Saturday Morning 08.30am
First we pick-up Kenny, my brother-in-law,
and only experienced West Highland Way (WHW) walker. Kenny lives about ½ a
mile away off Lancaster Avenue; it will seem strange driving up there this
morning and not walking. I wonder if I’ll be keen to walk it when we get
home. Then we go over to Carfin for George. Then it’s up to Newmains for
Johnny Park. That will be all that is walking. From the original six
volunteers ten months earlier we are left with four. Not bad I thought.
Along with James or Volunteer Sherpa we should hopefully get to Fort
William and our target of £1500.00 from this walk. We are on our way.
It was good to see the guys all looking
the part anyway. Kenny as to be expected, looking every bit the part, he
is a born Akaela, this was his cup of tea. Walking in the wilds, our only
experienced WHW walker and on the job mentor. Johnny full of craic as
usual had shared with us immediately that he had left the Rowan Tree bar
at 12.30am last night, to have an early night in view of this upcoming
task of walking all the way to Fort William. I am sure he would have told
everyone in the bar last night what he was doing the following day as well
as reminding them all that next Saturday night on his return he will be
looking for all the money they had pledged or in his words;
“I’ll be looking for you all next week; ya
shower `o` bastards’. He was pleased to inform us that he had managed to
get another fifty pounds last night alone and that he was well on his way
to raising seven hundred pounds.
“Superb John Boy’ I said,
‘Aye great’ came back from George
“Ah reckon I’ve got around three hundred
pounds so far, and I thought I was doing exceptionally well. You’ve set
the standard again Johnny boy,” I said.
Both George and Kenny added that they had
committed to themselves around three to four hundred pounds each and
Sherpa James had also said last night at our final planning meeting (to
arrange all the grub and carry-outs) that he had around two hundred pounds
pledged and he wasn’t even walking.
“Great stuff, that’s us on the way to
getting about £1800.00 from this walk alone, superb”. I only hope now
that we could all mange to complete the walk. I was sure collecting the
money in would not be a problem.
The topic changed to provisions; who was
doing the shopping and more so what was on the list. As Kenny wasn’t there
the night before and being a man who liked his food he was interested in
what was planned. We all filled him in.
“We’ll be living on Spam, Spam and Spam
for the next seven days” Kenny concludes, I don` know if he is happy or
not with the planned menus.
“Will we fuck” said
a half bottle in my hip for starters.
The conversation was now more
lighthearted! I hoped that this would be the way for the next seven days.
But I didn’t want to kid myself. Kenny had given me a bit of detail as to
what to expect. It was however eleven years since he last did this walk
and I was hopping that all he had told me was not a case of remembering
all the good things that happened in the past and forgetting the bad,
“Where are we meeting Sherpa James?” asked
“I told him that we would first meet up
with him at the Cherry Tree Inn at Dumgoyne, he has the shopping list and
is planning on leaving the house about twelve, doing the shop and meeting
us about two o’clock”
“I hope there is bottle of Gin on the
“As long as he dissnae forget the Vodka”
Johnny joined in. “We need to get the staples in”
I can see it now, George, Johnny and I are
all keen golfers who probably enjoy the game for all the wrong reasons,
camaraderie, a good laugh, the craic as well as enjoying a few drams in
the nineteenth and having known Kenny my Brother-in-law now for twenty
years I also know that he will not say no to a half when the opportunity
“I that’s right boys get the priorities
right, carry out first and who cares. We will climb Ben Nevis and eat Spam
at the top of it”. Kenny concluded.
We arrived at Airdrie station, or if you
work in the Delhi call centre, Ayrdree, on route for Mulgab. I said my
farewells to Bernie, she warned me to behave and do nothing stupid as well
as take care of myself. She also wished everyone else well before she
drove off. At this point as I looked at the car driving off I felt quite
sentimental and a feeling of the unknown was now creeping in. I know I
will see her again.
As we walked up the small incline to the
station counter again I thought that if all the hills we face this coming
week are as easy as this, if only. Kenny purchased the tickets, four
singles, and non-returnable to Milngavie. That sounded a bit too real. We
are now at the point where we dare not turn back. Just imagine it;
“Aye, he made it all the way to Airdrie
train station” you would never cross the door again. But we are not hear
to think of fear, but take up this challenge and go forth, raise a lot of
money and hopefully have a laugh or two while doing it. No surrender. We
agreed to square Kenny up for the tickets later on.
The four of us stood on the platform at
Airdrie train station. We did look the part, but did we feel it, I am sure
the other three guys where as apprehensive as me. I only hope they are not
thinking, `what the hell have we let ourselves into? `. I take out my hip
flask from my backpack and open it;
“Here’s to sore feet “I raised my flask of
whisky skywards, taking in the grey dreich clouds that hung over us (I
think, It’s going to piss down) and took a very large slug of whisky and
pass it onto my walking companions. I silently pray, please God see me
through this. For the first time I think of all that can go wrong, I
remove it from my thoughts. The announcer calls the arrival of our train
from Drumgelloch (or is that Drum-jel-ouch) and I start to tell the story
of the previous days call to Delhi.
The train journey is uneventful, not much
to see between Airdrie and Partick. I start to share a story from my days
at High School as the train passes through Espeaside Park in Coatbridge.
Home of Rugby and Football for Saint Patrick’s High, Coatbridge.
“ I used to doggit down here” I shared
with the others as I stared out the window recognising many a hide-e hole.
“This is where we played all our football
with the school team”
“Do you not mean this is where you dogged
the football, substitute for the cubs”?
Kenny reminded me and now shared with the
others that I was substitute for the cubs and there was only twelve in the
pack. I curse my own father for sharing that story with everyone that
crossed our door.
“And out of that twelve two of them where
women group leaders”, George couldn’t miss an opportunity.
“Aye he’s the only boy from Calderbank who
was left sitting on the bench at the expense of his aunty” Kenny continued
to rub it in; my Aunty Kathleen (our Kathleen) was our Akeala back then.
Aye there was no favoritism there,” I
“Looks as if its goin to piss down boys”
Johnny contributes, “anybody check the weather”
Now that fills me with confidence, here is
a guy who is about to start a one hundred mile walk and never checked the
weather. I hadn’t the guts to ask the same question. At least two us on
this trip never thought to check the weather this morning. My excuse is if
asked is; I have only prepared for the worst, good answear William.
“It’s goin to be overcast, with a good
chance of rain,” George informed.
Good, that’s one person at least on the
ball and I have all the confidence in Kenny also knowing what weather lay
Kenny gives the first Team talk, I feel
quite glad of this as on Thursday night I asked him along to our monthly
Spikey Shoes Meeting to have a chat with us all regarding the walk. You
know, tell us what we need to know; what to wear, what to take with us,
what will it be like, what not to do. But this never really came out. This
was no fault of our own Akeala, but basically all we wanted to talk about
was carry-outs, what we will do when we get to Fort William and will we
have a night-out in the pub next Saturday when we get home. So I was
hoping that Kenny wouldn’t fling any fastballs here and put the fear of
God into us all.
So far so good, he hasn’t told us anything
that I cannot handle. I could see a couple of weary faces as well as mine
when he spoke about today’s walk into Dumgoyne where we meet up with
Sherpa James, a bit of lunch at the Cherry Tree Inn and onto Gartness
outside Drymen. He told us to expect it being a bit of a quagmire,
especially with all the rain that has fallen lately (like the past two
hundred years without a break). Am I glad I put a spare pair of Shoes in
the backpack. I have from the greatest authority in hill walking (Andy
Bennet, an old work colleague) that you must look after your feet,
especially keep them dry. I wandered if Johnny and George had thought of
this. I know Kenny would have.
We then discussed the contents of all our
backpacks. Between us all we had more than enough to meet and beat any
situation that comes our way, I was quite confident for a man who last
done something like this more than thirty five years earlier with the
Scouts (without my aunty Kathleen I may add) a weekend camping at the foot
of the Lammermuir hills in Edinburgh. This is going to a dawdle.
We had the compass (one between four), the
torches (one each), the first aid-kits (one each), the whistle (one
between four), mobile phones (one each, two for Johnny). So we all sounded
as if we had the appropriate equipment and attire, but it certainly was
not going to be a fashion parade for walkers weekly. The main focus of
this conversation was hats. All hats had to be removed from the backpacks
or in George’s case from his head. We all studied each other’s. I am sure
they are envious of mine. I hope this was not the start of one-upmanship,
too early for discord, the signs were good. We all complimented each other
on how well all our caps would fit the bill. Please note how no one
mentioned how good a hat looked, but the focus was on the purpose it would
“Your like Deputy Dawg” Johnny points out
about me in my Biggles bonnet.
“ Ah don’t care if I look like a Hun on a
white horse, I’ll be as warm as toast”
I go for a pee. This I think is great,
toilets on commuter trains. Who would have thought of that? Has it really
been about thirty years since I was last on a local commuter train. There
were no trains with toilets between Glasgow and Airdrie when I was a boy.
There were still houses without toilets then let alone trains. Young
married couples from Coatbridge would have been applying for trains to the
Council instead of houses if that were the case. Surely a positive sign
that standards of living in the West of Scotland where improving. That’s
Devolution for you. I panic, the train intercom announces that we are
pulling into Partick station. Just as well it was number ones and not
number twos. I wonder how often that happens. Imagine being caught short,
missing your station. Explain that to the boss. You would just tell him
you missed the train, wouldn’t you, no need to give too much
The train pulls into Partick, I join the
other guys and we grab our backpacks and alight, to wait on our connection
to Milngavie. Bang on time too. That wee man in India was spot on, surely
knows his stuff.
We hang about on the platform at Partick,
no need to change. Partick station like all the commuter stations are
basically one way in and one way out. We were on the platform ourselves,
seems like no one is rushing up to Milngavie to walk the West Highland Way
other than us. The opposite platform was very different. It was packed
with all-sorts going into town. I wonder if there was anyone thinking over
there as to what we were doing. Standing here in our walking attire; boots
and backpacks. I wander if it was obvious to them. They probably didn’t
even notice, although there was nothing else for them to look at other
than us directly across the track.
“Bars open” Kenny says as he pulls out his
hippy, takes a swig and passes it on. We all join him. Now that will give
platform two something to talk about now. I’m glad we have contributed to
their day. I take out my camera from my backpack. I need to get as much
proof as possible that I have done this walk and that starts right here, a
picture of the train to Milngavie. I had brought my Olympus Trip and 3
spools. A Christmas present from Bernie, 17 years earlier. It had to be a
35mm camera. If I had brought my Digital camera the photos would never see
daylight so it is my intention to get these developed and show them to
everyone and their dog, if they would care to view them.
That’s it platform two will think we are
train spotters or train spotting jakies. The platform announcer calls that
our train is now approaching. Again the feeling of apprehension descends
on me. I know that this will be the last mechanical support we will have
for the next seven days.
Six more stops, Hyndland, Anniesland,
Westerton, Bearsden, Hillfoot and then Milngave.
WELCOME TO MILNGAVIE, START OF THE WEST
HIGHLAND WAY. The sign was big and bold with a certain look of officialdom
about it, in place at the station entrance. Posh looking too, it had to
be; of course for Milngavie. Blue background and gold writing. The people
of `MULGUY` would have nothing of a lesser standard. Yes that’s it
confirmed, take out the camera and get a photo. This is now the time, it
has arrived. Every step we take now is one step nearer to completing the
task and the only means of transport from now on in is ` Shank’s Pony`.
“Right boys, line-up”
“Where, I’m first” Johnny buts in
We all grin at Johnnies stab at humor, the
old ones are the best
“ Aye no luck Johnny” George added.
“Wish-full thinking, there’s a first time
for everything,” Johnny comes back
“Maybe the Sherpa will do a turn for you
later” says Kenny
“Ah widnae even use yours” Johnny smirked.
George, Johnny and Kenny quickly assumed
the position. In front of the sign, making sure all the words got into the
frame. This looked like a well-practiced maneuver. The shower of posers.
Everyone was smiling. We were all up for this, the sun was now shining
through the earlier threatening sky, lets get this show on the road, Its
10.40am we have ten miles to walk today at three miles an hour, plus an
hour for lunch at Dumgoyne. Five hours should kill it, tents up fed and
watered by six o’clock tonight. Superb
I placed the camera back into my backpack.
“Who fancies a pint before we get started”
“Do you think this is Newmains?” answers
George the pubs are no` open yet”.
Already I start to recalculate my ETA at
Gartnes. The best laid plans of mice and men…
“Right, a carry-oot then, we’ll get some
beer for the walk” Johnny pronounces, never beaten.
“There is a Tesco, but its further back
that way,” Kenny says pointing away from the direction of the walk.
“ No, there is no walking back, that’s not
allowed, we will find something going through the town” I intervened
We headed off towards the town centre. The
walk came away from the center of the town at Greiggs, the bakers. From
there we start on the path that would take us to Mugdock Park the first
part of the walk and a part of the walk that can be done easily as an
afternoon stroll, or so I am told.
I noticed a bookies, William Hill and
remembering it was Grand National day I had to put a bet on.
“I fancy putting a line on” I tell the
I marched over to the bookies and was
joined by the others. Not spending too much time on making my selections,
I picked four horses for a `lucky 15` and Strong Resolve the Scottish
horse, from Milnathort that seemed to be getting well tipped by the
Scottish media to win the big race of the day. George gave us a five-pound
note to share the bet. Fifteen bets at 50 pence and a 2.50 single on the
national. If that comes in the weeks paid for and more so here’s hoping.
With a bit of luck we can get to the Cherry Tree Inn in time to see the
race. The race had been put back to 4.10 in the afternoon to accommodate
the wedding of Prince Charles to his first and what now seems to be his
only true love 20 years down the road, Camilla Parker Bowles. Let us hope
they are on the right channel as it will be hard to distinguish between
all the Royals walking round Windsor and the horses parading at Aintree.
Johnny then asked us all for a pound a head, to do a football coupon, good
idea keeps us all interested in all today’s scores and will probably save
us arguing over the old firm results.
With winners picked with no great
knowledge of the sport of Kings we set on our way, no not quite yet;
“Carry-oot” Johnny was now practically
First we visited Iceland, we are sure to
get beer in there. Spirits was not a problem. All hip flasks where full
this morning with sufficient quantities left to see us through to our
evening camp. No luck in Iceland. Is that panic I see setting in. The
choice of beer was very poor, not to our liking!
“Marks and Spencer’s” I say, “They do
booze and there is a good chance that it will be chilled as well”, nothing
but the best.
“Who’s going to be carrying all this
beer?” asked Kenny.
No one answered.
“No bother, I`ll carry it” Johnny said
with little enthusiasm. I could read his thoughts. (The bastards will
drink it, but no carry it).
“ I don’t really want any beer” That was
my get out of carrying the carryout clause. George mirrored my statement.
We still went on to Marks to get the beer. In the store we first went to
the chilled sandwich cabinet, we may as well load up with carbohydrates
and trail food. A pack of sandwiches each, all submarines, the biggest
available and some Mars bars. That will keep us going to the Cherry Tree
“ Ah canny find any beer” again alarm is
shown, I am sure I could see beads of sweat on Johnny’s brow. I need to
fix this before the anxiety attack kicks in.
“Aye, it will be somewhere,” I said. With
my superior knowledge of how food stores are laid out I went straight to
the beer shelf with my three (what now seemed like Jakies) comrades in hot
pursuit of me.
“It’s ambient,” I said, knowing they would
not understand my shoptalk.
“Ah don’t care if it’s Albanian” Johnny
said grabbing a ten pack off the shelf and studying the packaging.
“Five percent proof, that’ll do for me”
Johnny had a smile on his face, I think I have saved the day. Walking fuel
now in place, ready to fill the tank we all make our way to the checkout.
“Look at the queues” I said. Again I could
sense that no one was interested in my statement, shop talk again, not the
usual talking point for men.
“This would nae happen in your shop”
George agreed. It was good to know that someone would converse with me
when it came to talking shop.
We all paid for our goods separately and
left Marks stopping in the foyer to load our trail food into the
backpacks. Now let us get on our way. We headed back to the town center.
Stopping only once to get our photos taking at the Town clock in the
middle of the town square. Not my call this time but Kenny’s. Three photos
where taking one in each camera. We then proceeded the twenty-five yards
to Greiggs the Bakers. This is where we would join the West Highland Way.
Although the official start was at Milngavie train station, this was us
now officially walking the Way. We probably had done about two miles
around the town center. Could I bank that mileage I thought.
West Highland Way leaves the town center behind Greiggs shop by a walkway
over a stream, and then we walk along a lane that in years gone by used to
be an old railway line. We would walk this line on a few more occasions
man of about twenty five years of age approaches us on the path walking
towards us, looks like the local chav; not very Milngavie I thought.
this the way to Fort William mate “ Johnny asks him
reply, just a rye smile
Whit’s the weather like up there,” He continues.
chav walks on bye, no response expect for the grin, probably too cool to
talk to the likes of us.
see the locals are friendly” George adds.
“He’s probably too frightened says Kenny.
could see his point. We didn’t really look like the kind of guys that one
would stop and pass the time of day with especially when he noticed Kenny
and I swigging out of our hip flasks and Johnny supping on his beer. Not
the sort of thing you would do walking through Milngavie. The boy will
probably be on his mobile phoning the Police, making a complaint regarding
four jakies drinking on a path leading up to Mugdock Park.
walked along past the Allander water and after a short time we come to a
sign, the Thistle, carved on a fence post that is used to mark out the
West Highland Way along its full route. This takes us up to the right, to
the higher ground, a climb for approximately of one hundred yards out of
Allander Park and into Mugdock wood and Country Park. My first real climb,
it felt ok. The walking at this stage was pretty easy, with a well-defined
track, which used to be an old carriageway from Craigallion House into
Milngavie. Mugdock wood in years gone past was associated with the
distillation of illicit whisky, and has been reported as a scene of many a
good punch up between revenue men and the lads who made the drop, no sign
of them now however.
Ahead we could see a group of walkers, all women. You could say they could
all have auditioned for `The Golden Girls`, that TV programme about women
in there twilight years. They where all walking briskly and it was no time
at all we had caught up with them, all looking the part in the proper
you goin all the way?” Johnny asked.
new the double meaning of this question, George and Kenny probably new the
double meaning of this question, I just hope the golden girls didn’t. I
can see it now. How far did you get, Milngavie Police station. We had
walked two miles and already we had two occasions where we could have
brought our walk to a sudden end.
just doing the circular walk of Mugdock wood” one of them replied.
was smiling as well, I wonder if she had picked-up on Johnny’s metaphor.
Anyway it looks as if he had got away with it.
you don’t want to do that. Do you no fancy goin all the way with us,”
Johnny continued, he’s now smiling; now playing with the double meaning.
thanks” she replied “Best of luck”
looks as if he has picked on the stuck-up one.
you sure now” Johnny was now sounding as if he really wanted to coax them;
“We’ve plenty of swally enough to do us all, as long as Wullie Kerr disnae
get to it before you” he continued.
all had a good laugh at this statement and in a chorus they all said no
and wished us well. We all said thanks and consciously stepped up a gear
to pull away from them.
didnae fancy” yours George said to Johnny.
sherpas beginning to sound good” Johnny answered.
Mugdock wood was a lovely place. You would say it was great place to go
for a walk. The walk at this point
offers a variety of scenes. Arranging from ruined castles and Lochs to
wooded areas and open fields, all on good paths. The ruined castle,
Mugdock Castle, which is in the process of being renovated, dates back to
1372, though little remains now apart from a high stonewall, the Southwest
tower and walled gardens. There is also a ruined mansion house, Craigend
Castle, at the other end of the park. However to see these you must leave
the walk for a short period adding a distance of about two miles to the
walk. Not for me.
park is a haven for birds, and I am told that this is a good place to see
cygnets, ducklings and goslings at this time of year (in the spring).
There are two Lochs, a large one at Mugdock Castle and a smaller one at
the Visitors' Center. Special islands have been created so that the birds
can breed undisturbed by the many visitors to the park. I should come back
here again I thought, I’ll bring Bernie along. It will probably look great
in the autumn with all its different colours, a haven for photographers or
painters at that time. The clouds where once again beginning to darken. I
will come back on a sunny day.
As we head out of Mugdock Park, the rain
starts. Not to heavy, a drizzle. But it’s a drizzle that is constant and
will not stop. I can feel it on my face and it feels quite icy. From
sunshine in Milngavie an hour earlier to this. I know this will be normal.
This is to be expected. Scotland is famous for having the four seasons in
one day. I decide to stop and put on the weather proofs. Johnny and George
have fallen behind us, about three hundred yards. Kenny also decides to do
the same. He passes me his hip flask, I take a swig. May as well stop for
a real reason.
The path continues to be good. We follow a
stream that takes us to Craigallion Loch. I notice the way in front of us.
It is as straight as a die for as long as I can see. With a small incline
and some forestry plantations at either side of us as well as surrounding
the Loch. I point out to Kenny the man fishing from the boat and also the
boathouse at the Lochs edge to our right.
Kenny points out the car in the distance
on the pathway that we are walking about half a mile further on. On
reaching it we realise that it is a BMW 350. We assume it belongs to the
fisherman and that it is also his boathouse and that he probably has total
fishing rights to the Loch. A rich bastard we both agree.
“Wullie, stop right here, tell me exactly
what you see straight ahead on the path” Kenny asks.
I wonder what this is all about; I tell
him I see a blue BMW, lots of trees, the path, grey clouds and now lots of
“Now think about this, what’s the slogan?”
he questions me.
I think hard. A Mars a day? No.
“What is it “ I ask
“Think, the west highland way, a long
straight path, a brand new BMW. Think of this picture in your head”
I don’t need to imagine it; I can see it
right in front of me.
“Ok, what is it” I ask.
“If Carlsberg did the West Highland Way…”
“Good one” I reply. “If only.”
We wait on George and Johnny, and ask
them the same question.
At this point I was feeling pretty good.
So far there was no issues or worries with the walk. It all felt really
easy. I was sure that it would get harder. Although the rain had now
decided to hit us a bit harder and was no longer a drizzle, I felt fine. I
had experienced worse while hitting a small ball for eighteen holes. The
clouds looked very heavy and one would have thought that looking at how
bleak they where would conclude that this weather was going to stay with
us for the rest of the day at least.
My thoughts moved on to later that night.
I was now walking alone. This was no choice of my own but we had all
discussed that everyone would walk at their own pace. No one would slow
down another. This was important as walking at the pace you felt good with
would mean that you would not be putting yourself or your body under any
unnecessary pressure or holding someone back. Imagine a sprinter, a middle
distance runner and marathon runner all going out for a five-mile run,
their bodies and mental being would all be expecting to deal with the
distance differently. I had to consider what Dr Ferry had told me. This
was ok, as no one would walk for anymore than a mile ahead of the others
this giving the straggler (probably me) the chance to catch up, somehow I
feel that this could be the norm this week.
How can Sherpa James manage to put up the
tent himself? The answer was simple. He couldn’t. The original plan was to
have two Sherpas. James and Johnny. Johnny however decided to do the walk
this leaving James to Sherpa on his own. Don’t get me wrong I was
delighted that Johnny was walking as I new the more walkers we had the
bigger the purse we would receive for the hospice, plus I know Johnny will
cheer us all up along the way, good for morale and all that. We would help
James put up the tents, this shouldn’t be a problem as long as we all had
no issues with this, and it was dry at the time of assembly, and that days
walk was easy and we were not too tired, soaking wet and hungry. I didn’t
see any of these points becoming an issue with the exception of the rain.
