So with a bit of wanderlust and humor, here’s the first installment for this new Spatial Journeys blog…
In 1998, my husband, Tad, and I indulged my longing to see Scotland (due to umpteen viewings of Brigadoon and a passion for Celtic music). Avid hikers, we began our journey trekking the West Highland Way, a 100-mile long walk meandering though sheep and hairy coo farms along old Jacobite trails from the heart of Glasgow to the base of looming Ben Nevis in Fort William (of Braveheart infamy) in the Highlands. A steamer train and ferry boat took us over to the Isle of Skye, followed with a bus ride further north to the land of Nessie. Rented mountain bikes looped us to prehistoric ruins, Macbeth-inspired castles, and a sad stroll of Culloden battlefield. Our trip wrapped up with a day in Edinburgh during the International Festival, relishing the odd street performers.
A Trek Begins: Glasgow to Balmaha
We had tremendous luck on our arrival in Glasgow, although of course it was drizzling as soon as the plane touched down. The woman sitting beside Tad on our flight from Brussels was meeting her husband at the airport, then heading home to Millgavie (pronounced 'Mull-guy'). The couple amazingly offered us a lift to the town where the West Highland Way (WHW) begins. As we approached Millgavie, they asked if we'd like to freshen up with a shower, and Tad welcomed the godsend. I felt a bit uncomfortable and awed by their hospitality to relative strangers, especially after my sliced finger from an uncapped razor began bleeding drops on to the bathroom floor (but the shower did feel great). Christine even took us to the supermarket then dropped us off in the center of town to pick up the WHW.
Tad and I stood under the shelter of a large tree beside the parking lot where Christine left us, where we finished packing the food we'd just purchased. As we were set to head off, Christine came up to us again and asked if we'd like a lift to the town along the WHW (about 12 miles way). She thought we were pretty nuts for trekking out in such lousy weather. With earnest insistence we declined and said our good-byes again. The rain never let up all day. We hiked about 6-7 miles through mostly rolling hills and farmland. The sheep and cows weren't too concerned with us. We camped, at last, in a narrow stretch between the trail and the road. It took me awhile to fall asleep - kept thinking about what the rest of the WHW would entail.
Seeing the sun creep out the next day was terrific! We took measure of our drenched belongings, draped raincoats around the top of our packs, then chugged along to Gartness. This was a small but pretty town - the first we passed since leaving Millgavie. Then it was onward ~ 3 miles to Dryman where we continued through a large forest. We stopped for lunch at a very picturesque spot overlooking Loch Lomond and Conic Hill. Three Brits sat nearby, trying to dry their gear. After lunch we met a woman named Lori from Ontario (Canada) lugging her mountain bike up the hill.
The view from Conic Hill was great - we could see so far and the heather was in bloom everywhere. It was challenging even up the relatively gradual slope due to my lack of conditioning and the heat bearing down (it was our one day of complete sun). From the peak we descended down into a pretty forest, then arriving in Balmaha, a good-sized tourist village along the southeastern shore of Loch Lamond. I was very worn out by then, but we continued on about a mile and then stopped at the far end of a beach. We set out a ground cloth where I napped while Tad waded in the loch to cool down. The rest did wonders to revive my spirits. We pressed on to the Cashel campground and we found ourselves tented approximately five yards away from the two women (grandmother and granddaughter) we passed earlier in the day.
Along the Way: Trekking the Shores of Loch Lomond
We continued hiking up the bank of Loch Lomond the next day. It is very scenic and hardly developed, particularly as you continue north. The trail from Cashel to Inversnaid was rather like the routes in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks back home - mud, rocks and roots to maneuver around. Late in the afternoon it got rather difficult to concentrate where to step to avoid slipping. We stopped at the Inversnaid Hotel for beer (Tad) and orange juice (me), hoping to see the two women from the Cashel campground. We were hoping to catch the ferry across to the west shore, but the hotel clerk said there would be no more ferries on Sunday. So after considering expensive options for lodging, we hunkered down about a 1/2 mile along the lock and set up for the night at a designated Forest campsite.
The walk to Inverarnan was also wet, rocky, rooty (is this a word?!). My achilles tendon was screaming by the time we reached the Beigles Farm mid-day. We stocked up on cheese, fruit and bread, took hot showers and recouped for awhile. The shower rejuvenated us, but I was really bone tired by the time we stumbled into the main entrance of the Youth Hostel in Crainlarich. Of course, they had no more rooms available, but recommended the B & B in town. So we decided to splurge and celebrate our half-way point of the trip (48/94 miles). Luck was with us and we got a room at the Craigbank Guesthouse. We ate dinner at the Rod and Reel Restaurant hext door, relishing the steak and chicken with white wine followed by apple custard (anything other than rice would have tasted heavenly, honesty). The wine went right to our heads, so we staggered the short distance back to Craigbank, me giggling at nothing. I finally slept so soundly I had dreams - and think I'm finally caught up on sleep at last.
Into the Hills: From Inverarnan to Fort William
The road from Inverarnan to where we are camped tonight (a bit north of Auch, halfway between Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy) has been very good terrain. Gently rolling hills, following a smooth trail that is an old military road from days of Bonnie Prince Charlie. A bit muddy in spots, but very comfortable to walk on, especially compared to the trail between Millgavie and Inverarnan. That earlier section was quite level, but it wound around between farm pastures. We tried our best to avoid piles of sheep dung. As Tad said - "we see sheep, smell the sheep (and like them), we're one with the sheep."
It's raining now as I write. Tad's asleep, but I wanted to write down memories before I forgot. We passed an old priory ruin of Saint Fallen. I wonder if there's been a dig there? Two relics supposedly belonging to the saint are housed at the Museum in Edinburgh. I'm curious to see them if we have time after our travels on the WHW.
My Achilles tendon hurts a lot again, but the first four miles to Tyndrum weren't too bad. We enjoyed wandering around the shops in the town, where I found a small metal bookmark with a Celtic scroll design on it. We were also fortunate to find an outfitters, too, where we picked up seam sealer, a large stuff sack for my sleeping bag, and heel inserts for my boots to relieve the pressure on my ankles and soles (they helped quite a bit!).
The mountains are so lovely, even partially obscured by mist and clouds. It drizzled lightly on and off today. We're camped just a bit north of Auch (a place of a few stone crofts) in a wooded plot out of sight of the distant farmhouse, close to the creek. Our camera battery died yesterday morning. I'd just taken a picture of a group of goats near our lakeside campsite when it went. Unfortunately, the lens was extended at full zoom and we had to wrap it in a towel the rest of the day to protect it (wouldn't fit back in the camera case). Luckily (we've really had our share!) the Post Office/shop passed later the next day had batteries. Hate to think we'd have not more pictures of our journey along the WHW.