Wildcamping the West Highland Way, Day 2May 12, 2019
In March, I set off from Milngavie near Glasgow to do three days’ walking and camping along the West Highland Way, Scotland’s most popular trekking trail.
Previous posts in this series:
For this section of the route, there would be no public transport option – the last part of it is well away from public roads, so I wouldn’t even be able to hitch a lift!
In summer, a ferry boat crosses the north east end of Loch Lomond to Ardlui, from where you can get a train. But at this time of year, the nearest public transport point would be Inverarnan or Crianlarich. My plan was to take the train back from Crianlarich the morning after my third night of camping.
Map showing my route along Loch Lomond on the second day of my West Highland Way trek. Click here for a more detailed map.
I was surprised at the low numbers of people walking the route at this time of year. I passed two or three couples taking their time to enjoy the route, and two fell runners. One of these runners was going so fast over very rocky ground, while talking to someone in a foreign language on her phone, that I think she must have been a pro-athlete in training.
This was the most enjoyable section of the route for me. Parts of it seemed very isolated, and I enjoyed the solitude. There were a few steep gradients and rough sections, but I just took my time and enjoyed the birds, flowers and beautiful views.
My backpack was about a kilogram lighter after eating some of my food. I really should have brought more dehydrated food. I had brought packet rice, packet dahl, tins of mackerel, lunchpots, porridge oats with nuts and dates, some fruity Christmas cake, and tea and coffee bags. I ate all the Christmas cake on the first day!
This was only just enough food for the three days, as I was burning a lot of calories. When I got on the train back to Glasgow, I felt ravenous!
Early morning view from my tent at Conic Hill.
I rose early and packed up my tent without making breakfast, as there was no fresh water source on Conic Hill. Despite my weariness the day before, I felt reinvigorated after a good night’s sleep, and my feet were no longer aching.
Some of my neighbours at Conic Hill.
By the time I reached the bottom of Conic Hill, it was not yet 8am, and the facilities at Balmaha car park don’t open until 10am. Nothing was open in Balmaha, so I walked to Milarrochy Bay, where there are public toilets and drinking water.
If you’re walking the West Highland Way, fresh drinking water and public toilet facilities are available 24 hours at Milarrochy Bay near Balmaha.
Shortly after Milarrochy Bay, the route enters Cashel Forest, and it remains wooded for most of that leg.
There were not too many flowers in bloom at this early time of year, but lots of lovely birdsong. I got quite close to a treecreeper, but it flew off just as I was getting my camera out.
Ben Lomond coming into view (at the right).
At one point I heard some loud music, and two middle-aged women approached me. One was carrying a radio with music playing, which seemed quite an odd thing to do on a country walk – but each to their own!
Apart from that, I was completely alone with nature.
A beautiful plant that I don’t recognise.
Towards lunchtime, I spotted a signpost indicating that Rowardennan was two miles away. I felt relief, as I was starting to feel tired, but those two miles seemed to go on forever! I’d decided to treat myself to a half pint of Guinness at the Rowardennan Hotel.
I finally reached the hotel shortly after 12 noon. That Guinness tasted great! I also filled up my water bottle. Other people arrived shortly afterwards, and tucked into hearty lunches, but I stuck to my plan of carrying all my food needed for the three days and enjoyed an al fresco lunch later on.
That half pint of Guinness at the Rowardennan Hotel made me feel like a new woman!
Rowardennan is usually busy, as it’s the end of the public road, and the departure point for walks up Ben Lomond, a Munro at 974m (3,195 feet). But beyond Rowardennan the crowds disappear, and I don’t think I passed more than two people for the rest of the day. I had my lunch at a quiet beach.
A steep uphill path.
Close up of The Cobbler and Beinn Narnain at the other side of Loch Lomond.
My plan was to camp for the night near Rowchoish Bothy. I’ve managed to overcome my fear of solo wildcamping, but I thought I would still feel more comfortable knowing that there were other people nearby, and I expected a few people to be staying at Rowchoish.
I wanted to take a dip in the loch. The weather was unusually warm for the time of year, and I could not wait to cool off – and have a wash! Most of all, I was desperate to soak my feet in the water. This thought was going round and round my head as I got closer to Rowchoish.
I spotted some ruins and realised that the bothy must be close at hand.
Rowchoish Bothy was formerly the byre of Rowchoish Cottage, which was inhabited until the late 1930s. Apparently there were nine families living in the area in 1759, and at least three settlements between Rowchoish and Inversnaid, about three miles north.
When I visited, the whole area around Rowchoish was deserted. I walked down to the lochside and found a nice spot to pitch my tent at the edge of the forest.
I wondered if it would feel spooky being so close to the forest, but to be honest, the constant drone of traffic thundering along the A82 on the other side of the loch drowned out any eerieness, and the tall trees seemed comforting rather than sinister.
By the time I’d pitched my tent, it was just 4pm, and still warm. I’d walked 22.8km (14 miles) on this leg, over 8 hours and 23 minutes, including a half-hour break at the hotel – not as far as the previous day, though my pace was considerably slower.
I changed my mind about taking a dip in the freezing waters of the loch, though I did have a wash, and I dipped my tired feet in, before airing them in the sunshine, which felt like bliss.
I felt relieved that my walk was on schedule and that barring a disaster, I would make it to Crianlarich by Saturday morning – even though the next leg of my trek was reputed to be the toughest of the entire West Highland Way.
The gentle breeze blowing through the trees and the distant sound of lorries delivering goods to northern towns soon lulled me to sleep.
Other posts in this series: