There and Back Again - The WHW Story

October 18 - 2012

Brain Tumour Research

Day 1 – Monday 30th July 2012

Day 1 – Karen with Dumgoin in the background

Considering I had damaged my ribs playing Flag Football the Saturday before we started the WHW, and with backpacks at approximately 17-18Kg, I awake very early in the morning (5.30am), still a little apprehensive about the decision to carry our gear the full way. However after a good breakfast, a handful of pain killers, and a final equipment check we set off for Milngavie resigned to our decision. We take some time out for a photo opportunity at the Obelisk in the Milngavie town centre, which marks the start of the West Highland Way. Then Karen and I set off on the first stage of our planned 96 mile walk; Milngavie to Drumquhassle Campsite (11.5 miles) near Drymen; at 9.15am. Making good time on the easy going pathways we reach Carbeth Loch (4 miles) with great confidence. Our backpacks are not troubling us (yet) and our feet are still in good shape. We press on through the late morning to our agreed lunch break at Drumgoyne (7.5 Miles). Typically it begins to rain as we settle down for lunch. We set off again after a longer break than planned (1.5 hours) due mainly to the weather. We push on through the mid-afternoon sun (typical changeable Scottish weather) for our final destination of the day. We find the last 1.5 miles on the country roads leading to the camp site quite strenuous; a couple of steep inclines in the now soaring heat tests our fitness, but we reach our destination by 3.15pm. Taking stock of the day after setting up camp, we are in good shape for day 2. Fed and watered we retire at dusk for an early start.

Day 2 – Tuesday 31st July 2012

Day 2 – Tree felling/ clearing in the Garadbhan Forest

We rise early in preparation for stage 2 of our walk; Drymen to Sallochy camp site (13 miles), including a climb up and over Conic Hill. With a bit of faffing around and a 1.5 mile walk into Drymen for the next few days' supplies, we are not fully on the go until 10.30am. A further mile into the walk we are disheartened to find that due to tree felling/ clearing in the Garadbhan Forest, the WHW route has been diverted causing us to double back on ourselves and back down the hill we’d just tackled, and adding at least 2 miles and another hour on to our day. Adjusting our schedule we stop for lunch on the high approach to Conic Hill (6 miles) taking in the spleander and tranquility of the coutryside. After lunch the climb up Conic Hill is quite tiring, due in main to the weight of the packs and the sunshine. We’re just not used to the sun. Our feet are starting to show signs of road wear. Possibly some small blisters forming on our feet/ toes. After a rather steep decent down into Balmaha (4.30pm) we stop for a much needed drink (soft) and rest, before pressing on to Sallochy. We are joined on this leg by our new American acquaintance Alisha, who is pressing on to Rowardennan Youth Hostel. Climbing up and out of Balmaha onto the Loch Lomond shoreline we make good progress and finish the day by 6.30pm, where we part company with Alisha. A much longer day than the first, but our camp site is very picturesque, and worth the extra milage. Unfortunately the weather closes in very quickly after dinner, and worsens throughout the night, forcing us to bed down early for a consecutive night.

Day 3 – Wednesday 1st August 2012

Day 3 – Final view of Loch Lomond

We strike camp with greater efficiency than day 2; despite the weather. The rain has not let up since early evening, but we find ourselves on the road to Rowardennan by 8.30am. Our schedule dictates that today is a long stage 16.5 miles; Sallochy Campsite to Beinglass Farm Campsite; so we press on towards Rowardennan at pace. Up and over Dubh Lochain (95m) we make ‘The Clansman’ in Rowardennan (2.75 miles) in good time. We stop for ‘second breakfast’ and to replenish our water. We press on and cover the next 7.25 miles to Inversnaid in very good time, catching up with Alisha two miles out of Inversnaid. However, this is at the expense of every ounce of energy in the tank. Almost delirious we staggered into the hotel car park, and to top it all off the rain worsenes before we can prepare for lunch. We are both suffering terribly as we are soaked through; including our feet; which has caused minor blisters to become major blisters. This is the lowest point of our adventure so far, the Scottish weather is now doing its best to thwart our attempt to complete the West Highland Way, and lower our spirits. After a much welcome, and much needed two hour rest for lunch, (note to self don't buy food at the Inversnaid Hotel, it was rank), and a pit stop for foot repairs. We set out on what turns out to be the toughest and most demanding section of the walk. The shoreline from Inversnaid to Doune Bothy is very challenging, especially with the rain teaming down. Picking our way along the narrowest of paths, strewn with an entanglement of tree roots; scrambling up and over huge boulders; squeezing through the narrowest of gaps; and climbing down stair cases hewn into rock faces, like the hidden stairs to Mordor; we progress at a snail’s pace. As the day wears on the weather improves slightly, but our rate of progress is disheartening. It seams like ever before we reach our final view of Loch Lomond from Cnap Mor. We finally make Beinglass Farm at 8.00pm, eleven and a half hours after leaving Sallochy earlier that morning. As we begin to pitch our tent the heavens open up once more, but this time with a vengeance. It is also our first encounter with the pesky Midge, which seem not to be deterred by the heavy rainfall. We attempt to dry out our kit in preparation for the next day, taking refuge in the drying/ food prep area. By 10.30pm we finally manage to prepare our dinner, before collapsing into our sleeping bags exhausted.

