7th May 2023: Drymen to Aberfoyle – 10.9 miles
I slept really well considering I was in a strange (single) bed and an unfamiliar location. I awoke about 6am, but managed to drop off again for 90 minutes. I’d resolved to not leave until about 10am, mainly because I only have 11 miles to do today, but also the forecast I saw yesterday said the day warmed up nicely as it went on. As such, I had no subconscious alarm clock ticking down in my head and I feel like I’ve caught up with yesterday’s lost sleep.
I wandered over to the Spar at about 8am to find something for a breakfast picnic in my room, hoping that the guy who’d been working last night wasn’t on duty again! I had a mixed bag of luck – there were two ladies working the counter, but they had nothing resembling pastries, no brioche, no breads of the chocolate! I ended up with two iced apple turnovers and a tiny bottle of milk. At least I wouldn’t have suffer the UHT sachets!
I got back to my room and tried the TV, hoping to watch the news and pick up another weather forecast, but the smart TV had no Internet connection, so it’s basically a black mirror. The decent WiFi signal from last night was also gone from my phone. The router (or possibly a range extender) is right outside my room, so I rebooted it, but still had nothing. My phone has no signal, so I’m basically cut off from the outside world! I’m writing this up before I leave as I have nothing else to do. Packing up will take about 10 mins, if I do it slowly, and I’m glad I have a bunch of downloaded playlists on my tablet, so at least I can listen to some music while I wait.
I’ve watched a couple of YouTube videos from people who have done the Rob Roy Way and confirmed it on the map – the first four miles of today’s walk are along a road, and even once you leave the road, you’re still on a tarmac track for another mile or two. While I was trying to think if I’d ever started a walk in the rain before, I was also trying to recall any long path I’d done that starts with a 4 mile road walk. I can’t think of any, although plenty start off along a road as you leave a village, or town, every other one almost immediately picks up a path or a track. I’m not pre-empting a week of moaning about the state of the path (although you’re probably going to be shit out of luck if you’re hoping for none of that), but it’s not a very auspicious start! I’ve researched the route and I know a lot of it is on multi use surfaces, as was the Speyside Way last year, and I’ve made plans to try and circumvent some of those (but more on that in later installments).
A word on Kit
I’ve got new boots and new socks for this walk, so that should count in my favour in terms of the impact on my feet. Last year on the Speyside Way, the Inov-8 Roclites I used were almost worn through on the sole and they offered no protection from the harsh surfaces. This year I have some new Salomon X-Ultra 4 Mids, with some Darn Tough Spur cushioned socks – fingers crossed they help.
I’ve pared back my kit a little bit this year, and changed my rucksack. For the last 13 years I’ve used a Golite Jam pack and it’s been absolutely brilliant, but last year it started to fall apart, so I went through the difficult process of selecting a new pack. I listed all the essential elements I need in both a day pack and a multi day pack and came up with the Lowe Alpine Air Zone Trail 30 – it was 300g heavier than the Jam, but it has an air zone between my back and the pack, so helps with my sweaty back and cheek chafe issues.
My base weight for this walk is 5.7kg, my pack weight (with water and food) is just under 8kg, and my skin out weight is just under 10kg. That compares quite favourably to last year’s weight, even with a heavier pack.
I’m wearing one set of clothes for the whole week and I don’t care if they’re a bit whiffy by the end, it’s my whiff! I have a Smartwool base layer, a Craghoppers Kiwi shirt, a really lightweight Regatta fleece, Montane Terrapants and a Montane Air Jacket outer shell. I don’t carry overtrousers as the Terrapants dry quite quickly and I don’t mind wet legs. I wear the baselayer all the time and the shirt is my default next layer, unless it’s chilly when I may swap it for the fleece, or combine them if it’s very cold. The coat is only deployed if it’s raining, or the wind is biting.
