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West Highland Way: Crianlarich to Inveroran

It was a rude awakening as the hordes of schoolkids rose from their rooms and started thundering down the hallway. I lay in bed for as long as I could before finally getting up myself for a shower. I’d booked breakfast with my room, and had to queue for the buffet with all the hungry teenage boys that had stayed there that night. I often use hiking as a good excuse to eat lots of food, and now on day 4 of the West Highland Way (WHW), my stomach was starting to protest a little. I forced the cooked breakfast down, but slightly regretted it, opting to hang around the hostel till checkout time, feeling a little nauseous. With all the school kids off an a local hike, it was eerily quiet with everyone gone. Whilst day 3 had been the longest day of the whole hike, I still had a solid 16 miles (25.5km) to hike that day, so eventually I had to kick myself into gear and get going.

Rather than retrace my steps back to where I’d left the WHW, I opted to use the other part of the Drovers Loop from Crianlarich which meant following the A85 under the railway line and out of the village slightly onto the A82 before entering the same woodland I’d passed through the evening before. This route turned out to be quite muddy and not as distinct a path. It was also steeper, but before long I found myself at the marker back at the WHW junction. Turning right, I was destined for Tyndrum where I planned on having lunch. A large sign indicated that the path was entering Forestry Commission land and immediately the rocky path began to climb. It was another overcast day but despite this, the visibility was still very good with the cloud level high, so on reaching a slight lookout, it was still possible to see the hills rolling away for quite some distance.

Drover's Loop into Crianlarich

Walker's crossroads at Crianlarich

Ewich forest

Stirlingshire countryside

On route to Tyndrum

 

Somewhere within this undulating forested section was the halfway point of the hike. With no marker, there was no way of knowing it at the time, and apart from pausing wherever there was a break in the trees to admire the view, I kept up a reasonable pace. There were a scattering of other walkers who I passed as I went, and eventually, after what felt like quite a protracted amount of time, the path turned to head down the side of a burn and pass under the arch of the Caledonian Railway line. Sandwiched between the railway line and the A82, it isn’t far before the route actually crosses this main trunk road, and soon after this a bridge spans the expansive River Fillan. Now I was back in farming country, with sheep filling the paddocks by the path.

Railway arch

Caledonian Railway line to Oban

Road crossing ahead

River Fillan

River Fillan

Pasture land by Kirkton farm

Lambs at Kirkton farm

 

Next door to Kirkton farm was the remains of St Fillan’s church and cemetery. There is little left of the church itself, with the crumbling wall shaded in green, but the cemetery still carries many tombstones as well as some uniquely marked stones. There were a few walkers milling about here, some of which I’d see repeatedly across the morning, catching up with them or being caught up by them, depending on where we chose to take a break. Moving on from here the farm track led through a series of gates and fields till it came out at Auchertyre farm where there was a toilet block, shop and wigwam-style accommodation. The farm track led onto an access road where a steady stream of traffic regularly pushed me into the vegetation, before I found myself back at the A82, crossing it once more.

Information board at St Fillans

The remains of St Fillan's church

St Fillan's cemetery

Special gravestone at St Fillan's cemetery

 

Following the river again, the vegetation was quite open, and I found myself at a sign denoting a battle site from the 14th century. The Battle of Dalrigh involved Robert the Bruce and his men who suffered a heavy defeat, sending the man himself into hiding. A little further down the track, a lochan is reached which is purported to hide Robert the Bruce’s sword, having been thrown in here following the battle. The water was still, reflecting the trees that swarmed the far bank, and giving away no hint of what treasure might lie below.

Battle of Dalrigh information board

Lochan of the lost sword information board

Lifesize depiction of the lost sword

Reflective waters of the lochan

Lochan

 

It was an easy meander through the young trees until it was time to hit the forest again just south of Tyndrum. Historically, this area was mined for lead, and I remember visiting here on a school excursion when I was in high school, but nothing within the trees looked familiar. Passing through the gate in the deer fence, it was then a well graded path again, following the river once more passing the local caravan park, then skirting round the back of Tyndrum, passing the train station for the Caledonian line, and curling behind some houses before crossing the stream bed and up past a row of cottages. Once more back at the A82, the WHW crosses this heading north, but I, like several other of the hikers, walked into Tyndrum.

South of Tyndrum

Lead Mining Information board

Caravan park at Tyndrum

 

This is a popular service village to stop at on the road from either Oban or Fort William, with a handful of eateries, tourist shops, accommodation and a petrol station. It is popular with truck drivers as well as bikers, and I remember many a childhood holiday stopping here to stretch the legs. The Green Welly Stop is particularly well known here. I’d driven through here on my way back from Ben Nevis a few weeks prior and had noticed a new and intriguing cafe of the edge of town. I’d decided then and there that that would be my lunch stop for this day of the WHW, but I was immensely disappointed to find that not only was it crammed, but when I actually was able to see a menu, it was simply glorified fast food. So I back tracked to the cafe next to the petrol station and sat outside eating lunch at a picnic table surrounded by bikers. By now into the school summer holidays, as well as being the height of the tourist season, it was a busy little place to be.

Leaving Tyndrum behind, the WHW entered a very long exposed section for mile after mile. I was grateful that the rain had kept away as from now onwards, there was going to be little in the way of shelter. Passing some wood carvings on the edge of the village, civilisation was left behind once more, although the A82 was never far away. As the main trunk road to Fort William from Glasgow, there was always traffic in sight. Despite this, it felt wild and barren. Following an old military road, it was a reasonable quality track to hike, nestled within a valley, and before long a light drizzle had started. Initially between the West Highland railway line and the A82, the WHW crosses under the railway line after a while to keep them both to the left. Thankfully the drizzle was short-lived, and passing under the shadow of a cloud-draped Beinn Odhar, I caught up with a mother and daughter hiking the WHW at a waterfall gushing down the mountainside.

Squirrel tree carving

Fox tree carving

Owl tree carving

Beinn Odhar in the cloud

West Highland Way north of Tyndrum

Passing under the West Highland railway line

Waterfall down the cliff

 

By now, the road and railway line had separated far apart, and the valley opened up once more. The peak of the dominating Beinn Dorain wore wisps of clouds, and the path underfoot was wet in places. Crossing the Allt Kinglass river on a little stony bridge, I found myself on the far bank of the river to a herd of Highland cattle. These are one of Scotland’s most distinctive and recognisable animals with their long coats, fringe and large horns. They are a hardy breed, capable of weathering the harsh and wild Scottish winters, and are bred for their meat, which is lower in cholesterol than standard beef breeds. With the first known mention of their existence being in the 6th century, they have been around for a very long time.

Highland cow

 

After a while, the path crossed over the West Highland railway line and this was the section of the day’s walk which was almost silent. The road was far enough away now to be ignored, and the railway line was quiet. Dark clouds gathered along the neighbouring mountain tops as I crept ever closer to Bridge of Orchy. Passing the train station and cutting down into the little village, it was rather deserted. Little more than a collection of homes and a hotel, there was nobody around until I reached the hotel itself which sat proudly on the A82. Crossing this main road once more, I popped into the hotel for a less than welcoming conversation with the receptionist that saw me walk straight back out again.

West Highland line south

West Highland line north

Approaching Bridge of Orchy

 

Behind the hotel, the road went downhill to the bridge over the River Orchy and then the WHW left the road behind to quickly pick its way up the hillside. It felt like a decent uphill slog through the trees after miles and miles of easy track on a relatively level gradient, and now, as I reached the crest of the hill, the rain that I had seen threatening in the distance, was finally overhead and it was time to don the waterproofs again. The expanse of Loch Tulla filled a lot of the view as I made my way from the crest down the hillside. There were several groups of hikers ahead of me – the most I’d seen on any section of the WHW until now. As the rain continued, my stop for the night was visible the whole way down the hillside and I focused on this as I zig-zagged down the path.

River Orchy

Looking back towards Bridge of Orchy

Loch Tulla

Rain heading up the valley

Rain over Loch Tulla

Inveroran and Loch Tulla

Loch Tulla

 

The Inveroran hotel can be reached by road from Bridge of Orchy, but there were plenty of hikers both staying there and visiting the bar that night. Although it was so busy that I had to wait a while to check in, I was grateful to get shown to a lovely cosy room on the top floor. With nowhere else around, I headed downstairs for dinner after resting my feet for a while, and was seated in the little dining room with a handful of other guests. Due to space, all the guests had to book a sitting for dinner at a set time, but after several days of overindulging in large meals, I found myself finally defeated here.

The welcome sight of the Inveroran hotel

 

I’d pre-ordered a 3-course meal when I checked in, and was disappointed to find myself full after just the starter. The beautiful warm soup had filled me up, and I was sad to see my salmon main course go to waste as I forced as much of it down as I could before giving up halfway through. I hate seeing food get wasted, and felt embarrassed about leaving so much, but feeling bloated, I cancelled my dessert order and waddled up to my bed for a much needed lie down. By this stage in the hike, my feet were beginning to ache and blister having traversed over 62 miles (nearly 100km) on some rather rocky and stony terrain, and every time I lay down, my legs throbbed incessantly. But the room was so cosy, and the bed so inviting, that it wasn’t long before I had drifted off to sleep.

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West Highland Way: Rowardennan to Crianlarich

Inevitably on a multi-day hike, there will be a day that is either longer or more strenuous (or both) than the others, and for me, day 3 of the West Highland Way (WHW) was it. For 33km (20.5 miles), there was quite a bit of ground to cover that day, leaving Rowardennan behind on route to reach Crianlarich to the north, and I was only halfway along the length of Loch Lomond at the start of the day. Thankfully, I’d had a restful night’s sleep at the Rowardennan Hotel, and breakfast was included in the room rate, so I made the most of the cooked buffet to fill myself up in preparation for the long day ahead. I kept a sideways glance out for Kevin Bridges in case he was still around, but then it became time to push onwards.

Immediately outside of the hotel, there was a sign requesting people kindly pick up their litter, something I had been frustrated by the mess of on route to Rowardennan the previous day. But shortly after leaving the hotel behind, the road peters out at a car park where the hike to Ben Lomond begins from, and from here northwards, it is hiker’s country, and this made a big difference to the litter level which was much more pleasing. It was another cloudy day, but with the path hugging the bank of the loch, this did not detract from the ongoing scenery as it was passed. I passed the end of the Ptarmigan route that my brother and I had descended Ben Lomond from just a few weeks prior, and beyond here, the path is quite easy going.

Sign outside Rowardennan Hotel

Rowardennan Hotel

Waterfall at the end of the Ptarmigan route

 

For the length of the path up Loch Lomond, there were reams of little waterfalls spilling over the rock face to the side of the path. It was a nice distraction from the occasional monotonous section where the trees hid the loch from view. Deep within the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, the path meandered for mile after mile. A lower track that divides and goes down to the shoreline past Rob Roy’s prison was closed at the time of doing the hike, but this did not stop some hikers ahead of me going down this route. I didn’t see them again after that, so have no idea if they had to turn back or made it through, but the route had been deemed as dangerous, hence the closure. The forest was thick in places so I found this part of the track rather uninteresting. I kept a good lookout for red squirrels but saw none, and was eager for every break in the foliage to give me an uninterrupted view of the loch. At one such spot, a bench had been provided to soak up the view of the Cobbler on the far side of the loch.

Waterfall by the WHW

Break in the trees

Waterfall next to the WHW

Another waterfall by the WHW

Looking across to the Cobbler

 

Where the two paths rejoin, the path quality is quick to reduce, and continuing through the forest, it was rougher and narrower under foot although still an obvious and easy path to follow. When at last the forest opened up a little, and curved up past a very isolated house, I was intrigued to see a little stall by the fence line and wandered over for a look. The home owners had very lovingly provided home made edible treats and juice with an honesty box for hungry walkers to fill their stomachs with. It was a lovely idea, and had I not been full from breakfast, I would have purchased something, but I had more than enough edibles to carry already. Thankfully the route past here was more interesting than it had been for the previous few miles, with some large rocky outcrops and a change in vegetation.

Loch Lomond beach panorama

Local snack stop

Large rocky outcrop by the WHW

 

After 7 miles, I had crossed the river to reach the Inversnaid hotel where the ferry to Inveruglas on the far shore of Loch Lomond leaves from, and a few walks can be accessed from here too, including a route that leads to Loch Katrine to the east. I’d foolishly thought I was close to the end of the loch, but in reality I still had a third of it’s length to go, although it gets narrower and narrower the further north you walk. My brother, who had walked the WHW in 48hrs for charity, had warned me not to eat at the Inversnaid hotel, having had a bad experience there himself. I had no intentions of doing so, having another place in mind for lunch, but I did stop to rest my feet briefly, and there were a few other people enjoying some food and drink outside whilst I was there. The hotel does have road access, but it cuts down from Loch Katrine, rather than following the route of the loch or the WHW.

Way marker near Inversnaid

Waterfall at Inversnaid

Inversnaid hotel coming into view

Inversnaid jetty on Loch Lomond

Inversnaid hotel

 

The sky was threatening to rain, but leaving the hotel and the road behind, the path plunged back into the trees again which provided relative shelter. There were a few other people on this section of the walk out for a local stroll, as this section of the path also leads to an RSPB reserve. After the RSPB path splits off, the WHW became quite rough, and this was the section I had been warned about, where it undulates up and down, negotiating boulders, tree routes and rocky crags. At least it wasn’t monotonous, and when I stumbled upon a cave that was purported to be a hide-out for Rob Roy, a famous Scottish outlaw in the early 18th century, I took the opportunity to have a snack stop on the large rock balancing above it. Unfortunately, just as I was finishing, the rain finally decided to arrive and it was time to kit up in waterproofs before heading on. The trees at least provided some shelter as I continued to navigate through the rocky terrain, and at one point the path passed through a gap between a tree and a large boulder that was just big enough for a hiker and pack to get through.

Rocky terrain

Rob Roy's 'cave'

Squeezing between a boulder and a tree

 

When the trees opened up to a patch of fern, the far side of the loch looked exceptionally close as a small island was passed by. Not only could I see the traffic winding its way down, but I could hear it also. Not far from here, a ladder had been provided to navigate a jump in level of the hike, and as the route continued, the surrounding vegetation became more and more open, with close access to the loch side for a while, before cutting behind a headland, and then rejoining the loch past a cluster of buildings which included a public bothy. Bothies are the Scottish version of a mountain hut, usually an old cottage or building that retains its watertightness but is usually bare inside apart from a deck to sleep on, and an area to cook. As basic and dark as they are, these bothies, scattered across the Scottish countryside, can be a lifesaver or an overnight haven to hikers out in the middle of nowhere. I’ve slept in a couple in the past on hiking adventures, and I popped inside for a nosy.

Walking through tall ferns

Looking north up Loch Lomond

Looking across Loch Lomond

Ladder on the WHW

Waterfall

Looking south down Loch Lomond

A Scottish bothy

Fireplace inside the bothy

Sleeping area of the bothy

 

Beyond here, it was like walking through a meadow, the fern at chest height for the most part, and I became consciously aware of the fact that I was in tick country. When I used to live in Scotland, I always carried a tick hook, a small device to remove ticks, when I went hiking, but having lived in New Zealand for several years now, a country which doesn’t really have ticks, I’ve become complacent. It hadn’t even entered my head to get a tick hook to take with me, but suddenly it was all I could think about. No doubt I was being rather melodramatic, but I did my best to avoid touching the ferns as best as I could.

Panorama through ferns

Beach panorama

North Loch Lomond panorama

 

Passing a small jetty where a ferry crosses to Ardlui on the far shore, the route finally started to leave Loch Lomond’s shore behind, and suddenly I found myself feeling sad that this section of the walk was over. Despite the cloudy sky, the intermittent drizzles and the occasional monotony of the hike in this section, I’d actually really enjoyed having the loch as a constant companion, and I realised that leaving the loch behind was the beginning of the change in scenery, whereby I was heading more into the wilderness, and more into the mountains. As the path began to creep uphill, I turned back regularly to catch a glimpse of the loch disappearing into the distance, but finally, it slipped out of view, and a valley of green opened up ahead of me in the form of Glen Falloch.

Passing under a fallen tree

Nearing the tip of Loch Lomond

The last sight of Loch Lomond

Glen Falloch

Hiking through Glen Falloch

 

By now mid-afternoon I was tired and starving. I had planned on going to the Drovers Inn, across the river Falloch from the WHW, and on the side of the A82, for lunch, but as I got nearer and nearer, I realised this was quite a diversion off the path, and I was in two minds whether my tired legs were going to win over my hungry stomach or vice versa. My dad had told me that a campsite near the WHW had a cafe, so I held out hope for this instead, and as the WHW drew nearer to the Beinglass Farm campsite, I was overjoyed to see a sign advertising hot food. The rain was beginning again as I stepped inside what was effectively a very busy little pub, and I settled in to dry off and fill up with a much-needed meal. My feet were aching, and the ongoing rain made me reluctant to get going, but my bed for the night was still 6 miles (9.5 kms) away so I had little choice but to wrap up and get going again.

Following the course of the river Falloch, the road and railway line are not far away on the other side of the river, so the regular noise of traffic down this busy road intruded slightly. But there was plenty to look at with some impressive waterfalls, and then finally hitting stock as farmland was reached, with sheep ambling about the pathway, and then cattle as a little farm was reached. A large bull watched me pass as he chewed the cud, and there were cows littered all over the place, a group of which got a fright as I approached the bridge that crossed the river, threatening to scatter in all directions. Having worked on a farm when I was younger, I knew how frustrating scattered stock could be, so I didn’t want to get in their way. In the end I had to hide in the bushes, just so that they would come across the bridge without scattering, before I was able to get past myself. Now I was immediately below both the road and the railway line following the broad, bubbling river upstream.

Scottish blackface sheep

Glen Falloch

 

Cutting under the railway line through a tunnel meant for stock, meant having to crouch down to get through, then along what used to be the road, another tunnel directs the WHW below the A82, the main trunk road. Now, I was in prime farming country, walking along what used to be an old military road, a really uncomfortable rocky path under the watchful eye of some sheep. In sections it was incredibly churned up and muddy, especially as the farmhouse itself was reached. In the distance, a woodland grew closer and closer, and I passed through the gate into a large conifer plantation to see the sign I’d been longing for: the turn-off for Crianlarich. It was then a long descent through the woods to reach the A82, crossing it and cutting down to the Crianlarich train station. Nestled behind here was the YHA hostel where I was booked for the night. On arrival, the person at the front desk was almost apologetic about the fact that a large school group were also staying at the hostel, and there were teenagers draped over every available surface of the building and grounds.

Sheep tunnel under the railway line

Tunnel under the A82

Scottish Blackface sheep

Farm in Glen Falloch

Glen Falloch

Walker's crossroads at Crianlarich

Drover's Loop into Crianlarich

 

There’s not a lot of choice for eating out in Crianlarich, but down on the main street, I found myself at the Rod & Reel where I was served the most enormous portion of chilli con carne I’ve ever seen. Like the previous nights, the UEFA EURO football was playing at the bar, and I was excited to see it was Iceland playing. Having watched them beat England whilst I was in Iceland, I was happy to watch them again, until the goals started rolling in for the opposition. After filling myself full with a well-deserved meal and cider, the game soon became embarrassing, and I didn’t bother staying till the end. Waddling back to the hostel with sore feet and a full belly, I crept into my bunk bed, trying not to disturb my roommates, and fell into a broken sleep.

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