Scotland Day 14 - Milngavie to Drymen
I had an interesting late evening yesterday, with a group of lads in the room next door larking about and playing music loudly. I was prepared to put my earplugs in and let them have their fun, but when they sounded like they were throwing furniture around and beating each other up I asked reception to have a word. The receptionist's resigned tone of voice implied that this was not his first rodeo. Fortunately the word he gave appeared to be an effective one.
Off to Glasgow Central station first thing for me to catch the train back to Milngavie and Philip to make the long journey home to Worcestershire.
I find farewells difficult, and in some ways even the happiness of the initial greeting can be tinged with the sadness of the farewell to come. It had taken a while for me to settle after David left last week, and saying goodbye to Philip this morning was also difficult. That doesn't mean I am not delighted to see people, I absolutely am, but it's part of this challenge to get used to being on my own again after the fun of being in company. I'm happy to go through that process of readjustment in return for the pleasure of seeing friends and family, but I'm also aware that there are psychological impacts.
For the West Highland Way and the subsequent Great Glen Way I'm using luggage transportation services to carry some of my stuff. It's just a small dry bag with clothes and other bits, really not much compared to others' big suitcases, but it makes such a difference to my enjoyment of more demanding bits of walking to not have the full weight to carry. It's a great system which I've used over the last two years' walking on some of the trickier sections. However, it has made me think I'm cheating by not suffering with the full pack for the whole time. I've really thought about that today, and my habitual feelings of not thinking much of what I'm doing - that it's not that difficult, I'm not doing 20 mile days, I'm not camping, I'm not carrying everything all the time. I've not resolved this, but I do know that I enjoyed today far more than I would have done if I'd done a crazy long distance with a heavy unwieldy rucksack. One of my sponsors' choices of music (Phoenix by Fleet Foxes et al - thanks Tim and Fiona!) was certainly talking about this today:
'How do you bear the full weight, how does the long way feel?'
Milngavie is West Highland Way-tastic. There's no chance that you'd miss the fact that it is the start of one of the UK's iconic walking trails.
It was conceived by Tom Hunter, a walking enthusiast who worked for 30 years to make the Way happen. It is 96 miles long, running from Milngavie to Fort William. I have been excited about doing this walk for years. It's in the midst of spectacular landscape, and I guessed that there would be a sense of community amongst the Wayfarers, (as my otherwise excellent Cicerone guide book rather annoyingly describes them). I also thought that it might be on the edge of my capabilities, as it's regarded as a demanding walk. So far, two out of those three are true.
The path out of town couldn't be better marked, with a gravel surface making it very straightforward. As on previous walks, there were works of art incorporated into the landscape, together with excellent information boards.
The path followed Allander water for a while through Mugdock Country Park and gradually climbed upwards towards Craigallian Loch. For the first time there was a glimpse of the wildness to come, with views of the Campsie Fells.
I also had my first experience of Smidge. Midges are an unpleasant feature of this part of Scotland, and so far I've been very lucky and not seen any. However there were other biting beasties about, so I broke out the Smidge, the insect repellent developed in Scotland specifically for midges. It's surprisingly nice smelling. To the probable disappointment of my friends who are keen to see the photo, I didn't need to also break out the full midge helmet, jacket and gloves. I'm hoping that day will never come and that I'll have carried them in my pack for nothing!
Passing the loch, I next walked past Carbeth. This is a traditional hutting community that started at the turn of the 20th century by a landowner with socialist ideals. After the First World War it grew, and was aimed at working class families from Glasgow and Clydebank. The huts are still off grid, with no mains electricity or running water, though there are motley arrangements of solar panels and wind turbines. There are currently 140 huts, and the community now owns the land they stand on, with a long waiting list of people who would like to own one, but the prices are capped to ensure that they are still accessible to the people for whom they were intended. It's idyllic.
And then beyond Carbeth the landscape suddenly transformed. Instead of more contained glimpses, the Campsie Fells and Dumgoyne hill opened out broadly and the path could be seen winding ahead of me. This was great. This was why I'd come back to finish this walk.
As the day went on I repeatedly passed or was passed by the others out doing this first leg. They were mainly couples, including a happy pair from Germany who were encountering Scotland for the first time, and a mother and daughter who were trying out doing a distance walk together. I teased them by asking if they were sisters, and the older woman said 'you've made one friend and lost another'. There were also four young men walking like turtles with huge rucksacks. I'm generally a fast walker, and so I was often passing others. I think the young men saw that as a bit of an affront, frankly, there was an acceleration in their pace after I did that the first time. There's something liberating about the lack of social awkwardness with this - you can chat for a bit and then it's fine just to walk on and leave people behind, or for them to do the same to you.
After the exhilaration of the high open spaces the rest of the walk was more prosaic, following the old Blane Valley railway line.
There was a good cafe on this section which was a welcome sit down after 2 or 3 hours of walking.
It had a couple of pictorial boards showing the John Muir way and the WHW, as the paths were running simultaneously for a while. I've been ducking on and off the John Muir way for a few days - it runs coast to coast from Helensburgh in the west to Dunbar in the east. John Muir was a Dunbar born American naturalist who died in 1914. He was an early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the USA.
The West Highland Way gradient board showed how the first couple of days have a lot of flat. But it also showed that nearer the end it appears that the mountains go straight up. Crampons at the ready for the end of the week.
It was easy going for the rest of the day, looking at the various honesty boxes with contents ranging from Smidge to ice cream, to home made cake and Scottish tablet. These were a feature of the Coast to Coast in 2021, it's good to see them here.
Just before the end I could finally see glimpses of Loch Lomond. Those hills. And in the sunshine too!
Drymen (pronounced Drimmen) is a tiny village with a couple of pubs and a shop. It's ideal, as I'm actually having another rest day here tomorrow. I had thought, rightly, that Glasgow would be too much fun to properly rest, and so tomorrow is about doing my stretches and other exercises, sorting out work admin, reading a book and getting set for the following seven days of walking.
The day ended on a high note. I was eating dinner in the excellent Clachan Arms a little while ago, and got chatting to the family next to me after their baby had been dazzling me with his beaming smiles. James and Lisa had brought their lovely boys Oliver and Danny away for a couple of nights to celebrate Lisa's big birthday. When they heard what I was doing for the Samaritans, they insisted on paying for my dinner so that I could put its cost towards the fund. I was blown away. Such generosity out of the blue. I was so amazed that I forgot to ask them for a song for me to listen to, so James and Lisa, if you're reading this, please suggest your favourite song in the comments below for me to listen to on Tuesday when I start walking again!
Distance travelled: 13 miles
Total ascent: 1270
Calories burned: 1800
Local tipple - half of Hells Glen from Loch Lomond brewery
Dinner at Clachan arms - excellent and heavingly busy, I'll go again tomorrow!
Cullen Skink - so much better than the version in Castlecary.
Cajun salmon with curried hollandaise, served with new potatoes and loads of veg
Sponsors' songs - thanks to Tom and Fiona
Foo Fighters - Learn to Fly
Big Red Machine, Fleet Foxes & Anaïs Mitchell - Phoenix
Video of the day