This was to be the most challenging day of the whole trail as we wave goodbye to Loch Lomond and head for the hills.
Rowardennan Lodge to Inverarnan: 14.38 miles
Ascent: 3,089 ft.
Midgie Count: 0
this was the day that Col had been dreading since we decided to tackle the West Highland Way. He was convinced he would end up either in the loch or, at least, suspended over it hanging by the straps of his backpack.
Everybody we had spoken to about the Way had said that this stretch was the hardest. “Get past Loch Lomond and you’ve cracked it” seemed to be the general opinion.
So it was with a good deal of apprehension that we set off from Rowardennan Lodge and headed north. Col had decided to take preventive measures to ensure he had the best possible chance of completing the walk. “What’s that stuff you take to reduce inflammation and aching in your muscles?” he asked. “Ibuprofen.” I replied.
“I’ll never remember that.” he complained on his way to the store.
With that, we set off and, with the help of our trekking poles, we made hasty progress up the first gentle climbs out of Rowardennan past the Ptarmigan lodge.
We stride past Rowchoish bothy and past the crag known as Rob Roy’s Prison. We didn’t realise that the gentle introduction was lulling us into a false sense of security. But at least we were knocking a few miles off the day. We passed countless waterfalls cascading below or across the path, down in to the loch.
Soon we reached the end of Queen Elizabeth Forest Park and crossed a bridge over Cailness Burn just as the heavens decided to open for the first time that day. Rain poured down as we briefly dropped off at Cailness Cottage to inspect the selection of goods available in the honesty box.
we couldn’t resist a bar of granny’s traditional Scottish tablet, which we ate huddled under the narrow porch on the front of the work shed., as the rain poured.
As we carried on, the trail gave us a few clues of what was to come later. The path became narrower, rougher and steeper as it clung to the rocks forming the banks of the loch. At one point, the path was no more than the width of a boot, with a straight drop down into the loch for any slip.
Eventually, we came to the falls at Inversnaid, just as a boat full of tourists arrived for lunch at the adjoining hotel.
We sat on a bench and gulped down our packed lunch, just as hailstones began to fall.
The following stage, between Inversnaid and the top of the loch, was by far the most difficult, strenuous, toughest stretch of the walk so far.
The narrow path involved constant scrambled up and down huge boulders to navigate our way along the lochside. Tiring due to the physical strains and the concentration required, the rough path seemed to go on and on. We would occasionally exchange quick comments with fellow walkers such as “Relentless!” but the sense of cameraderie between the walkers is uplifting and inspiring.
At one point we sat on a rock and a little robin came and perched next to us. He was singing his heart out and staring at us. “See that, Col?” I asked. “That little robin’s trying to cheer you up.”
“Well he’s not doing a very good job” said Col, dejectedly.
Once we had battled our way past Island I Vow and crossed into Argyll & Bute, things suddenly and thankfully became a lot easier. We walked on to a shingle beach near Doune and the struggle was over.
Doune is populated by an old farmhouse and a bothy, idyllically situated at the end of the loch. From there, it’s a climb up beside Cnap More for a last look back across the loch which has driven you mad for the last 10 miles or so.
This point represents a dramatic change in scenery, as the familiar loch is replaced by Glen Falloch along the old drovers’ path.
We gradually descended to Beinglas Farm, which was our final destination for the night.
As we relaxed in the Drovers Arms for a well-earned drink, Col complained about his legs.
“My thighs are killing me,” he moaned. “That Imodium I bought was a complete waste of time.”
“What did you buy again?” I asked, putting down my pint of Guinness.
“That anti-inflammatory you told me about. Imodium. It hasn’t worked at all. My legs are aching from my hips down to my knees. “
“Have you been to the toilet today, by any chance?” I asked.
Mark Sweeney is a hiker, mountain-biker, picture-taker and keen coffee drinker, living on the doorstep of the Peak District's finest walks