West Highland Way-Day 3

I stirred, focused and found myself lying on my front. I was warm enough, if a little groggy, but I got myself sunny side up and and unzipped the bivvy. The face full of snow and generally white surfaces I saw out there said to me that 0720 was far too early to be rising on a Sunday morning. I zipped the door and hit the hay for another half hour.

Way more than half and hour later I got myself sitting cross legged in my sleeping bag with the stove on. Having already eaten the single breakfast I brought, I improvised shall we say. It was a lovely spot, there were ducks in the burn behind me and flock of black and white geese by the water in front, I was surrounded by proper trees, and crags hung above me shielding me from the low rising sun. A few flakes of snow drifted down with little commitment, I breathed in the cool air deeply and finished my Frankenstien Al Fresco breakfast. I took my hot cuppa on a stroll around my garden, none of the wildlife batted and eyelid. I think they were happier to see me than the sinister orange coffin emanating breathing sounds that they’d whispered about all night.

I broke camp and was away, this gear packs so quick. The trail was still rough, but the atmosphere was different. The loch sparkled with sunlight and white horses danced in the middle where the wind funneled down unopposed, on the bonnie banks at my feet it lapped and slurped at the tree roots and rocks…I loved this. I was happy to be on my way again, the day was beautiful, the legs were working, Inversnaid was just down the road.

The trail is fine indeed. It’s narrow and squeezes its way around and through all the obstacles. Sometimes you have to pause for thought as the next step gets your arse hanging over a sheer drop into the loch.

At one point I came across the marvellous feral goats. Evil horned beasts? Well, no. Tame and aloof shaggy wonders I should say, perhaps like arctic goths?

You pass the huge collapsed crag that makes Rob Roys Cave, a nice spot to linger, and then trail evens out as you reach Inversnaid. This place has a bad reputation for it’s treatment of walkers. Indeed, a sign on the door asks that the rucksack adorned use the tradesmens entrance. The tradesmens entrance was locked and the handle was missing. So I went straight in the front door, by reception and up to the bar “I’ll have a can of Irn Bru and a three pack of Chocolate Bourbon Biscuits to go, thanks”. I raised and eyebrow and waited for a the response.

I enjoyed my wee snack out the front while sending a SPOT ping and gazing across at the Arrochar Alps. Hills so familiar, but oddly shaped from this side of the loch. Beinn Narnain in particular gains a bit of a pointly peak as you go down the loch. If this was where the A82 was I bet people would love Narnain more.

Away from the boatloads of tourists and Portaloos, I went South again. I met a lot of folks after here, but none seemed so keen to pass the time of day. Maybe I was really starting to smell by this point? It’s rough as a badgers arse again, but changes to forest roads eventually, it’s fine all the way. They’re doing a lot of work at the top end of the loch in trying to re-instate the natural woodland, cutting out Rhododendrons, stopping grazing by ovine omnivores, planting indigenous species. You can see the difference, good on them.

However, conifer corridors take you to Rowerdennan. It feels like home there and I felt relieved to reach it, I couldn’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve been there to climb Ben Lomond, or just stood on the jetty after a picnic. I went to fill my bottles at the tap on the Rowerdennan Hotel wall, but an inexplicable magnetic force pulled me back towards the bar and thrust me into a seat in front of the log fire. I tried to resist, but the spring had gone from my step, I was getting tired again. And so soon in the day. I dined well on a Ben Lomond Burger. Surrounded by limping Way-ers. I was chatting to the manager about my daft wee mission and he wished me well, sticking an espresso into my hand as I packed to leave. Good lad.

I left and headed down the road, meeting a few folk at a gate. One pointed at me a asked “Hey, are you that Pete guy from the website?”, “Eh, aye I think?”, “We were watching the map on LiveForTheOutdoors and thought we’d run into you”. We chatted for a bit, they were a nice bunch and looked fresh, I hope thay’re having a good trip.

I turned that over in my mind, folk were watching the SPOT test. I felt a wee flutter in my chest, it was probably the salsa on the burger, but maybe it was an extra flake of pressure stuck into my 99 cone of adventure.

I didn’t get two miles before I stopped and had to adjust my feet. I had to sort that blister between my toes and I let them dry out as I sat in the yellowing sun. I had changed my socks every day, merino underwear will last a while, but fresh socks are a gift from the gods on tired feet.

While I was sitting there a couple stopped to talk. We passed a good while together, they live on the Way and told me of the amount of struggling and unprepared folk that pass there door, or even stop at it seeking help. I think there must be a great underestimation of the Way, I know I did just that last year and I’m a walker of many years and miles. How many tackle it off the couch on a whim or for good causes?

On my way again I soon met Beth from Outdoorsmagic walking North at a sensible pace. She’ll still be out there, having fun I hope. After that I never saw a single soul face to face.

