Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The West Highland Way - Kirk Yeholm to Strathcarron - 18th to 25th May 2016

At the start of the West Highland Way, Milngavie


We made our way to the centre of Milngavie and the start of the walk and were amazed at the sheer amount of walkers by the post marking the starting point. Groups stood having their photos taken before setting off but we headed into a shop to buy breakfast from a grumpy woman behind the counter and stood outside watching the constant parade of walkers as we ate. Eventually, it was our turn to be off and an obliging walker offered to take our picture together and then we joined the parade of walkers heading for MugdockPark. For me, it was a total change from the previous days when I had spent most of my time walking alone. The weather was fairly wet, which was also a change as this was the first rain I had experienced on the walk so far. 
As we emerged from the trees, the prominent, knobbly peak of Dumgoyne appeared ahead and the countryside opened out into a pretty scene punctuated by yellow gorse bushes. The rain came and went constantly through the day, although it never really became too heavy and the walking was fairly leisurely. At around the halfway point, we reached the Beech Tree Inn and stopped for a coffee and admired the Pygmy Goats in the pub garden. The rest of the walk passed in the same manner, through pleasant, if unspectacular scenery with occasional rain, before we reached our objective for the day, the village of Drymen. We located our guesthouse for the night and later crossed the road to the Clachan Inn for an excellent dinner before retiring fairly early. 

Dumgoyne

We left Drymen the following morning and walked back to the West Highland Way in fairly gloomy weather, although it wasn't raining at this point. The route of the WHW actually looped around in semi-circle so after we had been walking for a while, we were still looking down over the village. The initial part of the walk was in the shelter of woods before it entered open ground with the prominent cone of Conic Hill providing the next objective. The path ahead leading up the the right-hand flank of the hill was dotted with groups of West Highland Way walkers plodding uphill as the weather slowly worsened. The walk had the feel of a coach trip but without the coach, as we would pass and be passed by the same familiar faces throughout the day and the days that followed on the walk. By the time we had reached the top of the climb, the rain was coming down fairly heavily, mixed with hail. We descended into Balmaha, where we stopped at the Oak Tree Inn for coffee and also to give the weather time to clear, but while we sat, it actually worsened, so eventually, we just donned our wet weather gear again and headed back out into the rain. The route now followed the edge of Loch Lomond as far as Rowardennan and we arrived at the hotel in a fairly, wet, bedraggled condition. We were greeted on reception by a very friendly Portugese receptionist from the Azores, who seemed very impressed that I actually knew where the islands were and with her help, we were soon sorting out our wet gear and showering before heading into the hotel bar for dinner.

Climbing Conic Hill


Day 3's walk was almost entirely alongside Loch Lomond but as it turned out, this wasn't as straightforward as it sounds. We started off fairly comfortably walking on a forest track that rose and fell intermittently. There were occasional views across the loch to the mountains on the other side but otherwise, we just plodded along through the trees. Some walkers describe this section as boring but we were enjoying ourselves as we headed towards the Inversnaid Hotel where we planned to stop for a coffee break. As we approached the hotel, the path took a sudden turn uphill and crossed the Falls of Inversnaid on the Snaid Burn by means of a substantial wooden bridge. The falls were very impressive and we took plenty of photos before heading down to the hotel, which appeared to be undergoing some sort of renovation. The only people in evidence seemed to be the occasional workmen going about their business but we noticed a door marked 'walkers entrance' and went inside and found a bar. The place seemed abandoned but as it was only around 11.30am, we thought that perhaps it wasn't yet open for business but a member of staff appeared and took our order and soon we were enjoying pots of tea and coffee as well as some very welcome cake. As we sat, other walkers arrived before a coach party spilling out into the hotel signalled that it was time for us to be moving on. The afternoon was spent on a very tiring, frustrating path alongside the loch as it followed a tortuous route up and over rocks and tree roots, twisting and turning for what seemed an eternity. By the time we reached the end, we had had enough of it and we climbed up away from the loch before descending to Inverarnan. Probably because of the trials of the earlier path, the descent seemed to take forever and by the time we arrived at the Drover's Inn, we were ready to call it a day. The Drover's Inn however, was something of a shock to the system and after checking in at the desk in a reception area that resembled a spooky natural history museum under the watchful gaze of a stuffed bear and other wild animals, we climbed the frankly disgusting carpet on the staircase and entered our room. This wasn't too bad in comparison but the bathroom, which was next door to our room was really a joke. Filthy, threadbare carpets and dirty, paint peeling walls, a bathtub with no shower and a window with no blind that looked out onto a fire escape that was used by smokers standing outside to indulge their habit. All that shrouded you from their view while they puffed away was a filthy, flimsy piece of net curtain. We made the most of the 'facilities' and headed for the bar which, although as shabby as the rest of the building, had a good atmosphere and friendly staff wearing Highland regalia to add to the 'authentic' feel. When the food arrived at our table, we weren't surprised to find that it really wasn't very good but despite this, we spent a pleasant evening in the atmospheric surroundings before retiring early to bed.


