Monday 9th August
Would’ve been 13 miles if I’d walked
When I booked this holiday, I arranged for it to take eight days without any rest days. I had also never walked for more than three days in a row before. I decided that if need be, I would take a taxi and/or public transport rather than risk injuring myself. I took the attitude that if this happened I wouldn’t see it as a failure, but rather something necessary for health reasons.
The day arrived. I woke up in Crianlarich Youth Hostel and I was exhausted after four days of walking, especially day four which was the most difficult one. Surprisingly, my legs and feet were absolutely fine and I didn’t even have any blisters. But my mind was exhausted, so exhausted that I could barely think straight. I knew I had to take the train. I also knew that I was most looking forward to day 6, which would be the highlight of the walk, so it made sense to cut out day 5 and hopefully get a bit of rest.
I met Maria on the platform. I only went one stop to Tyndrum; Maria was heading up to Mallaig via a route widely considered to be one of the world’s most picturesque train journeys, so she would have an amazing time.
I read a lot of walking blogs and websites, and the impression I get of Tyndrum is it’s very much a refuelling stop. This impression wasn’t wrong, and I couldn’t imagine wanting to stay for more than one night. I popped in to the tourist office and spoke to a few people, then carried on up the road to the famous Green Welly Stop where I ate lunch and stocked up on biscuits for the second half of the week. Anyone looking for information might also like to know that there are public toilets, a cash machine (although it does charge a fee), an outdoor shop and another food place selling hot food, soup and sandwiches. The mini mart next door proudly announces that it’s the last shop on the West Highland Way until Kinlochleven. There is also a pub and a petrol station.
I’ve spoken to a lot of people this week, and I thought this might be a good place to mention the number of people who’ve commented on my bag. What I have is a Lowe Alpine Airzone ND32 Daypack, newly purchased last week after my previous bag fell apart. It was pricey but it’s also the most comfortable bag I’ve ever had, due to the way it keeps air circulating around my back, so I believe it was worth the money. Anyway, the main thing is that’s it’s basically a 32 litre day pack, and I’m carrying it around for eight days of walking and two travel days. I’ve got enough clothes for four days and I’ve been washing things as I go along. I have been very interested by the number of people who’ve commented on how small my bag is. “Is that all you’ve got?” I’ve been asked on numerous occasions. To be fair, I’ve booked accommodation for the entire week so I don’t have a tent or sleeping bag etc. But still, I’ve found myself being slightly amazed by the size of some people’s packs. Surely it can’t be good for your health to carry that much weight around? What oh what are people carrying?! I’ve even met people at my overnight stops who had huge bags, yet were also having even more bags being moved along from place to place by luggage transfer services. Even if they are carrying food for breakfasts and evening meals, I’m still intrigued. I’m sure I have everything I need with me. I even have room for my flip flops which I’ve found invaluable in the evenings when I want to go outside without having to put my walking boots back on.
I considered walking the second half of the day from Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy, but I still wasn’t 100% sure about my energy levels so I did the sensible thing and took the train again. The journey went through some absolutely stunning scenery. Later on I met some people who said they’d walked it, and it had been quite an easy one. Maybe I’ll return here one day.
I arrived at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel.
I’d booked a place at the bunkhouse rather than the main hotel, and I’m sorry to have to say that it was by far the worst accommodation I encountered along my route, and also the most expensive bunkhouse/hostel. It was apparent that the building had a damp problem. I know bunkhouses are not supposed to be five star accommodation, but still, sleeping in a damp room is a health hazard, and anyway I haven’t encountered it anywhere else. I was lucky enough to get a three-bed room to myself, but otherwise it would’ve been very cramped indeed. There was a very uncomfortable feel about the place.
I went to have dinner at the hotel restaurant. There are no vegetarian main courses on their printed menu, however there was a specials board featuring risotto. For anyone who might not know, risotto (and especially mushroom risotto) is the ultimate “token vegetarian”, we-can’t-be-bothered-to-cook-you-a-proper-meal dish. Usually I refuse to eat at such restaurants on principle, but Bridge of Orchy is a very small place and there wasn’t anywhere else to go. I found myself wishing I’d bought an extra meal at Tyndrum.
I went down to the river to admire the scenery. I spoke to several people and we all agreed that we were in an incredible place.
Much as I’ve enjoyed the walks themselves, this week has very much been about the people. I’ve been moving through some small places so it’s very easy to walk up to someone and start a conversation, and nine times out of they’ll be West Highland Way people too. It’s nice to meet new people, but it’s also great to meet the same people a few times, to see how they’re getting along, to swap stories about different parts of the journey. The social aspect of this walk has been amazing so far and I’ve been having a fantastic time overall. Even when I’ve been walking on my own, when I’ve caught up with people in the evening I’ve definitely felt a bit of a team spirit going on.