Thursday 5th August
I unexpectedly got a couple of weeks off work. There seem to be loads of websites saying that you shouldn’t attempt the West Highland Way unless you book accommodation two or three months in advance. After making a few phone calls, however, I found that I was able to book the whole thing with two days’ notice. Most people start on a Saturday, so by starting midweek you greatly increase your chances of finding somewhere. In fact I was able to get my first choice more or less everywhere. May is the most popular month to do the walk and tends to get booked up ages in advance, so August is a good bet if you want to organise it at short notice.
The journey up to Scotland was a pleasant one. The train went through the Lake District on the way and there was some beautiful scenery.
Milngavie is pronounced mullguy, with the emphasis on the second syllable. Weird, but that’s place names for you.
I stayed at a great new bunkhouse called the Walkers Rest, which only opened a few months ago. It’s run by a lovely lady who had a spare building in her back garden, so she put six bunk beds in it. It costs £15 per night, and clearly she’s recognised a gap in the market because there are no other hostels or bunkhouses in Milngavie, only B&B’s and fairly expensive hotels. It’s great that she’s opened some affordable accommodation for solo travellers. As it happens, I was the only one there that night and I got a very good night’s sleep. All the bedding is more or less brand new so it’s all very comfortable. There’s a fire safety notice saying that in the event of an emergency, the official assembly point is by the trampoline in the back garden!
Anyway, I set off at 8.30 in the morning and faffed about in Milngavie for just over an hour. Firstly I went to buy some lunch for the day, water bottles, a packet of biscuits and my essential walking food, a couple of bags of almonds. Next up was the hardware store which sells the Avon’s Skin So Soft, something which started out as a beauty product but it was somehow found that it also scares away midges. It doesn’t smell all that nice, so I’m assuming the midges think so too. Thirdly, there are public toilets in Milngavie, so all in all it’s an excellent place to start the walk.
I had taken the risk of not buying any OS maps. I don’t really get on with Harvey Maps, but what I have is the Cicerone Guide, which has Landranger (1:50,000) strip maps of the whole thing. The West Highland Way is very well waymarked, and indeed I have met several people so far who have been walking with no map at all. Not something I would do, but hey.
The walk got off to a pleasant start, and before long I was out of town and into the countryside. It was a hot day and I wore my hat. There were quite a lot of wild raspberries growing, something which I don’t think I have ever seen down south. I stopped for a second breakfast at Cragillian Loch.
After seven miles I reached the Beech Tree Inn. They have a walker’s picnic area which says you are welcome to use their tables as long as you buy a drink from the bar, so that’s what I did. Just as I was about to leave it started raining quite heavily, but that only lasted about ten minutes and I was soon on my way again. The rest of the walk was more or less flat.
Drymen is a lovely little village. I stayed at the Clachan Inn; unusually for a pub, they have two single rooms which are £28 each. Again, this makes things a bit better for people on their own, since taking single occupancy of a double room is usually rather pricey. Out of all the places to eat in Drymen, the Clachan Inn has the best choice for vegetarians.
In the evening we were all treated to a performance from the Strathendrick Pipe Band on the village green, with lots of bagpipes and a couple of people performing the Highland Fling.
I’m glad I brought my flip flops with me for the evenings. Not only are they more hygienic than wearing walking boots all evening, but they are also quite thick and therefore nice and squidgey to walk on. I was sitting on the village green when someone asked me if I’d just walked twelve miles in flip flops.
My bed for the night was very comfortable with fluffy bedding, and I highly recommend it.