[following the next 14 miles (22 km)]
A little bit of kindness from strangers when you are a long way from home can go a long way. An offer of food, aid, or just a friendly conversation on a rainy day of trudging steps can give a traveler a serious morale boost. So it was really exciting to run into some of that in a remote section of the West Highland Way.
Along the section where you follow Loch Lomond, between Rowardennan and Inveranan, the path is rough and undulating, the walking technical and tiring. The weather was finally beginning to turn on us as well, drops of mist threatening to soak us incrementally by the hour. It was the perfect time to run into the honesty box beside a display of homemade granola bars, homemade cookies, apples, bananas, and Scottish tablets. For a few pounds donation, we filled out snack bags with these treats. We were even lucky enough to run into the people who created them and had a lovely break chatting with them about the trail, Scotland, travels, and their Grandma’s Scottish tablet recipe.
There is an option in the trail between Rowardennan and Inversnaid where you can take a higher route which is shorter, has a graded path, and takes you through the forest. Zach and I chose to take the lower path by the loch shore because the guide said it was the more scenic option. It’s was also full of ups and downs and an hour longer than the high route, but I recommend it for those who want to see as much of the loch as possible.
The two routes meet again just after the lower route passes the Rowchoish bothy, which is maintained by the Mountain Bothy Association. It is essentially a small stone house where hikers are allowed to stay for free in return for leaving no trace or better yet, leaving the place better than you found it. Unfortunately, a lot of hikers don’t follow the bothy code as well as they should… It was a wonderfully scenic building on the outside, at the bottom of a green hill looking down over Inversnaid. But between the rubbish and discarded food left behind by inconsiderate hikers, if you stay there you could probably expect furry roommates. (Don’t be a tosser. Carry out your rubbish.)
Inversnaid is a cute little town by the loch and off the trail where you can find some accommodation and a hot meal. There’s informal camping at the hotel for people looking for a budget stay. Also, if you’re listening, you can hear the presence of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds nearby.
The trail continues to follow the loch after Inversnaid and most sources refer to this as the most difficult section. I wouldn’t disagree, but it IS lovely and there are some more cool pieces of Scottish history to check out along the way.
Like Rob Roy’s cave. This is where the legendary outlaw, made famous by Sir Walter Scott’s novel in 1817 and Liam Neeson’s role in the 1995 film, supposedly held his captives. It worth dropping your pack and taking the short side trail, scrambling over the rocks, to check it out.
Some clever soul even painted a word on the wall to help you find it amongst the rubble.
Another way to break up this difficult section is to catch the ferry across the loch to Ardlui where there is camping, accommodations, food, a shop, a pub… and what else do you even need? You just have to look for the little footbridge and the orange ball on a chain that you raise to summon the ferry. How awesome is that for a stopping point?
With a last glimpse of Loch Lomond, we walked on towards the mountains in the north.
You can go all the way to Inveranan, off trail on the A82, which has a range of services.
Or just before the road is Beinglas Farm. It’s a lovely little pub situated in the valley with affordable beer, cider, and whiskies. There’s also a little shop, some cottages to stay in, and camping. You could camp there for a fee, or do what we did and hike one kilometer further and find a spot down by the river to the left of the path. Just saying.
After the rigors of Loch Lomond, it was a relief to be in the open valley again. The path levels out and the mountains of the Scottish countryside stretches out on either side once more as far as the ever-changing sky reaches. All of that pristine space is like taking a long deep breath, the slight chill tickling your lungs, and lengthening your stride.
Which is a good boost for the next stretch to Crainlarich and the half way point!