Loch Lee: Who needs an air bridge when this is on your ‘doorstep’?

Freedom is Restored

So, this week the restrictions on travel were lifted for the majority of Scotland, allowing us once again to access the hills. It’s been a long wait, but today made it totally worth it!

Deliberation

The weather forecast, typically, was mixed. Stronger winds, the possibility of heavy rain (showers if lucky), you get the picture. After months indoors surely it’s not asking too much to have a clear, dry day?

We weighed up the pros and cons of the more local munros – too much wind? – and in the end, settled on Loch Lee. What a great decision that was!

Loch Lee

Turning up at the car park we were in luck with one space left for us. We’ve been here a few times but have never seen so many cars. Having spent the last few months trying to avoid people it was a little like rocking up to Asda on a busy weekend!

We figured most folks would be up Mount Keen so expected a quiet walk. The chap a couple of cars along was headed for Mount Keen and asked about directions (he did have a map but this was the lazy option). Advised that the turn off was signposted, we wished him well, and were then somewhat surprised to see him a mile along the good track as he headed back having missed the aforementioned large track to Mount Keen. Given the very clear path I’m trusting he got there in the end. On the upside, he got to see Invermark Castle, a sight missed if heading for the munro.

Invermark Castle

Reaching the loch, the excellent track continued all the way alongside.

Loch Lee

At the end of the loch we forked off to reach a bridge. This took us onto a smaller path, leaving the clear track behind.

Footbridge after Loch Lee
Falls of Unich

The path gently meandered along, not proving taxing, but pleasurable in that we were off the main track and into the wild a little bit more.

Gentle climb up to Falls of Damff

The heather in full bloom was stunning, lighting up the landscape with highlights of purple. True natural beauty!

Beautiful Scottish heather

After last night’s heavy rain, the Falls of Unich were in full flow, the torrents of water visible from some way back. With the steady wind, the fine spray of the water could also be felt from some way back. Up close it was hard to differentiate between the spray from the Falls and the spots of rain that were now coming from overhead. Thankfully the rain was short-lived.

Falls of Unich
Falls of Damff

The path then began to slowly climb, nothing too taxing but just enough to challenge the legs a little when having been confined largely to the city streets and local trails. We stopped and enjoyed a break, sheltered by the hillside.

The rocks here were beautifully shiny, looking polished on one side. As we progressed up we moved slightly away from the Falls of Damff. This was pleasing as there’s quite a drop from the path!

First Slip of the Day

The path got a wee bit muddy in places, and I found myself having my first slip of the day on a wet rock. No harm done aside from muddy trousers.

Heading up past the Falla of Damff
Cairn Lick

The boggy section of the path began after crossing another bridge. This led alongside a stream, at times unclear as to whether it was path or a tiny, minor tributary, becoming drier as we progressed. At some point along here I got a shock as my foot went right into a hole, thankfully although in to my knee the water wasn’t quite so deep!

Muddy boots!

We checked our navigation here as we reached a small cairn and it was unclear where we headed next. Compass confirming the route, more boggy path ensued, the upside being that the boot cleaned off very nicely.

Why Do We Walk?

This became obvious as we looked down onto Loch Lee once more. The views lowdown are lovely, but the views from above truly are exceptional, especially on a clear day with just the right amount of cloud in the sky!

Cairn Lick, views to Loch Lee

We stopped and started on the way down, drinking in the views, marvelling about how wonderful if was to return to the great outdoors, and double checking on the big black rain cloud behind. Spoiler alert: it didn’t get too close!

A wonderful way to get back out in the hills. This walk has everything you could want in Scotland – a Loch, views of the munros (Mount Keen), hills, heather, stunning views.

Thanks to Bruce as always, for his planning and inspiration, and of course for sharing his wonderful photos! Hopefully lots more to come over the summer months!

Final view of Loch Lee

Family

This weekend I finally got to see my parents again after 19 weeks! Living a wee bit apart I don’t see them as regularly as I would if they were just down the road. A busy life (and work) get in the way, so it’s not uncommon to go a month without seeing them. We met up last on a family birthday, a lovely gathering where I also saw my sister and her wee family. The next scheduled get together was on Mother’s Day weekend; sadly it never happened, the COVID situation rapidly evolving, my sister and I decided to postpone our meeting, only to then find out we’d have been left with no option as the country very suddenly went into lockdown. The next few paragraphs aremy account, written at the time, but unpublished as emotions were too raw all around.

19th March: Lockdown is Imminent

My journey began at roughly 4 am today. I spoke with my parents last night, both now in their seventies and, touch wood, healthy with no significant underlying conditions. They were suitably pragmatic about everything, already having realised that the chances are our planned meeting on Saturday would not go ahead. However, technology was frustrating; we didn’t manage to FaceTime as I’d hoped and I later sent an e-mail to Dad hoping he’ll maybe download the WhatsApp app to enable future face-to-face communication. I felt positive after speaking to them so I’m not sure why, at 4 am, I crashed.

Waking up, I went to the loo, went back to bed and then the tears came. Proper gut wrenching sobs and an underlying worry about Mum and Dad. With them not being immediately nearby, who will support them if they become ill? Who will do their shopping if they can’t get out? What if something awful happens and I never see them again?

22nd March: Happy Mother’s Day

Today, I’ve woken feeling more positive and perhaps am starting to find my new ‘normal’ (a phrase we’ve now grown to detest). Phoned Mum to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day and was pleased to find both of my parents upbeat, if a little hacked off in Dad’s case about being recommended to ‘self-isolate’ as he’s 70 something. He’s questioning why he should be told what to do when as a 70 something who’s taken care of himself he probably stands as much chance of fighting the virus as someone 20 years younger who hasn’t bothered. Fair point I suspect.

Keeping in Touch

We adjusted to life in lockdown, not really having a choice. I’m aware of people visiting family and waving through windows but the distance (and emotions) involved ruled out this option. Instead, the phone became a more regular companion and finally, thanks to my sister’s remote technical support, Dad got his iPad sorted out and we were able to FaceTime again. Seeing people on screen is such a blessing. I do wonder how we’d have coped without technology during this time.

31st May: Phase 1

The introduction of Phase 1 meant little for me. Still being too far from my parents to visit – too far to go without using the toilet – the waiting game continued. The one blessing was that my sister, being closer, was able to come for a socially distanced visit with my niece. Sitting in the garden blethering to them was wonderful!

Both my sister and brother-in-law celebrated birthdays during lockdown. There was no shared cake or celebrations outwith the immediate household; the best I could do was make fudge and sing a socially distanced birthday song from the street! I still owe you both a present!

18th June: Phase 2 Begins

We all waited with baited breath to find out what the announcements would be on Thursday as Phase 2 began. While others were holding out for a refreshing beverage with friends in a pub garden, my priority was seeing my family. The hope that not only would we be able to travel, but we could also meet indoors and go to the toilet was too much to bear!

Sadly we were all disappointed, the announcement being a bit of a damp squib when compared with the phasing plans shared online. I appreciate there are many variables but still …

It made me question whether it was worth travelling a long way to sit outside for a cup of tea. This period of time has taken quite a toll on mental health, as has our new way of working. I’m tired and in need of a break, probably just as I am most summers, and this led me to think that maybe I should just hang fire on visiting. It’s been so many weeks, what’s another two?

However, Friday evening came and although I hadn’t managed to get on top of all the work that needs done I did feel differently about life (more upbeat) and recognised that I both needed a break and wanted to see my family.

20th June: Together Again

Yesterday the sun shone. I headed up the road in my car, my sister and niece in theirs, and we all congregated in the garden with Mum and Dad. It was a joy to see them both in the flesh, to chat together as a family, and to catch up properly after so much time apart. We even went out (in our respective cars) to enjoy a picnic by the local beach. Sitting in a socially distanced circle the laughter and chat flowed and it was a very special few hours.

Driving home I reflected that having had the luxury of technology to maintain contact, it’s only when I see people that I realise how much I’ve missed them. I must remember this as it’s easy to get caught up in the bustle of life, sending a catch up text here and there and feeling like that’s maintaining contact, while in reality there’s no substitute for real human interaction. It definitely won’t be so long until our next catch up!

Happy Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day Dad! I hope you enjoy the Jam Shed – anytime after 4 pm is an acceptable time to crack it open. Your card will arrive sometime next week, I’m sure! Love you (& you too, Mum) x

Be Grateful of the Small Things

Biking

Today was a stunning day. We’ve been truly blessed with the weather thus far during our ‘confinement’, and it was a joy to be out on the trails again today.

Riding out from home, it’s not long before we reach Hazlehead. I love being able to ride across to Countesswells, a favourite running route ordinarily. I’ve managed to the old ‘stables’ but the full route is a step or two (several miles) too far.

On our social Sunday runs we have regular stops to allow everyone the opportunity to regroup. One such stop is our ‘selfie spot’, so in keeping with tradition Bruce and I have taken pictures there on the couple of occasions we’ve been out.

The solitude of the trails is remarkable with so few people out. The car park closed, people are welcome only if they can get there under their own steam.

Reflections

Home and showered I reflected upon the day thus far and decided to look back on previous years to see what I’d been doing then. Way back in December 2014 I decided to start keeping a journal of things I’m grateful for, noting three positives each day. These are often small, relatively insignificant things but the reflection provides some clear light at the end of each day, all the more so during life’s tough times.

