Our Journey on The West Highland Way.
Some time ago... A pub somewhere in Rutherglen...
Two Guys standing at the bar.. As all good ideas are conceived on impulsive decisions.. so the notion of walking the West Highland Way began life in a moment of inspirational genius on the back of much partaking of strong liquor. Think of it.. in the footsteps of Rob Roy, Wallace and Prince Charlie, following the Wade and Caulfield military roads.. mountain paths, the golden eagle soaring magnificently overhead, herds of deer sweeping majestically across the moors, I mean.. how difficult can this be? Get a rucksack from somewhere, scrape up a tent from someone, stick in some blankets to sleep on and a few tins of beans, asleep under a cloudless starry sky.. Ah!.. the great outdoors.The idea was sounding better and better as the continued partaking of strong liquor and the night wore on. As my great friend and brother in law Ray and I began to get more excited and feel a real sense of adventure, the cold light of day and sobriety the following morning was to bring us back us back down to earth. What had we done? 96 miles to Fort William.. walking? camping?? Too late, we were committed, (and should have been.)
I remember discussing training at the time, and after another "hauf" laughing it off as not necessary, we were after all reasonably young (who are we trying to kid), fit (well.. we thought so!), and well able to walk to required minimum daily distance. I mean.. how difficult can this be? Then the doubts crept in.. maybe next year eh, when the weathers better eh? Too late, it had already been announced to family and friends.. we were in. We had agreed to go in April, as the weather then should be good for walking, not too hot, not too cold, just about perfect. (The West of Scotland in April? God, how naive we were!)
So it was April, and Ray came up from the Wirral and brought the family with him. It was to be a grand send off, ticker tape, a brass band, women and children weeping. this was the Titanic leaving Southampton, Scott leaving for the Pole, Scotland off to the '78 World Cup in Argentina. So this is how Livingston felt, into the unknown, what would we find, what of the dangers, did we have an escape plan, what if we miscalculated the whisky rations? I mean.. how difficult can this be? Too late, we boarded the 7.36 from Motherwell bound for Milngavie and planted ourselves and our kit onto a couple of empty seats in an empty carriage on the empty train.. in 35 minutes, we would stand at the start and contemplate what lay ahead.
It was raining as we got off the train at Milngavie, (something we should have paid some attention to!). As we made our way through the pedestrian precinct to the monument and the official start of the walk, there was no talking, just a nervous silence. No turning back now, no second thoughts.. too late for that. We broke the ice by opening a bottle of single malt, asked a passer by to mark the occasion by taking a snap, and had a ceremonial toast to "The West Highland Way", Slainte! (Cheers! for the non Gaels among you), then one to "the Lassies", Slainte!, one for "the Family", Slainte!, "Good Health"... "Mankind"... "Rabbie Burns"... "Mother nature"... "the Lassies" ... "the Lassies" again... "one for the road"... and don't forget "the Lassies", Slainte! Hey, Maybe this aint gonna be so bad after all. Right then, lets go.. I could hear the Proclaimers.. "and I would walk 500 miles.. and I would walk 500 more.... " I mean.. how difficult can this be?
As we crossed the road and headed into the Allander Park, our spirits were high and an air of excited anticipation hung over us, sheltering us from the rain which had unnoticeably became a downpour, (something we should have paid some attention to!).
The way meanders through the Allander Park following the Allander Water for a bit before striking uphill to merge with Mugdock Wood. Its a stiff little climb of only a couple of hundred feet, but just enough to have your lungs remind you about the dubious decision to ignore the training. Its really worth while to stop at the top and have look around as it gives you a last look back at the Glasgow conurbation a few miles to the south. It was also an opportunity to have a ceremonial toast to the adventure which lay ahead, and our first mile walked.. so for the first time that day.. "the West Highland Way" Slainte!.. the "Lassies"... the "Great Outdoors"... "the Lassies"... Ray was beginning to show some signs of emotion, I think he was homesick. On to Craigallian Loch and past the famous Huts at Carbeth, its at this point you come face to face with Dumgoyne and the Campsie Hills and the pockets of snow still lying in the hollows from the winter months, and you realize that you've left the city well behind and are heading out into the countryside and the rougher higher places to the north. In the distance Ben Lomond, it seems so far away, yet by this evening we would be camping in its shadow. The Clachan pub in Drymen at midday was our scheduled lunch stop, at 12 miles it was a welcome sight as the rain had now been upgraded to monsoon. After a bowl of soup and a plate of chips, we thought it appropriate to award ourselves a small one, seeing as we hadn't touched a drop all day. After "one for the road", time to exam the guide book, check our co ordinates and align the compass with the map and magnetic north, put on the outdoor clothing, (which had been drying by the open log fire) and head for Balmaha via the Garabhan forest and Conic Hill. I think we impressed the locals, except for one, who must have been a sailor talking about his days at sea, for I think I heard him say, "..what a pair of anchors!..". The Garabhan is very much a working forest, with much of it being pine forestation which offered us some much welcomed protection from the downpour which hadn't relented all day, periodically though, through breaks in the trees, a view of Loch Lomond brightened the day and pushed us on to our next stop. Balmaha from the top of Conic was welcoming, as was the Highland Way pub, which offered some rest and respite from the weather and the exertions of Conic Hill, which, on another day, and on different conditions, would have offered stunning views of Loch Lomond. A quick refreshment and a dry off, and it was the last push to the camp site at Cashel 3 miles further on. We arrived about 7 o'clock at the camp site, 22 miles from our start at Milngavie; picked a pitch near to the loch side and immediately erected the 2 man tent which was to be our home for the next 4 nights. The "something we should have paid attention to" was the relentless rain and the fact that rucksacks on their own aren't waterproof. The tent, sleeping bags, spare clothes and food were soaked and lying in a puddle of water in the bottom of the rucksack. With no alternative, we got into the tent, fired up the meths burning stove, had a brew and ate our dehydrated, rehydrated, reconstituted, powdered, high protein, tasteless instant meal. Actually it wasn't tasteless, it was pretty vile! As our eyes met across the stove flame, words were not required.. "lets have a small one.. just to get us off to sleep." Ah yes, the great outdoors, sleeping under inky black starry skies.." God, would we have traded it in for our own beds??
After a disturbed uncomfortable night of tossing and turning in wet clothes in a wet sleeping bag in a wet tent with the wind whistling, the tent flapping and strange noises outside (God, were we City boys?).. it was time to rise. This is what we were here for, the thrill of unzipping the tent, seeing the misty dewy morning with daylight breaking through early morning clouds, hearing the birds and the gentle lapping of waves on the pebble beach a few yards away, I'm sure in the distance I could hear Runrig playing.. Bugger!.. it was still raining! Still it cant last forever, and after all, we're on Loch Lomondside with some of the most spectacular, stunning scenery anywhere.. this is going to be a good day. After a wet breakfast of wet square sausage, wet rolls and some wet high protein biscuits, we were ready for the day ahead.. Cashel to Inverarnan, a distance of about 18 miles.
