West Highland Way, Part 2: Drymen–Balmaha–Rowardennan–Inversnaid

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The further north we proceeded the better the views became, and the number of photos I snapped appears to have increased in direct correlation with the growing altitudes. Therefore the remaining posts are going to be quite picture-heavy, since culling the selection any further would take me forever.

Day 3: Drymen–Balmaha

The third dawn arrived cloudy but dry, and it was nice to get back on the trail after a refreshing shower at the Drymen campsite. Instead of waxing poetic about this day, here’s a bunch of photos to highlight the wonderfully varied landscapes along the way.

IMG_20190721_105112Through pasturesIMG_20190721_110221…to the light at the end of the bush tunnel…

IMG_20190721_111036…along overgrown paths…

IMG_20190721_114901 …onto wide open roads with panoramic views…

IMG_20190721_115745 …stopping for snacks and to smell the flowers…IMG_20190721_125509…onto hillier and hillier terrain…

IMG_20190721_140919_01     …until we finally got a taste of what we came here for!

IMG_20190721_140020 Conic Hill

The trail took us past Conic Hill and onto Balmaha. It was definitely worth it to ditch the backpacks for a while and climb to the top of the hill to fully take in these impressive views over Loch Lomond. Oh, and if you’re planning to do this, better hold onto your hat or the wind will claim it immediately. Up until this point, there had been no crowding on the trails, but the closer we got to Conic Hill the more day trippers we saw. No wonder, though, since the views are magnificent.

IMG_20190721_142155 View from Conic Hill over Loch Lomond

Down in Balmaha it started to drizzle again, so we thought we’d have a second lunch break at the Oakwood Inn. The restaurant seemed to be operating at full capacity, not even the rainy patio had any free tables left. Fortunately, a friendly Danish couple noticed our plight and asked us to join them at their table. We happily squeezed ourselves onto the narrow benches and somehow managed to all stay under the small sunbrella, mostly covered from the rain. What’s not to like: good food and great company! However, after lunch they continued in the opposite direction (crazy Danes embarking on a tiring ascend that late in the afternoon and in that weather – I was surprised to learn they eventually made it out alive). Chef and I, in turn, once again tried to hitchhike to our next campsite with no luck. At least we only had to walk a few more kilometres in the drizzle.

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Cashel Camping seemed quite alright for a one-night stay. Since the drizzle didn’t stop all night, we really weren’t feeling like swimming but opted for a warm shower, instead. While Chef was cooking dinner, I did a bit of laundry and for once my timing was perfect: the large campsite only seemed to have one working tumble dryer for all its guests, and while our clothes were drying, a frustrated queue started to form in front of the machine. Sorry about that, guys, better come earlier next time.

Note: After Drymen, the trail winds through the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park for a good bit, and there are camping restrictions in many places along the way. For example, you often need to pay for a permit or book in advance if you’d like to pitch your tent on the shores of Loch Lomond, and in some places wild camping is completely banned. This is something to take into consideration when planning your hike. We had no problems with showing up at campsites without a booking, there was always enough space for one more tent.

 IMG_20190722_105851Got a little chuckle out of these haggis “facts”

Day 4: Balmaha–Rowardennan–Inversnaid

On the fourth morning, we opted for a lazy breakfast and bought readymade sandwiches and hot drinks at the campsite shop. We had noticed ads for a bag-carrying service at all stops along the way, and even that started to seem tempting. Our guidebook had mentioned the possibility, but at the time the mere thought had seemed absurd – can you even claim to be a hiker if someone else lugs your stuff from point A to point B in a van and you’re just skipping along with a daypack? Spoiled brats’ shenanigans, psht.

But then, it was dawning on us that the walk would be so much faster and more enjoyable if we didn’t need to drag all of our earthly possessions on our backs, so we asked the reception clerk if he could try to book the service for us for the same day. However, at ten in the morning we were too late, as the driver had already passed by the campsite. Then we tried to book it for the next day, but soon learned that none of these services apply to Inversnaid, which was our next destination. Apparently, Inversnaid is easy to reach on foot but by car the detour would take much too long to be worthwhile. Our only remaining option was to carry on carrying on like we had so far.

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Soon after leaving Cashel we walked past the Sallochy camping area, which would have been even nicer for spending the night. They have numbered spots for tents along the shore, but between March and September those must be booked in advance. Balmaha Visitor Centre or the website for the national park should be able to help with the details. I think I recall the price being £7 per person per night.

