West Highland Way – Day 8 – Kinlochleven to Fort William (15 miles)

The last day!  Such a weird feeling: in one way it felt like the whole thing had gone by so quickly, yet in another way it felt like I had been walking forever.  I had very mixed feelings – happy at the thought of achieving what I’d set out to do but also sad that the West Highland Way would be over by the end of today …….

I was also expecting today to be tough.   At 15 miles it would be my second longest day and it was due to start with a steep climb out of Kinlochleven.  Dave and I had breakfast together at the hotel and then he set off ahead of me – I wanted to walk most of today on my own as it was the last day, so we arranged that we would meet up 3 miles outside Fort William and walk the very last bit together.

So off I set bright and early, although with it being such a long walk today I knew there was no way of avoiding the hottest part of the day! Not a problem I had expected to have on this walk and I really can’t complain – I was incredibly lucky with the weather, only getting rained on briefly a couple of times on the very first day.  More than just not wanting to get wet, I had hoped for clear skies so I would be able to see all the amazing views, and I certainly managed that so it seemed churlish to complain about being too hot! Mind you it did make it tough, particularly today – with no pubs or cafés along the way until Fort William I had to carry 3 litres of water with me which made my pack rather heavier than usual!

The path left Kinlochleven right opposite our hotel so that was handy🙂

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It was a really pretty path, lots of trees and streams to cross on stepping stones.  Once again I was grateful for the amazing weather – some of them looked like they would have been trickier to get across if the water was higher!

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With today being a long 15 mile day and my feet already being tired, obviously the sensible thing to do was not to add on any off path detours.  Of course I didn’t do the sensible thing so a mile into the walk I was away scooting up this hill to a viewpoint over Loch Leven.  Totally worth the extra walking!

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Back on the path there were lovely views over to the Pap of Glencoe.

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First selfie of the day!

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The path was once again rocky underfoot and my feet were pretty sore today with all the accumulated miles I had done! However this part of the trail was lovely too – it had a very wild feel with nothing but heathland and mountains to see for miles.

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At the 4 mile mark I arrived at this derelict farmhouse which was to be my first rest stop for the day.  I had also decided this is where I would scatter my last wee bag of ashes.  I had not expected to feel any more emotional today than I had when I’d scattered any of the other ashes, but I guess because it was the last lot it really felt like saying a final farewell to Eddie and Neo.  I was in tears even before I got to the cottage!  I was all on my own at this point which was nice, so I was able to have a good old uninterrupted cry as I scattered the last bit of their ashes.  Crying out of my system, I settled down for a snack and a rest.  It wasn’t long before my Canadian friends caught me up and we chatted for a while before I was ready to set off again.

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The trail was still rocky underfoot but still beautiful🙂

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Around the 7 mile mark I passed Dave, Chris & Stuart having lunch in a shady spot but decided to push on with my usual rule of not having lunch until I’d covered at least half of the walking!  But when I got to the halfway point there was quite a crowd of people there so I decided to carry on in search of a quiet spot.  This proved to be a rather tiring decision as the next bit of trail was all uphill, in the blazing sun and on the side of a hill where it was very sheltered from the wind! At one point I thought about stopping but it was just waaaaaaaaay too hot, so I carried on until I reached the top of the hill where there was a nice refreshing breeze.  This was actually a lovely spot as the first views of Ben Nevis ahead opened up.  So I was glad I’d carried on and got the hard part out of the way.  I settled myself down in front of this gorgeous view to air my feet and eat my lunch.

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Dave, Chris & Stuart all scooted past me while I was sitting there chilling out. along with some of my other trail buddies.  I was in no rush to set off again, enjoying the nice breeze and the views!  Also I wanted to savour this last day and drink in every minute of it.

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Eventually I decided I had better get on as I still had about 7 miles to go! The path entered some lovely woods but I was clearly getting tired by this point as I only seem to have one photo of this part and my memory of it is all a bit hazy!

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The trail emerged from the woods onto a forest road and I could see from the map that there was still another 5 miles to go …. I was definitely struggling at this point but some closer views of Ben Nevis provided a welcome distraction.

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At the start of the forest track it opened up and I could see Fort William ahead … it still looked a long way off!

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The path twisted back again and got even closer to Ben Nevis.  Definitely need to get up the top sometime soon!

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After this it pretty much became a slog to the end – as evidenced by the lack of any more photos!  Dave & I had arranged to meet at a café  at Glen Nevis, 3 miles before Fort William – it was about a mile off the trail but it had seemed like a good idea this morning!  As I approached the turn off for the café my feet were killing me, I was boiling hot, I had drunk nearly all of my 3 litres of water and the thought of adding on a couple of extra miles suddenly seemed like a nightmare! I was wondering whether Dave would have his phone on and thinking I would call him to say meet me back on the trail when I arrived at the junction and hooray! There he was sitting on the ground eating jelly babies! He had had the same thoughts as me – NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO to extra miles!  Feeling extremely relieved at not having to walk any extra, I sat down and had a 10 minute rest, used the last of my deep freeze gel on my poor, battered, overheated feet, and then we set off together for the last 3 miles.  It’s fair to say the last bit was horrible! The final 2 miles was just on pavements walking in to the middle of Fort William.  It seemed to go on forever!

As we approached the end, we passed the Granite House where I knew I could get my passport stamped and buy a West Highland Way t-shirt.  So I popped in there, exhausted and in need of rest, only to be told the t-shirts were upstairs.  UPSTAIRS?! Just too cruel!! I dragged myself up the stairs, got the t-shirt and emerged back outside to find Dave chatting with Simon & his friend! They had arrived at Fort William the day before and been in the pub most of today – they had spotted Dave out of the window and came out to see us!  It was great to see them one last time as they had been good trail buddies throughout the walk.  We hugged and said our goodbyes and then set off for the very last stretch.

Finally ….. we were at the end!

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We posed for the obligatory photos alongside the “tired walker” statue.

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And I managed one last selfie next to the sign🙂

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And we were finished! Of course, I had a good old cry – I was happy, and sad, and just generally overemotional!

I had booked a B&B about half a mile out of town which had seemed like a good idea at the time – it was a lovely location alongside Loch Linnhe – but now I was wondering WHAT I HAD BEEN THINKING adding any extra walking at all onto this last day!