I only carry one set of overnight clothes; underwear, clean socks, lightweight trousers and a long sleeve polo shirt. I have a small bag with tech stuff in it; couple of charging cables, wall plug, battery pack in case of battery drain during the day and a small stand for my phone/tablet. I have two phones, one I use all day and one spare in my pack in case of emergencies. I also have an Android tablet for watching movies on in the evening – this is my biggest luxury and accounts for over half a kilo on its own.
I have a first aid kit of course and a shit kit, a couple of sit mats (one to sit on, one to rest my feet on) and other minor paraphernalia associated with daily comfort and hygiene.
On the whole it’s a kit list that’s been honed over the past few years of walking multi day paths without a baggage courier. I could go lighter but don’t really feel the need to.
As planned, I set out at almost exactly 10am. The sky was overcast, it wasn’t cold to begin with, but it also wasn’t what you’d call warm, on the plus side there was no wind at all though. I took a couple of photos of the village and visited the starting point, the painted bus shelter, and set out along the road. It climbs steadily away from the village and once it leaves the last of the houses behind, it’s just a single track lane with passing places. It’s not quiet either, although the majority of traffic that passed me were bicycles rather than cars, of which there were probably only half a dozen or so.
An old guy huffed past me on a touring bike and panted a quick hello as he struggled up the hill. A little way ahead he got off and started pushing his bike, he instantly became a target. I closed on him slowly over the next mile or so, several other bikes passing us both in the meantime. I caught him just as we approached a bend in the road and we chatted for a few yards. He sounded Dutch or German and he said he was doing Cycle Route 7, which shares much of its length with the Rob Roy Way for the next 50 miles. He’d started in Newcastle and was expecting to finish next Monday. He was struggling to even push his bike at this point and he made an excuse and stopped. I pushed on up the hill, fully expecting to be passed by him later as the hill flattened out.
It’s 4 miles along the road, but the scenery is excellent, albeit somewhat muted at the moment, it’s more brown than green right now. Spring has definitely sprung down where I live, but it still has some way to go up here. I reckon it’s probably 6 weeks behind us. The spring lambs are even more than that, we saw the first newborns around the end of Feb, here they seem to have only just been born. It’s amazing how much difference you can see in just 300 miles or so.
Sure enough 30 minutes or so later, my friend came past. He slowed and we chatted again for a moment. He is German, and now the hill was in his favour he was keen to push on, so I wished him luck and waved him off.
Soon enough (sooner than I’d expected in fact) I reached the turn off for the Rob Roy Way, leaving the road but continuing along a quieter tarmac lane. Let me quickly provide some context for that remark. I’ve been training for this summer’s walking since Christmas and I’ve averaged 5 miles a day pretty much all year. As I live in the flatlands of Cheshire I push myself by walking as fast as I can. I was initially averaging about 3.7mph on my daily walks, and this is now 4.0 or 4.1mph, even over some of my longer 10 mile training walks. Even though I’d basically been trying to take it easy this morning, I’d still averaged 3mph up the hill. I reached the 4 mile turn off after only 1 hour 15 minutes. I found it hard to slow down when I’d become used to walking flat out!
I reached a set of steps by an old Victorian aqueduct and took a break. It was only 11:30 but I had a Boost bar and a swig of my drink and said hello to a couple of people walking back towards Drymen. In fact I saw more people on today’s walk than I met the whole time on the Speyside Way, I do hope that doesn’t continue! Most of them have been cyclists and dog walkers, but I never felt the solitude of the long distance walker today.
A little further along, at another very impressive set of Victorian water-based infrastructure I passed four blokes who looked like they were out for a long walk, having a break on a parapet, but none of them looked interested in talking so I continued on without breaking stride.
The whole middle part of today’s walk is punctuated with impressive stone structures, all related to getting water into Glasgow. There’s aqueducts and towers and loads of little bunkers that look they could be pumping stations. They are all old and weathered though, so they don’t feel particularly jarring in this rural setting.