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Once again, the weather was cloudy but fortunately not very rainy. The trail was lovely: it followed the shoreline of Loch Lomond, we got to dip our toes in the water on breaks and there were waterfalls and other interesting bits along the way. Somewhere around the halfway mark, we spotted Rowardennan Hotel and its restaurant lured us in for lunch. Even though there were brief moments of drizzle, it was really nice to be seated outside on the patio overlooking the loch while sipping a cold one.

IMG_20190722_130647Rowardennan Hotel
IMG_20190722_132025Lunchtime views from the patio. Kayaks for rent, too, if you’re into that.

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If only all hikers and campers, be it in Scotland, Finland or anywhere else, took it upon themselves to abide by this simple guideline. The most pea-brained of us could even go for a nice arm tattoo reminder, if picking up after oneself is too challenging otherwise.

Let no one say, and say it to your shame, that all was beauty here until you came.

IMG_20190722_163209A piece of history covered with moss

IMG_20190722_180655Inversnaid Falls

The best moment of the rest of the day was when the forest trail suddenly ended and the Inversnaid Falls were roaring in front of us. You can’t tell the scale from my pictures, but the main waterfall was truly massive and very impressive! Right next to the falls, there’s the old-school Inversnaid Hotel, which mainly appears to target the elderly. Or at least a tour bus dropped off a bunch of them at the doorstep while were passing by. Later in the evening, after pitching our tent, we also visited the downstairs restaurant for a pint, and there were only a handful of pensioners and a mediocre live band. It kind of reminded me of the weekday ferries between Finland and Sweden. Nothing wrong with that.

IMG_20190722_181931Inversnaid Hotel: Riff-Raff Wing

Even if your budget won’t allow you to get a room at the hotel, it has a lot to offer to campers. First, you can fill up your water bottles for free from the tap outside the hotel. Secondly, campers are allowed to use the toilets when the hotel is open. Thirdly, the hotel has a dedicated space for muddy and ruddy hikers. You must take your dirty boots off at the separate entrance and don’t expect any table service, ether. Instead, you can sneak around in your socks and order food and drinks at the counter by the clean-people restaurant. This riff-raff space is very clean and stylish and, as a huge bonus, there are many sockets for charging your various gadgets.

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In addition to all the great things mentioned above, wild camping is free in the dedicated area, which is about a 5–10-minute walk from the hotel, and you get to wake up to excellent loch views. There’s also a nice little beach for swimming, or, in my case at least, for lightning-fast dipping just to rinse off some of the dust and sweat before crawling into a comfy sleeping bag. It wasn’t secluded, but it was quiet: there were only two or three tents in addition to ours that night. Quite a bargain, warmly recommended!

Prices (July 2019):

  • Oakwood Inn, Balmaha: cider+beer+shared pizza+chips&cheese+coffee+hot chocolate=£31
  • Cashel Camping: tent spot for two £13 per night, dryer £2, breakfast sandwiches and hot drinks for two £7
  • Rowardennan Hotel: lunch and drinks for two £22
  • Inversnaid Hotel: 2 pints £7

To read all posts on this trip in English, use the tag WHW19EN.

 

West Highland Way, Pt. I: Glasgow–Milngavie–Drymen

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Apparently, all it takes for me to update this blog is a brief year-long break and a tiny pandemic, but better at sloth pace than never. In a way, it’s nice to reminisce about the good old days when travelling was still a thing people did.

After last summer’s SlovinIt tour, it was time for a couple’s holiday. In late July, Chef and I started off towards Scotland. I had been dreaming of seeing the Scottish highlands ever since as a child I first read Don Rosa’s comics about Scrooge McDuck’s early years. Our main goal was to complete the legendary West Highland Way hike, which would add another 150km to our hiking meter.

Before the first day of walking, we spent the night in a shabby neighbourhood near the centre of Glasgow. We went budget first with picking the hotel, and apart from the cheap price, there aren’t many other positive things to say about it. The McLays Guest House was a run-down maze, and we also heard someone get stuck its claustrophobia-inducing lift. We managed to avoid falling victim to the lift trap, but my luck took a turn for the worse at the nearby Vietnamese, where I noticed the avocado in my meal a bit too late. Such a fresh start to our week-long hike when my good night’s sleep was replaced by hugging the porcelain throughout the night. Typical.

Day 1: Glasgow–Milngavie

The official starting point of the West Highland Way is in the town of Milngavie, a twenty-minute train ride from Glasgow. However, our guidebook recommended starting the hike from Glasgow for a softer start to the challenge ahead, so we did exactly that. It was a nice and leisurely way to begin our journey, watching the city slowly turn into countryside, strolling through a park and by a river in the sunshine, through fields and past cows on pastures.IMG_20190719_163213

We had almost made it to Milngavie when dark clouds started gathering above us and the first droplets fell on our forehead. That was our cue to take a little break at the highly recommended Tickled Trout pub for a cold pint and a plate of delicious fried food. We had been meaning to stay the night at a campsite in Milngavie that our guide book mentioned, but then Google revealed it no longer existed. Surprise! Someone smarter than us might have checked that in advance instead of in the pub late on the same day. We didn’t have any gas for our camping stove, either, because they had been sold out at the camping shop we visited back in Glasgow, and the shop in Milngavie would be closing early and there was no way we could have made it in time. The pub’s friendly staff then suggested we try the garden centre next door, and fortunately they had some in stock. Otherwise, no dinner and no fun since you’re not you when you’re hungry, right?

IMG_20190719_181936_01__01Stylish as ever

The light drizzle turned into downpour and showed no sign of stopping, so at some point we just had to get back on the road and wade through the puddles. Luckily, we had packed just the pro gear the situation called for: disposable two-euro rain ponchos. However, since our spirits weren’t too high, we first tried to hitchhike straight to Drymen. Surprisingly enough, nobody wanted to pick up two soaked backpackers. Once we made it on foot to the centre of Milngavie, we asked around if camping by the nearby park was allowed, but nobody knew the answer. We did know that wild camping is allowed along the hiking route, but at that point we were still in town. With our options limited, we decided to just go for it – besides, who was going to leave the comfort of their dry and warm home just to scold us for pitching our tent in the rain? We did, however, get scolded by a middle-aged couple who saw us walking out of the supermarket holding a plastic water bottle and thought we were idiots for paying for water when you could get free water from the blue taps downtown. A valid point, yes, but what if you not only need the water but also something to carry it in?

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Soon after the official starting point of the trail, we spotted a nice place for our tent, hidden behind the bushes, right next to a stream. On the other side of the stream was a golf course, but obviously there was nobody around in that weather. We took a quick dip in the refreshing water and retreated to our chambers to prepare some dinner and listen to the rain lashing against the tent fabric. As you can probably tell from the poor quality, the rain was not kind to my electronics and the picture above is one of the last I was able to take on my phone before its camera went kaput. I also forgot to take my separate compact camera out of my backpack and it got damp and broke down during the night. Oops. Next time, we might want to invest in some better rain gear (or at least upgrade the diposables from the two-euro ponchos to fancier five-euro jackets) and try not to use Google Maps in the rain quite as much, and our belongings might even survive the trip.

Day 2: Milngavie–Drymen

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The rain had stopped while we slept, and in the morning we woke up to another hiker’s excited dog running loose and sniffing around in our camp. We actually met a lot of doggos on the trail, which is always a nice bonus! Even though it was still cloudy, the weather conditions no longer seemed like a threat to the success of our hike. Most of the puddles had even dried up overnight.

IMG_20190720_131107Through the foggy lens – pretty easy to guess which pictures are taken with my phone and which ones with Chef’s

IMG_20190720_131750Savanna or Scotland?

IMG_20190720_134948Good stuff

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We had just had our lunch break before we ran into this sign advertising The Beech Tree, and tempting as it was, we didn’t feel like stopping again. However, this is a nice reminder that the West Highland Way is not by any means a traditional hike in the wilderness, instead it goes from one village to another. Pleasant gravel paths in great scenery make up most of the trail and there are only a few short sections where you need to walk on the side of the road. With a little advance planning, you probably wouldn’t even need to carry much camping gear or food if you went from inn to inn and ate in the many pubs along the way.

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We made it to Drymen late in the afternoon and left our things at the quaint Drymen Camping. The centre of Drymen is only a few kilometres from the campsite, so we decided to do a little evening stroll to visit a pub after dinner. Clachan Inn, the oldest licensed pub in Scotland, was so crowded that we didn’t even try to squeeze ourselves in but went straight next door to the Winnock Hotel pub for a pint and a little dessert. We also got the chance to top up our snack supply at a Spar before rolling back to the campsite.

 IMG_20190720_211822Drymen

Prices (July 2019):

  • The Tickled Trout: 2 x pint, 2 x onion rings, 1 x squid = £19
  • Gas for camping stove: £9
  • Winnock Hotel: 2 x pint, 2 x dessert = £17
  • Drymen Camping: £7/person/night

To read all posts on this trip in English, use the tag WHW19EN.