The West Highland Way – Part 2: To The Loch! (Milngavie to Rowardennan)

Milngavie really must be quite proud of the fact that the West Highland Way starts there, as they’ve taken every opportunity to draw your attention to the fact. Leaving the railway, there’s various “to the West Highland Way” signs and the murals in the underpass before you get to the actual start point, itself with a monolith, benches, paving, signs, information boards. If you were in any doubt, it would have been cleared up by now.

Paul dashed off to M&S to find some lunch, while I dived into the Greggs conveniently located close to the start “infrastructure”.

Then under the banner and onto the Way itself, leading fairly quickly out of the urban and into countryside by way of Mugdock Park. Allander Water kept us company to our left. We approached Carbeth and found this chap.

Then a short dog leg on a road before hitting a section across more open land, with a much better path than the map suggested we’d find.

Across the other side of the A81 we could see Drumgoyne Distillery, and a short while later we walked into the plethora of signs marking the Beech Tree Inn – closed of course.

This was the first of several such gradient profiles we’d see, but at this stage all it did was remind us how much work still lay ahead of us.

We found an alternative to the Beech Tree a little way further on in the form of Turnip the Beet. Tea and cake was the order of the day. As we packed up to resume our northwards course, a southbounder turned up and we exchanged a few words before heading off.

It started raining shortly after this, at which point thoughts became very much focused on tonight’s camp. We’d intended to stop at Drymen Camping but hadn’t actually made any arrangements. While we took shelter in the facilities barn, Paul booked us in over the phone while I discovered which toilets were open by a process of trial and error.

We pitched up pretty close to the barn for convenience of the facilities, but at a busier time I’d have picked the loneliest part of the site instead.

As we ate our dinner in the barn/facilities area we chatted with the other person staying at the site – another SOBO aiming to finish the next day.

It was a windy night, but we felt virtually none of it where we were pitched, instead hearing it trying to bend trees around us. So we were in decent shape the next morning for our second day.

After a bit of a lingering breakfast and chat with the SOBO chap, we set off into grey skies, our destination the village of Drymen itself. Yes, we were on Bacon Quest.

We found a place, filled our faces and headed for the convenience store to replace a few essentials (or in other words, I ate all my chocolate last night). Emerging from the store, it was bucketing down, which made the next decision easier.

On the walk in to Drymen we’d debated whether we would simply return back out the same side of Drymen afterwards and then loop around on the WHW to the north of the village, or just cut the corner off, following the Rob Roy Way briefly. The pouring rain and general misery of the scene made this an easy choice – the shortcut along a nice tarmac road.

Once we turned off into the forest the rain seemed to be less bothersome and we emerged from dense forest to a view of Conic Hill. This we’d already decided we probably wouldn’t bother with in these conditions, and seeing the top wreathed in cloud merely confirmed it – the main reason for going up made it pointless.

Another short cut, or rather the alternative route to Milton of Buchanan and along the road to Balmaha. This was pretty miserable – the sort of walk that would be the final straw if you were dead on your feet after 20 miles, cold, wet and hungry. As it was our tails had lost their wag as we reached the cafe in Balamaha and took our wet feet and gear into a nice wood floored room.

We put it off as long as we could, under the pretence of “planning”, but eventually had to get going again. Having decided to only go as far as Milarrochy today, I nipped into the adjacent shop to buy dinner – it was a night for real food.

We spent a few minutes looking at the Loch and then got moving.

It was actually fairly pleasant along the loch shore.

But we were still glad to emerge onto the road just before the campsite and roll in there to claim a pitch. You could have knocked me down with a feather when this C&C club site asked for £17.30. Each ? No for both, thankfully, which seemed pretty good for what we got.

I was feeling tired and headachy, the overnight coach journey still catching up with me, and had a doze in my tent before waking to do dinner.

This night was one of rain compared with wind the night before, and this didn’t do much to help reduce my sleep deficit.

The morning of day 3, and we packed up and scampered into the backpackers’ facility building to breakfast and finish packing. Here we chatted with a hiker from the US.

We set off and were soon into woods, with a small climb around a headland before we reached Cashel campsite (closed). Then some pleasant lochside walking brought us to Sallochy and the forestry campsite. This was ideal timing for a brew up. I also had a chat with the warden.

Off again, and things turned ugly when faced with some more crags to climb over and around. Steep climbs highlighted some fitness discrepancies in our party, and for Paul I think they started to remind him of some of the nastier bits of the Loch Lomond section that lay ahead.

Whatever, we rolled into Rowardennan for lunch to find the pub shut until 4pm. There may have been some sort of announcement along the lines of “being done with backpacking”. Certainly Paul was done with this part of the trail. I’d had some clues that his thoughts were heading in that direction, but half expected a full bail out on his part, so was pleasantly surprised that he said he’d jump ahead and wait for me in Tyndrum. We’d already booked somewhere there for night 5 (Sunday).

This would conveniently get Paul out of the hard work along the loch which for many is the worst part of the WHW. He’d then join me for the walk across the moor to Kinlochleven.

Waving goodbye I set off solo to face the bit of the trail that everyone moans about…

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