We were up reasonably early, packed up and said our goodbyes (Scott was walking back to Drymen to get the bus and train back to Milgnavie to pick up the car and head home). I was off walking before 8am, through some open fields filled with heather, flowers and shrubs. There were also quite a few sheep around (Scottish Blackfaces). I could see the line of hills that is the Highland Boundary Fault, and particularly the prominence of Conic Hill, which I’d soon be walking up. I was taking lots of photos, or so I thought at the time. Little did I know how many I’d manage to take later in the trip! I had started the day with waterproofs on (being very overcast) but walking up the hill soon warmed me up enough to take them off.
Conic Hill was very steep and very windy on top. The view was awesome though and it was such an amazing feeling being up there. Also, there were mountain bike tracks right up the top! I was almost too scared to walk on some of the track up and down and people while riding it?!?! (new readers, there is a picture of me on top of Conic Hill here)
Coming off Conic Hill I suddenly found myself walking through an amazing section of dense pine forest (native, not plantation). Such a sudden dramatic change in scenery took me by surprise.
The Way goes through Balmaha, which didn’t have too much to see and wasn’t particularly well signposted, then follows the shores of Loch Lomond, actually walking along the sandy shore for some of it. When it couldn’t do that, the path wound it’s way up the steep hills on the side of the loch, with some very steep up and down sections.
It was quite a long haul to Rowardennan where I stopped at the hotel for lunch. Again, the other side of the world and I was surrounded by Australians! Wallabies vs All-Blacks was on TV, the bar-girl was Australian and there was a family from Melbourne in there as well (one with a Horseland jumper on).
More walking, past Ben Lomond, where there was going to be a torchlit walk to the summit that very night. Again, another event that I’d had no idea was on. In retrospect I probably should’ve gone up Ben Lomond but it was not even on my radar when I was planning.
There is a high and low section to the walk here and I was planning on taking the low (harder but more scenic) section. Unfortunately it was closed for maintenance work. Luckily the high section was still quite lovely. There were some amazing rocks (metamorphic, schists and quartz veins), amazing forest and hundreds of pretty streams and waterfalls. I managed to spot the small track that cut back down to the low section just before Rowchoish bothy, which I wanted to see. Sadly the bothy was in a terrible state, with lots of rubbish and junk everywhere.
I got to Inversnaid, where I’d been planning on having dinner, and was very disappointed to find the hotel was closed for a private function!! Since I’d saved time by missing out on dinner I decided that I had time to do the RSPB nature walk. This was incredibly steep and I didn’t see any nature at all on the way up so I was beginning to think it was a big mistake. However, the view from the top was worth it . . . . maybe!! I did get to see a slow worm on the way down too.
The next section of track was marked as a “hard section” in the guide books, and it definitely was. Steep, rocky, muddy, climbing up and down the whole time. Very hard.
I was going to try to get to Doune bothy, but as I was making very slow time (and I thought the bothy might be occupied) I planned to start looking for campsites from ~6:30pm. I found a couple that looked OK, and one that was lovely but right next to the track. Then, . . . I found a perfect site, right near the loch edge. Flat, grassy, lovely view . . . then the wind started gusting as I was setting the tent up! I was right at the northern end of Loch Lomond and the wind was blowing straight up the Loch towards me. I had the inner pitched and it looked like it was about to be torn apart by the wind so I sadly packed it up again and abandoned my lovely site. It was just too exposed in this weather.
I got to Doune bothy (after almost following the wrong track and sinking in some mud!) and there was smoke coming from the chimney. While that could’ve been a good thing, when I checked inside there was a young couple snuggling in front of the fire. I didn’t want to be the one to ruin their romantic evening so sadly went back outside and kept walking . . hoping I’d find somewhere soon (it was 7:30pm by this point).
Luckily just around the corner was a ruined building (just 4 half walls) in a grassy clearing next to a stream. The wind (still blowing a gale) was not too bad in the shelter of the building and the grass was so thick that the floor of my tent almost felt like a mattress. The only problem was that the ground seemed to be solid rock and I had to wiggle and twist and fight to get the pegs into the ground!
I did some washing (socks, underwear and the mud off my shoes and pants), had some dinner (pita, cheese and chorizo, which was surprisingly good) and settled in to my tent. I messaged Scott to let him know I was OK (crazy, having mobile phone signal out here!), wrote in my diary then tried to get to sleep, despite it still being light at 9pm! My feet were sore, but seemed OK, with no blisters. I think the “hard” walking today was so erratic that it didn’t hurt all the normal “long haul walk” sore bits. I did feel that I may have slightly overdone it today though – 30+km, from 8am to 7:30pm with only a couple of hours of stops!
This really was a massive day. Looking back through the photos I find it hard to believe that I saw all of that stuff in just one day. My GPS logger says 40.4km, although my route planning says Garadhban to Doune bothy was 31km. It was a pretty amazing walk, following Loch Lomond the whole way but varying terrain (loch shore, or climbing up the hills on either side), vegetation (different types of woodland, open countryside, farmland) and path conditions (beach, roads, mud, gravel, blocky steps). And always amazing views. I also saw a couple of deer (roe deer I think) as well as the sheep, slow worm, lots of birds and a perfect family of highland cattle (mum, dad and two kids).