We staggered along, this last half mile feeling harder than any of the miles up the Devil’s Staircase!  Every step was painful at this point.  Once we eventually got to the B&B we enquired about rooms, but once again they were fully booked and my room was a proper single, so Dave was banished to the B&B next door!  We had arranged that we would go out later for beers and curry with Chris & Stuart so we both headed off to our respective rooms to shower and change.  There was a lovely surprise waiting in my room – some chocolates and a congratulations card from my dad & stepmum!  Naturally, this made me cry again🙂

The first thing I did once I’d necked a pint of water was to sit in the shower for half an hour running cold water over my feet!  Anyone who knows me will know how much I HATE being cold – I have never been one for cold baths or showers – so this should give some indication of how sore and inflamed they felt!

Once I’d showered and changed into my shiny new “I walked the West Higland Way” t-shirt it was all starting to sink in and I was feeling pretty chuffed.  I contemplated my passport – annoyingly I had forgotten to get it stamped at Bridge of Orchy and Tyndrum!

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However as it turned out, after Dave & I had our wee holiday we ended up driving back along the A82 so stopped at both places to get my missing stamps – this made me happy!

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I had left my pedometer running for the whole of the Way, even putting tape over it so I wouldn’t accidentally reset it – the final count was 266,421 steps, an average of 33,302 every day! No wonder my feet hurt!

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My trusty Salomon Fellraisers had seen me through every one of those steps and what must have been over 100 miles by the time I’d added on all my extras, without a single blister – awesomeness.  I was very grateful to my mate Mark for recommending them.  Mark is a lunatic fell runner who RAN the 53 miles from Milngavie to Tyndrum in 12 hours – that took me four and a half days!

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Dave doesn’t drink, so bless his heart he was happy to drive us all into town for food – honestly at this point I think I would have paid for a taxi rather than attempt to walk the half mile!  So off the four of us went for some celebratory beers (orange juice & lemonade for Dave!)

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Then it was away for a curry and more beers🙂

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I was happy but also sad to get to the end of this adventure.  It really was everything I had hoped it would be.  Do I feel like it has been a life-changing experience?  Yes, I think so.  Not in any particularly dramatic ways (I’m not planning on ditching my normal life to become a nomad – tempting though that idea is in some ways!) but I feel like it has changed me as a person.  Like I said back on Day 6, I feel stronger and more resilient.  I feel like I am more likely to say yes to things I want to do in future, without being held back by being scared that I will fail or scared that I will look stupid or any of the million other things that are scary about pushing out of your comfort zone.  As an example – my makeshift shorts on the last day! Not that long ago I would have put up with the discomfort of being too hot, rather than wear something that looked unflattering and ridiculous.  Now, I am brave enough to not care that I look weird🙂 The whole trip was a very emotional experience for me – I think I shed a tear at least once every day – and now I feel like I am more raw and more emotional – like everything is in high definition.  Again this ties in with the mindfulness practice I am learning – I love this feeling of being more aware and awake and fully immersed in life, not just drifting through it.

The other very important lesson I learned on this trip was that if you decant your toiletries into travel sized bottles and don’t label them, you will end up rubbing conditioner into your face instead of moisturiser.  You have been warned!

And one other feeling I am taking away from this is immense pride in my adopted country.  Scotland is such an amazing place and I am so grateful to live here.  When you see how many people come from all over the world to walk the West Highland Way – I met people from America, Canada, Israel, South Africa, Australia, and all over Europe – it makes me feel so proud and blessed to have this amazing scenery practically on my doorstep.

In summary: The West Highland Way was amazing.  10/10 would walk again.

…. in fact, I fully intend to walk it again!

 

West Highland Way – Day 7 – Kingshouse to Kinlochleven (8 miles)

Today was the second of my short days, although I was expecting it to be tougher than yesterday as the first half involved tackling a climb going by the somewhat intimidating name of The Devil’s Staircase.  Also, yesterday had started off overcast but got warmer and sunnier as the day went on, and today was forecast to be even hotter – I learned later it did indeed get up to 26 degrees and Scotland was the hottest part of the UK! Now 26 degrees and blazing sunshine is all very nice when you’re lying on a beach but not so good when you’re walking up a very steep hill with no shade, so I decided I would just have a quick breakfast of fruit and yoghurt and set out as early as possible, to get the climb over with before the sun got too high.

However, my plans to avoid the hottest part of the day were slightly derailed by the spectacular views of Buachaille Etive Mòr which I had in front of me more or less all the way to the top of the Devil’s Staircase, forcing me to stop about every 5 minutes and take more photos! It really was stunning🙂

I liked this image with the West Highland Way sign in front of Buachaille Etive Mòr – kind of sums up how amazing the WHW is!

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I was really enjoying walking this morning.  It was warm but not yet too hot and because I had been the first one out of my hotel I didn’t see a single other person until I was halfway up the Devil’s Staircase …. and that was Speedy Dave, overtaking me again despite starting from a mile further back!

My progress was further slowed down when I came across a pair of red grouse.  I’d never seen this bird before and I was totally entranced – it was hilarious the way it scurried about and made the most bizarre noises.  I think I stood watching it for about 20 minutes. But this was why I’d planned an 8 day walk – so I could do stuff like this and not feel rushed!

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I shot some video which you can see here – turn it up to hear the mad noises it makes!

Once I’d had enough of grouse-watching obviously I had to take a few more photos of Buachaille Etive Mòr ……

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…. including the obligatory selfie!

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You’d think I might have made some actual walking progress after that, but no, I was distracted by yet another bird I hadn’t come across before – a wheatear.  A very pretty wee thing, I watched him sitting on this rock chirping away for a while!

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After a few miles the path started the climb up The Devil’s Staircase.  It was quite a long climb but I didn’t find it too hard – all that hill walking I do at home means I’m used to this sort of terrain and how it feels to walk up hill for a reasonable length of time!  I’d done two short days but I know a lot of faster walkers combine this segment with what I’d done yesterday – I was SO glad I hadn’t done that, partly because I would have hated to rush through yesterday’s amazing scenery, and also because I think this part was much easier with fresh legs in the morning – doing it after lunch yesterday in the hot sun would have been hard!

Now I was getting higher the views were getting ever more spectacular!

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At about this point Dave went scooting past me away up the hill while I stopped for yet another selfie🙂

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A bit more climbing and then I arrived at this lovely spot with a convenient rock to pop the camera on and use the timer!