I followed the ins and outs, the ups and down along the lochside. It’s lovely, but I wanted to keep the pace up. I could see the hills behind my house and I was turning away from them, walking away from home. That’s just feels all wrong. I reached the outskirts of Balmaha, Ben Lomond which had loomed large in my backwards glances was now merging with the darkening sky in the distance. I could see the clouds easing themselves in. By the time I’d got the the coll before the track turns towards the top of Conic Hill the sleet had started so I had to stop and put on my waterproof pants, then my shell gloves and I stuck a Buff around my neck as well. It was cold, I was tired, I’ll get over Conic and camp somewhere. I’ll get up early and walk to Milngavie in the morning.

I took forever to get up Conic Hill, I stopped a lot, looking at the weather, looking for excuses to go home and a reason for me standing there. I don’t know why my mood had changed so quickly. I got to the high point, sent a SPOT ping and carried on down the gritty slurry chute on the other side. I saw a light on the hillside where the track heads over the Burn of mar, other folk on the Way camped for the night. I’d have to give them space so I’d carry on past them. But even reaching them was a task, my calves were stiff, if someone was with me I’d have been whining at them. By the time I’d got to where the light was it was switched off. Poor bastards probably though I was an angry farmer with a stick wanting smack some hikers for spooking his sheep. Well, no it was me who spooked the sheep, Did I say spooked? I meant blinded. Why do sheep stare directly at your headtorch and don’t flinch, do they have eyes like Spock with their long forgotten inner eyelids to protect them against Vulcans blazing sun. Do sheep need a plot device?

I could see the orange glow of the central belt on the clouds which were now breaking up, the temperature was dropping. Dumgoyne’s distinctive shape stood black against this mottled sky. It sat half way from where I was to the finish line. And it was in the distance, it was on the horizon, if I could still have bent my legs properly I’d have sank to my knees. I’ll get through the forest, down to Drymen. Find a chippy, call it quits, go home, camp, ah shite, I don’t even know what time it is?!

I passed the eerie clear felled hill top and entered Garadhban Forest proper. The lack of route signs here is unnerving, my now unreliable sense of direction at odds with the map and the road. I started to look for chairs to sit on as the ground was awfully far way, even a tree stump two or three feet high would do, but they were either over a ditch, still had a spike of unsawn wood sticking up or were a stupid height. It’s like every cut tree was cut by someone of a different height. I mean do they have a dozen guys between 5’4″  to 6’6″ with chainsaws who only cut down one tree and then go to another forest?

The forest went on mercilessly, the sound of Pacerpoles, and my laboured breathing mixing with the frequent screech of an owl giving up it’s perch as I passed and sent all the furry snacks scurrying way. When I got to the final junction that would take me to the road at Dryman I sat down. When I say sat, it was probably more akin to a plateful of uneaten spaghetti hitting the bottom of a bin. I phoned home, they offered rescue or assistance. I wanted to be home, this was stupid what I was doing. As I lay flat on my back on the ground my right calf got tighter and tighter. I could be home in 30 minutes, in a hot shower, see my girls and this pointless endeavour would be over.

“No it’s okay, I’ll see you in Milngavie in four or five hours”.

Where that came from I don’t know, I rolled over and dragged myself onto my feet and set off towards the road. It was only 12 miles, this wasn’t the last leg of a trip. No, now every mile was a barrier to me getting home and I was going to kick them in the balls one at a time.

I walked straight by the end of Drymen and immediately got lost in a bastard field. No track, just random posts for you to discover if you’re lucky. The little hidden rusty gate (which, if this was a video game would be hidden urn that unlocks the infinte ammo Magnum or unlimited health) takes you onto a couple of miles of tarmac down to Gartness. Hell on wheels for my feet. I occasionally rested sideways onto  the grassy verge, but every time I stopped my calf would tighten, so I kept going. There’s stuff to see which takes on a different quality in torchlight with tired eyes, the remnants of the disused railway bridges, farmhouse after farmhouse without a single light, the dark rushing water below Gartness Bridge. You reach the old Blane Valley Railway here where the trail runs for a few miles. The going is good, but the gates are like a Krypton Factor puzzle, a two handed thing with a dimpled lever to lift. Why, did the cows figure out the spring lever types? Unlikely.

You’re always heading always towards Dumgoyne, it grew slowly larger and it grew slowly colder as the sky cleared. By the time I was wandering around a pub carpark trying to see if the Way did actually go through it (it did) I had to pull my Buff over my face for warmth and put my hood up. Dumgoyne passes on yout left and is lost into the bulk of the Campsies. 6 miles to go, I fell onto the grass embankment of the old railway. I was really cold and really tired, if I shut my eyes… The tank was empy, so I had to get out and push. I pushed up the steep rough track to Carbeth and over to Craigallian and into Mugdock. Several times I had to stop pushing and rest again. The track came to a wall and I just stared at it. How can I walk through a wall? I didn’t even see the stepping stones sticking out of it.