The track northwards along the east shore of Loch Lomond as far as Inversnaid, is reasonably good, due to the constant maintenance work by the local authorities, provides exhilarating vistas in all directions, and is one of the reasons why this is one of the most spectacular long distance footpaths in the U. K. In the shadow of Ben Lomond and on the sandy beaches we tramped along, sometimes whistling, sometimes singing, but always happy despite the rain. At Inversnaid we stopped at the hotel. It was midday and time for something to eat. Oh Yeah? This was Scotland, on a Sunday, off season, and the hotel was shut! Well shut to us at least, as we stood outside along with several other backpackers, cursing the ironic "Walkers Welcome" sign and the spotty 16 year old Hotel Manager who stood in the doorway, advising us with a quote from the spotty hotel managers guidebook, "The hotel opening hours are widely displayed.. We are unable to contravene the Licensing Laws.. blah blah.. The purchase of alcohol by non residents is subject to the Licensing (Scotland) Act, 1922, Section blah, Paragraph blah blah..." just as the coach load of wrinklies pulled up and were duly escorted by the spotty hotel manager in for tea and cucumber sandwiches. "Bastard.. ah hope yer Acne spreads tea yer goolies.." someone muttered. Ach well, we'll just have to do for ourselves.. "the West Highland way".. Slainte!.. "the Lassies"... "one for the road".. The path from Inversnaid to the top of the loch and our stop for the day at Inverarnan is particularly tough, and makes for some difficult walking. It is however peppered with places you just have to stop and take in the scenery, what you would say.. a Kodak moment.. (what we would say, a Slainte! moment) After a quick refreshment stop at the bothy at Doune, it was on to the Inverarnan, or as its commonly known as, the "Drovers". This is a must stop, as the 'atmosphere and character' has to be seen to be believed. Quaint doesn't begin to describe it! After something to eat (and a quick single malt), we decided to find a place to pitch the tent. Outside it was teeming rain, somewhere close then, somewhere suitable. A few yards along the now dark road, we jumped the fence and found what appeared to be a suitable pitch for the tent. Right, up with the wet tent, roll out the wet sleeping bags, ditch the wet rucksacks.. lets get back to the warmth and hospitality of the Drovers. The bar was busy with all sorts of outdoor types, walkers, climbers, anglers, guys trying to escape from the wife and weans for the weekend. It was there at the bar we met 'him'. A guy about the same age as us, who seemed to want to attach himself to us unnaturally. As is customary in the great outdoors, you spend a few minutes exchanging pleasantries and details of where you've been, and where you're heading for, the weather etc.. the usual stuff. This guy seemed a little "different" . Despite the appalling cold wet weather, all he had was a T shirt, a cagoulle and a piece of paper with handwritten details of the West Highland Way which had become almost unreadable as the ink had run off the page because of the rain. "Where are you staying tonight boys.. where are you staying tomorrow.. what time are you leaving at?".. "Ach, we're no too sure.. we maybe stay here a while, you know.. dae a wee bit of exploring an that.. maybe meet up with the wife and weans, you know.. Aye, lots of people know we're here an might be lookin for us.. we might just stay on a while.." "Aye well I might see you then boys eh?" he said.. "Aye, ye might." said we.. (no if we see you first.) Christ, here we are.. a hundred miles from home, and standing next to the missing link.. Time for a hasty exit, despite the fact that the coal fire was roaring in the fireplace, and the impromptu ceilidh was in full swing, it would have been easy to stay on. One look at this guy, and the fact his eyebrows met in the middle, made our minds up.. lets head for the tent.. "Good night all", "Aye, good night lads, sleep well, see you later" , What did he mean?.. "sleep well.." he was smiling as we looked back, actually it was more of a kind of deranged laugh, what was he planning? This was like a scene from American Werewolf in London... "Make sure he disnae see where we're camped Ray" We split up outside and headed back to camp in a zig zag fashion, just to try and shake off any followers. It wasn't a great nights sleep, wet clothes, wet sleeping bag, wet tent, the mad axe man somewhere out there. The sounds of the night made sure we never shut an eye, "This is the life eh Ray, eh?.." . "Oh yea.. great.. I'm really enjoying myself.." he said, he was sitting up, his eyes like saucers, the tent peg mallet by his side. Morning eventually arrived, and we were keen to pack up and get a head start on 'him'. As we unzipped the tent, my worst fears were realized, "Don't go out there Ray.. don't go out".. "Is it 'him' " said Ray fumbling for the mallet, "is it?".. "Naw.. but I think he's been here during the night." Outside the tent was a dead sheep, just lying there, right in front of the tent! Dead!! To make matters worse, in our haste to pitch the tent last night, we hadn't realized we were in an island in the middle of what had become a stream with the continual torrential overnight rain. We packed away the stuff in a time that would have interested Norris McWhirter. Next stop was to be Crianlarich six miles further on, and our midday break.
The walk from the Drovers, across the wooden bridge over the river Falloch and past Beinglass Farm, was as cold and wet as at anytime since we left Milngavie. No singing this morning, just a determined effort to get to Crianlarich and get in somewhere to dry off and get something hot inside, as the decision to miss breakfast and leave quickly was beginning to look like a bad one. The rain was coming horizontal now, and only the howling wind drowned out the sound of squelching in our boots. Things couldn't get any worse. Oh Yea?? Up ahead, through the driving rain.. a sight which stopped us dead in our tracks.. A light blue cagoulle!! Feck.. It was 'him', no more than 200 hundred yards ahead. Christ, this is all we need.. A lunatic with a paper map in the middle of hurricane Lizzie, "Well, any suggestions? I said", "Maybe we could turn back,” said Ray, "Back to where?" I asked, "the Drovers?".. "No" said Ray.. "Milngavie!" "There's no way we're chucking it because of him." I said, although I could see where he was coming from. "Just carry on, ignore him." I said. "What if he's laying waiting for us up ahead, hiding?" said Ray. "Look, there's two of us, and only one of him, we can take him no problem". I was thinking at the same time of ditching the rucksack and putting on my trainers. I don't need to outrun 'him', just outrun Ray. "Just keep your eye on him." I said, (now, where the feck was that mallet). As it happened, we managed to keep the distance between us through Glen Falloch and over the hills to Crianlarich. This is a particularly good section, as the path is good with some nice stopping places along the river: but not today! With the horizontal rain in our face, we were having difficulty taking in any of the scenery. As we reached the top of the hill overlooking Crianlarich, a sight to gladden our hearts.. To the right, we could see the pub, to the left as the path branches off and heads up north.. 'him'. He was missing out this stop and pushing on. For the first time that day a smile on our faces. We entered the Rod & Reel Pub, and stood dripping on the floor. After stripping off what wet clothes we could, whilst still remaining decent, we sat at a table and ordered some food. Despite our hunger, we struggled to eat. Perhaps the cold and wet had seized up our taste buds, for no matter what we tried to do to it, there was no taste to the food. It was at that point we looked at each other, perhaps knowing what the other was thinking. Was this worth it? Are we really getting anything out of this? We've never been out of wet clothes since we started two and a half days ago.. Was it worth it? What if we retire and come back later? It would not be an admission of failure.. No defeat.. Just common sense. The idea began to sound more and more acceptable. “What do you think Ray.. time to call it a day?” Reluctantly after a long pause.. “Yea, I think so, we’ve done well to make halfway haven’t we? I mean there’s not many who would have stuck it out this long eh?” said Ray. I agreed, “Aye, you’re right there, apart from us the only other idiot out there is 'him'. “Well that’s it decided then, we’ll have a quick one for the road and head out for the bus.. I’ll go and phone Anna.” Ray said, suddenly he seemed happier than at any time today. As he went to call home, I started thinking of our journey so far.. the walk through Strathblane past the Campsies and the distillery at Dumgoyne and on to the hamlet of Gartness. The stop at Drymen and on through the Garabhan Forrest, overnight at Cashel and the stops on Loch Lomondside, the bothy at Doune, the night at the Drovers.. 'him'. Ach maybe it hadn’t been so bad after all. I noticed that Ray was taking his time on the phone, maybe he couldn’t get through, or Anna wasn’t in, anyway, in a couple of hours we would be back home, warm and dry, I was beginning to feel better. When he eventually returned, I could see something was wrong, his face told a story. “What’s up?” I asked. “We cant chuck it now” he said. “Anna told me everyone under the sun has been on the phone, asking how we’re doing, pledging money to charity if we make it.. I tried to explain, but she thinks we’re wimping out! She said we’ve to carry on, get out of the tent and book in somewhere to dry out and get a good nights sleep”. “Whit, is she daft?” I said.. “The weather's so bad out there, they’ve issued a warning to shipping, I hope you told her!”. I could tell he had folded under pressure. Pathetic!! “What can we do?” he said. It took along time for me to answer.. I couldn’t believe it.. we could be home and dry in a couple of hours. Eventually I said “We could carry on to Tyndrum, about 7 miles up the road, there’s plenty of B & B’s there.” So it was.. we packed up again, put the now familiar feel of wet clothes back on and headed back out into the wilds. In the short time we had stopped at the pub, the weather had changed.. changed from driving rain to driving sleet! The walk to Tyndrum was again in silence.. How could he? How could he not have just said it was a bad line and hung up. We arrived at the Invervey Hotel about 4 o’clock, and checked at the reception for a vacancy. What do you know, the receptionist was a Scouser.. great! Here’s me standing frozen, soaked, leaving a damp patch in the lobby, starving and not in one of my better moods, while Lilly Savage and Ricky Tomlinson are reminiscing about the old times. However it did have an advantage, she took all our wet gear and had it laundered and ironed and ready for us in the morning. To say we had a good night, and more importantly a good nights sleep would be the understatement of the decade.