In my mind, today’s walk was broken into three sections. The first one being the road walk to Old Drymen Road, the second one being the track and forestry road between there and the 7 mile marker near Maol Ruadh. The final section was the nicest, mostly through the tight-packed pine plantation, on an old forest road.
The views improved as the day progressed, and so did the weather. I’d actually felt quite cold as I reached the high point on the road climb out of Drymen, and I’d considered adding another layer, or putting my coat on, but I put my hands in my pocket instead and that helped. The third section saw me walking under high white clouds with blue patches of sky breaking out between them. It was warm too and I ended up with sleeves rolled up and feeling quite comfortable.
I took a wrong turn at Clashmore, a lovely looking house set right in the middle of the forest, miles from the nearest tarmac road. There was a RRW marker on a post, but I’d been expecting to lose height rather than gain it at this point, so I chose to interpret the marker as pointing downhill, I was wrong. So as well as adding a couple of hundred extra yards, I had to climb back up to the right track, all done in plain sight of a group of about 20 walkers. They all saw me look at my phone and do a 180 and walk back up the hill! Is there anything more embarrassing than making a navigational cockup in front of an audience?
I really enjoyed the final section through the forest. I found a stack of large logs that offered a nice seat and I stopped for lunch. I took off my shoes to air my feet, ate my scotch pie and a KitKat Chunky and said hello to about 20 cyclists who came past over the course of the 20 mins I was sat there. I’m not used to seeing so many people on my walks in Scotland!
About 2 miles from Aberfoyle I saw a couple coming towards me with a small dog. They hailed me as I got close and they were a mother and daughter and they looked a bit fraught. They said they were lost and could I show them where they were on their map? Their map was shit, it was one of those tourist maps that shows key points of interest in the area. I don’t think they were lost as such, just unsure what to do. They said they’d wanted to go for a circular walk through the forest, and they’d come from Aberfoyle. The track we were on was pretty much a straight shot from the town and all they had to do to return to safety was turn round and go back. I talked them out of going any further with the map they had. There’s a maze of forest tracks around here and they were much more likely to get properly lost than they were to find a route back to the town using the map they had. I showed them my phone, the route back to Aberfoyle and they agreed it was best to turn round. They asked what app I was using as they wanted to do more walking, but they’d feel safer with a proper map on their phone. As much as I wanted to recommend Memory Map to them, it’s not really an app for a novice walker, whereas the OS app shows local walks that you can download to your phone, so I pointed them to that and said my farewells. They thanked me profusely and said they’d have probably died in the forest without my help, but I think they were just relieved. Truth is I’d been tripping over folk all day and they’d have found someone else quickly enough. Nevertheless, I walked a bit slower and made sure I was within their sight all the way down the track into the town and as we approached the car park I waved to them and they waved back. Good deed for the day done ✅.
It was only about 2.30pm, so I found a pub and ordered a pint of Diet Coke. I sat down, took off my boots and knee braces and started to write up some of today’s journal. Around 3.20pm the sky darkened and it looked like it might begin to rain, so I decided to give my B&B a shot. I popped into the Co-op and got some bits for lunch tomorrow and then wandered down the street to find Mayfield B&B.
I was welcomed with open arms by Margaret and she waved away any question that I was too early. Apparently, I could have turned up any time after 1pm and she’d have been fine. We stood and chatted in her kitchen for a while, and we agreed a time for breakfast and my departure in the morning. The weather forecast looks bloody awful tomorrow, and I only have 12 miles to do, so I’m thinking of leaving as late as possible, as the weather looks to improve after lunch, albeit still mostly raining.
Margaret booked me a table at the Fairie Tree, just over the road. I was cynical enough to suspect she was on commission, but to be honest it was quiet good. I had a steak pie and a pint of Landlord and it all went down nicely.
I’m back in my room now and I’m going to settle down and watch something on my tablet. Over the past few months I’ve been working my way through old British comedy series. I’m currently watching Jeeves and Wooster, with Fry and Laurie and it’s aged really well I think. More tomorrow!