Sunday morning 07.30am
I awoke to the sound of
voices outside the tent. I quickly worked it out that I had been the last
one to waken. I first think, good it’s dry, second, I hear the frying pan
and third I smell the bacon. Time to get up. It’s seven thirty. We had
went to bed at eleven thirty last night so I had considered it a good
nights sleep as I had went the distance without wakening at any time. I
clamber out the bag and grab my trousers, slip then on and find my gutties,
watching how I handle them.
“Morning Wullie boy” Johnny
recognises me by name.
“Morning campers” I reply
I look around me; the
others continue their talk about Football. James is not to be seen. I go
behind the fence and have a pee.
“Rolls and Bacon on the
breakfast menu Willie” George informs me.
I walk back from behind the
fence and George hands me a black coffee. The service is impeccable. I
will use this hotel again I think.
“Right George, what have
you done with James, where did you bury the body” My reference being
towards James forgetting Georges carry out.
“ I felt like doing that
last night. That’s hard to believe that he would go for a carry out, get
the lemonade and forget the Gin, surely takes the biscuit, doesn’t it”
I still find it funny. We
“Never mind, I’m sure he
will redeem himself today, where is he anyway”
Johnny informs me that he
has gone to the loo. Breakfast looks good. There is enough bacon on the
cooker to feed an army. This will set us up well for the day ahead. James
returns and we all stand about, not saying much. I hope this is how my
comrades are in the morning and that they are not feeling weary before a
ball is kicked. Not morning people.
Johnny talks to Sherpa
James giving him instruction on what he has to go today.
“We will meet you in
Balmaha. What time will we be in Balmaha Kenny “Johnny asks.
“If we leave here about
nine we should be there about one o’clock”
Good I thought. After
Balmaha we only have four miles to walk. This means we can spend the
afternoon in the pub and watch the Celtic-Hearts game on the telly, have a
few beers and a bit of craic over the football, c’mon the Hoops.
“How will I find you” James
Kenny says that there are
only two pubs in the village and we should be in one of them.
Johnny adds” Just go into
the bar and ask the barman if four guys have been in, two of them will be
singing Danny Boy and the other two the Sash”
The weather was not too bad
this morning. It had rained during the night, as there were signs of this
on the tent. The grass was very wet but this is expected with all the rain
that has fallen recently. Now there was just dampness in the air. The sky
however was heavy, not black but a heavy grey sitting low against the
horizon all around us. Had we just missed the rain or was it just about to
hit again. It wasn’t cold but quite mild; hopefully a dry, fair day ahead
but it didn’t look that way at present.
The plan was to break camp
and then we can all go and get washed and changed for the walk. I for one
will be having the works this morning, the three Ss (number 2s, shower and
shave) as I could not start the day or go through the day without this,
not doing a fourteen mile walk anyway. This could be difficult as there is
only one shower and one toilet. I hope we are not all in the same mind as
it will be nearer ten o’clock before we get off. At times like this with
the available facilities it is just as well there is just the four of us.
Camp was broke, and left
very tidy I may add. Akeala insisted that this be the case. Every scrap
was cleared and placed in the bin. The van was well packed; by myself I
may add to help ease the task of building camp at our next destination,
Cashel on Loch Lomond. All the necessary things where done in the toilet
block. The backpacks where filled this time with waterproofs, trail food,
water and first-aid kits and camera only. We filled our hip flasks not
spilling a drop. The water will be very welcome, not that the whisky last
night had anything to with it.
“Here’s to sore feet” I
passed the hip flask around. Everyone but the Sherpa took a slug as we
toasted ourselves at the start of today’s walk. I put on my hat and
started off, we were on our way. The rain was with us now, but only a
drizzle, it resembled more of a heavy fog. However I looked skyward again
and thought it would be best to put on the waterproofs. Johnny felt the
same. Already the backpacks where open, not out the campsite yet and the
waterproofs put on.
The majority of the first
three miles was all on road. No great problems. My demon today was Conic
Hill. It is supposed to be one of the harder parts and really the first
great hurdle. My first demon. The hills at Loch Lomond were the start of
the Scottish Highlands; Ben Lomond being Scotlands most southerly Munroe
(a mountain over 3000 feet) and Conic Hill at 1200 feet just sits on the
edge of the Highland/Lowland boundary. Kenny had told us that there would
be a good chance that we would not be allowed onto the hill as we were
walking in the middle of the lambing season. The map showed an alternative
route to fit this scenario. I noticed that the alternative was all down
hill. I hope he is right. I was not ready for it physically or mentally.
Our first marker was to
reach the village of Drymen. We would not be walking through it but by it,
missing it by about half a mile. The countryside is very green and arable,
good farming country. The view down over Endrick Water as you walk through
the village of Gartness is great. The village consists of a couple of
cottages and a terrace of cottages. I would assume that they were once
tied houses to a farm for its workers. But this is highly unlikely in this
day as farming as a main employer in the community is unheard of. The
bridge across the river was built in 1971 and replaces the old one, which
had lasted from 1715. There is still an old stone bearing the original
date, which has been built into a wall attached to the new bridge. This is
confirmed on a plaque placed at the opposite side of the bridge. It gives
you a feeling of real country life. The river looks mighty as it runs from
the Gargunnock Hills south of Kippen in Stirlingshire to the south east of
Loch Lomond, through Strathendrick or `Sweet Innerdale`.
My phone starts to beep, a
message. I take it out the backpack and notice that it is a reminder.
Shit, I forgot to organise flowers for Bernie before I left. It’s our
anniversary on Tuesday. I set this reminder about four weeks ago. I knew
then that this would happen, that I would be too tied up in the walk and I
would forget to arrange for flowers to be sent on the day of our
anniversary. Why didn’t I set the reminder for two days earlier? Not to
worry, always have a contingency. In this case it was our Carol, Kenny’s
wife. Its just after nine, I decide to phone her now. She should be up out
of bed to get Alistair, my nephew to his football game.
“Carol it’s me”
“How are you doing, I’m
just off the phone to Kenny, everything alright” she asks.
“Aye it’s fine, so far so
good. No sign of the heart attack coming yet, but it is early after all.
Listen, it’s our anniversary on Tuesday. I forgot to order flowers for
Bernie on Friday, can you go into Airdrie tomorrow and do it for me?”
“Aye, sure, not a problem”
That’s the great thing
about our Carol, I’m sure I could ask her for anything and she would do
it. I’m sure; I’m her favourite brother.
She says she will phone me
tomorrow from the florists to discuss what is on offer. I thank her and we
have a short chat about how I am coping with the walk and also about who
Alastair was playing against this morning and then we say our goodbyes.
I’m walking with Johnny.
Kenny and George are away ahead, about half a mile at least. I cannot see
them. The road is very narrow with the occasional passing place, quite
dangerous for walkers, as there are many bends and blind spots with no
walking paths. You are sharing this small piece of tar-mac with what comes
your way. We come across a great site between Drumquhassie and Gateside.
To our left we notice for the first time Loch Lomond. From this vantage
point above the village of Drymen, over green fields all the way down pass
the village to the Loch shore it looks quite spectacular. Never having
been in this area before, I see this view for the first time. A break in
the grey sky provides a bit of sun from our backs shinning down on the
Loch. We stop and take time to appreciate it. I think how lucky I am to
witness this. I tell Johnny this and he is in agreement.
“I’m sure there is even
better to come” Johnny replies.
I can only agree. Because I
have seen better, but from inside a car. I am sure this walk will open up
a whole new view of Scotland for me. Again I get excited about the thought
of it, what lies ahead, I cannot imagine. But seeing the Western Highlands
in the background only makes me think of the difficulties now and not the
simplicities. On this high ground it is remote and rugged, where in the
distance, the Highland peaks appear to us for the first time today. In the
foreground lies Conic Hill, demon number one. I can also see as far as the
Arrochar Alps to the northwest and due southwest the peaks of Goat Fell
and the Island of Arran way off in the distance. Johnny takes out his
phone with a built in camera, takes a photo and sends it home to his
daughter. I also take the time to take a photo. We stand and stare for a
moment longer in silence. This is a memory I want to keep.
The first hours walking
into Drymen from Gartness - some 2½ miles – is along a country road, which
is a welcome respite from some of the muddy messes we left behind
yesterday. The road itself is the main road between the villages of
Killearn and Drymen that runs through Drumore and Gartness. I use the
words `main road` lightly as we pass one car in the hour we spend on this
part, but it is Sunday morning after all. The road curves gradually round
to the right over most of this part, climbing up away from Endrick Water
resuming the West Highland Way's general northwest direction and running
beside yet another abandoned railway track (Killearn Junction to
Alexandria). Along the way we pass a handful of cottages, I would call
Hamlets, as they are so small. We walk through Drumquhassie on a long
straight stretch where thankfully we were saved from ravaging dogs by a
high mesh fence between them and us, heading now downhill towards Gateside
at the foot of the hill with a slight left turn.
The WHW at this point takes
us over a stile and heads off at ninety degrees to the road. If Kenny and
George had not waited for us at there I know Johnny and myself would have
walked straight into Drymen.
“What kept you” Kenny asked
I explained we had a photo
opportunity further back with a view of Loch Lomond that couldn’t be
forgot and we stopped to savour it for a few moments. I explained to them
also that I had called Carol and had arranged for her to organise an
“You lucky get. You’ve just
got out of jail” came out of George’s mouth.
The WHW leaving the road
and running straight ahead along a field boundary for the next five
hundred yards involves an energetic climb. A bit sore on the unfit legs,
up a minor hill. At least, it's minor on the map but pretty substantial
for my wee legs. On the far side of the hill we join the Balloch to
Stirling road coming out of Drymen where we cross, turning right and
walking on the pavement for about two hundred yards. Drymen lies half a
mile to our left from were we joined the road. We notice the Corleone boys
ahead of us, the ones who ran into us last night during our singsong under
the rail bridge at Gartness. They must have stayed the night in Drymen.
Obviously our banjo-playing cousins failed to capture them.
Between 1725 and 1767 the
government after the union of crowns and parliaments built roads to allow
quick access for troops to enter the highlands to dispel any uprisings by
the Highland Clans. These roads would open up the Highlands for the first
time ever giving all a level of access that had never been experienced
before. The roads would now be useful for traders to send cattle and sheep
to the lowland markets in the large towns of Stirling and Dumbarton. The
people who brought the cattle and sheep would be known as Drovers and thus
the name of Drovers Roads came about, along with Military roads, built
purely for that reason and also Parliamentary Roads built by act of
Parliament for economical and social reasons. We would now be traveling on
all these roads for the majority of the way.
Drymen lies 20 miles north
of Glasgow on the Southwest edge of the Highland Boundary. The landscape
of rolling ridges in the area gives the village its Gaelic name - which
means 'little ridges'. The settlement of Drymen was created by early
farming and grew because of where it was sited, being on the major route
north to south used by the drovers and having the first available crossing
over Endrick Water upstream from Loch Lomond.
It was an ideal stopover
for cattle drovers on there way south. Industry grew up in the village
supplying the needs of the drovers. The village pub - the 'Clachan Inn' -
is the oldest licensed Pub in Scotland - dating from 1734, although I have
also saw this claimed by other pubs in Scotland. The Town has two hotels
and a small Visitor Information centre situated in the Village Square.
Military roads in the area were first built about 1745, linking the
castles of Stirling and Dumbarton and passing through Drymen, which had
grown to become a market town with its own cattle market. During the
'Agricultural Improvements`, the Anglicised termology meaning` The
Clearances ` when landowners evicted tenants from their property, Drymen
lost almost half of its population sending it’s sons and daughters to all
corners of the earth in the mid 1800s.
We where now heading up
into the Garadhban (pronounced gar-a-van) Forest. Our Italian friends had
markedly stepped up their pace when they noticed us coming up behind. Do
we look that bad, maybe they are just shy! The first part of the forest
seems very easy and has a good walking surface, a purpose built path like
that at Strathblane. This part is known as the High Wood. Further on we
join a forest road track, used for transporting cut trees and equipment.
