Tuesday, 6 January 2015

It's been far too long, but now a return to the highlands is looming.

One whole year without doing any meaningful walking, other than a couple of weekend plods for kicks - 2014 was a year that saw me spend a lot of time on writing and writing related projects, and very little time walking in the hills. This year I aim to remedy that, with at least two decent sized plods for charity, though I still have plenty of writing projects in progress. In May I will be walking The West Highland Way with my pal Stev, 96 miles of beauty and tranquility. (I may also do one in Wales in the Autumn).

This map shows the section from Loch Lomond right up to the finish at Fort William.
In 2013 I walked The West Highland Way as part of my John O'Groats to Lands End jaunt, north to south, obviously. This time it will be south to north, with the flatter, less exciting bits just north of Glasgow coming at the start, and then it's all mountains, lochs and sheer beauty all the way to Fort William.

Stev and I will be looking to try and raise some cash for a charity that is local to our home town of Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire, KidsOut. This is a charity that is really rather low key, at it has a policy of spending as little as possible on advertising, has no highly paid executives, and directs around 90% of all monies raised to exactly where people want their donations to go - the kids. I was not intending to set up a Just Giving page for this walk, as I had planned to do the coast to coast walk again in September, with a Just Giving page to raise money for another charity. However, I'm unsure at the moment as to whether I can afford to do that, with still harbouring ambitions to do Lands End back up to John O'Groats in 2016. So, if I receive enough interest in this walk then I may well set up a Just Giving page nearer to walk time in May. We will be organising cash collections though, in local hostelries.

So to the walk itself. If you have walked The West Highland Way yourself then you will know what I'm babbling about when I say it is utterly beautiful, a quite stunning mid distance walk of a mere 96 miles that takes in some of the most breath taking scenery this little island has to offer.

The start of the walk, Milngavie.

Bonny Scotland.

The walk starts at the small town of Milngavie (pronounced Mulguy) a mere seven miles north of Glasgow city centre. From here we head due north through pleasan,t semi rural parkland towards the lovely little village of Drymen, twelve miles away. It is here that the first views of Loch Lomond can be enjoyed. From here, the beauty is pretty much non stop. A whole day - or more if you really take your time - can be enjoyed alongside this most beautiful of Lochs. The towering and majestic monroe Ben Lomond (973 metres) keeps watch over things for much of the way, pretty much from first sighting her near the lovely village of Balmaha at the south eastern edge of the loch.  Stev and I have our first overnight stop on the walk here, at Balmaha.

The first really good view of Loch Lomond, from Conic Hill. Balmaha is at the foot of the hill.

That will be a good twenty miles or so under our belts, then from Balmaha we will head on to Inverarnan, alongside Loch Lomond all day long. (save for the last three miles into the stunning village of Inverarnan).

It is, as you can see, quite beautiful. The walking does get quite arduous in a few places, with much scrambling over rocks and plenty of up and down bits. After several hours of this one has probably earnt a decent dinner and a wee dram or two at best pub in the world (1705, official!) The Drovers Inn at Inverarnan. Another twenty odd miles 'bagged'.

From here we will pass through beautiful Glen Falloch as we near the end of The Trossachs, on our way to Tyndrum. Another gorgeous little village, our stop for the night at the quite wonderful Glengarry guest house. Fifteen further miles clocked.

 Onwards through Glen Orchy to Bridge of Orchy and the walking and climbing will be pretty arduous by now, though very rewarding and quite possibly wet - depending on the whims of Mother Nature when she dishes out the Scottish weather! But a few wee drops of rain will not spoil things, for this is truly stunning as we enter Glen Coe on our way to The Kings House Hotel, in the middle of nowhere to the west of wild Rannoch Moor. Another seventeen miles on the total.

The River Falloch.
Loch Tulla.

Kings House is sited on the old military road and an absolute must to stop the night at, partly because it is damn good, but also because there isn't really much else for miles unless you take a tent!

Onwards from here we next have the world renowned Devils Staircase to climb, the highest point on The West Highland Way. It is pretty steep, but the reward is very good indeed, for then follows some quite fantastic high level walking with beauty as far as the eye can see. Unless of course the weather has closed in, then you will see nothing but mist. We hope and pray for a clear day and views like these.

The descent into the splendid highland village of Kinlochleven is also quite fantastic, which we will follow with bed for night at The Tailrace Inn. Ten more miles, now 81 in total.

From Kinlochleven we have the stiffest climb out of the village for the final push to Fort William through the edge of Glen Nevis, in the shadow of that great Scottish mountain Ben Nevis. A final plod of fifteen miles to bring our total to Ninety Six over six days of tough but very rewarding walking.

We will be starting the walk on Sunday May 17th, and I will be recording the whole walk with words and pictures on this blog, so please pop back and take a look. I will post details of how to sponsor us to raise money for the kids charity too. I thank you.

                                                                          Alec Hawkes    January 2015.

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