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More climbing ensued, with the legs getting a bit tired now, but finally I was at the top!  Just as the trail reached the top the views opened out onto a whole new range of mountains – the Mamores.  I decided to have a good long stop here and enjoy the views, as this was the halfway point and I only had another 4 miles to get into Kinlochleven.  So I plonked myself down and enjoyed the peace and quiet for a while until the rest of my trail buddies from the hotel caught up with me and we ended up having a bit of a party at the summit – about 12 of us there in total I think!  Plus some other walkers not in our “gang” stopped to chat.  First of all two young lads from Paisley who were walking the Way in four days (!!!!!!) to raise money for a local hospice.  They stopped for a few minutes and said it was the first time they had actually managed to take the time to rest and look at the views.  Then a woman came along from the other direction and it turned out she was walking from John O’Groats to Lands End – she was doing an average of 18 miles a day for 10 weeks!  Amazing, I found it very inspirational hearing about all the mad adventures people were on – it made me want to do MORE of this sort of thing!

The Mamores to the north were looking stunning …

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While back where I had come from, my old friend Buachaille Etive Mòr was still looking pretty good from this angle🙂  I wandered off away from the crowds for a couple of minutes to scatter today’s wee bag of ashes on the the cairn that you can see in this photo❤

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One of my Canadian buddies took a photo of me perched on the summit cairn.

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I would have liked to have stayed longer to enjoy the beautiful views but sadly by now I was desperate for a wee and with all these people at the summit and no cover at all I thought it was time to make tracks in search of a rock to hide behind!

From here it was tough going as the path descended 550m into Kinclochleven ….. I often find the downhill harder than the uphill and this was certainly one of those times.  The path was rough, rocky and gravelly, which made it slippery too, and walking downhill on it for 4 solid miles was very hard on the knees and leg muscles.  Plus the sun was well and truly up by now and it was very hot!  However the views did make it easier🙂

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Still smiling🙂

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The very last glimpse back to Buachaille Etive Mòr as it disappears behind the hill …. I was a bit sad to say goodbye to this beautiful mountain which I had enjoyed looking at today and yesterday!

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With the path descending and it being open hillside you could see for miles – I could pick out Dave, Chris & Stuart all ahead of me in the distance making their way to Kinlochleven.  Today was another one of those days when I had rashly looked at extra walking I could do as it was a short mileage day – I had grand plans of doing a walk from Kinlochleven to see the Grey Mares Tail waterfall – once again, foiled by the terrain being harder than expected! By the time I got within sight of Kinlochleven all I could think about was finding food, getting out of the blazing sun, and resting my poor feet!

Finally after what seemed an age on the rough ground the path emerged onto a forest track.

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I was very tired and hot by now and hoped I was near the end but actually there was still a fair old way to go to get into Kinlochleven itself! There were beautiful rivers and waterfalls to distract me from my sore feet though.

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At the edge of town I caught up with Dave who had stopped for a breather.  Both being knackered, boiling hot and starving at this point we decided to walk together to the nearest establishment serving cold drinks and food!

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We found a lovely pub, the Highland Getaway who plied us with cold drinks, food, tea and scones and didn’t seem to mind us making ourselves at home on the sofas where we stayed for a good long time resting our feet!  Bliss!

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After a couple of hours recovering we decided to head for our hotel – once again we had managed to upgrade the single I had booked so after two nights apart we would be together tonight – this time we had upgraded to a triple room WITH A BATH!! A BATH!!!.  On the way we called at the Co-Op to stock up on food for tomorrow’s picnic lunch and then popped in to the Ice Factor in the hopes that they might have some shorts I could purchase! I was absolutely boiling in the hot sun in my black trousers – which I had worried the week before I left would not be warm enough, as it was snowing then!  Sadly there was nothing suitable in the shop but then I was struck with inspiration as I remembered I had a cheap pair of running leggings in my overnight bag.  Once we got settled at the hotel I attacked them with scissors and voilà! Shorts! Not exactly a fashion statement but I was past caring at this point – they would do the job!

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Tomorrow’s attire sorted, I soaked in the bath (bliss!) and then we headed down to the bar for drinks and dinner.  Chris & Stuart arrived so the four of us ate together and enjoyed a few beers too.  Once again we managed to make it until the late hour of 9 pm to watch the sunset over Loch Leven from the hotel bar – beautiful!

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Then it was off to bed to get lots of rest before the final day – a long 15 miler into Fort William.  I was feeling quite emotional already about the end – I was looking forward to resting my poor tired feet, but also sad that my adventure would be over.

Click here for the Day 8 blog.

 

 

 

 

 

West Highland Way – Day 6 – Inveroran to Kingshouse (10 miles)

Grab a cuppa and get comfy – this will be a long post! Day 6 was EPIC.

Today was the day I had been looking forward to the most when I planned the trip – I’d deliberately given myself two short days (10 miles today and 8 tomorrow) over this stretch as I knew it would be the most dramatic in terms of scenery and I wanted to feel unhurried and be able to enjoy it.  I also had the idea that I could make a detour today to the Glencoe Mountain Centre, if I had the time.

I had a lovely breakfast at Inveroran and made friends with a couple from Melbourne who invited me to join them.  We had a nice chat while we ate our breakfast and then went off to start the day’s walk.  I was super excited about this stretch over Rannoch Moor & Glencoe and determined to savour every moment of it!

I bid a fond farewell to the Inveroran Hotel – I’d definitely come back here again!

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The weather was perfect today; I’d heard Rannoch Moor could be very exposed so was grateful not to be walking it in driving rain or wind!  To quote from the Walk Highlands website: “In fine weather this is a place of otherworldly beauty – in a storm it is wild, forbidding and exposed.” Yup, sounds about right.  Happily for me it was a wee bit overcast but very comfortable for walking.

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First selfie of the day🙂

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Soon the trail reached the end of the tarmac road and the start of the old Drovers Road which would lead all the way across the moor to Glencoe.

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It was a wee bit hazy, but the views were still beautiful. The land got wilder and more desolate as the trail began to cross Rannoch Moor.

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The Drovers Road was easy to walk on but tough on the feet – almost like walking on cobbles much of the time!

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Happy selfie – I was enjoying every minute today🙂

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I stopped by this wee lochan for a breather and to admire the views.

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Looking ahead the dramatic mountains of Glencoe were starting to appear.

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Once again I overtook Simon & his friend – they’d gone further than me yesterday and were wild camping on Rannoch Moor, but were still packing up as I passed them! We had a wee chat before I headed off – of course they ended up overtaking me again later when I stopped for lunch!  I thought that would probably be the last time I would see them, as they were planning to get to Fort William the day before me, so I felt a wee bit nostalgic – it’s the same with everyone you meet on the walk, you see them and then you don’t, and it’s kind of nice but a bit sad too.

Around the 5 mile mark I reached Ba Bridge where I stopped for a snack.  My Australian friends from breakfast were resting up here too and you can see them in this photo – I climbed to the top of a wee mound to get this panorama.  How amazing is this view?!

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The other side of the bridge I spotted this deer who I think may have been pregnant – either that or just a bit porky!

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I walked down to the River Ba to get this shot – I got wet feet going off the path but it was worth it!

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The trail continued across the moor and everywhere I looked the views were just amazing …. I could upload hundreds of pictures quite easily but I’ll stick to these two!

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As usual I went off the Way to add on some extra miles, hopping off onto a path which led up to the cairn at the highest point of Rannoch Moor.  The views were incredible – just wilderness as far as the eye can see (Rannoch Moor is the largest uninhabited wilderness in Britain, 50 square miles).  I scattered some ashes here in this beautiful spot.

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Back on the trail I got my first glimpse of the dramatic Buachaille Etive Mòr in the distance.  I was quite smitten with this mountain and ended up with loads of photos of it from different angles! It’s another one going on the list for a future climb🙂

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At the 9 mile mark I detoured off the Way again, heading instead for Glencoe Mountain Resort.  Dave had overtaken me around lunchtime and was camping here for the night while I was pushing on another mile to Kings House.  I tracked Dave down in the café and we ate lunch together.  Then he headed off to his wee “hobbit house” he had rented for the night while I with some trepidation headed for the chairlift.  I’d never been on one before, so I was a wee bit scared.  It looked like a long way up as well!

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On I got, and yes I did find it quite terrifying! What I didn’t like was that once you were on you were stuck there for the 12 minutes it took to get to the top – there was no possibility of bailing out halfway through!  I really didn’t enjoy the first few minutes at all, and once again the mindfulness techniques I’d been learning came in handy – just focussing on my breathing helped a lot and calmed me down.  By the time I’d got halfway up I had got used to it and was feeling much happier and even enjoying the views.  No photos though – I may have been feeling less terrified than at the start but I was still using both hands to grip on to the bar for dear life!

Eventually I got to the top and it was totally worth it for the views!

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From the top of the chairlift there was a footpath to the top of Creag Dhubh and since I hadn’t done much walking for the past few days (!) I decided an extra mile and a half hill walk was just what I needed!  So I set off up the hill.  There was still quite a bit of snow at this higher altitude.

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Before long the path reached this bridge over the river which was almost as terrifying as the chairlift!

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I scampered over it as quickly as possible and discovered it didn’t look much better from the other side either!

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One of the many things I learned from this adventure was that I am stronger and more resilient than I thought I was.  It’s really given me more confidence to just go out and do things even if I think I can’t.  I managed to keep on walking in the times when everything hurt and I thought I had no energy left.  I went on the chairlift despite being scared of it, and found that after a while it wasn’t so scary.  I scuttled across this bridge like a scared rabbit on the way out, but on the way back I was brave enough to stop in the middle, crouch down and snap this selfie!  I love feeling like this – I hope I manage to carry this feeling of being brave and adventurous back into my post-WHW life!

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Once the scary bridge was behind me, the walk to the summit was not too strenuous and once again, totally worth it for the amazing views at the top.  This was the second time on this trip that the views made me cry!

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The photos don’t really do it justice – there’s a 360 degree video of the view here on my facebook page.

There was a group of Americans at the summit cairn and one of them kindly snapped this photo of me🙂

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And of course I took my usual selfie🙂

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You could see Ben Nevis in the distance – another one on my list to climb, but not this holiday!

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After drinking in the views for a good long time I walked back to the chairlift.  Much less scared this time, I was happily videoing and enjoying the views when about 4 minutes in, we just stopped.  AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH.  There I was dangling in mid air not knowing how long I would be stuck there …. not the most fun experience ever!  I won’t be uploading the video, partly because it’s too long and would take an age to upload, and partly because at this point I would need to bleep out quite a lot of the swear words!  We moved off again after what felt like an age but was really only a few seconds …. only to stop again almost immediately and this time my chair was swaying back and forth in the wind!  Again I just focussed on breathing and telling Dave via the video how much I loved him, just in case I fell to my death!  Happily we moved off again and I made it to the bottom unscathed.  PHEW!

I went over to find Dave in his hobbit hut, feeling in need of a hug after all that! and then left him there and headed for my hotel.

At the entrance to the Mountain Centre the Scottish flags were looking fabulous against the backdrop of the mountains❤

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I made my way over the last mile of trail towards the wonderful Kings House Hotel – another brilliant place I would love to go back to!  There were loads of deer around and about who did not seem in the slightest bit bothered by any of us humans.

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The hotel did not disappoint – from the front garden, and from my room, I had this amazing view of the deer and Buachaille Etive Mòr.

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I went to check in feeling like I should really do some washing as my clothes were getting a bit ripe and sweaty! But sadly my overnight bag had not yet arrived so I was forced to relax have a pint instead – what a shame!  I sat and chatted with a big group of Americans who I’d seen on and off along the Way.  They hadn’t been able to get booked in at Kings House, so were getting a taxi to Kinlochleven and then coming back the next morning to start the walk from here.  I was very glad I’d organised all my rooms so early (back in October last year) as everywhere I stayed seemed to be fully booked!

It was now getting on for 6 and the Americans headed off in their taxi – but I still had no luggage!  I met up with the Canadians who had taken my photo right at the start – they were also using Travel Lite and theirs had not arrived either, so at least I knew that Travel Lite were just running late, not that my bag had been lost!  We were all having a laugh about how we’d be the smelly ones and have to sit on our own at dinner as no-one would want to come near us – when hooray! the bags arrived.  So I went off for a shower and change as quickly as possible, not wanting to miss any of the views ….. then it was back outside to sit and chill with my second pint and my journal.  I have to say, this was possibly the best pint ever in the history of the world!

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I concur with this – AMAZING views from the hotel.

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As I headed inside to get my dinner I bumped into Blister Girl from yesterday and we chatted for a bit – she was happy to hear about the chairlift as she was not able to walk and was looking for something to do tomorrow while her friends walked on.  They’d planned to climb Ben Nevis once they finished the West Highland Way and she was hoping if she rested her feet until then she’d manage it.  I hope she did!

