West Highland Way 1: Milngavie to Tyndrum

Milngavie to Drymen

I was apprehensive about starting my 350 mile journey to Cape Wrath, mainly because of the weight of my rucksack and my dodgy knees. Although I had broken my right patella a couple of years previously, it was my left knee that usually caused me problems. It had also been a while since I had done a long-distance walk, and I don’t think I’d ever carried this weight over a substantial distance. In fact, this is why I chose to do the West Highland Way before the Cape Wrath Trail. It was a way to ease myself in, get used to carrying the load, and fine tune my walking style. For this reason, I spent the first two days listening to my body, listening to all of the aches and pains so that I could act preventatively against any potential injuries. I knew that being careful from the beginning would improve my chances of getting to the end. Indeed, my left knee did give me some trouble on the first day, but I soon got used to using walking poles to support it.

Sat on the train to Milngavie, I was full of anticipation and excitement the journey ahead, for setting foot on the platform and starting to make my way north. As it happened, I was setting out during the tail end of a storm which meant strong winds and persistent rain. Nevertheless, it felt good to get going and start to leave the urban landscape behind. Although I’d packed all of my gear into dry bags, my rucksack gradually became saturated as the rain fell, getting heavier and heavier throughout the day. I wondered if this would set the tone for the rest of my trip. My first wild camp was just past Drymen. I was walking alongside some woodland as it was getting dark, so I decided to use the trees as cover from the wind, making sure that there was a water supply nearby. As soon as I dropped my bag I felt like I was going to float off into the sky. It took me a while to choose a pitch because I didn’t want to be near a tree that might fall or where large branches were likely to break off in the wind. I set up my tent on a soft bed of pine needles just by the burn. The rain was heavy that first night but eventually subsided, and the sound of the wind rustling the trees eased me off to sleep.


Drymen to Rowardennan

I had a cosy first morning in my sleeping bag, feeling protected from the elements and enjoying waking up surrounded by fresh air. Eventually I got packed up and put away my tent, setting out to walk later than I would have liked. The air was still, but it continued to rain. I passed through some misty woodland, enjoying the quiet, eerie atmosphere. I didn’t see anyone until I arrived at Conic Hill where a lady was walking her dog. By this point the sunshine had managed to make its way through the cloud. The warmth of the sun felt amazing after the weather of the previous day, and the light on the snowy mountains in the distance was stunning. It was reassuring to know that I was already so close to some more exciting scenery. I filled up on chips in Balmaha at the edge of Loch Lomond, paying with a £20 note and clumsily leaving without my change. I didn’t realise until I was well on my way to Rowardennan. Due to the late start I ended up walking into the dark hours, but only after enjoying the colours of the sun set reflecting off the surface of the loch. In the knowledge that I had put my tent away wet, I was hoping to stay at Rowardennan Lodge that night, but after trudging away for an hour in the darkness, it turned out that the lodge had been booked by a large group. I pitched my tent a further 1 km down the path. The air was cold and dense with moisture, and my tent was a damp cave of discomfort, but I got in, cooked up some mac ‘n’ cheese and got some kip.


Rowardennan to Doune Bothy

The route on the third day followed the eastern edge of Loch Lomond, with many ups and downs. The path was tricky due to the many tree roots and rough nature of the path and this made progress slow. Although I had planned to go to Inverarnan, I ended up walking just 10 miles to Doune Bothy. This was partially because it was getting dark but I was also keen to try my first bothy sleep. There was another walker staying there too and it was nice to have company for the evening. She was walking the West Highland Way but was struggling with her pack weight and was already considering heading back to town to dump some gear. Doune Bothy was spacious, and tidy. The stone walls were cold and the air was damp, but it still felt cosy with the rain hammering down outside. There was only a small stack of drying wood by the fire place, and everything outside was wet – without some dry kindling this didn’t bode well for making a fire. Instead we cooked our meals and had a cup of hot tea and I put my soggy clothes and tent on the line to drip dry. The clouds cleared outside to reveal a beautiful moon and stars, and the temperature plummeted. It was cold sleeping in the bothy, probably colder than it would have been in my tent. In the morning, everything on the drying line remained soggy. I said goodbye to my bothy mate and headed out for another day in the rain.


Doune Bothy to Tyndrum

I’ll be honest, I didn’t particularly enjoy the fourth day. Everything was wet, and so heavy, and the rain just didn’t stop falling. I was too lax about putting on my waterproof trousers in anticipation of the rain easing off. Inevitably, the rain soaked into my trousers, and then into my thermal leggings, and then my socks, travelling down into my boots. Within a few hours of beginning to walk, each footstep was accompanied by a squelch. There were many stream crossings on the path and some sections were covered in, to be frank, a staggering amount of cow shit. Needless to say, my camera stayed safely tucked away inside its drybag. I was glad to arrive in Tyndrum, where I knew I would be staying somewhere dry, and be getting a hot meal and a tasty pint of ale. In Tyndrum, I took a rest day to let my blisters heal and muscles rest, and reflected on my trip so far. Despite the aches and pains, I had enjoyed the majority of the walking, and felt reassured that my knees were not going to be a problem. Blisters come and go, and muscles grow stronger. In the evenings, I had gone to bed almost immediately after eating, between 8 and 9pm. During the next few days the surrounding landscape got far more exciting and with the improved weather I was able to make more of the evenings.

Continue to West Highland Way 2: Tyndrum to Fort William


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