Oh dear. Things didn’t go quite to plan on day 2 of our West Highland Way adventure. But we did find out whether it’s faster to take the high road...
we left day 1 as we were just a out to for an evening meal in the village of Drymen. That is where things started to go awry.
It was Colin who was the first to go down. I’ll spare you the details, dear reader but, to quote Sheryl Crow, he lost his cookies. Several times.
The following morning, I joined in. We had to apologise to our hosts for failing to eat any breakfast and we spent the rest of the walk to Balmaha, without any food at all. Not ideal as we had no energy, but we were thankful that we had planned this as a quiet day with a relatively short 7.5 miles to get to Balmaha.
Before we left Drymen, we went in to the village shop in search of a sickness remedy. We explained our predicament to the splendidly bearded young man behind the counter.
“Altitude sickness”, he diagnosed immediately. “Had it myself when I first moved here from Glasgow”.
I didn’t question him any further. I was sure we weren’t at any great altitude at all. Wasn’t Loch Lomond a sea-level loch or something?
One quick Google later, we confirmed that the village of Drymen is a lofty 50m above sea-level.
So, there you have it. Altitude sickness. At 50m.
So we stumbled nauseously out of Drymen and rejoined the West Highland Way, after purchasing some more water from an honesty box.
The start of the walk was gentle as we shuffled along forest paths up slight but persistent inclines. All the time, we were considering our options for later. Did either of us have the energy to tackle Conic Hill or should we take the alternative route along the road?
We crossed Buchanan Forest with cold rain blowing into our faces. The forest itself provided no shelter from the weather as the trees on our left had all been felled. We hurried as best we could to the relative shelter of Garadhban Forest, at which point the weather relented and our mood lifted.
as we climbed through the forest, Loch Lomond made regular appearances to our left and the hog back silhouette of Conic Hill gradually came in to view.
We came to the point where we had to decide which route to follow. Col had lost more cookies than me and there was no doubt that he should follow the alternative route down to the main road and along to Balmaha. I decided to give Conic Hill a try and so we really would find out who would arrive first if he took the low road and I took the high road.
I set off across the bracken and heather moorland and crossed through a deer gate. Conic Hill was to the left as the path swept around the moors and young lambs raced to the safety of their mothers.
the path dropped down to a footbridge to cross the Burn of Mar and then suddenly rose up steep steps. It came as a shock to my altitude-sickness-strained body (!), being the first serious climb of the day. The initial steepness relented slightly as the steps became a path and the snow covered slopes of Ben Lomond, the most southern of the Munroes, gradually came into view.
The view soon expanded to include island-studded Loch Lomond, the Luss Hills and Ben Vane, Ben Ime and Ben Namain. It becomes immediately apparent that Conic Hill sits astride the Highland Boundary Fault, the geographical divide that separates the Lowlands from the Highlands.
The view suddenly made all the effort worthwhile as the Way crossed the shoulder of the Hill, close to the summit.
I couldn’t linger for very long, due to the fact that there was a race to be won. I couldn’t let Col get to Balmaha before me. I tore my eyes away from the view and made my way down the steep descent.
the steppes path zigzagged along towards the Balmaha Plantation. Yet another forest.
Once through the gate, the path became broad and easy as it leads down to a huge car park at the tiny village of Balmaha.
Would Col already be at our agreed meeting point? The Oak Tree Inn.
The signs were good. There was nobody sitting outside the pub. His altitude-sickness-ravaged limbs were obviously still struggling along the road. Bless him.
I rang his mobile. Straight to voicemail.
I then had a thought. What if he was already inside?
Hesitantly, I made my way to the door. He wouldn’t be in the bar, would he? He hasn’t eaten since I couldn’t remember when.
I peered in to the lounge and there he was. Nursing a J2O. Looking smug but ill.
We compared notes on our relative conditions. Both still felt nauseous. Neither had eaten. Neither could even consider eating.
“Guess what?”, Col asked, with a worried look on his face.
“We’re booked in for afternoon tea in an hour...”
Mark Sweeney is a hiker, mountain-biker, picture-taker and keen coffee drinker, living on the doorstep of the Peak District's finest walks