Once inside it was time for some very delicious scampi and chips and another pint …. tonight I really wanted to stay awake later than 8, as I had a feeling there might be a nice sunset to watch.  I was finishing off my dinner by 7.30 and flagging when two lads who I’d seen on and off on the trail came into the bar – with no tables free I said they were welcome to join me.  I ordered myself a coffee and a Glayva in an attempt to keep awake and chatted to them while they ate their dinner.  They were two brothers Chris & Stuart, really nice lads, and Dave & I ended up seeing them every day for the rest of the trail.

Having managed to stay in the bar as late as the ungodly hour of 8.45 I went round to the front of the hotel by the river and was rewarded for my sterling efforts with this beautiful sight of the sun setting next to Buachaille Etive Mòr.  It was just stunning, and the perfect end to what had been an amazing day and my favourite one so far on the West Highland Way.

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Click here for the Day 7 blog.

 

 

 

 

West Highland Way – Day 5 – Crianlarich to Inveroran (16 miles)

Day 5 was to be my longest day on the West Highland Way and given how sore my feet were at the end of Day 4, I was feeling a certain amount of trepidation about it!

Dave & I had decided we would go our separate ways today.  I was still keen to walk the rest of the Way on my own and he was feeling much better and ready to camp again, after two nights recovering in comfy beds!  We knew we would see each other throughout the day as we walked anyway, along with the rest of our trail buddies – we had quite a few folk we were friendly with by now and it was really great to see smiling faces and stop for chats along the way.  Particularly towards the second half of the walk, where there are really only one or two places to stay at each stop, you end up getting to know your fellow walkers and I really enjoyed this aspect of the trip.

We had breakfast together and then I headed off as I wanted to get an early start with my long day – Dave was only covering 13 miles so could afford to be slower!

So, off I set for the mile of walking just to get back on the trail before I could start my 16 miles! Eep!  Happily, I was feeling pretty good this morning – the feet seemed to have recovered well from last night’s soreness and I felt full of energy.  Just as well, as there was a fair climb out of Crianlarich! Here’s my first selfie of the day, at the top.

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I went past this tent, whose owner still seemed to be sound asleep judging from the gentle snores I could hear! Lovely spot for a wild camp!

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Once the climb out of Crianlarich was out of the way it was nice easy walking this morning with some beautiful views.  Here are the Crianlarich hills from Strathfillan.

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The trail went past St Fillan’s Priory where I spotted this quote I rather liked🙂

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There were lots of cute wee lambs all over the place!

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It wasn’t long before I headed on one of my “off piste” trips – I spotted a sign for St Fillan’s “Holy Pool” and went off to investigate, thinking it might be a nice spot for today’s ashes.  However it proved a bit underwhelming – a pretty enough river but nothing special! So I pushed on.

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I stopped for my first rest at the 4 mile point on a handy bench by this lovely bit of river.  At this point Speedy Dave (as I shall now be calling him) caught me up and we stopped for a chat and shared some jelly babies before he headed off in front of me.

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The trail passed by the Lochan of the Lost Sword – how very Lord of the Rings, again!

What with this, and the Shire and Trolls Bridge signs on Day 1, I was starting to feel like Frodo.  It was interesting that both Dave & I remarked to each other that we found walking this long distance trail had a completely different feel from just ordinary day walks we do quite often at home.  Because you are heading in one direction and walking every day it really does start to feel like a quest …. OK, so a pub in Fort William is not quite as dramatic a destination as the fires of Mordor, but still!

I arrived at Tyndrum, the 6 mile point, which I have to say I did not like at all! The place was absolutely mobbed with people – it’s a very popular tourist spot for exploring the Highlands – and after the peace and quiet of the West Highland Way, with only other walkers for company, the noise of traffic and loads of people was all a bit overwhelming!  It was too early to stop for lunch anyway (I like to get past halfway before I eat my lunch!) so I hastily bought some food to stash in my pack for later, stopped for a quick chat with Dave who was eating his lunch there, and then beat a hasty retreat.  Five minutes later I was back on the trail with only the noise of birds, rivers and the wind again, ahhhhhhh that’s better!

Once again there was a tunnel under the railway to negotiate but thankfully this one was taller than the Sheep Creep!

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The trail was now following the old military road so the walking was nice and easy, although it was tough on the underneath of your feet, being quite rocky.  The views were starting to open up again looking towards Beinn Dorain ahead.  Another one I’d quite like to climb at some point – the views from the top must be spectacular!

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There were lots of lovely waterfalls along this stretch and this one was particularly stunning, so this was today’s spot for scattering ashes❤

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Around the 9 mile walk I came across two girls, one of whom was having some serious blister problems and bemoaning that she had forgotten her zinc oxide tape.  I stopped and gave her some of mine, and then decided this would be a good lunch spot too, so settled down for a rest, foot airing, deep freeze gel, and food!  I felt bad for my new friend – she had walked the Way before and this time was only walking from Tyndrum to the end as her friends who were visiting wanted to experience part of it.  She was wearing boots she had had for ages and had walked loads in, but she had put on new socks that day which she reckoned accounted for the blisters. I met up with her again at Kings House on Day 6 and she was in flip flops, the blisters having become unbearable.  She had missed that day’s walking as they were so bad, getting the bus to meet up with her friends there.  It made me really appreciate my comfy shoes and how lucky I was that I didn’t have any of these sorts of problems!

After chatting with the two girls while I scoffed my lunch, Dave caught me up again and stopped for a chat and to snap this very flattering photo of me stuffing my face!

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Then once again he went off ahead of me.  I set off again feeling refreshed after my lunch and was delighted to find a field of hairy coos alongside the trail …. a bit too far away to get any decent shots but here’s one anyway🙂

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The rest of the way from here to the Bridge of Orchy was lovely easy walking, not too hilly, not too tough underfoot, probably the easiest section of the whole Way actually now that I look back on it! Which was rather fortunate as it fell in my longest day!

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After 13 miles I arrived at Bridge of Orchy.  Dave was planning to wild camp here and when I arrived he was already there, having a drink outside the hotel with two lads who we’d made friends with – one was called Simon but we never got the other’s name.  They had mostly been wild camping along the way – we saw them at the most beautiful spot alongside Loch Lomond on the day we were walking together.  They were faster walkers than us, but the fact that they didn’t seem to get going until mid-morning, combined with their habit of stopping for a pint at every opportunity, meant we kept overtaking each other throughout the walk!  I stopped for a chat with the three of them and munched a mars bar in the hopes it would give me enough energy for my last three miles, which I knew involved a bit of a climb – not what you want at the end of a 16 mile day!  After leaving Dave at his camp spot next to this beautiful river I set off for my last section.

