West Highland Way 2014
So this is the story of my second attempt at the West Highland Way, which is a long distance hike from Milngavie on the outskirts of Glasgow, to Fort William in the Highlands of Scotland.
I first attempted the walk in 2012 with a group of friends, however had to give up early due to lack of correct equipment and planning. You can read all about it here.
This time it would just be myself and Andy, which would make life much easier, rather than competing with 5 other women to get ready in the morning like last time. Plus this time we invested in all the proper equipment – especially breathable hiking boots. Blisters were a huge problem for me last time, so I was hopeful that my feet would hold out!
We also did some proper training this time, going on a few hill walks in the weeks prior, plus camped out a few times just to get used to putting the tent up!
We also intended to carry all our own bags and equipment, which meant we could stop whenever we felt like it each day. Last time we used one of the bag-carrying services, which is great, but it ties you into stopping at certain locations each day.
Naturally I was quite nervous, as I was well aware of the challenges involved in walking 97 miles in the space of a week – it’s hardly a walk in the park! Plus we awoke to a wet and miserable outlook on the first morning, which didn’t bode well. I was already filled with dread and we hadn’t even set off yet!
Day 1 Milngavie-Drymen
We arrived in Milngavie and went for a quick breakfast before setting off. We quickly snapped a few pictures at the starting point, but it was pouring down with rain, and we were eager to get started. In hindsight, cotton hotpants probably weren’t the best choice of wet weather gear, but it was the height of summer. We passed a couple of guys at the start who were head to toe in waterproofs, but I’d have just been even more wet with sweat if I’d wore those!
The first section of the walk isn’t really very exciting through the woods at Mugdock Country Park. There were a few steep climbs where already I was beginning to question what I’d let myself in for. I was also using the walk as an opportunity to try and stop smoking so was probably sweating all the nicotine out my system as I huffed and panted up the first few hills.
We were just walking past Craigallian Loch towards the holiday cottages when I spotted a crane and some guys in hi-vis, and immediately jumped to the conclusion that it must be a TV crew, filming walkers on the way. But no – it was just a construction company repairing the road.
“We were completely drenched in a mixture of rain and sweat.”
we stopped for a quick break to try and cool off as we were completely drenched in a mixture of rain and sweat. We were passed by an older couple who we assumed were just out for a nice stroll, but they were actually doing the full Way, which put us to shame as they were still bone-dry. We would bump into them on numerous occasions over the next few days.
The rain began to ease off, so we really began to enjoy the walk as we moved away from civilisaion and into the open countryside. We were able to start taking more photos at this point too, without the risk of getting our camera or phone wet.
We eventually arrived at the Beech Tree Inn, and stopped for a beer. We were a bit disappointed when the staff directed us towards the back corner, squashed in next to all the other walkers when there was plenty room to sit at other tables. It was clear that they wanted to keep all the walkers separate from the ‘normal’ customers. We had the ‘waterproof’ guys on one side and the old couple on the other, who it turned out were German. We didn’t stay very long, as we were hoping to reach the Garadhban Forest before dark.
“You have to make fun of these situations, or you’d just end up crying and giving up.”
The rain really began to chuck down as we continued on our walk, so we tried to crawl into some bushes and form a makeshift shelter out of our rain covers. It ended up we were just sitting getting wet anyway, so we decided to keep moving.
Our spirits were quite high, despite the rain, and we had a good laugh and a joke along the way. You have to make fun of these situations, or you’d just end up crying and giving up. The walking wasn’t too difficult so we made good progress, apart from one really steep hill on the outskirts of Drymen, which felt like it was never ending!
One piece of advice I’ll give to any newbee walkers is don’t wear lace underwear unless you want to be cut to shreds. Quite a lot of chaffing goes on, especially when you’re wet. I found out the hard way.
The weather brightened up just as we were coming into Drymen, casting golden sunshine over the village and making it look even more lovely than it already is. We popped into the Clachan, supposedly one of the oldest pubs in Scotland, for a well deserved beer (or 3). The two ‘waterproof’ guys from earlier were there wearing charity fundraising t-shirts, and the rest of the bar was filled with tourists (I heard quite a few American accents).
I was having a great time in the pub and was starting to get half drunk. I probably would have stayed longer, but Andy was keen to keep moving so we could get the tent set up before dark – probably a good idea.
We walked for about half an hour away from Drymen and into the Garadhban forest (or what’s left of it, since all the trees have been cut) and found a spot to set up camp. It was only then that we realised we’d forgotten to refill our water bottles at Drymen (schoolboy error!!!) – we only had a tiny bit left which we needed for cooking. We just hoped that we’d be able to find a stream in the morning.
We managed to make some noodles with the little water we had left, and added smoked sausage. By the time we’d finished eating the midges were starting to emerge. (Midges are a biting insect, similar to a mosquito.) There was nothing else to do then but zip up the tent and have an early night.