Here they are with some annotations along the way:

15th April 2015

1. Relaxed morning in Keswick (Easter holidays – I wonder if it was raining; ‘relaxed mornings’ don’t usually figure in our hols!)

2. Lovely walk with Bruce & Rob (Rob is one of Bruce’s friends and I recall he’d driven some way to join us for a walk)

3. Post walk beers and chat

15th April 2016

1. Last 3 Wainwrights: Ling Fell, Sale Fell, then on to Binsey! (I should clarify that these were the last 3 Wainwrights of OUR holiday; still a long way to go overall!)

2. Home – although I enjoy being away I’m always happy to be home again.

3. Chat with Mum & Dad

15th April 2017

1. parkrun fun as Run Director

2. Nuart walk around Aberdeen with Bruce followed by a visit to CASC

3. Dinner catch up at Dizzy’s with Elaine, Heidi & Jacq – we need to get together when this is all over, although with one in USA and Dizzy’s sadly no longer standing we’ll need a new venue.

15th April 2018

1. Social run (Quite possibly around the trails we did today)

2. Coffee at Cognito – a post run tradition and a place I’m missing very much right now!

3. Trip to Stonehaven for ice cream – probably Aunty Betty’s; I’ve since discovered E Giulianotti (up the hill from the Square) that does equally good ice cream and has less of a queue!)

15th April 2019

1. Happy boys after the holidays – Easter holidays are a moveable feast. One of the joys of working as a teacher is that the kids are generally happy to return; you can’t fail to be swept up in their enthusiasm.

2. More fudge sold – this was part of my fundraising efforts for the London Marathon last year.

3. Sarah – home to a clean house. I work full-time and am a part-time ‘athlete’. What more can I say?

Have you found any small pleasures during the ‘lockdown’? What are you grateful for?

Social Distancing and Staying Home

Save Lives, Stay At Home

The message from Government has been very clear this week – stay at home. Even work now involves being at home and that’s surprisingly been okay. One upstairs and one downstairs, meeting for coffee or lunch; the day runs pretty much as normal.

Where I’ve struggled a little is with the one form of exercise per day (outside the garden). I’m torn … I’d love to run, but I also feel that for the sake of us both I need to walk with my husband, enjoying some semblance of normality amidst the turmoil of life outside our own little bubble.

Exercise Once A Day

Running has taken a back seat. I envy those that have been able to unearth their seldom used treadmill, previously only used to hang washing or fill the garage. However, I’m being quite pragmatic about this situation. I’ve come through the very brief phases of being upset and angry and have accepted that this is how life is. For the greater good of everyone we’re all making small sacrifices, grateful to those that are making the most impact in society right now – the NHS and everyone else on the frontline be it in our supermarkets and local shops or on the streets supporting with day to day maintenance in essential services such as the often forgotten posties, delivery drivers and refuse collectors. We appreciate you! Stay healthy and safe.

Today I opted to run on a rather beautiful day. Looking ahead we appear to be blessed by a spell of dry weather here in Aberdeen. This makes me happy!

Social Distancing

I contemplated the Deeside Line but decided to assess numbers before going along. There were a few folks walking so I opted for the streets instead.

Daffodils by the Deeside Line

Heading down towards the riverside I ran through the back of the RGU campus, not a soul there, and discovered a wee path along the River Dee that I didn’t know existed. Again, I met a couple of people, stayed well away, and decided to go back onto the pavements, the path too narrow to pass comfortably.

I found myself in Duthie Park having taken the south side path along the river. I was amazed how quiet the park was; it’s very apparent that people are following the ‘rules’.

The park is beautiful right now with flowers in bloom. I enjoyed taking photos as I went, taking pleasure in the small things, something we all need to do right now.

River Dee

Leaving the park I again opted for the south side of the river to make my way home, avoiding the handful of Sunday strollers on the riverside itself.

Stay Positive!

No idea what the week ahead holds, but I’m happy with the way things have gone thus far. There’s so much outwith our control at present that all we can do is focus on the little things. I’ve seen lots of kindness when out today: people smiling, waving from across the road or sharing a friendly word. That’s what is important in life: cherish it.

Solo Sunday: Finding the New ‘Normal’

It’s been a challenging week for everyone. Sunday has always been the social run, Saturday is for parkrun. Neither have happened this week. Yesterday was tough – it was upsetting not being able to go and meet with my running friends; today, however, I’ve got a more positive take on things.

The day started with a phone chat for Mother’s Day. Again, it’s sad not to be able to see my mum and give her a hug. Hopefully that’ll come later in the year. For now Mum, consider yourself virtually hugged!

