The Wild-West Highland Way #4



Thursday 1st May
Inverarnan to Tyndrum – 12 Miles

This morning broke clear, bright and warm. We could hear the Mare’s Tail waterfall gushing across the valley and looked forward to the prospect of good day’s walking. Jenny was nowhere to be seen this morning, so Frank was left to do us all breakfast.

“Fry-ups all round, is it? And you all like tea, don’t you? Good.”

And with that Frank set about doing the business. Quietly efficient, is how we all agreed the breakfast was. When we had finished, we collected the washing that Jenny had so kindly done for us and set off walking with Malc’ and Erik.

At Beinglas farm, we left them to sort out their luggage forwarding arrangements and carried on into Glen Falloch. This was the best morning so far. It was already very warm and the views of the surrounding mountains were breathtaking, again only marred by the ever-present pylons. The river Falloch tumbled and bubbled away at our side and, being in such close proximity, the odd passing vehicle on the road opposite, or a train now and again along the line across the valley, broke the perfection of the mixture of water and bird song.

The path along this section becomes very stony and rough underfoot, probably harder than at the side of Loch Lomond even, but it is so enhanced by the captivating river Falloch that I forgave all. It dips and falls so often that progress was hard, as photo stops are frequent, especially as today was so perfect weather-wise.

We crossed a small tributary (we crossed many tributaries) by a footbridge and I noticed that there was a small waterfall just upstream. With the sun glinting on it, it was too good to miss. The problem was, a holly bush obstructed the view up to it. There was only one thing for it, I took off my boots and got in. The water was so cool and refreshing, and once I was in I got some really good pictures of the little falls of Allt Criche stream.

Colin and I both had photos taken looking back along the path from the little footbridge, as you couldn’t arrange a better shot. The green Hawthorn for a frame, magnificent mountains for the backdrop, and a smiling, happy face in the middle.

We had spent about forty minutes ‘messing about in the river’, and had just got going again when the sound of babbling water was replaced by the thundering of lots of water as the Falls of Falloch came into view. Someone ‘up there’ must be smiling down on us as the river had a good level of water coming down it, and the falls were at their best. I took a photo from the path, but decided I had to get down to the falls for a better one (or two). Colin stayed on the path while I set off to scramble to the bottom. I was well rewarded for my efforts, and got some ‘arty-farty’ pictures of the falls. I deliberately used the large SLR camera I was carrying for just such shots. The film speed can be slowed so the water looks like milk or lace as it flows over the falls.

Another half-hour or so used up, but this is precisely why you shouldn’t set too high a mileage goal on these walks. If you do, then you would speed past such beauty in your quest to get to the end of the day in time. I felt so lucky to be here on such a perfect day. There were so many little falls and lovely spots that I was already feeling very spoilt. If you ever walk the West Highland Way, I do hope you get a good day on this section. Words can not do justice to the beauty of Glen Falloch.

At Derrydaroch the river is crossed via a large bridge. Below you are deep, cool clear pools of inviting looking water. I dare say these pools would draw like a magnet on summer’s days. They are so deep you could easily jump into them off the bridge.

Just after Derrydaroch I heard a ‘click’ and Colin went all lop-sided! His sack buckle had snapped. Now I love my bruv’, but he’d already got one of my boots and I’ll be damned if he’s getting my sack as well!!! We effected roadside repairs with the sewing kit I carried and got back to the job at hand.

We continued on through a small wood and under the railway line by my first ever “sheep creep”. The guide says it’s uncomfortable, and it is. We took photos of our struggle before crossing the road through a “peep’s creep”, which is larger and far more comfortable, and starting the climb up the hillside and along the very muddy path that soon becomes the military road again. This part of the path is also breathtakingly good for views as it climbs higher and higher, and I was delayed by frequent stops to take more photos.

One mountain in particular dominates the view, gazing almost angrily over the Glen. The trouble with walking without a guide is that you haven’t got a clue what distant landmarks are, as they aren’t mentioned. Still, a rose by any other name would smell as sweetly, and the sweetness of these particular roses was overpowering. There were great big lumps of mountains all around us, powerful blue sky above, and a steady breeze to keep us cool. What more could anyone wish for?

Soon we reached the point where we were to leave the West Highland Way to drop into Crianlarich. The instructions say there is a large ladder stile here, but it had been recently replaced by a far easier to negotiate walk-through Deer Park type thing. We stepped through and turned right, descending the steep path through the woods. I began to think we should have brought supplies with us, as the path dropped even steeper. I even considered hiding my sack in the trees, as I was fearful of the climb back up this path after lunch.

We came across a couple halfway down having a picnic. After chatting to them for awhile, I said that I thought it would be a good idea for us to do the same, as I wanted to get some of the climb over before eating. We dropped and dropped until finally we reached the railway station. We entered the village and the first thing we saw was Malc’ and Erik, having a picnic of their own with socks and boots hanging over the wall at the side of them.

We were just discussing the beauty of the day, when a window opened and a woman called out; “What do you think you’re doing?” When she was met by blank stares from us, she went on; “That’s my garden you’re sitting in!”

It was indeed and we sheepishly got off it quickly. Erik said he didn’t mind moving, as they had been there for about three-quarters of an hour, paddling in the stream and all, and were ready for going anyway! Colin and I bid them farewell, and went to have a look at the local pub. The beer and people were nice, but the prices for food were a bit steep so we decided to buy stuff at the local shop, climb back up to where we’d seen the couple having a picnic, and have one of our own. We drained our glasses and left.

We saw the picnic couple again, and I was amazed when they said they were going to Tyndrum, which was also our destination, but they were walking the road! Even though the climb back up faced us, I would never contemplate walking by road in preference to the lovely woodland and moorland paths that were the Way.

We re-joined the path beyond the station and started the upward journey. I was at the back and keeping an eye out to try to identify the place where we had seen the picnic taking place. “We’d better stop, then”, said Colin. To my amazement we had reached the top of the path and were back at the W.H.Way! I could not believe that we had made the climb so easily. We sat down on the springy grass floor and ate a sumptuous repast, all chosen by Colin, complete with sausage rolls that looked like policemen’s truncheons! It was all just too good for words.

I was just contemplating brotherly love when I noticed Colin had secreted the crust of the loaf, our favourite bit, under his sack thinking I would forget about it, and when I showed interest in it I can only liken it to trying to take a bone off a Rottweiller!

Just a note for bird lovers. It would be a good idea to carry a small bag of seed, as Robins and Chaffinches come to your feet at the drop of a hat (well, the drop of a sandwich anyway!).

Continuing along the Way high above Glen Fillan we were astounded by yes, even greater views. No one would believe you if you tried to tell them how the surroundings just get better and better. Ben More is the daddy around here, but there are plenty of others, which would be great in their own right standing alone. We had reached about the half way point of our walk, and already I was wishing it was longer.

The day was very warm and bright and, with our choosing to walk fairly early in the year, we were not troubled by the scourge of Scotland, the Midge. I had noticed that if you discussed any local eyesore, such as pylons etc, with any local, they would defend it or them as bringing employment / electricity / come what ever to the community. But mention the dreaded ‘M’ word and their heads drop and they, to a man, condemn them and tell you that you never get used to them, no matter how long you live there.

Anyway, we had no such problems, thank goodness, and were being completely captivated by the perfect surroundings. No problems at all with the odd boots. In fact, I was as comfortable in ‘one of each’ as I was in the pair. More to the point, Colin’s foot had completely healed up.

Today has been a long day, what with frequent stops for photos and what-have-you, but that is how it should be. What’s the point of rushing to get a day like today over with? I felt sorry for the people who were already in Tyndrum, as this was a day to be out late. Here we were on this high path, looking over God’s own country, surrounded by singing birds and sweet smelling flora, counting our blessings and wishing it could always be like this.

We dropped down with the path towards the old Caledonian railway bridge and road. The path here has two irresistible features. It is downhill, and in shade. Just as we got to the railway we noticed something sticking out of a way mark post. On closer inspection it turned out to be a home-made arrow, with flights and all, which pinned a note to the post which said;

LES AND COLIN -
WATCH OUT FOR THEM INJUNS -
MALC AND ERIK.

We had quite a giggle at this contact with the ‘Thirsk Cowboys’ and kept the arrow and piece of paper for evidence later on. The guys were obviously ahead of us and this was to be the first of many such messages. We took a couple of photos for posterity, ‘quivered the arrow’ and made our way to the bridge across the river. We were very warm, as were our feet, and the draw of the cool river was undeniable and within minutes our boots and socks were off and we were sitting on rocks like gnomes, dangling our feet in the passing pleasure.

As usual, it was difficult to keep our feet in the cold water at first, but we soon became used to it and started splashing about like a couple of kids. There’s nothing finer than looking at the mountains, sitting in the sun, listening to the birds and twiddling your toes in the cool, cool water. We spent a good while there, before reluctantly booting up again.

As you walk along the path, a good example of glacial drumlins can be seen straight ahead. Shortly, just beyond the next farm, we saw the graveyard and then the priory of St Fillan, who was a Christian preacher in the eighth century. I was just taking the usual photos, when Colin casually said; “Is that a Buzzard?” I looked up and I realised it was not. It was an Eagle. I couldn’t believe my eyes and stood transfixed, watching it wheeling overhead. I got my binoculars out and this confirmed it, as the wings are totally different to the Buzzards. I quickly got out the telephoto lens I was carrying, and as if to cue, it flew almost overhead and I got a good picture of it. It flew to a ridge and was joined by its mate and they wheeled and cavorted in the warm afternoon thermals before disappearing from sight.

