Long distance walking Camping

West Highland Way: Day 2 – A rocky road



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GREAT WEATHER ON THE WEST HIGHLAND WAY

Our second day on the West Highland Way started with the sound of waves lapping against the rocks on the shores of Milarrochy Campsite. We emerged from our tents, legs wobbling like jelly from the previous day’s effort. The sun was beginning to peek through the clouds and the birds were chirping their morning songs in the dense forests surrounding Loch Lomond. The air had a beautiful calmness and warmth to it. We could both tell it was going to be another great adventure and were eager to get going. Our second day on the West Highland Way was already off to the perfect start.

Ready to start day two of the West Highland Way.

Ready to start day two of the West Highland Way.

ROWARDENNAN FOREST

Once our legs had gotten over the initial pain of standing up, we stretched our muscles and were ready to hit the road. Wanting to simply enjoy the day, we didn’t have a concrete plan for where to finish up. We decided to let the day unfold before setting a target, as we were unsure of the terrain we’d encounter on the eastern banks of Loch Lomond. I had read that it was the toughest section of the whole walk so we were prepared for that. Ideally, we still hoped to reach Fort William to finish the West Highland Way within five days of starting. We did have some leeway with days off before needing to be back at work so it wasn’t completely necessary to rush.

It wasn’t long into the walk when we both agreed that day two had already surpassed day one on sheer beauty alone. The way the morning sun shone through the forest canopy above us was truly mesmerising. The sea of bluebells as far as the eye could see, once again impressed us as we continued to walk through the deep forests. The path would sometimes be on a single track tarmac road but even then, it was still beautiful. It would often take us down to the shore of Loch Lomond where we admired the view across to the other side. Beinn Dubh overlooking Luss being the most notable hill we could see from our position.

Looking across Loch Lomond towards Luss with Beinn Dubh on the right.

Looking across Loch Lomond towards Luss with Beinn Dubh on the right.

Even while walking on tarmac roads around Loch Lomond the view was still beautiful.

Even while walking on tarmac roads around Loch Lomond the view was still beautiful.

The views out to Loch Lomond from small bays in the forest like this were fantastic.

The views out to Loch Lomond from small bays in the forest like this were fantastic.

A WELL EARNED REST

After putting around six miles behind us, we came across a pub at Rowardennan called The Clansman. Unlike the classic Scottish TV show Still Game, this Clansman wasn’t filled with comical old Glaswegians. Just walkers, cyclists and tourists, enjoying the sunshine like ourselves. We took a break here for what would become something of a ritual for us over the coming days. A can of Irn Bru and a packet of Salt and Vinegar McCoys. After pounding out mile after mile in the heat, the sugar and salt rush completely rejuvenated us. I could have sat there for hours. Reluctantly though, I strapped my huge bag to my back again with a struggle and we pushed onward.

Our next port of call was the car park for Ben Lomond. Since I’m leaving Ben Lomond to be my final Munro, it was nice to see the area it starts from. Even if it will be another 10 years before I complete all the Munros at my current pace. Why rush it though. With extremely rewarding long distance walks like the West Highland Way to keep me busy in the summer, my pace may even slow down!

Passing through Rowardennan Forest was beautiful.

Passing through Rowardennan Forest was beautiful.

I loved this wee house called Mill of Ross, tucked away in the forest.

I loved this wee house called Mill of Ross, tucked away in the forest.

Rowardennan Forest never stopped being fascinating.

Rowardennan Forest never stopped being fascinating.

ADMIRING THE ARROCHAR ALPS

As we got going again, Inversnaid was the next target. It was roughly eight miles away but we had only covered about six to this point, so we had plenty of energy left. Well, Dyan did. I was dragging my heels behind her as usual, struggling to keep up! The forests after Rowardennan were very bare, to begin with, compared to what we had previously encountered. This gave us a pleasant change in scenery and allowed us to see across Loch Lomond more often. We were reaching the same level as the Arrochar Alps on the west side of the loch now. The views soon became dominated by the jagged tops of The Cobbler and Beinn Narnain. This brought back memories of completing Beinn Narnain six years ago for my first Munro.

INSECT INVASION ON THE WEST HIGHLAND WAY

As we passed through this section of forest, a very strange thing began to happen. Caterpillars were suddenly all around us, hanging from the treetops on very long threads of silk. At the time we were utterly clueless as to what was going on. It felt like a scene from a horror movie. Every step we took, we walked into more of them. At this point, other walkers were passing us in the opposite direction and we even saw them struggling with this sudden outbreak too. After a short while, we seemed to have passed the worst of it as they became fewer in number until we finally escaped them for good. It was such a strange occurrence and only since finishing the West Highland Way, have I managed to research them to find out more. It seems they are moth caterpillars that hang from the trees they hatched on in an effort to swing to a new tree for fresh sustenance. I never managed to take any photographs of them unfortunately, as it was the last thing I was thinking about when I was covered in the things.

