22nd May 2008 – Inverarnan to Tyndrum – 13.5 miles
Synopsis: Initially walking on a wide stony track beside the road, railway and electricity pylons past many lovely rivers to the edge of the forest outside Crianlarich. Then along shady woodland tracks through the conifers to the main road, from where we cross grassland to reach a wonderful section of heath and moorland taking us into the busy village of Tyndrum
At this point on my walk last year I’d given up and was already back home, licking my wounds and planning an impromptu driving and camping holiday in Scotland. I’d spent an awful three days being flayed alive by the sun and bored to death by the drab, monotonous Welsh farming country at the start of the Offa’s Dyke Path. The West Highland Way is everything that the first few days of Offa’s Dyke is not. It has glorious scenery, long uninterrupted stretches of path, wide vistas and a big, big sky. I know it sounds all camp and poetic to talk about how big the sky is, but until I’d walked in Scotland I don’t think I’d ever seen the sky look so vast and so interesting. And then there are the hills. They’re everywhere. At every turn of the head you have Corbetts and Munros looking down on you. We have hills scattered all over England but if you took all of them together and plonked them down in one spot, they wouldn’t come close to the size and number of Scottish hills.
Now that may sound obvious, but here’s a couple of statistics to put it into some context. On the UK mainland (i.e. excluding Northern Ireland) there are 9 peaks over 4000 feet – all in Scotland. There are 262 peaks between 3000 feet and 4000 feet; 6 of these are in England (all in the Lake District) and 15 are in Wales, leaving 241 in Scotland. That’s 93% of the UK’s “big hills” in Scotland. There are 172 hills on the UK mainland higher than Scafell Pike, nearly all are in Scotland. It took Wainwright 13 years to describe and catalogue the Lakeland Fells and there’s only 214 of them and only 6 of them above 3000 feet. Imagine how long it would take to catalogue the hills of Scotland!
The scenery is pervasive (is that the right word?), it’s everywhere, you can’t fail to be awed by the sheer size of it. And that’s the backdrop to the walk I was doing. It felt fantastic. I wanted to walk slowly and drag the experience out, make it last as long as possible. This is a truly wonderful walk.
I was awake 2 minutes before my alarm and 1 minute before the cockerel started screeching at 07:00. The cockerel woke the pigeons in the roof space above me and they started coo-ing to each other, probably discussing the sleepless night they’d had because of the snoring coming from the fatty in the room below them.
I eased myself out of the crater that I’d formed in the useless bed and used the sink in the corner of the room. No immediate need to get dressed now and wander across the filthy hall to the filthy bathroom and the filthy toilet. At least the sheets on the bed were clean; I’d made sure of that. I guess they must outsource the laundry to someone 🙂
The room was so small I had to keep shuffling bits and pieces here and there to make space for my packing. The double bed takes up nearly all the space in the room, so it was soon covered in all my gear. I packed my cargo bag ready to be collected by AMS and took it to the staff’s recreation room on the first floor, where I’d had to pick it up from the previous day. On the return journey to my room I caught my head a cracking whack on a low beam, it brought tears to my eyes, a loud curse to my lips and I sported a long horizontal bump on my head for several days. I caught it several times over the next few days and each time I winced with the pain and with the painful memory of the Drovers Inn.
What a shit-hole!
Breakfast was served from 08:00, no negotiations possible on that time; so I was sitting patiently at a small table in the dining room at 07:59. I was being watched by countless glass eyes set into numerous hunting trophies mounted on the walls and stuffed game birds in glass cabinets on shelves around the room. A surly waitress took my order for a full Scottish breakfast at about 08:05 and I then waited 20 minutes for it to be served to me. It’s all very well saying breakfast is at 08:00, but surely you’d expect it to be ready at that time?
I was joined by a young couple with a toddler, enjoying a driving holiday in Scotland. They hadn’t booked in advance, just saw the place as they were passing and taken a room the previous night. They were none too impressed either. We whispered conspiratorially about the things we hated about the place while the waitress flitted back and forwards with items for the tables. A young black guy joined us about 08:10, he was walking the Way on his own and he also thought the place needed razing to the ground. When he saw I was staying on my own he asked me if I minded telling him how much I’d paid for my room. I told him I was paying £35 for a small double. He was gobsmacked! He’d paid £67 for his room! Apparently he’d booked through a walking package provider (I can’t remember the name he said) and the rate was £67. I came across someone else later in the walk, another solo walker booking with the same company who’d also paid £67 for the Drovers. Talk about adding insult to injury!
After my awesome Braveheart burger the previous night, I had high hopes for breakfast. They were ridiculously optimistic as it turned out! The breakfast “chef” is not the same person as the evening chef, it can’t be. The best I could possibly describe breakfast, would be average. It had black pudding, which was a nice change, but it was generally poor. I ate what I needed to and said goodbye to my fellow victims.
I wasn’t on the trail until 09:00, my latest start yet.
