Tag Archives: West Highland Way

Into the Highlands

SALLOCHY CAMPSITE TO ROWARDENNAN (2.75 miles) and KINLOCHLEVEN TO LAIRIGMOR (7 miles) On our third day on the West Highland Way, M and I decided to make our way north via foot, ferry, and bus, so that we could spend at least a day in the true Scottish Highlands. We set an alarm for the first time on our trip, and woke during that magic time when the sky is starting to lighten.DSC_0065 We packed up our things and made our way to Rowardennan to catch the 9:30 am ferry to the town of Luss, passing this amazing Juniper along the way…P1010959 P1010967 P1010969 Luss is a “conservation” village. (We would say “historic preservation” here in the US.) It is full of beautiful stone cottages, and there is a sheep pasture just on the edge of town, where a shepherd was working his collie. P1010972We bought toasted scones with butter and jam (I could not get enough of these scones!) at a small cafe with incredibly friendly staff, and then made our way to the bus station on A82. It would have been nice to spend an afternoon in the town, but we needed to catch the next ride north to Glencoe, where we connected with a second bus to Kinlochleven. (Incredibly grateful for the wonderful public transportation available to these small towns!) From Kinlochleven, we were able to get back on the Way and continue our walk toward Fort William. Here I am at the western, Glencoe side of Loch Leven.P1010973 Our guidebook claimed that Kinlochleven- a planned town built up around a now-closed aluminum smelting factory- was one of the ugliest towns in the region. M and I could not disagree more! Clearly the author has never visited any rust belt towns in the US… Kinlochleven was made up of white town houses, each with a well cared for garden. P1010976 P1010975P1010977We would have stayed the afternoon, perhaps eaten some fish and chips, but we were also eager to get back on the trail and into The Mountains. Up the Devil’s Staircase – our first real hill- and through the birch forest, there were views back to Kinlochleven…P1010986…and back toward Glencoe…P1010985 There were lovely little streams…P1010981 and there were sheep! (Cheesy photo for my benefit.)P1010996 Just before Kinlochleven passed out of sight behind us, M posed for these photos with her Hansel Half Hap (Ravelry link)…P1010989The colors of the yarn blended with last season’s dried grasses and the red-brown heather stems.

P1010990      P1010992(I knit this small version from Gudrun Johnston’s pattern just for our trip. My intention was to complete one for myself as well, but other projects got in the way. Perhaps mine will be done before next winter…) We spent the late afternoon walking west with the sun on our cheeks.P1010999e There was a gentle breeze, the air smelled fresh, and we couldn’t have been more content. We paused at the ruins of an old croft house…P1020010P1020005and then set up camp at Lairigmor – the big pass.P1020014M and I have camped together and with our dad in a lot of spectactular places. This site, however, felt special. We were alone, but for a few sheep, and the world was quiet, but a sense of history hung in the valley. It was easy to imagine armies, shepherds, and hikers passing through this land- their footsteps on the road, their voices in the air.P1020017

The West Highland Way – Drymen to Sallochy

DRYMEN CAMPING TO SALLOCHY CAMPING (11.5 miles)

On our second day on the Way, M and I woke up after for the last time well after the sun had risen. The campers around us were starting to roll over in their bags and to emerge slowly from their tents. We packed up our things, shook the dew from our tent, stuffed everything in to our still-too-heavy packs, and hit the road. (And it was a road all the way to the town of Drymen.)

Drymen is a small town, with lovely houses and colorful gardens. The town center is dominated by a large bed and breakfast, and there is also a grocery, a cafe, and a few restaurants. (Until recently there was an outdoors store for hikers, but this appeared to have closed permanently.) I was hoping for a cup of coffee and M had read that the butcher sold pies to-go, but it turns out that Drymen is impossible to get to [on public transit] on Sundays and just no fun to get to on Mondays. The butcher and the cafe were both closed for the day.

