The Wild-West Highland Way #3

Wednesday 30th April
Rowardennan to Inverarnan – 13.5 miles

Col’ opened one eye. I fully expected him to grunt and turn over but much to his credit, he said he’d be with me in a minute and in a short while, we were feeling the dewy grass on our ankles as we made our way towards the path up to the falls.

Where we turned right to start the steep climb up, we noticed Heath’s tent. We thought it too early for a cruel morning call, so carried on up the path. Having said that, Heath, a Tasmanian youth we had met at various points on the walk, may have already been up and out as last night in the pub, he made the rash bet that he could get up and down Ben Lomond in less than two hours. I looked forward to seeing him in the pub tonight to see if he managed it!

We started up the path towards the sound of tumbling water. I had brought the big camera, complete with long lens as I hoped to see deer in the early morning. I could just see the picture in my mind’s eye, the majestic Monarch of the Glen, standing on a promontory looking, well…majestic!

But it wasn’t to be and I had to content myself with some good scrambling and shots of the falls. I managed to get myself into the perfect position, for the most perfect shot of the waterfall, when, as I tried to wind on, I realised I was out of film! Ah well, there should be lots more waterfalls. One thing I did notice was the body of an unfortunate sheep floating around in the pool beneath the falls. I made a mental note to tell Rab in case any of the surrounding houses took their supply from the stream.

Soon it was time to make our way back, lured by the thought of breakfast. We kept an eye out to see if that madman from yesterday was in for a swim, but no sign of him (wimp!). I made Colin and myself tea and Macaroni Cheese on toast, surrounded by the “heard”. I thought I did well, but Colin shunned my culinary delights, and I ended up having to eat most of it myself. Honestly, some people! There’s no pleasing them, is there?

We left a very busy youth hostel at 9:10am with the sun shining, the birds singing and the Loch spellbinding. I have probably been in more perfect situations, but for the life of me I can’t remember when! The ferry was chugging with an almost reverent quietness across the Loch, the bird song really was super, and to ice the cake there were countless little waterfalls, so we had almost constant babbling of water to accompany us as we walked along. Contrary to what the guide said, I was finding the walking very comfortable and I was quite happy with the terrain underfoot.

As we continued we met plenty of people that we had seen in the pub last night. All had done the same as I as they left the hostel – given Rab the cigarette papers and a knowing wink. That lot should last him the rest of the season!

For the first time we met and chatted to Alan, an ex-headmaster who had had a heart attack in 1989, and retired in 1990. His doctor had told him to get some exercise and boy, was he taking him literally! He had the most impressive list of walks already under his belt, and was here on the West Highland Way as part of the Land’s End to John o’Groats walk. He was five weeks into it, and praised his wife at home who had done all the arranging for the walk, and was sending instructions and clean underwear to various points for him to pick up (he didn’t say if he sent the old stuff back)!

As is usual in these circumstances, Alan was walking to raise money for equipment for the hospital that saved him and so far he was pledged £6000!! I made it £6005, and I think Colin boosted it too.

Photo after photo was taken of the beautiful Loch Lomond, and every turn seemed to present an even better opportunity. We came across a seat overlooking the Loch, and it was just crying out for elevenses, so we ‘unsacked’ and sat down. It suddenly dawned on me how totally relaxed I was when I had to look at my watch, to find out what DAY it was!!

Suitably refreshed, we set off again passing numerous waterfalls feeding the Loch. The path twisted, rose and fell and we walked along in near perfect conditions. I looked down just below us, and noticed what looked like an almost brand new oar from a boat. I went down and retrieved it. It was indeed a fine figure of an oar, not very old by the look of it. As we were examining it, Malc’ and Erik caught us up. We had a photo taken with our arms around the oar, and I’ll leave you to guess what the joke was.

I was ready to put the oar back at the Loch side, but Malc’ was really taken by it and insisted on carrying it. We tried to explain that he would struggle to carry an oar the remaining seventy odd miles, but he was not perturbed! We pushed on, and soon there was a gap between Colin and I, and Malc’ and Erik. As we approached the Inversnaid Hotel, Colin had an idea. He pinned a notice to the W.H.Way signpost that said “BOAT FOR SALE – NO OARS.” We hid in the bushes and waited for the other two to arrive. When they did, Malc’s face was a picture. You could see his expression go from: “What’s that note?” to “Oh, it looks like this guy has lost the oar,” to “Hang on, this is a wind up,” at which point we revealed ourselves and all had a good laugh. He who laughs last, etc.

Erik and Malc’ carried on along the Way, while Col’ and I decided to scramble down among the thicket of Rhododendrons to get better pictures of the waterfall at Inversnaid. We struggled and thrashed our way down, to be rewarded with a great situation for the shots we wanted. What we didn’t know was that if we had just followed the Way, it crosses the stream via a bridge, and we could have got to this position far more easily. It was Malc’ and Erik’s turn to laugh now, as they stood on the bridge looking down at us!

After clambering across the slippery rocks, we joined the rest of the walkers now assembled at the Inversnaid Hotel. We all went and got cooling pints and draped ourselves here and there around the jetty on the edge of the Loch. It was bright and hot with marvellous views of the surrounding mountains. Although some of the higher ones still had cloud on them, it was clearing fast as we sat there watching. After our leisurely break, we decided to go and try to find Rob Roy’s cave, which was notoriously unimpressive. We didn’t find it, but Malc’ and Erik did, and they were unimpressed for us, so we weren’t too bothered.

Whilst walking along, I noticed a railway sleeper washed up on the shore. In the pub the previous evening the barman had tried to convince us, backed up by a few press cuttings, that there was ‘something’ in Loch Lomond. No one knew what, but ‘something’. I went down to the sleeper, put a stick with the lid of a plastic tub attached to it into a hole, and launched it. I would watch the local press over the next few days for more sightings!

The high cloud had all but cleared and we now knew the mountains were getting seriously high as snow could be seen on the tops of some of them. The only thing to spoil the near perfect surroundings was the odd pylon here and there on the ridges. I am very surprised that more of an effort has not been made to conceal these carbuncles in such an aesthetically lovely place.

We picked our way onwards, giggling at each other’s efforts to negotiate a large tree that had fallen, blocking the path. It really made us realise how ungainly we were with the large sacks on our backs. We managed to get by safely, and noticed a glove that had fallen from some walkers sack. As a message to Malc’ and Erik, who were following some way behind, we put it on a bush with the fingers sticking up!

I think one of the best photo opportunities came here at the northern end of Loch Lomond. There is a little footbridge there which makes the most perfect setting if you’ve someone there to take your picture standing on it.

Just past I Vow Island, we came across the first bothy we had ever seen. It was called Doune Bothy. We went inside to find it remarkably clean. There was a fire burning in the hearth and it was very warm. I don’t think I would be too put out to spend a night in one of these places. I bet it could tell a tale or two! I took pictures and we left to continue.

It was about four o’clock now and the cloud was starting to envelope the mountain tops again. It was still very warm, but sun was being hidden more and more by the ever-increasing cloud. We could feel the effect now of the day’s walk on our muscles, and to be frank we were getting a little tired in the leg department. As we plodded along, I heard a rock clatter just behind me.

“There must be a sheep up there trying to bomb us,” I joked. Next thing there was another clatter and I turned to see Malc’ and Erik catching up with us and laughing. Malc’ had been throwing the rocks to let us know they were there.

We had realised in the pub last night that we were all staying at the same place, Rose Cottage. Erik had asked us where we were staying, and Colin said, “Look, I’ve even got a personalised, hand written postcard of how to get there.” At this point, he produced the postcard that Mrs Fletcher had sent. In what seemed like a bizarre game of Paper, rock, scissors, Erik produced the same card, but with his and Malc’s name on it! We laughed, and said that maybe Mrs Fletcher had double-booked, and the last one there would “get the dirty sheets”! There had been various other jokes at what would happen to the last one to arrive and here we now all were, neck and neck with about three miles to go!

“Shall we crack on?” said Colin.