After breakfast we repacked the rucksacks, said farewell to Lily and headed out to start once more. What a difference a day makes, the sun was shining, it was warm and everything looked so different. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing after all to carry on. This stage of the way would take us to Kingshouse and the bunkhouse there, a distance of approximately 19 miles. The track follows the railway line till crossing underneath it at Bridge of Orchy passing Ben Dorain and Alt na feadh, birthplace of Duncan Ban McIntrye, reputedly one of Scotland greatest ever poets, who wrote mostly of the deer and the eagles and who despised the sheep that were to to take over this land. Its easy walking on this section with a good path, allowing us to take in the scenery, something we hadn’t been able to do so far. The countryside now is much more mountainous and the sight of the Mamore range of hills in the distance covered with snow is testimony to the fact we are heading north. The short break we took at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel was deliberately short. The hospitality offered is, unfortunately, not very welcoming. So it was “one for the road” and press on to the Inveroran Hotel, Loch Tulla and the Rannoch Moor via the Blackmount Estate. The old military road from the Hotel makes for good walking, and we soon reach the Inveroran, 3 miles further on. The view from the top of the rise above Loch Tulla is spectacular and is the stuff of postcards and calendars. As we round the Loch and climb the gate at the Estate Lodgehouse, the path begins to climb and after a short while the remoteness of the Rannoch Moor surrounds you. Just beyond the Lodge a herd of deer were grazing with a magnificent stag keeping watch. Ray was impressed.. this is what it was all about.. this is what we came for.. the wide open space of one of the last great wildernesses in Europe. The weather was now perfect for walking and visibility good with great views in all directions.. “Feck!! Ray.. get down.. Quick!”.. “What is it.. What is it?.. is it another Stag? Eh? Something interesting eh? Will I get the camera out?” “Shhhhh!…. its 'him', just round the bend, I saw the Cagoulle, I don’t think he saw us.” “Oh feck no, just when things were going well” said Ray. “Keep down, I think we should kill a bit of time here, and move on only if its safe.” I said. “Good idea, lets get comfy.. pass the bottle”. “Aye, good idea.. Slainte!”. We soaked up the atmosphere of the Rannoch and after “one for the road” we moved on. The Kingshouse Hotel can be seen from high up on the moor as the path comes over a ridge, and gives a good impression of the solitude and isolation of the place. The bunkhouse is, to put it mildly, 'basic' however we picked a spare room and dumped our stuff on the wooden slats of the bunk beds. It was about 5 o’clock and there were a few others in the kitchen and dining room. We decided on what we would have for dinner, and began to cook in the giant pots and pans provided in the kitchen. As we sat down to eat, we were talking about the day and how good it had been, how different from the previous days, when we picked up on a conversation coming from the guys at the table behind us… “Aye, you should have seen him.. nothin on but a T shirt and a cagoulle.. Jeez, the rain was torrential and he pulled out this bit of paper with nothin on it and asked if he was on the right road…. “ Ray and I smiled.. lets hope he’s walked on. After dinner, Ray and I took a walk round the Hotel, the sun was setting and the place looked incredible. To the south, the Rannoch Moor seemed to go on forever, to the west the white corries ski slopes were still holding plenty of snow, ahead was Glencoe, Ray had gone misty eyed.. and began to relay the story of the Campbells’ slaughter on the Macdonalds. He had gone.. miles away, this was surely worth all the discomfort and pain.. this was it! At the head of the glen stood the Buachaille Etive Mor, one of the most imposing sights in Scotland, magnificent! We were to return in a few years to climb this spectacular mountain. But with one eye on the time, we were conscious that tomorrow was our last day, and the longest, and the toughest. Kingshouse to Fort William, a journey of about 24 miles would see us climb the Devils Staircase, walk over the Mamores and descend into Kinlochleven, climb again up onto the Larig Mor, (the high pass) and head for Fort William. It would be an early rise with a good breakfast, as apart from Kinlochleven, there is nowhere else to pick up provisions. So it was.. “Glencoe”.. Slainte! “the Buachialle Etive Mor”… Slainte!
when we rose and still dark. Wiping the condensation from the window allowed us
to see it was dry outside. This was to be our last day, the final 24 miles which
would see us complete our challenge, and connect
Overheard in a pub in Fort William.. " I'm tellin you.. the guy was wearin nothin but a T shirt and a cagoulle.. said he had walked from Milngavie.. had nothin but a bit of wet paper, said it was his map.. said he met a couple of decent guys on the way.. said he was turnin around and headin back to Glasgow."
Midwinter, several years later... A pub somewhere in Rutherglen...
Three Guys standing at the bar.. "Walk to Fort William, yer jokin!.., Walking's for nancy boys and woofters.." "Honestly Paul.. You'll love it.. Think of it.. in the footsteps of Rob Roy, Wallace and Prince Charlie, following the Wade and Caulfield military roads.. mountain paths, the golden eagle soaring magnificently overhead, herds of deer sweeping majestically across the moors, I mean.. how difficult can this be? Get a rucksack from somewhere, scrape up a tent from someone, stick in some blankets to sleep on and a few tins of beans, asleep under a cloudless starry sky.. Ah!.. the great outdoors.
Paul wasn't for changing.. nope, not for him, a Glenburn Boy. Why walk for 6 days when you can drive there in a couple of hours. "That's not the spirit Paul.. its not about when you get there.. its about how you get there. The pleasure, the pain.. the ups, the downs, the highs, the lows". "Exactly" said Paul.. "The pain.. the downs.. the lows.. need I say more" . "Ach, don't be so negative, its an experience, an opportunity to explore the world outside.. to find yourself". "I don't need to find myself, I know where I am, right here with an empty glass.. its your round.." . Aye, a Glenburn Boy alright.. "Three haufs, big yin, an wan fur yersell.. ". This is gonna be harder than I thought.
So its April, and we've managed to coerce Paul, John O'Shaughnessy, Glen Broon, Thomas Rocks and we've thrown my Andrew in for good measure. So its the magnificent 7, and we're up for it. The stories and tales of the last expedition was enough to entice the others to sign up and commit themselves to the challenge.
The 7.36 to Milngavie was on time, the atmosphere this time around was much more jovial and upbeat than the last time Ray and I boarded this train, and as we dumped our kit onto the same empty seats in the same empty carriage there was no feeling of apprehension, no fear or worry, just a laugh and a genuine feeling of togetherness. Would this last, could we all make it without falling out, would we still be friends at the end, no matter what? The customary stop at the monument in Milngavie town centre for the customary "hauf" and the customary "toast.. Slainte!" was this time captured not on camera, but on video. Times had changed since we last walked this road! A video diary, a permanent record of our escapades, our images captured on celluloid for posterity. (Now available in all good record shops.) What would it show?
