[the next 13.5 miles (21.7 km)]
I remember this next section through a haze of pain, frustration, and seething fury.
The day started out well enough. We solved our pack weight issues in Crainlarich by shipping forward some stuff to a hostel in Inverness that would hold it until we could get there. We had one hell of a headache with the postal service in the U.K., but that’s another story all together.
So, feeling lighter and optimistic about the coming miles, Zach and I started the climb out of Crainlarich. We were hopping nimbly down the old steps that lead you away from A82 and through the forest, retelling stories from the chapters of the books we were each reading. It was just as we were crossing under the viaduct that I slipped on the slick ancient stones and ended up catching myself on twisted knees.
Ouch, but it was too early to stop.
The West Highland Way is teeming with history; you can’t go very long without running into some kind of 18th century something, or medieval ruins like the ones by Kirkton Farm.
St. Fillan’s Priory dates to the 13th century and the graveyard at the right of the trail, with its gravestones creepily looming over you from the hills, is even older dating back to the 8th century. There are placards that will tell you the story of the saint and how he could heal the sick with his luminous left arm. More exciting is the story of the battle between Robert the Bruce and Alistair MacDougall:
The trail follows the River Fillan and on the right side of the path is the little pond Lochan nan Arm where, if Bruce’s sword is at the bottom, it is likely to remain. It is a very boggy, foreboding place.
The trail passes through Auchtertyre Farm next where there is wigwam accommodation, camping, a café, and small shop.
I am convinced after spending more than a month in Scotland that there are few things in this world more comforting than a pot of proper tea paired next to a scone with clotted cream and jam. Perhaps if we had stopped at this small café for those things, our day wouldn’t have dissolved from this point on.
My right knee was twinging painfully and I was feeling alternately cross and worried.
When we passed the side trail to St. Fillan’s pool, we dropped our packs and went to sprinkle the healing water over my knees. It was more to keep our humor up than an actual belief in the water’s magical properties, but who am I to knock old Fillan. And maybe he was in there too, because my knees didn’t hurt much after that.
But despite Fillan’s healing powers, my mood deteriorated as we marched through farmland and then the testimony to the village of Tydrum’s industrial past. The lead mining industry has left its mark on the land just outside of town where it poisoned the plants and the trees are lifeless sticks jutting out of the ground. It’s been decades but the sad scars remain and it is a truly depressing spot to stop for a snack.
Tydrum has camping, hostel accommodation, and the Way will take you right past Brodie’s Mini-Mart which has food, tap water, restrooms, and any other convenience store item you might need.
After a short climb out of Tydrum, the walking levels out into the glens and we walked inside a stunning valley tunnel with grassy mountain slopes framing either side. There are a few mountains that are tempting to venture off trail for in this section including Beinn Dorain.
It was a beautiful backdrop for our first knock down drag out fight as married people.
7 miles can disappear quickly when you are rage walking. Thinking of every slight you’ve ever dealt each other or any flaws in your relationship that has recently been ordained as permanent launches some serious adrenaline. In retrospect, freaking out like that in any other back drop might have been much worse. Together, in a foreign country and all alone for miles except for the mountain sheep, we could scream at each other until it started to rain.
That was the first time the weather broke on us. It rained a little bit by Loch Lomond, but this was a storm to match the one that was happening on the ground. We dropped everything, rage sliding off us like the water sliding down our jackets and pack covers as we made a break for the Bridge of Orchy hotel.
It took some comfort food in the form of Shepard’s pie, a little whisky, and an extremely timely email from our wedding photographer to truly calm things down. We scrolled through our wedding photos from Edinburgh and even the rain started to look pleasant from the inside looking out.
So much in fact that we decided we would pitch our tent by the river instead of paying for the expensive hotel room. Our amazing tent kept us dry and we had a front row view as the rain came and passed alternately.
It turned into one of the most memorable and beautiful places we stopped along the hike.
P.S. Here are a few of the images that made a timely appearance in my inbox to calm the storm: