Monday, 21 July 2014

Some shit sticks no matter how hard you scrape

I had tried to cycle to Inverness a few years ago, but things didn't work out. I decided to give away that bike for free. We never saw eye to eye afterwards. Anyway, here follows a guide to walking the distance in a reasonable number of days. It's somewhat a guide and somewhat diary entry and I hope it could be interesting from both respects.

Kit list.
I found the follow items to be essential for my walk in June:

Tent - 1 man, less than 2kg, enough room for me and rest of the kit
Sleeping bag - I have a down bag rated to -5degrees
Thermarest - mine is green and looks slightly mouldy, but it works well and doesn't smell.
Cotton sleeping bag liner - essential on warm nights for me as sweat makes my eczema terrible.

Boots - I had a choice between old boots that leaked or new boots which I hadn't worn it. I chose the new ones.
Socks - I wore two pairs: a thin under sock, and an thick hiking sock. In total I had two pairs of under socks and one pair of hiking socks.
Trousers - I had a pair which had zips around the knees so could be converted to shorts.
Underwear - I bought some new pairs. I won't write the number of pairs I had in case my mum reads this.
Merino wool long sleeved top - loved this item and wore it constantly while walking
Waterproof jacket and trousers - vital.
Midge net

Compeed - I went through an entire pack. A mixture of sizes is probable best. I had a pack of large which I had to customise.
Small medical kit - not needed, but I thought up the following quip, "better a load on your back than a load on your mind."
List of distances between towns/checkpoints - I'm quite familiar with the route so didn't take a map - it is well way marked.
£50 + bank card.

Food - buy it on route, but start out with some energy bars and lunch. I started out with far too much.
Waterbottle + dissolving energy tablet things

Day one - Milngavie to Rowardennan

I took the train to Milngavie. At some points along the walk, I wished I had walked there from my flat, but most of the time I was quite happy to have done so. I reasoned I would be 5 miles further back than where I was had I started from my flat, and when every step is precious and valued, to be back 5 miles didn't seem worth it. Anyway, I was at the start of the West Highland Way at about 7.30am. I was able to overtake a party of 3 here has they stopped to take photos. In Milngavie, and the few miles outside it, there were people walking to work, joggers, and mountain bikers. After 5 miles, Carbeth and huts. I could see Craigmore, probably the most pleasant bouldering in Glasgow area (for at least 2 weeks each year). About a month previously, I fell of a problem there and sprained my ankle. It was still sore. I was having to stretch out every mile or so. I had entered the Kilpatrick's hillrace the weekend before and hadn't recovered. I finished a not so respectable 117 out of 120.

From Carbeth to Drymen there are 7 miles. You walk past Dumgoyne, where there is a distillery. I didn't stop there, but I did stop to speak to a couple of Americans who I had overtook. After overtaking them, I needed a pee really bad, but didn't want to stop incase they caught up and I had to speak to them again. This inhibition, I lost, by the end of the day. I have walked up Dumgoyne a few times, most recently with my brother and Sarah. At Croftamie I met a horse and rider. Arriving at Drymen, I stopped myself. I was at the point were the N7 cycle route crosses the West Highland Way and I lingered.

Drymen to Balmaha is where the walk becomes more highland - prior to this the walk is fairly lowland, worked heavily with agriculture, forestry, houses, roads and so on. After Drymen, the land starts to relax and do its own thing. Views open up a little and conic hill soon arrives. I had lunch near the summit - I didn't go right to the top, done it. I was overtaken by some Germans but I saw them heading off South at Balmaha so they don't count. It may sound like I was being quite competitive, probably because I was. I didn't relax out of this overtaking mentality throughout. I swapped stories with folk I passed and didn't let on that I was racing them, but I couldn't help wanting to track down people a head of me.

Balmaha has a good shop and a pub. I'd recommend getting a good meal here. To Rowardennan, I overtook and was overtaken on multiple occasions by a Chinese woman. We arrived at Rowardennan at about the same time and chatted for a bit. I refilled my water at the tap and headed on North, while she checked into a hostel. The national park police were making it clear that they are intent on enforcing the bylaw of "no camping near the road" so I had to keep walking until I was out of the restricted area. The WHW is currently being upgraded here, so I walked past all the construction and camped somewhere past Rowchoish near a burn. I wasn't sure whether drinking water from the loch or the burn was better, and guessed the burn. Google tells me it was a good guess. I found the midges were not a problem at the loch side but were bad in the trees. I soaked my feet in the loch. I found one blister on the inside on my big toe.

