West Highland Way: Day One

19th May 2008 – Glasgow to Drymen – 13 miles

Synopsis: A gentle warm up through suburban parks and woodland, leading to open countryside with views to the hills ahead. Descending across grasslands towards the wooded hill of Dumgoyach and then easy walking along the dismantled railway to Gartness, from there a quiet hedge-lined road walk into Drymen

The Barloch’s unique split level bed failed to keep me awake and my alarm woke me at 07:00. I packed the remainder of my gear into the cargo bag and was downstairs for breakfast at 07:30. I will spare you the gruesome details and any more of my moaning, suffice is to say breakfast was a poor affair. It had me wishing for a few biscuits and half a can of cold diet coke.

There was a young couple already in the dining room when I arrived and they announced they were walking the Way in five days. The girl appeared a little nervous about this schedule and seemed to be seeking confirmation that it was actually achievable. To be fair it’s probably not that difficult to do it in five days, but I’m not sure you’d actually enjoy it. At least they were taking the sensible option of using a baggage courier company. I won’t give Angry Frank the benefit of naming the company they were using – but we all know who it is 🙂

I was out the front door at 08:15 and quite proud of myself. My usual character would have tried to disturb my noisy neighbour by making a lot of noise this morning, as retribution for the night before. I decided that it was the Barloch Guest House that deserved my vengeance though and I made a point of slamming the door really hard on the way out – that’ll teach ’em.

Obelisk at the start of the WHW
Obelisk at the start of the WHW

I walked down to the obelisk again and picked up the path from the beginning. The town centre was empty and I saw no other walkers preparing to set off. Today is about twelve miles, a nice easy start to the walk, planned that way of course after my disaster last year on Offa’s Dyke. The back to back 20 mile first two days were real killers.

In order to make the most of the day, I had planned to stop at the Glengoyne distillery and take the tour. This takes about an hour and would mean that the pub nearby, the Beech Tree, would then be open for me to stop and have a leisurely lunch, before proceeding on to Drymen. All these plans turned to ashes however, when I realised, after about 25 minutes of walking that I’d left my wallet in the pocket of my other trousers. Neatly packed in my luggage.

I had an emergency £5 in my pack and a couple of quid and change in my pocket. Not enough to do the whisky tour or have lunch, but enough for a drink in the pub in Drymen when I arrived. I paused on the path and thought about dashing back to the guest house. There was a good chance that by the time I arrived, AMS would already have collected my bag. Bugger! Nothing for it, but to push on and take my time.

Twelve miles across an essentially flat course would normally take me about 3 hrs 30 mins, which would put me arriving in Drymen at about 11:45, way too early. I couldn’t really turn up at the B&B until 16:00, especially as their confirmation letter had suggested that this was the time they normally receive guests. There was nothing for it; I was going to have to walk slowly!!

I don’t do slow. I used to do patient waiting for Rob, but that wasn’t walking slowly, it was walking at my normal speed and taking long rests while he caught up. I had to develop a new mind set – and quickly.

The early part of the path out of Milngavie is a bit rough, it looks like it’s used by most of the local kids on the way to and from school and consequently there’s lots of litter. It’s also used by a lot of dog walkers and consequently there’s lots of dog shit. Worst of all there’s this new breed of ‘Dog Shit Tree’; they’re the trees with the little bags of dog shit hanging from them – they are fast becoming the most numerous type of tree in the UK.

Long views towards Ben Lomond
Long views towards Ben Lomond

The weather was dull and overcast, a big change from yesterday’s sun and warmth. I had my fleece on for a while until things warmed up. It was to be almost the last time I would use the fleece for four days!

As I approached Craigallian Loch I found 3 or 4 guys camped by the loch, my first sight of other WHW walkers today. This walk seems to be much more heavily populated with backpackers than the C2C, which is my only other benchmark. Perhaps the more relaxed attitude to walkers and wild camping in Scotland lends itself to this mode of walking? Probably half of the people I passed over the length of the walk had big packs and other associated evidence of the fact that they were camping the route.

Upon reaching Easter Carbeth I got my first view of Ben Lomond (see picture left). The dull, overcast start to the day was a distant memory and the top of this most southerly Munro was clear against the blue sky. It was at this point that I also caught sight of two guys on the path behind me.

The path has now left the woods, the dog walkers and the school kids and it’s much more in the style of a country walk. The view to my right was hilly and inviting. You follow the edge of the Campsie Fells for a while, with Dumgoyne and Dumfoyn appearing as twin hummocks at the end of the line of Black Craig.

Fortunately there’s no cow pastures, no rutted fields and no stiles – this is not Offa’s Dyke!

