SCOT­LAND

The Denver Post - - FEATURES -

va­ca­tion day for Jack, who was tak­ing time off work to come along on the walk. It also sub­stan­tially in­creased the mileage we needed to com­plete each day.

You can carry your gear the whole dis­tance, back­pack­ing style, and camp or book a room, but we de­cided to lighten our loads by us­ing a bag trans­fer ser­vice called Ginger Routes, which drops off your bag wher­ever you plan to stay each night. Ginger Routes charges a flat rate of 40 pounds ($52 at cur­rent ex­change rates) per bag for the ser­vice for the du­ra­tion of your trip.

We started on a Monday — 12 miles from Mil­ngavie to Dry­men. It was our short­est day, and a great in­tro­duc­tion to the trail. We be­gan in a wood­land area, and then the trail opened up into miles of gen­tle and scenic ter­rain. Far ahead we spot­ted Ben Lomond, our first look at the High­land Line, where the moun­tains be­gin to rise out of the Scot­tish Low­lands. Our fresh legs walked us north, away from our usual obli­ga­tions and to­ward feel­ings of free­dom and ad­ven­ture.

Our first beer stop of the trip was on that first day, a lit­tle over half­way to Dry­men, at the Beech Tree Inn. We sat and soaked in the af­ter­noon sun­shine be­fore con­tin­u­ing on to­ward our planned stop for the night at the stately Buchanan Arms Ho­tel & Spa in Dry­men.

The sun was out for nearly ev­ery day of our trip. This isn’t par­tic­u­larly com­mon in Scot­land, but Septem­ber is as good a month as any to try your luck on catch­ing an ex­tended stint of tem­per­ate weather. I’ve met peo­ple who have done the Way in day af­ter day of rain, and though we were pre­pared for that, we only had to wear our wa­ter­proof jack­ets and pants once.

Day two was Dry­men to Rowar­den­nan — 14 miles through the for­est and moor­land, and then up and over Conic Hill, our gate­way to the Scot­tish High­lands. Cov­ered in vast blan­kets of pur­ple heather, this re­ward­ing sum­mit of­fers views of Loch Lomond, the largest in­land stretch of wa­ter in Great Bri­tain (by sur­face area).

You tra­verse along Loch Lomond’s en­tirety on the Way, and this day’s walk even­tu­ally took us down to the shore­line, on a rocky and root-bro­ken sin­gle­track be­fore we grad­u­ally made it to the im­pres­sive water­front prop­erty of the Rowar­den­nan Youth Hos­tel. A beer was in order, but rather than more walk­ing to a nearby pub, we or­dered three Scot­tish brews from the re­cep­tion desk, stretched in the room and nod­ded off quickly.

Our third day, Rowar­den­nan to Cri­an­larich, was al­ready one of the big­gest pushes, at 20½ miles to the River­side Guest House. It wasn’t a good day to veer off track. The mis­take hap­pened early in the day, while our trio was still feel­ing talk­a­tive — and ev­i­dently dis­tracted. We walked about five miles out of our way on a road be­fore catch­ing a car ride back to the hard left turn where we had di­verged.

It crushed our spir­its. We had so much still to come. But as with the other (many) mo­ments of fa­tigue that can come on a jour­ney like this, you just keep walk­ing — even when you wish a pub would mag­i­cally ap­pear on a hill­side nearby.

Af­ter a long 15 miles, we fi­nally stopped at The Drovers Inn, In­ver­ar­nan, a time cap­sule of High­land his­tory that spans back to host­ing the area’s cat­tle drovers in the 1700s. (If only I could have rid­den a cow to Cri­an­larich.) It took a strong dram of whisky at The Drovers for me to get go­ing again for our fi­nal 6 miles of the day.

I was ready to sleep as soon as we ar­rived in the evening to the lovely B&B, but Jack and Bobby wanted to head to a pub in town for a late bite to eat, so we hob­bled over to the Cri­an­larich Ho­tel for pizza and pints of cold beer. I’m glad I joined; a tra­di­tional Scot­tish duo was play­ing live mu­sic. We sank into worn leather and or­dered spir­its for our nightly tast­ing: Each evening, we took turns pick­ing three whiskys to share and taste. This time, our se­lec­tion in­cluded La­gavulin 16, and the peat-smoke seemed to rock me to bed be­fore we had even left the bar.

On the morn­ing of day four, our friends Liz and An­gus sur­prised us at break­fast, all set to walk with us for the day, 14 miles to Bridge of Orchy. (Lo­cals some­times walk the Way in seg­mented days like this.) Af­ter full bel­lies of sausage, baked beans, black pud­ding and tat­tie scones, we headed on­ward, over the bridge at Kirk­ton that crosses the River Fil­lan — and through a wood-fence whisky stop, and a stone wall gin and tonic sta­tion of pre-mixed cans, all pro­vided by the pic­nic-savvy Liz and An­gus, who also pulled out a whole sleeve of Green & Black’s mini cho­co­lates to share. Jack’s par­ents, Dave and Sheila, and their golden re­triever, Bracken, met us on the trail as we came upon Bridge of Orchy.

Din­ner was a big party that night, with the whole Scot­tish crew and a pair of Amer­i­cans, and once again, af­ter a round of Caol Ila sin­gle malt, I was away and dreaming be­fore my head even hit my pil­low.

Bridge of Orchy to Kin­lochleven was an­other hefty stretch at 20½ miles, but day five meant we were well over half way, and the fi­nal leg was near. Much of the morn­ing was on the Ran­noch Moor, an ex­panse of about 50 square miles of beau­ti­fully wild, starkly des­o­late moor­land, fol­lowed by a much-needed lunch stop at King­shouse, then back on, to steep switch­backs that took us up and over the daunt­ing climb of the Devil’s Stair­case. It’s the high­est point of the Way, with views of the Glen­coe moun­tains we knew we had fully earned.

By the time we de­scended mile af­ter mile into Kin­lochleven, ev­ery­thing was sore. But a cozy night in the cab­ins be­hind Mac­don­ald Ho­tel set us on the right track for our last day on the Way.

We woke up to rain on our fi­nal day, a 15-mile trek to Fort Wil­liam. At one point we hud­dled for a snack in stone ru­ins near the high point of Lairig Mor. Even in the driz­zle, all seemed bright on this last part of our jour­ney. Jack’s girl­friend, Eilidh, joined us for this grand fi­nale, and though so many of those miles were mem­o­rable, I don’t think any of us will for­get the rain­bow that greeted the last mile of our walk.

Kim Fuller is a free­lance writer based in Vail. She is owner and edi­tor in chief of CO YOGA + Life Mag­a­zine. Read more at kim­ful­lerink.com.

Kim Fuller, Spe­cial to The Den­ver Post

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