MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Archive for the tag “Loch Lomond”

Reunions

In 2011 I made the decision to move to the opposite side of the World. Although my official plan was to go for a year, deep down I knew this was likely to be much more long term than that, and so after selling as much of my belongings as I could, and boxing up the rest, I left my friends and family behind in December of that year for an unwritten future. I spent a month volunteering in the South Pacific before arriving in New Zealand and within the first couple of weeks of reaching Aotearoa, the Land of the Long White Cloud, I knew this country was to be my new home. As I had a return ticket, I used the flight home to spend Christmas with my family in 2012, and then I didn’t see them again until 2016. The long gap in between had become increasingly difficult, and I vowed to do my best to get back every couple of years if I could. With a nephew to meet and friends continuing to move forward with their lives, I had returned to Scotland in September last year with 2 weeks and no plans, so that I could dedicate my time to reunions and family time.

After a last minute change of plans in Amsterdam meant I arrived in Glasgow a day earlier than expected, it was finally time to meet my nephew. He had been in NICU during my visit in 2016 and so this was our first official meeting at the age of 2. I’d travelled for days to get there and I was met with a look of uncertainty followed by a prolonged cautious stare before eventually he decided that I was acceptable to interact with. That was the first time that my entire family were all together with my nephew, and whilst it couldn’t be further from my normal style of holiday, this epitomised exactly what this trip was all about: family.

The next day, after having some culinary reunions with some of the foods I miss from home, several of us went with my nephew to the Sea Life Centre at Loch Lomond Shores. Having moved away from Glasgow in 2006 to seek work, this was a place I had never been to, so wasn’t sure what to expect. It was a bit of a drizzly day so we headed straight into the centre out of the rain. I’m not a massive fan of zoos and aquariums, preferring to see wildlife in the wild, but for my nephew he was fascinated, and there was certainly enough things to keep him interested. He watched the otters swimming around and we hung around for their feeding talk. I love otters, and was lucky enough to have an encounter with one on a beach in the Outer Hebrides in 2010, but as they are usually wary of humans in the wild, it is not easy to see them in their natural habitat.

Passing through a short tunnel with fish swimming past us, there were some smaller exhibits before we reached the ray pool. There were some swiftly swimming rays and a couple of giant eels in there too. Nearby were some clown fish which are always a popular find. After my nephew had had his fill and the grown-ups had gotten an appetite, we headed back outside where it was now dry but still overcast. Although tucked away towards the end of Loch Lomond, there was still a hint of the surrounding mountains and forests and the paddle steamer Maid of the Loch was moored up nearby. Even with the threat of more rain, it was a pretty prospect. We headed into a cafe nestled amongst the row of shops before heading home for some haggis, neeps and tatties.

 

My parent’s back garden is very wildlife friendly which meant breakfast was often accompanied by some visitors outside to watch. Later on that next day, we took a family trip to Calderglen Country Park in East Kilbride. The weather really wasn’t that great so we weren’t able to make use of the park itself or go for any walks. Instead we headed to the glasshouse which had some meerkats and small monkeys amidst the plants and fish tanks. The meerkats were very active, digging and foraging whilst one stood on guard and their constant activity kept my nephew engaged. There was an ant colony nearby that had a rope system rigged up for them above our heads so you could watch the ants walk above you as they performed their daily chores of bringing back vegetation to the colony. When finally there was a break in the rain, we headed outside to the aviaries where we were all caught off guard by an African Grey parrot demanding some chips in a Glaswegian accent. It fascinates me how well these parrots can perform mimicry, and hearing one talk with a Glaswegian accent was just hysterical.

 

After ending the day with a friend from school and her partner, the following day was a sibling day where my two brothers and I headed to the east coast for a day of walking. We had done a similar thing in 2016 when they had joined me for day two of the West Highland Way. It is a rare occurrence for the three of us to be in each other’s company for more than a few hours since I moved out of home. We’ve spent longer time together in two’s but it was great to have a catch up as the three of us. Walking a section of the Fife Coastal Path took a large chunk of the day and aside from never having walked it before, I hadn’t been to this part of Scotland for a long time which was an added bonus.