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This last section reminded me very much of the Cornish Hill walk at home which I do quite often – same sort of distance and same sort of path.  It was a bit of a climb but nothing too strenuous and the views at the top were epic.

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When I arrived at the top I headed off path again to get to the summit cairn and for the first time but not the last on this trip, I was so overwhelmed with the views that I actually cried.  It was stunning up there.  A trio of French girls came up and joined me, so we all took photos of each other as you do🙂

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They headed off after a few minutes but I stayed a while longer to drink in the views and savour the moment.

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Looking down I could see the Inveroran Hotel where I would be spending the night – how’s that for an awesome location?

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Eventually my need for food overwhelmed me and I made the descent down to Inveroran.  The hotel there was absolutely lovely – highly recommended – the room was comfy, the service was excellent, and the food was delicious.  Despite these worrying signs next to my window the midges had not yet arrived this year!

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I went down to the bar after I’d showered to write in my journal for the first time in 3 days, and have a wee dram of Glayva to celebrate finishing my longest day!  I ended up chatting to two girls and making a fuss of a beautiful 14 year old German Shepherd doggie.  After a delicious dinner I contemplated going back to the bar and being sociable, but tiredness got the better of me and once again I was in bed by 8.30!   I was pretty proud of myself for completing the walk today, I think it was the furthest I had ever walked and considering how sore my feet had been after Day 4 I was very happy with how strong I’d felt today🙂  Well done feet!

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Click here for the Day 6 blog.

 

 

 

West Highland Way – Day 4 – Inversnaid to Crianlarich (13 miles)

Day 4  would take me to the halfway point! I had mixed feelings about this – on the one hand it would feel like an achievement – on the other hand, that would mean half my adventure was already over!

I was expected today to be tough as it was another 13 miler and I had heard that the first 3 miles north of Inversnaid were the toughest of the whole Way, in terms of terrain.  The path here runs right next to Loch Lomond and has been badly eroded over the years so there is much scrambling over rocks and exposed tree roots.  Well, it was just as tough as expected!

Dave & I pondered whether to walk together again or go our separate ways.  I was still keen to walk the majority of the Way alone, but was also happy to see my husband and had enjoyed walking together the day before.  Also, today was our doggies’ birthday (they were pups from the same litter) and we had mentioned before the walk that we would both be sad today thinking about them.  So we decided that we would walk together for Day 4 and then go our separate ways after that.  With hindsight, a lot of today was hard slog – probably my least favourite day of the lot in terms of the physical toughness, terrain and views – so it was nice to have company for it!

Before we set off we paused to admire the view outside the hotel – Loch Lomond really does have bonnie, bonnie banks.

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Which was just as well, as it gave us plenty of nice views to distract us from the walking, which on this part of the trail was nothing short of torturous! Rocks, tree roots, big drops where you had to use hands as well as feet to scramble over …. I was just very grateful for the dry weather and sunshine – doing this when it is wet and slippery must be a nightmare!

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We decided against a side trip to Rob Roy’s Cave, not wishing to add more rock scrambling to our day!

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Views like this did make it worthwhile though🙂

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We saw these groovy looking ducks on the loch.  I’m no birdwatcher but I really enjoyed seeing new birds I hadn’t come across before while walking the Way.  I had no idea what these were at the time but a search on the RSPB website tells me they are Red-breasted Mergansers.  I liked their funky hairdos!

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Eventually the path started to get easier …. which is just as well, as we had been averaging about 1 mile an hour over the rough bits and were hoping to get to Crianlarich sometime before midnight!

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More goats today!

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Amazing views, they just kept coming round every corner.

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Finally after what felt like hours, we emerged to the welcome sight of Doune Bothy.  Only 4 miles into our 13 mile day and it was already nearly lunchtime! We stopped for a wee snack and rested the sore feet while admiring the views.

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The trail then took us back down to the loch shore which seemed like an appropriate place for scattering some ashes.  It was nice to be with Dave today as we both shed a wee tear and remembered our lovely boys.

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I spotted another bird I hadn’t seen before – we thought it might be a dipper but having consulted the interwebz on our return it seems it’s a sandpiper.

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After this last beach we had reached the end of Loch Lomond!  I felt quite sad to say goodbye to it after walking beside it for the best part of 3 days.  We paused at the top of this hill to enjoy one last parting view.

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The people you can see coming up the path behind us were doing the West Highland Way in three days.  THREE DAYS!!  Mentallers!  Unsurprisingly they overtook us and disappeared off into the distance at great speed🙂

Now we were away from Loch Lomond, almost straight away there was a different feel to the land – wilder and more dramatic.  It felt like we were heading for the proper Highlands now!  The walking was hilly, but definitely easier than the lochside path.

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Eventually, and somewhat later than anticipated, we arrived at Beinglas Farm near Inverarnan, the 7 mile point of today’s walk, where we collapsed onto a seat, drank copious amounts of lime and soda and ate some lunch.  It was a lovely campsite and I’d happily go back there for a holiday – I loved these cute camping cabins!

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Thankfully the next section after our lunch stop was easier – lovely walking on nice paths alongside the River Falloch.  It was really beautiful with lots of pretty waterfalls and rocks, and gorgeous mountain views in front of us too.

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We stopped at the 10 mile mark for another wee rest and snack.  We were both struggling now after the tough start to the day and the cumulative effect of the miles we’d done so far.  Dave’s feet were in bits and mine were starting to feel pretty sore as well!  Never mind, we thought, it’s only 3 miles to Crianlarich and the going is much easier now.  HA!!!!!!!!!!! We hadn’t bargained for the Sheep Creep and Cow Poo Alley!  The sheep creep is a bit where you go under the railway.  It was constructed when the line was built to enable livestock to pass from one side to the other.  So it’s pretty much sheep sized, not person sized!  I managed ok just by crouching down but Dave struggled being (a) taller than me and (b) carrying a large pack!  I was too busy laughing at Dave’s shuffle/limbo to take any photos myself but here’s one from Harry Rabbit’s blog to give you the idea!

