Sunday, May 02, 2010

West Highland Way

or The Longest Post Ever in the History of the Sheep Happens Blog...

With great excitement, we travelled up from Manchester on Wednesday evening by train after work. We spent the night at the Alexander Thompson Hotel in Glasgow, which is very handily situated just around the corner from the Central Train Station. It actually came as a bit of a shock when we arrived late in the evening just how close it was, as I was expecting a trek across the city but it took less than 5 minutes to find. A good night's sleep and a very hearty breakfast complete with seagull entertainment through the window, the first of many - hearty breakfasts, not seagulls - began the day and we headed to the train station and Milngavie (pronounced Millguy- although we did speculate that maybe the locals just tell unsuspecting walkers that's how it should be said just for a laugh). There would be numerous discussions along the way about town and hill pronunciations, most particularly about Rowardenen.

Sandwiches for lunch were bought in Millgavie, a bit of last minute shopping attempted (and failed), and we were off. The path leaves town and weaves by the side of the river through a country park before heading out into farm land and tracks. Part way through the morning, we made a detour to visit the Glengoyne Distillery, but the tours run on the hour and it would have been over half an hour wait until the next tour, so in our excitement we decided not to wait and headed off straight away along the path. I later decided that I would make up for this omission by toasting the end of the WHW with a glass of the Glengoyne.

Lambs in Drumgoyne

We reached the tiny, basic (to put it kindly) campsite at Easter Drumquahassle Farm and pitched our tent amongst the trees in the sunshine - along with some other WHW'ers that we were to see on and off through out the week. The WHW is very popular and many people follow very similar itineraries, so you get to recognise and chat with many people along the way. We'd read that thousands of people walk the WHW every year, but it was still quite a surprise to actually see so many people undertaking a long distance path. You don't often see anyone on the Pennine Way who looks like they might be doing the whole thing.

An evening visit to Drymen (Drummen) proved interesting, we managed to get drinks at the very friendly Winnock Hotel and a fantastic dinner at the Clachan Inn in between sporadic lengthy power cuts. There is a Spar here too for shopping. Returning to the campsite we had a rather unmotivating chat with a fellow camper who had spent the last week in Scotland revelling in the glorious weather that was just about to change for the worse and was telling anyone who'd listen how many people he had seen hobbling off the path into Beinglas campsite (our destination on day three) suffering with sore feet and blisters, apparently the worst off being the fools who were carrying all their own gear... cheery stuff indeed. Still, this chap was gone by the time we surfaced in the morning, although we were woken quite early by the enthusiastic morning greetings of a rooster.

The start of Day 2 was dry but very humid and warm. We headed through some fields and then on to tracks through forestry, where I saw the back end of a red squirrel running off into the trees. At about 10am it started raining. At about 10:30 Rob started complaining about his leg. At 11am he could barely walk. We stopped at a bench overlooking the valley and had a rest and wondered what to do. There had been notices about the section of the WHW over Conic Hill because of lambing and there was an alternative route suggested which took a lower level path. We descended to the road and had a good, long lunch break at the Beech Tree in Balmaha (with iced lemonade and chips) and took stock. Rob decided he could carry on, at least until the end of the day and then would see how he felt. Here we met a group of chaps here who had already walked from Milngavie that morning and were planning to do the whole thing in three days over the weekend. Seems like too much like hard work to me - although I was quite jealous of the tiny daysacks that they were carrying.

We wild camped in the woods beyond the youth hostel at Rowardenen. Had dinner at the Hotel, which was nice - although we spoiled our dinner by having tea with massive scones with jam and butter when we arrived.

Wild goats by the shores of Loch Lomond

By Loch Lomond

We'd bought provisions for breakfast from one of the campsites passed the day before, so had cereal and a decent cup of coffee with fresh milk and Rob decided that he had enough feeling in his leg to allow him to carry on, although we'd have to 'walk slower'... this 'walking slower' suited me just fine! The new official Way route goes on a higher track for a while which is very easy going and then returns to the shore of Loch Lomond for the rest of its length. The path is narrow and rocky and it was part way along here that we met the first of the runners. To begin with it was a novelty to see people going for their Saturday morning runs but after I'd commented to Rob that 'there was another runner coming', this runner replied that there would be about another 300 of them. These amazily fit people were doing the Montane Highland Fling race from Milngavie to Tyndrum - the winner taking 7:45hrs and the fastest woman, who was beaten by only four men, ran it in 8:38hrs. Incredible. I suspect our paths had met along probably the worst possible bit of the Way for being passed by other, faster users and it did get wearing to have to keep looking around to make sure there was no one approaching when starting to head up or down tricky sections - but they were all very polite, very friendly and very appreciative of the efforts we made to get out of their way.

Over Loch Lomond

Lunch was at the Inversnaid Hotel- where there wasn't as much choice as I was expecting, but it did. Many American tourists (and runners' lunches strewn across the carpark) here. Camped at Beinglas Campsite which is very comfortable and the wigwams looked nice. Facilities (shop, bar, food, showers and laundry) were excellent.

