Day 4:West Highland Way(Inverarnan to Tyndrum)

Leaving Inverarnan the weather forecast was dreary.  It promised a 50% chance of rain by noon, with the odds increasing to 100% by the early evening.  The incentive was to get out of the hotel as soon as possible to cover as much ground as we could before the rain began.  So much for odds, as it started raining as early as 10am and continued with a moderate force for about 2hrs.  It was the first time we had to break out the rain gear and the prospect of seeing the world from inside a plastic bag was a little discouraging.  However, there is nothing like actually getting uncomfortably wet to make you stop, put the gear on and adjust to the new conditions.  After a while I got used to seeing the world from the inside on my hood, and got back into the swing of things.

We covered quite a variety of terrain.  The day started out on a wide, level path through a country park, and then veered to the right, following the giant electric pylons that run down the valley.  Although they do mar the otherwise idyllic landscape, they were not too obnoxious, and there was plenty else to look out.  The nearby mountains were still visible through the light rain.  Sheep watched us from the fields, and the bracken pathways wove prettily through the gentle ups and downs of the trail.  Once we crossed the A82, the terrain changed to a more open slope and the rainfall picked up.  We were forced to cover our packs and legs, and carry on for a couple of more miles down the path.  Here the Way turns left towards Tyndrum, but as there was no lunch spot available, and in the rain this meant a straight march all the way.  Turning right would mean that we could go to the nearest village to shelter from the rain and get a bite to eat, but it was a 30 minute detour from the path.  We chose option A: to keep going.

Next the terrain changed to forest and we climbed way up into it, and then hiked down the steep descent to the forest floor, and picked up the river.  Following this for a few miles the trail brings you to more bracken covered moorland, some priory ruins and – the glorious unexpected offer of a hot cup of tea at a camping/wigwam village.  When you’re tired and soggy, even tea in a Styrofoam cup tastes wonderful.  I had two.

After a longish break, we had but two miles to Tyndrum, the rain had completely eased off, and we had a pleasant walk into the town.  Our accommodation was the Tyndrum Lodge, and not one of my best choices.  It’s the closest comparison would maybe be the Bates Motel.  It was rundown, neglected and just sad.  The attached Paddy’s Bar was owned the same family, and quite popular, helped tremendously by the fact that it’s the only pub in town.  But we ate instead at The Real Food Café which had a good fish and chip menu with a focus on sustainability.  Tyndrum has the last shops until Kinlochleven – two days away, so we also shopped for a few supplies.

No real photos today  — sorry —  camera was buried in the dry bag!

Day 3: West Highland Way(Rowardennan to Inverarnan)

…or the day of rocks and midges.

We got off to an earlier start.  It was going to be another 14 mile day, broken in the middle with an opportunity for lunch at Inversaid.  The guide book promised an easy trek to Inversaid, with only gentle ups and downs along the shoreline and through the woods.  What it didn’t mention was the waves of midges that we would encounter, particularly in the woods.  Since our departure from Drymen the midges had become a lot more obnoxious, but we found that as long as you kept moving, they didn’t really bother you.  But this is only true if the concentration of midges is moderate.  In heavier areas they fly at you, as you move, landing in your eyes and mouth, if you open it too wide for air as you pant uphill.

It was a tiring first half of the day.  We were basically unable to stop for longer than a minute for the 3.5 hrs it took to walk from Rowardennan to Inversaid.  It took the midges about 15 seconds to find you, not long enough to pee or even drink, and certainly not long enough to rest.  Occasionally we would stop somewhere for a moment and it would be midge-free for as long as five minutes, but overall it was non-stop to Inversaid where we arrived at the Inversaid Hotel.

The sun was still shining and there must have been about 20 hikers around all the wooden tables outside; midge-free because of the wind that was blowing.  However, we ate a light lunch in the dining room, which overlooked the North end of theLoch, served by one of many Polish waiters we were to encounter on the trip.  It’s a bit disconcerting to be in a remote Scottish location and not interact with Scots.  The hotel was nice enough though and would have been a pleasant place to stay.