Day Two

From my camp to Inversaid I past the track where my pal Jonathon and I ended up after an attempt to run around Ben Lomond. We had aimed to stick to the 450m contour line but the weather meant we had to abandon it on the back side, turning north to the Cailness burn and back along the WHW to Rowardennan. At Inversaid I was reminded a time when Danny, Simon and I had a day's climbing at crystal crag years ago. Retracing those steps, I passed the boulders were folk walking the WHW had gawped at us doing sit starts. No one was bouldering when I walked by. The north half of loch Lomond is tricky in terms of terrain, and unpleasant in terms of atmosphere. The path is tangled up in boulders and the vegetation is close. I was glad to make it to the campsite at Inverarnan. There is an ok shop here, and I bought some bananas. I had 5 blisters by this point which I had compeeded. For some reason I didn't get any more, although the ones I had caused me pain from here on.

To Tyndrum, the main event was an altercation group of possibly Eastern European walkers I was tracking them down having overtaken them, then been overtaken by them. Up ahead a style, and they had left behind one of their dogs. The yelping dog was small and couldn't make it over. I walked up and was about to help it over when the group's second dog came running back, and was barking too. Confused, then more so, the possible Eastern Europeans appeared from behind a wall saying "don't!" - it turned out they were trying to train the dog to jump over styles. I overtook them promptly. As an aside, I don't think taking a dog is a good idea as you will have to carry a lot of extra kit for it. I saw some with a dog who had equipped the dog with some kind of backpack - fair enough, but it does look stupid.

It rained as I headed to Tyndrum. I met an American family who were chatty, the matriarch in particular. It rained and rained. Eventually I was in the Green Welly Stop for some hot food and a cold beer. A low point was leaving there to make some more progress at about 5.30pm as it was still raining rain. About a year ago I had ran from Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy with Richard as he competed in the WHW race. I half remembered there being a river and flat ground at some point so I headed for that and hoped it arrived soon. When it did, the midges were terrible.

Day 3

The rain eased off by morning and I was walking by 8am or so. I arrived at Bridge of Orchy for a chance encounter with a friend from the climbing wall who works taking youth groups up mountains (it turned out). He asked what I was doing there, I told him I had walked, and he told me that I could've got the bus. To my dark delight, on the hill just above Bridge of Orchy, there was a rock with the inscription "J. Bloggs, gone to soon." Over the few days, if I needed cheering up, I'd imaging asking the inscriber where "soon" was. I suspected the answer was that it was near Troon.

The Rannoch moor required a bit of soul searching, my legs and feet ached. I figured the cobbled path might help work different parts of my feet and so ease the pain, but I don't think it did. I stopped and soaked my feet in a burn and got overtaken. That said, it is probably the finest section of the walk. I was in the King's House for mid afternoon and order a haggis panini and a pint. My opinion is that beer is a very good option - full of carbs and easy to get down. I waddled out as my legs had stiffened up, but I was soon below the Buachaille, looking up at many memories of curved ridge, Rannoch wall, Slime wall and Tunnel wall. The Devil's staircase was climbed slowly, and I had a great view North at the top. I forgot to have a look South, and descended steadily to Kinlochleven. It was a Sunday, and all the shops were shut. I sat on the curb briefly then set off up the other side of the glen and made camp high above the town.

Day Four

I was meeting Jonathon in Fort William at lunch time so got up early. I had something resembling a wash in a river. I have always been a bit of a wimp when it comes to cold water. Along the path I past two parties who had made camp further on. One of which consisted of a man singing loudly until he must have heard my footsteps. At this, he stuck his head out his tent and said a sheepish, "mornin'". I didn't see either party for again though, despite my pace being slower now. It was a fantastic morning with a bright sun and cool breeze. I stopped and listened to the birds and meditated, "this is going on all the time; these birds are chirping every morning." Sometimes simple thoughts are sensible.

Part two,

Fort William - Inverness


No comments: