This has been a memorable day. It started with the first time David and I have been apart in either of our birthdays. FaceTime presents isn't quite the same. He's a diamond, being chilled about me being away for so long, even on his birthday.
The conventional route from Drymen takes in Conic Hill, making this leg about 15 miles. After chatting at length with the owner of my B and B I decided to change my route in order to visit Inchcailloch, the island off Balmaha. There wouldn't be either time or miles in my legs to do both that and Conic Hill, so I detoured south instead.
This was easy gentle walking, going through quiet lanes and footpaths through trees dripping with lichen. I'd hoped to see Buchanan castle just outside Drymen, which is now a fancy wedding venue, but the only visible sign was the ruined gatehouse.
It was supposed to rain hard all day today. Knowing there's the chance of 6 or 7 hours of being wet ahead of you is not especially cheering, however lovely the vista. But this first section was dry, even with a glimpse of blue sky. I put my head down and motored, to get as many dry miles under my belt as I could. This becomes a meditative process, my mind goes somewhere else with the rhythm of my walking, the click of the poles and the creak of the rucksack. I'm not really there, and then another two or three miles have passed. My speed was noticed by a motorist who passed me and then saw me later. 'Fair play to you' was his comment.
I paused at the outskirts of Balmaha to get a coffee. In the process of removing the bag, my Heath Robinson safety pin repair of my GPS strap stabbed me in the hand. I'll need a new solution.
It was a lovely coffee, surrounded by other walkers getting ready for the off. But because I'd savoured it, I arrived at the ferry two minutes after it had departed. Nothing to do but wait for half an hour, which was frustrating, as I'd wanted to make headway with the day and not wait around. I stood and chatted to two men who were carrying shovels and other tools, standing with a ranger from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs national park. I asked the men what their tools were for, and they told me that they were going to help the ranger clear some of the paths on the island. I said how impressed I was at what they were doing. They looked a bit sheepish, and one said 'well, it's to make reparations on the magistrate's instruction'. Presumably some sort of enforced community service. I guessed they wouldn't want their photos taken.
The ferry is an old wooden craft that is approached over a long and nerve wracking pier. I was unconvinced that the wobbly wooden boards wouldn't dump me in the Loch. I'm not a good sailor, but I was very glad to arrive at the boat.
It's a short journey to the island, and there was only 8 of us on the boat. Inchcaillich translates as the 'isle of the old woman'. It was the home of Saint Kentigerna, who is the patron saint of the area, in the 8th century.
I had an hour till the ferry was coming back for me, and wanted to try to see all of the island if I could, even though the time would be a bit tight. The churchyard is extraordinarily evocative. The church was abandoned in the seventeenth century, but the churchyard continued to be used until the twentieth century. One relative named on a stone ended up buried in Leamington Spa. I can't imagine a more different resting place.
I then made my way to the far end of the island, where my B and B friend had cheerfully suggested I might want to swim off the beach. I refrained, but was delighted to have walked over there, as I met Ben and Victoria, who work for Saorsa Swords. They were in full Highland regalia, waiting to do a demonstration of sword fighting for a group of tourists who were going to arrive by boat shortly. I asked if they could do a mini demonstration for me. This sort of utterly unexpected moment is what makes this trip such an adventure.
Then up to the summit of the island. It was a steep climb, and I arrived somewhat sweatily at the top to meet Kevin, another ranger. We agreed this was an excellent place to work. What a view.
The island is now uninhabited by humans, though it's possible to book a camping pitch. But there is a community of fallow deer that live here. I was told that they are sensitive to noise and very cautious. Indeed, if there are too many people visiting and making a noise then the deer will hop off this island and swim to the next one. So I was pessimistic about seeing one. And then, as I was walking swiftly down from the summit to catch the ferry, there she was. She stood on the path looking at me, whilst I gasped. We had a moment which I will not forget, before she leapt off into the bracken.
If I'd not missed the ferry, I would probably not have seen the sword fight or the deer. Joyous serendipity.
Back to Balmaha, and the rain started. Proper wet rain too. Now I was back on the WHW, and first I went to pay tribute at the garden dedicated to Tom Weir, described as 'Scotland's most loved mountain man'.
Then the path generally followed the line of the Loch. The rain hammered down, making the paths slippy, and so I spent time with my music, choosing the Kings Singers version of Loch Lomond, as I obviously had to listen to that! I also really enjoyed my MD friend Jessa's suggestion of Eddi Reader's settings of Robbie Burns' poetry, again very appropriate. Jane's request of James Bay's 'Hold back the river' made me walk whilst also doing the sign language that we learnt in the online lockdown choir that I set up to cheer us all up during Covid. I could do the harmonies no problem, but the sign language rather turned into waving. And there'd be no holding back of the river, the water was rushing off the hills in full spate.
The highlight was Lou's suggestion of Watching the Wheels. The appropriate nature of the lyrics made me laugh out loud.
People say I'm crazy, doing what I'm doing
We'll, they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin
When I say that I'm okay, well they look at me kinda strange
Surely, you're not happy now, you no longer play the game
As if rain wasn't enough, I got my first midge experience at the same time. They hung in clouds at head height, going into my eyes and mouth if I wasn't careful. I wasn't bitten - the Smidge did the trick, but they were unpleasant. Not bad enough to roll out the midge suit yet though! Zoom in on the photo below to see how lovely they are.
To my huge relief, the rain started to ease off, the midges dispersed and I could start to look up and around. I loved watching a group of preschool children on an outing to one of the Loch beaches. They were fully togged up, and were taking it in turns to stand in a feeder stream, being held tightly by the hand by an adult. The little ones were screaming with exciting as their wellies were being tugged by the water. What a place for a nursery school trip.
The path meandered through woodland, past wild camping sites, and always coming back to views of Loch Lomond. The surface underfoot was not always easy, there were boulders and tree roots to clamber over, but it was hard to keep concentrating on placing feet carefully on the uneven ground as the views to my left were so breathtaking.
Mainly it's been a solitary walk today, so it was lovely to bump into Sam, Davey and David. Coincidentally, it's Davey's birthday today too.
After that it was a bit of a slog. There were some very steep hills, and I was beginning to have had had enough.
My rest stops became more and more frequent. By the time I arrived at Rowardennan youth hostel I was like the Tiger that came to Tea - I'd drunk all the tea in the thermos, all the water in the hydration pack and all the food in the rucksack. The cup of tea when I arrived in the shared kitchen was very welcome. I've not stayed in a proper hostel like this before, it's a great example of its kind, being an old shooting lodge.
There is a real mixture of people here, families from France and Germany, pairs of hearty young male hikers, a family with possibly reluctant teenagers, a couple of other solo women and a rather terrifying looking shaven headed Scot in full kilt. It feels friendly and functional. I couldn't have a better view for the night.
Distance travelled:16 miles
Total ascent: 1700 feet
Calories burned: 2200
St Mungo from West Brewery
Dinner at the youth hostel - fair. No choice, but I was so hungry I'd have eaten anything!
Veggie burger with chips and salad
Black Forest gateau
Sponsors' songs - thanks to Jessa, Jane and Lou
My love is like a red red rose - Eddie Reader
Hold back the river - James Bay
Watching the wheels - John Lennon
Video of the day