Along the banks of Loch Lomond30th May 2007
Despite the weather outlook, I decided to brave the elements and catch up with the part of the West Highland Way that follows the shores of Loch Lomond. This was going to be a two-day walk from Inverarnan to Drymen with an overnight stay at the hostel at Rowardennan, so I took my chance on the bank holiday weekend and with an extra day off work. As it happened, the weather wasn’t too unkind, with only the odd light shower offering any dampness while I was out on the trail. There was a downpour at one point, but that had the good manners to wait for me to arrive at Rowardennan and savour the scenic delights on display in some fine evening sunshine before it did its thing. Thankfully, I was under cover, but that was no consolation to those campers with flooded tents – I encountered one such refugee who had made his way to the hostel for a night’s stay and to dry out his gear: a very sensible decision. Other than that, it was largely dry if cloudy for a lot of the time; any sun was enjoyed with gratitude.
Loch Lomond may have a certain genteel reputation, especially with there being a song extant called “The Bonnie Banks O’ Loch Lomond”, but the track followed by the WHW has a reputation not in keeping with this impression. It is that part between Inverarnan and Rowardennan where the main difficulties are found; that was why my two-day walk headed south rather than north. Nevertheless, the track is not all bad, with only the section between Doune and Inversnaid being an unavoidable test of sure-footedness, balance and agility. The only other real difficulty on the WHW occurs just north of Rowardennan and a 4×4 track (a WHW route option) helpfully by-passes this obstacle course littered with fallen trees from one of this past spring’s storms while also being a victim of erosion to boot.
An early morning start from Inverarnan got me on my way under predominantly cloudy skies, and they were to be with me for most of the day. In contrast, if I was heading north towards Crianlarich, blue skies and sunshine would have been my reward, but that was not the plan that I had concocted for this time around. The likes of Ben a’ Chleibh, Ben Lui, Ben Oss and Ben Dubhcraig gave me much cause to gaze northwards and slow me down in the process, even if a pesky power line threatened to place a dampener on the glory of the vistas set out before me. At the very least, I know that there is some appeal to following the WHW north to bridge the gap between Inverarnan and Bridge of Orchy.
Having managed to drag myself away from the sights of such glories, it was not long until I found myself in conversation near Ardleish with a gentleman from Bangor (Wales, not N.I.) who was walking the WHW northbound with his son. We exchanged experiences before continuing our respective journeys. Having negotiated any path difficulties and enjoyed seeing bluebell carpeted woodland, I paused for a food stop at Inversnaid; I didn’t venture into the hotel since I had some food with me. As I passed the hotel, I spotted a lady with a severe expression looking out through one of the front windows (no, she wouldn’t have seen me taking lunch outside). It was almost as if she were on watch for aberrant walkers who might try to enter through the front door; there’s a very separate entrance for us at the back and a place for us to put our rucksacks too. Severe expressions were soon replaced by far more delightful prospects: more bluebell woodland; it might have been the end of May, but they were still in their prime up here. Rowardennan remained far way, but I was at the hostel by 18:00 and, with my booking was confirmed, I found my bed for the night. This was after my adventurous side taking me away from the sensible 4×4 track at Rowchoish to follow the loch-side obstacle course; I must have been out of my senses, but it did avoid some extra ascent. Once, I sorted myself out at the hostel, I went out into the fine evening for some photographic exploits before I headed to the hotel for dinner. After that, I retired for the night.
The next morning began with more photographic activity before breakfast. Knowing how fickle Scottish weather can be, I take any chance of sunshine that I get and there was plenty on offer at this time, but cloud was to dominate skies later on. A light breakfast, which included porridge, was to set me on my way and progress out of Rowardennan was slow, not because of tired muscles but because of the views that were behind me. Beyond Rowardennan, tracks are easier to negotiate, even if the way to Balmaha is still littered with sharp little ascents and descents. Proximity to the road may not be ideal, but delights are still there to be enjoyed. South of Balmaha, there is another route choice: high level via Conic Hill or low level beside the Drymen road. I stuck with the latter, even though the restrictions around Conic Hill were lifted for another year; use of the low-level route is mandatory during the lambing season. After carrying a heavy pack for a second day, I decided to leave Conic Hill for another time (combining it with a section of the Rob Roy Way for a longer hill day, perhaps?) and made my way into Garadhban Forest from Milton of Buchanan in which I negotiated a diversion due to tree harvesting operations. Much to my own surprise, I really got into my stride here, and that continued all the way to Drymen on what became a glorious evening. From there it was onto Balloch by bus for an overnight stay before I headed home again by train.
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