From, Drymen, the Way passes through a few pastures before entering land owned by Forestry Commission Scotland (Comisean na Coiltearachd Alba). Our guidebook (2013) described this section, as “…a shaded track through mature conifer forest”. Apparently since 2013, someone in the Commission decided that the forest was a bit too mature, and went about clear cutting the entire hillside.DSC_0028eNow, I am aware that clear-cutting, especially when slash is left in place, can be part of a responsible forest management strategy. This scene, however, was painful, disappointing, and confusing for us. According to the Forestry Commission’s Cowal and Trossachs Distric Strategic Plan (PDF), forests make up only 9% of Scotland’s total land area. Is clear-cutting the little forest that there is truly the best approach?

From the Forestry land, the Way continues toward Loch Lomond, taking a turn through sheep pasture, and then up over the shoulder of Conic Hill…

P1010941Views of Loch Lomond

DSC_0030 (2)A managed burn, visible from Conic Hill

…before descending through plantation forest…

DSC_0035Primrose (Primula vulgaris) growing in the forest understory

and to the loch-side town of Balmaha.

Balmaha is home to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Centre. M and I have visited dozens of National Parks together, and we always go to the Visitors Centers to read the interpretive panels, speak with the staff, and, if possible, become Junior Rangers. (OK, this last one only applies to me.)

National Parks are new additions to Scotland; Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park was the first in 2002. We go the impression that Scots are still figuring out just what having a National Park means for them. (There were survey questions for visitors to answer. Should the main road through the National Park be expanded? Miles of forest would be affected, but the local people would have a safer route to and from their homes. Should a popular trail be closed in order to save an endangered species of flower?)

M and I bought ice cream at a cafe, stopped for a photo with Tom WeirDSC_0040 …and followed the paved path out of town.

We reached Loch Lomond’s most famous tree in the afternoon…DSC_0047e…and took time to play on the rocks.

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The rest of day was spent on sidewalks and paths through the woods along the road…DSC_0056We reached Sallochy Camping late in the afternoon, with sore feet and crabby additudes. Enough of this walking on pavement!

Fortunately, out campsite was beautiful and quiet…DSC_0057

and right on the loch. We made tea and drank it with our toes in the cool loch water…

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before eating a simple dinner as the light faded…DSC_0062

Walking the West Highland Way

MILGAVNIE TO DRYMEN CAMPING (11 miles)

Three weeks ago, my sister and I spent four days on Scotland’s most famous Long Distance Route – the West Highland Way. The Way is a 96 mile (154Km) path that runs south to north from the rolling lands of Milngavie to the dramatic mountains of Fort William. I first heard about it when reading about the International Appalachian Trail a few years ago, and then rediscovered it on Kate Davies’ blog.

My sister and I planned to start our hike on Sunday, April 19th from Drymen – 12 miles north of The Way’s official starting point. As it turns out, there are no buses to Drymen on Sundays, and we were forced to take a train from Glasgow to Milngavie, and start at the true beginning.

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Here is M enjoying a toastie before we begin.

The Way began in a along a wooded path in a town park, with plenty of folks walking well-behaved dogs. Before long, though, the landscape opened up and there were views of tomorrow’s hills.

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And, not long after that, there were SHEEP.DSC_0013Most hikers are probably not as excited to see sheep along the trail as I was. This first pasture was special for us, though, because most of the reason that Meghan and I were even in Scotland was because of sheep and the wool that they produce. We were there because of our love of knitting and our desire to see the landscape that has inspired the most famous knitting traditions in the world.

If not for the sheep, their adorable frolicking lambs, and the gorgeous SPRING flora, the Way through this section is may have seemed monotonous. It is built on an old railway bed, making for easy, graded walking close to homes and highways.

Here are a few of my favorite botanical sites from the day:

Gorse (Ulex europaeus)

Larch (Larix sp.)

Beautiful buds

For the last few miles, we followed a paved country road by picturesque steadings, arriving at Drymen Camping before 5 PM. Normally we would not stop so early in the day, but with plans to buy groceries in Drymen, we had no choice but to set up camp on the slope next to the horse pasture…

and spend the next three hours eating Ayrshire cheese, stretching our sore toes, and watching the sun go down.