West Highland Way revisited22nd February 2007
Last weekend, I pottered up to Scotland to take in the scenery lining the southernmost section of the West Highland Way. Having followed the esteemed long-distance path all the way from Bridge of Orchy to Fort William, albeit in a piecemeal manner, I have decided to see if I can have a go at completing it. And yes, the piecemeal approach continues.
Before I describe my latest trek, I’ll let you in on my previous exploits. My first real outing on the WHW, apart from being in its vicinity when I was starting to explore Glen Nevis near Fort William, was when I walked the section from Kinlochleven to Glen Coe on a largely cloudy day that tried to brighten up at one point. The second encounter was on another cloudy day but one without any sun; that was when I headed from Kinlochleven to Fort William. The scenery was so outstanding that I returned on a sunny weekend to repeat the walk, and I was not to be disappointed. Following that, I explored the section between Glen Coe and Bridge of Orchy. That day had a lot of cloud about, but the sun made its way through for a good part of the journey.
And now to my most recent excursion. An overnight National Express coach service got me to Glasgow from where I headed to Milngavie (pronounced mullguy), the southern terminus of the WHW, after getting myself some breakfast at Buchanan Bus Station. Once in Milngavie, I picked up the WHW and followed it through the path-strewn Mugdock Wood on a very crisp morning with frost abounding everywhere, a very memorable experience.
Eventually, my journey took me past both Craigallian Loch and Carbeth Loch and on towards the gloriously appealing Campsie Fells. The outlying knob of Dumgoyne, one of their number, very much played the role of a distinctive landmark for much of my walk and looked much grander than its 428 metres height would suggest. A farmer putting out hay for his cattle and their procession along the WHW track distracted attention for a while, but it was the surrounding scenery that was the real attraction.
Surprisingly for a trail that courts a lot of fine scenery, the WHW keeps out of the Campsie Fells and follows a disused railway, the old Strath Blane Line, from Dumgoyach Farm until it ventures onto a minor road as it nears Drymen before heading off-road again for Balmaha and beyond. I suppose that the one issue is that there is no old right of way through the Campsie Fells that passes near Strath Blane. Naturally, there is also the issue of distance and the effect on a walker of continual ascent and descent in hilly country, but these are considerations for the walker. Given that Conic Hill near Balmaha is a no-go area during the lambing season, another concern would be the potential effect on sheep during the lambing season. While Scotland’s current access legislation could allow things to happen in principle, I see a re-routing of the West Highland Way as being highly unlikely. Nevertheless, the thoughts of proceeding through the Campsie Fells are far more appealing than the reality of shadowing busy roads while walking on a disused railway line, even if this route possibility would require some road walking through Killearn to the old railway line for the rest of the walk.
I was a tired walker when I reached Drymen in pleasant sunshine, but the cloud had rolled in by the time that I got to Balloch by bus; it was from there that I eventually headed home. In fact, there was a good deal of cloud about that day, and at times it blocked the sun and put a dampener on photographic exploits. Another fly in the ointment was the more than ample number of pylons that dotted (and in my view blighted) the landscape in a number of places. Also creating compositional challenges was the quarry that got in the way when I was trying to enjoy the enchanting views of the hills across Loch Lomond while on the final approach to Drymen. Actually, taking a spot of care meant that things didn’t look too bad in the foreground of the photographs taken. Then there was the matter of ensuring that Loch Lomond’s surface was not at an angle; it’s very easy for those horizons to develop a slant…
All in all, the day was an enjoyable one, and I am planning to plug the gap between Drymen and Bridge of Orchy. A weekend visit could allow me to cover the WHW between Drymen and Inverarnan, with a break in Rowardennan. And a long day could get me from Inverarnan to Bridge of Orchy, although a break in Crianlarich might make things more comfortable. Plans are one thing, let’s see how the reality turns out.
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