the library dealing with emails, etc. Then nearly 4pm came around; we went and looked at the two main hotels to see where we would eat tonight. Both so-so, not very inspiring. And then went and checked in to “Braeside”.
“You've hit the jackpot!” said the proprietor; you've got the family room. And – we had! Not only large and spacious, but... full cooking facilities! And a Spar supermarket a minute's walk away. We bought some food for dinner; we sat outside in the patio; the uncertain weather of this morning turned into a sunny and (sort of) warm afternoon. So we will cook ourselves tonight, and get enough vegies. (The Glaswegian diet is full of carbohydrates; pies, mince, and mashed potato but few other vegies; Anita said that every day you spend in Glasgow lessens your life expectancy.)
Alison made a very yummy dinner – and afterwards I went down to Spar and bought a Magnum icecream tub – the first I've seen in the UK. And we ate it – but it was a bit different to the Australian ones. Now the sun's on its way down and a chill is coming into the air.
Tuesday 28th June Rowardennan
I slept better than I have for quite a while. We went for breakfast at the Drymen Inn, and then were on our way soon after 9am.
(I have got over, now, the feeling that we need to leave early. On the two remaining long 30km days perhaps we need to, but in general, no. We usually have plenty of time to get to our destination. On the Camino we needed to get to an auberge earlyish, before it filled up; and on the Overland Track in winter we had to get to the next hut before darkness at 5pm; but here, none of that applies.)
So: with ponchos on already – light rain already - we headed up the road from Drymen, till we turned off when we got to the track. Loch Lomond came into view. After a little the track forked – a shorter, flatter route straight down to Balmaha, or a longer, steeper way via Conic Hill. We took the hill, despite the low cloud and rain. It was a steepish climb, and there were lots of other groups doing it; at the top, the views over Loch Lomond I would have to describe as poor; the cloud came and went, but there was no blue sky all day. It was a steep descent down the other side, passing many day walkers up from Balmaha.
We got down. Raining. We'd not stopped for a break because it was so wet, so after a turn around the National Park centre we went into St. Mocha cafe. Inside, it was warm and dry. We bought a coffee and cake, but were in no great hurry to go; Alison suggested surreptitiously refilling our coffee cups from our thermoses. We did so, and ate one of our biscuits as well.
Then, on along the banks of Loch Lomond, under low cloud and in rain which, while never pelting down, didn't stop for long periods at all. Alison stopped at a longish “beach” and collected some nice rocks. Stones, really – all quite small. Despite being along the shores, there were four sections when the track went up, then down, quite steeply; and the track got muddier with larger puddles as the day went on. We passed some National Parks bush camping areas, but unsurprisingly there were no people camped in them. We passed some picnic tables, which were all wet; the Scots seems not to have warmed to the idea of picnic shelters, even though in their climate they would be very handy. As usual, the end of the day's walking seemed to take a long time; and we got the the Rowardennan Hotel ready to stop, and feeling very damp – though the dampness really was confined to our ponchos, shoes, and not too much else.
Alison washed some mud off her shoes prior to putting them in the drying room, and the basin plug got stuck closed; we had to call for assistance, so our desired hot shower was delayed somewhat. But then it happened, and we are in clean dry clothes; and our wet stuff is in the drying room. It's not too bad a way to be, and I feel quite sorry for anyone trying to camp tonight. I'm sure some are, because we came across quite a few people today carrying full camping gear.
Late this afternoon, the sun came out! Not for long, and followed by more rain; but we did get the chance to go down to the lakeshore in front of the hotel for a moment. We had a very ordinary dinner in the restaurant, and afterwards (not raining!) we walked down to the youth hostel, a lovely building a bit further along the lakeshore.
Wednesday 29th June Ardlui
We slept in our twin beds. Got up. And went to breakfast. Not a highlight breakfast, this one. I started with some cereal, alison asked for porridge – and found that this meant she couldn't have the eggs etc. component of breakfast. It didn't matter so much; I gave her ½ of mine, which wasn't impressive anyway.
We collected all our gear from the drying room – all nicely dry – and set off. The rain held off for the first hour, but then it was ponchos on again. We got to a fork – upper or lower route – and we'd already decided on the upper, which was continuing on a reasonable gravel road rather than a track up and down along the lakeshore. We walked through forest, as yesterday, with the usual low cloud over the loch.
After 1½ hours we got to a seat at a viewpoint over the loch. The rain had stopped, momentarily; we stopped for first coffee – and encountered midges for the first time. We had to put on some repellent. But the rain began again and we got going.
The rain got heavier. By 11.30, my shoes were wetter than they'd been at the end of yesterday's walk. It wasn't really a lot of fun. But about ½ hour short of the next hotel (at Inversnaid) the rain stopped, and the sun even came out! We stopped at a table outside the hotel, in sun (!), and had another coffee and the pork pie I'd carried from Glasgow. It was delicious. And I found an unopened packet of crisps in the rubbish bin when I threw out the pork pie wrapper!