So who have we got:- Paul Young (Crocodile Dundee), a Glenburn Boy, but we wont hold that against him; John O'Shaughnessy (the prodding Doctor), a merchant banker, (no, honestly!) English, but its not his fault; Glen Broon (Travels Far), been on the Mersey Ferry, thinks he's seen a bit of the world; Thomas Rocks (Armani), loads a dosh, a product of the eighties yuppie scene, could he last the pace?; and lastly, my Andrew (Going down to Peterborough to be a naughty Boy!).. the Wean, a mere boy, would this make him a man, could he keep up with the rest? Including Ray (Grizzly) and myself, (Bald Eagle), that made up 'the not so Magnificent seven', After 'one for the road' and a Steak Bake from Greggs, the group set off, chatting and giggling like a bunch of excited school kids. Ray and I held back, looked at each other and had another 'one for the road, Slainte!'. We watched as they disappeared across the car park and headed off into the Allander Park and wondered if we had done the right thing.. convincing others to take up this week of walking.. time would tell.. anyway, 'one for the road.. Slainte!.. the Lassies.. Slainte!..' We caught them up at the top of the rise in the Allander Park, and as before, stopped to take in the view. Someone suggested 'one for the road.. ' "Aye, well ok then.. first today.. Slainte!" The weather was perfect for walking despite some drizzle which didn't look threatening, and we made good time in reaching our first scheduled stop at the Beech Tree Inn, (outside of course, not inside.) The packed lunch the lassies had made for us was devoured along with a small libation; so far so good, no problems, but then we had only gone a few miles.. still along way to go. Beyond the Beech Tree on the disused railway track that makes up the path here, the track had turned into a quagmire, with 6 inches of mud and no way round. With no alternative, it was on with the gaiters and plough on through. This prompted a quick stop at the hamlet of Gartness, the birthplace of John Napier (Mathematician and father of logarithms and the decimal point; as everyone knows!) and the chance to clean the boots in the Endrick Water that passes by the terrace of houses on its way to Loch Lomond. We reached the Clachan at Drymen in good time, it was a contest to see who would be last in between the Glenburn Boy and the Merchant Banker. After an hour, we had to declare it a draw.. they were both frozen standing outside. After a quick bite to eat it was up the road and turn into the Garabhan Forest, the crack was good and everyone enjoyed the forest trail, stopping frequently to take in a view.. This was gonna be alright, yep, its gonna be good! We came off the Conic Hill at Balmaha at about 6 o'clock and crossed the car park heading towards "Bay Cottage" and our B & B stop for the day. What I should have said was that after long consideration, (2 Minutes) we decided to appease the Glenburn Boy and ditch the tent and sleeping bags for the comforts of some good old fashioned Scottish hospitality. So in our preparation and forward planning we pre booked our accommodation. The guide showed Bay Cottage as 'homely, comfortable and Family run..' That'll do for us. So I called Mrs. Bates and booked accommodation for 4, as this was the original group. Mrs Bates sounded ok, if not a bit bossy. A week later Thomas Armani chipped his lot in, and we were 5. I called Mrs Bates back to increase the booking, Jeez, you would have thought I was asking to buy the place, "Right then, I'll huvtae change everything around, but never mind, its only me that's being inconvenienced.." but the 5 of us were in. A week later Glen Broon decided to join the band.. Feck I'll need to phone Mrs Bates again, "Whit.. ye want tae change your bookin again?.." "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, if its too much bother.." I could hear the diary pages being thumbed in anger then slammed shut. "Right, its done!" I was beginning to get worried. Worse was to come, yep, 'Womans Own Mother of the Year' piped up.. "Ur ye no takin yer boy oan the this thing that ye dae?" There was never a problem including 'the wean' but at 18 I didn't know if it was his thing. Apparently his Mother decided it was. Feck, I've got to phone 'her' back to get him in. The name Bates was beginning to bother me.. it couldn't be Norman, could it? Why was it so easy to get accommodation? Why was there no other guests? Jeez, what if there's a shadow in the window.. a movement of the curtain..! After a sleepless night and a few large ones, I plucked up the courage to call her back.. "Listen, I'm really really sorry about this.. its the Wife, she made me do it, if it was up to me, we wouldn't come at all, we would just send the money.." I was sweating; I could hear her in the background, banging about, muttering under her breath. "Right, I've changed it AGAIN, are you likely to be back on later with some other disruptive, unreasonable request?.." God, this was Basil Fawlty, I was picturing the 'German sketch', "Well.. you started it!.." when I spluttered out some groveling apology and hung up. All this was coming back to me as we approached Bay Cottage. As we rounded the last bend, there she was... standing outside on the pavement.. arms folded with a look on her face that would have frightened Mike Tyson. We stopped about 50 yards short of her, thinking what to do next... it was a stand off, staring at each other across the car park a bead of sweat ran down my face, who would be the first to blink.? I could hear the Sergio Leoni theme in the background.. 'aa ee aa ee aa...... wah wah wah..' Like Clint Eastwood in some Spaghetti Western, her eyes stared us down from under her headscarf. Somewhere in the distance, a dog barked. There was 7 of us but I think we were still way short of a fair fight. "You'll be the Rundell booking eh?, where huv ye been, ye said you'd be here at 5 o'clock, its noo past 6, you'll have been in the Clachan eh?.. " Jeez, this was my Mother, Granny and Schoolteacher all in one. "We're sorry, we got held up, honestly.." I stuttered. What if she smelled the drink on our breath? "Right then.. get yerselves intae yer rooms, dump they bags, get a quick wash and change and get over for a pint, yer dinner will be oot in 30 minutes.. an leave yer boots ootside an oor Christopher will clean an polish them fur ye." Eh? no serious assault, no ear bashing. she sounded almost human, "I was worried about ye, and jist aboot to send the boy oot tae look for ye". Is this the same woman on the phone?? It turned out to be one of the best digs we've ever stayed in. The rooms, the food and her 'charm' was something we would remember, and bring us back time and time again.
The weather was perfect for walking and after saying our goodbye's to Mrs Bates, we set off. This was Loch Lomond, and half a mile from our start, we climb up Craigie Fort, a nice wee hill at the southern end on the Loch. The view was superb and the guys were impressed. Ahead to the north, we could see Ben More and the Crianlarich hills, to the east Ben Lomond, on the opposite side of the Loch to the west, the Arrochar Alps.. Ben Narnain, Ben Vane, the Cobbler, Ben Vorlich and Ben Ime. Along the sandy beaches and through the woods we were heading to Rowardennan and the Hotel there for our midday lunch stop. Not renowned for its great hospitality to backpackers, we stacked our packs in the hall and sat down in the bar for something to eat and drink. Its not that welcoming, so we don't stay, and as soon as we're finished, we move on. The path is quite rough along this stretch, but the guys were striding along, although I thought Armani was showing signs of a limp, I knew his Italian hand made shoes would give him trouble. Andrew was throwing stones into the Loch when I shouted.. "Right boy, put that down.. you'll have somebodies eye out!" Jeez I'll need to relax and give him a bit of slack. As usual, he was making signs behind my back! The team were holding up well, the Glenburn Boy seemed to be enjoying himself, I think we've turned him round, Armani was worried incase his silk shirt was beginning to crease and there was no trousers press at the next stop, otherwise he was in good form, O'Shaughnessy was deliriously happy, he had managed to get hold of a newspaper and checked the shares.. the Footsie was up! Glen Broon seemed content, he had the camera out and was snapping everything , didn't have the heart to tell him the lens cover was still on! Andrew was still throwing stones, Ray and I had a fly one when no one was looking.. 'Slainte!'. We reached the Inversnaid Hotel about 5 o'clock, our 2nd night B & B. This should be fun, our lasting memories of this place didn't do much for Scottish tourism. I checked us in, and looked around for the spotty 16 year old hotel manager as the receptionist got our keys, expecting to hear.. "We are unable to provide facilities for non residents.. our terms and conditions are widely published blah blah..", but no, not a word.. in fact they were quite pleasant. We threw our bags onto the beds in the bunkhouse at the back of the function hall, had a quick wash, put on a semi clean T shirt, (apart from Armani.. tailored shirt from Versace, Christ it even matched his designer shorts!), and made our way to the bar. The Glenburn Boy and the Banker were locked in another titanic struggle to come last, this was going to be some contest!! I was still looking for the spotty manager, no sign of him, maybe he was still doing his homework. 7.30 and we're ready for our meal in the restaurant. Was a bit apprehensive about sitting in the restaurant, Jeez is this what people can do to you, make you feel inferior? However, we all get seated and the waiter comes over to take our order. "Would you like a drink from the bar gentlemen?" With one voice.. "Aye yer right there.." The waiter was from South Africa and was here on a working break. The offer to buy him a drink worked wonders.. extra chips, extra bread rolls and a shuttle service to the bar.. this is more like it!! After dinner we sat in the bar and mixed with the locals, we were the youngest there.. by a long long way! It was a good days walking and a good nights relaxation. Five of us called it a night and headed for our bunks, Armani and the Banker decided to carry on, and after acquiring the camera, shot an impromptu video diary. The replay showed it to be a garbled piece of gibberish.