Day 4 – Thursday 2nd August 2012

Day 4 – Me and Karen with Ben More in the background

Waking at 5.00am the next morning we discover the weather had broken, the sky was clear and the sight of sunshine lifts our spirits. Only lifted for mere seconds though as, on exiting the tent, the Midge descend in their droves. “Is this a Midge breeding farm?” I ask, as we break camp at speed. With our blistered feet patched up we set off on the longest section of the walk (19.5 miles) to the Bridge of Orchy. Today was going to be a terrific challenge not only for our endurance, but our resolve too. The ascent up Glen Falloch is easy going as we join the A82 on the approach towards Crianlarich (6 miles). With the sun shining the memories of yesterday ebb away leaving us feeling positive once more. We stop for ‘second breakfast’ on the ascent away from Crianlarich. Using the time to make more foot repairs whilst taking in the wonderful view of Ben More and Stob Binnein. Transcending up and over several shoulders on this relatively gentle section we finally descend back to the A82, which we will be following on and off for the remainder of the day. Passing under the A82 near Ewich House we head off for Tyndrum. Within a couple of miles we stumble upon the camp site at Strathfillan. We take advantage of the site shop and stop for lunch (best bacon rolls ever), and much needed foot attention. We make Tyndrum by 4.00pm (12 miles) stopping only to pick up some supplies. We set out on the last leg with Bienn Dorain dominating the landscape. Time slips quickly by as we seam to struggle to reach the foot of Bienn Dorain. We force ourselves to lift the pace over the final 3 miles and are glad to reach Bridge of Orchy by 7.30pm, but both severely hobbled. Checking into the bunkhouse we make full use of the laundry and drying facilities, before sitting down in the well appointed hotel bar for what turns out to be a fantastic dinner. The haggis, neeps, and tatties were to die for! Good call Karen!

Day 5 – Friday 3rd August 2012

Day 5 – Karen descending down towards Inveroran Hotel

After a disturbed evening's sleep. Some people can be very ignorant and self absorbed at times. We stock up our energy levels with a full cooked breakfast in our preparation for day five. With only a 13 mile leg ahead of us we’ve decided to set off a little later today 10.30am. We also take up an offer by one of our fellow walkers to transport some of our gear to Kingshouse by car. Goodbye tent, and food packs for the day. Waaaayy! (There was great rejoicing). With slightly lighter loads we set forth on what is arguable the most picturesque section of the WHW. The walk from Bridge of Orchy to Loch Tulla is just breath taking at times. By lunchtime we find ourselves at Ba Bridge (7.5 miles) on the old drove road and stop for lunch. Whilst partaking luncheon (chicken pot noodle) we are surprised by our American friend Alisha as she passes us with the ‘Macmillan Care’ crew, a welcome distraction from our monosodium glutamate glup. We reach Kingshouse by 5.00pm and accept an offer of a lift down Glen Etive to our preferred campsite. Recovering our equipment, we begin to set up camp, just as our brother Paul arrives with his son Jack and Karen’s son Seth. Paul surprises us with beer, wine, and a delicious dinner of ‘Spag B’. What a great evenings dining, enjoyed round a much welcome camp-fire, with fantastic company. I just love returning to Glen Etive, I’m not going to leave it so long next time.

