Expedition from the Backdoor Diary Entries 6: West Highland Way, 23rd to 29th April 2017

6 West Highland Way
West Highland Way, reached during the second week of walking

Sunday 23rd April. evening

Butler’s route off the canal and to Milngavie is really lovely, once you have mustered the ‘face’ to see it through on the second golf course (v private). The first one was easy – had a public path running through with signage. Easy. But nothing helpful on the second. Had to just make for little stream and try to follow it. Players were helpful though when stream became inaccessible. Between the golf courses (on the way to Balmore) I foraged some lesser celandine tubers (tiny but abundant) to add to the pot. Followed a dog sauntering ahead of me towards second golf course – turned out to be a large and very confident fox.

 

When left the second golf course at Fluchter an older couple got chatting to me about where I was going/come from. Got help from the man about best way to Milngavie. It was the one I’d intended to take. They used to walk a lot they told me. The woman liked independent walkers (and demonstrated by walking off ahead of her husband!!) and he used to cycle all around this area when younger. On holiday here.

Great views over towards Glasgow.

I went on my way and met Alan, a Glaswegian, out walking. Pole in hand – related discussion about dog attacks – and Hitech boots (cheap but for him better coz not narrow like boots made on the continent – here here!). After describing my expedition he said he was proud of me, which made me feel very good. At first I witheld where he might find me online, but decided to give him Farafoot web address coz he was so supportive and friendly to me. He said he would love to do this but scared of getting wet since can’t get things dry. My biggest worry too. Been religious about keeping myself dry – putting on goretex as soon as hints of rain and keeping bedding dry. Luckily my bivi bag doesn’t seem to be prone to condensation inside so that’s a big help. Took Alan a week to do WHW so must ensure put in the miles when I can.

I’ve set up bivi near a ford in the road in what looks like public park woodland. I’m on a little knoll in a nest of laurel ‘Laurel Nest Bivi’. Have strung tarp to the tree so I can quickly peg it out if rain, but won’t bother unless need to. Feeling not too tired (not fit to drop tired), but stopped coz want to have a look at the WHW section route and get myself ready. Anxious. Now nearly 6pm. Will have a look at maps then sort out food.

Oh – there is a big building quite close making a lot of noise. Cant work out if industrial or amenity. Also Glasgow airport flight path – don’t mind that a bit.

Monday 24th am: Reaching the Beginning of West Highland Way

Now 5.15 am. Basha is quite funny. Waterproof so far, it’s just that I can have plans to string it out in a particular way but it just does what it wants and I have to make it up as I go along. I ended up with quite a bizarre thing last night (started to rain as soon as I began cooking so had to stop and sort it out).

4 West Highland Way
Comfortable in Bivy

Not only on flight path but must be very close to airport coz into late hours planes very low coming over. The nature of the building making the noise became clearer when I heard tennis being played. Someone’s labrador came to visit and wouldn’t leave, but at last picked up his ball and went when his owner called from afar.

lunchtime

Was out walking with the first plane at 6.30. Started on West Highland Way at 7.30. Two lads there with camo packs. Well built. Bit macho? Some grunted hellos then they marched past. I felt really strongly that wanted to push ahead but talked to myself and kept it slow and steady. Meanly thinking they’ll blow up anyhow. So competitive!

5 West Highland Way
West Highland Way Start at Milngavie

Very strong winds and gusts nearly blowing me over. Taking my breath. Had first hail shower and now another one during lunch break. Stopped at 11ish to harvest celandine tubers (lots and lots of them here). Getting very low on all but pemmican, so I’m going to need to get more than leaves. Will try for thistle and burdock if can find any. Sticks (walking poles) are getting MUCH shorter. Sad really, and quite dangerous because my ‘trident’ is now at face height! Maybe put ferrules on when back at home to stop more wearing down. Done 12.5miles on WHW and 1.5miles to Milngavie this am. Thinking of trying for Loch Lomond this pm. About 6miles over the tops. Did some washing in the stream – now drying in the wind. I find that even when I stop and forage etc. Still get to my expected spot/expected time the same. Must just freshen me up.

6 West Highland Way
Approach to Conic Hill at southern end of Loch Lomond

evening

Done 17miles. Was quite fresh when I stopped at about 4pm, but after faffing about with basha I’m quite knackered now. This spot under Conic Hill was lovely and shaded from the horrendous wind when I chose it, but must have changed direction coz now the basha is flapping like a sail. Talking of sails, my rain over for pack was also catching the strong headwind all day and ripping off when it stopped dragging me backwards! I’ve rigged clips on the top and bottom. Seem to work. Hoping the wind is going to drop tonight or I’m going to be worrying about the basha. If I take it down though, sure to rain. The headwind must be slowing me down as well – although not too worried about my effort today.

Will have to eat the fat from the pemmican tonight – all of it in the stew – so I don’t fall over tomorrow, especially if we are getting more of the wintry blast. I’ve noticed that if I get inspired I walk better (stronger) even if the going is harder.

Had a good dinner. Thought I heard children playing but it was gulls squabbling.

FORAGED:

GREENS: beech leaves, nettles, fiddlehead so, sorrel, larch needles, vetch

ROOTS/TUBERS: lesser celandine

Burned my tongue tonight. Too eager. Lovely lemony flavour from the larch.

Wind dropped during dinner but seems to be getting up again.

Tuesday 25th. am.

Cold, windy night. I LOVE MY CACOON (sleeping bag liner). Put my phone charger and phone in bed with me to stop them freezing. Hare visited last night but didn’t seem to notice me. Thought I heard something/ someone breathing or snoring all night. Just remembered as cleaning teeth that on the canals and before, but especially there, everyone smelled absolutely horrid. At first I thought it was just a few female runners (perfumes) but it was all the men as well. Clothes wash/ deodorisers? Really nauseating and lingered on and on.

evening

Just set up bivi on slopes above Loch Lomond, under a yew tree – pillow is a rabbit den, hope they won’t mind too much. Rabbit Den Bivi.

8 West Highland Way
View of Loch Lomond from Conic Hill on West Highland Way

Can feel myself going down a bit. Takes me a long time to set bivi. Pooped but think I only did about 13miles today. I expected relatively flat since follows loch closely, but it is punishing ups and downs all the way. I feel hungry too. Back in Milngavie I tellingly paused a bit too long looking at the food bank! I’ve foraged some decent thistle roots today but it took time, and drew attention.

This bivi is far from ideal – not very sheltered – but I didn’t know what I’d get if I carried on.

30 West Highland Way
Exposed Bivi

Can hear trains and cars on the other side of the loch it is so close. I suppose today did start with a hard climb in the headwind. On Conic Hill the wind was so bad I could hardly move. It was sunny all day with blasts of arctic wind. There was ice on the hill. The wind has been pushing against me all the way – tiring legs and head. On this terrain have to concentrate hard all day. Wind might drop overnight – seems to. Should be headed towards Crainlarich tomorrow.

Just had my stew – with sun setting over Loch Lomond and weather coming in from the north. Huddled over my stove. Now getting warmth from the embers as I write. Found myself a bone as a digging stick, though I have enough foraged stock for tomorrow so I won’t have to stop. FREEZING NOW. GET IN SACK.

14 West Highland Way
Cold but in Bivi Sack for warmth

Wednesday 26th am.

5.13am. Just woken. Wind dropped last night. Felt warmer. Lights flickered on the basha from the road on the other side of the loch. At first thought it was someone out there deliberately being silent. Worried. Then realised light faster than sound which is why didn’t correlate with cars exactly. Settled. At first couldn’t sleep, then shifted and slept very soundly. Woke with father-in-law’s comment “life is anabasis old chum”.

Yesterday more perfumed/smelly people on the trail. Most, luckily, were alone and wanted it that way, or in pairs/groups and wanted it that way – good thing. I’M STILL UNSOCIABLE.

9 West Highland Way
View of Loch Lomond

My clothes and hair smell of woodsmoke now.

MORNING ROUTINE:

Take trousers and socks from stash bag (my pillow) and put them in sleeping bag to warm.
Take down jacket and hat from pillow and put on.
Clean teeth and take meds.
Put on trousers and socks.
Get out of bed and put on boots.
Have a pee and attend to ablutions.
If weather dry take down basha.
Swap down jacket for primaloft jacket and goretex jacket.
Stuff clothes in bottom of pack, then med/bits bag, then sleeping bag and cacoon, then bivi bag, then pemmican and sauerkraut bags, then pillow sack containing mat, pegs, paracord and basha.
Collect firewood and put in stove bag.
Put cooking pots and stove in lid of pack.
Put whisky in side pocket.
Put day’s food ration and foraging bag in pack belt pockets.
Put water, phone, maps, pen, knife, head torch, compass, whistle, glasses in bumbag.
Raincover on pack.
READY TO GO.

