Forests, moors, peat bogs: A week of walk­ing in Scot­land

The Hamilton Spectator - - BOOKS - LYNN DOMBEK

GLAS­GOW, SCOT­LAND — Scot­land has more than two dozen of­fi­cial long-dis­tance trails through moors, peat bogs and forests. We chose one of the most pop­u­lar, the West High­land Way.

As first-time walk­ers in Scot­land, my com­pan­ion and I used a travel com­pany to plan our route, book ac­com­mo­da­tions and ar­range bag­gage trans­fers. But we met oth­ers who used bag­gage ser­vices and booked their own lodg­ing, along with folks who camped out.

Like the wildly vari­able Scot­land land­scape, there’s no end of ways to en­joy the walks.

Walk­ers we met were a dis­parate bunch: young Swiss back­pack­ers; moun­taineers from Vir­ginia; a Swedish mother with teenage daugh­ters; a Scot­tish cou­ple, world trav­ellers but out to see more of their own coun­try; an ex­tended fam­ily from England ages 16 to 50; and a Louisiana cou­ple cel­e­brat­ing their 50th wed­ding an­niver­sary.

We were mid-fifties pro­fes­sion­als out for ad­ven­ture.

We took lots of walks at home to get ready. Know­ing June could be rainy and cold, we tested gear be­fore­hand. Our es­sen­tials were good boots, breath­able rain jack­ets, rain pants or shorts, and wool or suit­able base lay­ers (no cot­ton!).

A run­ner re­cently set a record walk­ing the West High­land way in un­der 14 hours. We did the stan­dard itin­er­ary: 150 kilo­me­tres in seven days.

Daily itin­er­ary

Day One: Mil­ngavie to Dry­men, 19 kilo­me­tres

Our first, lovely day tran­si­tions from Mil­ngavie, a small town north of Glas­gow, into a pas­toral land­scape dot­ted with sheep and cows, mossy stone walls and live­stock gates. The peace­ful walk­ing is on mostly well-worn trails and roads. We stop into Glen­goyne dis­tillery for a wee dram, then on to Dry­men. We eat that night at the Clachan Inn, li­censed in 1734, seated next to a cou­ple who reap­pear on Day Three to save us in an un­cer­tain mo­ment. We’re soundly asleep by 8 p.m.

Day Two: Dry­men to Rowar­den­nan, 22.5 kilo­me­tres

It’s pour­ing rain through moors and forests, then up and steeply down Conic Hill on the bound­ary fault sep­a­rat­ing low­land Scot­land from the high­lands. In good weather it has glo­ri­ous views of Loch Lomond (loch means lake). We lunch in Balmaha, a pop­u­lar re­sort town, and con­tinue on the rocky lakeshore path to­ward the Rowar­den­nan Ho­tel, a rus­tic lodge. The pub, with its cor­ner fire­place, serves as both restau­rant and meet­ing place for walk­ers. We ex­change sto­ries, and stum­ble off to bed.

Day Three: Rowar­den­nan to In­ver­ar­nan, 22.5 kilo­me­tres

It’s over­cast but no rain. We’re now firmly in Rob Roy coun­try (he’s an 18th cen­tury high­lands folk hero). We’re still on the loch’s

shore where the path is a chal­leng­ing mix of roots and boul­ders. Guide­books de­scribe it as “tor­tur­ous,” de­spite ex­tra­or­di­nary ferns, water­falls and forests. Six hours in, we con­vince our­selves a turn was missed and wearily head back. Then the Day One cou­ple ap­pears. The man pulls out his GPS to show we’re on track. I sheep­ishly pocket my map and we’re on our way. We share din­ner with our new Scot­tish friends, Stephen and Jane Mc­Naughton, at the Drovers Inn, es­tab­lished in 1705.

Day Four: In­ver­ar­nan to Tyn­drum, 21.25 kilo­me­tres

We hit old mil­i­tary trails as yes­ter­day’s rigours are for­got­ten. The rain is back, as are the sheep. We move from farm­lands to a thickly wooded conifer plan­ta­tion, and hap­pily eat lunch on a hill­side, the moun­tain­tops shrouded in mist. Near­ing Tyn­drum we walk through heather, bog myr­tle and pinewoods. It’s a peace­ful end to the day, de­spite hav­ing trekked in earshot of busy route A82.

Day Five: Tyn­drum to Kings House, 29.75 kilo­me­tres

Our long­est, favourite day. The path starts on the glen floor, zigzags up through woods and de­scends through spec­tac­u­lar moor­land to­ward Loch Tulla. A few more miles and we’re out on Ran­noch Moor, a land­scape of peat bogs and small lakes and sky, sur­rounded by heather and moun­tains. We’re smit­ten. The wind is fierce but rain holds off. For most of the day we see no one else, save our Scot­tish

friends. Guide­books say this point is as far from civ­i­liza­tion as any place on the Way. It feels like it.

Day Six: Kings House to Kin­lochleven, 14.5 kilo­me­tres

We start in sun­shine near Glen­coe, feel­ing like tiny blips on the mas­sive glen floor sur­rounded by tow­er­ing peaks. Soon we’re cloaked in mist on the Devil’s Stair­case, a zigzag as­cent to the Way’s high­est point at 550 me­tres. We again miss views of peaks as clouds dip lower, but there’s a soggy beauty. We sense the enor­mous pres­ence of sur­round­ing moun­tains.

Day Seven: Kin­lochleven to Fort Wil­liam, 24 kilo­me­tres

Our last day brings ex­cite­ment, along with tor­ren­tial rain. By the time we cross the gor­geous but un­for­giv­ing expanse of the val­ley Lairig Mor, we’re soaked. Walk­ers in pon­chos and rain gear flut­ter in the dis­tance as we splash through mud. The peak of Ben Ne­vis, the U.K.’s tallest moun­tain, is ob­scured by clouds as we make our de­scent into Fort Wil­liam. We feel elated nonethe­less, and lucky to have ex­pe­ri­enced a week of such awe­some beauty.

A hiker on the shore of Loch Lomond, walk­ing Scot­land’s old­est long dis­tance path, the West High­land Way. Loch Lomond is part of the Trossachs Na­tional Park and is Bri­tain’s largest body of in­land wa­ter at 35 kilo­me­tres long.

Glen­goyne Dis­tillery, es­tab­lished in 1833, is lo­cated in Dum­goyne. The dis­tillery sits nine kilo­me­tres along first leg of the West High­land Way. The West High­land Way run­ning from Kings House Ho­tel near Glen Coe.


A stile cross­ing an old stone wall near the Trossachs Na­tional Park in Scot­land, on the West High­land Way.

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