 

I headed back into Glasgow city centre the next day to catch up with a couple of friends. I lived and worked in Aberdeen for 5.5 years before emigrating to New Zealand, and two of the friends I made there were able to meet up in Glasgow. I was amused by a comical busker on Buchanan Street as I headed to Queen Street Station to meet my friend coming down from the Granite City. As she wasn’t familiar with Glasgow, I took her to the Duke of Wellington statue and up to the observation deck at the Lighthouse so she could get a bit of a skyline view. When our other friend arrived from down south we headed to Princes Square for lunch. Full of designer shops and posh eateries, this was never a place I frequented when I lived in Glasgow during my student days. It felt like a total novelty playing ‘ladies who lunch’. Glasgow is a city full of familiarity but yet it still feels foreign to me. After eventually seeing my friends off on their respective transports, I took the familiar route to Central Station to catch a train to the south side. There was a new statue outside and a few new shops inside since last time I’d been past, but otherwise it was the same station I remembered from my nights of socialising in the city.

 

The weather the next day really wasn’t great so I hung out with my nephew indoors at his house. That evening, my friend from uni picked me up and we headed for dinner in Blantyre. The gastropub that we went to is famous for its desserts and has a large cabinet full of giant cakes. After a delicious meal, it was rude not to get a cake, but after ordering a chocolate eclair, I was presented with a foot long eclair loaded with cream. As divine as it was, there was no way I was finishing it, so the remains came home with me for my family to help me finish.

One of the tourist things I hadn’t gotten round to doing on my trip in 2016 was visiting Glasgow’s Transport Museum. It is one of the vague memories I still retain from my childhood, and the museum was moved and revamped some years ago, now a distinctive building on the bank of the River Clyde known as the Riverside Museum. Although autumn, we were still in the season for the boat that crosses from Govan on the south shore, so whilst my brother, sister-in-law and nephew drove straight to the museum for parking, my parents, other brother and myself drove to Govan and caught the little ferry over. I recognised many of the exhibits on display from the original museum, and whilst a little jumbled and cramped together in places, it was interesting enough to keep the various generations engaged. My parents could reminisce about the Glasgow of their childhood, and my nephew was enthralled with the trains and trams.

Moored up immediately outside is the Tall Ship Glenlee, which can be boarded and explored. We’d got there later than planned so unfortunately didn’t have time to get on her before it closed, but the promenade outside meant I could get a view of the river and Glasgow skyline that I hadn’t seen for so long. Some much needed investment in the city ahead of the 2014 Commonwealth Games has really revitalised the river bank which I always remember as being such a dump when I used to live there. The distinctive outline of the SECC on the north shore, and the science centre with its infamous tower on the south shore framed the river Clyde. Eventually, as the museum was reaching closing time, we caught the ferry back across to Govan to head home. My brother and I later went out to see Scottish cyclist Mark Beaumont talking about his cycling adventures around the World.

 

After a day spent hanging out with my school friend and her kids, my nephew was in hospital for a routine visit the next morning, so I wasn’t going to be able to see him till later on. I decided to go for a walk round the suburbs I grew up in, and knowing that my high school had been bulldozed and replaced, I walked first to there to see how it had changed and beyond there I couldn’t believe how much housing and development had occurred. When I was young, my parent’s house was about a 10-15 min walk to the edge of the city and after that was miles of countryside. Fast forward a few decades and it is now a 30min walk to reach the countryside, and the paddock with the horses is gone, and the farm where I used to milk the cows is now a housing estate. The southern suburbs of Glasgow have exploded so much that for the people who live there, there is really no reason to go into the city at all with entertainment and shopping complexes all within easy reach.

 

I found myself eventually at Rouken Glen Park, location of various school events. I found wood carvings, maintained gardens and round the edge, a wilderness area through a woodland. Hidden here was waterfalls and old stone structures, and despite being a weekday, there were many people making use of the trails that cut through. Towards the southern end, I found myself at one of the park’s more well known features: a multi-tiered waterfall that flows under a stone arched bridge. I was amused to discover that the railing on the bridge had become the local ‘love-locket’ site. Copying the more famous locations in Europe where loved ones are immortalised on an engraved lock that gets attached to a bridge, there were plenty of them here too, and I read some of the engravings with feigned interest before walking round the nearby pond and then heading home.

