west highland way

Stage 3 – Feels like Sheep Country

Days 5 and 6. Inverarnan to Bridge of Orchy.

Leaving Loch Lomond behind us we felt like we had already something pretty epic. As the rain came down for the first hour of hiking we really noticed a change in the landscape that the previous months of staring at maps hadn’t really prepared us for. For the first time we felt like we up in high country. I think it was the lack of trees. We had walked under Ben Lomond yesterday but with the tree cover along the lochside we hadn’t really seen the hills properly for a while. Now it just felt different, like sheep lived here.

We hiked on in good time, through the early spring showers and were soon overtaken by the remaining campers from Beinglas. We stopped for a break overlooking the Falls of Falloch and soon had to negotiate the little sheep tunnel under the railway near Carmyle Cottage. It was a little tight, especially for a 6′ 3″ man with a massive backpack and I managed to twist my knee a bit and wrench my back. (Note to self; next time, take your bloody bag off!) On a positive the kids got a wave from some passengers on the train that passed just afterwards. We were soon caught by a group of hikers from Israel who were so impressed with the kids they wanted a photo with them.

After negotiating the boggiest section of trail (Evan glided over it, the rest of us got really muddy feet!) we hit the junction to head off trail down to Crianlarich where we restocked our now meagre rations and ate copious amounts of crisps and chocolate on the bench outside the little londis, in the rain.

Crianlarich by Thursday was always our target. We knew there was a half decent shop to resupply but the following day would be Good Friday and we were unsure about opening hours on a Bank Holiday. So we declared that mission accomplished. W e could relax from here.

We headed back up to the trail but not before recreating a scene from “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” with the kids. You know the one, Harry fights off some “Dementors” in the underpass to protect his cousin. I know it off by heart, because I have 3 kids under 10. Thank you Crianlarich railway underpass, we had a blast!

Our plan was to find somewhere to camp in the woods, it was getting on by this point but the sky was looking threatening and other than 2 spots, really close to the trail we couldn’t find a pitch big enough for our tent. As we came out of the woods we got a really good view of the mountains and the sky which looked like it was ready to explode. Honestly, I have NEVER seen the sky that black before, not even when I was in Auckland in the middle of a cyclone. Anyway, we pushed on to Auchtertyre where I managed to do a deal with chap running the wigwams. For the first night (and only) we weren’t pitching the tent. It was cosy in our little wooden hut, the heater turned up to dry our now drenched coats and we made a plan to have an easy day tomorrow. Just up the trail to Tyndrum, find a campsite and a play park and chill for the day. After all, this is our holiday for the year.

The next morning we found it hard to leave the warm and dry confines of our little wooden wigwam, but with the promise of an easy day, we headed for Tyndrum. The walk was fairly uneventful apart from Lil and Isa playing wizards for 2 miles. We stopped at the first campsite, which had a play area but no drying room. The next campsite had a drying room but with it being Good Friday, were well booked up and the previous days rain had soaked the campground. The nice chap asked us to drop back later on and he would try to squeeze us in somewhere.

We went into the village, had some lunch and picked up a few more trail snacks and decided, as the weather was improving, to push on and find somewhere to pitch up further up the trail. As we headed out of Tyndrum, parallel to the main road we got loads of honks from people in their cars which really boosted the kids morale which was a little down after their hopes of a play area had been dashed.

Passing under Beinn Odhar with good weather and even better views of Beinn Dorain (If there’s a more beautiful mountain I’m yet to see it, that upward curve is magnificent) we headed towards Bridge of Orchy, now renamed Bridge of YORKIE as we were munching that particular brand of chocolate bar. We had to pass under the railway and negotiate a small herd of Highland cattle and our spirits were high.

“if was still raining in the morning we would head back to the train station and get the first train in any direction”

From nowhere it started to rain, then the wind picked up and before we knew it we were walking directly in a 60 mile an hour gale, which was just driving the rain into our faces. Looking behind us it was all blue sky and sunshine but we were just getting wetter and colder. Hazel and Evan strode ahead, keen to find somewhere to shelter but the rain was relentless. Lil fell over a couple of times and by the time I sorted her out, Hazel was so far ahead and she couldn’t hear us over the wind and rain. Lil, Isaac and myself ran to catch up which prompted another fall from Lil, and finally we caught up just by the station. We got to the hotel and just sat, dripping and warmed up a bit on £15 hot chocolate.

We stayed inside for about 45 minutes, but with the rain still falling and the light fading we headed over the bridge to find a camping spot. As soon as I stepped out of the hotel I started shivering and just couldn’t get warm. We pitched up in the trees and Hazel and the kids got dry clothes on and into their sleeping bags while I sat outside and kept the hot drinks going for them, getting colder and colder and a little worried. These were perfect conditions for hypothermia after all.

There were about 6 other tents around us in the tree’s and a hiker approached quietly and, a little sheepishly, asked if we had any spare food. He had been joined on the trail last minute by a friend and they had stopped early to get out the rain. I think they were originally planning to get to Kingshouse in a push so simply hadn’t carried enough. I duly obliged and gave them some noodles and a pasta snack.  I wandered off to fill the water bottles up and tried to warm up with some star jumps but couldn’t. After finding some oatcakes and biscuits which I took over to our fellow hungry hikers for their breakfast, I finally got some dry clothes on and into my sleeping bag and started to warm up.

I went to sleep really concerned about the next day. We were really wet and cold and the forecast was pretty awful for the next day. The rain still hadn’t eased up and Hazel and I decided that, if was still raining in the morning we would head back to the train station and get the first train in any direction. Preferably back to Tyndrum and a drying room, but if we had to, Fort William.

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