After breakfast, it was examine the feet, plaster if necessary, pack up and hit the road again. This section to the bothy at Doune is probably the roughest and toughest on the whole walk, but we had rested well in the Inversnaid, never did see the spotty one. Over the boulders and along the narrow path sometimes high above the Loch, passed the feral goats grazing at the side of the track, on past 'Rob Roys Cave', "See Paul, told we'd be in the footsteps of Rob Roy". I don't know if he heard, he was concentrating hard on trying to peel an orange in his pocket, (stolen from the breakfast table). The Guys looked quite well, although O'Shaughnessy and Armani were quieter than the rest, "All right this mornin Lads?.." I asked. "Aye.. oh aye, fine!" , It didn't sound like it! "Enjoy yourselves after we went to bed?..". "Aye.. oh aye..". "Didn't see you have too much breakfast this mornin.. not hungry?" "Aye.. oh aye, not too hungry..". "Aye, I thought the eggs were a bit runny myself.." I said. "Gonny somebody feckin shut him up.. " was muttered under someones breath. We strolled along the 'Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond' chatting and having a laugh, the Banker and Armani were still quiet.. the Glenburn Boy was still taking things out from his pocket and slipping them into his mouth.. the 'Wean' was still throwing stones into the loch.. Glen Broon was still snapping away, (still with the lens cover on!) "Ey lad.. I tink I could win a competition with deese.. ", "Aye, Glen.. I sure you will." Wee soul. We reached the bothy at Doune, went inside and threw off the bags. "Right lads.." said Ray, " Loosen yer jackets, we'll have a break. Who's for a wee one?". I put out the paper cups, the Banker and Armani got up quickly and went out side.. "Not havin one Boys?.." I shouted. "Somebody feckin shut him up.." came the reply. This was a great stop at a great location.. not too far now till 'The Drovers' and our official dinner time stop. We pushed on and soon arrived at the 'Hill of Death', probably a bit of an overstatement, but still a fair wee climb right at the top of the loch. The view from the top is what makes postcards, Superb!! A five minute stop and on the last couple of miles to the Drovers, 'a place of some character'. The pub was quiet when we arrived, apart from a couple of locals and a table of young girls that caught the Weans eye; that was soon to change. After a bowl of soup and a plate of chips, (except for Andrew.. soup, cheeseburger & chips, extra bread and ice cream.. Jeez, were does he put it all!) it was the usual rammy about 'the highland dwarf - Prince Charlie, actual size on a shortbread tin and the worse thing that ever happened to Scotland'; football and religion. The Glenburn Boy and the Bankers soup were getting cold as they were still outside desperately trying hard to be last in. By this time the pub had got busier, and of course Ray had everyone involved in the 'friendly banter' including the bar staff. With the pub now at boiling point, time for us to go.. boots on, bags back on.. "See you all later lads", no reply.. the place was about to erupt. "Ach maybe they didn't hear us". Its a gorgeous walk up through Glen Falloch till it crosses the A82 and climbs up onto the hills overlooking Crianlarich. We were looking forward to our end of day stop at the Craigbank Guest House in Crianlarich. Despite being a terrific section of the way, its probably the roughest and most strenuous, so it will be good to get in for the night, shower, change, something to eat and relax, Andrew was 'still starvin..'. Crianlarich is described 'The Gateway to the Highlands', a bit ambitious I thought, but the Hotel, general grocers & post office, pub and the 3 or 4 houses that make up the place are quite nice. After dumping the gear at Mrs Flockharts B & B, it was meal time at the 'Rod & Reel'. Armani and the Banker had been sobered up by the exertions of the day and were enjoying being back on the drink. The rest of us though were enjoying putting the feet up. "Right then.." said Ray.. "What were you saying about Charlie being 'the highland dwarf'?..". "Time for bed" I said.
Tuesday morning and a look out the window showed a bright sunny day. The guys had some repair work to do on the feet last night and the first aid kit was put to good use. "Any Vaseline in there?" asked Armani, I didn't want to know. After breakfast (Andrew ate like there was no tomorrow, he was 'starvin..'), we set off along the busy road till we reach the path that takes us up the hill and into Bogle Wood. This is a stunning wee section and its easy to stop and take in the scenery. We take a break at a stream and refill our water bottles, some of us are more dehydrated than others! The Glenburn Boy decided to show us how ' mountain men' refresh themselves!! Yep, head under the icy cold water.. it was very impressive till he let out a scream.. "fer fecks sake its feckin freezin.." I would have told him if he had asked. "Ey lads.. av got dat on me camera.. ". "Aye, very good Glen, that'll be a good one". Somebody's gonna have to tell him! Armani was sitting rather uncomfortably on one cheek on a rock. "You ok Thomas?". "Aye, fine." ,"You sure?", "Ah've jist feckin telt ye!", "Aye, ok ok.." Jeez was he narky, but I was convinced something was wrong. The path meanders through the woods for a bit before crossing the main road again and heading up towards the ruins at Saint Fillans Priory and graveyard. The Wean was throwing stones, as he does, into the River Fillan as we cross the wooden bridge, at the other side of the bridge the Lassies from the Drovers. The Wean dropped his remaining stones and suddenly seemed a bit more mature. "Not throwin any more stones Andrew..?", "Naw, naw, throwin stanes is fur kids..". Armani was walking on ahead and from behind looked as though he had just got of a horse! "What do you think Ray?.. Duke o' Argylles.. walkers chaff.. or somethin' else?" ,"None of our business", the way he answered, I could tell he thought it was 'somethin else'. Hmmm, I'll ask again later. The path here is good as it passes through the working farm at Auchtertyre. In the middle of the path a big hairy caterpillar crosses in front of us and we stop to look at it. Glen gets his camera out. "Eh, Glen.. see your camera, is it ok, I mean can you actually see the subject through it? You know, there's nothing wrong with it is there?". "Ey, Ey.. aaright aaright.. camm, down.. camm down.. am doin me David Bailley ting 'ere..". This was to be a close up, he was lying flat out in front of the thing. Yea, ok David, carry on. After the path wanders about a little bit, we arrive at Tyndrum for our midday break. The Wean's 'starvin' and orders a 3 courser from the bar, we have the usual bowl of soup and plate of chips. "Right Lads what are we havin to drink..?". Only 5 pints.. whose missing? Aye.. the other 2 were in the toilet!! The Wean seemed keen to move on, and harassed us to pack up and get back on the road.. Strange. Up ahead.. the lassies! "There's a nice wee river up ahead Andrew, good for the old stone throwin..". "Ach chuckin stanes is shit, ah gied it up years ago..". The guys were all striding out well, except for Armani, who was beginning to look more and more like John Wayne. I'll have to ask. The Banker was smiling to himself. "All right John?". "Yep!" A quick check on his mobile phone confirmed the Dow Jones down against the Footsie, and the Pound up on the Euro. The Glenburn Boy was still managing to get things from his pocket to his mouth disguised as having a cough. "All right Paul?". "Mmmm mmmm mmmm..". He looked like a gerbil, "Are you storin food for the winter..", I said under my breath . The path follows the railway track till it splits for the viaduct then skirts round Ben Dorain, a Munro Andrew and I climbed a few years ago. Past the railway station and under the track and we arrive at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel. Time for afternoon tiffin. The guys pile into the Bar, the Glenburn Boy and the Banker are outside checking their laces again, and we order 7 cold beers. Yep, the outside two's beers are getting warm waiting on them. I'll have to put them out their misery and tell them the meals and beers are coming out of the kitty.. but not yet!! I'm enjoying the head to head. Armani has shifted cheeks, and has a pained look on his face. "You ok Thomas?..". "Listen Bald