In Mugdock I was home and I knew it, three miles to go. I phoned my folks, they had insisted on picking me up regardless of the time. I was happy with a taxi, but I was happier to be seeing family. It turns out that Joyce and my Dad had set off up the track to meet me. I jumped into the driving seat, the downhill slope must have let some fuel into the pump, I was off with renewed or borrowed commitment and energy. I got less than 1 mile from the end and phoned Joyce to see where they were. We’d passed each other in the complicated paths on the moors above Minlgavie, I’d have to wait on them coming back down and we’d finish together. Ten minutes, twenty minutes? I went down while waiting whatever it was, hanging off the poles like a pair of trainers knotted together and thrown over a telephone line. They arrived, we moved, I don’t know if I articulated just how happy I was to see them, but I was so cold, so burst, I just wanted to finish so badly. 

Out of the Allander walkway through a loading zone, we entered Milngavie town centre and I didn’t even recognise it. I saw the pillar and leaned on it. We took pictures and I sent a SPOT ping at 0503. Sgt Al just missed it, sleep took him out whe he wasn’t looking, but he was with me all the way.

I was in the car and it was over. 39 miles that last day, it really doesn’t sound like much does it?

I sat on the couch with a hot cuppa and it was like I’d never been away. I know there were no records in any danger here, as adventures go it’s pretty lame. But I found myself digging deep, looking for and finding reserves and motivation. I’ll be mulling over all the ideas, revelations and lessons from this for a while. It was a very positive experience.

I may not have enjoyed every step, but I enjoyed the whole experience. Taking my pack over a couple of extra days with 350g worth of a change of underwear and the WHW would be so much easier and enjoyable for all these poor sods that passed me with dinghys on their backs. I caught all the weather possible, I only had lightweight gear and I was fine.

Any suffering endured was by choice. But isn’t it always.

14 thoughts on “West Highland Way-Day 3

  1. That made for some great reading,thanks.Yeah,the psychology of walking solo is very interesting,I do most of my walking alone and its amazing the places your mind takes you to when theres nobody else around to talk to,to whinge at,to sympathize with you…most of the time though I like it like that.
    Some awesome descriptions and analogies in there too,particularly liked the one about the arctic goths,that made me chuckle.The goats look like the sort of pets that old beelzebub himself would have,lying in front of the fire as he sips on a glass of red wine,slumped in his favourite armchair relaxing after a hard days evilness!
    Hey,that bivvy is a nice colour btw.;)

  2. “39 miles that last day, it really doesn’t sound like much does it?” – It sounds like plenty and then some to me – that’s a marathon and a half (for the 3rd day running), solo, over rough ground and thru the night – give yourself some credit, mate.

    All that AND chocolate bourbons, chainsaws and uneaten spaghetti, with a side order of encroaching hyperthermia which you sent back to the kitchen. Fabulous stuff, wonderfully written, my personal favourite phrase of day3 – “aloof shaggy wonders” – I’ve only ever come across the 2 legged variety myself, but that’s another story.

    The last picture of you leaning against the pillar says all that needs to be said about the effort involved – you look like a little boy scout who’s just found out the “hiking” badge was a little harder to get than he first imagined.

    Fantastic, it’s like I was right there with you – but I’m kinda glad I wasn’t.

    I’ll have to read again …

  3. I cant add much to whats been said above Pete but bloody good effort mate,very gripping read,well written,excellent!! 39miles is a fantastic effort,especially on the lomond section,have a Guiness and a bag of chips(and a lie in) :)

  4. Blimey! 39 Miles? You’ve gone and jangled your brain with all the jumping around with light gear surely?

    With a heavier pack you’d have bumped about less and been fine.

    Joking aside – /great/ trip – /great/ write up! I don’t know how you manage to make a hike so interesting but you do.

    Really enjoyed it! :)

    And now you can fly about in Google Earth and revisit all those places you Spot tracked without more than a flick of the mouse!

  5. Hi Sally, the Nuun is great. It’s different to all the other drinks by High5 and SIS because it doesn’t have any Carbohydrate in it. So it’s just for hydration, not fuel for running and the like. It works very well and tastes nice :o)

    I hope you have a great trip :o)

  6. Aye, it was a sensible pace, and a lot of good fun. Various joints ached and muscles complained a bit but I suspect much less than you suffered!

    Congratulations on finishing! One of our party didn’t… because she had to work on saturday and needed the last day to travel back.

    Anyway, what a great path. And our group was blessed with the weather, a bit of rain and a couple of blizzards but nothing lasted long enough to make it grim.

    Hope your feet are recovering okay!

  7. Pingback: A trip Stateside | Northern Walker

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