Scottish Blackface Sheep

Birds showing off on the River Fillan

We took detour down (& back up quite steep hill) into Crianlarich on Day 3 for lunch at the Rod and Reel Pub and to visit the shop. We had planned to stop at the Tyndrum By The Way Hotel campsite, but decided when we reached the Strathfillan Wigwam village (near Auchtertyre) to camp there for the night. The 'village' is a lot bigger than I expected, and the wigwams seemed nice - good shop, serving hot drinks and food, but sadly hadn't opened by the time we set off at about 8am, so I didn't get to have the hot bacon roll and coffee that I'd been dreaming about.

Moonlight over the hills

A late breakfast was had at the Green Welly Stop at Tyndrum where we put away an obscene amount of food. We shopped for snacks (long walks make for a very good excuse for eating shortbread at every opportunity) at Brodie's. Today was a short day and we arrived at Bridge of Orchy Hotel early and made ourselves comfortable in the bar. There was a telly here, although without sound, and election news coverage on - made me very glad that we are away to miss most of the electioneering. Dinner was excellent and we had a good breakfast the following day (the previous Full Scottish Breakfasts had finally taken their toll and we couldn't face any more than cereal, scrambled eggs, toast & croissants, juice and coffee for brekkie..yes, we are indeed piggies...) and packed lunches available to order. The hotel was very nice and we were well looked after, taking advantage of the laundry and drying room, although the beds in the bunkhouse were rather hard and uncomfortable.

Clach Leathad and Sron nam Fosair, with Meall a Bhuridh in clouds.

Day six saw us crossing Rannoch Moor in appropriately gloomy, atmospheric drizzle and trying unsuccessfully to name the mountains that we saw. Arriving at Kingshouse Hotel we set up camp by river under the watchful gaze of the almost tame deer that grazed nearby - it was a bit midgy, even in April and I got bit on my hand, thankfully not the itchy kind. I saw a fish in the river - this may not seem like a particularly momentous thing to many people but I have seen so few wild fish that I was almost convinced that they didn't exist and anyone seen by the side of water with fishing rods in their hands was just kidding themselves. The benches in the Climbers Bar are unbelievably uncomfortable, but the tea, cake and food were all good. Campers can use the bar facilities during the day (open at 11am) but not at other times. This is very politely made very clear in the notices by the door. There was VERY heavy rain during night, amplified considerably when falling on the tent so I was very thankful for my mp3 player and Stephanie Mayer's New Moon and my earplug for helping me get a decent kip. When I woke up the puddle that had formed under the ground sheet by my feet meant that there was a distinct water bed thing going on. The river had risen considerably and I was glad that we hadn't pitched any closer to it. We had a bit of an enforced lie-in because of the rain, but by the time we'd got packed up at 9am it had eased off and stopped.

Riverside camp - fairly dry a this point

From the Kingshouse Hotel we walked over the tops to Kinlochleven (Devil's Staircase isn't so bad, if you're used to any kind of hillwalking) and camped at the MacDonald Hotel, which was very nice. Good food and entertainment (including a pool table, where Rob beat me as per usual , although I did put up a better showing than usual) at the Walkers Bar. Breakfasts and packed lunches are available if needed. Was informed that the Tailrace Inn is a good pub, but we didn't fancy going back into town to visit. Along the route today we started seeing people on motorbikes and signs for the 'Pre-65s' scrambling bike event. Impressive as it might have been to see all the vintage bikes on the trails, I was pretty thankful when we read that the main trials were to take place on the WHW on the Friday, by which time we would be on our way home. The runners by Loch Lomond had been a little inconvenient, at least they not so big, fast, noisy or fumy as motorbikes.

View from bar window - who needs telly

We set off from Kinlochleven in good time and in good weather. The views out of Kinlochleven are amazing and I took many a photo along the way, I'd been told there was a family of eagles nesting in the hills nearby but sadly I didn't get to see them despite spending most of the time peering up into the sky. It being the last day, we ate all of the 'emergency' food that we'd carried the rest of the week, so were well fueled on trail mix and Jelly Babies. Towards the end of the day, you leave the forests, get a view of the bulk of Ben Nevis in front of you and it's all down hill from there. It is traditional to climb Ben Nevis when finishing the WHW, but I'm afraid we had a strong case of the been there, done thats.

Last day, wishing it wasn't about to end

The WHW follows the road from the Ben Nevis visitor centre into town - I would suggest (if you don't mind deviating from the official route slightly) investigating the path to the Braveheart Carpark, or even the higher level path into town, as even if these routes might be longer they may well be easier on the feet than very uninspiring pavement by a busy road for the last bit of the way. We stayed at the Premier Inn at Fort William, which is no frills but clean, comfortable and had very nice bath. I celebrated the end of this amazing holiday in the Grog and Gruel pub with some nachos and my wee dram of the Glengoyne.

SlĂ inte


Linda said...

What a lovely post, I would so like to do that.

Fiona said...

Beautiful photos. Sounds great. My Step-Dad has done the WHW but I am way to lazy.

K @ Tidewater Knits said...

Oh, the highlands. I miss them.

Lovely photos, and glad you had a wonderful trip. <3