Boots on, we hit the trail early. Today the trail was reputed as tough: a rough, hilly path through the wilderness along Loch Lommond. The end of the day should see us 14.5 miles further up the trail at the top of the Loch.
First thing on, we spied some feral goats. These are descendants of livestock that people were forced to abandon during the Highland Clearances, brutal aristocratic land grabs that forced thousands off their home and farms.
The forest were peaceful and quiet, and the terrain started to get more rugged. We couldn't see Ben Lommond, the giant mountain that sits moodily over the lake, and I'm glad we decided not to spend the extra day for a climb as we would have a view of a cloud for most of the day.
This was a magic place. Due to the range of mountains that dropped down into this part of Loch Lommond, this rugged part of Scotland had some of the last old-growth forest in the UK. Wise old oak trees clung to the steep slopes, moss and steeply undulating dirt path made for some serene walking. I slowed down to take it all in- this is the kind of place that deserves a slow, quiet walk to take it all in.
There were lots of waterfalls and stream crossings on this bit of trail.
He was doing various stunts for Cancer Research: skinny dipping in the Loch, donning blue suede hiking boots. It was amusing as hell to hear Elvis speak with a thick Scots accent.
We came to Inversnaid, a hotel that marked the only sign of life on this trail. The hotel had a view of a waterfall that had a nice deep swimming hole. Someone decided to go for a swim. That someone wasn't me. Bry mustered up the courage to go for a quick dip. Seriously- it took him longer to take off all his clothes then to get in and out of the pool with a great deal of bellowing. The water here is on a different level of coldness, and even though the air was warm and muggy. an ice bath wasn't calling my name.
It was a nice place to stop for lunch though, and I watched dippers and grey wagtails hopping about the shoreline.
Once we got to the top of the hill, we were rewarded with a moody and dark view of the entire Loch, with no other people willing to spend the extra energy on the climb, we had the mountainside blissfully to ourselves.
That is Ben Lommond, obscured by a cloud in the top of the picture:
We rejoined the main trail and had several hours of good walking, seeing lots of critters along the way.
We stumbled upon a herd of red deer, on of the great symbols of the wild highlands.
After about five minutes of quietly sneaking up on them, I realized they weren't afraid of me at all. In the end, I had to wave my arms and shout to get them to move off the trail, which they did reluctantly.
We also came across our first Bothy. These are small, basic stone huts that are unlocked and free to use. They have a fireplace and a couple of platforms to put your bedding on, and that's about it. There's a whole network of them, and you can walk across Scotland taking advantage of free shelter if you wanted to.
We hit the end of Loch Lommond and began our climb into Inveraman. We had been walking at such a leisurely pace that hikers who had started in Balmaha- seven miles further than we had walked- has caught up to us. Spiritual old forest, a waterfall swim, lunch and bird watching and a climb for the view meant that it was getting dark by the time we neared our destination. Everyone we met on the trail, and at the pub that night, complained about how hard the trail had been. It was rocky and steep, but to me that is a trail. I guess the fact that you could drive a truck down the rest of the West Highland Way meant the worst/best was behind us.
I kept nearly stepping on these tiny toads; there were dozens of them and they were so well camouflaged that you had to be really careful where you put your foot down.
Really now. You take a toad and make it tiny, and suddenly it becomes adorable.
We made our way into town, which consisted of a campground and a pub and a busy road. After such a peaceful day of quiet walking, it felt kind of stressful.
Oh, and tell me: since when is Rob Roy the judge of all things quality? The man hid out in a cave for christsakes.
I have found though- I can sleep through hauntings and drafts and creaks and groans after a long walk and a dram.