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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

West Highland Way – Day 1 – Milngavie to Drymen (12 miles)

Prepare for the first of many posts about my epic adventure walking the West Highland Way!

So a bit of background …..

The West Highland Way is a 96 mile route that runs from Milngavie just outside Glasgow, to Fort William.  It runs through some of Scotland’s most stunning and iconic scenery – Loch LomondRannoch Moor, Glen Coe, Buachaille Etive Mòr.  Last year after being inspired by reading Wild, I decided that I wanted to walk this trail and I wanted to do it solo.  I love walking with Dave, and I love walking with my friends, but there is something magical about being alone in nature and I regularly go off hill walking on my own at home – it recharges my batteries!  I also loved the idea of the physical and mental challenge of doing this alone – how would I cope when it got tough? Would I manage to go the distance?

Once I’d started reading up about the Trail and planning my route, Dave decided he liked the look of it too! So we hatched a plan which would allow us to both walk the Way – Dave would drop me at the start, drive to Fort William and leave the car there, get the bus back to Milngavie and start walking the day after me.  We thought he would probably catch me up at some point and we would probably walk bits of it together, but he was totally awesome and supportive, and understood that it was important to me to do it alone.  Also he wanted to camp, whereas I most definitely wanted to enjoy the walk free of heavy packs! I booked B&Bs along the way and also used Travel Lite to transport my luggage so all I had to carry each day was a relatively light day pack with food, water, clothing and emergency supplies.

So – after months of planning, training, and buying all the gear I would need, on Tuesday 3rd May it was time to set off!  I had expected to be super-excited, but actually I felt a wee bit flat at the start – it was almost like I couldn’t quite believe it was actually happening after thinking about it for so long!  We got up at the crack of dawn and drove to Milngavie where I deposited my luggage with Travel Lite, and Dave & I grabbed a coffee together before he set off for Fort William leaving me to start my walk.  Straight away I realised that this was not going to be the communing-with-nature, no-human-contact trip I had originally had in mind – I knew a lot of people walked the WHW, but I hadn’t really grasped *exactly* how many people there would be!  I had also kind of assumed that you would only see people once as they would either be faster or slower than you – but actually you ended up seeing the same people quite a lot, as you would stop for breathers at different points, so keep overlapping.  This was the first of many bits of the trip where things turned out completely different from what I had expected, but I surprised myself by liking it!  I ended up really enjoying the camaraderie amongst all the walkers.  Every single person I met and chatted to was lovely.  After a few days I got to know the various groups of people by sight if not by name.  We would stop for a wee chat when we crossed paths and then go off on our separate ways until the next time.  It was a really good balance of being alone, but also meeting new people and making new friends.  Anyway, more of that later!

The down side of there being so many people on the trail, when you are someone like me who needs to wee a lot, is that it is quite hard to find discreet spots to go!  I made it until about 10.30 on the very first day before someone caught me with my pants round my ankles – ha ha!  And I reckon I added on at least an extra 5 miles with all the times I went off the path to find a tree to crouch behind!

Anyway, enough waffling, let’s get to the actual trail on Day 1.  Here’s the traditional photo of me at the obelisk start point – I grabbed a couple of Canadians who were there and got them to take this – happily we continued to cross paths throughout the walk and saw each other at the pub in Fort William at the end.  I never got their names but I will remember them fondly as trail buddies!

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The walk starts off gently enough, meandering through Mugdock country park as you leave the suburbs and head for the proper countryside.  I’d read that day 1 was a bit boring and drab, just getting you out to the wilder areas, so I was surprised how much I enjoyed it – even this early on there was some lovely scenery, if not as dramatic as the later stages.

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A good reminder 🙂

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After about 4 miles I’d left the suburbs behind, the crowds had thinned out a bit as people found their varying paces and I was settling in to my walking and enjoying myself. The trail opens up and gets more rural and you get some lovely views over to Dumgoyne.

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I love my new camera, but I hadn’t realised I had the “panorama” setting on “old style” so all my panoramas for the first couple of days have this browny sepia tinge!  Oops 🙂

Already I was feeling glad that I had planned my walk for 8 days at a relaxed pace.  I had wanted to not feel rushed, so that I could drink in the whole experience, and that was exactly how it did turn out.  This panorama was taken off the trail – I hopped off for a 10 minute walk up to the top of a mound to get to this viewpoint.  I was really glad that I was able to do stuff like this throughout – and some of the best parts of the whole trip ended up being the bits where I went off the trail – rather than feeling like I couldn’t stop or add on miles because I was pressed for time.

7 miles in and the Beech Tree Inn was a welcome sight – LUNCH!