Just got out of bed and 6am. ‘Alpenglow’ on hills over other side of water – too brief for me to take picture. As I walk each day I keep recalling what the lovely woman in Peebles said to me when she found out my route : “well you’re nearly there then!” It was such a wonderful boost, and still keeps me going. As I write I can hear a bird saying “beans, beans, beans”. They say things all the time, sometimes a bit more interesting than that.

evening

It’s 5pm. It’s become unnaturally warm now, with no wind and strong sun, which is making me worry about an electrical storm a bit since there are dark clouds in the sky. I’ve set up the bivi in the open for a change under some crags, Craggy Bivi, but there are still trees taller surrounding the clearing. A slight breeze is building and I hope it’s going to just push the weather away. If it starts to thunder I’ll just abandon camp and head down the hill for a bit.

The view is completely tremendous. I’m above Crainlarich, so about half way up the West Highland Way. This morning was horrendous : leg wasting ups and downs on rock promontories alongside the loch for miles and miles. It was a great and unexpected relief after lunch to get onto some tracks, even if they also had steep ascents. One thing here on the WHW is that it isn’t muddy like Northumberland. It is mainly rock – which makes its own issues like this morning. Tend to be passing same people over and over on the route now, but no problems with it.

10 West Highland Way
Rocky ‘path’ on West Highland Way

Only foraging today was wild garlic (ransom) which happened to be abundant. Other foraging that I have done on Loch Lomond (that doesn’t count as natural) is ONE MIDGET GEM on the track and one tissue (unused). I count it as tidying up as much as helping myself. Feeling quite hungry again – this route is taking a toll. Enjoying it when I can get time/distance out of my mind. If I’m enjoying myself the distance passes anyway. Quite careful not to get too breathless on ascents – taking them VERY slowly, otherwise I might not properly recover. I bet this is good 6633 training (an Arctic ultra ‘race’ where you pull your sled with your gear for hundreds of miles and where it’s important not to sweat since it will freeze you).

11 West Highland Way 2
Thistle Roots, Sorrel and Bittercress foraged for dinner

Mileage today – 15miles. Sticks getting even shorter.

Thursday 27th. am.

Think my saliva has stopped working. Constant dry mouth. Look forward to cleaning teeth. Rain came down after 2 or 3ish am. Till then too hot and not sleeping much. Proper downpour tested basha – v.good apart from tendency to stretch. Much better than poncho – with that I would have been at least a bit wet. It has also done very well in high winds – no damage. Feel a bit tired this morning. Dreamed about food: was lulled into a house, went in by mistake and ate. There was some kind of family trip as well where I had coffee and cake. The bit in the house turned into a drama/musical about a person who ate all the pasta so there was none left for the town.

12 West Highland Way
View towards the further shores of Loch Lomond and my path onwards

Don’t want to get up this morning. Should be heading over Rannoch Moor – quite keen to do that. PROGRESS. Looks like it’s mostly on military roads (old ones) from now on – after Tyndrum. That ought to mean using the passes sensibly rather than straight ups and downs over hilltops.

13 West Highland Way 2
Rannoch Moor

Katy is off school ill at the moment (Andy messaged me). Andy was worried since no message from me. SHOULD HAVE MADE MORE CONTACT. Wanted to make more progress first. Much milder weather now – yesterday VERY WARM but this am still slight cold breeze.

Had small dose of sauerkraut, a few nuts and prunes and some water for breakfast.

mid-morning.

Just had my first cry. Saw a train and turned to look at Ben More and surge of emotion. I’ve pepped myself up a bit regarding food, thinking actually that I do have enough. Thinking about when climbing an 8,000 meter mountain you can’t even absorb the food, let alone have enough to eat. You don’t get larch needles and sorrel and ‘sweeties’ like that, and water isn’t available at all except with huge effort. So really, I’m in good shape for another week. Walking around here (Tyndrum area) there are signs everywhere for drinks, food, shops, places to stay, which is very annoying for me right now.

32 West Highland Way
Emotions are high

lunchtime

I put away my water filter since not had to use it now for days. Makes it simpler to fit water pouch into bumbag. It was a long walk here to Bridge of Orchy this morning. Probably 12miles, but quite enjoyable apart from final 2miles. I’m in the station underpass to shelter since rain started, but concrete is VERY cold.

evening

Just finished dinner. I love my broth, especially with wild garlic. The only trouble is it takes so long to eat – so much chewing of the dried meat. On way to tonight’s bivi saw sign on fence (defaced) saying turn back to campsite since no wild camping on the route. Poo! Set up on side of hill by good stream under large scots pine.