The forest now thickens with very mature fir trees; we are now in the
Garadhban Forest proper. This walk is very easy again on the feet. There
is a great feeling that the trees that surround us are going to over power
us. They are tall and close together, not much day light getting through,
not that there is a lot going about this morning anyway. The good thing
about today is the lack of wind. With the extra cover the forest provides
all seems very calm and actually feels quite warm. The smiting of rain
that sent us on our way this morning was now gone. I’ll need to take off a
layer of clothing. I remove my hat to start with. This is not a walk at
this point for someone who is out to enjoy the scenery. Nothing to see but
trees at this point, and also large areas of felled trees as well cleared
ground, not a pretty picture. I am sure it will get better.
“Do you know guys there is
certain things I am looking forward to seeing and hope I do see while
doing the walk?”
“ I want to see a herd of
wild reindeer and a Golden Eagle and I am really looking forward to the
return train journey to Glasgow as it’s supposed to be spectacular. If I
walk all the way to Fort William and do not see a reindeer I am going to
be deeply disappointed, I know the eagle will be harder to spot, already
we have walked about fourteen miles and all I’ve saw is a million sheep
and a couple of cows”
“That’s no very nice
calling them lassies at the Cherry Tree Inn that” Johnny says
“I suppose they could count
as a couple of `old dears` though,” I say
“And you’ve no chance of
seeing reindeer anywhere either “Kenny says
“ I’ve saw them in
Chapelhall” I interject
“No you never, you saw red
deer, not reindeer” Kenny informs me, smart Bastard.
“It was a big bloody thing
as well. I’m glad Bernie was in the car with me as I am sure no one would
ever believe me,”
“They’ve been known to
write-off motors you know, when involved in head on accidents,” Johnny
tells us all.
“Aye, I know, it happened
to a boy that used to work with me from Hawick, and very lucky he was
“Did yi hear about the
reindeer that didnae like Santa”?
“He was Claus-traphobic”
“Hey Johnny they better get
better than that” Kenny says
“Aye it looks like rein -
deer” he nods back and winks at Kenny.
“Right pack it in enough is
enough. You’ll have us slitting our wrists just shortly if they get any
worse,” I say
“Right wan more.”
We all look at Johnny, “as
long as its no about reindeer” George says
“Aye it is, how does Santa
make the slow reindeers fast?”
“He dissnae feed them”
“Right taxi for Park”
We come to a junction, a
T-junction on the logging road so I take out my map. This is the point
where we will be informed as to what way to go. To the right, climb Conic
Hill to Balmaha or to the left, down hill to Balmaha. The Corleone Boys
are at the junction and look confused. Their Akeala is reading the sign,
looking at the map and then reading the sign again. The other two await
his direction keeping an eye on us as we walk down the hill towards them.
Also approaching coming up the hill towards us are a family, mum, dad, son
and daughter. They look as if they are out for a Sunday walk. The Corleone
Boys go left down the hill.
“Ya boy yi” I say to
myself, it looks as if the Hill is closed.
The sign read `Conic Hill
closed to walkers`. Due to tree felling.
“ I was wanting to go all
the way to the top of Conic Hill as well. I’ll just have to come back
another day. Three cheers for the tree fellers” I say.
“Aye and I’ll come back
with you” George supports me with just a little smirk on his face.
Conic Hill (altitude 361m,
or about 1200ft) lies just within the Highland Boundary Fault, and thus
counts as the first summit of the Scottish Highlands. The hill has three
main tops of which the one to the north is the highest. The centre and
southwestern tops are, more accessible and lie only a couple of hundred
feet higher than the path. A side trail leads up the col between the
tops. The view from the southwestern top is the most rewarding,
encompassing as it does an uninterrupted view of Loch Lomond. The islands
of InchailLoch, Torrinch, Creinch and Inchmurrin appear in line,
stretching away across the Loch, and more or less marking the line of the
Highland Boundary Fault. The hills around Glen Luss are seen beyond the
islands across the Loch.
The view across the central
plains of Scotland is also very rewarding. The Kilsyth hills and Campsie
Fells, notably Dumgoyne, are seen from the rear, and to the right of these
is the Clyde estuary. Looking back east you can see as far as the
Lanarkshire plains and to the north, Ben Lomond stands out around ten
miles away, while the high mountains around Glen Falloch are seen further
The sun is now showing its
face as well. God you are good to me this morning. I start walking on
incase anyone suggests that we ignore the sign and go over the hill
anyway. No way. Remember rule number one. No walking back. After a couple
of minutes I realise that no one is with me. I stop and look back. I see
they are talking to the Sunday morning stroll family. They walk on down
the hill leaving the family behind. I wait and ask them what was the
“They told us that they had
decided to walk up and over Conic Hill (ignoring the sign) and that they
had just started the walk this morning an hour earlier and where going all
the way to Fort William.” George informs me.
“Are they no the full
shilling?” I ask. They will now be known as `the not the full shilling
I do feel a bit guilty and
embarrassed at this point. One because the Conic Hill route is the
superior route and also there are two teenage kids away to do a part of
the walk that I know would give me a bit of bother, but the sign says `no`
and so be it!
We walk on as a group again
down hill on a walker’s path that has become very narrow allowing us to
walk in Indian file only. Feeling quite pleased now I lead the way in
voice as well.
Falderee, Faldera-a-a-a-a-a, Falderee, Faldera, with my nap-sack on my
back” Its singsong time again. Go for it boys
“I love to go a wandering
around Loch Lomondside and as I has go I love to sing with my nap-sack on
my back. We are all at it
Falderee, Faldera, Falderee,
Faldera-a-a-a-a-a, Falderee, Faldera, with my nap-sack on my back”
We continue our song again
and again four times in all not knowing any more words. The Corleone Boys
are back, walking up the hill towards us, the singing stops. These boys
know how to stop a party. As we approach them the speaker reaches for his
inside pocket. Is it a gun, no, more likely to be an autograph book, not
bad singers us Spikey Shoe Boys. No he pulls out a map and indicates he is
going to say something.
“Where eis thee walk?” he
“Straight ahead” I point in
the direction they have come from and we are heading in.
“Why eis this”?
Just as well I am fluent in
“There is a detour,
diversi-on-i,” I tell him.
