Friday 6th August
14-15 miles (of which I walked about 10)
The day started off with lots of rain, although I didn’t get going until about 9.30, by which time the worst of it had gone. It was still very cloudy and misty though, and the chef at the Clachan Inn had said there was no point going over Conic Hill in this weather as I wouldn’t be able to see anything, and that I should take the short route.
I started off up the road before taking the path north, eventually turning north-west into the Garadhban Forest. After a little while I crossed a stream and then passed a turning off to the right but I curved round to the left as shown on the map. That’s where things started going wrong. I don’t know how I got lost. The West Highland Way has almost excellent signposting. I just can’t explain it, and before long I was going along a dark, narrow path through the trees and eventually found myself in a long clearing, otherwise known as a fire break. I knew by then that I was in the wrong place, but I had no idea how to get back to where I’d been before. I couldn’t retrace my steps because all the trees looked the same, even with the compass, and by that point I was getting confused and did what I do well, which is that I started to panic. I was supposed to have crossed a yellow road, but it was nowhere to be seen. It was raining and I was getting cold. I shouted out “help” and “can anyone hear me” several times, but all I got back was the echo of my own voice, which was really scary. There weren’t any paths, so by the time I got out of there I looked a total mess, was covered in pine needles and had to pull it all out of my hair.
That’s the trouble with this path – the path is so obvious most of the time that you don’t even look the map very much, so that when you do need it, it can be difficult to work out where you are. I’ve spoken to a lot of people this week and we’ve all said that you lose your sense of distance on this trail.
So I finally reached Balmaha where there are public toilets, a food shop and a pub. Finally I had reached Loch Lomond, and for some reason, chickens frolicking on the lawn in front of it.
The path started with a very steep and tiring hill; if I hadn’t read about it first, I would have been worried I was going the wrong way again. This was followed by a very steep walk down to the shore. Finally, there was a low path and a very picturesque walk followed near the shore, complete with highland cows.
There are also more public toilets at Milarrochy. The path does feature some fairly steep ups and downs along the way, and as I mentioned above, it’s very easy to lose your sense of distance. You’re able to point on the map to which part of the path you’re on, but as for exactly how far along, well that really isn’t so easy when you’ve been busy enjoying the scenery. I had the same conversation with at least three people. Every time I thought I was nearly at Rowardennan, the path just went on and on and on. At least once I’d reached the Rowardennan Hotel, I had a definite idea how far there was to go. The closer I got to the Youth Hostel, the slower my pace became as my feet were more and more tired.
Rowardennan Youth Hostel is a lovely building.
I felt so lucky to have such a wonderful view of Loch Lomond from my window.
I had to go outside to get mobile phone reception, and five minutes later I was covered in insects which I had to brush off. Needless to say I am applying large amounts of antihistamine cream at the moment.
Luckily I’ve met some really great people along the way, both during the walk and at the Youth Hostel. That’s what’s making the walk enjoyable really: comparing notes with everyone else and exchanging information.