Loch Lomond


We awoke to heavy rain and went down for breakfast, which unsurprisingly was pretty chaotic. As no member of staff greeted us, we sat at the last vacant table, which was set for four in a fairly cramped area. We helped ourselves to cereals and eventually had to summon a waitress to ask for a menu and to order tea and coffee. There seemed to be no system for serving at all with random staff members dropping by occasionally to deliver breakfast items to various tables. We both ordered eggs, mine poached with sausage and my wife's scrambled with bacon. When they arrived they had the order the wrong way around so we simply swapped the sausage and bacon. During breakfast, the rain became heavier and we resigned ourselves to the fact that we were going to get wet. After breakfast, we put on our rainwear and headed off into the deluge. The route initially followed the River Falloch and because of the heavy rain, was very swollen, which meant we were treated to some fantastic scenes where the river crashed through narrow gorges and over rapids. There were numerous smaller, feeder streams tumbling down the mountainsides, which the route crossed on small bridges. This made the walk quite exciting and despite the conditions, I was enjoying myself immensely. As the morning wore on, the weather lifted and the rain relented and the sun even came out for brief periods, although there were still occasional showers throughout the afternoon. Today's walk was scheduled to be 12 miles and at around the halfway point, where we reached a junction with the path to Crianlarich, the walk turned away from the river and headed into the hills. We climbed a short distance and stopped at a viewpoint by a picnic table where we met two young girls walking the way, one a French girl and the other German. They were camping all of the way and didn't look too happy with the conditions, which would mean pitching their tents in the rain when they reached Tyndrum. After our break, the route undulated, steeply at times, through the forest and it was during this section that my wife began to get some serious pain in her legs. The last few miles into Tyndrum were painful for her and I tried to relieve it to some extent by carrying her bag. Eventually, we arrived at our bed and breakfast house where we cleaned up and headed off into the village for dinner. 


At ten miles, the section between Tyndrum to Inveroran was to be the shortest distance so far. We set off at a fairly leisurely pace out of the village and stopped to take photographs of numerous animals carved into the stumps of felled trees in a garden. The route climbed a little as it left the village before levelling out as it now followed the line of the old military road through the valley, which it shared with the main A82 road, the Highlands railway and the River Allt Coire Challein. The main attraction of this section however was the views of the mountains, in particular the pyramidal shape of the imposing Beinn Dorain. The military road stretched out along the valley into the distance and we passed and were passed in turn by numerous walkers, runners and cyclists. The weather today, in complete contrast to yesterday, was beautiful, with warm sunshine and white clouds billowing over the mountains. We fell into walking with a lone Scottish hiker and chatted with him as we headed for Bridge of Orchy. Here, he was planning to get the train to Corrour before carrying on with his walk. As we reached the station at Bridge of Orchy, a shower passed overhead and the three of us hurried to avoid the rain at the hotel, where we stopped for tea. After our break, we said goodbye to the walker as we left him waiting for his train and headed the 2.5 miles to Inveroran, where we were booked into the hotel. The actual route of the WHW heads into the hills at this point into a pine forest before descending to the hotel at Inveroran. At the suggestion of the Scottish walker, and because my wife's legs were still painful, we decided to omit the climb and instead following the narrow, traffic free road alongside Loch Tulla. This turned out to be an excellent decision as the scenery was simply superb, the best so far on the walk. All around were fantastic views of the mountains and we began to feel we were really in the Highlands. We arrived at the hotel early and were soon booked in by a charming hostess who showed us to our room where we relaxed for the afternoon before heading to the restaurant for dinner. 