“Si” as I said, I speaka da
“Ae deetoor, what eis that”
“Akeala, explain to the
Kenny swiftly takes over.
He takes the speakers map from him and draws with his fingers the way they
should go, and tries to explain why they have to take this route.
“Not that way, this way”
tracing his fingers across the map. “Trees getting chopped down” pointing
to Trees and showing a chopping motion, lifting his hand high and making
it fall, flat to his side.
“Timber” Johnny shouts. No
They say “ok” and walk away
in the opposite direction to what we where trying to tell them. That went
well I thought. Mental note, remind our Carol to get Kenny an Italian
Linguaphone Course for his Christmas.
We carried onward down the
hill. From the wood we exited across a park towards the high fence where
we crossed the high stile. I assumed all this security was once again to
keep the deer away. We decided to stop here so I could remove my
waterproofs, it was turning out quite nice now for April, anyway, and
spring was in the air for the first time in our walk. We had done about
eight miles so far this morning so it was time to have a break and eat the
trail food Sherpa James had produced for us. Our elevenses (although it
was around mid-day) consisted of two pieces on cold bacon and a couple of
mini mars bars. James had broken the bank with this spread and I realised
what had happened now to all the bacon that was on the cooker this
morning. Kenny is searching through his backpack. He produces one of the
seven white pokes. I recognised them straight away.
“Oh you will be in big
trouble boy, stealing today’s ration of Tunnocks Caramel Wafers.” I say.
“I’ll suffer the
consequences,” he says passing the prized biscuits around for us to enjoy.
I actually felt as if I was cheating on James here. Stealing the forbidden
fruit, well that days ration anyway.
My phone rings, its Sherpa
James, he must be psychic.
“Where are you?” he asks.
“Don’t know, in a park
somewhere heading to Balmaha”
“Ah wis in Balma-da and
there wisnae any shops, so I have drove all the way back to Dry-men. I was
in the shop and bought the carryout and the woman would nae serve me”. I
thought you don’t look under age to purchase alcohol and you are sober.
“How’s that” I ask
“They cannae sell it until
half twelve” he tells me
I am a silly git. I clean
forgot. Me a grocer as well since the day I left school. I had forgot to
mention that good old Scots law forbid the sale of alcohol before
twelve-thirty on a Sunday. This is a primitive land. I apologised to James
for not bringing this to his attention. Being the sober one amongst us
James is probably not aware of this.
“That’s alright, I’ll get
myself a cup of tea and a read at the papers while I’m waiting. What time
will you be in Balma-da at” he asks.
“We are not far away now,
we should be there in under an hour. We will see you in the Pub.” I inform
“Whit wan? There’s two”
“I haven’t a clue, try them
“Ok, see yiz soon”
The other guys had
picked-up on the jist of the conversation.
“Ah telt him this mornin`
just to try each pub as he came to it” Johnny said
“Ah, he will find us
somehow, just make sure you and George are singing the Sash when going
into the pub and me and Kenny will do Danny Boy.”
I packed the waterproofs
and hat back into the backpack. A quick swig from the hippy and we where
on our way. After three hundred yards we joined a track road used for
access I would assume by local farmers and for access to the Garadhban
Forest for loggers. This would take us down to the village of Milton of
Buchanan and to the main road that we would walk the last mile and a half
Kenny and George had once
again stepped up a gear and walked away from Johnny and myself. The road
was quite busy now and for parts we where walking in Indian file and
stepping off the road onto the grass verge out of the way of oncoming
“Look at that” Johnny says
“Rich Bastard” I answered
I had seen it all now, a
house in the country with your own Pitch and Put course. Now that’s the
house that I want.
“And if Carlsberg built
houses” I add.
“If we win the lottery Wull,
we’ll buy that for use at the weekend. Play Loch Lomond and then back here
and have a wee bit of practice on our Pitch`n`Putt course because we
played pish that day” Johnny dreams.
“Sounds good John boy”
Walking by the road with
Conic Hill to our right. I feel as if I have cheated a bit this morning,
but also feel glad that I can use the excuse of “Hill closed due to
logging” to justify not doing that part. However I do feel bad. I feel I
have cheated all my sponsors. I am sure I will make amends for this. Walk
up Ben Nevis? Come on William behave your self. I put the thought at the
back of my mind.
We arrive in Balmaha and it
looks very quiet. First things first, get a pub with a telly that is
showing the football. It’s a one o’clock kick-off I am sure. Kenny and
George notice the first building of any great importance. Johnny and
myself are about one hundred yards behind them both. Kenny walks across
the road to the Oak Tree Inn. He comes right back out, signaling that
there is no telly. Don’t panic. We have now caught up with them as Kenny
crosses back over to our side of the road and we all walk about thirty
yards farther down. The other pub, The Highland Way is closed and looks as
if it will never open, again. Now I panic. You walk ten miles and all you
want to do is watch the football on the telly, have a couple of beers, a
plate of soup and spend a few hours enjoying the craic discussing the game
and football in general. Not today. Well the beer, soup and craic will
have to do on their own and it better be good to make up for missing the
game. We walk back to the Oak Tree Inn. I think of phoning James and
asking him to bring in my radio to the pub. Walker’s etiquette kicks in. I
think, that’s not the right thing to do. I know, text alerts on the
mobile, good old Orange. Now that’s hard for me to say.
The phone rings. It’s the
Sherpa. Great minds think alike, he must be psychic. I don’t think so,
“James, how are you”
“Where are yous”?
“In Balmaha, you will get
us in the Oak Tree Inn”.
“You’ll never guess what’s
For a moment I cringe, fear
“What’s happened?” I ask
turning to look at the others.
This alerts them, they all
stare at me.
“I don’t believe it,” I
say. “I don’t bloody believe it”
“You’re ripping the pish
now ” I continue “I don’t believe you,”
I listen; the others are
desperate to know what is going on. They are showing concern. Kenny is
probably thinking life and limb. Johnny is probably thinking, the bastards
crashed my van and George is probably thinking, he’s forgot the Gin again.
“Ok, we will get you in the
Oak Tree Inn, Cheeri” I switch off the phone.
“What’s up” they all say.