The afternoon walk from Inversaid to Inverarnan is said to be one of the hardest parts of the trail.  The way is really rocky underfoot and every step is a calculation of stride and balance.  Here, some of the Way takes you over large rocks, and you have to haul yourself up them, and then half-scramble and slide your way down.  Its slow going, but a particularly lovely part of the walk.  The hike takes you towards the end of the lake shore with a final climb up a rock face via wooden ladder and out into the bracken covered fields north of Loch Lommond.

A wooden ladder to assist the climb over the larger boulders

Ireally liked this section. It was so green, with the interesting texture of the bracken everywhere.  We spotted some wild goats and the path took us closer and closer to them as they stood munching on the ferns.  They had some pretty fierce looking horns and I didn’t want to risk stopping to take a photo, but they were pretty tame and much more interested in their bracken dinner than a pair of hikers.

The bracken covered slopes as you approach The Drovers. Goats were hidden in there somewhere!

Arrival at The Drovers Inn in Inverarnan was at about5.30pm, we had been on the road for 9 hours.  We saw the old stone building from a distance as we turned from the path to the main road.  We’d been promised an old, charismatic building with oddities and men in kilts.  Walking into the reception, there were stuffed animals and a big mangy stuffed bear striking a fiercesome pose.  We learnt from reception that our stay at the Inn was actually in the 1980’s lodge over the road, which was nowhere near as interesting.  I felt we had been mislead, and somewhat taken by the hotel.  The staff were friendly and willing but not very knowledgeable.  More Polish servers, this time in kilts, and no-one that seemed to have spent more than a week on the job.  Too bad, as it was worth seeing.  But I would recommend staying in another nearby location and just visiting The Drovers Inn for dinner.

Michelle outside The Drovers Inn

Day 2: West Highland Way (Drymen to Rowardennan)

Fairly early on in the second day, you are presented with two alternatives:  a shorter walk along the paved Loch shore, or the higher, more strenuous route over Conic Hill with the reward of excellent views.  Our B&B hosts recommended Conic Hill as one of the highlights of the West Highland Way.  We took it and it was everything it was claimed to be:  tiring, quite strenuous but very rewarding on a sunny day with our first real views of Loch Lommond.  Beautiful.

Looking down at Loch Lommond from Conic Hill

We had gotten off to a late start in the morning, and after climbing Conic Hill way too slowly, we didn’t arrive at our lunch spot for the day until well after 1.30pm.  After a little food and a half an hour break, it meant we weren’t starting the second half of our fourteen mile day until after 2pm.   The walk was mainly along the Lochside, but very long.  There were plenty of ups and downs, and steep crags to tackle with their sharp climbs and vertical descents.  Very hard on the legs after so many hours.  Once we finally arrived at Rowardennan, we still had another 15 minutes of walking to the Rowardennan Youth Hostel, our destination for the night.  It felt like 15 more miles.  It fact, it was just 14 miles total for the day under our belt.

The stone front of Rowardennan Youth Hostel

The YHA was fine, but after a long, strenuous day like that you want someone else to take your suitcases for you, and being asked for a five pound deposit for your key is, well, wrong.  We both decided that we were getting to old for youth hostels as we dragged our suitcases from the outside shed to our rooms.  We were too tired to walk to the Rowardennan Hotel and decided to eat at the YHA, and it was actually a pretty good meal.

The YHA is located on the banks of Loch Lommond in a lovely setting.  We picked it to throw a little low-end stay with some of our pricer picks (coming later) and for the beautiful views.  After dinner we decided to try the front lawns and brave the midges a little.  Sprayed all over with Bog Myrtle and wearing very attractive head nets, we sat and tried to enjoy the view.  The little bastards descended in minutes.  I must have had several hundred in a swarm around my head, sitting on the netting, looking at me.

Michelle with rolled up head net, looking like she is off for her shift at the factory

…and an equally awful one of me, as it just wouldn’t be fair….

Aside from looking silly, the netting obscured the loveliness of the lake very effectively, and the looming menace of the midges just inches from my face made the attempt to enjoy the location pretty futile.  We went back inside.  However, do the Scots live with them?  And why would anyone ever camp next to the lake if it takes military-like protection to keep you away from the wee beasties?

I fell asleep almost instantly around 10pm, my third night of going to bed while the sun still shone.  It was starting to feel normal.