Out on my run, I opted to take my camera in order to share some of the beauty that unfolded on route. The day was stunning with clear, blue skies, and it was a pleasure to be out in the fresh air. This is the new normal for me: taking even more pleasure in the little things in life and appreciating them fully.

The first joy was the flowers in the garden, beautiful miniature daffodils that have just popped up over the last week.

Mini daffodils

Continuing up the road, there are a few colourful pots outside the local church. I thought of Mum while taking these pictures – virtual flowers to go with the virtual hug!

Up the road I passed by Walker Dam, stopping to say hello to the ducks and seagulls! They were definitely more up for social interaction than any humans I passed today.

Walker Dam, Aberdeen

Passing the Hazlehead parkrun container I smiled – it’s so lovely and bright! A reminder of happy times past and in the future.

Hazlehead parkrun

The trails were quieter than yesterday. Small family groups, some couples, and a few solo runners or walkers only. I love these trails and while sad to not be in the company of friends, I’m grateful to be out; I’m fit, healthy and able to enjoy them.

Turning left where usually we go right: Hazlehead trails

Along to the turning point of parkrun …

I was rather excited to see a little robin bobbing around, pausing to watch it for a while, hoping it would come closer for a photo shoot. Sadly when it did it was more intent on giving a rear view!

Spot the robin!

Out of the woods and across Countesswells Road, I stopped to say hello to the horses.

Further round I cut off on Craigton Road taking a shortcut down the trail to Cults. This used to be a short but fun singletrack section on a biking route we occasionally enjoyed; unfortunately someone decided to build houses and change the track, so unless you fancy playing ‘chicken’ on the bike it’s not quite the same.

Onwards, there’s a wee path along the burn that meanders round the back of the Cults Hotel. Then across North Deeside Road and it’s onto the old Deeside railway line. I was quite delighted to be back onto my old stomping ground. With the dark nights over winter it’s been a while!

Finally, with the need to add on a few more miles I popped up to Johnston Gardens, a beautiful garden and a small haven of peace in the midst of the houses.

An enjoyable run, relaxed pace and taking in the scenery.

Where did you run or walk today? What pleasures have you found this weekend?

First Hill of 2020: Pressendye

The original plan for the first hill of the year was to head out on New Year’s Day. However, best laid plans and all that …

The reality of NYD was that we stayed out later than planned on Hogmanay, and when the 8 am alarm clock sounded I felt way too tired to get up. The resulting effect? Waking at 10:55 am, thus missing both the best part of a beautiful hill walking day and the opportunity to do parkrun. A walk along the golf course it was then.

Having not been out for a hill ‘fix’ since Christmas, one of us needed to get out today – it wasn’t me, although I’m glad that we did. The days are all merging into one at present and before I know it we’ll be back to the daily grind.

Due to a very blustery forecast with fog on the high tops we opted for Pressendye, a Graham that’s accessed from Tarland. We’ve done this before and I’ve blogged about it before so I’ll not go into too much detail.

Starting the walk in the main square, it’s a brisk walk along the road for the first wee while before the slog of the day begins, slowly ascending up through the fields and trees.

Pressendye: the first of the gates

Through a few gates – these were sent to try us, and were likened to a Krypton Factor Challenge – we reached the very broad ridge. This was where the wind really picked up and we were glad to be going in the ‘right’ direction, the wind at our backs. Reaching the large windshelter cairn at the summit was a welcome relief and gave a great spot to stop and have some lunch, very much protected from the wind that was howling around us.

Down we then went, dropping out of the wind pretty quickly, following good tracks along the way.

Very randomly, we bumped into a friend of the husband – small world!! After a chat with them we continued, finally descending through the lovely avenue of tall trees.

Tree lined ‘avenue’, Pressendye, Tarland

Coming out just as you approach Tarland from the Aberdeen side there were some very impressive bails, a bail ‘castle’, and a huge white plastic wrapped thing that looked like an enormous slug! Google’s a great thing: I’ve now learned that this is silage wrapped in a Budissa Bag. There are even YouTube videos showing the process, so if you’re bored (or a geek like me) have a watch! I’m well impressed- easy pleased!

Back in Tarland we stopped at Angie’s Cafe for a bacon butty and tea. A perfect end to the first day in the hills. Here’s to many more!

Looking back up to Pressendye

Mayar and The Pied Piper of Corrie Fee

Fed up with being stuck indoors – the foot injury niggles on, but that’s a whole other story – we decided to head out and into the hills to see some of winter. Various options on offer, we decided to go big and head for the Angus munros, Mayar and Driesh.