“What’s up, what the fucks
up. You’ll never guess what the daft bastard done”
“Ah cannae tell you, you
will all do him in,” I say showing concern for the Sherpas life.
“Whit is it” anxiety is now
“Well the good news is he
got the Gin and also another bottle of whisky and vodka just in case he
cannot find another shop for a couple of days, the bad news is … he
dropped the lot, smashed into hundred pieces.”
George once again looks
“That’s fuckin hard to
”The daft bastard.” They
are all cringing.
“Not to worry lads,” I
start to smile. ”Our faithful Sherpa has once again saved the day. He
happened to drop them while leaving the store, still on the premises and
told the woman at the checkouts, the story of us walking for charity and
all that, and she replaced the lot.”
“Good man” they all agree.”
“ It is hard to believe
right enough,” I add, “Imagine phoning us and telling us as well. If that
was me our you, you wouldn’t tell anyone, you would keep it to yourself,
wouldn’t you” We have a laugh. I know James is an honest man.
We walk into the Oak Tree
Inn, remembering the walker’s protocol; first we look for a walker’s
entrance. There’s none, so we march into the bar. There is no one else in
the place except for the young lady behind the bar. The first thing I
notice is the stone floor, good, suits us walkers and our muddy boots. We
all say hello and she returns the greeting. We walk over to the log fire
and take a table for four as near to it as we can. The log fire looks
great, not quite as good as ours last night at Gartness, but it will do
for now. We all take a seat removing our jackets and boots. It’s great to
stretch those toes.
“What’s the round?” Kenny
“Guinness” that’s me
“Lager” adds Johnny
“And I`m the same” George
says, wanting lager.
“Any halves” Kenny asks
“No, not the now” George
answers and Johnny reneges as well, as do I.
Kenny returns with the
drinks as ordered except with two extra Bunnahabhain`s.
“Here, that’ll warm you up”
“Looks good,” I say
Standing in the shade of a
magnificent 500-year-old oak tree, this is what you would call a
good-looking pub. It is constructed from locally quarried slate and
reclaimed materials throughout. The boards on the wall inform us that bar
food is served as well as having an extensive restaurant menu. I see quite
a good selection of malts and I am sure Kenny and I will try one or two
more before leaving, just in case the Sherpa loses the carry out and after
all we are only an hour’s walk up the road to tonight’s digs and on our
holidays after all.
Balmaha is situated at the
southeast end of Loch Lomond, four miles west of Drymen, with Stirling
located thirty miles to the east, and Glasgow thirty-five miles to the
South. It has a good sheltered harbour very popular with pleasure boat
owners. On summer weekends there may be over 500 boats on the Loch at any
would have been an irrelevant staging post on a road to nowhere. This all
changed with the popularising of Loch Lomond in the 1800s and today the
village remains a focal point for those visiting Loch Lomond's more
attractive eastern shore. This is the first time that I have ever been in
Balmaha and it is a lot smaller than I had anticipated.The name Balmaha
comes from the Gaelic for St Maha's Place which in the 1800s, became a
frequent stopping-off point for the steamers which used to sail up and
down the Loch for the benefit of day trippers from the nearby towns such
as Glasgow. These sadly ceased in the latter part of the 1900s, and
Balmaha's steamer pier disappeared in 1971, but pleassure boats can still
be found to take the tourists up and down the Loch.
We are all
now seated and feeling quite relaxed and still no sign of the Sherpa.
Having walked ten miles this morning gave me a feeling of well being, I
now felt good about the whole thing, better than I had a mile and half
down the road earlier. I did realise however that what we have done so far
is by far the easiest part of the way and really is a bit of a country
stroll, not taxing at all. I think of Conic Hill again and wonder how I
would be feeling now if that was the route that we would have taken. I
have yet to feel any sense of great achievement. The only thing I could go
home and brag about just now is putting up with Johnny Parks jokes. That’s
worth a medal in its self.
everybody, that’s the first twenty miles done, just another eighty to go”
I say. We all clink our glasses. I do the math in my head. 4/5th still to
go, 20% now complete. To hell with Conic Hill.
good” The Guiness tastes really good. Not being a beer drinker I take a
mental note to have no more than two pints. Three pints of Guiness and
I`ll be sleeping with the sheep tonight.
quickly fills up, by one o`clock the place is jumping and still no sign of
you think the Sherpa is” I ask
“I bet you
he will be somewhere having a fish supper or something” says Johnny” Did
you notice that he never ate anything in the Cherry Tree Inn or at the
campsite last night”
“No I never
did” I said
right “ said Kenny
thats, because he had a fish tea before he met us”
nothing else to do anyway” George says
get us a fish tea too” I say
James walks in the door.
your tea then, havent you” Johnny sounds like an aunty from Edinburgh
replies, but the smirk gives it away
“ I had a
free breakfast at the campsite, this morning” he tells us
you get that” Kenny asks
Wullie Kerr made such a bloody mess of the shower, I telt the lassie that
I would clean it out”
DEEPLY OFFENDED, cut to the bone.
you mean” I protested
the shower once you had finished with it” James told me, and everyone else
within ten feet. As I was the only one who showered this morning, I was
the culprit, but of what crime.
“ Ah paid
that lassie three pound yesterday, so she would clean the shower after me.
You would think we where a shower of clatty Bs the way he is going on”
smirkin, that we grin he has, he is taking the piss.
“No I got
my breakfast for nothin`, I offered to give the lassie a hand as I had
nothing else to do anyway”
thought. I asked him what he wanted to drink and the rest of the crew as
way, there is no scoring in the fit`ba. I was listening to it on the
wireless in the car” That explains where he has been.
I go to the
bar and get the same again plus a Gin for George, his first this weekend,
a Vodka and coke for Johnny and a coke for James. But this time I get
Kenny and myself a Highland Park, one of my favourites.
you sure you don`t want a fish tea with this coke” I ask
fine the now” he says.
afternoon went on a lot longer in the Oak Tree Inn than what we all had
anticipated. This was probably our enviromnment. It`s not out there in
`them thar hills`, Its more here, five guys having a laugh, a bit of craic,
a few beers and a plate of soup. I did stick to two pints of Guiness
though, but had a few halfs. Usquebaugh
2-1, Sutton and Bellamy where the scorers . C`mon the hoops, we will have
a bit of fun later on with George and Johnny. Celtic are in the final of
the Scottish Cup.