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The Inn provided this handy map of the WHW – there’s a long way to go!

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The walking after lunch was not quite as nice – a large chunk was on roads and the views were not as scenic.  However there were still some lovely moments to enjoy.  I hopped off the trail again and sat by this beautiful river at about the 10 mile mark to rest my feet and have a snack.

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Honesty shops were quite a common sight along the Way – I loved this!

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There seemed to be a Lord of the Rings theme going on here …. happily I passed through without being set upon by any trolls or orcs 🙂

The last couple of miles into Drymen were walking on tarmac which was a bit wearing, and the feet were getting tired by this point, but I revived a bit when I reached the top of a hill to get my very first views of Loch Lomond in the distance – I’d be walking alongside that tomorrow!

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At about 3.30 I rolled into my first B&B feeling tired but exhilarated.  I crashed out on my bed for a rest before walking (another half mile! too cruel at the end of the first day!) into Drymen to get some dinner at the Clachan Inn.  I splurged on fillet steak and profiteroles – I was very glad I had not gone for the camping option!  It was fabulous to have food put in front of me, followed by crashing into a nice comfy bed!

Day one, done!

Click here for the Day 2 blog.

 

Ostara Mandala

Well gosh, it only seems like yesterday that I was making my Imbolc mandala but before I knew it Ostara was not only here, but gone!  What with our gallery opening on March 20th I was a little distracted, and then had some problems with the mandala which meant I had to start over, so it ended up being a week late.  Never mind, it got done in the end and I’m actually really pleased with the end result of this one 🙂

So, as before, the process started off with some research.  During the course of this I learned that the reason hares are connected to Ostara as a symbol of fertility is that they are one of the only animals who can conceive while carrying young …. fascinating, the facts you uncover!P1000322.JPG

Ostara is the Sabbat that celebrates the Spring Equinox.  Day and night are equal, and from this point forward the days are longer than the nights.  It’s a joyful, energetic time of rebirth – new life is appearing everywhere (here in Galloway there are super cute wee lambs everywhere you look!), buds are blooming, plants are awakening and the light is returning.  If you want to read more about Ostara and its traditions, I recommend this excellent article.  You can also find more links on my Pinterest board. Of course, many Ostara traditions and symbols were incorporated into early Christianity which is why we have things like the Easter bunny and Easter eggs, neither of which have much to do with the meaning behind the Christian festival of Easter!

I decided I wanted to use the hare as one of my symbols, and also incorporate eggs and flowers … and I also wanted to show the idea of balance and harmony with night and day being equal.  I settled on the yin/yang symbol for the whole mandala to go with this idea and decided to make one half night, with a moon gazing hare (I have a bit of a thing for moon gazing hares) and one half day, with sunshine, crocuses (always synonymous with spring for me!) and a nest of eggs.  This was my initial – very very rough! – sketch.P1000323.JPG

I had a bit of trouble coming up with words this time around, partly because I felt that I should keep to the same format as the last one with the “I am” statements – but they just didn’t seem to flow for this, so in the end I went with completely different wording!P1000324.JPG

Enough research and doodling, time for the fun part to get started!  Watercolour paper, pencil, ruler and compass to start off ….. P1000274.JPG

I made the yin/yang symbol within the square, and went over it in black pen, and roughly sketched in the design. P1000275.JPG

Time to start painting …. and this is where it went a bit wrong, in two ways! First of all I was using light paper (150gsm) and I hadn’t pre-stretched it.  So the paper rippled quite badly when I started putting the watery paint down.  Secondly, my painting was not accurate enough and you can see below that I have dribbled blue paint into the sun ….. now in acrylics this wouldn’t matter but with watercolours you can’t get away with it!  Blue paint plus yellow when I paint the sun = green splodges!P1000278.JPG

I persevered with it, however, as I had invested quite a few hours already! But being the perfectionist that I am, I think I knew deep down I was going to have to start over.  I finally gave up when I added the sun’s “rays” in paint and decided they were far too heavy and thick.  This one was resigned to a practice run, time to start again!