 

After an afternoon playing with my nephew, my mum and I caught up with my aunt and cousin for dinner at Intu Braehead. I hadn’t been here before so my cousin gave me a tour to show me the indoor ski slopes and ice climbing centre that she takes her kids to. Next to the climbing centre near the entrance, I’d been eyeing up the giant helter skelter whilst my mum and I had waited for them to arrive, so I didn’t need much encouragement to have a go on it, and my cousin joined me for a slide down before we went for dinner. I hadn’t seen my cousin since her wedding in 2010 so it was great to have a chinwag after all these years.

But all good things must come to an end unfortunately and all too soon it was the last day and we spent it as a family together. Every time I go home, I insist on a group photo and this was the first time to include my nephew. I had an early morning flight back to Amsterdam the next day, so as always it was a sad farewell, this time before even going to bed as it was too early for my parents to get up the next morning. My brother kindly offered to get up and drive me to the airport at stupid o’clock in the morning, and before I knew it I was leaving Scottish soil behind once more.

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.

West Highland Way: Drymen to Rowardennan

As much as I like my own company when I’m hiking, I was looking forward to my brothers joining me for day 2 of the West Highland Way (WHW). I’d had a restful sleep at the Kip in the Kirk, and had a good chat with my American roommates over breakfast in the kitchen. With my brothers driving separately from Glasgow then meeting up to strategically place their cars to get themselves home, I had a bit of time to kill whilst waiting for them. I hung around in the town square of Drymen watching the world go by until finally they appeared rather later than anticipated. But under the grey sky, once everyone was kitted up for the hike, we set off on route to Rowardennan, 15miles (24km) away¬† on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, Scotland’s largest inland body of water.

The Clachan in Drymen

Drymen Square

 

There are two routes out of Drymen to rejoin the West Highland Way: the more direct Rob Roy Way which is a short cut, or to retrace my steps from the evening before back to the A811 which is what we did. There was only a short distance along this road till the path took a 90 degree turn towards the woods of the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. It was an easy meander with good company as we caught up with each others’ lives. As much as I love living in New Zealand, the distance from my family back in Scotland and the sense of feeling like I’m missing out on family gatherings is a hard sacrifice that I can accept sometimes better than others. It had been 3.5 years since I’d last seen my family, and time was running out before I was to head back to the Southern Hemisphere.

This section of the walk may be changeable depending on how the tree growth is going, but we were able to see down to Loch Lomond which grew larger and larger as we approached it. Nearing the end of the wooded section the path splits in two: a woodland track that cuts down to the B837 with the road then being followed into Balmaha; or the more scenic track that summits Conic Hill. This latter track is closed during lambing season, but in July we were good to go, and there was no way I was skipping this section of the track. Considering how few WHW walkers I’d come across the day before, there were plenty of people trudging up Conic Hill that day, and for the first time on the hike, I was reminded how much over-indulging I had done on my holiday, as I lagged a little behind my brothers as we trudged our way up the 361m (1184ft) hill.

Queen Elizabeth Forest Park

Loch Lomond behind Queen Elizabeth Forest Park

Conic Hill by Loch Lomond

The West Highland Way snakes up Conic Hill

Loch Lomond visible on the climb up Conic Hill

 

We got a cracking view of Loch Lomond from the summit which is just a slight side trip from the WHW itself, but it was very windy, and the clouds were quick to close in on us. We could see a sheet of rain moving in from further up the loch and as we started our descent to try and beat it, our luck ran out and we got wet. Stubborn to the last minute, I was left trying to put my waterproofs on with the wind whipping them around me, in a repeat of what had happened on our ascent to Ben Lomond a couple of weeks prior. Picking our way down the track, then some steps, we found ourselves back in another section of the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park before emerging out in Balmaha, a small settlement on the shore of Loch Lomond, and a popular spot for day trippers from the city. We headed to the Oak Tree Inn, a beautiful and popular inn filled with locals, walkers and visitors. We were lucky to get a table with the crowds there, and enjoyed a tasty meal as we dried off a little.

Conic Hill summit panorama

Looking back at the road already travelled

Loch Lomond panorama

Descending from Conic Hill

Queen Elizabeth Forest ParkThe Oak Tree Inn at Balmaha

 

Unfortunately, my eldest brother had received a call that meant he had to leave us there, so after he caught the local bus to get back to Drymen where he’d left his car, my other brother and I continued on the WHW. Passing a statue of Tom Weir, nicknamed the Mountain Man, the track skirted the shoreline, passing boats moored at a little marina and round to a jetty where some local ferry services ran from. Heading up the hill to Craigie Fort, the sun was starting to push through the clouds and from the lookout we could see along the length of Loch Lomond and the mountains that flanked its sides. Soon joining the bank of the loch itself, we chatted away, taking photos often as the view of the loch changed constantly as we followed its shore.

Tom Weir MBE

Balmaha marina

Balmaha jetty panorama

Inchcailloch island on Loch Lomond

Looking up the length of Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond panorama from Craigie Fort

Inchcallioch island

 

In sections, the path skirts the road before separating from it, dipping back into the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park briefly before returning to the roadside again. Being a Saturday, there was a regular stream of cars driving along. Whilst the road on this side of the loch is a dead end, there are plenty of camp sites, holiday homes, and a few eateries to tempt visitors to travel along it. Although the path was separate to the tarmac, the noise was a little distracting having come on this hike to get away from it all. Even on the loch itself, there was boat activity ploughing along the water too, and there were plenty of people at various spots along the track. Frustratingly, this popularity led to a major problem with littering. In the past, the local council banned freedom camping in this area, limiting it to designated campsites in an effort to reduce the desecration that has taken place, but with every little beach or inlet we came across, we found garbage stuffed amongst tree branches and dumped on the grass. Such a beautiful part of the country has fallen foul to the ingrates who come to play there.

Bonnie banks of Loch Lomond

Banks of Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond shoreline panorama

Rubbish - the scar on the Loch Lomond landscape

 

A longer hike than day 1, I was getting tired as we continued the long walk along the loch, but there were so many little beaches to look at. On one such beach I stumbled across a rather rusty set of 9 keys with what looked like a mixture of car, boat and household keys. Clearly it had been there for a while, but somebody somewhere would have spent a lot of money replacing a lot of locks! I carried them with me anyway, and handed them in when finally we reached Rowardennan. Despite booking my accommodation 6 months ahead, I had been unable to secure a bed at the local youth hostel and was forced to splash out for a room at the Rowardennan Hotel. Whilst I could have done without the expense, I was grateful for the large luxurious bed and posh bathroom, as well as the welcoming snacks and tv that came with my room. My brother continued the short distance along the road to the public car park where he had left his car, and from there he headed home to Glasgow.

Keys on a beach

Pebbly beach at Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond shore

Loch Lomond's rocky shore

Bonnie banks of Loch Lomond near Rowardennan

 

At the far end of the Rowardennan Hotel was the pub where I was lucky to get the last table, squished right in the middle of the very packed bar. Saturday nights anywhere in Scotland are busy, but it was peak holiday season, the schools were finished for the year, and both locals and tourists filled every square inch of the place. One of the down sides of dining alone meant that I had to leave the table to order my meal at the bar, and this led to a rather heated exchange when I returned to find a couple had sat themselves at my table. Tired and hungry I wasn’t giving in, and despite them being evidently annoyed, they relinquished it begrudgingly and I settled in to wait for my food whilst indulging in a well earned cider.

A commotion drew my attention to an alcove across the bar where a familiar face sat amongst a group of friends watching the football. Kevin Bridges, one of Scotland’s best comedians was enjoying a few drinks, and I wasn’t the only one who had spotted the celebrity. I was highly amused eavesdropping on a neighbouring table who kept whispering about him, and were evidently trying to find an excuse to go and talk to him. I was neither presentable, nor extroverted enough to consider going anywhere near him, and respected his down time also. After filling my stomach with a tasty meal, I retreated to my cosy room to vegetate on my bed watching tv before another thoroughly good sleep in preparation for the longest day of the whole hike.

Rowardennan Hotel room

Rowardennan Hotel bathroom

West Highland Way: Glasgow to Drymen

For 96 meandering miles (154.5km), the West Highland Way (WHW) traverses a range of landscapes leaving the suburbs of Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow behind for open pastures, rolling hills, lochs, and then mountains before reaching Fort William in the north. Repeatedly lauded as Britain’s best long distance walk, and certainly Scotland’s most well known, and most popular, it was a walk that had eluded me for quite some time. The usual recommendation is to walk it in 7 days, but depending on drive and fitness, it can be walked in as long or as little time as you like. My brother had even completed the mammoth task of walking it in less than 48hrs for charity, but for me, with a slightly tight schedule at the end of my 6-wk long trip, I had 6 days to complete it. I was beyond excited, having waited many years to reach this point.

