Well, we’ve survived day one and we’re writing from the village of Drymen. 13 miles done and 86 to go to Fort William.
Distance covered: 13.38 miles
Ascent: 1,759 ft
Midge Count: 0
It was yesterday that we travelled to the starting point of the West Highland Way, via Glasgow.
“Two tickets to Milngavie, please’, said Col to the ticket seller at Glasgow Queen Street Station.
The ticket seller’s moustache seemed to bristle slightly. “Where?” she replied.
“Miln-gav-ie”, said Col, slowly.
‘Mullguy?” She asked.
Col looked towards me briefly. “No”, he answered. “I’m from Stockport. “
It was the first complication of our trip but we soon realised that our destinations may not be pronounced as they appear.
Milngavie turned out to be an ideal stopover before the commencement of our walk. We stayed at a b&b called Best Foot Forward where Morag looked after us and sent us on our way on the back of a huge breakfast.
The starting point of the WHW is an ignominious obelisk in the middle of a pedestrianised shopping street, from where walkers embarking on this classic trail have to squeeze between Costa Coffee and Greggs in order to escape the town centre.
It only took minutes to leave the town behind as we followed beside Allander Water through woodland in the company of birdsong.
it wasn’t too long before we arrived at Mugdock Country Park and passed through the oak lined Mugdock Wood.
The light rain fell throughout the morning as the path opened up beside Craigillian Loch. Mist prevented us from seeing the hills at the western end of the Campsie Fells.
Beside the loch, we came to a small memorial to the Craigillian Fire. This was a place that was frequented by walkers from Glasgow during the depression years to enjoy the outdoors. The memorial marks the spot at which a campfire was kept burning throughout the year.
The path took us past some interesting houses along the way.
Before long, we emerged from this tranquil valley and the view opened up in front of us. The horizon was dominated by the long line of Campsie Fells, still shrouded in mist, and the dramatic volcanic plug of Dumgoyne seemingly blocking the path. This suddenly became the the type of landscape we had in our minds when we were planning the walk. And we still weren’t even in the Highlands!
After making our way around Dumgoyne, we soon joined the disused Blane Valley railway line that would take us most of the way to Gartness. The railway line was opened in 1867 and closed in 1959.
The path down Strath Blane was punctuated by sets of metal stiles to allow access to crossing and lanes. One of these took us on a slight but essential diversion to Glengoyne distillery.
Even though Col is not a whiskey fan, we couldn’t resist the chance to tour the famous, old distillery.
“Wee tasting tour?” muttered Col. “Sounds like something Bear Grylls would do. “
Nevertheless, we gave it a try. James was an excellent tour guide and the tour itself is highly recommended by us. As is the whiskey itself, with its notes of apples and toffee.
Col’s eyes lit up when James told him he would introduce him to a lovely 18 year old at the conclusion of the tour.
Soon, it was time to head back outside into the rain for the short stretch to our lunch stop, as we bade farewell to Glengoyne.
We made our way back to the trail and we soon got to the Beech Tree Inn. We had high hopes for this pub at the site of former Dumgoyne railway station. We walked through the gardens, surrounded by enclosures for everything from rabbits to zebra finches.
The inn was packed so we took a seat outside, under a shelter. It turned out that the shelter wasn’t required as the clouds parted and the afternoon became drenched with unexpected sunshine.
We ordered vegetable soup and a hoagie, which was fine. And we couldn’t resist a bottle of West Highland Way ale, either. It would be rude otherwise.
Fortified by our lunch and inspired by the beer, we pressed on towards the end of the railway line at the picturesque village of Gartness. Sandstone cottages were perched on the banks of Endrick Water as it cascaded through the valley.
our eyes were immediately drawn to the small, wooden sign on the roadside, pointing towards the row of cottages.
Thr sunshine had warmed up our spirits and the thought of an iced lolly from an honesty box freezer immediately appealed. We dropped the correct change into the box and served ourselves with some refreshments.
It nearly lead to an untimely death, though. As we walked up the hill taking us out of the village, I took a sharp intake of breath with a mouthful of Crunchie, resulting in a bit of a coughing fit that Col found to be hilarious. I couldn’t even voice the two words that are always used on these occasions; wrong hole.
Anyway, I survived and we pressed on towards Drymen as the road took us through pretty, daffodil lined undulations.
As we climbed, the view behind us opened up and we were able to get a final glimpse of the Campsies. As we headed over the brow to the more dramatic highland view that awaited us.
across the valley, tractors chugged across the fields while, behind the hedges, sleepy calves lazed in the sunshine, with their mothers standing guard.
We soon gained our first dramatic view of Loch Lomond to our left, with its wooded islands dotted across the shoreline.
“There it is”, said Col, staring at the famous loch in the distance. “Give it a couple of days and we’ll be sick of the sight of it. “
To the right of the loch as we were looking, Conic Hill stood between us and the Highland peaks. As the rain clouds returned to fill the sky, we took comfort in the thought that Conic Hill could wait until tomorrow.
For now, we could just take the gentle descent into the village of Drymen, our desire for the day and take refuge in the “oldest pub in Scotland”.
We checked in to the Hawthorn guesthouse in the centre of the village and received the warmest of welcomes from our hosts, Chris and Jane.
Tomorrow will take us the short distance to Balmaha on the shores of Loch Lomond. For now, we can enjoy the gentle introduction to the West Highland Way and look forward to what comes next.
Mark Sweeney is a hiker, mountain-biker, picture-taker and keen coffee drinker, living on the doorstep of the Peak District's finest walks