Glen Doll Visitor Centre

Parking at Glen Doll, we availed ourselves of the facilities at the Visitor Centre before heading on our way. It’s amazing how much longer it takes to get ready for a winter walk, faffing around with winter boots, out for the first time this season, a bigger rucksack to carry, gloves on from the off, and of course the obligatory ice axe along with hope that you’ll not be required to use it!

I was a little (or a lot, depending who you ask!) grumpy as we began our walk. Grumbling about my feet feeling sore (I think they need sorted out post West Highland Way), being too hot, and any other number of things, I was a sheer joy to walk with, so much so that it was even suggested at one point we should return to the car and do our own thing! I was assured when my mood lightened a little that I’d be happier on reaching …

Corrie Fee

I don’t often remember the hills that I’ve walked, more remembering the people that we meet. I did remember being very impressed the first time we did these munros, around 6 years ago, by the beauty of Corrie Fee. A glacial corrie, in summer it was lush and green. Today the colours were muted but the landscape was beautiful nonetheless with a dusting of snow to highlight the impressive bowl formation.

We followed the path through the corrie, gently undulating along the way. It never ceases to amaze that ice could have such an impact on the landscape and very much reinforces the small part that each of us plays in a much bigger universe.

As we started to ascend, the odd bits of slush and snow began to get a little more icy. This didn’t thrill me. Snow is good, hard packed snow and a crampon is even better. Not sure whether you’re going to slip on ice or stand on dry rock is never great.

However, this was swiftly forgotten as ahead was intrigue! A piper? Surely not!

The Pied Piper of Corrie Fee (aka Glen Kelly Bagpiper)

I do love to hear the bagpipes and have loved being piped up a hill during a race. Never before have I ever seen a piper randomly standing halfway up a hillside. Bruce, as intrigued as I, reached him and his merry band first, enquiring as to what they were up to. It transpires they were shooting an advert for Dundee Gin! A real class effort. Glen was even persuaded (it didn’t take much) to play us a tune. A lovely young man, should you need a bagpiper for any occasion, look Glen Kelly Bagpiper up on Facebook.

Sadly, nobody was persuaded to let me sample the Dundee Gin, despite my best efforts! It’s now on my hit list of things to try.

Onwards and Upwards

Leaving Glen and his wee entourage, we continued up heading into the mist as we moved onto the plateau. This was a more gentle ascent and the snow proper had begun, the snow line being around 700 metres.

Everything looked the same with the sky and snow almost merging into one. Before long we were at the summit cairn. Here we enjoyed the company of three other walkers and their dog, taking time to admire the views. It was a decent day at this point and despite the cold air I was still surprisingly warm.

As someone who suffers from Raynauds, I tend to chill very quickly. True winter conditions have yet to arrive – my down jacket, additional mid layer and several extra pairs of gloves remained firmly in the rucksack!

Driesh in the Fog

Initially it looked promising, the sun shining low through the clouds. Sadly this didn’t last too long.

The footprints of those that had gone before us led the way, as did the fence posts that we encountered further along as we made our way towards Driesh. With the mist low it was good to have these clear signs in addition to the map as visibility was not the best ever.

Approaching the bealach that we had to slightly descend to in order to summit Driesh we chatted to some younger folks enjoying lunch on the rocks. The fog enclosed the hill further still and the folks with the dog we’d been behind drifted in and out of visibility as they began their ascent, the top of the hill now very firmly enshrouded in thick cloud.

The Big Question

Bruce asked the question: continue in order to see nothing or head down? This was a revelation for him. I’ve decided on prior occasions not to bother with a summit, being too tired or conditions not being great. I’ve said all along I’m not ‘bagging’ munros. He, meanwhile, is, and has not done this (except in atrocious winter conditions when I’ve not been stupid enough to leave the sofa in the first place), and so it was a very novel concept for him, realising that he’s already ‘bagged’ this munro he didn’t need to bother.

Hence we found ourselves heading homeward, back to the car.

Following the Deer Fence

Unsure quite where the path was, but knowing we were there or thereabouts, I suggested we follow the deer fence (and footsteps of others) rather than heading lower which appeared to be steep and potentially off the face of the hill.

This provided a clear route; checking the map partway with a Garmin bearing we definitely had steep contours dropping off at either side. Continuing on we began to descend, Bruce then throwing himself full length just for fun – he tripped over an old fence wire in the snow.

Further down the slushy snow was frustrating. Slippery and very patchy, it resulted in me hopping between grassy tufts and muttering discontentedly. As we reached the bottom of this initial descent we could clearly see the path along the hillside. Conditions on this path I suspect may have been similar to the slushy stuff we’d just crossed so I was happy enough that we’d missed it higher up.

Back to the Forest

Descending still, we reached slush free ground and finally the forest. Somewhat decimated by forestry works this provided a clear route back.