You can see how badly the paper has warped in this photo ….. P1000280.JPG

And here’s a close up of the sun – nope, just not good enough! Note to self – more accuracy required!P1000291.JPG

So, quite literally back to the drawing board for take two.  This time around I used masking fluid.  It was my first time using this rather fabulous stuff so I experimented on some rough paper first (thankfully I had the discarded mandala to use!)  Masking fluid is latex fluid which you can put on to your paper before you start applying paint, and will protect the paper underneath.  I carefully applied it first to the moon and then to the sun, before painting in the night and day skies.Image00006.jpg

Here’s the whole thing so far, I’ve taken the masking fluid off the moon but not the sun yet.Image00007.jpg

Next steps ….. I painted the moon with my favourite pearlescent watercolours to give it a lovely silvery glow, and painted the hare, sun and crocuses.  I’ve used a fine black pen to add detail and emphasis too.Image00008.jpg

Time to add some grass …… I also added some of the silver paint to my hare’s ears, as if they were catching the light from the moon.Image00009.jpg

Stars added (with dots of paint and silver gel pen) and sun rays too – I learned my lesson from the paint last time and used a fine gold glitter gel pen this time!Image00010.jpg

Somehow I managed to not take any photos during this part, but I did also paint the tree, nest and leaves!  Finally, it was time to add the writing around the edge.  I decided to use a technique I’d experimented with before  – block writing with watercolour filling in the gaps. I used my discarded mandala to practice the writing and pick the colours I wanted.  You can see my masking fluid practice run here too!Image00013.jpg

The writing is a fiddly process.  First of all I drew guidelines in light pencil.  Then I sketched in the words – sometimes this just works straight away, and other times it requires a few attempts to get them to fit in! Image00011.jpg

Then I very carefully went over the letters in permanent black ink.Image00012.jpg

Then it was time to add paint – a fairly painstaking process, trying to make sure I kept the sequence of the three colours correct and quite fiddly to be accurate in the small spaces.  I did make a mistake and leave out a green block at one point – let me know if you can spot it!!

Once the paint had dried I rubbed out all the pencil guidelines to give the finished mandala.  Whew! Got there in the end!

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Despite it taking me an age and having to start over, I’m really happy with this one.  Next up will be Beltane on May 1 and I will pretty much need to start researching that one straight away – can’t be late this time as I’m off on my West Highland Way adventure on May 3rd!  In the meantime ….. may Ostara bring you harmony, abundance and joy. xx

Making a layer flower pendant

I thought it was time for another look at how I make one of my pendants – this time I’ll be taking you through the steps to make one of my layer flower pendants.  You can click on any of the tiled images if you want to see then full size.

I really love this design, it’s so pretty and so versatile.  Because it uses 5 thread changes, it can be made in a fabulous variety of colours.  For this one, I’m using five different shades of purple.

As always, I start off with my cotton thread and hook – for these flowers I use a 1.25mm hook.Image00001

I make a circle to begin and start to stitch around it for the centre of the flower.

That’s the first colour done.  Now it’s time to add the first set of petals.  I make each petal by stitching into the loops I made with the first thread.

Image00004Once I’ve finished making the petals, I turn the flower over and make loops in the back – these are where the next layer of petals will attach onto.

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Here it is so far, with the penny to show size.

Image00006Time for thread number 3 – I make a second layer of petals, and another set of loops on the back.

Then it’s the same thing again with thread number 4 – another set of petals.  The second image shows the back of the flower so you can see how I’m stitching the petals into the loops.

That’s the third set of petals finished – it’s starting to take shape now.

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Onto the last thread now for the final set of petals.

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Here’s the back – quite messy with all those different thread ends!  It looks better once I tie off the ends and cut them.  I leave one long thread to sew on the backing.

Now it’s time to sew a back on the flower to make it nice and neat.  I use soft acrylic felt for this which I cut out to the right size using a handy card template that I made 🙂

I sew the felt onto the back of the flower.

Finished!

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Now I need to put the finishing touches on the flower – it tends to come off the hook a wee bit squiffy (like cotton when it’s just out of the wash) – so I pin it out and use some fabric stiffener to get it to the right shape.  For most of my designs, I stiffen the whole thing, but where this one is more 3D it doesn’t need stiffener on the whole thing, just the bottom set of petals.

I use wax paper and a printed template to get it symmetrical.

I use a mix of fabric stiffener and water which I paint onto the bottom petals with a paintbrush.

I leave this to dry, usually overnight.  Then it’s time for the finishing touch and my least favourite job – glueing the cabochon gemstone to the centre of the flower.  I love the way the gemstone looks, as it covers up the wee hole in the centre of the flower and makes the pendant look so much better, plus it ties in the flower with the gemstones I use to finish off the pendant and chain.  But it’s such a fiddly job!  It’s easy to go wrong by using too much glue or getting the stone slightly off centre – in which case all the hours of work up to this point are ruined!  Also, I have to press down quite hard on the stone while the glue dries which hurts my finger (sob!).  So you can see why it’s my least favourite part of the whole process 🙂  For this flower, I’m using a beautiful amethyst cabochon.

Done.  Whew!!!!!!

