West Highland Way Adventures: Part 1

Day 1: Milngavie to Balmaha
Starting in Milngavie, having met the friendly chap from ‘Go Haggis’ baggage carriers at the Premier Inn, we managed to successfully navigate our way out of the town centre, although not before accosting a local for the obligatory photograph.

Start of the West Highland Way, Milngavie

Heading through Mugdock Park we were among the Sunday runners and bikers. This was different to my previous recollection of the start and was very enjoyable. There were new little sculptures that caught my eye.

Mugdock Park

Continuing on we left the park behind. It was a beautiful day and as the sun rose higher in the sky we were slowly warmed up, losing the chill of the morning air. Both sun and moon were visible in the clear blue sky. Not sure my photographic attempts captured either particularly well …

The trails were in good shape, clearly posted, and good underfoot conditions saw us making decent time. We were pleasantly surprised to bump into some others who were also starting out on the Way today. Being late, end of season, and starting on a Sunday, we had wondered if we’d meet any other walkers or be driving one another insane by the end of the week!

A succession of gates led the way …

There were also some interesting signs with references to the Shire, some very colourful gardens, and we also met another couple of walkers. They were headed for the distillery as their next stop.

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Before long we reached the Beech Tree Inn. This provided a welcome break (and a cup of tea). Like true Aberdonians, we opted to sit at a table outside and consume our own snacks rather than purchase the extortionate offerings in-house. Our final pair of WHW walkers were met here.

Beech Tree Inn

On moving away from the Beech Tree, it initially appeared that this decision might have been the worst of the day. My foot felt like it had seized up and was really painful, each step hurting to bear weight. This was reminiscent of post-run feelings and I sincerely hope it wasn’t going to get worse later!

The trails were again good and after the initial discomfort we settled into a comfortable pace again.

Getting closer to Drymen we were onto minor roads and we passed a small settlement. How disappointed were we to discover that the freezer was locked! No honesty box ice lollies for us!

Honesty box before Drymen, West Highland Way

The road was brightened up by some quirky signs. Sadly the trolls appeared to be hiding today!

Finally we were in reach of Drymen. The final pull up the grassy field was made easier by the prospect of a stop ahead.

Having looked at the West Highland Way website (rather Bruce has checked and I had listened attentively) we were anticipating a diversion through Drymen. All set for a detour and opportunity to stop for a refreshing beverage, we were somewhat underwhelmed to find that the route continued without the need to pass through the village. I may have temporarily donned my grumpy pants here!

Seed planted, when we reached the forest we were on a mission to find a stop for a snack break. Having almost given up – Bruce suggested a standing break – we happened upon a clearing with a few logs. Boost! It felt amazing to sit and rest our weary legs for a bit. The opportunity to tighten my boots didn’t go amiss, and the foot felt a little calmer on setting off again.

Snack stop on West Highland Way

We began to see the first glimpses of Loch Lomond, our nemesis(?) for the next couple of days, and Conic Hill grew closer, the last pull of the day. Both looked impressive and again we remarked on how fortunate we’ve been with the weather today.

Before long we were at the foot of the hill and I’m delighted to report that the climb felt easy.

Bridge before Conic Hill, West Highland Way

We headed for the top, along with many locals out for their Sunday stroll. It was weird being in ‘civilisation’ again, some walkers looking at us like we had three heads when we said a friendly, ‘hello’. The sun was getting low, not quite setting, just low enough to ruin any chance of a good photo.

Sun beginning to set, coming off Conic Hill to Balmaha

The wind had picked up and there was a fair chill, so a quick nip and off we went, down towards Balmaha. Knowing we had enough light and feeling our legs getting weary, the pace dropped off quite significantly.

Arriving at our accommodation, The Oak Tree Inn, we were delighted to find ourselves in a beautiful annexe (Corrie Vern) a couple of doors along. Very cosy and luxurious, all the more so for having mistaken the receptionist initially when we thought she said we were staying in a caravan!!

A decent meal set us up for the night and we headed for an early bed, shattered after a long day. Outside, we enjoyed some good banter with a couple of kayakers, all set to conquer the islands on the loch in the morning. We were chatting about our plans, Ben Lomond being on the cards if the weather was good, Plan B being to sit in the bar at Rowardennan. These guys shared that their Plan B was to go home!

Day 2: Balmaha to Rowardennan
A great sleep saw us raring to go again, and while I was finishing getting ready for the day Bruce was out taking some early morning photos. A good breakfast – the best porridge I’ve had in a long time – sated my appetite and fuelled me well for the day ahead.

Our day on the Way was short, purposefully planned, to allow time for Ben Lomond. The weather had come up trumps, with low cloud that would hopefully burn off as the day progressed. A stunning start to the day.

From the outset, the route followed the edge of the loch or even the beach itself.

The path continued to hug the lochside, sometimes heading through the beautiful autumnal trees, at other times furnishing is with more open views.

Further on we climbed gently and there was a fair bit of gentle undulation throughout the day.

Undulations on the West Highland Way, Balmaha to Rowardennan

It was exciting to see Ben Lomond appearing on the horizon, although at one point I was less than enthusiastic at the prospect of going up, my legs feeling a little tired. I may even have been a little ratty! (I know you probably won’t believe this, although I’m sure my Mum and Dad will!)

We were happy to arrive in Rowardennan around midday. Having plenty of time we opted to stop for a cuppa. This was a good move as we met the local barman – his craic is truly the best!! We both remembered him from previous visits here. He kindly reserved us a table for evening, right by the fire. Boost!

Setting off, we followed a good hard packed path on the initial ascent up Ben Lomond. Unfortunately the path, although clear, did become slightly tougher underfoot as we progressed. Feeling renewed though, we weren’t phased, and continued quite happily, climbing gently all the way.

As we gained height the temperature began to drop and the gloves went on. Continuing, the wind began to pick up and the jackets also went on. I also began to feel a little weary, legs tiring, so food was required to perk me up a bit. It’s amazing what a Mars bar can do for your mood!

More climbing, more food, and before we knew it, the final pull up the ridge was in sight. We met so many people, either passing them on their way up or down. It appears that quite a few of them bailed as we didn’t see them again.

Ben Lomond, looking back to Loch Lomond

Reaching the summit, it got really quite blustery – never go 100% on weather forecast; there shouldn’t have been any wind!! We didn’t linger as the wind chill was quite significant, and I donned my ‘Tuff Bags’ on top of my gloves – just the thing to cut out the wind and warm me up a little!

Heading off the summit, I was encouraged to head over the smaller top for a good photo. I’m sure there was an ulterior motive here as Bruce was quite some distance away, encouraging me to step this way or that, look over towards the view, all the while knowing that I’m a little terrified of big drops and struggle to look down – and it was windy! Tough luck! I live to see another day.

Coming off Ben Lomond

Heading down we were rewarded with fantastic views of Loch Lomond. This was some recompense for the fact that it took quite a while to drop out of the wind. It’s amazing how much quicker the descent can be!

View from Ben Lomond

As we reached the lower slopes the sunlight was starting to fade a little, showcasing the view to perfection. A wonderful end to a great day, so glad we allowed ourselves the time to do this. A very different story to the day we got drookit on this hill back in 2016!

View coming off Ben Lomond

Arriving back at the hotel we had a thoroughly enjoyable evening, meeting fellow walkers from Brazil, Holland and Switzerland. A roaring fire, a tasty meal and some good craic. Life is good.

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