Why not give this blog the title, It’s deserved? Scotland the land of “Freedom” beauty and tranquility. Or West Highland Way – the stunning long distance footpath of Scotland.
The West Highland Way (WHW), is 98 miles in length and no-nonsense in nature. And although only taking five days to complete the WHW. The build up to this has been quite substantial. My journey started a long time ago and has covered way more than 98 miles and five days.
Homeward bound is a significant title for my blog. I left ‘home’ 24 years ago to follow my heart, my dreams and to be with the love of my life to travel the first 392 miles of this journey (told you it was more than 98).
As a young, mischievous 16-year-old everyone thought I would “get it out my system” have a gap year and be home within the year. My friend Mandy thought I was insane – in fact at one point I think she said “I don’t know what you are f**in thinking” (or words to that effect). Ha ha ha… Here I am now going “home” 24 years later with the same rucksack I left with. The timing of this adventure is quite a milestone.
My WHW blog has a three-way parallel theme running, the actual hike on the West Highland Way, the physical exertion of the hike, (having not trained at all for this) the best and worst bits of hiking the WHW. A story of hunting and being hunted, and elements of a famous song. Big prizes for anyone guessing the song theme throughout this blog.
But first, a *WARNING* apparently I have been known to make people laugh, cry and bring them on the journey through my adventure stories. Therefore I thought I better write a warning up front.
*Anyone that’s a softly feely sensitive type, prone to feeling sorry for people in physical pain or suffer irrational bouts of crying during weepy moments may want to stop reading here. Anyone that loves reading about spirit, mental toughness and resilience then keep reading.
Welcome to your life… There’s no turning back! (First giveaway on the song front) This works for all my parallels. Hiking – you can’t turn back, have to just do it! (JFDI). Once you are on the WHW you are on it. There’s no going back, there’s no getting off & there’s definitely no “I’ll give this a wee try” sometimes it feels like the road to nowhere!
I’m doing the WHW with my best friend Joanne. Jo LOVES Scotland she begged me to do this adventure with her, she’s done the WHW before, but, backwards, that’s right people into the howling wind and rain (Jo equally likes a big challenge) and wants to do it the right way round this time – thank the Lord!
Milngavie to Rowandrennan.
Twelve miles in and I’ve lost my will to live. My bodies hurting already and I can’t quieten my mind down. “This hurts, I’m in pain, not going to make this. Conic Hill to go today and I can’t even walk the WHW trail let alone another 86 miles.
Any fellow adventurers not breaking up this part of the journey better be prepared to try to mentally switch off! I was bored rigid and mentally destroyed. There’s not much beauty to see here, nor much pleasure. If going from A-B and hunting down the miles is your thing, then this section is fine. If you want to enjoy the journey then break this section up with an overnight stay at Drymen.
Drymen to Balmaha
This reminded me of my youth days undertaking the Duke of Edinburgh. Miles and miles of hills, hills and more hills. Be prepared for Conic Hill. It’s a tough climb of eight miles up and down the hill. The weather can catch you out very quickly. We went from freezing cold, howling wind & rain to getting sunburnt.
Be prepared for all seasons. The eight mile climb up and down Conic Hill completely busted my body! Literally feel like I’ve been in a car crash. This pain may be intolerable mentally & physically*
*WARNING* DO NOT do the WHW over 4/5 days if you are A) New to Hiking B) Have not trained – HARD! C) playing at being on the run to relieve the boredom. There is a classic book – “How not to walk the WHW” – I’d say just dinnae bather (don’t bother)!
It’s my own design, It’s my own remorse, help me to decide, help me make the most of freedom and of pleasure, nothing ever lasts forever! (BIG song clue)
Balmaha – Rowandrennan
Arrived at Rowandrennan (29 miles – 68,937 steps) broken, shredded, starving and just generally busted!! (Jo’s half cocked homemade tuna pasta was disgusting and had to be thrown out, we’ve survived on protein bars and tablet!) I struggled to make it 300 yards after our snack stop and had to rest on a bench watching the sun come down. (Jo captured the Kodak moment perfectly) still had 7 miles to go to our first checkpoint! It’s also important to note here we were doing 3-4mph and only had 2 rest stops in 10hrs. Nutters!!
Made into our bunk house for the night. Funniest part was Jo checking if I was still alive in the shower. I’d been in there ages. I finally confessed later in the journey I was sitting on the floor in the shower crying like a baby and then couldn’t physically get up as there was nothing to grab on to and my legs wouldn’t function. Ha ha ha ha….. Comforting moments, future WHW adventurers?
I’ve been on quite a journey since I left Dundee back in October 1992. I love the open road, I love travelling and ultimately, it’s been an incredible journey. Lots of pleasure and happiness, and lots of pain and mistakes. Everyone’s life’s like that, right?
Recently I’ve been left wondering, what if I hadn’t left Dundee my choices and journey would have been so different. Doing the WHW is part of understanding all I’ve missed about the beauty of my homeland and to rid myself of the “what if” demons.
Rowandrennan – Crianlarich.
Absolutely THE best part of the WHW. Even when you’re in physical agony. The views, solitude, air flow and aura of this part of the walk is incredible. It touches every sense in you. You can feel it, smell it, touch it, see it and breathe it. I can’t describe it anymore. I doubt my pictures will do it little justice either. If any fellow adventurers want to just pick a section of the WHW – this simply HAS to be it. Breathtaking!
As we made it in good time to Inversnaid, we decided to have a wee boat trip to Tarbet and come off the “beaten track” and chill for a wee while. On the boat we passed honeymoon island. It’s a lovely wee island in the middle of Loch Lomond, legend has it gypsies of the past left newlyweds there with a little to survive the first weeks of their marriage. They say if you can survive there together, then the marriage will last forever.
This is a tough day for me generally in the annual calendar and I wasn’t sure how I’d manage this with the physical exertion on top. I had to stop at one moment on a tree trunk as the area was so peaceful and just ‘have a moment’ I said to Jo – “I’ve just let it all go” Jo cried – I cried, we hugged it out, coughed, laughed at being pathetic and off we went.
Five minutes later we were caught in an almighty storm! Howling wind, rain, sleet and freezing cold! We were amazed as 5 mins earlier, we were sitting on a tree trunk chilling in the sun! Storms in Scotland literally come out of nowhere. Or storms of the past were now being swept away? Who knows?
“There’s a room where the light won’t find you – Holding hands while the walls come tumbling down – When they do I’ll be right behind you – so glad we’ve almost made it, so sad they had to fade it. All for freedom and for pleasure, Nothing ever lasts forever……. (Big song clue)
There’s a classic saying “it’s better to have loved & lost than never loved at all” that’s nonsense. I hate that saying. The classic book by Dr Brian Weiss actually proves “Only Love Is Real”
Happy Birthday J – maybe 12 years gone, but never forgotten.
Crianlarich – Tyndrum
I love Tyndrum, it has elements of beauty, serenity and culture. I enjoyed stopping off at the Lochan of the lost sword. According to history this spot was where Robert the Bruce and his army threw their weapons into this small Lochan. This included Bruce’s sword Claymore. Local legend suggests it’s here to this day!
I lay down in a quiet spot this afternoon and listened to the birds singing and the river flowing. This level of serenity will heal all your aches & pains. Recuperation at its finest!
Recuperation to reluctance.
The ominously named Devil’s Staircase is probably the most legendary, part of the WHW! The Devil’s Staircase was initially given its name by the soldiers who were part of the road building programme of General Wade. The carrying of building materials up that stretch of the road was not popular!
For the workers at Kinlochleven the journey proved to be more difficult than many realised. The journey back was even worse as unsteady legs meant that many were unable to manage the return trip and, on a cold winter’s night, the devil often ”claimed his own“. The devil had claimed his ‘own’ in me long before I reached the devils staircase on this journey. My spirit was shredded by Drymen.
However, in saying that I would like to mountain bike the Devils staircase. The 5 miles and 550m decent would be EPIC!!!! Somebody should also build a zip wire at the top all the way to Kinlochleven. Now that would be fun!
The best and worst bits of The West Highland Way.
The best bits….
1. Reaching Fort William……!!!!! The END!!! If you have enough energy to do Cows Hill Trail then definitely do it. The views of Ben Nevis & Fort William are spectacular. You also get to meet the Highland Hairy Coos….. At the bottom of the trail is the Wishstone you’ve to hop around it 3 times – do you think hobble counts & my wish will come true?? Trust me, push yourself up one more hill and walk 3.5 miles more. It’s worth it!
2. The mental & physical challenge is fantastic – it will undoubtedly make you see your future in a different light. They say a lot of people only do the WHW way once “no shit Sherlock” once is more than enough!
3. There is a wee White House between Rowandrennan and Inversnaid with home-made snacks outside – this is the best homemade tablet in the world.
4. The views, solitude and serenity. Freedom!!
5. The great start to my WHW journey, dinner and a catch up with my Vietnam to Cambodia friends. Moira, Jim, Carolyn and Linda. So lovely see them. And….. Carolyn’s message half way through….. This lady definitely knows when to say the right things to lift and get the best out of me. In Cambodia on a dusty red dirt track, (read that blog) and here in our homeland of Scotland. This lady is one in a million, one of the worlds best and I’m proud to have her as a friend.
And the worst….
1. When you are on it, you are on it. There’s no getting off this journey. Miles & miles and miles of just walking. 98.5 miles and 262,640 steps to be exact! The grimness of it during certain stages can be soul destroying. Hiking the WHW requires a deep commitment. A lesson for me, I now know I can deeply commit. Often the most important lessons are learnt during the toughest of times!!
2. Misconception. Everybody (including me) thinks the WHW is a stroll. It soon teaches you. This is a tough hike.
3. My broken body, destroyed spirit and a right calf in bits!
4. Certain points you’re not sure where you are, where you’re going or why you’re doing this? I kept asking Joanne “Where are we now?”
5. Milngavie to Drymen. Hated this stretch!
For all my best and worst bits, I wouldn’t change doing the WHW for a million quid (I wouldn’t do it again either for a million quid) it was sunny when we started and sunny when we finished. Never a truer sign that even in your darkest days the sun will shine again.
“Perhaps when one has come over a mountain pass, and is hungry, happy, beaten, and sad, and finally humbled, and lonely, perhaps then, sunshine is enough!!”
And if all else fails……. There’s always Prosecco!! Cheers!!
All for freedom and for pleasure, Nothing ever lasts forever. Everybody wants to rule the world!!! Tears For Fears.
Alba gu bràth Scotland!!
“The moment we decide to begin the journey to cross Great Plains of uncertainty is the moment we become pioneers”