Eagle.. do I ask you every personal detail about yourself.. your private life.. the little things you like to keep to yourself eh?.. just get off ma back will you.." Jeez, this aint him, there's something definitely queer about the whole thing.. What was the Vaseline for, way back.. Oh No!, not him.. not the Armani Boy. "Listen Thomas.. if there's anything you want to tell us.. we're all boys together here.. you know, the male bonding thing..". "Jist mind yer ain business.. right!". At that we decided it was time to go, so we packed up, and hit the trail again. Armani was now walking with his legs so far apart you drive a bus through them. We leave the pub, turn left and immediately cross the bridge over the river Orchy. "Aye Paul.. as I was tellin you earlier, this is wan o they Wade roads..". "Mmmm mmmm mmmm..". Jeez he was still storing food. "Wade road?" said the Banker. "Aye.. General Wade." I said. Now then, way back before we set out, I promised myself not to cast up to the Sassenach the highland clearances, the rape and pillage of our Country, the destruction of a way of life, the banning of tartan and the playing of bagpipes, the forced migration of our people and turning our land over to sheep. Nope, not a word.. he was Family, and I love him dearly.. anyway, there was plenty of time to get him later on.. "General Wade.. who was he?" said the Banker. "Ach naebody really, just a kind of road builder, a kind of early George Wimpy, you know, building roads an that, not for any particular purpose..". God, was I bighting my tongue!. "Oh right." he said. "Aye right.." I said back. We climb the rise from the river Orchy, through the pine tree forest, and reach the cairn at the top of the hill. The view is magnificent, a 360 degree panorama, ahead is Loch Tulla, stunning! and in the foreground, the Inveroran Hotel, our stopping point for the day. In the distance the Mamore range of hills, to the east Rannoch Moor, to the west Glencoe and behind us the hills of Crianlarich, Wow! The Wean had pushed on alone down the winding path to the Hotel whilst the rest of us were strung out like a washing line. We all made the Bar, and were happy to get the rucksacks off and enjoy a pint whilst we waited on our pick up to our overnight stay at Kinlochleven. As I said earlier, we had pre booked our accommodation, and as the party grew, so I was required to advise our accommodation of the increases. As with Mrs Bates at Balmaha, I had struck up a working relationship with John, Mine Host at the 'Nia Roo Bidey Inn' B & B in Kinlochleven. Whenever I phoned he would answer with the deafening sound of building works in the background. "Is everything ok John" I would shout down the line, "Aye.. everything should be ok when you arrive.." he would shout back. "What's that John.. everything should arrive..?", "Just waiting on the water..", he replied, "No its not Walter, its the Rundell party I'm calling about.." I would shout.. "No, water.. water..", "Is there a fire?.. ", "Yes.. the fires will be working ok when you get here.." Ach, this was impossible, I'm trying to hold a conversation over the construction of the Channel Tunnel. "I'll see you later..", "No there's no waiter.. its self service..", We were to call him when we arrived at the Inveroran. He arrived on time and introduced himself to the guys. "The mini bus is outside." he said.. "Take your time.. no rush..", "Nope, we're ready now John, lets go.", I said. The journey was good and he fairly flew along the road. "Oh, by the way..", he said. "You wont be staying with us tonight.. it was the building works.. unable to get a safety certificate.. something about red tape, a technicality.." Christ, now you tell us.. 6 months of feckin phone calls, hoarse from shouting, deaf from the background building works.. "Dont worry, I've got you somewhere really nice, you'll love it." As we swung round the bend and headed into Kinlochleven he pointed out our 'alternative accommodation'. A lodge house 1500 feet up in the hills above the village. "There she is, 'the Mamore Lodge'.. nice eh? I've made all the arrangements.. so nothing to worry about.. you'll love it.. by the way, we're passing our place right now.. there she is.. Nia Roo Bidey Inn." A technicality! Christ, a shell of a building with scaffolding holding it up! It would have done the Luftwaffe proud. We were dropped off at the Mamore Lodge with a strange feeling as John did a handbrake turn in the bus, threw the bags out, shouted Good Luck, and sped off back down the single track road. "Right then Lads.. this is it.. quaint eh?.. " I said, trying to convince myself as well as the boys. We opened the door and stepped into a silent deserted hallway. "Hello.. Hello..". Nobody about. There must be somebody here. "Hello.. Hello..". A sound from somewhere down the hall prompted me to chase after it. It was a young girl and I introduced myself, "We're the Rundell party.. I think we're booked in tonight.", "You had better see the Manager.. in the Bar" she said. Hey, this might not be too bad after all! Ray and I found the Bar and opened the door, there was a guy behind bar, another guy standing at it and a drunk woman propped up on a stool leaning against the wall. "Evenin all.. we're the Rundell party.. I believe we're booked in tonight?", "Booked in for the night.. ah don't think so.. not for the likes of you or your type!" the drunk woman slurred. "Eh?", "Don't gimmie that eh? crap.. you turn up here at this time of night, hours late, full of drink, an expect me to check you in to this fine establishment..", "I beg your pardon!..", I said in astonishment. "Don't bullshit me.. look at the state you're in.. totally inebriated!.. you're a disgrace!!". Ray and I looked at each other.. is this a joke?.. where's Jeremy Beadle?.. its a wind up isn't it? "Well.. don't stand there lookin stupid.. pay me what you owe me and feck off.." , "Excuse me?.." I said in disbelief, "Feck.. deaf as well as stupid, how bad does this get.." she mumbled. "I'm looking for the manager" I said. "Well baldy, you're talkin to her.." . "We're the Rundell party, and I had previously booked accommodation with......", she interrupted.. "Listen pal.. cut the crap.. you're late, drunk an not too pretty lookin either, so why don't you just leave the money on the bar and shove off.." Christ.. Ray blew a fuse.. "This mans a Doctor.. I'm an electrical engineer.. we've got Bankers and Managers in our party, we haven't come here to be insulted..", "Why.. where do you an the rest of the Seven Dwarfs normally go fatso?.." she said. "You were that ugly, when you were born, the midwife slapped your Mother... You've got a face that looks like its been on fire, and some ones put it out with a shovel..". In jumps the Wean..", I could take her in one round." said Andrew, "Gimmie one punch.. I'll knock her right off that feckin stool..". "Steady Lads, steady.. lets try and talk this out..". I have no idea what she was expecting, or what 'John' had told her, but we had a problem. "Its 25 quid a head Baldy." she said. "25 quid?" . "Well at least your hearings coming back!" she said. "I booked B & B at 16 quid a head, and up until 30 minutes ago had no idea we were coming here." I told her. "Well, this is a very well established, high class hotel, and its 25 quid a head slap heid". "Right Lads.. get yer stuff.. we're out of here..". Christ what was I saying, it was late, getting dark and we were a good 30 minutes walk from the village, with no guarantee of a bed. "Hold on baldy.. hold on.. tell ye what.. seeing as I like you.. I'll let you have it for 22 quid a head.", Time to swallow some pride, eat a bit of humble pie and compromise. "20 quid.." I said. "21 quid." she said. "Done" I said. Christ had we been done.. wait till I see 'John' in the morning! The wee lassie rustled us up some dinner and we spent the night in the bar trying to relax and replay the events of earlier in the evening. The 'Manager' had gone to bed, rubbing shoulders with the walls and muttering that the clientele were not up to the usual standard and bringing down the tone of the place. "Christ.." I said to the barman, "What a feckin dragon.. a nightmare eh? God help the poor baskit that's married to her eh?.. " , "Aye.." said the barman, "That'll be me then..". It was gonna be a long night, bed time couldn't come fast enough. Jeez, and we had booked this for two nights, we'll never survive.