Johnny, do you no fancy doing part of the walk again on the May bank
holiday weekend. Oh no, I forgot. Myself, James and Kenny cannot do it
that weekend we have the cup final to go to on the Saturday, the week
after we win the league” C`mon the hoops.
the pub. Again as at the Cheery Tree Inn the day before we went to the
van, parked in the car park at the village tourist information centre and
left with the Sherpa anything we didn`t want to carry for the last four
miles. Myself George and Johnny left everything and Kenny filled his bag
with water for us all and my camera. Life seemed really good. I`ll give
Bernie a phone. Kenny walked towards the shop while Johnny and George
fiddled about with bags at the van as I talked to Bernie following Kenny,
nothing exciting happening at home but I do like to clock in every day
when I `m not there. Bernie had nothing to report, and I told her the
story of James and the carry-out. That sounds a bit too much like the
title of a book or a film.
the Carry-ott` a Dis-nae classic.
I walk over
to the village shop and notice the `Not the full shilling family` coming
up the hill towards me. I enter the shop in a hurry, not wanting to see
their gaze. I could feel them gloating at us.
Kenny is in
the shop already. A range of facilities are on offer in Balmaha, some
specifically catering for the needs of WHW walkers. The village shop
carries signs showing it has stocks of blister plasters, socks, knee and
ankle supports, waterproofs, midge repellent, sun cream, maps, guide books
and much more, your last chance for about thirty miles. I was quite glad
that I didn`t need anything for the feet so far. I was told by Michael Mc
Laughlan, a good friend that I should have two pairs of socks on when
walking. Michael obviously knows more about walking than Politics. An
inner pair, very thin and cotton, and an outer pair, thick and warm, made
of wool. This prevents friction between sock and foot, therefore no build
up of heat and therefore no blisters. So far so good.
you looking for” I ask Kenny
for the tent” he answears. I do believe that Kenny Morgan is a man after
my own heart. Alba-gu-Brath.
now join us.
you after” They ask
looking for a Saltire to place above the tent” I answear.
I ask the
lady serving behind the counter, but all she could give us was a tea
towel, with the words of Scotland the Brave.
already know that wan” I tell her
a Karate team in `ear err`li-errr who are doing the West Highland walk and
they bought everrrry Scottish flag I `ad” she answered in what seemed to
be a south east English accent.
disrespect to our English neighbours, I have lots of friends and
colleagues, good friends too that are English, but it just dosen`t look
right, you know. It`s a fat git selling diet sheets.
I wanted to
tell her that we have many different types of Scottish flags. But I
thought better of it.
James, that’s your next task” Kenny says,” Get us a Saltire to hang from
the shop. James heads to the van after he tells us where the campsite is
and that he would once again walk out to meet us. It was now late
afternoon and what turned out to be a spring afternoon was fast becoming a
summers evening. It felt very warm. It was either too much whisky, or the
male menapause. I`ll put it down to the male menapause, it certainly
wasn`t the Scottish summer.
off once again the four of us together. Four Amigos, comrades, buddies or
pals. I thought of one of my poems, it`s the whisky that does it honest;
A friend they will find me
And know what I need
I shouldn’t have a worry because they will allay my fear
I say to myself, will they be there when it gets tough
I hope so
We all felt
good at this point. I could tell. Life felt good. We walked along the road
past the marina bearing off to our left to climb Craigie Fort. Our task
now was to complete the remaining four miles to Cashel. This would take us
over Cragie Fort towards Arrochymore Point, through Millarochy and
Strathcashel to Cashel. Not bad for an early evening stroll.
it. The walk now started in earnest. What we had done so far was good in
the manner that it had broke us in. Twenty miles is more than enough to
stiffen up any weak or failing muscles. I thought that if I ever do this
again I would walk from Milngavie to Balmaha in one day. I now realised
that this was possible. When planning the walk my idea was to break us in
gently. But pounding the streets of Calderbank and Chapelhall had played
its part, it served me well anyway. I hope the last two days had also
played its part and prepared me for the remaining 4/5th of the walk that
has still to be done. I may say, this is where the gloves come off.
Welcome To Loch Lomond.
From Balmaha the Way
strikes north for a short distance along the Rowardennan road before
turning left alongside the headland of Craigie Fort. The route ascends the
wooded hillock at the centre of the headland. This was it my first real
climb, although it only lasts for about five minutes the climb to the top
of Craigie Fort is steep, basically straight up for about thirty metres.
My legs felt this climb. There is any number of side paths on the hilltop
and it matters little which one you take. I realised this on the way down
and give Kenny a hard time for taking us to the top, as this was not
necessary to complete the walk. However this was in jest, the views from
the top of Craigie Fort are quite spectacular and having seen them I would
have been disappointed to miss it out.
From here I get a view of
what really lies ahead of us over the rest of today and for tomorrow. One
that is very noticeable is the tree line ends at the shoreline for all of
what I can see. According to the map we will be walking mostly along the
shoreline although we are given a choice for part of the way between
Rowardennan and Inversnaid. As I cannot see any visible path this makes me
wonder, what lies ahead. I keep this moment to myself; I look ahead on my
own standing away from the others. I was toiling to climb this small
hillock and had held my rosaries in my hand all the way up asking God to
get me to the top. I say to myself, what are you all about; there will be
harder climbs than this. I hadn’t even noticed this climb on the map when
I was marking out my demons. I will do this. I think my reward is what I
see in front of me and if I get a view like this at the end of every climb
I can say the heart attack was worth it. I have never seen Loch Lomond
from its eastern shores and I had realised now what I had been missing. No
wonder you never hear of anyone talking about this side of the Loch, they
all obviously want to keep it a secret.