I crossed back over the River Falloch and dutifully followed the pointless diversion along the river bank and around the back of the Beinglas campsite. You can follow the drive to the main building and still pick up the track.
I joined the path behind a couple of young lads (late teens I guess) with a dog. They had no packs on and no supplies of any kind, so I figured they were out walking the dog, or doing a bit of illicit rabbit hunting maybe. I was wrong, they walked all the way to Crianlarich – which is over 7 miles away. They walked quickly too, they were soon well ahead of me, but the path leads gradually upwards so they were always within sight, until they left the track to drop into Crianlarich. I was quite impressed. My kids, about the same age, would never walk that far – not even if their lives depended on it!
I only had 13 miles to do today, unless I broke the habit of a lifetime and did the “will power” climb to the trig point on Beinn Chaorach. This involved leaving the Way at the 10 mile mark then a 5 mile round trip with a 2000 foot climb, before continuing on to Drymen, 3 miles distant. It looked great on Memory Map, I would have plenty of time and the weather was brilliant, so no excuses eh?
I took it easy, but I still managed to reel in countless walkers on the path ahead of me; 2 foreign girls, 2 lads backpacking, 5 rough Scots backpackers, a mixed party of 3 more backpackers, the mother and daughter, 2 solo walkers and so on. There are so many people walking this path!
The first half of the walk today was mostly on a wide, well maintained track, easily passable by a two-wheel drive vehicle (see picture above). I had chosen to use my Inov-8 trail shoes for this walk and as they are light fell running shoes, they don’t have the depth of sole that normal walking boots do. On most day walks you would never notice this, as generally only a portion of a walk is spent on stony tracks while the rest is spent on grass or peat or grassy tracks. This walk however, was almost solely on gravel or cobbles or stony tracks like today; old military roads, drovers’ roads and the like. Now I’m not complaining, honestly! I didn’t have wet feet for 10 days, not a drop of water got above the level of my sole in all that time. The road surfaces were beginning to take their toll on my feet though. Each evening the soles of my feet would throb for a while, but I had no blisters at all, not even any hotspots, so I stuck with the Inov-8 shoes. Tracks like today though, are a mixed blessing; dry and easy to follow, but tough on the soles.
The path crosses loads of streams, of varying sizes and a couple of very impressive waterfalls can be visited with just a short detour from the Way. There were splendid views all round and the weather was improving, from a slightly overcast start to warm and sunny. When you come across a muddy section of path it stands out as a memorable event, so much so that I had to take a photo of the worst section of track I’d encountered so far! It was awful, I had to break my stride to avoid it.
I crossed the Falloch at Derrydaroch (which is not the title of an old Scottish folk song) and followed the path under the railway, through the little tunnel called a sheep creep. Most people must find this a bit awkward, but at 6’4″ I found it damned inconvenient. It’s smaller on the way out than it is on the way in as well, so I had to almost crawl on my hands and knees to escape. I then passed under the A82, through a corrugated steel drain pipe, which felt a bit odd.
There’s a short, sharp climb after the tunnel; about 150 feet up to a section of old military road. There were probably a dozen people sitting at the top of the incline taking their ease and watching folk climb the hill. This meant of course that it had to be done in one go and without looking like it was any sort of a struggle at all. Surprisingly I didn’t need to pretend at all. I passed a few people on the way up and decided not to stop at the top, but pushed on along the road towards a decision point further down the path.
The decision comes at a tall kissing gate set into the deer fence at the head of Bogle Glen; the decision of course is whether or not to drop down into Crianlarich for lunch in a pub or eat your own sandwiches al fresco. It was a lovely day now and I had plenty of supplies with me, so I decided against the diversion, turned left at the kissing gate and headed up the hill to a viewpoint overlooking Strath Fillan. If you decide not to go into Crianlarich, there is a picnic bench at this viewpoint and on a clear day you can’t ask for a more glorious lunch spot.
It was actually a little early for my lunch and there was already someone sitting at the picnic table, so after taking a few photographs I moved on. The next couple of miles of the Way are an absolute delight. The map shows dense woodland all the way to the next railway and road crossing, so I wasn’t too hopeful. As it turns out the map is somewhat out of date and the route is a mixture of moorland and coniferous forest. There are fantastic views ahead to Ben Challum and Beinn Chaorach and many small streams cross the path. I had this section all to myself as well.
Upon reaching the huge viaduct by the A82, which carries the railway line across a little gorge, I stopped for a few minutes and ate my lunch. The noise from the busy road was a bit of a shock after the blissful peace and quiet of the previous few miles, but you come to expect that on the West Highland Way. There are some incredibly remote and desolate places on the walk, but for the majority of the time you’re never more than a few minutes walk from a main road.
I crossed the A82, passed through a horse paddock and across the bridge over the River Fillan towards Kirton Farm. It would appear that Kirton Farm and its neighbour Auchtertyre are taking part in a public information initiative along with the Scottish Agricultural College – all along this section of the walk there are little notice boards explaining some of the local features and pointing out the names of the nearby mountains.