Day 6 – Saturday 4th August 2012 (Rest Day)

Day 6 – The family gather in Glen Etive

Day six was a scheduled day of rest. A day of reflection and recuperation. A day to fulfil the final act of our brother Steven's journey through this life. The act of scattering his ashes in Geln Etive, in the place he loved and returned to most in his life. This was the true inspiration and catalyst for this trip. Fittingly we wake to discover the sun splitting the sky on what must be the most beautiful day of the year. A short lived reminder of what summer weather is supposed to be like. Like last evening's meal the breakfast (bacon rolls that equal those sampled in Strathfillan) is spectacular. The rest of the family arrive later that morning, and as is typical in Scotland, and as if on cue, the clouds roll quickly in and the heavens open in a dramatic downpour sending us all diving into the tents for cover. After the deluge disappears as quickly as it arrived, we organise ourselves and travel a further mile down Glen Etive to an idyllic spot where the road bridges a stream. Here we scatter Steven's ashes. We have returned Steven's mortal remains back into the life cycle. He is once again part of the grand scheme, and not in a poly bag any more. On returning to our camp site we enjoy a hearty lunch with the family before we disperse to the four winds once more. Karen and I decide to move our camp back up to the Kingshouse, and saying our fond farewells we turn our attention to the preparation for day seven and the 'Devils Staircase'. The weather closes in as dusk falls and the Midge appear in force. (Think of a number over a thousand then multiply that by a thousand and your no where near how many there were. I kid you not.) After a quick visit to the local for a pint of 'Best' we retire for the night in the knowledge that we will be eaten alive as we sleep. There is no way to stop the midge.

Day 7 – Sunday 5th August 2012

Day 7 – Karen ascending the 'Devil's Staircase'

In the cold light of day we are horrified to discover our tent has been infested by the midge overnight. There is now no escape from them as it is much worse outside, the damp dreary conditions are ideal for the little blighters. Stop for a second and they descend to cover every exposed surface of your body. At one point I looked as if I was wearing a pair of black gloves. Breaking camp as quickly as we can, stressed to high doe, we get on our way, eating an excuse for breakfast on the go. It is no different as we progress along the WHW as every stop attracts the next attack of the Midge horde. We're forced to press on at pace whether we like it or not, and quickly depleting any benefits gained by our rest day. By 10.00 we are up and over the 'devils staircase' and the worst of the day is behind us. It's practically down hill for the rest of the day. To our amazement we cover the 9 miles to Kinlochleven by 12.30pm and are at a loss as what to do with ourselves. Fortunately a certain Andy Murray was playing for Gold on TV. Epic! We revel in his victory as we eat lunch, before exploring Kinlochleven for tomorrow's supplies. Our little 'Hobbit' lodge is great, except that all the windows must remain closed to keep the Midge out, turning our dwelling into a mini sauna, as we use the rest of the day to recharge our batteries. We decide that enough is enough and tomorrow will be our last day on the walk. We will push the extra 2.5 miles into Fort William; making this leg a 16 mile hike; to catch the 5.35 Train to Glasgow instead of stopping at the Glen Nevis camp site. Another night with the Midge is just not very appealing.

Day 8 – Monday 6th August 2012

Day 8 – View back down towards Kinlochleven

The final day. Some 16 miles and the end of the trail will be reached. It's another overcast morning, but the thought of finishing the journey today buoys us along. After a good breakfast we set off, with a hobble in our step. Our feet are done; a mass of 'Compeed' and blisters; but we have to complete the task we've come too far to give up now. After climbing out of Kinlochleven for about an hour or so we break from the tree line; high above and to the North of Loch Leven; and hit the old military road that will lead us to today's goal, journey's end. Following the road through the Glens we make steady progress as it makes for easy going, but we quickly tire as the miles roll by. As we take a much needed break for lunch the weather brightens lifting our spirit once again; and we dismiss the thought of taking the 'short cut' into For William at this point. We press on to the right, over the shoulder towards Dun Deardail and our first view of Fort William, Gen Nevis and Ben Nevis. The track down into the Glen and on towards Fort William is deceptively long and one and a half hours later we reach the end of our great adventure.

But wait a minute; there was still the walk to the station; and a further walk to the 'new official' end of the West Highland Way for photos with the 'sore feet' statue. The cynic in me feels this new end has been relocated at Gordon Square just to draw those who have just endured the long walk from Glasgow into the retail net of Fort William, when all I really wanted to do was stop walking.

Day 8 – The end to the West Highland Way Day 8 – The new end to the West Highland Way