Now I need to make the chain for the pendant to hang on.  I’m using cotton thread in silver, this time with a 1.5mm hook.  I accent the chain with 4mm amethyst beads.

The finished chain:

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I use sterling silver end clasps to finish the ends of the chain.

The sterling silver lobster clasp goes on one and, and the extender chain on the other.

I use another silver jump ring to attach the flower to the centre of the chain.

Now I need to make the gemstone drop to hang underneath the flower.  To go with the different shades of purple in the flower, I’m using two shades of amethyst.

Finally, I attach the drop beads to the bottom of the flower.

And the pendant is finished!  Here it is with some other colours.

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On a completely unrelated note, I love that the whole time I worked as an accountant I never had a filofax and now I do have one, and it’s bright turquoise with butterflies on it 😉

Imbolc Mandala

As you probably already know, if you read my blog or follow me on facebook, I have a bit of a thing for mandalas.  I’m currently on my second round of “Mandala Magic” with the amazing tutor Julie Gibbons, and I can’t praise it highly enough.  I’m also very into living in tune with nature, and following the seasons; one of my goals for 2016 is to celebrate each festival, or Sabbat, as we travel through the Wheel of the Year.  So I decided to combine these two things, and have given myself a project of creating a mandala for each Sabbat in 2016.

The first one of course is Imbolc – one of my favourites, not least as it falls on my birthday!  Imbolc is the Sabbat that celebrates the beginning of Spring; it falls halfway between the Winter Solstice (Yule) and the Spring Equinox (Ostara).  The earth is awakening after the long winter, the days are getting lighter, the sun is returning, new life is awakening …. it feels like such a hopeful, joyful time!  If you want to read more about Imbolc and its traditions, I highly recommend this excellent article.

So, I thought it would be nice to blog about each of these throughout the year as I make them – I figured some of you might enjoy seeing the creative process!

It started off with research – I read lots of articles about Imbolc and made notes in my journal, so I could decide what symbols, colours and words I wanted to use to capture the spirit of the Sabbat.  (The page on the left here that I have glued into my journal is from the Earth Pathways Diary).Image00001

Then it was time to plan how my mandala would look.  This is a mandala I made last year, and I had the idea in my head to do something similar.  I liked the idea of the petals to symbolise new life sprouting from the earth.  But I wanted to incorporate other Imbolc symbolism too, so I decided to sacrifice this one and use it as a rough practice guide!  If you look closely you can see my pencil squiggles over the top, experimenting with fitting in snowdrops and candles within the green petals. Image00003

Time to think about words! I love the combination of words and image together, so I plan to incorporate words into all my mandalas in this series.  It was back to my journal to brainstorm the words I wanted to use.  I picked out these as the words that most spoke to me and evoked the essence of Imbolc.  Then I did some experimenting with various lines before coming up with something I was happy with (although it did change slightly again before the final version!).  I experimented with how I would write it and fit it around the edge of the mandala (you can see these squiggles above too!).  Image00002

Then it was time to put pen to paper and make a start.  I decided to go with snowdrops, which to me are always the first sign of early spring.  I also added a stylised Brigid’s Cross in the centre of the mandala.  I drew out the mandala in light pencil using my straight edge and compass to get the basic outline.  I drew one snowdrop freehand, and then used tracing paper to transfer it to the other 11 petals, in an attempt to get them all more or less the same size and shape.  I drafted the writing around the edge and went over the snowdrops and the cross in fine pen, to accentuate them.Image00007

The next step was to finalise the wording and go over it with pen.Image00002

Now for the fun part – the painting!  I tested out the colours I wanted to use on some scrap paper.  I’m using watercolours – I decided on plain green to get the bright green of the snowdrops, while the rest are pearlescent watercolours, a recent purchase which I am very much liking.  They have a lovely soft glow to them.Image00004

Progress …….. Image00005

Once I’d finished adding colour, I decided to accentuate with some dots.  I love the look of this technique, but it’s quite tricky to get them right! You can see in the top mandala that I had a go at this last year, but the dots are too big and very uneven in places.  So I practiced for a while before I started putting them on my Imbolc mandala.  Then with much trepidation, hoping I wasn’t about to ruin hours of work, I made a start.  Thankfully the practice had paid off and the dots turned out pretty well I think.  They are not all exactly the same, but that to me is part of the beauty of a hand made piece of art – those little imperfections! (well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!).

So here is the finished mandala! Image00006

I’d love to know what you think ….. next up will be Ostara in March, so I shall be mulling over ideas for that mandala for the next few weeks.  I shall endeavour to stay away from bunnies and eggs!