Kenny shouts at me to turn
around, I do and he snaps the camera. As Kenny was the only one again to
bring his backpack I ask him for my camera. It was all I wanted to carry
for the remainder of the day and Kenny put it in his bag for me. I notice
my Olympus Trip is not looking too healthy all of a sudden. The lens is
shaking loose from the camera body. This is the first time I have used
this camera in about six years. I hope the pictures I take and the ones I
took earlier work out. This is something else I better take care of just
in case. Get another camera at the first opportunity. I notice from this
point that the land around the lower reaches is gentle and fertile. The
Loch itself is wide, and I am told that it is fairly shallow at most
places. I notice some of its Islands one being a reputed Nudist Colony. I
see it all from here marsh, shingle, woodland, arable land, mountain and
moor. A place full of wonder.
We all head down the hill
back on to the shore. My phone beeps, a message.
“It’s todays song guys,
from Tam” I tell them. They wait to see what it is;
“Take a walk on the wild
side” the Lou Reed classic.
“Hey babe, take a walk on
the wild side” Kenny automatically sings the first line of the chorus.
“Dorup, do, dorup, do dorup
da, do dorup do dorup dorup da” I am on the chorus. Only Kenny and myself
singing this one, George and Johnny probably don’t know it.
“Ah the Rangers end don’t
know this one” Kenny says.
“If you played a walking
tune on a flute I’d bet the two of them would know it alright and march
all the way to Fort William,” I said.
I started humming the
Sash. Johnny and George were with me in no time and Kenny in front started
to swing his imaginary stick
“Deedle, didle, deedle,
didle dum, deedle, didle deedle di, dum” We marched together playing our
imaginary flutes, no stopping us now. Instead of walking through the
Western Highlands we are heading down the Garvaghy Road. Is this the first
ever-Orange Walk on the WHW?
It’s not soon before
Kenny and George are marching on in front of Johnny and myself. The band
has petered out.
“Do we smell Johnny”? He
looks at me
“They two, they’ve hardly
stood beside us all day, always wanting to be away in front. I am sure
Morgan’s got a half bottle he doesn’t want to share”.
I take out my hippy and
take a swig and pass it onto Johnny. He gratefully accepts and finishes
what little is left.
“I’m a bit worried about
James, “ I say to Johnny
“In what way?”
“Well I know tonight it
want be an issue building the tent and getting it up as we will all be
able to help once again, and there is no sign of rain (I count my
blessings) but what happens if it is pouring rain. We wouldn’t be able to
get the tent up. However if James had someone else with him he could
always have the tent pitched at the earliest opportunity to avoid any rain
and also have the dinner cooked for us arriving.” I say
“ Och, you don’t really
know that” Johnny says,” It could rain all day just the same and you could
have ten Sherpas and they still wouldn’t get the tent up.”
“I ah suppose your right,
but I do think it would be best for James if he did have someone with
“Aye, ah suppose so”
“I think we will call El
Presidente and get him up here. You know we will get a bit of a laugh as
well if he’s about”
“Aye you’re right, is he no
“Well I know he is working
this weekend night shift as that’s how he couldn’t come in the first
place, but I am sure he has four days off from Tuesday so he can come up
and join us and at least James will have someone to give him a hand or
stop him from dropping carry-outs from Tuesday or Wednesday onwards. We
only need to pray that it doesn’t piss down with rain when we are building
the tent on Monday or Tuesday.”
“ Aye yir right, we’ll gie
him a phone when we get to the campsite. James can go back down the road
and pick him up,” Johnny agrees.
Heading north from Craigie
Fort we start walking on a rocky footpath around the Loch shore. It moves
from shore to woods. As we make our way around Milarrochy Bay, this part
is by road and again can be quite dangerous as people travel to and from
the various campsites on this part of the Loch by car. The Way descends
northwards to reach the Loch side once more. We are now within the
locality of Arrochy, consisting of Arrochymore (Great Arrochy),
Arrochybeag (Little Arrochy) and at Milarrochy we come across a private
campsite and take this opportunity to use their loos and get rid of the
rest of that beer we had earlier. I think that this is very posh for a
campsite in Scotland and compared it to the high standard that we had
found in earlier trips to holiday campsites in France. Further along we
once again have a small climb, not to taxing as we cut straight across
Strathcashell point and climb the sizeable hillock of Cnoc Buidhe and then
down onto the road at Cashell Farm. Standing beside the dry stane dyke at
the roads edge James is waiting. `Cashel` is engraved in the dyke. Its
good to be home for the day. We walk along the road for the remaining one
hundred yards to the campsite. James informs us he has booked us in as
well as ordered us breakfast in the campsite café in the morning. There is
no mention of dinner.
The campsite is owned by
the Forestry Commission and for what I can see looks in good nick and is
well looked after. This is the sort of place I would come back to with
Bernie and a few friends. It is not busy, a few caravans and no tents. The
campsite is on the Lochs edge and is quite heavily wooded. With the
surrounding hills you get the feeling of wilderness. I do believe however
that later on in the year at the height of summer it may not be as pretty
as it fills up with caravans, campers and tents and as the temperatures
rise it looks like a great breeding ground for the dreaded midges.
Certainly a lot better than the cow’s park we had stayed in at Gartness
the previous night. The van is parked at our designated pitch. It was
decided that we all batter into getting the tent up and George informs us
he has tonight’s menu all taken care of. Tinned tatties and corned beef it
sounds good. In no time at all we were all sitting down and enjoying a
The bar was open.
“What kind of lemonade is
that?” George asks. Obviously being a Gordon’s Gin drinker George was also
very fussy as to what he would add to it. James had managed to get the
cheapest variety of lemonade he could possibly find. The kind that we use
in the shop to take stubborn marks off the tiled floors. Again George was
not too happy but I sensed he would slum it for one night only.
“No coke” Johnny shouts”
“Ah don’t believe it” another unhappy customer.
“Where’s the nearest shop
Kenny” Johnny asks Kenny as if he is the font of local knowledge. The
campsite shop was now closed, so other than chapping the doors of
neighbouring caravaners Johnny would have to find a shop that sells coke
or go dry tonight.
“You have two choices, go
back to Balmaha or go forward to the Rowerdennan Hotel, they are both
about the same distance from here.” Kenny informs him.
“Right Jamesie boy, are you
My guess is they will go to
the hotel. Johnny and James head off in pursuit of coke and decent
lemonade for tonight’s aperitifs. I take the opportunity of some peace and
quiet and climb into the sleeping quarters and have `a wee half hour in
the shawl`. An hour later I am wakened with my phone ringing. As I answer
it all I hear is;
”Another pint barman”. I
knew it. He went to the hotel and is now phoning to gloat.
“Myself and James are just
staying here tonight”
“You’re kidding me on”
“Aye, ah thought ah wid
just phone and let you know that we are sitting here, on my third pint
and, as warm as toast in front of this big log fire and watching the
football on the telly.”
“Is it the highlights on
Setanta you’re watching?” referring to todays match.
“No it’s Brazilian `fitba`
on satellite. I’ve got you a surprise”
“What is it”?
“You’ll see soon enough. We
will see you shortly” Why do I think of plastic blow-up sheep at this
“Good man, cheeri”.
I switch the phone off and
climb out the tent. George and Kenny are supping a Miller and George asks
me if I want one. I accept and he pulls one from what seems to be out of
fresh air and hands me it open. I tell them about Johnny’s phone call.
“As long as I get decent
“You’re just not getting a
Gin at all,” Kenny replies to George.
We again have a laugh about
James earlier call regarding his mishap with the carry out and I tell them
both that I am going to phone Peter and ask him to come up and join us to
help out Sherpa James. I am sure Peter will be more than happy to do this.
If he says no we will threaten to vote him off as President of the Spikey
Shoe Golf Society.
In no time Johnny and James
return. Johnny is a man bearing gifts. George is handed six cans of Barr’s
lemonade, none better. I have been given two surprises not one. The first
is a bag of ice, “Good man“ I say. I do like my whisky on the rocks. The
second surprise is a post card. It’s a picture of a lone walker standing
with his arms by his side looking forward, away from the camera wearing
shorts, a tee shirt and a bonnet.
“Ah saw that and a thought
of you, look at it, it’s your spit”
“No its no” I answer. This
now causes a stir the others are curious as to what the guy in the picture
looks like. Considering you cannot see his face you wander where the
Kenny laughs as he looks at
it “Willie no pals right enough”
“The only thing that boy
hasn’t got Wullie is your daft looking hat” Johnny points out.
I am cut to the bone.
The rain starts, it’s only
drizzle, but we decide not to sit about in it and move our chairs inside.
We do manage to get the five chairs as well as ourselves into what we now
call the lounge, the central section of the tent that separates the two
rooms or inner tents. I realise its seven thirty and Peter will be leaving
soon to go out to his night shift, I decide to phone him now. He answers.
“Hello, El Presidente, how
are you doing” Peter recognises my voice and asks us how we are all doing.
I tell him briefly that so far so good, that we haven’t managed to get
lost and there is no damage been done. I ask him if he would care to come
and join us on Tuesday after his night shift. He said he might not make
Tuesday but will certainly be there by Wednesday. He sounded really
excited about getting the chance to come along and join us. It was Peter’s
intention to do the walk with us but he couldn’t get the holidays from
work. I didn’t explain to him the problems we were faced with at this
point with regards to getting the tent built. I will do that again before
he comes up or when he arrives. All sounds good now. We will have another
Sherpa on board by Wednesday at the latest.
We now got down to some
serious craic. The patter was good and Johnny’s jokes where fast, furious
and occasionally good. It had been a long day, but very enjoyable. The
weather was very kind to us and the extended stop in Balmaha was now
beginning to tell on us, as the beers we started on at twelve thirty had
suddenly caught up with the halves from seven thirty onwards. Gibbering
was the state of play, with the exception of the Sherpa. We do need
someone to look after us after all. There is really something great about
sitting in a tent and the rain pouring down outside.
“When is the next outing”
George asks James.
“Right I must put my foot
down now” Kenny says. “I will listen to all your crap jokes your moans
about sore feet, even the rubbish you spout about Rangers, but I am not
going to sit and listen to you all ranting on about Golf. I hate Golf”
“Aye, I am glad you managed
to get that off your chest Kenny” I say
“No, I agreed on one
condition that I would do this only if no one would talk about golf”
“But Wullie can only talk
about it as he canny play it” Johnny says. Bastard.
“Right, fairs, fair” George
acts as the referee. “The man hates golf, so don’t let us bore the arse
“ Ah hate Golf too,” I
confess to the world, mea culpa, mea culpa, me a maxima culpa.
The chat then returns to
`fitba`. Now there is only so much you can talk about when it comes to
football when there is three Celtic supporters and two Rangers supporters.
In fact some people would say Rangers supporters aren’t capable of talking
about football, as they never see any at Ibrox. It always ends in an
argument, with this crowd anyway.
“What’s your favourite
biscuit?” I ask them all. They look at me as if I `m half daft.
“What`s your favourite
biscuit?” I ask again.
George,” Tunnocks caramel
Kenny,” Tunnocks caramel
Johnny,” Tunnocks caramel
Me,” Tunnocks caramel
“Has anybody ate a Tunnocks
Caramel Wafer the day?”
“No me”, No me”, “No me”,
“No me” myself, George, Kenny and Johnny.
“Have you James,” I ask.
The look of guilt and shame
he cannot hide
“Aye, I had one earlier”
James informs us all.
“Oh, you had wan earlier,
and where you planning on offering any us wan”
“You just cannot get good
Sherpas in this day and age,” I say
“Well that’s it James,
you’ve had half of your ration for today. Where are the rest of them”?
George points out to us all.
“Can you no just say, gie
me a biscuit James” James asks.
“James give us a biscuit,”
“I’ll get you a biscuit
Kenny” James says moving out the tent in the pissin rain.
“Can you get me two” George
We tuck into our daily
ration of Tunnocks caramel wafers. James hasn’t yet noticed that there is
one white poke less. Kenny’s got away with it. I am sure he will go for
two on the trot tomorrow.
We carry on until ten
o’clock. Even with my half hour in the shawl earlier I am very tired.
George calls for bed first and again Johnny shouts ditcher. Tonight we
have two. I climb into the sleeping bag once again, and thank God for
getting us past day two. The rain is now pounding off the tent. I am
asleep in no time.