15 West Highland Way 2
Cuckoo Bivi: near Bridge of Orchy on West Highland Way

Friday 28th. am.

Slept really well. Rained on and off all night. Tarp still good. Mists hanging in the valleys this morning. Heard first cuckoo. Cuckoo Bivi. Today is a puzzle – whether to have a short one or push over the hills in the afternoon. Will depend on how I feel and what time I get to Glencoe Ski Resort. If the worst comes of it I can sleep overnight on the open hill. Done it many times before. Don’t really need to be in Fort William till Sunday since no ferry across Loch Linnhe till Monday.

Used my clothes inside my rucksack liner as a mattress again last night, along with boots and med/bits bag at feet – works well and is becoming the norm. Protection from cold of the ground mainly.

lunchtime

Long trek this am over Rannoch Moor and Glencoe. All the woods/forests are fenced off. Maybe a good reason (deer fences) but doesn’t look/seem right. In all this wildness little bunches of trees/animals corralled, or kept out.

Doing quite well, but aware of big climbs to come. Think I have been quite badly dehydrated using the filter because now peeing more than 2 times/day and mouth not dry all the time/ lips no longer chapped. Obvious really!

Heard reason Katy been off school – pain in stomach is a urachal cyst (Apparently to do with umbilical chord severance not healing properly). Seems very symbolic – I go away and something between us showing the effects. I think/learn that she is alright – just bored and on penicillin. Yuk!

evening

Had a good day in terms of mileage. One of the steep ascents I was dreading (because of what a few people had said) turned out not to be too bad. My legs seem to prefer steady steep up rather than lots of ups and downs. Starting to be concerned now about walk into Inverie – it’s time for that now I suppose.

West Highland Way Feature

Today was one stunning view opening up after another and I’ve been on the camera all day. Couldn’t help it. But probably good because it made me keep pausing. Good to go slow. I’m positioned now I think for day to Glen Nevis, but not sure. Just managed to get bivi site set up before customary afternoon rain. The best time for weather is the morning when usually dry and clear apart from hill mist which burns off. Then the afternoons can get a bit warm, then the evening rain tends to come (and often overnight rain). Rain seems to come a bit earlier here in Ben Nevis’ ambit. The weather has been really glorious and ideal often.

29 West Highland Way
Torridons going towards Kinlochleven

Steep climb to 550m today, as well as much else besides. Bivi just outside Kinlochleven.

Saturday 29th am.

Another comfortable night. Before dawn the sound of toad/frog on the move. Also that strange, low frequency Spring vibrating sounding bird. Grouse also. I’ve bivied in the open heathland, where I collected lots of dry grass to pad the bed and protect it from the watery moss underneath – Grass Bed Bivi. There are woods all around but they’re thinly dispersed, young silver birch and on unsuitably steep slopes. Deciduous trees are now mostly in leaf. It’s 5.30am and looks like rain coming. Wind whipped at tarp last night – looked like a kite wanting to take off, but lovely thing held and no damage. Bee/wasp again this morning – as there was last night too.

afternoon

I’m sitting by the A88 to Inverness in a bus shelter in Fort William, opposite the ferry slipway, having raced to get here to catch the Saturday ferry. Looked so dead when I got here that I phoned the ferry operator to see if any were on. I got here about 1.50pm and the ferry is at 4.15. Don’t mind at all.

25 West Highland Way
Ferry at Fort William to cross Loch Linnhe

Thought about it and really didn’t want to sit out a whole day in Glen Nevis just because no ferry Sunday. I cut out the last few miles of WHW to take the road so that I could forage something for tonight and get to Fort William on time. Feel tired now and not very hungry. Overdone it. The morning was a bit of a climb out of Kinlochleven, then stunning views over the passes to the Ben. Hard on the feet – gravelly overlain with large boulders – very slippery and tripping up. Saw first seal in the loch because someone sitting photographing it.

26 West Highland Way
Saw my first seal.

Coastguard search and rescue and fire engine turned up here as I write. Leaving engines running – VERY NOISY. several large motorbikes parked and also engines running – worse. Can’t concentrate in all this noise. Moving to sit on the slipway.

As I walk I keep checking now not only for leaves but maybe a dropped sweet!

Let my feet get too sweaty rushing to get here. Hope no blisters. I think I need to eat something – feeling woozy. One thing driving my wish to get to Inverie sooner rather than later is rations – VERY LOW now. Will need to forage a lot.

31 West Highland Way 2
Inverie with very little food, but all is OK.
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