West Highland Way – August 2018 – Part I

  The West Highland Way is such an iconic trail that when I was lucky enough to be asked to lead a trek on it I couldn’t agree quickly enough. It’s a fantastic introduction to long distance walking and to the wonderful Scottish landscape showcasing as it does, the lochs, forests and mountains of Scotland. I was part of a trekking team with Denry and David and our group consisted of enthusiastic and passionate walkers from across the United States, Canada, Australia and a lone Brit!   After a welcome meeting and some carb loading in Milngavie, we checked the weather forecast, put on our waterproofs and after the obligatory “monument team photo” outside the coffee shop in Milngavie we set off with smiles and adventure in our heart. Day one is a great microcosm of the trail as a whole giving little titbits and tasters of the different landscapes the Way passes through. It seems strange to start a long distance trail in a town centre but before long we had left urbanity behind and were strolling through Mugdock Woods, conversing with dog walkers and enjoying some of Scotland’s legendary “liquid sunshine” as it fell steadily from the sky. Conversation flowed as we got to know one another and heard tales of wonderful walks everywhere from The Chilterns to California. Our first loch was not long in coming and Craigallian Loch is certainly a pretty one to start the collection with, not long after that the Campsie Hills came into view and on we marched under increasingly soggy skies but with resolutely undampened spirits. We admired bright red rosehips, sloes on the Blackthorn, birds in the hedgerows and cattle in the fields. Eventually we crossed Erskine Water and not long after that we found ourselves heading into Drymen where we met David and made our ways towards hot showers, hot food and, maybe, even a wee dram! 12 miles done and day one ticked off…….   Day two started with a smile, I pulled back the curtains and it wasn’t raining…….and indeed by lunchtime the morning drizzle had cleared and for most of the day we even had glimpses of blue skies and faraway hills. I loved the first half of day two as we emerged from the forests and gained our first glimpses of Loch Lomond, one of the finest bodies of water in the world! Conic Hill lay between us and the shore however and our group ascended the snaking path that skirts the slopes before we sent a summit party into the clouds whilst the rest of us caught up on the important business of eating, drinking, stretching and yawning. The descent down into Balmaha was steep but the cloud had lifted and we had superb views of the loch and the various heavily wooded islands that run along the fault line hidden deep beneath the waters. Balmaha has a shop, café, pub and visitors centre, so with body and mind refuelled and refreshed we hit the loch shore which was to be our companion for most of the next day and a half. It’s a lovely walk through woodland mixing Pine, Silver Birch and Oak and with numerous views across the loch, stops on beaches and breaks for photos of sunshine being filtered through leafy canopies. Belted Galloway cattle grazed in the fields, Mallards paddled along the loch edge and we made our way to Rowardennan where we gratefully climbed into our Thistle Trekking van to be whisked back to our accommodation in Drymen for another night of well earned rest. 26 miles under the belt and more of the loch to come!   Day three was the day we left the loch behind but not before a long and challenging meander along the shoreline. Leaving Rowardennan behind we started along the Way with the hulking bulk of Ben Lomond, the most Southerly of the Munros (peaks above 3000 feet) looming above us. The way continued to lead us through magnificent woodland alive with the chatter of Chaffinches and under moss draped branches before the crash and roar of tumbling water saw us arriving at the hotel at Inversnaid where we met Sabrina who had decided to take a day off and joined us via the wee ferry that runs across the loch. The afternoon saw us picking our way along the rocky and rooty path, glimpsing the castle ruins on the Island of I Voy before eventually reaching the Doune Bothy and continuing up and past the hidden and boggy Dubh Lochan. Sad as we were to leave behind the magnificent vistas of Loch Lomond, a truly beautiful body of water, the views ahead of the big mountains to come put a smile on the faces of our happy band of travellers as we meandered down through further forest to our pick up point at Beinglas Farm, where the friendly bar is to be heartily recommended! 40 miles under our belts.   Day four marked the day we passed the half way point of the walk and saw our first Highland Cows! It also marked the first day we set out under blue skies and in short sleeves…well most of us anyway…The West Highland Way took us along Glen Falloch and the rain had, at least, the benefit of filling the river and making the views of the Falls of Falloch more impressive than on my previous visit. We lunched above Crianlarich before climbing up and strolling down until we the River Fillan where we paused to admire the views over the Crianlarich Hills which were one of the highlights of our journey so far. Not far from the river we passed the ruins of the ancient chapel of St Fillain and a graveyard containing gravestones believed to be from the 7th Century, we were not the first to wander this way. After the Highland Cows and a sustenance stop at Auchtertyre Farm (Millionaire’s shortbread recommended) we passed the battlefield of Dalrigh, not a good spot for Robert the Bruce, before a final push through heather clad moor and past the Hidden Lochan saw us arriving in Tyndrum as the rain started to fall. 52 miles done!!