Dumgoyne and Dumfoyn and the long craggy face of Black Craig, seen from Mugdock Country Park
Dumgoyne and Dumfoyn and the long craggy face of Black Craig, seen from Mugdock Country Park

The distant views to Ben Lomond and the other, closer hills ahead kept my eyes from the ground and the weather was playing its part by providing a glorious blue backdrop to the scene. As I passed the green, wooded hillock of Dumgoyach I came across a pair of pheasant cocks fighting over a female, typically she was more interested in a third cock that the sparring partners hadn’t seen yet. As I sat on a stile for a short rest I found a tiny rabbit at my feet, possibly too small to have developed a fear of people, or possibly too frightened to run, I’m not sure which. Later in the afternoon I also saw a weasel scurry across the track in front of me, although it stopped for a quick look at me I didn’t get the chance to photograph it.

Lots of wildlife activity in May, fortunately none of it midgie related!
Lots of wildlife activity in May, fortunately none of it midgie related!
The wooded hillock of Dumgoyach
The wooded hillock of Dumgoyach

Shortly after you pass Dumgoyach Farm, at the foot of the wooded hill of the same name, you join the dismantled railway line that makes up the next 4 miles of the Way. This is easy, level walking with views ahead and to both sides. I smelled the Glengoyne distillery before I saw it. The distinctive warm, rich smell came drifting across the fields that separate it from the path. Within seconds I cleared a hedgerow and the white building came into sight. It would have been nice to have the choice to visit it, and for those that do, there’s a handy path that leads from the Way across the fields. You need to walk a short way past the distillery and then the path cuts back towards it.

The Glengoyne Distillery - you can enjoy their product at most pubs for the next 20 miles
The Glengoyne Distillery – you can enjoy their product at most pubs for the next 20 miles

A few minutes further along the old railway line is the Beech Tree Inn. An older lady was just getting out of her car and she called across to ask me how long it had taken me to get from Milngavie. She’d dropped her husband off there at 09:15 and she was planning on walking back to meet him, but wanted to make sure he hadn’t already gone past this point. I told her there was little chance of that, as I’d left Milngavie at 08:15 and no-one had passed me yet. She thanked me and set off back down the path towards Milngavie.

The Beech Tree sports a little notice by the front door that says between the months of April and October it opens from 10:30 each day. It’s a lie. I got there at 11:05 and the door was locked. It was a bit frustrating, but sort of what I was expecting. There is a huge beer garden and a separate, almost segregated, area for walkers to sit by the path. Almost as if the owners don’t want walkers sitting with their other guests. Obviously not wanted, I pushed on further down the path to see if I could find somewhere to rest up for a while.

As with most dismantled railways I have walked on, the path is smooth and flat. This one now runs between trees, with great views to the east and the first view of Conic Hill. It’s hard to walk slowly in these circumstances – but I tried. The path has a raised bank on one side and at intervals the bank is studded with raised manholes. I found one of these, just after the sewage works at Drumbeg Loan, shaded by a line of trees and sat down to eat the light lunch I had packed in case the pub was shut. I spent a good while here and watched a few people pass by me, all appeared to be walking the Way, all consulting guide books or maps, all enjoying themselves. The two guys I’d seen earlier in the morning finally caught me and passed by with a cheery greeting.

Conic Hill and Ben Lomond from my lunch stop
Conic Hill and Ben Lomond from my lunch stop

After my long leisurely lunch I pushed on and after more pleasant walking I came to Gartness. I stopped to remove a stone from my shoe (I had decided to wear my Inov-8 trail shoes for the walk) and was passed by a guy wearing full length knee gaiters (beige ones at that) over his heavy trousers and waterproof jacket. I had just been wondering why I hadn’t put my shorts on today and here was this guy in his cold, wet weather gear. Some people will wear them in any weather.

Gartness is a charming little village with an old bridge over what I think is Endrick Water. Unfortunately Gartness signifies the end of the country walking and the start of the short road walking section into Drymen. The road is very quiet and lined with wild flowers and hedges in places. It also has many open sections with great views to the hills ahead. Not a bad section, despite being on the road.

One of the splendid views from the road section into Drymen
One of the splendid views from the road section into Drymen

There’s a trig point located by the road side on the way into Drymen. It made a nice change not to have to divert for a mile or two to bag a trig. The pillar is nestled between gorse bushes on the bank beside the road. Climbing the bank to get a picture of the trig I was amazed to see a huge field filled with rusting machinery, oil drums, corrugated sheeting and other assorted detritus. This awful scene was backdropped by Conic Hill, the bigger hills beyond and the first sight of Loch Lomond – quite a contrast.

Disused Sand Quarry outside Drymen
Disused Sand Quarry outside Drymen

It turns out that this is a disused sand quarry and it’s an absolute disgrace that this sort of industrial litter should be left rotting in a field in this way. I don’t suppose all of it dates back to when the quarry was in service, I’m sure much of it has been added by local farmers, those ‘custodians of the countryside’. Even so, there must be some responsibility on those people who made a profit from the site, to leave it in a respectable condition.