Morning eventually arrived and I went from room to room checking everyone was still breathing. Not much was said at the breakfast table, and the wee lassie served us our full Scottish breakfast, no sign of the 'Manager'. "Eh.. just yerself this mornin hen..?". "Aye..", "Naebody to help ye..?", "Naw..", "Ye'll no manage to clear aw the dishes as well, just bein yerself like eh?..", "If your wondering were 'she' is.. she'll no be up till midday" she said. Best leave well alone I thought. I could hear the mini bus pulling up outside.. "Right lads.. get yer stuff..". We trouped outside and John came toward us with a nervous smile.. "Mornin Lads.. sleep well eh?..". "Sleep well, eh? sleep well ma feckin arse.. you, a word.. over here!". We had a 'discussion' on what we normally expect from our accommodation. I think he got the point! The journey back to our drop off point was quiet. I had just noticed it had become cold and the skies were grey with dark clouds.. Snow! We jumped out the bus, stretched our legs, put the bags on and set off somewhat slowly. This was to be our longest day, 21 miles, up the climb past the Blackmount Estate Lodge house, through the pine trees, a quick stop at Ba Bridge and carry on over the western fringe of the Rannoch Moor. The temperature had dropped noticeably, and the prediction of snow looked ever increasingly likely. I don't think anyone slept particularly well last night, (except perhaps for the 'manager'). After 30 minutes the pace had picked up and a bit of banter crept in. "Whit wis aw that aboot last night?" asked Armani. "Well. it started badly when I felt she was unwelcoming, didn't greet us as one would expect, then became a little personal and asked for the bill to be settled upfront.." I said. "By the way.. where were you when all this was going on? Come to think of it.. where was your pal the Merchant Banker..?". "Oh we were right behind ye big yin.. right behind ye..". "Aye, right behind the ootside door." somebody shouted. "Ya pair o shite bags.." I shouted. "We were feart to come in when Ray said we were a party of Doctors, Bankers and Managers..". "How? did ye think she was gonny ask ye for a check up, eh?, or 'Perhaps we could discuss my Investments Portfolio?'.. 'Whit aboot a work life balance plan, eh?.. Aye, very good Lads, Thanks fur yer support..". I was raging, and stormed off, not realizing the rest of them were on the floor laughing! It was the tonic we needed.. we were back in our stride and looking forward to our scheduled mid morning stop at Ba Bridge. The snow did indeed come, heavily. It was lying thick and covered the place as far as we could see. It was a good stop at the bridge and the bottle got opened and passed around. Its good to take frequent breaks as it gives you the opportunity to take in the views and soak up the atmosphere. This was the Blackmount Estate, owned by the Fleming Family, ( as in Ian.. of the James Bond books and movies fame). It skirts the Rannoch Moor and can be awesome in its bleakness and desolation, but today with a thick white blanket it took on a different appearance.. picturesque! We wrapped up well before we left our stop, and carried on over the rough bouldery path to the top of the rise below the monument to one of the Fleming sons, who was killed in action. This is a high exposed point and offers no protection from the wind, snow or rain.. not a place to be in poor weather. From this point we can just make out our midday stopping place in the distance, The Kingshouse Hotel. We would be glad to get in as the snow was turning to rain and driving hard into our faces. The weather had deteriorated and was becoming a problem, the sooner we reach the Kingshouse the better. Eventually, after what seemed an age we all arrive together. The Walkers Bar is sparse and not very welcoming, but its well known and a favourite stopping place for climbers and walkers alike. "Three lager, three Dark Orkney and a Lager tops please barman". Hold on.. thats seven pints!! My God.. the Glenburn Boy and the Banker have decided to call a truce, declare an amnesty and actually come in together! An indication of the weather outside!! The usually order for food.. 6 soups, 6 bread rolls, 6 plates of chips.. 1 soup with double bread rolls, double cheeseburger and an extra large portion of chips, 2 slices of bread and whatever the sweet is. We are tempted to stay longer as the weather hasn't really relented, perhaps more rain now as we're a little lower down.. but not great walking weather. Anyway, the Dark Orkney is a great pint and really deserves to be savoured. Eventually we pull ourselves together and prepare for the next section, Kingshouse to Kinlochleven a distance of some nine miles. The mileage didn't bother anyone, however the climb up the Devils Staircase seemed to give some cause for apprehension. Ray and I talked it down and described it as 'you've done worse' The Devils Staircase is the name given to the climb from the road just short of the entrance to the Pass of Glencoe to the top of the hill and the beginning of the Mamore range of hills. Its a stiff climb which zig zags all the way to the top. It was built in this fashion to assist the horses and carts as they made the same journey as us many years ago on their way to Kinlochleven and more importantly to provide services to the Blackwater Dam, the last great manmade hand built construction in the Country. The climb was a challenge as the weather deteriorated and had become a blizzard with white out conditions at worst. We arrived at the top in bits and pieces and didn't take much time to stop and chat. However, whether it was elation at reaching the top or the spectacular view between squalls, we pulled together and cracked open a bottle at the cairn on the summit. The view was worth the effort, as watching the snow swirling round the the hill tops below us and the powdered stuff being blown away was a sight to inspire even the most hardened of townies. We moved quickly off the south face of the hill as it offered no cover or protection from the weather, and sought some shelter a little further down the track as it heads towards Kinlochleven. We thanked God for our good waterproofs, without them we would never got this far in these conditions. Yet the previous days were spring like, with bright sunny days, ideal for walking, but this was the west highlands and the weather can change dramatically in minutes. We took another break a bit further along the path to view the Blackwater Dam, built to provide power to the aluminum smelter at Kinlochleven and tried to get some heat back into our bodies. A further push on and from the top of the hills we were in sight of the village and the Mamore Lodge.. God.. what was worse, out here on the hills being battered by the weather, or facing another night with the 'manager'. The Wean had pushed on ahead from the stop just beyond the cairn at the summit and was now out of sight. Liz Andrew and I often joked about the young buck challenging the old silverback, and how I could see off any challenge, well if this was the challenge, I was the loser, blown out of the water, left miles behind and unable to keep up, he was different class, miles ahead and out in front. I hope he's ok! The rest of us struggle together and make the last climb up to the Mamore Lodge a great effort. Inside it is quiet as there is no sound of the wind blowing in your face, and warm as the outside temperature is freezing. We go to our rooms, check were all ok, change into warm dry clothes and arrange to meet in the bar. No sign of the 'manager' and the guy behind the bar is the same guy who was standing on this side last night when we arrived, I wonder what he thought. We order a drink, offer him one, and get chatting. He is the local Jack of all Trades and took our side in last nights confrontation, however remained neutral trying to protect his part time job here at the Hotel. We asked about transport down the hill to the village, when he told us there was none as he was also the local taxi driver, and saw our disappointment, he offered to arrange the local community bus and driver to pick us up and drop us off at the local hot spot, the Tailrace Inn; he also worked for the local community services! We jump at the chance and immediately get ready for the pick up. Armani dives into the shower and appears back in a smart two piece double breasted suit by King and Allen, silk shirt and hand made shoes from Versace, and stinking of Gucci aftershave and skin balm, the rest of us have three times worn T shirts and jogging bottoms on. The Tailrace is busy with all kinds of people, walkers, climbers, travelers and a mix of the locals. This is our last night and we have all had a hell of a hard day. The atmosphere is lively and the chat is good and we enjoy ourselves thoroughly. It was an experience which would draw us back time and time again. We are all looking forward to finishing and getting home, but we have still to survive the night at the Mamore and the 'manager'. The night wears on and we keep the bus driver waiting, and waiting, and waiting, finding it difficult to leave. But eventually we pour out of the Pub and onto bus.. "Right Lads.. lets gie the driver a wee song eh? Ray, Glen Broon and The Banker go into 'Mull of Kintyre'.. the rest of us follow it with 'Flower o' Scotland', the driver's impatient and aint impressed.. "C'mon lads a wee whip roon fur the driver eh?". The Driver still aint impressed, said "goodnight, and good luck on the last day", and sped off. We were left standing outside the Mamore Lodge sometime after midnight and for the first time since arriving looked around us.. God it was beautiful, the full moon lit up the place and showed up the snow covered hills and moonshine rippling on Loch Leven way below us, it was perfectly calm, peaceful and serene.. What else could we do.. Yep, have game of rugby on the lawn. With a rolled up T shirt for a ball, it was to be a friendly game (my arse..).. Scotland v England, no quarter asked, nothing given. To the victor, the spoils, to the vanquished, humiliation, degradation and a subservient life! This ones for the clearances!!... We eventually went inside, checked to see if the Bar was still open, (bastard, it was closed!, just as well), and stumbled up the stairs to our respective rooms. I was still worried Armani was continuing to stand rather than sit, even at meal times.. and decided to see if I could help. With the first aid kit under my arm I approached the room he shared with O'Shaughnessy and stopped outside before knocking. Frozen to the spot.. I couldn't believe what I was hearing.. "Oh God.. that's it John.. yea right there.. ooh thats soo good..". "Oh Thomas.. its so red and angry lookin.. are you sure I'm not hurtin you?.." . " Keep doin it John, its ready to pop any minute.. I'll keep puttin the cream on..". Bastards, I was right!.. I burst in.. "Right you two what's goin on.." I said. "Nothin Bald Eagle.. John here's just burstin the blister on my foot, and I'm puttin some Vaseline onto the rash on my thighs". "Aye right lads.. well.. eh.. carry on then.. just, eh.. carry on.. ok.. right.. g'night.". ok so I was a bit hasty, but its a mistake anyone could make. Armani had been suffering the worst case of maximus sphyncteritis coupled with walkers chaff and inflammation of the testicularis scrotius I've ever seen. God, no wonder he couldn't walk. I think we all slept well that night, possibly due to the small sweet sherry earlier on. This was to be our final night in B & B and tomorrow our final West Highland Breakfast as by the end of the day we would all be back home with our loved ones and I would be back with the Wife. This day is one of the easiest on the whole walk, only 14 miles and relatively flat, but with no natural stopping places to eat we would have to carry our own food and drink. Breakfast finished and no sign of the'manager', "Lets not tempt fate Lads, as quick as you can.."