“Please yourself,” I said, and at that we set off like cats with their tails on fire. Malc’ and Erik were about 300 yards behind, and could obviously tell the pace had suddenly tripled. Even though we had packs which weighed about thirty pounds, we ‘yomped’ in the best Army style and soon sweat was pouring off us, but we were giggling like a couple of school kids.

To be honest, we had been feeling a little jaded before all the shenanigans started, but it had loosened everything up with running and we felt a lot better for it. Eventually we were caught, but only when we were nearly at Beinglas farm, which was where Erik and Malc’s luggage was arranged to be dropped. I hoped for their sake it would be there, as I’ve always had a healthy disrespect for pack carrying services ever since I used one on the Coast to Coast walk, and had all my stuff stolen whilst it was in their ‘care’.

It was there OK, and we all started the final half-mile to Rose Cottage and our beds for the night. About 200 yards from the end, the guys went quiet and, all of a sudden, Erik shouted “NOW”! They made a last ditch effort to sprint for the line but they had reckoned without me and I too sprang forward with amazing speed. I quickly mastered the technique of running quickly whilst trying to juggle a large object on your back and burst into the garden of Rose Cottage jumping up and down shouting “YES! YES! – WE GET THE CLEAN SHEETS!!”

I was gazed on by a shocked looking Mrs Fletcher, who was standing in the garden. I explained the ‘wacky races’ to her over tea and cake in the garden, and we all took off our boots and sat there steaming and cooling down, while Mrs Fletcher explained that the rooms were mirror images of each other, and there was no prize for the victor. The official result was;

1) Les, squealing like a madman and jumping up and down.
2) Malc, shouting obscenities and nearly falling over in his attempt to ‘breast the tape’.
3) Erik, distraught with realisation that his age had caught up with him and he couldn’t match the speed and agility of the fit young things in front.
4) Colin, laughing and shouting encouragement whilst maintaining a relaxed walk at the back.

We all took turns to get showered, and I took a photo from the bedroom Dormer window that looks out across the valley to the Mare’s Tail waterfall. There was plenty of water coming down it, so I got some good shots.

Mrs Fletcher, bless her, did us some washing and put it out to dry while we decided to investigate the locality. We went into the small, friendly shop at the side of the ‘Stagger Inn’ restaurant and ummed and ahhhed about where to go to eat. Erik was really taken by the outward appearance, and of course the reputation, of The Drovers Inn. We decided to check it out first and then come back to the Stagger if we wanted to.

We didn’t move for the rest of the night! The Drovers defies description! You are greeted by an array of stuffed but motley creatures in the entrance, and the inside looks like it hasn’t been cleaned in years, but not dirty, if you know what I mean. The staff (including a kilted Scotsman) were extremely friendly if a little photo-shy, (aye, the taxman might be watching). We met up with some other walkers that had booked to stay here, and they were bubbling with stories about their rooms. I was even taken upstairs to be shown these wonders, complete with names on each door such as “Rob Roy’s Room” and “The Haunted Room”. In each room was a crude but quaint four poster brass bed, complete with lace trimming. This was character with a capital ‘C’.

I went back downstairs and picked up a menu to try and decide what to have. I settled on “Stag’s breath soup” for starters, and gammon that was as thick as my hand for the main course. The meal was great value and well cooked, with the gammon being very tender for such a thick piece. When we were finished, we sat talking and were joined at some point by a couple of students we had met during the day. They were going to have to hitch hike to town, they said, as they were running out of money. Ever the soft touch, Colin and I decided to lend them twenty quid, and gave Colin’s address so they could return it. That was six weeks ago at the time of writing this, and we haven’t heard from them yet!

That aside, we had a great evening, one of the talking points being the painted window on the outside of the pub. At some stage, one of the windows had been bricked up upstairs, but someone had decided it didn’t look right and had painted a white frame and black windows on the bricks. It was surprisingly effective as well!

I wish now that I had managed to get booked in at the Drovers, not because I’m not happy with Rose Cottage (I am), but because of the character of the whole place. I would say anyone who didn’t visit the Drovers while doing the West Highland Way had missed a vital part of it, and it became the talking point of many conversations over the next few days.

Next: Inverarnan to Tyndrum »

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