When we last saw our hero he was starting Day 2 of the West Highland Way after filling up on a complimentary breakfast at the Winnock B&B. I hit the trail by 8am and walked back out of town to reconnect with the WHW trail heading north after it swung around counterclockwise from Drymen. Just out of town I saw about 15 tents “Wild Camping.” You see you can camp wherever you want in Scotland, with the exception of within the boundaries of protected parks, like Lock Lomond, which we would shortly enter. They do allow designated camping in these areas, but they are limited and on a reservation system.
I was coming upon Conic Hill. It is one of the landmarks of this hike for its elevation gain. I felt it would be tough and recalling how talking to someone (distraction) while going through a tough section can cause the pain to disappear, I decided to attach myself to two guys next to me like a leech on a foot. This is how I came to meet Alasdair and Stu. They are cousins who live in different parts of the UK and joined together, as they frequently do, for this epic hike. They had no problem with the conversation/companionship, or so they told me, and we were off up Conic Hill.
It magically stopped pouring for 30 minutes or so as we crested the top of the hill and got our first view of the Loch
We dropped our packs along the trail and scampered up the remaining few hundred feet to the highest point. Without my pack I felt like a 20 year old. I was running and actually enjoying this!
We descended down Conic Hill to meet the Loch and follow its shore for the next couple days. The downhills are much worse than the uphills. My knees were screaming by the end of this trip, and this hill took quite a few hikers out of competition. If I had to wager, I figure maybe 50% of people that carry their own gear and try to finish in the 6 days I had scheduled, actually finish. The others are stopped by injuries or blisters and either go home to try again another year or use baggage service for remainder of the trip.
My theory of distraction worked wonders and I planned on holding onto these 2 guys for as long as they would allow. I would have to be on my best behavior…basically not be myself. Our conquering of Conic Hill was rewarded with beers and lunch at the Oak Tree.
I casually asked if I could eat with the guys and they agreed and then I pressed further and asked if I could continue on with them for rest of day and they also agreed. Success!
At Lunch they had wood-fired pizzas. Stu ordered one with Black Pudding. He raved about how excited he was about this. Because I was still trying to be the friendly, accommodating traveler, I said nothing. To myself I am thinking, “Is this guy crazy, pudding on a pizza, that sounds terrible!” Of course when they arrived I learned that Black Pudding meant blood sausage. I tried it later in the trip and kinda reminded me of corned beef hash or even SPAM. A salty meat-like substance.
We were about halfway for today, so about another 7 miles to the town of Rowerdennan.
We basically just followed the coast. It was fairly smooth sailing except for a hill climb right after lunch. It seems they really like to mess with you on this trail. They took us up a hill, circled around and back down to the coast for no reason whatsoever. I am sure this is just connecting local trails, but it sure felt unnecessary and evil to us thru-hikers.
Around 3pm we passed one of the designated campsites in the Park boundaries. It actually looked like a nice spot, but it was too early to stop and I did not want to lose my new wolf pack, which was continuing on to wild camp just past Rowerdennan where the park ended.
Per usual, when we got to town we stopped at the first pub and had beers and food. We were not there long as it was raining a little and we still had to find a place to camp for the night
I did see Foxy and Tam in the bar and said a quick hello. Matt and Elenore were not to be seen. Most of the the people there were hikers and I recognized many from the last 2 days even though I had not talked to them on the trail. Some may have started a day before us, as as we began to catch up with people doing the trail at a more leisurely and intelligent pace of 7-9 days, avg. more like 10 miles/day.
We walked towards the youth hostel to pick up Alasdair’s bags and asked if we could camp on their lawn (We were still technically in the park so if not here then would have to carry on another mile or 2 on the trail to wild camp). They were cool with it for a $10 donation. It allowed us hot showers and a free breakfast, which I did not find out about until after we left the next morning. It was karma for the breakfast I snagged in Drymen.
We had a nice night and drank beers by the water, talking to fellow hikers. I actually got to use my camp chair. I did not need to as they had benches but I dragged this thing across the ocean and along this trail so I damn well was going to use it. This turned out to be the only time I took it out of the bag the entire time. A thought that crossed my mind many, many times as I shouldered my heavy burden.