Back on the track. Along the lakeshore. Up, down, muddy patch, up, down....slow going. There was only a touch more rain, but it had left its legacy in mud, running water down the track, and swimming pools to find a way around. Further along, the forest opened out a bit; so nice to be a bit more open, with some view. The cloud lifted and we could see some of the hills around Loch Lomond.
We were heading for Ardleish, from where we needed to catch the ferry across the lake to the Ardlui Hotel. We got to the jetty at 3.12pm, to see the ferry disappearing. Next one 4.10pm. No-one had told us about the schedule – we had been led to believe it came on demand. I started channelling Dad – especially when a bit more rain came, and naturally there was no shelter there - but was aware it was not a good thing to do. I went and spoke to a couple of blokes fishing and calmed down. Some geese swam across the lake, the ferry came, and we booked into the hotel. We have a double bed tonight, and it seems a step up from last night. And after the rain mostly stopped before lunch, our stuff is not nearly as wet (except our shoes.)
And – it's a lovely view from our window, a nice spot, and we saw Ben Lomond – at last – from the ferry crossing the loch.
We had a really nice dinner here in the restaurant; so different to last night! And then went for a stroll. The sun is out, and the light is beautiful.
Thursday 30th June Tyndrum
Ardlui Hotel we suspected would put on a very good breakfast, and it did. It was very pleasant; but then we were back on the ferry at 9 am to go back to where we finished, and waited, yesterday. Today, we just set off; and in not very long saw our last view of Loch Lomond. The country mostly became more open than it had been, which meant that we had more views.
Rain? There was a light sprinkle before we left, and a few drops as we crossed the loch; but today it held off till nearly 1 pm (we saw the bad weather coming at us, up from Loch Lomond) but it was heavy for only 1½ hours. Better than the previous days. This meant that we were able to stop for our morning coffee at 11am, because it was dry! Second stop was at a picnic table in a pine forest just after the rain began; not as good, as getting thermoses, etc., out of backpacks then is more fiddly.
But today's walking was better. Flatter tracks, so you could walk without having to watch your feet all the time, and the mud and water underfoot had lessened a bit; though when the rain began it reversed all that!
There was a reasonable amount of up and down, through some sheep country reminiscent of the Dales, under a very low railway bridge, through conifer forest, and then through a clear-felled area of ex-conifer forest. At the end through farming country, beside a river, and eventually – taking too long, as often at the end – to our B&B, “Glengarry”, just short of Tyndrum, at 3.30pm.
This seems fine. We have a twin room with private bathroom, not en-suite. There's a drying room where some of our gear has gone, though we have nowhere near as much wet stuff as yesterday.
We walked into Tyndrum at 6pm, to get some dinner. Neither of us terribly hungry as we had a snack when we got to Glengarry. It's less than 10 minutes away; the pub had the usual stuff (fish and chips, steak and ale pie, curry); very uninspiring. We went into the “Green Welly” shop, where Alison found they sold pre-prepared meals, and had a microwave to heat them in! And would even give you a fork to eat them with. So we bought a lasagna and a chicken tikka masala, heated them, and ate at a picnic table outside; then bought an icecream to eat on the walk home. Silly that this is a more palatable option than the pub can offer.
Now Alison's researching tomorrow's walk – the longest section we need to do, and the most exposed and remote. We're getting up early to make an early start.
Friday 1st July Kingshouse
We did get up early, had a good breakfast, and were on our way by 8am – our earliest start ever here. We travelled mostly up a valley, near a train line, for two hours to Bridge of Orchy. Here, the pub served coffee, so we sat inside and had one. It wasn't raining, but didn't look too reliable either. Then, it was up over a hill, a stop at a lookout at the top where we made a Happy Birthday video for Frankie (1 year old tomorrow) and had to don ponchos when rain appeared, before descending again down to Inveroran. There's a hotel here, but we sat at a table across the road and had our coffee. The rain had stopped again, so much so that we removed our ponchos again. And they stayed removed all day, then!
From there, the track went up an old drovers' road onto the high moors. The road was rocky, but easy to walk along; the surrounding country was boggy; the views got better and better; and the weather improved as well. We were looking for our next coffee stop as we got near Ba Bridge, but all the suitable bridge edges and rocks were occupied by other walkers; we found Ba Bridge was not suitable for sitting on, but there was a very nice spot just before it. We had it to ourselves till we left, then lots of people appeared. But we left them behind, and despite the track having lots of people on it behind us, we had no-one.
When we got to the final summit there was a cairn uphill to the left. The guidebook said it was worth going up to; so we did, in the process discovering how boggy the moors off the road were. It was very worthwhile; excellent views. Including the view down on all the other people just walking past and not coming up.