Loch Tulla

We left the beautifully remote Inveroran Hotel on a lovely morning and followed the road along the valley. Today we were following the military road across Rannoch Moor and we began climbing in superb mountain scenery that improved as we climbed. When the tarmac finished, the West Highland Way continued on the military road. A network of military roads was constructed in the Scottish Highlands during the middle part of the 18th century as part of an attempt by the British Government to bring order to a part of the country which had risen up in the Jacobite rebellion of 1715. This particular road stretched from Tyndrum to Fort William and proved to be a leisurely but long climb up onto the moor. Once we were on the top, the scenery became simply wonderful as we were surrounded by mountains in all directions. Near the summit of the climb, we passed a large cairn set back from the path which signalled the beginning of the descent to the Kingshouse Hotel. As we descended, we could see the ski-lift on the mountainsides above and the prominent, cone-like peak of Buchaille Etive Mor came into view and began to dominate the scene. We arrived at the hotel and were amazed to find that the window of our room had a simply stunning view of the mountain and the mouth of Glencoe. The hotel itself was slightly tired and in need of refurbishment but this mattered little as we wandered around the grounds taking in the superb views as the wild deer mingled with the walkers and tourists taking photographs. 

Buachaille Etive Mor

The following day, we awoke to yet another beautifully, sunny morning and as we drew back the curtains were greeted by the stunning view of Buchaille Etive Mor, which had a little early morning cloud brushing the peak. After breakfast, we joined the procession of WHW walkers heading into Glencoe to the foot of the Devil's Staircase, which is a steep climb of around 800ft but is nowhere near as arduous as the name might suggest. We started the climb and stopped regularly to enjoy the simply stunning scenery around Glencoe that opened out as we climbed. Before long, we reached the top of the climb and were rewarded with further stunning views to the Mamores Ridge. We descended comfortably but steeply in excellent scenery and as we approached the village, stopped briefly for a break and were surprised to see the Scottish walker we had last seen at the Bridge of Orchy hotel. He told us that he had been to Dalwhinnie and had stayed the night in a bothy but was now finishing his trip and heading home by bus. We walked with him into Kinlochleven where we said goodbye to him for the last time and headed for a pub in the High Street for lunch. The village was probably the most attractively situated on the whole way as it was surrounded by high mountains and had the feel of an alpine village. After lunch, we located our guesthouse and spent the evening in a nearby pub. 

Climbing the Devil's Staircase



On the summit of the Devil's Staircase

Lairigmor

We left Kinlochleven on yet another fine, sunny day and climbed steeply from the village on a forest path. As we climbed, the views opened up of Loch Leven further down the valley. At the top of the climb we reached the military road, which we now followed through the valley of Lairigmor, a wide, high level glen enclosed by mountains on all sides. The going was fairly easy, although the surface of the 'road' was quite stony, which made walking a little uncomfortable at times. We rolled along on this manner for a number of miles with very little ascent or descent until we reached Blar a Chaoruinn, where the way once again began to ascend. Shortly after the start of the ascent, we stopped for a break and enjoyed attractive views to Lochan Lunn da-Brah. Continuing, we reached the top of the climb and it wasn't too long before we were suddenly confronted by an impressive view of the imposing bulk of Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis. Eventually, the route joined a wide forest road as it descended into Glen Nevis in the shadow of the huge bulk of the mountain. Glen Nevis looked very attractive below us and as we followed the broad forest track, we decided to stop for a break to absorb the last views the walk before continuing the descent into the glen when the route suddenly turned away from the track and followed a path through woods before unceremoniously dumping us on a busy main road. The sudden realisation that we now had to walk around 1.5 miles along the busy road was a bit of a shock after days of superb scenery and it seemed a shame that the walk was going to end in such an anti-climactic way. We plodded past the original end point of the walk before walking up the high street to the current official end point by the hiker statue sitting on a bench. We asked two girls to take our photo next to the statue and then it was done. After 95 miles of mostly superb scenery, the West Highland Way was over. Now, my wife would head back south to visit friends and relatives, while I would be switching the busiest walk I had ever done for probably the least walked in the country.

First View of Ben Nevis


End of the WHW


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