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Then we were onto the delights of Cow Poo Alley – apparently this stretch of the trail is notorious! It runs alongside a dry stane dyke on one side and a field of coos on the other and as the name suggests is pretty much full of cow poo.  You have the choice of wading through it up to your ankles, or trying to dodge it by jumping from one rocky part to the next – not exactly making for easy, relaxing walking!

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This stretch did just seem to go on forever – we were tired, our feet hurt and we just wanted to get to Crianlarich and relax!  However even the crappiest parts of the West Highland Way have pretty spectacular views🙂 so I was still smiling despite the cow poo!

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Finally at about 5.30 we arrived at the Crianlarich crossroards – SUCH a welcome sight!  Unfortunately, this did not mean we could relax as Crianlarich itself is a mile off the trail so we had an extra mile to walk before we could crash out!

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I had booked a single room in a B&B which was fully booked, so Dave said goodbye to me at the doorway and went off to find somewhere for himself.  This prompted some enquiries from Charlie the B&B owner as to who this chap kissing me goodbye at the door was!  After explaining to him that we were both walking the Way, but not really together, I’m sure he thought we were properly bonkers.  This impression was not helped when, after I’d settled into my room (which turned out to be a double) Dave called me to say all the other B&Bs were full!  So off I went to ask Charlie if he could stay too (which was fine!)  All sorted and settled, we showered, headed to the pub for dinner, and once again were asleep by about 8!

Days 3 and 4 were probably the toughest of the whole walk for me.  Both evenings I was too exhausted to do anything other than shower, eat and crash out – I didn’t even manage to write in my journal.  I had expected the path around Inversnaid to be hard going, but hadn’t appreciated just how much it would slow me down and sap my energy.  I never got any blisters but the soles of my feet were really hot and inflamed after Day 4 – even after copious amounts of running under cold water and applying Deep Freeze gel they still felt hot and sore!  Overnight I kept waking up as they were painful, and at about 1 am the thought crossed my mind of whether I would actually make it through Day 5 – this was to be my longest day of the whole walk, at 16 miles – 17 including the walk back to the trail from Crianlarich.  Thankfully when I woke in the morning they felt considerably better – sleep is amazingly miraculous and healing!

Click here for the Day 5 blog.

 

 

West Highland Way – Day 3 – Sallochy to Inversnaid (10 miles)

So I felt great on Day 2 – so great that before I went to sleep I was looking at extra bits of walking I could do around Inversnaid, thinking that since today was only 10 miles I might get there by around 2.30.

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I woke up feeling completely lacking in energy for no apparent reason, and Day 3 proved to be extremely tough going!  What I have discovered when you walk long distances is that every day is full of emotional and physical ups and downs.  Sometimes the walking feels easy; you feel great and full of energy, and it seems like you could walk forever.  But it never lasts! At some point it changes and you feel low, tired, your feet hurt and you  wonder how you will keep going.  But hey! Those times never last either! It’s just an endless cycle of good bits and bad bits.  And I don’t even like to label them good or bad really (another mindfulness lesson) – they just are what they are.  And what I learned on the West Highland Way was that you need to cherish and enjoy the parts where you feel great, while not trying to cling on to them, and understanding that they will pass.  And you need to relax and accept the parts where everything hurts, not waste energy wishing you felt better, but taking comfort in knowing that you won’t feel like this forever and at some point you will feel great again.  IT’S LIKE A METAPHOR FOR LIFE.

Anyway.  Enough waffling!  Day 3 started out with a walk through woods alongside Loch Lomond – it sounded easy but the path was surprisingly tiring as it was all ups and downs.  Having felt so full of beans the day before I rather stupidly ignored my body which was telling me IT WAS TIRED! I should have listened and conserved my energy, but instead I added on an extra couple of miles to go off the path in search of Wester Sallochy – an old abandoned village described as one of the spookiest places in Scotland which I fancied having a look at.  It didn’t disappoint – I don’t believe in ghosts or any of that stuff but it certainly had an eerie atmosphere.  I thought I wasn’t that spooked until, as I was walking away, a bee buzzed past me noisily and the sound made me jump about 10 foot in the air.  I may have also squealed🙂

Once again the path spent a lot of time on the shores of Loch Lomond and once again I was fascinated by the amazingly resilient trees – how was this one still alive?!

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After 3 undulating, tiring miles (plus the extra bit!) I was struggling a bit and wishing I hadn’t added the extra walking on!  However Rowardennan loomed and I got a wee burst of energy as these amazing views opened up.

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A couple of oystercatchers were sitting on the rock admiring the view

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I went for a look at the Rowardennan War Memorial which was lovely.  It felt like a good spot for scattering ashes, so that’s where today’s wee bit of Eddie & Neo went.

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After leaving Rowardennan the trail passed by the route up Ben Lomond which looked appealing but I was not daft enough to attempt to add that on as a detour! It’s on the list of places I’d like to come back and walk another time though.  Then it left the loch side to climb higher among the trees.  For the next few miles I was feeling pretty tired – I think the first two days of walking had caught up with me!  I pushed on to the 6 mile point where there was a handy bench where you could see through the trees for a nice view over the loch.

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I collapsed gratefully onto the bench, scoffed my lunch, aired my feet and rubbed them with Deep Freeze gel (a top tip I got from the lovely people at TrekSnappy).  Eventually I decided I had better push on for the last 4 miles and pulled on my socks (there is nothing, nothing that beats the feeling of pulling on a fresh, clean, dry pair of socks halfway through a day of walking! Seriously – you could have offered me £500 for my clean socks and I would not have taken it!).  But before I could depart I heard a familiar voice and saw Dave approaching – he had caught me up!  It was lovely to see him – even though we’d only been apart for a couple of days it felt like more🙂 So we had a sit down and a catch up and decided to walk the 4 miles to Inversnaid together.  Dave was struggling a bit with sore feet as he was carrying such a big heavy pack so we decided we would see if I could get my room at Inversnaid upgraded to a double and stay together.

As we set off I noticed the plaque on the bench we’d been sitting on which in my over-emotional state brought a tear to my eye – what a lovely way to be remembered.  “Some one like you only happens once in a lifetime. Thanks for happening in ours”❤

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As we continued to head north along the loch we could see the distinctive outline of The  Cobbler on the western side.  Another one going on the “must climb” list!

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Soon the forest road came to an end and we were back down on the shores of the loch. More gorgeous beaches!