Highlight of the Day

Most definitely Glen Kelly and his bagpipes. I might even put a Tripadvisor review on about this wonderful attraction to see how long it is before the first complaint that he wasn’t there!!

West Highland Way Adventures: The Last Chapter

Day 5: Bridge of Orchy to Kinlochleven

Awoke feeling very refreshed after a great night’s sleep at Tigh na Fraoch. Whenever we stay in Tyndrum (which we do fairly regularly to access the hills) this is our accommodation of choice. Heather, a lovely host, really makes it feel like coming ‘home’. It was good to catch up on Heather’s news last night – as a fellow runner there are always tales to trade over a cuppa! An early breakfast allowed a relaxed start to the day.

We were collected by taxi and taken back to Bridge of Orchy where we were deposited at the start of the Way. Unsure of the weather with rain showers forecast, we’d opted for base layers and jackets. Heading uphill to begin we quickly warmed up.

Bridge of Orchy from the West Highland Way

The first rain shower came, the waterproof trousers went on. I quickly overheated – I always find that no matter how ‘good’ my waterproofs are, I very quickly feel like I’m being boiled in the bag! The waterproofs came off. Another rain shower came, blowing in from behind. The waterproofs went on.

Loch Tulla, West Highland Way

At this point a decision was made – the waterproofs stay on until Kingshouse, hot or otherwise, and venting legs/pit zips would just have to suffice for cooling.

The path across Rannoch Moor is good. Showers blew through from time to time, usually very short lived, and the sun shone through occasionally. A rainbow appeared on the horizon and stayed with us for much of the way.

The breeze picked up as we progressed and the wind chill was at times considerable. As we headed down towards Kingshouse the wind direction appeared to change and it was particularly biting. I could now appreciate that the forecast of snow in Orchy tonight may not just be a figment of the forecaster’s imagination!

Arrival at The Kingshouse Hotel was timed pretty much perfectly, just ahead of the next rain shower, this time more prolonged – no bad thing as this meant Bruce was happy to sit for more than 5 minutes. We enjoyed a very leisurely lunch in the refurbished and very much upgraded restaurant, enjoying watching the progress of the rain and the deer running around outside through the huge panoramic windows. The cheese on toast was pretty amazing (as was Bruce’s soup).

West Highland Way, Kingshouse to Kinlochleven

Refreshed, and having seen the rain clouds having pretty much passed over, we readied ourselves for venturing out again. Waterproofs on, initially it felt very chilly. This was purely due to the warmth of the hotel, and by the time we’d made our way to the foot of the Devil’s Staircase we were ready yet again to get rid of the layers.

Again, we timed it to perfection! The sun broke through on our way along the path and we were free from the constraints of waterproofs for the slow, steady climb up the ‘staircase’, a blessed relief as it takes quite some time to reach the top and a fair heat is built up! At the top again the rain came on. Another shower and another quick turn for the waterproofs!

View from the Devil’s staircase heading down to Kinlochleven

I had it in my head that it was all downhill from here but I was wrong. We went down, and then we had to go up again. Up and down the undulating path went. Finally we got to the point I’d remembered where it really was all downhill to Kinlochleven.

Far better than I’d remembered, today it didn’t kill my quads. My knees weren’t screaming (and thankfully neither were his), and before we knew it we’d skipped down to the pipes. The houses by this point were tantalisingly close and suddenly we were at the back of the factory.

Delighted to have completed the longest leg of our journey, we headed straight to the local inn to celebrate before going onwards to our hotel.

Amazed (again) by how good a shower feels, we headed for dinner in the bar and enjoyed some good chat with a couple of guys who were also on the Way. Unlike us, they were camping – the ‘cheaper’ alternative. To clarify, they’d learned that it’s not really cheaper when you spend the night in the cosy bar, rather than outside in your cold tent!

Day 6: Kinlochleven to Fort William

Trying to avoid Bruce’s cold, I spent the night outdoors (or might as well have as I kept the window WIDE open to avoid germs); however, cocooning myself in the duvet gave plenty of warmth and comfort. I guess this is why mummy bags are so popular with campers!

Breakfast at the hotel was excellent – I love smoked salmon, and combine it with scrambled eggs and you’ve got a winner.

Setting off, it was up and out of Kinlochleven and I began a steady plod. Surprisingly, my legs felt pretty good again. I’ve been amazed this trip how strong I feel and how little DOMS I’ve experienced. It looks like despite cutting back on distance (not running at all for a fortnight!), the odd yoga practice and strength training have done me good.

Heading up and out of Kinlochleven on the West Highland Way

Ascent aside, it was a beautiful morning and the flurry of snow on the tops last night made for stunning views. The climb was long but we finally started to see the top of the tree line and the path levelling our ahead of us.

