Stage 1 – Lowlands to Lochside

Day One
Milngavie to Easter Drunquhassle. 11.5 Miles

After almost a full days travel on buses, boats and trains which was quite an adventure in itself, and a rather cold night in the tent at Milngavie, we arrived at the famed obelisk marking both the beginning of the West Highland Way and our most ambitious adventure to date.

We spoke to a couple of locals who were out walking their dogs and they all seemed shocked when we explained that yes, we are doing the whole trail and yes, we are camping and no we can’t afford the baggage transfer service. They were also quietly impressed with our intentions and wished us luck on our journey.

After a final cup of coffee, overpriced bacon roll and a run in the little play area we headed off, fully laden with everything we would need for the next 12 days and about 5 days food and provisions to sustain us to Crianlarich and a potentially well stocked shop. After the first little hill we encountered in Allander Park we had decided that we were definitely carrying too much stuff. Too late to make any changes, we pushed on and stopped for lunch under Scroggy Hill and watched deer grazing on the slopes opposite.

After lunch the walking was fairly easy and the views improved and it started to feel like we were properly on a long trail, not just out for the day. Isaac needed a little encouragement mid afternoon as he had drifted into dawdle and Lil had collected various stones which she the had to reluctantly leave behind. (Two days later I would find a small selection in the bottom of her rucksack!) We negotiated the first wild toilet trips with ease and were soon on the long flat drag between Drumgoyach and Gartness. The kids were tired and irritable but when we arrived in Gartness with the river rushing over the weirs and the little stone cottages looking like proper Scottish dwellings our moods lifted and we pushed on for the last mile to our campsite at Easter Drumquhassle. A long, long mile on tarmac wished took the last of our energy and wishing for the days walking to be over.

The campsite was basic, which we liked, but to Hazels disappointment the showers were locked. On the upside we were able to cook our tea in the shelter of the barn which while dusty, poorly lit and home to a couple of small rodents, protected us from the rain before we turned in for the night. We were asleep in minutes.

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Day Two
Easter Drumquhassle – Millarochy Bay – 10.5 Miles

After repacking our enormous packs, cursing the locked showers and treating ourselves to a cereal bar breakfast we headed of down the road, crossing a field containing a few sheep, a couple of tents and the first real boggy bit of the trail.
We dropped into the village of Drymen to get our WHW passports stamped in the library, then after extracting Isaac from the wrong side of a hedge we headed into the woods. It was while discussing the worst possible flavours of Ice Cream that Isaac decided to go exploring. He just stepped of the trail into the trees and was gone! No sign of him. Fortunately after about 10 minutes of frantic shouting and pushing through the trees he reappeared as though nothing had happened. I told him off and he said he wasn’t lost just exploring. “Anyway”, he then told me,”if I was lost I would have sat down and blown my whistle!”

We caught up to the others to find that Lil had fallen and grazed her hand quite badly, and we had covered about 3 miles in something like 4 and half hours. We met a nice lady from France whose pack was the size of all of ours combined, her name was Emma and she would unknowingly play a crucial role in our hike the following day.

We moved onto Conic Hill and what felt like the first hill stage. We were out of the woods and had splendid views, and felt much higher than the actual elevation. The kids changed here too and seem to fully embrace the challenge for the first time. Evan got his head down and kept a steady pace, Lil trotted beside Hazel and I and Isa just ran ahead, honestly the little man RAN up Conic Hill. While trying to keep him in sight we chatted a guy from Germany who told us that he was putting off starting a family because it would stop him traveling but that we had maybe changed his opinion so that was nice to hear.

At the top of Conic Hill we finally caught up with Isa who had stopped and was just admiring the rather splendid views down onto Loch Lomond. It was quite spectacular but interrupted by a sudden and horizontal shower of sleet. The kids raced down the hill but our progress was much slower because of our massive packs and all the bloody steps!

We made it into Balmaha just before the Ice Cream shop closed so the kids got a treat. Checking the map, our proposed destination for the night, a new permit zone for wild camping, was still a further 5 miles up the trail so we decided to head for the campsite at Millarochy Bay. After a nice stroll along the loch we were greeted at the gate to the campsite by the manager, Rob, who furnished the kids with sweets and high fives. He was so impressed with our efforts so far, he put the kids names and ages on the notice board for the world to see and even brought us out 2 cups of tea to where we were pitching up.

After another 10 hours or so on the trail you would think the kids would be tired but no. While I was sorting out the tent, they dashed off to the play area and ran around raucously for another hour until dinner was ready.

At Dinner time we chatted to a few people, a couple from the Netherlands who didn’t have a non-metallic bowl for the microwave so Evan lent them his, a Scottish lady called Liz who was impressed by the kids and chatted about doing the Pacific Crest Trail sometime in the future and two lads who were probably students but didn’t have much to say. Its funny really, we chatted to loads of people on the trail, most of who were friendly but on a few occasions there was a definite type of person who didn’t want to chat. We discussed this between ourselves and worked out it was generally the males, aged 18-24, with all the best kit who were the least approachable. We reckon that the trail was probably a massive undertaking for them, they were out in the wilds doing manly stuff because, you know, they were men and this is what real men do. Then 3 little kids rock up, doing exactly the same thing as they are. It must knock their ego or something.

That night I slept on an empty back pack and was much warmer, either that or I was too tired to notice the cold.

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