05 July 2007

SCOTLAND - THE WEST HIGHLAND WAY

26 May - Getting ready

We decided to do the West Highland Way, and with Esther having 3 of everything, it was easy to borrow a backpack and all the necessary hiking gear from her. So we packed our bags with tents, sleeping bags, food, stove, pots and odds ready for the long walk.

The West Highland Way - 95 miles (153.8km) – is Scotland’s first long distance footpath and passes through some of Scotland’s most beautiful and dramatic scenery.

27 May - Milngavie to Drymen - 12 Miles (19km)

So off we went on the West Highland Way. Caught the train at 09.20 to Milngavie, which is just a short distance from where Esther lives (about 4 stops). Half the train got off at Milngavie, all doing the West Highland Way. I did not expect to see so many people on the hike; I also did not expect to see them only carrying small day packs. Most people make use of Travel-lite to transport their packs.

The 12 mile walk from Milngavie to Drymen is really well marked, the route is fairly easy and flat and the path wide, so there is no chance of getting lost. The first section of the route we walked through beautiful deciduous woodlands with lots of streams. The route past by many villages so halfway we popped in for lunch and a beer.

We camped on a farm about 1 mile (1.6km) before Drymen, the farm offers a cooking shelter which came in very handy as it started raining just as we arrived.

28 May - Drymen to Rowardennan 14 miles (22.5km)

We left Drymen, a pleasant walk though the woods, the path soon reached Conic Hill, our first taste of the Scottish Highlands. Reaching Balmaha we, once again, stopped for lunch and a beer. From Balmaha we walked along the shores of Loch Lomand. The views across the loch and towards the mountains are fantastic. We walked past Ben Lomand and through ancient oak woodlands, the views are really spectacular.

On arrival at Rowardennan we found only a hotel, youth hostel and wild camping. Esther opted for the Youth Hostel and we found it to be very comfortable and warm.

29 May - Rowardennan to Invernarnan - 14 miles (22.5km)

On leaving the Youth Hostel Esther was struggling getting her backpack on (anyone who knows her, will know that she has the whole world and the kitchen sink in there). The man from the Youth Hostel looked at her in amazement, and asked if she knew there is a transport service. So we decided to send the backpacks with the van. By now we were well known as the people with the large backpacks, so the other walkers looked at us in disbelieve as we came strolling past, swinging our little plastic bags containing the days provisions.

Once again the path followed the shores of Loch Lomond and passed through more natural oak woodlands. We even spotted some wildlife, being the wild goats in the area. The area here is much associated with Rob Roy MacGregor, there are many stories about Rob Roy and I am not quite sure, if they are all true.

The path was much more hilly than the previous days and what a good thing we were not carrying those heavy packs. We camped at Benglas Farm which also had a great bar/restaurant and cooking shelter, which helps a lot in the rainy weather. We took a walk across the river to a bar which is apparently more than 300 years old, and what a nice atmosphere it had. We had an excellent night of singing (and drinking red wine) with the other walkers, to such an extent that I left my wallet in the pub. Disaster again.

30 May - Inverarnan to Tyndrum - 13 miles (20.9km)

First thing in the morning it is back to the pub looking for the wallet and to my relief it was still there!!! By now everyone knows the South African has lost her wallet (how embarrassing). With wallet in hand we set off to our next destination. The route follows the River Falloch and posses spectacular gorges full of waterfalls and rapids. We soon reached the old military road built towards the end of the 18th century, the path follows the road (by now mostly just a narrow track) for most of the way. The hills all have a blue/purple colour as they are covered in blue bells.

We walked past an area known as “the king’s field” where legend has it that in 1306 Robert the Bruce (From Brave Heart) suffered defeat by the MacDougalls.

By now the dreaded midges had come out (smaller than a muggie but more ferocious than a mosquito), these biting insects are just everywhere and as Esther walks in short sleeves she is now covered in lumps and pumps, they get in everywhere, in your hair, ears and even up you nose.

At Tyndrum we camped at “By the Way” and took a short walk into the village, well known for its Green Wellies Shop”. Here one can find almost everything, from hiking gear to food. So Esther and myself picked up two very small backpacks, as walking with a plastic bag is not all that becoming.

31 May - Tyndrum – Kingshouse - 20 Miles (32.1km)

We did a longer walk today as Ronnie, a local guy, told us to rather do this, as the other sections are very hilly, and you never argue with a local. Although it was a long walk it was fairly flat.

We walked through forestry plantations, which is a bit muddy in places, and now I understand why wearing hiking boots is better than running shoes. The route crosses Rannoch Moor with spectacular views of various Munros (mountains over 3000ft) and lochs in the distance.

On descending into Kingshouse, one can see the magnificent mountains of Glen Coe and Glen Etive where I am sure there must be excellent skiing in winter and some fantastic rock climbing areas.

We camped at Kingshouse which only offers wild camping with no facilities, so no better thing to do but sit in the pub until bed time.

1 June - Kingshouse – Kinlochleven - 8 Miles (12.6km)

A nice short walk today. We are now in an area with some of the most impressive peaks in Scotland and it makes you wish you were a rock climber. So we go over what is known as the Devil’s Staircase, still on the old military road, and reach the highest part of the walk. It’s the first day the sun is out and the views are truly magnificent.

We reach Kinlochleven early and camped at McDonald, which is on the loch side. The village is picture perfect with a large ice climbing centre.

2 June - Kinlochleven – Fort William - 13 Miles (20.9km)

The way climbed steeply out off Kinlochleven through woodlands and joined the old military road again. Esther even brought a beer as refreshment, which we had at an old ruin along the way. The other walkers must think we are total hooligans by now, as we constantly canning ourselves laughing at absolutely nothing, they must think that we are pissed all the time.

On arrival at Ford William we did not, unlike most others, go straight to the camp site, but first wandered about town in search of a pizza and a beer.

3 June - Ben Nevis - 12 Miles (19.3km)

We put off getting up until about 09h30 as it is raining and very, very wet outside, but how long can one be cooped up in a small tent? So in the end there is nothing more to do than put the wet weather gear on and head up the mountain. The starting point is at The Visitors Centre which was conficulously quite and we did not see many hikers along the route as the mist is very heavy and a constant drizzle made it a bit unpleasant.

The path up the mountain is a gentle climb and not very steep, I was surprised at how quickly the landscape changed from green rolling grass to a very rocky landscape. I could not believe my eyes when we reached the top and found a large snowfield!! How impressive.

The walk up and back took about 7 hours and needless to say we went straight into the pub for a beer and some food. Mission accomplished!!

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