West Highland Way - August 2013

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Friday 2 May 2014

West Highland Way - August 2013

After spending lots of long weekends wild camping in the Lakes in summer 2013, we were increasingly keen to visit Scotland and broaden our UK hiking horizons a little further. Despite living so close to the border we'd only ventured into Scotland together twice. Once in 2006 when we had made no plans at all and gave up after 2 days of sleeping in our car and the second time in 2012 when we'd had to visit Edinburgh to renew Esther's Dutch passport and had walked in the Pentland hills.

(Esther had been to the Isle of Arran before and also summitted Ben Nevis in 2009 when she completed the 24hr UK Three Peaks Challenge with colleagues from Durham). We'd been spending more and more time reading about long distance trails and had found out about the West Highland Way that runs from Milngavie, just north of Glasgow, up to Fort William 96 miles to the north. The official website suggests stages, which if you combined a few would have you completing the route in something between 10 - 14 days. Billed as Scotland's premier long distance walk we wanted to give it a go.

Unfortunately we didn't have a spare 2 weeks to hike the full trail but we did have the August Bank Holiday
weekend, to walk at least some of it. So we set off early on Saturday morning to make the 3 1/2 hour drive to Rowardennan where would park our car and hit the trail. We parked in a layby immediately opposite the Clansman pub and as we couldn't see any parking restriction signs we hoped the car would be ok there for 2 nights. It was the layby or a pay and display car park a 100m further on but we couldn't see a multiple day tariff.

Setting off on the trail
By now it was about 3pm and we set off steadily, stopping for an hour or so at the Rowardennan Lodge Youth Hostel so I could irrigate before we hit the trail proper. Youth hostels in the Lakes really were my saviour, the staff always so friendly and understanding about my health issues and needs, without which it would have been very hard to do our weekend hikes. So I was very relieved to find facilities right at the start of the trail for this trek as well.

When we set off again we first passed through the restricted camping zone which goes on a little way after Rowardennan to control the huge volume of hikers passing along the shores of Loch Lomond. It was sad to see that despite the relaxed wild camping laws in Scotland so many campers seemed happy abuse the right as we passed lots of uncleared wild fire spots and litter by the trail.

Our picturesque pitch
By about 7pm we reached a lovely bench overlooking Loch Lomond with enough space to put our tent on a flat site, so we pitched up and got our stove out to prepare a tasty meal of home-made dehydrated soup mixed with wholemeal noodles - delicious. We felt very lucky to have found such a pictureseque spot to camp and slept very well, using our new Rab Infinity 300 sleeping bags for the first time to keep us nice and warm.  What an upgrade from all those years ago!  We also had new accommodation.  This was also the first outing of our Karrimor Beta tent which we'd picked up in a sale for only £35.  It's a solid geodesic design and gave us much more porch space and head room, weighing just less than 3kg.   

Another peaceful night camping.
The next day we carried on along the trail until we reached the Inversnaid Hotel which is about 7 miles north of Rowerdennan, where I again took advantage of the facilities and then afterwards we cooked our lunch sitting in the sunshine by the shores of the Loch, sitting on an upturned rowing boat hull. After a busy few weeks at home we were in no rush to cover lots of ground and didn't set off again until about 2pm, reaching the northermost shores of Loch Lomond by the evening where we pitched our tent by the beach, cooked a second dinner as we were hungry and waited to watch the sun set over the surrounding hills.
Picturesque dining!

We were also joined by a mother deer and two babies.  As it was dusk they'd ventured out of the woods nearby and were grazing in the long grass of the shores, less than 100 metres from us! We reckoned we'd probably only covered 10 - 12 miles since leaving the car the previous afternoon, but we'd been taking it very easy and relaxing along the trail as both of us were quite tired.  

We had another peaceful night, despite the road works on the opposite shore of the Loch, and woke feeling very refreshed in our idyllic waterside spot. We packed up steadily and spent the day trekking back to the car, stopping again at the Inversnaid Hotel so I could use the facilities and then home.  We'd been very lucky with the weather and relatively few midges which helped to overturn our experience from 2006.

We definitely plan to revisit the West Highland Way in future and complete the full trail.

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