Leaving Kinlochleven on the West Highland Way

Climb over, the path ambles pleasantly along between the hills. This is easy walking, the only downside today being that we were heading into the wind. What a difference in conditions! Although still lovely in the sunshine, there was a real bite in the air and a wintry feel to things.

This reminds me why I’m not a great lover of winter hills – I seem to fluctuate between extremes, very hot or freezing!

Along this stretch we were caught up by a fellow walker. One of the things I love most about walking is the people you meet and, as always, it was good to exchange tales of the walk and hear someone else’s story. An interesting man, we walked quite a few miles as a group, easily passing the time.

Company on the trails, West Highland Way

Sunlight coming and going changed the colours and the landscape quite dramatically! I’ve loved the autumn tones this week, so beautiful. We’ve also been so fortunate with the weather, again only having a few very brief spots of rain today. The thought of returning to reality next week is not appealing at present. I’d happily just continue on.

The first glimpses of Ben Nevis came into view, thoroughly majestic and impressively clear. It’s a rare sight in all ways to see the Ben so clearly. It definitely looked far more picturesque with the snow covering.

Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain, dusted by snow in October on a clear day

Ahead we dropped down before rising up through what was once forest. We parted ways with our walking buddy here, continuing on together. Dropping down through the trees finally with the Glen Nevis in sight, feelings were mixed. I’ve so enjoyed the walk this week and definitely need to do something like this again. Thoughts are drifting to next summer.

The road that leads from Glen Nevis to the finish of the West Highland Way is probably one of the least inspiring sections. It very much feels like a return to civilisation being back on tarmac, and not in a good way.

Back on the road, Glen Nevis round to Fort William, finishing the West Highland Way

We passed a few walkers on this final stretch, chatting briefly as we went. Coming into Fort William proper we got chatting to a couple at the ‘original’ end of the Way, ending up walking to the finish point in the town centre with them.

Photographs taken it was time to relax. Heading for the Grog & Gruel, we were joined by the couple we’d ended the Way with, shortly thereafter by the chap we’d walked with earlier. Good banter ensued and provided a great end to our adventure. Once again, the Way came up trumps proving why it’s such a special trip.

Statue at the end of the West Highland Way, Fort William

West Highland Way Adventures: Part 2

Day 3: Rowardennan to Inverarnan

Having felt like I’d not slept at all – no idea why, but I saw many hours on the clock – we set off from Rowardennan in the knowledge that this would be a tough day. The route largely hugs the lochside throughout, climbing gently up and down, over stony boulders and tree roots. Our first photo stop was just outside Rowardennan.

Leaving Balmaha and heading along Loch Lomond on the West Highland Way

The path was fairly good initially. Then the choice had to be made – low road or high road. There really is no decision: the low road hugs the lochside as far as possible, undulating according to the tree routes, erosion or terrain, while the high road follows the fire road, rejoining further along.

We met one of our fellow walkers on this part of the route and enjoyed some chat. Although the cloud was very low, the worst precipitation we encountered was a very fine drizzle. Not enough to give us any cause for concern, but just enough to play havoc with my hair! Already suffering from the change of water, I finished the day looking like I’d been dragged through a hedge backwards- several times!!

Up and down we went, small undulations, never enough to be bothersome, but sufficient to ensure care was needed to avoid tripping on roots and stones.

Loch Lomond

This continued for a number of miles until we finally reached the Inversnaid Hotel. This has been refurbished since we last visited and now has a really welcoming walkers entrance, featuring storage for rucksacks and boots with CCTV from all angles, and an area where you’re welcome to eat your own packed lunch. We opted instead for scones and coffee – a very tasty treat, and a lovely pick me up.

Leaving Inversnaid the toughest section of the Way is reached. This is due to the technicality of the terrain. It’s significantly more rooty and bouldery than the previous section, again with single track paths, and these frequently rise and fall as progress is made. There are also umpteen bridges, steps and even a ladder. It was at this ladder that Bruce dropped one of his poles while taking a photo, then having to climb down a drop to retrieve it!

When all of this was past, we came towards the Bothy at Doune. Here we saw a man looking intently at the hillside from various vantage points. I waved at him and he acknowledged me with a friendly wave, continuing searching through his binoculars. As we took photos, also taking some of our walking buddy for her to send to family in Canada, he approached and I had to enquire as to what he was looking for. (Facebook page: Doune Cottage)

Cue, the most enthusiastic discussion in some time! He’d bought a derelict house, retired from work, and made it a project to completely renovate it over the next few years. The house itself has a really interesting and colourful history, but has fallen on hard times through neglect, and it’s going to be brought back to life through a real labour of love, providing a home for years to come. The fact that the only access is across the loch or along the Way is no issue. I do look forward to following the Facebook updates and seeing how this progresses.