Back on the road, and the downhill walk to Kingshouse Hotel talking to a couple of ladies who were on a female-only walking trip. It made the last part of a long day's walk pass easily. We have been very fortunate getting good weather for this part of the West Highland Way, one of the more scenic sections.
Kingshouse Hotel is a very nice place to stay, in a stunning location. Every room has a bath; so we both had a bath. It was very relaxing. They also have a very effective drying room; Alison's boots (which are falling apart) were quite damp, and now they are dry. We went out for a quick walk around and saw a deer, then came in and had a very nice dinner in their restaurant.
Tomorrow, it is a walk of only ~3 hours; so we plan to sleep in and check out late.
Saturday 2nd July Kinlochleven
We slept in! After I got up and closed the blinds near dawn, when we woke it was 7.40am. Amazing! We packed our bags for collection by 9am, then went to breakfast. It was a very fine breakfast; so good I had none of the cooked options.
Checkout not till 11am; so we didn't hurry, especially as there was rain outside at times. We rang both Alice and Louise; but in the end walked out at 10.40am. I managed about 5 minutes before the poncho had to go on – again. The track paralleled the road for an hour or so, then did a steep uphill up the “Devil's Staircase”. I was glad I'd taken my jacket off, as it was hot work; and the track became more crowded because it became clear, after a while, that an event was on – the Glencoe Challenge, a race from Glencoe to Fort William – a distance of 42km. So we were mixed up with numbered entrants it.
The weather did not really improve; we were in cloud / rain for most of the way. At the top of the staircase, the track went up a little further, then down and up, and across; we got glimpses of views but nothing like the visibility we had yesterday. And nowhere dry to stop and drink our thermos of coffee. Eventually we hit a gravel road, and we went down, down, down (a descent of over 500m) eventually getting to the little village of Kinlochleven. Where it was 1.45pm, and raining.
We found our accommodation (“Highland Getaway”) and our room was ready. It is a very nice place. Their dinner menu looked good so we booked in for dinner as well.
And we've relaxed, drunk our coffee at last, been to their little supermarket, and looked in to “Ice Factor” - the largest indoor ice climbing wall in the world. Combined with rock climbing walls, of course. And now, at 5pm, the sun has come out!
We had a pre-dinner wine and cheezels, bought at the supermarket, before dinner; which meant dinner was very much smaller than it may have been. The rain has stopped for the moment, but it is cold. Summer!
Sunday 3rd July Fort William
The alarm was on for 7am, but we were awake before it; had breakfast, packed our bags – and were away at 8.15am. Without trying. Back on the track, which fairly quickly went into an ascent up onto the tops. Nearly as far as yesterday, but it didn't seem so bad.
The ponchos stayed off for ½ hour, before the usual rain appeared. Gloom! But in the end, it came and went all day, was not so bad, and we did see the highland scenery we were walking through. The rain did allow us to stop for our coffee break twice, which was a nice change. We walked across open moor country, past some stone ruins, up over a little saddle, and then skirted around to the right, beneath Ben Nevis. Ben Nevis's top was in cloud all the time, except for a couple of minutes when we managed a glimpse of it.
Alison had her umbrella tucked into her backpack and lost it, up on the tops when her hands were frozen. It may have been dry a lot of the time, but it was often quite chilly; a lot of the time my poncho was on, it was for protection from the cold wind, rather than the rain. As we got near Ben Nevis, there was a turnoff to a 2,000 year old iron age fort remains. It didn't look far. It turned out to be further than it looked, but well worth the detour; on top of a quite steep hill, with excellent views all around. Views while we were there; the weather closed in again on the way down.
Then, it was the final part of the West Highland Way; and, as is often the case, a very mundane end. Down, down a gravel road towards the “Braveheart Carpark”; along a footpath beside a busy road for a couple of kilometres into Fort William. A town. Where to? A passer-by (from Queensland!) gave us some advice, we ended up in the main shopping strip; went to Tourist Info and got a map; had a coffee in a cafe; and walked down to Myrtle Bank Guest House.
Here, we have been lucky; we have a 2 bedroom “apartment” (no cooking facilities, though) behind the main building. This means we can have one room hot (to dry our washing) while keeping our bedroom cool. (Hot bedrooms have been a problem the last two nights).
There is no trouble keeping cool outside – we went out near dinnertime, to find somewhere to eat. It was raining and very cold, with an icy wind. Summer! Being Sunday night, we sought out a pub doing a Sunday roast, and found one at the other end of town at Brewers Fayre – which seems to be a Wetherspoon type of pub. They gave us a good dinner at a good price; we bought a dessert at Morrison's Supermarket to have at home.
Home to our cosy apartment. Tomorrow, we have a “day off” in Fort William. And two days in one place, instead of moving very day!