I had had immensely good luck with the weather for the initial few weeks of my trip round Scotland, and then the rain and cloud appeared before I hopped over to Iceland for 10 days. On my return, just the next day, I was packed and ready to head off, but outside the clouds were crying over Glasgow. It was a little disheartening to have to start the walk in full waterproofs but I was grateful to my brother for driving me to Milngavie, a northern suburb of the city, where the WHW officially begins. After grabbing a hot snack from the nearby Greggs, and posing for some obligatory photos at the obelisk in the town centre, I could not wait out the rain much longer and with my brother in tow, I set off in the early afternoon of day 1.

In full waterproofs at the start of the West Highland Way

 

Underneath a signed archway, the track immediately leaves the city life behind, to follow the river, Allander Water, as it snakes its way through the emerging countryside. It doesn’t take long to reach Mugdock Woods, an area known to me from many a school visit here when I was younger, but a place that I had not been to for a very long time. Here, there were a myriad of local walks, and it was one of these that my brother left me for before heading home, whilst I continued to follow the distinctive sign of the WHW: a thistle. Thankfully the showers were already clearing and it wasn’t long before the layers could start to come off. I shared this section of the walk with a lot of locals out walking their dogs or out for a stroll, and it wasn’t until reaching the far end of Mugdock Woods after 2 miles (3.2km) did I start to feel like I was getting away from it all.

WHW in Mugdock Woods

Signage near Mugdock Woods

 

My destination for the night was Drymen, which the sign at the end of the woods told me was 10 miles (16km) away. With the sun now shining, it quickly became a very beautiful walk through grassland surrounded by trees, and then along the bank of Craigallian Loch. This was the first time I came across fellow WHW hikers in the form of two friends who appeared laden down with camping gear. Due to chronic back issues, I had long ago made the decision that I would stay in accommodation during the hike, meaning I only needed to carry about 6-8kg weight as opposed to the weight of a tent and camping gear. The weight difference meant it only took the length of the loch to catch up with them and then overtake them.

10 miles to Drymen

Walking the WHW

Craigallian Loch

 

The whole walk follows a mixture of old drovers roads, military roads or coaching roads, but especially on this first day, there was a regular need to cross or follow modern day roads. For the most part these are not main roads so traffic was light, and after a brief foray along a section of tarmac, I was soon back in pastureland, walking amongst cattle and heading towards the distinctive hump of Dumgoyach. Following the farm track, I was surprised to come over a ridge and be accosted by a man looking for money. Purported to be raising money for the local mountain rescue service, I was in two minds how to approach his request. With the walk itself being free, he was particularly targeting hikers on the WHW, and I wasn’t convinced he was genuine. But being as he was in the middle of nowhere, he had at least made some effort to be there, so even if he was scamming, I decided to give him some money anyway to justify his effort.

Entering farmland

Crossing pastureland

Cows next to the WHW

The WHW snaking through the lowlands

 

Soon though, I was back on my own, at least for a while before I was joined by some sheep as I skirted Dumgoyach. Then having by now walked 5.5 miles (nearly 9km), the WHW turned to join an old railway line which it followed for a good while, passing a turn-off to the Glengoyne Distillery. I was tempted to pop in for a wee dram, but with the afternoon wearing on, and the sky once again becoming overcast, I opted to push on. When eventually a break in the old railway line was reached, a welcoming sign for the Beech Tree, a local business, greeted me on my brief return to habitation.

Typical WHW signage

Dumgoyach

Scottish blackface sheep

Lamb walking the WHW

Distance marker

Glengoyne whisky distillery

WHW at Glengoyne

Beech Tree signage

WHW History information board at the Beech Tree

 

Crossing the road, the path again denoted the old railway track but this time was narrow, and as it meandered northwards, I met the odd person out walking their dog from the nearby villages. With houses peeking out of the trees at regular intervals it felt like a long time before I was leaving civilisation behind again, and even then it was only a brief respite before the path met head on with the A81 road. I could hear it before seeing it, and this was the first of a few main road crossings on the walk. Once safely across, it was only a short meander till the path petered out, and I found myself at a quiet tarmac road.

