Scotland Day 17 - Rowardennan to Inverarnan
Generally I've been sleeping really well since starting this trek, but last night was not a good one. With no signal, and very patchy Wi-Fi (it took 2 hours to load the blog last night!) I had had to resort to analogue reading from a real book to research the next day. The only ones that I'm carrying are the Cicerone guidebooks of WHW and the Great Glen Way. The WHW book talks firmly about today's section of the walk, saying it should only be attempted by the strongest of walkers, and that it is very demanding. On top of that, I had two other pieces of knowledge that concerned me about today. Readers of this blog last year may remember Bernard, the endearing if eccentric Belgian who was also doing LEJOG. Sadly he was unable to complete his trip last summer, because he fell and injured his knee on this section of the WHW. And then I was also told of the tragic death of a walker a month ago on this section too. Couple with that, the rangers yesterday all referred to today as a very difficult one. Of course, my default was then to worry that I wouldn't be strong enough, or that I would injure myself or worse.
The morning was blue and sunny, but the mood in the early morning hostel breakfast room was very reflective and quiet. Maybe everyone was feeling like me. We were all eating with determination, trying to absorb enough calories for the day ahead.
I was out on the path by 8, wanting to make the most of the sunshine. I'd observed someone meditating on the end of the hostel jetty before breakfast, the most amazing situation for a contemplative start to the day. The loch was still and silent, rather matching everyone's mood.
The start of this leg is straightforward, leading through the woods and past the approach to Ben Lomond, one of the most popular Munros because of the views of the Loch that it affords. No time for that today though. I walked for a little while with Nicola, whom I'd seen ahead of me yesterday. She was walking all the way to Crianlarich, the full 20 mile journey, and she walked faster than me. We chatted for a little while, but soon I suggested that she go at her comfortable pace and she strode away.
There is a choice in this early stage between the low or the high route. According to my B and B owner in Drymen, the low route has had land slips with the rain. But she also said that the high route had issues too. When I asked what they were, she said mysteriously 'well that depends on your belief system'. I never got to the bottom of this completely, but I understand it was to do with the woods being possibly haunted. I felt that was a less tangible threat than falling in the much, so the higb road it was.
This path was easy steady walking through the woods, which were a bit dank, but otherwise not threatening. The periodic glimpses of the water were breathtaking.
As the upper and lower paths joined again, I began to experience the walking conditions that had been referred to in the book. Big boulders on the path, little streams to ford, steep undulations with uneven surfaces. The water was running off from the fells towards the loch, creating mini waterfalls regularly, there was water everywhere.
I stopped for a while to look at the cairn-like shrine that has been formed to remember Bill Lobban. He was a teacher whose pupil fell in the Loch on a school trip in the 1970s. Bill rescued him, but then tragically died in the process. Sobering.
Apart from two dog walkers, I didn't see anyone during this first part of the day. It certainly hasn't been the busy trail that it appeared on the first day. But then I have also heard of people pulling out on day 2 because of finding the going so hard, so maybe that accounts for the sparser walking population.
About 7 miles in, I approached Inversnaid, where I had high hopes of a coffee. I could see the hotel in front of me, with something of a torrent of water in between us. I looked down at the large boulders stepping across the river with some trepidation, feeling that this was beyond my capabilities despite having warmed up with quite a lot of stream crossing already today. Before launching in, I fortunately noticed a bridge higher up the hill. This led to a great view of the falls, much better from there than in the river.
The Inversnaid hotel welcomes walkers but none of their equipment. All boots, rucksacks and poles had to be left at the door. Which meant that to get to the bar for a coffee I had to walk my sweaty feet over their tiles, leaving a lovely imprint. I guess they prefer sweat to mud.
I had a lovely chat to my mum whilst drinking coffee and watching the mist come in over the fells.
As I set off again I saw Kevin, the ranger from yesterday. He and his colleague reminded me that the section I was about to tackle is the very difficult bit. They weren't wrong.
The next four or five miles were slow and required great concentration. Sometimes the path was replaced with just a random selection of boulders, sometimes it was tree roots that had to be clambered over. There was quite a lot of scrambling, on hands and knees at times. My poles were invaluable.
Rob Roy is supposed to have hidden in a cave around here whilst on the run from treason, banditry and theft. I wasn't sure whether the cave I found was the very one, but I am sure that the bit of walking around it was tough going. It was high, and very steeply descending. I talked myself down with caution, and as I was catching my breath another walker appeared. He stood at the top, looking down at me, and shouted 'I don't have to get down there, do I?' Hard to know how to respond, it was clear he had no option.
A little later, as I was recovering from the climb on a leaf shaped bench, he joined me whilst waiting for his other half to catch up. As she arrived, he leapt up and walked on at speed. She looked like she could have done with a sit down, but she raised her eyebrows to me and followed him.
The walk continued with a combination of punishing scrambles that could easily have turned to disaster with one false move, leavened by some sturdy bridges over some of the streams. As if the Loch Lomond rangers looked at some of the obstacles and thought nope, let's give them a break for a minute....
Suddenly there was respite. A flat section, overgrown with ferns, being overlooked by the Creag an Fhithich crags. It felt like just the right sort of place for an eagle.
I hoped that this might signify the end of the difficult walking , so I celebrated with some lunch on a little beach. And then took it further by having a quick paddle too. I carry a small bit of micro fibre towel in my bum bag for just this purpose. It was lovely cooling off my feet and legs, but even better for my feet to be dry again before going back in their socks.
Sadly I had been premature with my optimism about the end of the scrambling and climbing. There was another mile or so, including a long vertical ladder that made me wonder if the rangers were now just having a laugh.
A couple of the last obstacles were just too high for my less than leggy legs. They required a big push from both my poles to get purchase. On one of these, I got on to the boulder rather ungracefully, only to hear something tumbling from my rucksack. My Smidge had fallen back to where I started. There wouldn't be a man left behind on my watch. So back I went to rescue it.
Finally, the difficult section was over.
The path flattened, and I started to get views of the next sets of hills beyond Loch Lomond.
I have thought quite a lot today about whether it's better to know in advance about something challenging on the walk. When I did the Coast to Coast in 2021 I wasn't aware of just how difficult the Ennerdale section was until I started it, and therefore it was quite a shock finding the tricky scrambling section round Robin Hood's Chair. This time I was very aware of the difficulties to come, which in itself was challenging, but that meant I was more prepared for them. And in finishing it without incident I'm feeling pretty proud of myself, maybe I am a ''strong walker' after all!
There was a long climb up through the bracken until finally I could take a short diversion in the first rain of the day to the old Drovers' Inn.
It was great to get there, after a long and demanding day. Its been a wearing combination of being both physically taxing whilst also requiring full concentration for a lot of the time too. Consequently I've not listened to any music today, I've had to be completely focused.
But everything looked up at the Drovers, because waiting for me were two of my favourite people, my sister in law Magda and my niece Flo. They had come up on the sleeper train from London this morning, walked a bit of Ben Vorlich and then been waiting for me whilst drying out their boots.
They gave me a tour of the extremely quirky eighteenth century pub, packed with ancient taxidermy. Sadly I did see an eagle today, but stuffed in glass.
It is so lovely to have them here, and even better, they are going to walk with me over the next two days. We'll probably leave our new friend behind though.
Distance travelled: 15 miles
Total ascent: 2600 feet
Calories burned: 2500
Local tipple - half of Ossian from Inveralmond brewery
Dinner at the Drovers' Arms - good but very meat heavy menu
Fish and chips with peas
No music listened to today - I'll catch up tomorrow!
Video of the day