West Highland Way April 2019 Part One

Thistle Trekking Guide, Ian, On The West Highland Way
Thistle Trekking Guide, Ian, On The West Highland Way

My first trek with Thistle Trekking was a West Highland Way undertaken in August last year, it was a wonderful experience so when Thistle offered me the opportunity to lead another one in 2019 I was delighted to accept. Our team consisted of walkers from as far away as Frankfurt and Gran Canaria and as close to home as Bearsden, a mere mile or so from the start of the walk. We had an excellent welcome dinner in Milngavie where the group got to know one another a little better and, unlike last year when day one was accompanied by a biblical deluge, we set off from the official start marker under blue skies, which always helps lessen any trepidation!

Day one is a good introduction to the scenery and rigours of this world famous long distance trail. Within minutes of leaving the town centre we were walking along Allander Water and through Mugdock Wood where the daffodils were in bloom and many of the trees starting to bud. Near Craigallian Loch we stopped at the “Fire memorial” where we talked about the historical significance of the monument and the working class walking movements that climaxed with the Kinder Trespass. The views were magnificent and as well as Dumgoyne and the Campsie Hills looking stunning we could see further afield even as far as Ben Lomond, the Southern most Munro. After a refreshment stop at “The Beech Tree Inn” our redoubtable, and fast moving, group pressed on along the old railway line and eventually followed the winding lane down towards Drymen pausing only at the high point of the road for 360 degree views. Another amazing start to the West Highland Way and, on this occasion, one where we didn’t need to use a drying room at the end of it!

Walking through Mugdock Country Park
Walking through Mugdock Country Park

Day two saw everyone up and raring to go as we left Drymen behind and passed through swathes of beautiful flowering Gorse on our way to Conic Hill, one of my favourite spots on the trek. We made our way up to the very windswept peak where the views across Loch Lomond were breathtaking before the long descent to Balmaha where the weather was clement enough for us to eat our picnic in Tom Weir Park under the watchful eye of the eponymous statue complete with scarf and bobble hat! The rest of day two is spent meandering along the shores of the bonny loch with more ups and downs than you might consider as we made our way through some beautiful patches of woodland and admired the views of Ben Lomond towering ahead of us in the distance. We eventually popped out of the woodland at Rowardennan where the group retired to the hotel bar to admire the view over a restorative pint and celebrate the completion of a second, excellent day!

Day three and we finally got some more traditional “Scottish” weather ! We had another day of Lochside walking as we made our way to the Inversnaid Hotel situated next to a beautiful waterfall. The low cloud made for atmospheric scenery as we tackled the tricky onwards stretch before emerging onto a beautiful beach with a view South down the loch and the Island I Voy in the foreground. With the rain still steadily falling it was a short climb up to the head of Glen Falloch and a sad farewell to the Loch Lomond views before the long descent took us past grazing herds of shaggy coated, magnificently be-horned Feral Goats to the cosy welcome of the bar at Beinglas campsite. Three days down and everyone still smiling!

After the rigours of the narrow rocky Lochside paths, day four was a relatively relaxed day as we left Inverarnan and followed the banks of the River Falloch past it’s famous falls. We then followed the old military road to the half way point of the whole trail where our trek manager Ed had arrived with Muffins and cakes to celebrate! The rest of day four saw us pass the ruins of St Fillian’s Priory, admire spectacular views of Ben More and the snowcapped Ben Lui, stop for welcome refreshment at the Strathfillian wigwams and reacquaint ourselves with the legend of Robert the Bruce at the Dalrigh Battlefield and the Lochan of the Lost Sword. We were all in Tyndrum in good time and looking forward to the legendary twenty miler on day five over Rannoch Moor and into Glencoe.