Following the old railway line

Old railway line

Crossing the road

 

Following this road left, it crossed a weir at the hamlet of Gartness, and then it was a long tarmac trudge as a drizzle began. This quiet road links a few farms and small-holdings with Drymen to the north-west. In case I was feeling homesick for New Zealand, there were some random signs referencing Hobbits and the Shire which I found quietly amusing. Then, just as my feet were getting sick of the tarmac, Loch Lomond, the largest inland body of water in the country, popped into view for the first time. This spurred me on a little as I hate walking on roads, and only when Drymen is vaguely in sight, does the route finally veer off the tarmac.

Weir at Gartness

The never-ending tarmac trudge

Hobbit country

First sighting of Loch Lomond

 

In a small but muddy field, a worn path led through a herd of cattle. One of the cows was using a WHW sign to scratch an itch and I watched it, smiling as I passed by. Soon after, I found myself at the A811 road where I left the WHW behind to follow the pavement into Drymen. I was staying at Kip in the Kirk, an old church on Stirling Road that had been converted into a bunkhouse and B&B. I was welcomed with a mug of tea and a freshly baked scone which was a lovely touch, and I was very happy to get my hiking boots off my feet.

The Ten Commandments at Kip in the Kirk

 

After a brief respite, and on the recommendation of one of my hosts, it wasn’t far to reach the Winnock in Drymen’s square, where I parked myself up for the night. The UEFA EURO 2016 football tournament was still in full swing so with this on the television in the bar and being a Friday night, there was a decent crowd there. I got a table easily though and it was warm and cosy. I requested a dram of the most local whisky (which turned out to be Glengoyne, the distillery I had passed on the hike), and happily tore in to a steak pie. As the evening wore on, and the other drinkers grew merry, I found myself talking to a very drunk local who used to live in Glasgow. His banter brought back so many memories of nights out in the city of my birth, and he was good company whilst the match played on in the background. But tired from the fresh air, and with another day of hiking ahead of me, my bed was soon calling me, so shortly after the full-time whistle was blown, I retreated to the bunkhouse for an immensely comfortable night’s sleep.

Winnock in Drymen

A dram of Glengoyne whisky

Steak pie at Winnoch in Drymen

Ben Lomond

In 2002, the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park was born, encompassing 720 square miles of mountains, lochs and forests. To the north-west of Scotland’s largest city Glasgow, it is an easily accessible playground for the outdoor enthusiast. From water sports to hiking and family activities, there are plenty of options for enjoyment, and for hikers like me, it encompasses not only the earlier sections of the West Highland Way, but 21 Munros (Scottish mountains >3000ft).

I enjoy hiking mountains, not just for the exercise and achievement in doing so, but mainly for the reward in the view at the top and the satisfaction of ticking another summit off the list. I don’t personally see the point in hiking a mountain when it is poor weather, as the view is my favourite part, but yet nearly a week after summiting Ben Nevis in low cloud, I found myself with just one chance at hiking Ben Lomond and a poor weather forecast to contend with. Without my own transport, it didn’t take much to convince my brother to drive me there and join me on the hike, and so, despite the predictions, we set off from my parent’s house on the nearly 1.5hr drive to the car park at Rowardennan.

Within the trees on the banks of Loch Lomond, the large car park (cash payment only) was nearly full despite the grey clouds that hung overhead. Aside from the munro, there are a few local walks as well, but it seemed that Ben Lomond was a common destination. On stepping out of the car, I was immediately overwhelmed by a large swarm of midges. When I used to live in Scotland, midges were a presence but rarely an annoyance for me. Perhaps my blood wasn’t that attractive, or perhaps my memories are selective, but of my 29 years of living in Scotland, and many trips to the west coast, I can only remember a couple of occasions where they were a pain. Now however, I had the allure of foreign-tasting blood, and in just a t-shirt, my arms were soon blackened with the largest concentration of midges I have ever seen. The ones that weren’t munching on my arms were swirling around my face, and my patience quickly went as I waited for my brother to get geared up.

