Having forgotten all the bad bits and just remembered the good bits from last year‘s West Highland Way we decided to do it again this year. But even before we reached Milngavie this morning I had problems to contend with. Yesterday was the only day I could get Telewest installed in my new flat in Dundee, so I had to wait until 5 o’clock before the engineer had finished. By chance he left the TV on Sky News, and when I went to switch it off I saw a Chinook land in a field at Auchterarder and riot police pour out the back of it.
Yesterday was of course the first day of the G8 summit at Gleneagles, and the news was advising people not to travel on main roads unless absolutely necessary. Protestors or the police had closed the main roads at Perth, Bridge of Allan, Stirling, Auchterarder and Greenloaning – all of which are on the route from Dundee to Glasgow! So to get to Glasgow I had to take a (rather enjoyable) large detour along county roads, and I wasn’t alone, encountering supermarket lorries along the way struggling on tight corners.
So after going through Crieff and Comrie, along the edge of Loch Earn to Lochearnhead, down past Balquhidder to Callander and round the edge of the Campsies to Milngavie, I finally reached Glasgow just over an hour later than I should’ve done. But back to today, and an early start. We decided that since we’d done the West Highland Way properly last year, this year we’d make things slightly easier for ourselves and have our big bags carried for us by AMS and do the walk in 5 days.
We missed our train from Glasgow to Milngavie by 2 minutes, and the next one wouldn’t have got us to Milngavie in time to meet the guy from AMS at 9am, so we took a taxi which came to a fairly reasonable £14. The guy from AMS took our bags and chatted to us about the glorious weather, while we told him about the atrocious weather we’d suffered last year.
Then it was off into the centre of Milngavie for a second breakfast at Marks & Spencer’s. As we put on some sun cream – although it still wasn’t 10am, the heat of the sun was already intense – we watched as several groups of walkers arrived at the start of the West Highland Way. When a 40-strong bunch of Scouts arrived though, it was time for us to head off!
Just like last year, as we left Milngavie and walked along the edge of the Allander Water then the paths of Mugdock Wood, we encountered several extremely friendly dog-walkers wishing us well on our travels. It’s amazing the difference a few miles makes, as you don’t get this kind of greeting in the centre of Glasgow! Perhaps it’s the walking boots and the rucksacks – people know you are there for a “genuine” reason. Climbing up out of Mugdock Wood the track start to cross open moorland, fields and forestry plantations.
When we saw Dumgoyach – the first hill of any note on the West Highland Way – we took a slight detour off the track in search of the nearby standing stones. We had to wade through marshy long grass before finding they were in the second field and not the first, and by the time we’d spotted them we decided we’d just carry on walking rather than stop. Little did we know that wading through that grass would have a serious effect on our plans later on……………!
After rounding Dumgoyach, the next hill we passed was Dumgoyne, the last hill in the Campsies. Soon after these hills the track begins following the line of the abandoned Strath Blane railway.
In complete contrast to last year, the sun was blazing high in the sky, and the driving rain of last year‘s walk was but a distant memory. Approaching Gartness we got our first glimpse of Loch Lomond, but other things were on our minds – my sister had just ‘phoned from London where bombs had gone off in undergound stations and on buses.
One of the bombs had gone off at Russell Square close to where my sister was staying for a summer course at LSE. She was fine but understandably shaken, and because of overloading of the mobile ‘phone networks she was only able to get hold of me and not our Mum. At first there were reports of hundreds of deaths, but thankfully by tonight we knew that the figure – while still horrific – was far less.
Despite the fact that we weren’t carrying our big bags this year, and therefore the walking was easier, we decided to treat ourselves to a pub lunch – setting a dangerous precedent! – in the Highlander Bar at The Winnock Hotel in Drymen. The atmosphere was odd though, with a plasma screen TV in the bar showing the latest pictures from London on Sky News. After lunch we set off again, with thoughts of London in our minds, but after talking to my sister a couple more times and establishing she was in no danger, our moods lifted as we entered the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park for the first time.
On the way out the other end things didn’t look familiar at all, and we realised this was because a large section had been felled since we’d last walked here. As we reached the bottom of Conic Hill it looked far less daunting than last year, partly because it wasn’t getting dark, but mainly because there wasn’t a stream running down the path! Climbing it seemed much easier and quicker, undoubtedly partly because we had lighter bags, but also because morale was much higher.
Descending the other side was much less hairy too, with no heavy bags pushing us downwards. Last year the views were good despite the creeping darkness, but this year in the light they were much better.
Crossing the car park in Balmaha we were reminded of the “vegetarian breakfast” at the old Balmaha Bunkhouse Lodge last year, and were looking forward to staying at the Oak Tree Inn which my aunt had recommended. And we weren’t disappointed! The hotel itself looked beautiful with it’s distinctive slate walls, and the bunkhouse room we had round the back was spacious.
We soon made our way to the bar, sitting outside for a few pints and some excellent food, until the midges got too bad and we moved inside for a while before heading to bed.