I followed the path into Drymen and despite all my best efforts at taking my time, I was still way too early for the B&B, it was only 13:30 when I entered the village. I went to the Clachan Inn, which has been a licensed establishment since 1734, making it Scotland’s oldest pub. I must say it doesn’t look very old and maybe there has been a pub on this site with the same name since 1734, but I bet it wasn’t the one that’s standing there now. I chose a seat in the quieter side of the pub and paid £1.30 for a Diet Coke from a can. I sat and wrote some notes in my journal, watching and listening to the other people in the bar. I sat there as long as possible – in fact I managed to nurse that can of coke for over 90 minutes!

Drymen is a lot like Reeth (and many other villages as well), it has a central village green with pubs and shops located around the outside. Like Reeth it’s a hub for walkers and I saw dozens of them as I watched life pass by through the pub window. Many of them were obviously walking the Way, I saw quite a few copies of Charlie Loram’s “Red Book” being clutched in hands. The truth of the matter is though that you don’t need a guide book to walk the Way. You don’t need a map and compass; you don’t need anything other than your eyes. The path is signed to the point of paranoia. At every possible point of confusion there is a West Highland Way post with the thistle logo on the top.

Unless you’ve walked the Way before though, there’s no way you could know this, so I’d printed all my maps from Memory Map. I carried my GPS of course, but that was tucked away in the top pocket of my pack and I carried in my trouser pocket the sheets of A5 paper that I’d printed each days maps on. Today I had four sheets of A5 and I referred to them as the day went on so I knew how far I had to go to the next landmark or point of interest. The GPS was there for backup and to record the tracklogs for each days walking.

I finally had to buy another Diet Coke to enable me to stay in the Clachan, but at 15:30 I ventured out into the sunshine of the village square and sought out the local convenience store. Rather surprisingly for a village the size of Drymen it has quite a large and well stocked mini-supermarket, as well as a Post Office selling much of the same type of produce. I purchased some supplies for lunch the following day and then headed off down the street to find my B&B.

Clachan Inn, Drymen
Clachan Inn, Drymen

Thankfully, the Lander B&B (run by Frances and David Lander) is a much more traditional establishment than the Barloch from last night. I was welcomed in at 16:00 and shown to my room where my cargo bag was waiting for me. I was offered tea and biscuits and spent an enjoyable 30 minutes chatting to the hostess. We were soon joined by a couple of German girls who were also walking the Way and staying at the B&B that night. During our conversation it came to light that they still had no accommodation for Bridge of Orchy, so Frances immediately went into “Good Samaritan” mode and made one or two phone calls. Within 10 minutes she had secured them spaces in the bunk house; much to the amazement of the girls.

I left them chatting and went to shower and organise myself for the day ahead. The bathroom is shared between to the two rooms that the Lander’s normally let out, but it’s clean and friendly. I was soon back in my room doing the post-walk chores and pre-walk checks we all end up doing. I was quite surprised to hear a loud, familiar voice outside my door, shouting into his mobile phone. It seemed that Loud Londoner had followed me! He was telling his friend (who I imagined was holding his phone a good few inches from his ear), all about the joys of long distance walking in Scotland. Fortunately the layout of the B&B was such that he must be in a different part of the house to me and there was no way he could keep me awake tonight.

On my arrival at Landers, Frances had handed me an envelope. She said that someone had dropped round the previous week and left it for me. Inside was a small square of laminated paper with a picture of Thornthwaite Beacon on it. The note said that a similar envelope was waiting for me at The Clachan, where the contents could be redeemed for a pint and a dram.

The drinking voucher had been left by Rambling Pete. I’ve helped Pete set up his web site and publish a number of walk journals over the past few months and a couple of weeks ago we’d managed to meet up and walk the Kentmere Round. Pete had walked the West Highland Way the previous week and he’d promised to leave me a drink, as recompense for my efforts, at the Nevis Inn at the foot of Ben Nevis. It seems he’d decided to take this a little further and he actually left me enough for a couple of drinks and in one case enough for a meal, at each stop along the route!

I had an early tea in the Clachan; it can get very busy in there in the evening, so it’s best to arrive early and get a table. The bar staff were delighted to finally meet the mysterious person the envelope had been left for. In fact this was the reaction I received at all the pubs and even in the B&B’s. The people were equally charmed and amazed that a person should go to such efforts for a friend. I must admit to feeling rather overwhelmed at Pete’s generosity and incredibly grateful – Thanks Pete, the beers are on me for the next few rounds! 🙂

All the other guests in the Clachan were obviously walking the Way, I think there must have been half a dozen different nationalities in there and funnily enough I didn’t see any of them again. The food was fairly simple (which suits me just fine) and reasonably priced. The single serving girl was doing a fantastic job and all the dishes were being delivered quickly and efficiently. The selection of beer isn’t great; unless you like electric Tennents, but there’s a fantastic choice of malt whiskies.

I retired to the B&B, arranged for an early breakfast (07:45), read for a while and then had an early night.

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