The last time my brother had hiked Ben Lomond, the start of the track was being upgraded and there was a detour from the information centre. On this day, the track had reopened at its original location behind the information centre and we set off, hounded by the midges the whole time. Starting in the lower forest where the view was minimal, we reached a clearing where shortly after we were sent on a diversion as the next section of track was being upgraded. The track was still obvious but a little rougher under foot, and with less trees, it soon became obvious that the summit of Ben Lomond was nowhere to be seen.

Looking up at the clouds

 

Despite gaining altitude from the beginning, the midges continued to follow us, and through bracken we continued our gentle climb until we reached a bridge which led us onto grazing land. Below us, Loch Lomond was disappearing into the distant cloud, and now Ben Lomond stood in front of us, low cloud swirling around. Like Ben Nevis the week before, I was amazed at the number of people out hiking on such a poor weather day. Groups of kids were out doing a charity walk and they showed me up with their youthful fitness. They stopped often though, so eventually we passed them by as the path continued its steady climb.

Looking down towards the hidden Loch Lomond

The path up Ben Lomond

Looking towards the summit of Ben Lomond

 

A light drizzle started, and whilst my brother kitted up in his waterproofs, I decided to press on without as I was quite warm from the effort. It wasn’t particularly heavy at this stage, but by now we were in the cloud, and I had no idea how far we had to go with no point of reference. I just followed my brother and the well-trodden path, but the higher we got, the more I noticed people giving me a strange look as they came down in wet weather gear and I plodded on in capri-pants and a t-shirt. At about 850m, the path began to zig-zag, and on turning a corner at a low false-summit, it was like walking in to a wind tunnel, and I found myself suddenly cold and wet. It was a mission to put on my waterproofs in the driving wind and rain, and I was aware of plenty of soaked-looking people emerging out of the mist above us.

Duly kitted up, we pushed on for the final summit push. Unfortunately, the weather meant I spent most of the time staring at my feet, so the summit push is a bit of a blur. There was an initial steep section followed by tracing the outline of the eastern corrie, a rocky plinth that gave brief shelter before we were left exposed again for the final trail along the summit ridge until the summit emerged from the gloom. It was so busy here despite the now heavy rain, that we couldn’t even get a photo at the summit marker, having to make do with a photo on the path at the summit edge. We could have been anywhere. I couldn’t believe how many people were up there, but with the rain quickly drenching us, there was no point hanging around.

View from the summit of Ben Lomond

Obligatory summit photo at Ben Lomond in the rain

 

There are two options for descending: back the route you’ve just come up, or going down the Ptarmigan route. I assumed with the weather that my brother would want to do the quicker, easier route back down, but having done it before, he suggested we take the Ptarmigan route so despite not being able to see it through the clouds, I followed his lead and was amazed at the barely visible path disappearing over the cliffs. Had I been on my own, I would never have even noticed this as a path, it was so discrete in the clouds. I certainly didn’t feel unsafe, but it was a shame to miss out the views that I’m sure this route would afford on a good weather day. It reminded me somewhat of the hike I did on Little Mount Peel in New Zealand with a rapid descent over rocky drops in altitude towards the summit of the Ptarmigan.

Looking down towards the Ptarmigan Route in the driving rain

 

Crossing near a series of small peaks (of which one is the Ptarmigan), the path turns to descend back onto the green-covered hillside. The rain was still ongoing, and despite having not eaten and both being quite hungry, there was nowhere sheltered to stop. By now several hours into the hike, my jacket was starting to lose it’s waterproof abilities and I could feel myself getting damp within. As we continued on a now gentle descent down the front face of Ben Lomond, the grass changed to bracken, and we could just about make out Loch Lomond through the occasional break in the clouds.

Following the Ptarmigan Route down the face of Ben Lomond

Loch Lomond just about visible through the clouds

 

Eventually we found ourselves back in the forest above Rowardennan and we followed a burn as it made its way down towards the road. Then it was just a matter of walking along the tarmac back to the car park where we tried to warm back up in the car, eating our lunch surrounded by the midges that sneaked in with us. Whilst I’m very glad I ticked another Munro off the list, it reinforced why I don’t enjoy hiking when there isn’t a view involved. Perhaps on a sunnier occasion when I’m next in the country I might try this one again, but for now, I’m going to leave the mountains for better weather.

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