Part I: From Drymen to Inverarnan
3 days + 1 day of rest, 50km
You might want to read my introduction to hiking solo the West Highland Way.
Beginnings are never easy
I kicked off my West Highland Way adventure by taking a bus from Glasgow to Drymen with a wonderful, chatty driver, who even stopped on his way to show me the Queen View. Left in the middle of the little town (village?) I wasn’t even sure where to go, but there was a number of walkers around so I simply went after them.
First of all – I won’t even try to deny the fact that it was hard. I was out of shape, the weather wasn’t pleasant and my backpack was over 17 kg. My body was not used yet to all of it, and only a few kilometers in I was seriously worried about the whole idea. But I pressed on – how can you stop now, right?
It’s good to have a plan… and be ready to change it later
My plan for the day was to get to the Sallochy campsite, where I even booked the night ahead of time, but I didn’t make it. Sallochy is a semi-wild campsite, with very few facilities and is pretty cheap (£5).
I climbed the Conic Hill with difficulty, especially that right before the peak, the skies opened. It is a quite popular spot, as many people make it into a day hike from Balmaha. When I completed the challenging downhill walk, I stopped at Balmaha for a longer break and filled myself with a nice coffee and ice cream to boost my morale. The break was really long, over an hour, which was exactly what my tired knees and feet needed, but it significantly shortened my day.
After some more walking, I’ve realized I wouldn’t make it to Sallochy, so I stopped at Cashel campsite, which was pretty expensive if you were not a member – £12,5.
… and change it again
The next day my initial plan was to stop at a bothy – either at Rowchoish or Doune, but completely miscalculated the distances and my own strengths, so ended up wild camping by the shore of Loch Lomond. By then I was past the area where it is forbidden to wild camp (check it out here).
It is an offense to camp in the East Loch Lomond Restricted Zone from 1 March to 31 October every year. There are clear boards and information around that make sure no one can camp there by accident or claiming lack of information – plan accordingly!
Along the Loch Lomond
Walking along Loch Lomond is… grueling. It can be beautiful and satisfying, but after a few hours the undulating, rough route is just taxing. With every mile walked I had less and less pleasure from watching the water on the left and growing hills to the right. But still – for a few hours I felt really good walking through the dense forestry, over roots and rocks or passing burns (streams), so when I got on the level with the Rowchoish bothy, I decided to push on, feeling pretty good.
But the soreness and growing blisters on both feet screamed just an hour later. Finally, I found a piece of flat land between the Loch and the path and made my camp. Not the perfect place, as it’s always better to make your camp away from a path, but there was no flat spot anywhere! Of course, I don’t complain – the place was beautiful and magical, I loved waking up to the view of fog rising over the Little Hills on the other side of Loch Lomond! I just hope the other walkers didn’t mind me there when they walked by in the morning.
The next day I’ve realized how much I miscalculated the mileage – I was sure I camped just a mile or so from the Doune bothy, but in reality it was more of a 3 – 4 miles, so I was pretty glad I pitched my tent then and there, as I don’t think I would have made it to the bothy!
Listen to your body when it needs a rest
Hiking the next day was a real challenge as I developed nasty blisters on the inner sides of my heels (I bend my feet that way) and my feet were simply tired and in pain from hitting the ground under a heavy pack. When I reached the Beinglas Farm Campsite I decided to take a day off, to let my body regenerate. The next day was really hot and sunny, possibly the hottest day in that year Scotland’s summer – I spent it washing my clothes (pretty obvious from the photos below!), letting my worried friends and family know I was still alive and making light walks around the campsite.
I also had no problem refueling all my devices and power bank – the pub’s owners didn’t mind me basically camping in their pub for hours, or leaving my charging devices there while away for a walk.
The Beinglas Farm Campsite is really great. It has a big area for tents, so no need to camp really close to one another, the pub is very cozy and they have a practical and well-made shelter for walkers, with spots to cook (even pots and pans to use!), wash your clothes (either by hand or washing machine) and dry them. It is sheltered from elements and is a nice place to eat and chat with other walkers. The views of the hills are also spectacular. During my rest day, which happened to be a really hot and sunny one, I walked a bit around with my camera and enjoyed the stunning views.
Have you done this trail? How did you like it? Any tips for others who think about hiking it? Let us know below!
To see more photos from walking this trail check out the albums HERE.
Read about hiking the second stage from Inverarnan (Beinglass) to Inveroran and the third stage from Inveroran to Fort William.
Read all you need to know about camping accommodation along the West Highland Way trail.
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