A short distance from Kirton Farm is Auchtertyre. There is a new (not on the OS map yet) campsite with more of the weird wooden wigwams I saw at Beinglas. Importantly for walkers, there’s also a shop with ice creams and refreshments. It was here that I had planned to take the long diversion to the summit of Beinn Chaorach and the trig point. Unfortunately, at this point, my legs took control of my body and in a scene reminiscent of Wallace being marched around the town in the “Wrong Trousers”, my bottom half was off down the lane towards Tyndrum, whilst my top half was shouting “Hang on, what about the trig point!”
In no time at all my rebellious legs had carried me across the A82 (again) and into the Tyndrum Community Woodland. This is a lovely section of the Way, coming close to the waterfalls at Dalrigh, which is a delightful spot for a rest, continuing along lightly wooded paths, across sections of heather moorland and passing a beautiful little lochan where “they” say Robert the Bruce’s sword was hidden (or possibly lost).
I could see Glengarry House, my B&B for the night, across the burn and beside the A82, but it was still way too early to turn up there, so I passed through the desolate wasteland created by the local lead mining industry and followed the Way into Tyndrum. The village is tiny, yet incredibly busy. It also manages the unusual distinction of having two railway stations.
I visited the shop and bought myself a nice cold bottle of Diet Coke and then struggled to find anywhere to sit and drink it. The area in front of the shops was packed with tourists, either coach tourists or those that had arrived in their own vehicles, mixed in were a few hikers looking like I felt. It was quite a shock to the system. I’d not seen this many people in the same place for about 4 days – since I left Glasgow in fact and it was bizarre to find them in this place, so far from anywhere (except the main road). There was lots of noise and hustle and bustle – completely alien to the way I was feeling myself.
I headed for the pub and some respite from the tourists, who were all happily enjoying the warm afternoon sunshine. I would happily swap the summer sun for the peace and quiet inside the pub. In fact it was empty, just the barman and me. I found a comfortable corner and wrote today’s entry into my journal. I left the pub at about 15:30 and headed back along the road to my B&B, to arrive about 16:00. It’s not the best location in the world for a walker, there’s no footpath beside the A82 and Glengarry House is situated about two thirds of a mile from the village. If however, you read their confirmation letter properly, they tell you of a much better path across the heather from the West Highland Way footpath!
I was met at the door by a surprisingly young man, with a broad Yorkshire accent and a welcoming demeanour. Andy and Ellen bought the B&B a year or so ago after moving to Tyndrum from Yorkshire. I cannot recommend the place highly enough. From the first “hello” at the door, to the “goodbye” in the morning I was treated like royalty and always with a smile, nothing was too much trouble for them.
I was offered tea or coffee as soon as I came in the door and it was accompanied by a huge chunk of homemade flapjack. My bag had already been placed in my large twin room, which although not en-suite, had the use of a well appointed private bathroom just opposite. I showered and changed and wrote some more of my journal. This room, like most of the rooms I’d had so far, did not have a TV in it. Now this suits me just fine, as the only thing I normally like a TV for on a trip like this is the weather forecast, but I had a good phone signal so I was able to get an Internet connection for the weather. It does seem a bit unusual though; nearly all the B&B’s I’ve stayed in previously have a TV in them. Perhaps it’s a Scottish thing? Several of the rooms further along the Way were also TV-less.
My hosts were amazed at the efforts Pete had gone to, to provide me with a drink for the evening. They handed over his envelope which pointed me to the Tyndrum Lodge Hotel. Tyndrum by the way is pronounced Tyne-drum, rather than Tin-drum which takes a bit of getting used to after you’ve been calling it the latter in your head for so long. The TLH was about average, with no draught beers, another common fault I’d found at a lot of pubs and hotels. The food was hot, which is about all it had going for it. The “Real Food Cafe” next to the TIC seemed to have a much larger clientele and they do Fish & Chips, so perhaps that would have been a better bet for tea?
I returned to the shop attached to the petrol station and stocked up with drinks and vittals for the next two days – this is the last shop until Kinlochleven. They were also selling some of the best postcards I have ever seen. Some of the scenes on them were breathtaking; Ben Nevis with a thin layer of cloud hovering about half way up the hill, as if a white line had been drawn horizontally across the picture. Shots of Rannoch Moor and Aonach Eagach, Buachaille Etive Mor and Glen Coe. I bought more than I needed and then set off along the road again to the B&B.
I spent a quiet evening writing the postcards out and doing the usual chores. I sent the Ben Nevis card to my new Grandson! He’s only 7 months old, but I told him to keep the card safe somewhere and when he’s older we would climb the hill together and watch the sun come up. I have high hopes for Harry, I’m hoping he’ll be helping his old Grandad up the hills in a few years time 🙂