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.

Prologue: West Highland Way

Our journey started from Fort William, leaving the car at the B & B after a relaxed overnight stay. We were rather delighted to find that the Black Isle Bar had opened and enjoyed a mighty fine pizza and a refreshing beverage (or two). Company was good and we enjoyed chatting to others, whiling away a couple of hours while the rain battered down outside. Careful planning ensured we got the pub before it started and left as it went off. 1-0 up!

The next stage saw us take the mid-morning train to Milngavie, and the world once again proved tiny, finding our allocated seats opposite an American couple we’d chatted to over breakfast. Cue lots of chat about their West Highland Way adventure and our upcoming trip.

Arriving in Milngavie we went for a walk to investigate the start of the route. Having found the start (and a new signpost indicating the correct way where previously we’ve gone wrong), we headed back to the centre. The discussion then involved pub or coffee. I won! So we had coffee, then went to the pub. Got my doggy fix in both, initially with Basil the Dalmatian, who had a rather impressive foray into Costa, sadly thwarted by his human who had initially been fooled into thinking he would be delighted to see him and requesting his lead be let loose; fooled! He said a brief hello, approached another few folks, then headed indoors for cake (or not). The second, a friendly chocolate Labrador in the pub who took advantage of being local, frequently doing a circuit taking in the bar (and behind it) before being ushered out. Think he was disappointed to find that the three dog biscuits on his first ‘bounce’ were not to be repeated.

A good night’s sleep in Premier Inn followed by a hearty breakfast ensured we were good to go.

Fife Coastal Path: Day 4, Anstruther to St Andrews

What a day! I’m delighted to have made it to St Andrews after yet another glorious day in Fife and probably the most challenging terrain of the walk.

Setting off from Anstruther I felt good. The Spindrift Guest House was brilliant – Jenni and Mark were outstanding hosts, I’d had the best sleep of the trip, was well fed and watered, and had enjoyed excellent chat about all things running and triathlon with Mark over breakfast. First scenic spot on the route was Anstruther Harbour where the tide was well out. I also passed Anstruther Lifeboat Station – huge thanks to them for responding quickly to my message last night (more on that later)!

Anstruther Harbour

The initial trails were pretty decent. Some grassy paths, some sandy trails, but mostly quite natural. This made slower going than I’d have liked. I quickly discovered that trying to run overgrown single track isn’t the best idea as it’s too easy to turn ankles or feet; I was in this for the long game!

The scenery was beautiful once again. I never tire of the views along the coast, especially when the occasional treasure such as the Caiplie Caves is thrown into the mix.

Caiplie

I’d been informed by the route guide that Crail was the only stop on the trail, so although it was just short of 5 miles from where I’d started, I stopped for tea and cake just to be safe, ensuring my energy levels didn’t drop too much. I also bought a painting of Creel Harbour as a souvenir of my trip so it ended up being a very expensive cuppa! It will arrive sometime next week as I didn’t have room in my ultra vest for it!

Anyway, chatting to the chap here, I was assured that the tidal section wasn’t an issue. Worse case scenario he suggested I’d be able to go cross country and over the fields.

Leaving Crail, refreshed again, it was time to admire the views again. I enjoyed chatting with an older couple at the top of the village before heading through the caravan park. As always, it’s good to look back.

Crail beach

Again, terrain varied between sandy tracks and grassy trails. I passed an old WW2 bunker, part of the Crail airfield. Along this section the trail narrowed to singletrack and I bumped my toe on a boulder. No major harm done but I did need to extract a thread of my sock from my toenail that’s split slightly further down than I’d like! Eek

Shortly thereafter the route went down onto the shore again. There were warnings of not using this section at high tide. My dark sense of humour came to play when I saw what happens to runners ignoring this advice.

I had another short stop around here at The Toast Shack. While very tempted to have a toastie – they looked amazing – I settled for a packet of salted crisps and a can of ‘proper’ Coke. The rain started spitting here but it was welcome. The heat was quite something again despite the breeze.

Again, continuing on, the paths were narrow and lacking clarity in places; in other sections there was some brief respite and clearer tracks. I did love the sight of the beautiful poppies growing wild in the fields and verges.

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Towards Kingsbarns there was an opportunity to opt out and head towards the main road. This would make a lovely walk in itself – Kingsbarns to St Andrews – as the coastline was particularly attractive from here onwards. The golf course here was stunning! I’m not a golfer, but would happily walk this course. The path often led alongside golf courses today, sometimes very roughly at the side of a well manicured fairway.

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At Boarhills the track turned inland and went slightly upwards through a woodland area. I loved this! It was cool and shaded, very welcome after the sun shining pretty much continually throughout the day.

Fife Coastal Path: wooded section at Boarhills

Having passed through a farm it was then back towards the shore via yet another rough, grassy track. This also involved a couple of stiles, not the most well received by my weary legs! Buddo Rock, more stiles and more overgrown paths followed. There’s a theme emerging here – going was tough and slow (again), the path was overgrown (again), and at times I was reduced to a walk in order to best preserve my feet and ankles. Unfortunately my leg didn’t fare so well and the left one in particular now looks like I’ve been mauled by a large animal! (Perhaps a slight exaggeration – very tall cat?)

Conscious of time for the high tide, I was very much on the clock at this point, hoping to reach the tidal section by 2 pm to give me a couple of hours grace. During some of these ups and downs, I found myself among very high undergrowth (as tall as me!) including something flowery like hogweed (cow parsnip?) and possibly triffids or something vaguely related. Work colleagues, you’ll appreciate ‘Walking through the jungle’ popping into my head and becoming my earworm here. If you don’t work with me, search YouTube for ‘Barefoot Books’.

Finally, I reached the tidal section of the walk that I’d been concerned about. The guidebook (and other route guides) I’d looked at had suggested that this was dangerous at high tide, going so far as to suggest waiting for the tide to recede May be the only option. This had concerned me to the degree that I contacted Anstruther RNLI to see if they could offer advice last night as I had no idea how soon before high tide I’d require to be there. Huge thanks to them for responding, especially as it’s not part of their usual patch and they were not entirely certain but gave sound advice all the same, all the more so in light of them being volunteers! A bit like Mountain Rescue on the hills, the RNLI are the unsung heroes of our beaches and seas. As it transpired, the section in question was very short: was that it?? Descending via yet another set of steps, my personal advice would be if there are waves lapping the bottom steps, turn back and take a cheeky wee detour across whichever golf course or field is at the head of the steps.

Beware: Tidal risk on Fife Coastal Path

Got chatting to some more people once past the dangerous part, their kids playing on the shingly beach. Enquiring about the trail ahead, they advised that it would head up before winding down into St Andrews. Up the steps I went after the Rock and Spindle. A tough slog, bumpy paths.

Up more stone steps, St Andrews was fully in view and it was with great delight that I made my way down towards the beach.

Having resisted all week, I could resist no longer! Paddling in the sea I felt like a big kid. I only just resisted the urge to go swimming, so good did the water feel, as I was concerned I might not get into my B & B if I turned up on the doorstep drookit! Had I realised that there would be a torrential downpour on route I might have reconsidered my options – hindsight’s a great thing!

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Thus, my Fife Coastal Path trail ended. It’s been a great few days, definitely helped by the glorious weather. It’s been exactly what I’d hoped for when I originally set out – relaxing, restful and generally good for ‘me’!

Just short of 19 miles today, 63.9 miles for the week, husband arrived to meet me = one happy runner!

Clare, happiest outdoors: in St Andrews