I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery – air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy.”
September 15, 2019
Due to booking my hike relatively last-minute (if you are considering hiking the West Highland Way, I would advise booking accommodation at least three months in advance; wild camping is allowed in some sections, however even campsites can be hard to come by), I needed to be strategic in mapping out my days on the trail. As luck would have it, I ended up having a short day on Day 2 – 7 miles – as to include Rowardennan Lodge Youth Hostel in my itinerary. I had been contemplating heading up Ben Lomond, the famous munro, but rumoured bad weather led me directly to the hostel instead. I am glad I opted to put my feet up, because my bunkmate, Cami, had attempted the climb only to be met with conditions far too grim for summiting. I had a much longer day ahead of me, and so after a rest, a hot meal, and some lovely chats with my bunkmates, I was not long to fall asleep.
This morning, I enjoyed breakfast with Cami, during which we spoke French! An air traffic controller from just outside of Paris, Cami was travelling through Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park en route to Edinburgh to take an English language course. I was inspired by her willingness to practice improve her English, and she was very patient with me as I practiced my French.
There were many hugs goodbye as our little group of bunkmates departed the hostel and went our separate ways. I found it particularly hard to say good-bye to my new friends Anne and Jackie, who were two lovely women on a motorcycle trip up to the Isles of Skye and Mull from Wales. We had become fast friends with lots of laughs in the short time we spent together. Without further adieu, I bid farewell to Rowardennan and began my hike towards Crianlarich, and into Day 3 on the West Highland Way.
With no one else on the trail with me, I FaceTimed mom. It was like having her right alongside me as I walked! Which, in many ways, is the truth. I know as I am hiking this week, I have her full support and love championing me along. I would not be doing this without her. A short while later, I caught up with another Mother/Daughter team. The Fishers had been part of our hostel dormroom, and I was happy to join them after having spent a good part of the morning walking the low-road along the shores of Loch Lomond by myself. Becca and I became fast friends, bonding over Harry Potter, our undergraduate literature degrees, and a shared love for hiking. We said our goodbyes after exchanging contact details at Inversnaid.
From Inversnaid, I was on my own right through to Crainlarich. It was breathtakingly beautiful – sunshine, old brick bothies (the equivalent of backcountry huts), and a loch-side, root-laden trail that was the most challenging terrain to date. En route, I came across three fellows around my age, from North Carolina. I’d past them the day before, so we had a laugh over “you, again!?” and I stopped for a chat. “How are you enjoying it, so far?” one asked me. “Oh, its beautiful! Yourselves?” “Well,” he smiled, “It is beautiful, but it’s a LOT of Loch Lomond…” I knew exactly what he meant! “Thank you!” I replied, “I am glad you said it, because, honestly, I have been thinking the same thing! It’s beautiful, but its getting…a bit boring? I’m ready for a change of scenery!”* (Upon reflection, this sounds ridiculous but it was how I was feeling at the time!)
Eventually, I found just that. Leaving Loch Lomond’s shoreline and heading up into the hills proved to be worth the many kilometres logged along the Loch-shore. I was left mesmerised by how jungle-like it felt, what with plush ferns and foliage.
Reaching Inverarnan, I had planned to stop at the infamous Drover’s Inn, but instead found myself beyond the Inn and at Benglais, a campsite with a restaurant and bar. The Drover’s Inn promises at least two haunted rooms, while the Benglais campsite, upon arrival, conjured visions of a ghost town long abandoned. I walked into the dark and dusty restaurant, only to discover not a soul in sight, and promptly turned right back out again; I still had a long ways to walk, and enough provisions to tide me over until Crianlarich; this place was positively creepy!
Back out in the sunlight, I felt much more at ease, and carried on up the road into the hills even further away from Loch Lomond. Becca had encouraged me to use my map for navigation, and it came in handy as I paced myself along the trail. At long last, I reached the Waymarker that directed me towards Crianlarich. A dinner at the Rod and Reel, complete with an order of onion rings to refill my depleted salt levels, later, I made my way to the hostel and am now ready to rest my weary legs, spent from their longest day on the trail yet at 39 kilometres.
To be continued…