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We came across come some of the feral goats that live around Loch Lomond.  I love goats and it’s lovely to see them, but it’s also a sad reminder of a brutal part of Scottish history; the goats are descendants of livestock abandoned, through necessity, during the Highland Clearances.

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There were loads of beautiful waterfalls along this stretch of the trail.

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We were both finding it tough that afternoon – the path was very rough underfoot which made it slow going.  Far from rolling into Inversnaid in the early afternoon with plenty of energy to go off and do extra walking (WHAT WAS I THINKING) we staggered in at 5 exhausted, sweaty and bedraggled.  I’m not sure what the hotel staff made of me, having booked a single room when I rolled up with Dave asking to upgrade to a double – I did tell them he was my husband, not some random stranger I’d picked up along the way, but I’m not sure they believed us!

After two nights alone it was nice to snuggle up with my husband in a cosy bed – not that either of us had the energy for anything other than cuddling! After a shower and some food I think we were both sound asleep by 8 pm – rock & roll!🙂

Click here for the Day 4 blog.

West Highland Way – Day 2 – Drymen to Sallochy (11 miles)

Day 2! I woke up full of beans and fuelled up with a totally awesome breakfast at my B&B (french toast, crispy bacon and maple syrup.  YUM).  Then it was time to set off.  I was expecting today to be tough even though it was a shorter distance, as it involved Conic Hill – not a long climb but I had heard it was steep and hard going.

The trail started with a lovely wee hedge lined path.

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Soon this path emerged onto a wider track … with the sitka spruce, forestry road and clear fell it was just like home!

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Despite the clear fell this was nice walking and soon it opened up to a lovely view over to Loch Lomond (yes – my camera was still on the sepia setting – doh!)

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After about 4 miles Conic Hill started to loom ahead – looking a wee bit daunting considering my lunch stop was not until the other side of it!

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As I plodded along I realised how great long distance walking is for mindfulness.  I’ve been doing a fantastic online course with Wise & Gorgeous all about mindfulness and I’m starting to learn how to be mindful and live in the now – to really notice everything that is going on in that present moment.  It’s all about focussing on things as they are right now, not losing yourself in thoughts, or fixating on the past or future.  Walking a long distance like this is great for practising this habit: you can’t think about walking 96 miles, or even think about getting to where you’re going that evening – it’s too far ahead and you start to feel overwhelmed.  Then those nasty brain weasels start to torment you with thoughts like “how are you going to last another 10 miles? your feet already hurt!”.  Or: “it’s only day 2, you’re tired already, you’ll never make it to the end, you’re not fit enough, you’ll fail …..”.  I found the best way to deal with these thoughts was to use the techniques I had been learning and practice mindfulness.  To just focus on putting one foot in front of the other.  Nothing more.  Not thinking about how far I had to walk, not worrying about how much energy I had left and what time I would get to my B&B – just focussing on the walking I was doing right then.  After all, I can’t change how steep the hill is, or control how my legs will feel or how tired I get so why waste energy worrying about it or wishing it was different?  I had to just accept that it was the way it was, and just keep walking.  It’s not about getting to the top, or getting to the end of the WHW – after all, if you just wanted to get to Fort William you would drive there! – it’s all about the journey and the present moment.  And with the trail being so beautiful, this became easier to do the more I practised it – after all who wants to think about distances and times, or worry about what you will be doing tomorrow, when you have views like this to place your attention on?

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I realised that this applies to life too ….. you can have a plan, and a goal, and work towards it, but at the same time all you can really do is walk the bit of path that’s in front of you right there and then – that’s all you have.

Yes, there will be lots more of my philosophical wafflings as we progress through the rest of the trail!

So, anyway, after 5 miles of putting one foot in front of the other there I was at the top and it had not been as hard as I feared! (there’s probably a life lesson there, too).  Once again I decided to add in an extra bit of mileage and go off the path.  The path goes around the side of the hill, but I decided to walk right to the top to the summit cairn.  It was definitely worth the extra work for the stunning views.  Here’s the view from the path ….

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…. and here’s the view from the very top (still in sepia!)

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It was absolutely stunning up there, although very very windy!

You may remember if you’ve been following my blog or facebook for a while that last year Dave & I lost both of our doggies who we had had for 14 years.  We both still miss them dreadfully and think about them every day.  After watching the film “The Way” I had the idea of saving a wee bit of their ashes to take with me and scatter every day along my walk.  I hadn’t scattered any the first day, as there wasn’t really a spectacular spot that felt right, but the top of Conic Hill definitely felt like the right place, so now there is a little bit of Eddie & Neo ashes right there where that beautiful view is🙂

After I’d spent some time sitting enjoying the views I made the descent down the other side of Conic Hill into Balmaha, which was the 7 mile point.  I enjoyed a rest and some delicious lunch at the Oak Tree Inn and got my passport stamped.

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After lunch I had a wee pootle round Balmaha and found a random stranger to take the obligatory photo of me posing with the Tom Weir statue🙂

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Then it was time to push on for another few miles.  Just outside Balamaha I spotted this handsome fella!

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The path started to descend to the edge of Loch Lomond, where I would be walking for the next 2 days …. it really was beautiful.

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I knew that Loch Lomond was the largest inland stretch of water in Britain but I hadn’t realised just how much it would feel like the sea, rather than a loch! It had waves and beaches and everything!

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As I’d missed a day yesterday I had two wee bags of ashes to scatter today so this beach became my second spot …. Eddie and Neo would have loved it here❤

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Throughout the whole walk there were loads of wild primroses – they were just gorgeous.

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I found myself absolutely entranced by these trees all along the shore of Loch Lomond at this point.  The earth around them had obviously been eroded leaving all the roots exposed …. but still they were growing!  Who knew trees were so amazingly resilient?  How are they even still standing up?!

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This one even had a wee tunnel a small person could have walked through!

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After a while the path left the side of the loch to walk through this beautiful wood – full of silver birch, one of my favourite trees.

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Finally at about 5 pm I arrived at my stop for the night in Sallochy – this gorgeous wee shepherds’ hut!  This is the Shepherd’s Rest – highly recommended for a stay, I loved it.  Look how cute it is! and inside it had all these wee nooks and crannies, plenty of space and so cosy!  My walkers supper was brought to the door in a hamper and was absolutely delicious – home made soup, rolls, cheese, oatcakes, scones …. yum!

And that was Day 2 done!  I was expecting an easier day tomorrow as I had felt full of energy today …. hmmm, let’s see how that works out shall we😉

Click here for the Day 3 blog.