We could not put the tent up if it was raining. What would we do then? I
thought the same scenario could happen even if there were two Sherpas. So
I decided to stop worrying about it, why worry be happy. We can think on
our feet at the time. This will happen and we all know what the
I stop and look back. I take a mental
note; saying to myself that I should remember and do this more often. It’s
all different. I notice a large house on the left bank of the Loch. I pull
the map from my backpack knowing that it is none of two afore mentioned
castles as this building is inhabited and looks about one hundred and
fifty years to two hundred years old at a guess. Craigallian Lodge, it
looks mighty, sitting there alone not needing any friends in its own
grandeur, that’s it. I wonder if it belongs also to the BMW owning
fisherman. Anyone who knows Scotland will realise that when walking or
using whatever means of transport you will see something completely
different on your homeward journey as to what you would see on your
I could be a hundred miles from anywhere
but in reality its only about four miles from Milngavies busy town centre.
The peace and quiet is immense. I feel really alone although I can see the
other guys ahead of me and the lone fisherman staring at his line in his
boat, the feeling of not hearing anything other than the rain and wind is
strange, I am not used to this, where is the noise from the telly, the car
engines on the motorway, the electric guitars, the cry of daddy, quiet.
This is why I wanted to do this, its these points that will make this all
worthwhile and push us along. I see a yellow and a blue raincoat about a
half a mile behind me, walking towards us on ground we have just covered.
Other walkers I wonder. I face forward and march on.
I notice the Campsies to my right. All my
life they have been so far away but on my doorstep and everyday I would
see them and never notice them, blind to them. This close up they don’t
look any different, just a bit bigger. I know if I climbed to the top I
could see my home about twenty miles back to the east. We come from the
east, three wise men and one! I look ahead and start to step up my pace. I
don’t want to get out of sight of the others. I can see the
great dumpling-shaped bulk of Dumgoyne
beyond away to my right an extinct volcano and the first major landmark
along the way.
Onward from Craigallian I head according to my map towards Carbeth. The
track opens out onto a plantation of fir trees, non-native, where the wood
is fenced off from our side. I can only think that this is to keep the
deer away from the trees. At Carbeth I see a strange sight, something that
I would consider alien to where we are, a sight that would be more
familiar at an east coast seaside resort like the old holiday huts at Port
Seton. This must be the wooden holiday huts`, which were built after the
First World War for the city dwellers of Glasgow to have a place to visit
in the country. I had heard of this place in the past and forgot that it
ever existed and the last thing I was expecting to day was to walk in to
it. Seeing `Carbeth` named on the map didn’t register in my head the
stories that have surrounded it since its inception almost ninety years
huts look a right mixed bunch. The other guys are waiting as I approach.
We discuss what we see. Three Mercs outside one of the better looking
huts, infact I have seen smaller bungalows in some modern housing estates.
“Looks ominous,” I say. “I bet they are all drug lords in there having a
top level meeting, discussing where and when there next consignment is
the cars are too old” says Kenny “Drug lords would have brand spanking new
“They’ll be the gophers cars then, the means of moving the goods about,
and any dead bodies that they may have” George adds
it’s getting silly. I do not expect to see Detective Sergeant Jackie Reid
aka Blyth Duff coming screaming round the corner at a hundred miles an
hour. “I THINK THERES BEEN A MURDER SIR”. Superb Scottish telly at its
best. You wander what these people see in these huts. Some of them look as
if they wouldn’t even make a good bonfire, but some however look
absolutely great and a lot better than some of the gaffs I spent my
childhood holidays in. The sign on the Loch says `NO FISHING`. So what do
they all do when they come up here except plan the next shipment of
illegal goods or drugs? Fling stones in the water! Three guys come out the
good-looking hut with the three Mercs and look at us. We say hello, they
acknowledge the same, and we move on. Big bloody boots in those Mercs. You
would get four dead bodies in them no bother.
can remember a news story a few years back regarding these huts.
It concerned over 100 tenants
facing eviction from their homes, or rather huts. The first settlers came
here shortly after world war one. The estate owener at the time had
allowed a former servant on returning from the war to build a small hut to
live in. As people from Glasgow and Clydebank would be walking in this
part as a means of recreation (not much else to do in those days but walk
as unemployment was high and people had no money) a fondness for the area
evolved and they also where allowed to build huts with bitumen roofs and
green timber walls and paying a nominal site rental to the land owener.
However the communitty did grow bigger and one would say it ended up
resembling a poor mans Butlins Holiday Park. The local burn was even damed
to create a swimming pool. All the huts where built at the tennants own
expense. In theory a great social experiment was taking place here.
Residents would call their homes Dachas a word used also in Russia to
describe a holiday/community home. Access would have been along the route
we have just walked (known as the Kyber Pass by hutters) or over the
Kilpatrick hills if coming from Clydebank, all on foot. The Carbeth huts
where also a heaven of safety during the Clydebank blitz and that exodous
is said to have resembled a mass movement of people similar to that seen
in 1990s Yugoslavia.
The price of land rent was hiked
to high heaven and this was no longer cheap un-usable land being only four
miles from Glasgow it had become prime land and highly valuable, we are
talking Monopoly prices per acre. A bitter rent strike persued and many
huts where mysteriously burned to the ground and a massive Police presence
was brought in to manage the peacefull demonstrations. A few have rebuilt
and are sticking in. The high Court has ruled that the land owener is
within his right, but still some, a small band fight on.
Leaving Carbeth we follow a track, which meets a road at a place called
Balachalairy Yett. Our faithful Thistle sign points us left for about a
hundred yards, westward and then points us over to the right at a stile
into Tinker's Loan. Tinker's Loan is a broad grassy ride, rising to a
gentle slope between two dry stane dykes. On crossing the stile we agree
at my request to have a break. Although little shelter from the now
pounding rain, we needed to fill the tanks with water (and a few drams of
the water of life) and top up on the carbs purchased earlier in Marks and
Spencer’s. The only shelter was from a tree and the dyke. It was quiet,
not much being said. We all look at my map. We agree that we have
completed over four miles so far and would meet up with Sherpa James in
about an hours time with another three and half miles to walk to the
Cherry Tree Inn.
“We’ll get a good bowl of soup at the Pub” Kenny says
perked us all up a bit.
ha, whits this then” Johnny says looking back down the way we came.
all turn at the same time. A few yards away walking towards us I notice
the yellow and the blue raincoats that I saw earlier before Carbeth.
looks as if we are no` the only daft Bastards that are oot walking in this
then” says George
“They seem to be carrying a light load for doing the walk,” says Kenny
“Maybe James is doing a wee number on the side with them”
females approach us and catch our stare. They say hello and we return the
same pleasantries as they walk through.
a bad day for it “ Johnny says
we go again. He will get us all the Jail. They are definitely walkers.
They’ve got all the proper attire, but not carrying anything.
have seen better” one of them reply
“Aye, it looks as if James is doing a homer right enough, “ I say.
long as Eleanor dissnae find out,” Johnny quips
allow them time to get ahead of us before we start off again. I was glad
of the extended break.
walk up a gentle incline to the head of Tinker's Loan. From this point as
we approach the house at Arlehaven we see what I would consider to be our
first real view. One with a sense of great space. It was my first feeling
of being in a big country. Surrounded by emptiness we could only hear
ourselves, and the rain; now rattling off my waterproof jacket making it
difficult to make out what the others where saying as I surveyed the Blane
valley spread out in front of me.
ground drops away over open moor with the buildings of Arlehaven on our
left and farther left again, the Kilpatrick hills, green but dark, the
colour looks permanent, covered in a watery haze. To my right the mound of
Dumgoyach, cone shaped and wooded and her big sister Dumgoyne, at the end
of the Campsie Fells. Looking ahead beyond the Blane valley I could see
for the first time where we were heading in a greater context and not
through the eyes of someone going for a stroll in the country, walking a
few miles, having a couple of pints and then home for tea. This is a lot
bigger. I think of Bernie, Ewen, Liam and Susan. I will do this for them,
as for our charity and myself. At this point it sunk home; that between
us and Fort William there where going to be a lot of obstacles. The
butterflies I felt earlier at the train station now felt like Crows
hacking at my stomach. What will the obstacles be? I stare ahead, I don’t
know. Will I make it? I don’t know. I had all of a sudden a great feeling
of fear and adventure. This is not going to be a country walk. This is a
trek and the simple path that we have walked so far will turn on us and
make us work for our charity cash. I will not give in. I place my hand in
my jacket pocket and feel my Rosary and say a prayer for the second time
today as I look straight ahead and view the Crianlarich hills and a good
part of Ben Lomond the start of the Western Highlands.
path is fairly open as we pass the cottages at Arlehaven and ahead for
about a mile to the farm buildings at Dumgoyach Farm at the foot of
Dumgoyach, passing through Dumgoyach wood and across the Blane Water.
“This is the part that was a quagmire the last time I was here,” says
all the rain that had fallen, I feared that we had a hard walk ahead of us
before we got to the Pub that was now about a mile and half away. I was
later told that there is standing stones in the woods and we had missed
them. That is the problem when walking in heavy rain; your head tends to
stay down keeping the hammering wind and rain from your exposed face as
well as watching your feet.
stretch from Tinker's Loan what we thought was going to be extremely rough
actually turned out to be very easy on the feet to Dumgoyach Farm, even in
all this rain. The good men of Stirlingshire Council had done some great
work to this part of the walk (or someone else for that matter), is this
Stirlingshire? This part of the walk used to be the old Blane Valley
Railway later owned by The North British Railway and helped us make up
some good time thanks to the good walking surface. We were now also in
view of the Kilearn to Drymen road. The pathway is signed as part of the
walk and is reached by the lane behind Dumgoyach farm, which crosses an
old wooden bridge over the Blane water, the main tributary to the Endrick
Water. On looking at the map the way stretched for about four or five
miles straight ahead of us for as far as we could see, to our first nights
camp at Gartness.
our right we could see the Glengoyne Distillery sitting at the foot of
Dumgoyne with the main A81 road separating the still house from the bonds.
I shared the story with the others of my first ever visit to a Distillery,
and it was Glengoyne. My best memory and thanks to having too much whisky
that day was probably my only memory was the fact that in the bar there
was no till. All the Whisky we tested was free and along with a great meal
at the Cherry Tree Inn it turned out to be a great day arranged by our
shops Liquor Manager.
should give Sherpa James a call,” says Kenny
could see the pub now ahead and hopefully as planned James would be there
to meet us and join us for lunch albeit a late lunch. By this time James
should have done the shopping and arranged the pitch at our first campsite
in Gartness a further two and half miles on after the Cherry Tree Inn. I
am sure he wouldn’t have any problems with the first of his daily tasks.
Johnny phones James;
“James its Johnny”
“Where are you” James asks “ I cannae find the Cherry Tree Inn”
“We’re walking past the distillery, heading towards it ”
That’s no the Cherry Tree. I’m at the distillery, I’ve done the tour, its
some place” James informs him “I cannot see you, where abouts` are you”
are walking past the distillery heading for the pub,” Johnny repeats
come a canny sees you?”
“Where in the distillery are you?” Johnny asks
parked in front of the bonds facing the road watching for yies”
“Well you’ll no see us sitting there, Drive along to the pub, we’ll be
there in ten minutes. Aye, cheerio” Johnny switches off the phone.
wonders how he canny see us, he’s sitting at the other side of that big
black building there, ah think he thinks we are walking along the main
continue along the path discussing what is the giant mound that is on our
left hand side of the path, about three metres wide and a metre and a half
high covered in grass, going all the way into the distance in both
directions east to west. We all agree that it will be a water pipe and
they have used the old railway as a cheap roadway for it all the way into
family approaches, all the attire, walking sticks as well. They look
absolutely miserable, especially the two kids, a boy and a girl about nine
and ten years old respectively. I think, looking at whom I believe to be
the father, how could you do that to these two weans, why not take them to
the pictures or the baths. People like that should be reported to the
cruelty man. Once they had passed this quickly became our next topic of
“Imagine our father saying to us on a Saturday morning, pissing with rain,
lets all go for a walk. You would tell him to get on his bike,” says
only place I could get my da to walk to on a Saturday was the pub” I added
“And he certainly wouldn’t be walking back, not very straight anyway”
we approach the Pub James meets us with a golf umbrella keeping the heavy
rain off him. I cannot help but mention that James is probably three hours
late in coming to meet us with brollies. Kenny asks him if he is expecting
the Bishop to join us with a brolly that size, reminding me of Church
parades in the rain at Carfin Grotta, Scotlands Marian Shrine. The only
one allowed the brolly was the Bishop, well according to my mam anyway.
George and Johnny wouldn’t understand the point Kenny was making, but
“Take it as your penance” she would say. Is this a sign, I wonder?
information board on the path at the pub confirms that under the mound a
huge pipe is concealed which takes water from Loch Lomond, and distributes
it all over Scotland. I know what it feels like inside that pipe. It also
confirms that we are not at the Cherry Tree Inn but in fact we are at the
Beech Tree Inn. I remember having this conversation with one of these guys
(I will mention no names) and they assured me the name of this pub was the
Cherry Tree Inn, hence telling James we would meet him at the Cherry Tree
Inn. I like Cherry Tree Inn better.
all follow the sign that says `WALKERS ENTRANCE`. That sounds promising
and very welcoming. Never having done this before I think it better to
hold back and follow Kenny’s moves. I don’t want to be going into this Pub
and not using walker’s etiquette if there is such a thing. After all,
there could be cashmere carpets in there, I barge in, and end up getting
us all flung out. No, that plate of soup is too important. I’ll watch
Kenny and follow his lead. Johnny and George have sussed it out to. They
are holding back as well, we all watch Kenny and follow his every move.
Again maybe the two of them are holding back in case they have to buy the
first round at the bar. Miserable Bastards. We head for the wooden gazebo
at the pub entrance where we take off our boots, our waterproofs and hats
and proceed into the public bar. I can smell the soup. Its twenty past
three, plenty of time to get some warm food, watch the horses on the telly
(not the Windsor variety), get back out there and walk the final two and
half miles to our first nights camp. Easy Peasy.
felt great to be in the Cherry Tree Inn. I noticed the two dames that
passed us earlier at the start of Tinkers loan. We nodded a hello to each
other and again mentioned the weather. How come they don’t look as wet and
as exhausted as all us. I wonder. We also take some looks from
day-trippers, out for a run in the country. You can see the “Are they aff
their bloody heads out walking in this” looks they are giving us. I hope
none of us has any holes in their socks. Smelly Feet! What do they
have been in here a few times before along with Bernie, George and his
wife Gerry. The food is really good and they don’t rob you. Good on them,
as well as really friendly staff we are all made to feel very welcome.
“Right boys” I say grabbing their attention” Will we kitty up for this or
will we just use the kitty we already started for groceries and swally”
was decided at Thursday meeting that we would all kitty up to cover all
costs, i.e. Food and swally. Johnny’s employer had kindly donated all
diesel costs for the van courtesy of Johnny’s company credit card. Saving
us a fortune as it turns out. We all gave Sherpa James fifty quid each
are quickly served and four plates of soup are ordered. The Sherpa
there no a telly in here” I ask, making enquires to benefit the horse
lovers amongst us.
“Sorry” I am told by the young waitress.
to worry I will get the radio on when we make camp. The conversation moves
“What did you get for dinner the night James“ George asks.
“Pasta, I hope you like it as I got four packets” came the reply.
general consensus was fine as we had previously given James some meal
ideas but as we quickly found out we should also have shared with him some
“What kind of Pasta did you get?” I ask
could see that was a difficult one to ask.
“What kind of sauce did you get?” I continued
never got any sauce” came the reply “Just pasta, you never telt me to get
“Jesus, we’ll be eating plain pasta for a week” said Kenny “No spam
I got corned beef,”
can always make necklaces and bracelets for presents with the dried pasta”
“Aye, that’ll gie us all something to do round the camp fire the night in
the pissing rain” George adds
“Well a don’t fancy dried plain pasta and corned doggy” I said
got tinned tatties as well” James says, now trying to save tonight’s menu.
“Sounds good, tatties and corned Beef” says Kenny.
“What about sausage rolls, Eleanor gave us half a dozen Tunnocks sausage
rolls. We could have them and rolls on sausage,” James is now trying to
convince us all that there is options and good ones as well.
all agree. Sausage rolls and rolls on sausage.
soup arrives we are all quiet. Along with a couple of pints, Kenny and
myself had Guinness and George and Johnny had lager we all felt we had a
hearty lunch. Time to get back on the march.
we leave the pub we say our thanks and are wished all the best on our
journey from the man behind the bar. We all go to the loo and then head
outside to the gazebo where we start to put our waterproofs and boots on.
It’s still raining, but not as bad.
“Looks as if its going to clear up” George says
wish” Kenny replies
we only have a couple of miles to do we decide to give our backpacks to
the Sherpa to take to the campsite in the van. No need to carry them,
nothing will be needed we all thought.
Akeala jumps in.” I’ll take my bag, just in case. You don’t know when you
might need a first-aid kit or something else”
see” I said, “That’s how I asked Kenny to come along with us. If I where
to depend on you two (looking at George and Johnny) in a life threatening
situation God only knows what would happen”
know I am only kidding
no what would happen” said Johnny” I would still be in that pub and phonin
a taxi at eleven o’clock the night. Never mind if Carlsberg done the West
Highland Way, think of how Johnny Park would do the West Highland Way”
were joined by the two dames in the gazebo. They informed us that they
where only walking to Drymen as they both lived there. They had decided to
take the bus to Glasgow and walk it back. Johnny offered them a lift home
in the van if they wished;
“It’s a terrible day after all,” he says
they refused thanking Johnny and pointing out that it would make their
Jacuzzi feel a lot more inviting if they walked the last couple of miles.
Jacuzzi! Ah bloody Jacuzzi! All we’ve got to look forward to is Willie
Kerr’s` bowels rattling in a five man tent all night and you two are away
for a Jacuzzi! Any room for another four” he exclaims.
tonight was the reply.
We’ll bring our own bubbles, sure we will Wullie, eh!”
long pause… Too much detail Johnny. Can anyone see my embarrassment?
even room for one then” he is a trier
really is only a wee one,” I add
have a laugh; the dames wish us well and head out. A swig from our hip
flasks and then we head towards the Sherpas van. We give our backpacks to
James, except the sensible one, Akeala.
join the way again, crossing the main A81 road as we leave the Cherry Tree
Inn. No sign of the Dames. They were certainly off their mark very
quickly. It does look as if it is going to clear up. There was now a bit
of heat in the air and in the five or so minutes since we put on our
walking gear the rain had stopped, so down came my hood and off with the
Biggles bonnet, life is getting better. I could see a break in the clouds
ahead of us in the direction we were heading.
are back on the old railway track again and I assume that we are also
walking on top of the water pipe now as well. This will take us all the
way to our first nights stop. James has told us that the walk will take us
right to our campsite at Gartness. We pass the old buildings of Killearn
hospital, heading out of the Blane Valley. The waterproof jacket is now
off and folded into its pocket holder. I open my fleece jacket and let the
air about me. Its amazing how quickly the temperature changes. As the day
got more into the late afternoon one would expect it to get colder as the
evening grew nearer but we were now experiencing our best weather of the
day. All I was wanting at this time was for it to stay dry so as we could
pitch the tent. The Big Yin was with us. I know it.
Gartness was the home of John Napier, once of this parish but now long
gone. A philosopher and Scotland’s greatest mathematical genius ever. A
man who was like myself, as black was like white. I sometimes however may
philosophies, a claim that would be made by most Scotsman but
mathematician I was not, a `D` at `O` grade was the best I could muster.
Napiers`family at one time owned the land around the village and he was
famous as the inventor of logarithms (what are they all about) and also
the person who devised the dot, `.`, the decimal point that has had a
significant effect in the computer age now. The village itself was no more
than a few houses spread sparsley along with the coffee shop, come
James once again had walked about twenty yards to meet us and escorted us
home to our first nights stop. The way ended this part of the walk just
outside Gartness under an old railway bridge that carried the road from
Drumore to Gartness at the Wishing Well Campsite and Cafe. It was at this
point we could see the last remaining signs of the Blane Valley railway
line as it came to an abrupt end at the very position where we would camp
tonight. The last trains pulled out of here in 1959 the year I was born.
As we walked under the bridge James informed us that the ten by twenty
square yards we where now standing on and separated from the path we have
just walked off by a six feet paneled fence is the camp site. We are
almost knee deep in grass, great grazing for our neighbours. The white
building to our right across a very muddy patch of the same size was the
café and toilet block. This was no Camping Marastang in the South of
France. This was roughing it Scottish style with a full supporting act of
sheep and cows in your living room in a setting of rolling parkland with
the only thing going for it so far is the fact that it is still dry and
looking quite promising to be a nice spring evening. Even with the thought
of sausage rolls for supper I was finding it hard to bring a positive
thought into my head.
task now at hand was to make hay while the sun was still shining and get
the tent up and the dinner made. We all waded through the muddy quagmire
between our pitch and the car park in front of the café to the van where
all our gear and provisions where waiting for us. Opening the back doors
of the van I realised that this is not going to be easy. Everything was
packed as we say in the grocery trade, can tight. Not another thing could
you get in this van. From top to bottom and back to front this van was
What in the name of God have we got in here” Kenny asked. “ Is this a
flitting we are doing”?
was pretty impressed myself. Here we are five guys away for a week and we
have managed to fill this van to use the Scottish vernacular, `to the
gunnels`. What in the name is all in there?
Haw Johnny, is there a family of Romanians hiding in here hoping to be
seeking asylum in Fort William” I asked.
don’t know whits in there, everything was just flung in last night” he
the tent in there?” Kenny asked
Please God let it be.
“Aye” said Johnny “ah put that in myself”
there is a story attached to this tent. For a start no one other than
Johnny has seen it and the tent itself has never seen daylight as it was
purchased only a few days earlier from Argos. Well that’s not really true
as we where all shown a picture of it at Thursday nights meeting, ripped
straight out the Argos catalogue. The original plan ten months earlier was
to bring our nine-man tent that is jointly owned with George, Julia,
(Georges mother-in-law) and myself. How that shared tenancy came about is
another story. As there were now only five of us doing the trip I thought
the nine-man tent would be inappropriate, as it could not be built with
one Sherpa alone. I suggested we all chipped in twenty quid each and buy a
five man tent as this would give James a fighting chance to build the tent
himself and have everything ready for us each day at the end of the walk,
unlike today. We all agreed that this was a good idea but Johnny wanted to
buy the tent himself so his daughter can then have exclusive use of the
tent once we had finished with it. He assured us all that he was intending
to buy one anyway in the summer so this seemed like a good option suiting
Right we need to get this organised,” I said “Lets take everything out
that is needed and I will repack the van”
tents right behind the seats as it was first in,” said Johnny
I thought the one thing we now need is the last thing I’ll get to. We
started hand-balling all the bags of clothing, sleeping bags and who knows
what else onto the wet ground, avoiding a few puddles at the back of the
van until we came across the tent and the cooker. These where grabbed by
Kenny, George and Johnny and carried over the quagmire to the pitch. James
and I started to place everything back in the van in an order that was
organised in comparison to what we found, leaving out the essentials such
as food, alcoholic beverages, cleaning materials and toilet rolls. The
bags of clothing (one each) where placed in last so anyone requiring a
change of clothing tonight or their toilet bag could get easy access.
Although I could not imagine why anyone would want to change clothes
tonight, all dressed up and nowhere to go comes to mind. But who knows,
Johnny Park after all is from Lesmahagow originally and I have seen him
looking and acting a bit funny around sheep in the past.
What an inventory we had;
case of Highland Spring Still Water, four cases of fun size mars bars,
seven white pokes full of Tunnocks Caramel Wafers (seconds from the
factory), Four packs of dried pasta (no sauce), Eight tins of tatties, two
packets of Cup-o-Soups, two case of Miller MGD, two litres of whisky, one
litre of vodka, four litres of Irn Bru, two litres of lemonade, two litres
of coke, two packets of bacon, two packets of links sausage, two packets
of tattie scones, two case of crisps, two tins of corned beef, various
packets of cold meats, two dozen rolls a loaf and tonight’s main fare,
half a dozen sausage rolls. The extra one is bound to cause a fight. We
are not going to starve, not tonight anyway. Along with four lanterns
(battery powered) five chairs and various airbeds and tools to blow them
up with I could now see why the van was so full.
was keen to see how the tent was being put up, but by the time we got back
to the pitch with all the food, drink, chairs, lights, cups, plates and
cutlery (all plastic) and sleeping gear it was practically complete. I had
the impression that it was an easy build.
seems to have built up easy enough,” I said
“Dawdle“ Johnny replied
“Could one man do it himself? “I asked
Kenny replied no and Johnny said that it wouldn’t be a problem anyway as
we would all be there each night to help build it. I new that would be the
case but it may not be the ideal situation to be in. I was thinking what
could I do to make this better.
After tightening the guy ropes we all flung our sleeping bags inside, put
up the chairs outside the tent and I started to build the cooker.
me do that” George said “We want to get fed the night”.
is it people have no faith in my abilities to build or fix things. I let
George get on with it, poured myself a half and sulked for all of ten
looks as if it could be a grand night weather wise. It was very mild about
twelve degrees at a guess and no wind. If only the cloud would clear this
would be a great place to sit back in a chair and watch the dark night
sky, something I love to do on holiday in France each year. The cloud was
now high in the sky with an occasional break and all the signs said no
rain. I could hear a jet accelerating above us coming out of Glasgow
turning as it approached Loch Lomond. I noticed it ahead of us to our
left. It was a sight I was familiar with from a plane coming out of
Glasgow and over Loch Lomond but I realised that this is probably the
first time I had experienced it from the ground almost at Loch Lomond and
looking up. It was big, looked like an Air Bus, but I was not feeling
jealous of those people aboard heading for the sun. I was very content
right here. I think I could get to like this.
George having built the cooker was now in charge of cooking assisted by
James, that worked out well I thought. As planned earlier at the Cherry
Tree Inn, sausage rolls and rolls on sausage where the main course,
preceded by Tomato Cup-O-Soup followed by what I thought, as many Tunnocks
Caramel Wafer (seconds) you could poke a stick at.
“Haw, they’re limited to two each a day” James shouts at Kenny as he takes
a handful of caramel wafers from one of the white pokes.
“What, you’re joking, there is enough here to feed an army” Kenny retorts
“Eleanor only gave me enough for two each everyday” James pleads
“Don’t worry James a wont tell her a broke my allowance if you don’t”
“I’ll clipe on you, “ I said
“Squealer” Kenny points me out to the group
went to the van to get my radio out of my clothes bag and to take off my
boots and put on a pair of soft tennis shoes or gutties in these parts. I
was advised to take my walking boots off at every opportunity to allow the
fresh air to circulate around my feet. It felt good walking in the soft
shoes with no socks on as I now felt as if I was walking on air after
removing a massive weight. By the time I got back to the pitch I had
changed my mind, my nice clean gutties where now covered in sheep shit. I
was not going back for my boots so I wiped my feet on the damp grass and
re-introduced my self to the group as `The Shite Gutty Man` in reference
to Calderbank and Clelands most famous Ghost and spooky thing `The White
Gutty Man` who has terrorised every kid in the villages for the past
now about five-thirty and all the football results will be in as well as
the horses, here’s hoping I’ve got a few winners. I tune into Radio
Scotland and the phone in with Jim Traynor is still on with some guy
phoning in spouting off about conspiracy theories, clandestine groups and
everyone in the world basically hating Glasgow Celtic. A theory I do not
“Here we go, listen to this guy, everybody hates us, nobody likes us, some
of these Celtic supporters are absolutely paranoid. You’d think the whole
world is out to get us. Get rid of the big bloody chips on your shoulder
pal.” Kenny points out talking at the radio.
boys right, everybody does hate you all, he is not paranoid at all” George
quips in “ You lot have got nothing going for you at all”
“Voted the best Football supporters in the world last year by FIFA us lot
where” I add.
better keep away from this. There is no point in us all falling out with
each other on the first night over Celtic and Rangers, I am sure there
will be plenty of opportunities later for that. The results came on after
the six o’clock news. There was not much to discuss, Celtic where playing
in the semi-finals the following day, Sunday, against Hearts, who
incidentally had beaten us a week earlier at home two nil. Being
eliminated earlier Rangers also had no game this weekend as they where
scheduled to play against one of the other Scottish Cup semi-finalists
Dundee or Hibs. This was the only result worth looking at today. The
winner is surely going to be playing Celtic in the final. I am confident
we will beat Hearts tomorrow at Hampden.
six o’clock news brings us what I expected to hear Strong Resolve, never
got a mention in the national and the football results confirmed that
Johnny Park was no good at picking football teams either. I’ll have to
wait, to get to a bookies to check my lucky fifteen, probably when I get
back home. However Kenny picked the big one, the winner of the National,
phone beeps, a message. Looking it up I see it’s from Tam Sinclair. Now
Tam is a workmate or colleague as we call each other and had promised to
send me a text each day we were walking with a title relating to the walk
or walking itself to keep up morale. To-days song is the Proclaimers
classic, “500 miles”. I explain to the guys what the message is all about
and what today’s song is.
bumperi-bum-peri-bum-piri-bum-piri-bum-pum-bum” Johnny bursts into the
chorus at the mention of the song title.
“Tra-la-la-la, Tra-la-la-la,” Kenny starts the next line.
“Bumperi-bum-peri-bum-piri-bum-piri-bum-pum-bum” Johnny finishes it.
Tra-la-la-la, bumperi-bum-peri-bum-piri-bum-piri-bum-pum-bum” we are all
-“And I will walk 500 hundred miles and I will walk 500 hundred more, just
to be the man who walks a million miles to be outside your door”
“Tra-la-la-la, Tra-la-la-la, Tra-la-la-la, Tra-la-la-la,
- “Tra-la-la-la, Tra-la-la-la, Tra-la-la-la, Tra-la-la-la,
behind the panel fence three male Latinos appeared, all about twenty-two
years of age, tanned skin, dark hair and about 5`10 each. They looked
quite frightened at what they had stumbled upon. Where the hell did they
come from I thought. It was obvious they were West Highland Way walkers,
looking very miserable and very wet, still wearing their water-proofs and
with the sun shinning too. We stop our communal singing and we all
acknowledge them. They all nod back. With a look of trepidation on their
face I could see they where just a wee bit anxious. In my head I could
hear the banjo playing. You can imagine the scene straight out of the
movie `Deliverance`. We are the incestual, banjo playing local yokels.
They had stumbled across us. What where we going to do to them? They
walked with their backs to the bridge wall, staring at us. We stared back.
this the Highland Walk?” one asked
“Aye” was the stark reply from George. There was a pause. They looked at
us and we looked at them.
“Where is the walk?” the talker asked. It was obvious they where unsure
where they had to go now to keep on the way. As the pathway literally
stops at the panel fence, I could understand their confusion. Kenny
pointed out that they had to climb up the banking and go onto the road
starting from the bridge. He pointed in the direction they should head.
yi want some swally,” Johnny asked.
trepidation to bewilderment their expressions change. I could read their
thoughts and Kenny could to.
“Would you like a beer” Kenny asked.
thanks” the talker said.
thought what about the other guys. It was obvious who their Akeala was.
They thanked us and walked on. The last one up the banking turned and
looked back at us. I couldn’t help but think that he felt quite relieved
to be on his way but wondering if our cousins where waiting to capture
them further along the way.
“Where Do you think they are from” I ask’
“Spain” replies Johnny.
do you know that?” I enquired.
“They’re Spaniards and they’re Firemen” Johnny continues, smirking to
“Aye, but how do you know that”
you no notice their names on their backpacks? It said Jose, Hose B and
you’ve got to laugh.
they looked more Italian,” said George
do you know that”?
“They just did, way their accent”
shortest book I ever read was written by an Italian,” I added
Pause. They’re not going to ask me what was it called. Not taking the
“What book was that Willie” Kenny took the fly, or recognises my
“Great Italian war heroes” I said.
