The Wild-West Highland Way #1

Monday 28th April
Milngavie to Drymen – 12.5 miles

Due to having to be at the airport early, I decided to stay at my brothers’ house. After an early wake-up, which was quickly followed by a huge breakfast lovingly cooked for me by my brother, we set off for Castle Donnington to catch our flight to Glasgow.

We arrived at the airport at 6:30am said our goodbyes and went in. As is usual, our sacks had to go through the X-ray machine. We went to the departure gate, and walked across the tarmac to the plane. We got a seat by the window and waited to take off. It was then that Colin told me he hadn’t flown before. The twin engined Fokker 100 whined and taxied slowly onto the runway. With a roar, the engines rose into life as the pilot opened the throttle. We were pressed back in our seats as the ‘plane accelerated hard. “Good, eh?” I said. Colin smiled, and I wasn’t convinced he was as happy as I was. All of a sudden the nose lifted and the runway noise disappeared. We were off.

When in the air, we relaxed and wondered what the in-flight movie would be, as we were only going to be in the air for about 50 minutes! We were just getting comfortable and looking at the clouds and blue sky when the stewardess arrived and set a breakfast down in front of us! It was only seven twenty, and I had demolished bacon, egg, sausage etc. at about five thirty this morning. Not wishing to offend, we ate the lot.

The flight was smooth and uneventful, apart from the two idiots excitedly taking photos out of the ‘plane’s window(?). The captain announced, in that “snooker commentator” style that they all talk, that we were starting the descent to Glasgow. We dutifully fastened our seat belts and watched as the blue sky was left far above, and we sank back into reality and the clouds. The lower we got, the worse the weather got and the rain was streaking down the windows as we landed.

Far more civilised at Glasgow airport, we left the plane by a portable tunnel and entered the luggage collection area. Now, I’m OK flying, but I always get a knot in my stomach at this stage in case I’m here and my luggage is in Barbados, or somewhere else I’m not. Why is it the luggage always goes somewhere nicer than its owner? Panic over, it came trundling around the carousel towards us. We claimed it and set off to get a taxi. The nice lady at the information desk rang for one for us. Having watched too many films, we waited in the lounge for the driver to come in and shout; “taxi for Mr Singleton!”.

Of course, with all the recent bomb scares, this just doesn’t happen and about forty minutes later, I left to enquire its whereabouts. After realising our faux pas, we re-booked the taxi and went outside to await its arrival! As we stood under the canopy outside, looking at the showery weather, we realised it’s taken fifty minutes to fly here, and over an hour to get a taxi! The very cheery taxi driver, who never asked us once to guess “who I had in my cab the other day”, dropped us at the square in Milngavie (pronounced Mull-guy) and we disembarked. We took the obligatory starting photos beside the stone obelisk set up for that very purpose, before finally taking our first faltering steps on the West Highland Way at ten o’clock, local time.

Surprisingly quickly, we left the town behind as we followed the small river, Allender Water. Although it had stopped raining, it was still overcast and a little threatening. We passed through Mugdock wood and caught our first sight of other walkers. There were about ten in all, starting their own personal tests at the same time as us. We had decided on a Monday start when we read in some information leaflet that between sixty and eighty thousand people a year walk the West Highland Way!

We also saw and spoke to Jurgen for the first time. Jurgen first attracted our attention with his habit of unfurling a brolly every time a shower came. I admit we laughed at first, but it soon became clear it wasn’t a bad idea as constant short showers fell. It saved wondering at what point to don all the waterproof gear, and taking it all off again if the sun came out for five minutes. We approached Craigallan Loch and noticed one of the forestry workers had left a large empty oil tin with ‘ELF’ written on the side. I took a photo of it, and decided I would call it “The Wood Elf”.

Near Carbeth Loch we saw what appeared to be a small holiday village made of wood. I must admit it’s a lovely situation here, and I wouldn’t mind a relaxing week myself. We didn’t see any inhabitants though, perhaps it was a bit early for them yet. We joined a road and turned left along it for a short way before turning right, up a track.

At the top of the track, the view goes BANG, right in your face. Dumgoyach rears up in front, and the fields around give you your first twinge that you’re in for a good walk. The even more impressive Dumgoyne soon came into view as we joined the bed of the old Blane Valley Railway. We went through one of the strange stiles we were to see many more times on this part of the walk, and I had a silly photo taken of me with my head stuck in it.

As we walked, I noticed the Glengoyne Whiskey distillery on the right. I consulted Colin as to whether we should pay a visit. The conversation went something like:

“Do you want to visit the distillery?”

“Is the Pope a Catholic?”

End of conversation.

We walked through the gates and were met by smiling faces. We took pictures of the huge stills and went into the yard. The next tour wasn’t for about half an hour, so we settled on the wall outside in the sunshine to eat our lunch. We were joined by Jurgen and proceeded to probe his English, which was quite good. It was interesting to see the difference in the food we ate. Colin and I had the usual malt loaf and sandwich type of stuff, while Jurgen had what looked like Garlic Nan bread, and a large bag of dried fruit.

After lunch we made our way to the start of the guided tour (£3.00). We were given a “wee dram” to sample and watched a video. We then went all round the distillery, and the lady who conducted the tour was really good, answering all our questions with patience and eloquence. I got the feeling she loved her job and was very proud of the product. After the tour, we perused the very well stocked shop, but you’re on a loser trying to sell walkers something else to carry!

We left the shop and the sun was starting to really shine strongly. I changed into my shorts and t-shirt, applied the first sun block, and set off to re-join the path. Whilst walking we heard many Willow Warblers, they are obviously the dominant species here. I have always liked their call, so I wasn’t complaining.

We continued following the old rail bed, passing the former station building and the pub (it was still early). Something that became more evident was the amount of electricity pylons in the area. Every time a good photo opportunity presented itself, you could be sure it also included at least one pylon! About three miles before Drymen there is a farm selling soup and rolls to any hungry soul who requires some.

We joined a minor road and turned left to enter the sleepy hamlet of Gartness. Our first night’s stop, Drymen (pronounced Dremmen), was now getting close. We were enjoying a lovely sunny day and views to match. We passed the old Roman Fort (site of). We did have a quick look, but we didn’t get (sight of) as there was little left to see. This is often the sad case. There is a fort in Derbyshire called Navio, but it’s just a few suggestive mounds of earth now. The best remains I’ve ever seen are in the Lake District. The Hardknott Fort still has standing walls and the remains of the bath house, and what’s more it’s free!

As the road turned sharply left, we noticed a sign to the B&B we were staying at tonight – Gateside Lodge. We duly turned up the drive and knocked on Mrs Yvonne Ford’s door at 4:30pm. All our accommodation had been pre-booked, as I knew this walk was a popular one, but Jurgen, the German tourist we had met, said he was just turning up in places and getting fixed up as and when. I told him I thought he would have difficulty on the less populated parts but he just shrugged.

Later that evening there was a knock on the door. It was Jurgen. He asked if Mrs Ford had any room, as he’d been to the village and couldn’t get anywhere! Luckily she did have room but I think he learnt a lesson.

After getting ready, we walked the ½ kilometre or so into the village. There is a surprising amount of choice for eating and drinking for such a small place, but we had been “given the nod” that the Clachan Inn (arguably the oldest Inn in Scotland) was the place to go. Inside it was pleasant with a good atmosphere, and the landlord made a point of talking to us and making us welcome. He gave us menus and pointed out the ‘specials’ board.

We ate and drank, then the day’s walk and the previous nights’ lack of sleep started to catch up with me. We made our way back to Gateside Lodge at about 10:15, but not until we had rung the Rowardennan Youth Hostel and booked Jurgen a place for tomorrow night, and guess what…they were almost full up!