We said cheerio to the wee lassie, left her a tip, told her not to share it with the 'manager' and not to pass on our kindest regards. The only benefit of a night at the Mamore is you get a great start in the morning. As the path to Fort William runs right past the front door, you get off to a flyer as there is no climb up from the road outside the village. It was a great night last night, with us meeting some smashing people and having a really good night. The path from Kinlochleven to Fort William is called the 'Larig Mor', or 'the high pass', its a particularly good walk as it follows the glen through the hills past some derelict and ruined cottages, abandoned as a result of the clearances by the dirty Eng.. Ach I nearly forgot.. 'don't mention the clearances!'. The guys are in fine form today.. Armani is walking upright again after getting some relief from the Banker, who, by the way is smiling broadly.. I saw him studying the financial pages of the Daily Sport last night, must have had a good result! Glen was still snapping away.. "Aw right Lads.. ey, get yerselves together.. am gonna take a picture like..". "Christ.. somebody's gonna notice and say something.. shit, he'll want to go back to the start and do it all again. "Right Lads.. quickly, one for the album, cheese, there you are Glen, well done, now put your camera away incase it gets damaged, ok Lads lets move on, its gettin late" I said in a panic. "Ey.. ey.. come 'ed, dear o dear ahright ahright.. one more". "We'll get one later Glen, (aye much later, like out side the house.), we'll have to hurry". Jeez, that was close. Ray was in sparkling form, giving us the natural and social history of Scotland, pre and post clearances by the dirty Eng.. One of these days I'm gonna let rip! But not today. The wean ate 3 breakfasts this morning, he was starving, God what would he be like when we eventually get to Fort William. He's had started throwing stones again.. the Lassies had disappeared yesterday, not sure whether they had left us miles behind or we had somehow passed them and they had got lost. Anyway, they were not to be seen, and the Wean was back in his element. "Whit are ye gonny dae wi that boulder?" I said.. "Am gonny chip it oer this bridge.. watch the splash!!".. "Jist put it doon and behave yersel or I'll tell yer Mother..". He was making signs behind my back again.. I could sense it! "Hows this for a walk Paul, no bad eh?" I said. He was some way back and was peering into his wallet. I could hear him counting.. "2 pounds 16 pence, 2 pounds 17, 2 pounds 18.. bugger, I'm sure I had another 20 pence somewhere..'". "You ok Paul?" He never looked up and was still muttering.. "..I'm sure I had it when we left the pub, I don't think I left it in the mini bus.. surely nobody would steal it.. hmmm.. I widny put it past O'Shaughnessy though.. ach bugger, noo ah remember.. the flamin waitress.. her tip!!.. ah've a good mind tae report her tae the Tax Office.. Now if I can save a bit on the meal at Fort William, ah'll be back on budget.. The West Highland Way for under £4..". His pockets were bulging, they put complimentary peanuts on the bar last night, God did he have a feast. The sun was shining and the weather was warm as we continued along the rough path heading towards Lundavra and the pine forest which breaks the day into half. Suddenly from out of nowhere behind us, overhead a screaming Harrier or Jaguar jet plane passed what seemed only a few feet above us. The noise is deafening and terrifying as there is no warning.. seconds later, another. They thunder away in front of us following the contour of the hills, sometimes flipping almost vertical before rising almost at 90 degrees. Shit.. did you see that? "Yes" I said, and "Yes, I did" That's not just an expression for nothing you know. We reach a spot in the woods, take off the bags and settle down for a snack and perhaps a small one. The Wean is starving and scrounges tit bits off everyone. "Ah wish ah had taken a bigger breakfast!" he says. Ray is still preaching Geology and explaining the rock formations, lava flow and the resultant effect the Pleistocene Age had pre Jurassic. "Now then.. paleontology tells us only half the story.. my theory on the origin of the species is, blah blah blah... ". Nobodies listening, the Merchant Banker is still looking at the pictures in the Daily Sport financial section, he'll go blind if he doesn't stop staring, Armani is wondering what to wear on the journey home.. "Blue is so last years colour..", Glen Broon is snapping away.. "Ey, dats a good one". The Glenburn Boy has started 'coughing' again and mumbling to himself with his mouth full, ".. now if I get the bus home rather than the train, it'll save a bit on the fare.. I could ask for a Pensioners ticket, yea.. Naw, they'll no believe me.. I know, 'Students discount please' yea, thats it, I'm a Student, yea..". The Wean was looking to see if anyone had anything to eat.. "Anybody goat any auld chocolate bars they don't want?..". Ray was in full flow...
".. you see the Ice Ages, and there have been several.. have, in my opinion, been given too little attention.. For example, over 60 glacial advances and retreats have occurred during the last 2 million years.. blah, blah, blah..".
"Phoarr.. look at the form of that..",
"Perhaps I should be casual but smart.. yea, you cant go wrong with black its a classic..",
" Ey.. ave got a picture of a little berrd..",
".. Right, if anybody asks.. am at Paisley Uni..",
"So naebodies goat any chocolate.. whit about sweets then..?",
".. the icecaps of Antarctica and Greenland were more extensive and thicker than today, as a result..... Hey, Is anyone listening to me?..",
"Aye, Ray.. I am." I said, "Here, want a wee one?", " Yea, good idea.. I'm trying to educate these bastards and they aint listening..". "I'm sure they are Ray.. I'm sure they are.". We spend a little more time here before packing up and heading across the moor before entering the forest which will bring us out at the deer fence and over the stile. From here we are in the shadow of Ben Nevis, at 4406 feet it is an imposing sight, the summit invisible due to cloud which makes it all the more fascinating, and snow covering almost everything else. To the left we can see the edge of Fort William and our final stop, the end! The weather is good and we are keen now to complete the last few miles, so we pick up the pace and march on. As we turn the bend that brings us to the Town centre, we see the sign that signals "The End of the West Highland Way". The guys are all singing and make a last dash to be first to the post, the first to finish, the winner! We all celebrate, shake hands and congratulate each other. "Ey.. lets get a picture," says Glen Broon. "Good idea Glen" I say, "Let me see you camera a minute.". I remove the lens cover without him seeing, and give it to him back. He doesn't notice.. "Say cheese everyone.. ", "CHEESE!".
We head for the pub and have a drink, a meal, and a drink. "Well Guys.. what did you think?". "Good or what..". I ask. "Lets do it again next year!". The vote is unanimous!
And we do.. and its just as good.. and we have 5 new converts to the great outdoors.
So here we are.. 2006, and the plans have again been made; But it will be quieter this year; no history or geology lectures, nobody to fight my battles with drunk hotel managers, no one to involve the entire pub in a conversation about 'Charlie', no Mull of Kintyre and no one to share a quick 'wee one' with when no ones looking.
Grizzly. Glenburn Boy. Merchant Banker. Glen Broon. Armani. The Wean. Bald Eagle.
Ceud Mile Failte