Johnny quips in,” Did you hear the wan aboot the Scotsman, Irishman and
Italian in a bar, and this big blonde walks up to them and says, “I love a
man who is intellectual. Whoever can give me a sentence with the words
Liver and Cheese in it will have a night with me they will never forget.
Scots man says, “I love liver and cheese”. Absolutely rubbish the blonde
Irish man says,” I hate liver and cheese” Terrible she says are you all
Italian man says,” I love ah feisty ah women, Liver alone, Cheese mine”
good one I thought, we all have a laugh
“Grubs up” George rallies us round the cooker. Now this is a sight to be
witnessed. Sausage rolls done on a camping cooker. A metal tray was placed
over the two gas rings and the sausage rolls sat on top of that. I assume
the idea is that the metal plate heats up and passes on the heat to the
sausage roll. Great theory but obviously never tested, not until now
anyway. The arse was burnt out the base of the sausage roll, black as the
Earl of Hells waistcoat. Too warm to hold due to the burnt pastry and the
sausage in the centre was still cold. Barbecued sausage rolls, who would
have thought of that one. A bit disappointed we all eat them after all we
had the rolls on sausage to look forward to next. Nothing much could go
wrong there I thought. George was now placing the sausages on to the metal
you know what’s wrong with these” I point out about the sausage roll
they’re fuckin` burnt “Johnny adds
“They’re burnt and cold”
all that was needed here was a bit of tin foil wrapped around them and
they wouldn’t have burned”
“Write you can do that the next time” George is now pissed off at us
pointing out his culinary failings.
rolls and sausage quickly came along and the spare sausage roll was left
not causing the fall-outs that I had earlier predicted. Along with the
Cup-O-Soup and the now limited supply of Caramel Wafers the meal in all
was deemed quite satisfactory and we all complimented the `cooker`. We sat
in our camp chairs in a circle drinking hot coffee to wash down the lavish
meal. I asked Kenny if he would like a nip added but he declines saying
that he wouldn’t waste good whisky on coffee.
George announces that the bar is now opened and asks James where the Gin
is as he can only see whisky and Vodka.
never got any Gin” The Sherpa replied
look on Georges face is priceless. “Whit, no Gin, bloody great”
is at the party but he cannot dance. He’s in the team but cannot play.
don’t believe it. You were asked last night to get three things
specifically; Whisky, Vodka and Gin. And whit do you do, you forget the
bloody Gin, Great. You’re some man to send the messages”
forgot, ah got you the lemonade” James is trying to save the day
a minute I thought James was taking the Mickey, but he is not. He really
has forgot the Gin.
you want a glass of lemonade?” I ask George, gloating. I have got to
laugh. Here is a man who has walked ten miles in the pissing rain, looking
forward to one thing only at the end of the day, along with a decent hot
meal and nothing develops. I know George, he wont take a Whisky or Vodka,
well not for a whole session. Gin only and only Gordon’s.
“Have a beer,” Johnny offers.
ah don’t` want to start beer, I’ll be running to the bathroom all night”
“You’ll no have to run very far, just stick it out the tent door and
you’re there.” Kenny says.
I’ll gie it a bye “ George says in total disgust.
“Well if you’re no drinking you’re as well going to look for some wood for
the fire”, that’s it Johnny, support your comrade when he is feeling down.
First rule of teamwork; keep them busy so their mind is not on the
problem. Johnny was not thinking this way obviously but continuing to
gloat, as were we all.
James volunteered to do this, I guess trying to make-up for forgetting
Georges Gin. He goes behind the fence and walks into the wooded area that
runs along the path that we walked through into Gartness. I cannot guess
where he will find any dry wood at all. Kenny and George look around for
some kindling under the bridge and in no time we have the makings of a
campfire. A half burned log from a previous fire is added and catches
alight in no time.
Robbie Shepard is on the radio. `Take the Floor`. Radio Scotland’s weekly
Saturday night Scottish Country Dancing show. The finest Celidh and
accordion music to be found is right here. I always wondered if there is
people all over Scotland every Saturday night from six-thirty to nine
o’clock listening to this show and dancing up and down the living room
floor. “Right Betty, lift the carpets, its time to `Take the Floor`. And
away we go.
Fifteen minutes later James returns. He struggles through the gap in the
fence. Trailing behind him he has what looks like half a tree.
thought a heard a tree getting felled” Kenny says
“It’s the only thing that James will feel the night,” Johnny says.
you chop that down yourself James” I asked.
ah found it”
“Where about, Milngavie, you’ve been away for ages”
it was laying on the ground”
“Fallen trees, lying on the ground, whit next?”
Kenny takes it off him and starts breaking it all into smaller pieces.
Johnny helps. Then we all start on it. In no time we have quite a pile and
Kenny assures us that it will dry out quickly. He places a pile on top of
the now dying fire. In no time the smoke is intense. It all gathers under
the road bridge and fills the space in no time. We have to walk away from
this. Rubbing our eyes we stand about ten yards away as the smoke will not
allow us to get any nearer. I am sure the smoke will be seen for miles
around and hope that it does not draw any unwanted attention.
no time we were back in our chairs, pouring each other a drink (except Gin
less George) and enjoying a bit of craic. We spoke about what was still to
be done and if it were as easy as today it would not present any problems
whatsoever. That is if Sherpa James doesn’t forget the carry out. Tomorrow
we had a thirteen-mile walk to Cashel on the banks of Loch Lomond. This is
about four miles north of the village of Balmaha.
Again I explain the week in front of us. Sunday we walk thirteen miles to
Cashel. Monday we walk sixteen miles to Ardlui, still on Loch Lomond where
we get the ferry to take us across the Loch to that nights camp site.
Tuesday we walk fourteen miles to Tyndrum (pronounced Tyne-drum).
Wednesday is our biggest day as we walk twenty miles to Kings House where
again we camp but this time there are no facilities. On Thursday we have a
short walk. This is intentional as this part of the walk takes in the
`Devils Staircase` said to be the hardest part, spending the night camping
in Kinlochleven and then on Friday we have our final day, a fifteen-mile
jaunt into Fort William. As I said a dawdle!
got up and went for a walk around our ten by twenty yards back yard, this
time watching where I place my feet. The night had turned out really nice
weather wise. It was now dusk. The sky was a dark grey but the cloud
remained high so no chance of rain I thought and it had also remained
quite mild. Our sheep and cow friends had seen enough and walked off to
see something better. I noticed them about two hundred yards away. Do
sheep sleep standing up or lying down?
Will it be as easy tomorrow, I don’t know. My thoughts moved from today’s
walk to the days ahead. We were lucky today. I was lucky today. The walk
was fairly easy. We had managed to get the tents up with ease and managed
to cook a meal of sorts. But I do not know what the weather will bring
tomorrow. Radio Scotland had said to expect rain at sometime. Will it come
when we are putting the tent up? I now know that James cannot do this task
himself, so he will not be able to take advantage of any dry spells he may
have while waiting for us. It is not ideal after doing a hard days walking
to arrange a tent and make a meal in the pouring rain. This is one problem
I will have to overcome.
join the others back at the fire. It is now giving off a great glow and if
I may say so myself looking great. If Carlsberg made campfires well this
is the campfire they would make.
“Right folks it looks like bed time, I’m feeling a bit knackered now”
Kenny points us all in the same direction. If one goes to bed we all go.
When one gets up in the morning we will all be up.
“Ditcher” Johnny shouts.
Myself, Kenny and Johnny pour one more drink. I offer George a whisky. He
refuses. James doesn’t touch the stuff. Akeala kicks dust over the fire to
bring it to an end. We all crawl into the tent. It is now dark and the
lanterns are on, one in each room. Myself, George and Kenny crawl into one
room and Johnny and James into the other. My bag is all rolled out ready
for me to climb in as is the others. Someone must have arranged all this
earlier. I remove my trousers and shit clad gutties only and climb in to
my bag. I feel tired. No one is talking now, all is very quiet. I lay
thinking of our predicament regards building the tent. There is only one
thing to do, call the President.