Scotland Day 18 - Inverarnan to Ewich
I thought sleep would be difficult again last night. The Drovers Inn is an ancient pub, and some of it looks like it hasn't had the builders in since the 1800s. Magda and Flo were in a basic room at the top of the building, whereas I was in an annexe over the road. Much more swish, according to them, and certainly the bed was comfortable and the shower was hot, even though the deer skull on the wall wouldn't have been my top choice. However, some anomaly with the ventilation system in the block meant that if anyone had the light on in their shower, then their extractor fan caused my room to be filled with a loud buzzing which in turn caused my bed to vibrate. At least, that's what I guessed it to be, I had quite a while to think about it. I considered banging on all my neighbours' doors to tell them to stop being so clean, but eventually everyone had washed, and thank goodness silence fell.
This morning was the first when I woke with physical after effects of the previous day's walk, with a few tight muscles in my back and legs. Unsurprising really, given what a tough day it was yesterday. I have a series of stretches that I do every day, and am also carrying a mini massage gun that really helps to keep everything loose. It's extra weight in the bag, but so far I feel it's worth it. Thanks to Tasha for persuading me to take it, she is always right on these things!
The weather was unpromising as I dashed over the road in the rain to meet Magda and Flo for breakfast. Although the fabric of the building is in need of a great deal of TLC, the food was good last night, the porridge was good this morning, and the staff are cheerful and helpful. Which made it particularly sutprising to watch a man become incandescent about his missing lunch. He walked into the breakfast room, where there were currently no staff, and started asking loudly for his sandwiches. When no one appeared, he started bellowing 'WHERE ARE MY SANDWICHES!!!!' to the empty bar and into the space beyond. He looked furious and ridiculous. One of the staff members suggested that there was no need to shout, and he bellowed 'BUT I'VE BEEN WAITING FOR FOUR MINUTES!' She pointed out where the packed lunches were - in a very obvious place by the front door, and I left the building as he continued to bluster. Magda later told me that he then refused the drink and cake from the pack, and because she checked in on the staff member to be sure she was ok after his rudeness, Magda was given the extras instead. There's many lessons there.
We put on our full wets, and headed back to Beinglas campsite, where I had to take off my boots and start again, as the gravel from yesterday's Loch dipping had attached itself to my socks and thus to my feet. You don't mess with feet, if there's anything remotely uncomfortable I stop and readjust.
The path was initially wide and gravelled, leading to the others to ask if it was going to be like that all day. I was pretty sure, on yesterday's experience, that it wouldn't be. We started off through Beinglas Woods. These are one of the best examples of western acidic woodland in the UK. I wish I could tell you that I spotted that immediately, but an excellent information board did fill me in on some of the detail in how they are managing this ancient woodland, in particular that they are treating the bracken to try to eradicate it from the woods, as it is an invasive and non-native species. The scratches that Magda got on her legs yesterday from battling with it is testament to how pernicious it is too.
We walked up the path between the river Falloch and the glen of the same name. The little tributaries were full with the rain that had fallen recently, and we stopped at a couple of little falls before getting to Falls of Falloch, which is a local beauty spot that deserves its own car park. We were underwhelmed, some of the earlier ones were lovelier.
The path was clear, just a bit stony underfoot, and was well maintained with bridges and walkways over the burns. One was dedicated to John Kynaston, an ultra runner who had run the West Highland Way race six times. I wanted to look that up - people actually run this 96 mile way, with its 12,000 feet of ascent. And according to their website, this year's winner did it in 16 and a half hours. That is absolutely bonkers.
We spent quite a bit of time wondering about the big pipes that were running down the fell across from us. We were guessing that they're running water down in a controlled way, but that was as far as we got - if there any water engineers reading who can help please let me know in the comments!
The skies periodically cleared enough to remove a layer, but never for very long. We cheered ourselves by listening to the next two sponsors' recommendations all together through my phone playing full blast in my pocket. Segueing from Harry Lauder to Michael Buble was unexpected, but we all enjoyed it.
The path eventually crosses the river and then goes under the railway line with an entertaining low tunnel, before finally going under the road and starting to climb up the old military road towards Crianlarich. There are a number of military roads round here, built after the battle of Culloden for moving troops around the Highlands. With a moment of lovely synergy I read that one of the after effects of the building of these roads was the opening up of the mountains to tourism. One of the first to write about the experiences of exploring this area is Dorothy Wordsworth, about whom I had been reading only last month in Kerri Andrews' excellent book about women walking - 'Wanderers'.
We stopped for a breather in a moment of sunshine, where I got the chance to marvel at the number of snacks that Flo could fit into her rucksack.
Magda is many things, but a knowledgeable enthusiast of football or rugby she is not. So it caused Flo and I great entertainment when a walker stopped to ask her about her sport shirt, and to ask to which team it belonged. He was impressed with it, she was unable to answer his queries. I had thought it was a formula one shirt, as it said Racing on the back. Turns out maybe that's a person. When we later talked about it, she said that she didn't want to buy new walking clothes just for these few days, and so almost all the clothes she was wearing today belong to her husband, my brother Jim. It's painting a tragic picture of what he might be wearing at home whilst she's away in all of his outfits.
When it rains most of the day, it makes you really appreciate the moments when it doesn't. We would have brief episodes when the clouds would lift and we could see the tops of the hills, and then the grey would descend and on would go the waterproofs again.
Today's walk was due to be less than ten miles, so we could afford a detour. We decided to climb off the mountain into Crianlarich for lunch. It's a tiny place, though still manages to support a school, pub, church, police railway and fire station. Plus an incongruous Best Western. For me though, its importance is that it is the half way point of the West Highland Way. The days are ticking past so quickly.
Lunch in the pub, where Flo allowed me to sample her Irn Bru. A taste was all that was required.
Then back up the hill to rejoin the path. There is a lot of forestry work here, and the scars on the landscape are hard to take. There is regenerative planting, but the overall impression both from a distance and especially up close is brutal. I preferred to see where the trees have fallen naturally, presumably through storms, and were lying like giant pick up sticks.
A few lovely moments as we steadily climbed, one was to suddenly see the distant hills that had been obscured all day, also to enjoy the moss covered forest, and another encountering a tame robin as we were sheltering in a pine forest, before re-donning the waterproofs.
The walk was extended by our side footpath to the B and B being closed off by the forestry workers. When you think you're only 200 yards from home, being rerouted for an extra half a mile is frustrating. This period of walking reminded me so much of the trek grinding to an abrupt halt last year, in the same sort of post apocalyptic forestry work environment. It made me so grateful that I'm walking freely again now.
Our B and B was very welcome, and welcoming, and involved a heater for our boots that is a first. Magda and I jumped at the chance. Flo's army cadet boots were dry as a bone.
But things took a difficult turn, when Magda rashly invited our welcoming host to guess what the familial connection was between us. He ignored the (to us) obvious similarity between Flo and Magda, and instead looked at me and asked if I was Magda's mother. He swiftly realised his error, but no amount of back pedalling could save the day. It has made Magda's week, if not year, however much she denies it.
Distance travelled: 12 miles
Total ascent: 1986 feet
Calories burned: 1907
Local tipple - half of Belhaven best
Dinner at Tyndrum Arms - very good
Haggis pakora (that's another first!)
Vegetable bhuna with rice and naan
Sponsors' songs, thanks to Mike and Sophie
Keep right on to the end of the road - Harry Lauder
Feeling good - Michael Bublé
Video of the day