A short walk along the valley brought us to Auchtertyre Farm, where accommodation in the ubiquitous wigwams can be had. They sleep up to five, I’m told, and these ones are heated. As always, I wondered if you needed to make a ‘reservation’ to stay in a wigwam!

On our left a huge mountain ridge came into view as we made our way on. It was covered in the largest amount of snow I’d seen so far. It looked stark against the blue sky. The farmer at Auchtertyre told me it was called Ben Lui. I wished I was up there. Maybe one day. If solitude is your bag, then a week here in a wigwam would be a dream come true. Before this, I thought I had seen the perfect location in the Black Sail hut, which is in Ennerdale in the Lake District, but this is far and away the number one now. In retrospect, if I had known about Auchtertyre, I would have stayed here as opposed to Tyndrum.

Where the path crosses the A82 road, you have to literally take your life in your hands to get across. It’s hard to rush when carrying a large rucksack. We managed it and continued walking by the river towards Tyndrum, which was now only a couple of kilometres away. The river is crossed again in a short while, and if you’re doing the W.H.Way and it’s hot, I would say this is the place to get your kit off and get in! I would imagine you could get pretty secluded if you made your way upstream a little way. Erik and Malc’ had also left a message here for us, but we were so enamoured by the river that we missed it.

We were not sure where the Pine Trees Leisure Park, the place we were staying was, but we were pretty sure we’d found it with all the wooden structures appearing on the far bank. As we turned to approach the bridge, I noticed what looked like a bone dangling from a tree at the side of the path. On closer inspection ‘someone’ had written neatly on it, in felt tip pen:

THIS IS ALL THAT’S LEFT OF ERIK – INJUNS!!!

As we crossed the bridge, Heath, who had already got pitched, welcomed us and he explained why we hadn’t seen him in the pub last night. His travelling companion was quite ill with what seemed to be an infection. He was running a very high temperature, and Heath was afraid to leave him on his own. I think they had called a Doctor to see just how bad it was. He also told us that the Ben Lomond thing all fizzled out, as he didn’t go right to the top because it was enveloped in cloud. He pointed us in the right direction, and we arranged to meet up later and made our way to reception to find out where the bunkhouse was. When we got there, we collected our sheet sleeping bags and bought a toy cowboy gun with the ‘injuns’ in mind. The woman probably wondered why we were both giggling like a pair of school kids!

We made our way over to the bunkhouse and let ourselves into our ‘room’ for the night. ‘Compact and bijou’ would be too grand a title for this space. Two bunks, and just enough room to put your stuff on the floor. This is economy gone mad! Still, it was warm but I imagine it would get pretty ripe in here if the place was full, as there is only one toilet and bathroom for each sex in the whole of the place. I would have called it a bunkhouse box, more than a barn. It reminded me of those Japanese hotels where they put the guests in tubes to maximise space. This might be all right for the Japanese, but I don’t like being cramped at all.

I did a bit of sock and small washing and went across for a shower. It cost us nearly two pounds in the coin-op dryer to dry the few bits we had washed, and fifty pence each for the shower. The cost of this place was slowly mounting up, and I got my first inkling of how Tyndrum treated visitors – like cows ready to be milked. Even the breakfasts at Pine Trees were priced almost exactly the same as the Little Chef down the road, the only difference is that the Little Chef opens earlier if you want an early start.

After we finished getting ready, we were making our way to the pub but saw Erik and Malc’ in the Little Chef and were beckoned in. They told us the pub B&B wasn’t up to much, and recommended we eat in the Chef. I had my gold American Express card, so I thought I’d order something! I have never liked Little Chefs. I find they’re OK, if you’ve a small appetite and a large wallet. After walking all day I had neither, so it cost a fair bit.

We went to the pub later where we met up again with Heath. He had left his companion groaning in his tent (that’s the way to leave ‘em, Heath!). The beer was surprisingly good and not too bad in price. It was the first non-inflated thing I had come across in Tyndrum. It turned into one of those joke-telling nights, and we all had a right good laugh, with Erik writing punch lines on bits of paper to recall some of the jokes at a later date. One piece had “give us another look at that Corgi” written on it!

After a great night, we made our way back to our bunkhouse ‘booth’ to get some sleep, as we planned an early start in the morning. On the way back, the night sky was so clear that Colin tried to teach Heath to navigate by the stars! It must work though, as we found our way down Tyndrum high street and back to the Pine Trees without a hitch.

Next: Tyndrum To Kingshouse (Glencoe) »

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