The next morning we all got a shower and were off around 8am. I think we left about 8am every morning. The hot water here is either cold or boiling. Every shower in Scotland has a warning, “Caution Hot Water”. I don’t think it is there for legal reasons. Unlike in the US there is not a lawsuit for everything requiring a warning label on all products. Also the showers are made for people 5 ft tall. The shower head is either too low or for some reason you have to climb up into the bathtub 2 ft off the bathroom floor. It made for awkward entry and exit. I know understand why older people move so slow. It is the feeling that if you don’t stick this landing and you fall you are going to break multiple things that strikes the fear of God into you.
The trail was getting a little more difficult. It became more of a scramble as we made our way past Rob Roy cave and into our lunch stop at an Inversnaid.
There were some pleasant stretches through an old growth pine forest that had a great canopy and bed of needles for a ultralight camper like Stu. You see while we had our tents, Stu just carried a Military Bivy sack, a sleeping bag and tarp to hang over his face if it rains. So any natural comforts got him all excited.
I did see this wild goat. Kinda cool as we don’t see goats with long horns back in the states too often.
Arriving at Inversnaid was a huge disappointment. They had beer but no food. We were able to snag a few scones but it meant no proper meal until dinner. It is the same all over, not enough staff to work, so shorter hours and/or limited menu.
After a break, we pressed on and the trail got nastier.
I mean there are guys that mountain bike this trail in 3 days, and this section of 3-4 miles, you have to carry your bike the entire way. I mean I know this bikes are light, but these guys are true warriors in my book…..or idiots, it’s a fine line.
We finally neared the north end of the loch and things flattened out. Here is a Bothy. It is a shelter in the Highlands that travelers can use for rest. There are about 100 scattered around the country I believe.
Also saw some other houses in disrepair
We ascended up out of the loch area and made one last look back
Beinglas Farm Campsite came into view.
This was my 15 mile stopping point, as I paid for a spot on the lawn. Stu and Al had another 7 miles to go, which they had to do because it was a hostel stay they booked and they were not giving up a warm bed and a hot shower. We stopped in the pub at the camp and had a meal around 4pm and a few rounds of beers before they headed off into the pouring rain. Man I did not envy them and their 22 mile day, but my chill, relaxing advantage over them would not last long because it just meant that I had to do an additional 7 miles in the morning to catch up with them to join up for beers the following night.
I ran into Foxy and Tam and their new friend Jean. Jean is one of the most impressive people I have ever met. She is 75 years old and this is her 8th time doing the WHW, always carrying all her gear and wild camping each night. She always has a smile on her face and even gave me some blister patches for my trashed feet. In addition to doing the WHW she has all done an extended version of the “Coast-to-coast” hike in the UK, totaling over 1K miles. She is a machine.
I also caught up with Matt and Elenore but they pressed onto the hostel like my two mates (British for "friends"). So, Tam, Jean, a guy named Tosh, and I all braved the rain to go drinking down the road at probably the most iconic Scottish pub in the land, The Drovers Inn. Check out the stuffed animals in the lobby.
This is Jean with her orange pack on. Notice the huge broadsword on the wall
She wasn’t even having a drink, she came just to show us the place and then she headed out into the rain to find a tree to sleep under!
We had a few rounds and met some other travelers.
Here I should mention Foxy’s unhealthy relationship with Tam.
Anytime Tam leaves to take a piss, Foxy goes ape shit. She looks around and starts whining and carrying on. Everyone one around is wondering if we are beating this dog or something. I was like, “Tam you have to take that dog with you to piss or we are gunna get thrown out of here.” I joke, it was all good, just an exaggerated case of separation anxiety.
We walked back around 10pm in the rain and I laid down but could not sleep. I looked out the tent for some guys talking but all I saw was a shadow in Tam’s tent as he was Face Timing with his wife at an unnecessary decibel. I yelled, “Tam! Go to Bed!” I heard shortly after, “ok love, I need to go now” The next morning I would run into Tam on the trail, and could tell there was a little distance between us now. I felt bad, but as you will find out in tomorrow’s entry the previous night/morning was a disaster.