Sunday, July 29, 2007

Walking the West Highland Way - Episode 1: First Steps

Arriving at Milngavi Travel Inn I was very much relieved and grateful when the friendly and attractive girl at the reception desk said it would be alright for me to leave my car in the hotel car park for the duration of the walk. This had been one of my chief concerns and worries. I was terrified I was going to have to leave the car in some exposed and hazardous spot and find it with no wheels or burnt out or not even there any more but for a pile of broken glass on my return. Overjoyed by the receptionist's cooperation I once more felt life was worth living again and my mind was able to look forward to starting the heroic walk the next morning, after hopefully, a good night's sleep. I was sharing a room with my brother. On any future trip of this ilk, I will not be sharing a room with anyone. The reason for this is because I snore, and I snore loudly (so I am told). Shortly after I had drifted off into La La Land the raised voice of my brother invaded my soul telling me to wake up because I was snoring! I wanted to thump him. What the hell was I supposed to do! He wanted to share with me - I didn't ask him. I then laid there trying to monitor my breathing as to whether I might be snoring or not! This does not help one get a good nights sleep, but eventually I snapped back into consciousness and it was time for breakfast. My brother declined to share a room with me for the remainder of the trip apart from a bunkhouse at Kinlochleven where all four of us were crammed into one room - wonderful.

Anyway, that's the snoring bit out of the way, now on with the walk. We set out from the start point in Milngavi shopping centre at eighteen minutes past ten. We had only been walking for about ten minutes or so, when my brother, who is five years older than me - and I'm no spring chicken - was hanging back from me, my eldest son and my nephew and chatting to two attractive girls who had themselves only just started the walk. I did wonder to myself how much time he planned to ingratiate himself upon them, but they seemed happy enough with his company. Eventually, he separated from them and we were walking together again. Anyway, later that day we chanced to meet them again at a wayside inn where we stopped for refreshment. They were instrumental in pointing out to us that before we reached our goal for that day, we would have to walk up and over the dreaded Conic Hill before arriving at our hotel in Balmaha. None of us had really researched the walk as much as common sense might have suggested and so the news came as a shocking surprise to us all. I got out my map, put on my reading specs and had a look. Yes - no mistake - there it was waiting to torture us in our final staggerings of agonised exhaustion into the Promised Land of Balmaha! We seemed to walk a long way before sighting Loch Lomond. Actually we did walk a long way before sighting Loch Lomond! The long way seemed even longer by the fact that we were weighed down by full rucksacks. Now I should say at this point that it is a very long time since I last walked with a full rucksack. There is a service provided by a company called Travel Lite which takes your rucksack on to the next point for you - at a price - of course! However, we had decided we would have no truck with such a wimpish cop out - apart from the fact we didn't camp at all - we all hate camping!

As me and my nephew were walking through a small village with a bridge over a river - my brother and eldest son had gone on ahead, no togetherness here; forget "always go at the pace of the slowest member", we espied a vision from heaven in the form of an incredibly attractive girl carrying a seriously enormous rucksack with tent and all! We got chatting to her - as you do - and it transpired she was Swiss and was not only walking the West Highland Way - alone - but was aiming to reach the very north of Scotland before she was due to return home in about three weeks time. Unfortunately, at the pace she was walking under the weight of her baggage, it was self evident she was not going to make it to the next pub, let alone the north of Scotland. Realizing that if we stayed chatting to her we too wouldn't make it to the next pub - and that would be unthinkable - we bade our farewells and struck out to catch up with our compatriots unaware that we would meet this heavenly vision in a quite unexpected place a few days later.

We had walked many miles from our start point in Milngavie, and the strain was starting to tell. I started to pine for a nice cup of tea, an armchair and a pair of slippers, but instead I had a seemingly endless route march into the evening with no immediate end in sight. On top of this, the weather was starting to get threatening with dark menacing clouds creeping forwards from the horizon. The next part of the walk involved walking through a forest, before striking onwards and upwards to Conic Hill. We presently came upon some stark warning signs informing us we were not to follow the path into the forest because of logging operations and we might get run down by some hairy arsed logging lorry driver. My brother, not being one to snap to attention in the face of authority, let alone straighten his tie, suggested we should ignore the detour and continue on regardless. After all, it was Sunday, and the chances of finding anyone working was pretty slim. We boldly went into the unknown, our ultimate fate a mystery.
As we walked forward it was as if some dark force was leading us on, like a malevolent presence beckoning us forward through the stupor of our exhaustion, with only our grim determination to see us through to the end! After several hundred yards we saw logs - lots of them- and large areas of forest laid waste as if by some unseen demonic presence. It was clear we had better watch our backs. Presently, we thought we could hear- no- not hear - but feel a vibration in the ground working its way up through our feet and blurring our vision. We began to dream dreams and see visions of dark shadowy creatures peering out at us through the ensuing gloom. Their eyes like glowing red coals and searing into the heart of our very being. The vibrations grew more intense and came with a rhythmic pulsation like something out of an episode of Quatermass. Turning a corner, we came upon a group of shiny metallic disc shaped objects hovering just a couple of feet above the ground. We thought we could hear people crying...... or was it screaming......??
Finally, we rejoined the track at the end of the diversion, and struck out into more open countryside where we glimpsed our first sighting of Loch Lomond. As we came upon Conic Hill, so did the cloud, and finally the rain. I realized that although I was wearing waterproofs, it was now time to change out of my trainers and into boots. It was essential that whatever else we might do, we must not get our feet wet as that could spell disater. My compatriots went on ahead so I struggled on alone, my heart sinking when I came across the first very steep climb to get altitude up the hill. Stumbling onwards, and cursing every step - it was now evening - I came upon my nephew who had held back and waited for me. I was grateful for the company. Eventually, we reached the highest point of the track and had a glorious view of Balmaha where we were headed. I took several photographs. The sun had broken through the clouds aiming beams of light over the Loch.
Next came the worst bit - the descent. Walking steep downhill over rugged stones in the wet when you want to collapse into a heap is not to be recomended. It does your knees and ankles in. However, not wishing to spend the night up the mount - I decided to suffer the dark descent. Reaching the bottom, we found ourselves in a car park with a visitor centre and lots of touristy signs. We walked forwards, unsure of how far we needed to go to find our hotel. After a few short yards - there it was - just the other side of the road from the car park. I collapsed on my bed happy that at last I could finally relax and shed the aches and pains of the day. Only another 76 miles or so to go!


Andy Mule said...

Enjoyed your latest post. Especially the snoring bit!

Anonymous said...

snoring is evil.