Pushing on into a new forest past Rowardennan at the base of Ben Lomond.

Pushing on into a new forest past Rowardennan at the base of Ben Lomond.

This new forest further up Loch Lomond was a lot smaller and more bare than the previous ones.

This new forest further up Loch Lomond was a lot smaller and more bare than the previous ones.

A perfect gap in the trees for a view over Loch Lomond to the Arrochar Alps with The Cobbler on the left.

A perfect gap in the trees for a view over Loch Lomond to the Arrochar Alps with The Cobbler on the left.

BLUEBELLS ON THE WEST HIGHLAND WAY

The forests soon became deeper and darker again, about halfway from Rowardennan to Inversnaid. This constant change in scenery kept the day very interesting. All the while, the path stayed relatively flat and easy to walk on, yet my feet were still hurting with the constant fast pace we were pushing ahead with. It was around then, we passed through a short section of forest near Rowchoish Bothy. The bothy can be visited via an alternate lower route but with enough walking ahead of us already, we opted not to take the detour. The forest we passed through at this point was absolutely stunning anyway so we made the right choice. The sun was piercing through the tree branches, lighting up patches on the ground. There was another endless sea of bluebells all around us. The pain in my feet disappeared and the weight from my shoulders was lifted as I walked through here, fixated on my surroundings in awe.

It became clear that we were making progress and getting further north now, as the views across Loch Lomond were becoming filled with Munros. Having already passed Beinn Narnain and Beinn Ime, we were now gazing up at Ben Vorlich and Ben Vane above Inveruglas. A downhill section of the path lining up perfectly with a break in the trees to give us this view.

This small enclosed section of forest near Rowchoish Bothy was filled with bluebells again.

This small enclosed section of forest near Rowchoish Bothy was filled with bluebells again.

Another break in the trees gave us great views across Loch Lomond to Inveruglas and Ben Vorlich.

Another break in the trees gave us great views across Loch Lomond to Inveruglas and Ben Vorlich.

A WELCOME SURPRISE

Not long after crossing a small wooden bridge and rounding a corner at Cailness, we spotted a cottage tucked away behind some trees. As we walked closer, we noticed the owners had set up an honesty box outside. This was a new concept to me since starting the West Highland Way, we had now passed several on the trip and would later pass much more. In exchange for a small price – usually, £1 – anyone passing can take a drink or snack from whats on offer. The home made snacks on offer here were granola bars, tablet and cookies. The huge jug of lemon infused water had sadly run out by the time we arrived. It was a shame as the heat was really getting to us and some lemon water would have went down a treat. We decided to grab a few bars of tablet instead which more than made up for the lack of lemon water. We rationed the bars for the rest of the day, taking small bites whenever we needed some sugary relief.

A beautiful honesty box next to a cottage at Cailness. The tablet was amazing!

A beautiful honesty box next to a cottage at Cailness. The tablet was amazing!

SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?

After another mile or so of walking through the blazing heat, we reached Inversnaid. I have noticed the grand building of Inversnaid Hotel from across the loch when driving north many times, always wondering what it actually was. For Dyan and I, on this day, it was pure salvation. The timing couldn’t have been better for us. We both had cravings for an ice cold drink of juice so once again we opted for the now standard can of Irn Bru and packet of McCoys. Sitting outside in the sun, the hotel grounds were all of a sudden bustling with tourists who had got the ferry across from Inveruglas for the day.

We discussed what to do with the rest of our day as we sat there with tourists wandering around us. There was plenty daylight left as it was only 5pm. Having walked roughly 15 miles by this point though, I was beginning to struggle so questioned my ability to keep going. We had passed another walker earlier in the day who was also walking the West Highland Way. He caught up with us here and we all discussed our plans. It seemed like he was going to stay at the nearby Inversnaid Bunkhouse which we didn’t fancy. We had our heart set on camping the whole way so decided to push on for Beinglas Campsite at Inverarnan. As a backup plan, if we didn’t make it to Inverarnan, we would look for a wild camping spot on the way.

THE BEST AND THE WORST

As we began what would be our final section of the day, the terrain got quite rough. My feet were already hurting but this new section just made them worse. I picked up a slight injury in my right knee at this point as we were walking faster than my ailing body could handle. It was mainly due to the hard pace we had set since the beginning back in Milngavie the previous morning, but also the hard rocky terrain we were walking on. I was in total awe of the West Highland Way at this stage, but I was struggling mentally and physically. I was enjoying it so much though, that adrenaline somehow kept me going, almost in defiance of the pain in my knee and feet. Stopping often for a break to take the weight off my feet would also help. Especially when we came across these beautiful carved wooden seats in the shape of acorns and leaves. The perfect place for a rest!

