Friday, 10 October 2014

WHW day 4: Inveraman to Bridge of Orchy

Not a ghost to be seen, we awoke early and hit the trail.  Today would be our most challenging day: the terrain was getting harder and we'd be walking a bit over 20 miles today.  While 20 mile days are not my favorite, we decided to put one in anyway just to have some wiggle room at the end of the week.

Having breakfast with the loons:

I had decided this trip to skip the "Full Scottish" experience, as it was the same thing as the full English fried: eggs, beans, toast, black pudding, bacon, sausage.  It's just not pleasant to hike with that in your belly.  I started carbing it up: hot porridge, wheatabix and yogurt, and whatever fruit they might offer.  I felt worlds better because of it, and my normal slow start in the morning became a thing of the past as I kept a more consistent pace all day.

I had promised on this day not to take so many pictures.  At one point, I even debated putting my camera in my bag so I wouldn't even be tempted- wanting to get in before dark was a huge motivator to forsake art!  Alas, I'm glad I did carry it  (and I just shot very hastily) as the scenery was starting to get dramatic.  

Also, the weather....we hadn't gotten rained on yet.  It was cloudy, but warm and muggy.  We checked the forecast every morning and gleefully saw that the rain we kept expecting was getting pushed further forward every day.  What amazing luck!

Hiking with a partner is key on these long hikes.  We share each others aches and pains, but also shame the other person to shut up and put up when the moaning gets too much.  It is very motivating.  I couldn't imagine doing a trail like this alone.  

We went through farms on this morning.  Lots and lots of farms.

We were climbing the entire time, higher and higher into the highlands.  There were no more blackberry brambles on this day, which was fine.  We spend too much time in the brambles.

The skies in Scotland....they just lend so much drama to the landscape.

It was hard for me not to stop and shoot every minute.  The way the clouds and the fog and the sun were all playing up, the light was changing every few seconds.

 We have an app we run on our phones as we walk to check our speed.  While hiking in the hills means you will be pressured to make 2 mph, and a good climb will slow you down to 1.5 or less, we were going along at a good clip of 2.4 all morning, meaning we could afford a half hour for lunch further up the trail.  20 miles is about 10 hours of hiking for me, so any extra time I could gain in the morning would help bring us in before sundown in the afternoon.

Just our luck!

As we were passing through a farm with another couple of hikers from Glasgow, a man on a quad bike stopped us.  They were driving sheep in from high pasture, would we mind waiting as they drove them by?

Why no, I don't mind at all.  We launched into talk of sheep, and he was surprised that I knew a bit about them.  I explained that I was a spinner, and he told me all about his Scottish Blackface and welsh Clun (or Llywn) sheep that they were raising for a sustainability project.

The sheep safely in the pens, we hiked onward, grateful for the 5 minute break on a really long day.  

We came to a deep, still lake where it is rumored that Robert the Bruce had left his sword, and also the lady of the lake might live.  We stopped for lunch, but as soon as we sat down, the stench of garbage surrounded us.  I guess the Lady of the Lake must have expired, or at least it smelled like she did.  We decided to try our luck a little further up the trail.

As we neared the outpost of Tyndum, a bleak and barren landscape stretched out before us.  Tyndum had been a centre of lead mining for years, and the process had poisoned the earth irreversibly.

We stopped at the Green Wellie for lunch.  Tyndum was bustling, a real boomtown- a sign outside the Green Wellie stated that it's the last stop for supplies for 40 miles, and carloads of tourist were pouring into the gift shop and the cafe as if they would never see a kilt or bagpipe again.  I had recently watched a documentary about some of the strife going on in Tyndum.  They had found gold in the hills, and a farmer had sold the mineral rights to his land.  This set off a chain of events involving the National Park voting the mining company out before a revised plan to make a smaller, less invasive mine was proposed.  It was interesting: while everyone who lived in Tyndum wanted the mine to be built to give their economy a chance, everyone who simply passed through and enjoyed the scenery did not.

Well, it wasn't an unpleasant place to stop, but after lunch we still had 7 more miles to go, so we didn't linger.  The hardest mile is the one you have to walk right after you've had a sit as it feels like you feet might give out entirely those first few awkward steps.  

Although the cemetery at Tyndrum had an amusing population of exactly 1.

We did see people panning for gold in the rivers here.

Disappointingly, this part of the trail echoed the highway and the A84 was our constant companion on this stretch, but the land soon became dramatic and lonely.  A lot of people choose to start their hike on the West Highland Way from Tyrndrum, and I get why.  Those lazy sons of bitches.

See that ribbon of road to the left of the frame?:

That was the road we sang songs about and wrote odes to.  It stayed about a mile or two away, but we were sharing the same valley, and there were lots of big trucks rumbling along.  Ah well.  I was kind of pissy that the people driving got to see the same bit of scenery as we did on foot....usually the pleasures of walking for me is that gloating moment that you realize that you get to see all the things the people too lazy to walk miss.

So, I'd have to admit, I was tired to the point of delirium, but exhilarated.  Pain goes in and out on the trail- it will hurt for a bit, and then you'll just move past it was enough adrenaline and willpower.  I don't know how my feet kept moving, but every time I looked down, there they were again, always in front of me.

Wow, just wow.  The skies were clearing and I couldn't take my eyes off what I saw in front of me.  It really felt like the Highlands, and in the distance you could see almost to Glencoe.

Eventually, we inched every closer to the road and ended up in Bridge of Orchy.  This was probably the weirdest of experiences I've had on the trail.

It wasn't actually a town...just a train station and a hotel.  The station kind of got famous for being in the movie "Trainspotting" as it's just a stop in the middle of nowhere.

It's now a bunkhouse as well as a station, but upon inquiring about a reservation when I was planning the trip, I got a response of, "yeah, we have space...." but then the communication stopped and I couldn't actually get acknowledgement that we were booked there at at what cost.  A spin around the internet and it became clear that this place was sob story central as it seems like several hikers were left out in the cold due to, ahem, communication issues.   So I booked at the only other place in town, the Bridge of Orchy hotel.

Oh, there was a school there, but it had closed down ages ago and gave us a nice sense of hope for the future.

Bridge of Orchy hotel was a very posh place, and I was hesitant to book there just based on how we would be looking and smelling after 20 miles out. was weird.  There were lots of Jaguars parked out front, and although there were a handful of hikers, there were mostly people who had showed up wearing nice clothes, or had the wherewithal to bring nice clothes for dinner, and not their last clean t-shirt and flip flops.  At least there weren't former animals staring at us with their glassy dead eyes.

The staff was also kind of quirky- there wasn't a Scottish accent to be heard, and even though I had called ahead to make sure we could do our laundry there, it became obvious that this was just a technical task well beyond what anyone can handle once the housekeeper had left.

Regardless, we had a fantastic comfortable eco-lodge room in the back with a deck to put our rank boots out to dry and views, and the food was the best we'd had on trail (and it should have been for the price).  After that kind of mileage behind us, the bunkhouse down the street would have felt like a 5*, but to stay in an actual posh place was kind of mind-blowing.

I could barely keep awake to see the rarely seen sunset on the hills.

The toughest day behind us.  The bottle of Glengoyne was half gone.  Both felt like a small victory.

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