West Highland Way, heading towards Doune Bothy & Cottage

Inspired, we continued and headed up the end of the loch to the high point that affords stunning views all the way back. Shortly before reaching this we saw a few of the feral goats that live on the lochside including a cute little kid. If we hadn’t seen them we’d certainly have smelled them; they were rather fragrant to say the least!

Finally we made our descent into Beinglas campsite, enjoying a quick drink before embarking on the final leg of our journey.

Beinglas Farm Bar

Here we had to phone for collection to the Drovers Inn as the bridge across was taken down by flooding in August. Waiting for another couple of friends from the Way our plan was to head back together. Unfortunately on pick up it appeared our transport was oversubscribed so it was an interesting journey to say the least! Let’s just say I now know what it feels like to be a sheep!

Transport to the Drovers Inn

A fantastic evening was had in the Drovers, enjoying the company of people from the Way and others visiting the Inn as tourists.

Day 4: Inverarnan to Bridge of Orchy
We opted for an early start today for two reasons: firstly, we had a long day ahead, and secondly, there was rain forecast late afternoon and we hoped to stay ahead of it.

We met fellow walkers at breakfast and I thoroughly enjoyed my porridge; it tastes so much better when properly cooked in a pan!

The Drovers Inn, Inverarnan

A quick turnaround saw us out of our room and deposited back on the West Highland Way by 8:30 am. Deposited just at the start of the Way, we missed out a very short uphill section from Beinglas. However, we drove it last night so no great loss.

It was good to be on better terrain again. We made good time from the outset, enjoying the scenery, more able to drink in the autumn colours when not having to focus on our feet.

Ahead, we were aware that the bridge at Derrydarroch had come down during the flooding in August. This meant another diversion and we’d been advised that fording the river would be challenging due to the drop on either side.

West Highland Way, on route from Inverarnan to Tyndrum

In the event we were pleasantly surprised. A lack of rain meant that the water level was really low and crossing was easy. How the lad we’d met earlier had fallen in baffles me! Unless he’d gone straight off the ‘bridge’ at which point the water was pretty deep, but easily avoided by walking a few feet in either direction.

Missing bridge at Derrydarroch, West Highland Way

Further along, the good trails continued although sadly the evidence of the flooding also continued. As we approached a wee cottage, Bruce wondered how close the water would have come. Sadly it appears it might have gone straight through it.

The scenery continued to reward us, staying ahead of the cloud and only being subjected to a very light spot of rain on occasion. At no point did we consider putting our waterproofs on, such were the favourable conditions again.

The route, in our minds, was split into several sections, including sheep creeps under railway and road.

West Highland Way passing under the road

Following this section the path condition greatly improved with a section of newly laid track. I believe there’s been some controversy around this as it looks very manmade, but the upside for us was that it made good terrain for tired feet.

Newly laid section of trail on West Highland Way

Our next target was the wigwams at Strathfillan, plan being to stop for a coffee break. We ambled along happily, sometimes having a song or two to keep us going. Luckily we both have a shared humour as at times this got a little silly. Just as well we were on our own!

Just ahead of the farm we saw the Crianlarich munros and I was delighted that I could say I’d done them all. The wigwam shop was very welcoming and the coffee and millionaires shortbread went down a treat. As always, food in the great outdoors is the best!

Not long before this, we’d met an American couple and enjoyed some good chat as we walked. As with running, it’s amazing how quickly time passes when you’re engaging in conversation. They passed us when we were stopped at the wigwams, but we later caught them again and we walked into a Tyndrum together. The first shot was captured just ahead of Strathfillan, the second the awkward cow that refused to pose for a photo at Strathfillan itself!

A gentle walk alongside the river took us into Tyndrum through the community woodland. I love this section – some lovely trails that would be fun to run if this was your local stomping ground.

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Passing through Tyndrum we resisted the urge to stop, either to drop off our rucksacks or for coffee and cake, the fear being that we might not get going again. As we headed out we heard sirens; sadly these became frequent with multiple emergency vehicles passing by on their way to a serious road traffic accident. This led us to reflect on how fortunate we are to be on the trails, experiencing the scenery and the weather, adverse or otherwise.

Our journey ended in Bridge of Orchy with a few hours to pass ahead of the train back to Tyndrum. Fellow walkers ambled in and it was a pleasure to chat with them, exchanging stories of the trails.

Safely back in Tyndrum we’ve now eaten and have caught up with other folks from the trail. Next step, bed!

May you all travel safely wherever the road takes you.

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.