The steep rocky cliffs made for a nice change of scenery for this section.

The steep rocky cliffs made for a nice change of scenery for this section.

Beautifully carved wooden benches in the shape of leaves and acorns.

Beautifully carved wooden benches in the shape of leaves and acorns.

THE BONNIE BANKS OF LOCH LOMOND

The forests became more patchy now as the path took us closer to the shore of Loch Lomond. One large opening, in particular, made us stop in amazement. We were in a field of bluebells with a neat little path snaking through the middle. Fluffy white clouds were dotted around the bright blue sky above us. And the sun was beginning to get lower, as it began casting a golden glow over Loch Lomond and its surroundings. We didn’t want to leave. There were only a few miles to Beinglas Farm Campsite though and we knew we would feel better for reaching it. Especially due to the nearby Drovers Inn that we were worried would stop serving food before we arrived. This made us push on even faster.

Stunning views over Loch Lomond as the path opened out to a sea of bluebells.

Stunning views over Loch Lomond as the path opened out to a sea of bluebells.

The colours of the forests got more saturated and golden as the day went on.

The colours of the forests got more saturated and golden as the day went on.

SAYING GOODBYE TO LOCH LOMOND

We were soon reaching the north end of Loch Lomond where we passed through a clearing with some old buildings. One of them was Doune Bothy. It was another place that we could have stayed at if the weather was terrible and we didn’t have the energy to go on. But on this beautiful evening, we didn’t want to stop walking. The day had been utterly fantastic and we didn’t want it to end. So on we went.

A little further up the path, we realised we would soon turn our back on Loch Lomond for the last time. Neither of us had spent much time on the east side of Loch Lomond before starting the West Highland Way, so we didn’t know too much about the area. We were now fascinated with the place though, after walking over 40 miles from Milngavie to Inverarnan in two days. From Conic Hill overlooking Balmaha and Inchcailloch. To Milarrochy Campsite and Sallochy Bay further up. Then the contrasting forests before and after Rowardennan. One dark, lush and full of flora, the other bare and open but offering great views to the Arrochar Alps. It was all just so fascinating!

A view from Doune Bothy over the north of Loch Lomond with Ben Lui's peaked summit in the far distance.

A view from Doune Bothy over the north of Loch Lomond with Ben Lui’s peaked summit in the far distance.

One of our final views of Loch Lomond as we neared Beinglas Farm Campsite at  Inverarnan.

One of our final views of Loch Lomond as we neared Beinglas Farm Campsite at Inverarnan.

SLITHERING INTO THE SUNSET

So we turned our backs on Loch Lomond for the last time on this trip. Looking to the ground ahead of us, I spotted something dark lying across the path. My first thought was that it was just a stick. The closer we got though, I began to see that it was moving. This was no stick. It was a snake! We were now right next to it so it had obviously spotted us and was staying deathly still. I managed to get a photograph but didn’t want to get too close as we knew nothing about snakes in Scotland or how dangerous they were. It was only after coming home and researching it, that I managed to find out that it appears this wasn’t a snake after all. But something a lot less exotic sounding; a slow worm. It was still really interesting to see this strange lizard and at the time it was a very exciting end to a stunning day.

Within another hour we had reached Inverarnan and could rest properly. Not before a hearty meal in the onsite bar, which saved us a walk to the Drovers Inn. We were lucky that it was still serving food as we just made it there on time with mere minutes to spare. That would have been a disappointing end to a 20 mile walk. The haggis neeps and tatties for Dyan and fish and chips for me though was worth all the effort to get there. My feet were now covered in blisters though as I found out after hobbling back to my tent. The heat we were walking in along with the fast pace and rocky terrain really tore them up. The next 60 miles were going to be a challenge now.

Is it a snake? Is it a slow worm? You tell me!

DAY 2 THOUGHTS

As we walked along the east shore of Loch Lomond for a whole day, revelling in the sunshine, we never knew it would be so good. We both have a newfound appreciation for the area and will definitely visit it again in future for walking, camping and kayaking. There are so many different areas all with their own unique beauty that demands any outdoor lovers time and attention. The terrain was worse than I had expected it to be so it’s definitely a place to respect and not underestimate. I don’t know how I managed to push myself so far with such injuries to my feet and knee. In saying that, Dyan managed it just fine, so maybe it’s not as bad as I make it out to be. If the weather was worse though, I’m sure it would have been a lot tougher. All things considered, our second day on the West Highland Way was a resounding success. We had covered a huge amount of mileage and were excited that we were getting closed to the real highlands. On day three, our target was to reach Tyndrum via Crianlarich. It involved only 12 miles of walking, which is something I think I was looking forward to the most.

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Big Bad Bill
    23rd July 2017 at 7:27 am

    Another fantastic review and effort

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