Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Drymen to Rowardennan

The official Way passes a little over a kilometre to the East of Drymen, so we elected to go straight up the minor road from the village – which is also the start of the Rob Roy Way – and to rejoin the West Highland Way in Garadbhan Forest to the North. After an initial section that is still wooded the major part of what appears from the map to be forest has been clear-felled for some time – judging from the detritus, probably between five and ten years earlier.

Conic Hill - Whre we should have gone, but didn't
This was the first time that it became clear that the West Highland Way is very busy. There were several small parties of two or three walkers, and one much larger party of thirty or more teenagers. It also became apparent – confirmed on all the following days – that nearly everyone walks the WHW from South to North. One seldom encounters anyone walking in the opposite direction. With our relatively slow progress we were passed by others quite frequently. It also becomes rapidly apparent that the WHW has international appeal. Several of the parties we encountered were German, with a smattering of other nationalities to make up the numbers. Apparently some 30,000 people walk the Way from end to end each year, though numbers are dwindling by June because of the perceived problem of midges. 2014 is apparently the worst midge year for some time, though our experience suggested that if you keep moving they’re not too much of an issue.

After traversing the (formerly) forested area we set off Northwards with the aim of taking the high route via Conic Hill. However, it began to rain, and with dark clouds rolling in we judged it better to take the low alternative to Balmaha, the half-way point for the day. I still feel slightly regretful about this: the weather didn’t deteriorate as much as we had feared, and we missed out both on the sense of achievement we would have had by climbing Conic Hill (361m) and the views it offers over Loch Lomond.

The moorings at Balmaha
So after dropping back down through woodland we had the best part of a two mile walk along the B837 to Balmaha. There is a church at Milton of Buchanan, at the beginning of this stretch of road, which has some 15 or so graves managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission – all well maintained. The casualties were an eclectic mix in terms of ages and service units. John and I surmised that this must have been because they were hospital casualties rather than the victims of any local action. And so it proved when afterwards I researched it through the War Graves Commission’s website.

Balmaha is the half way point of this section of the walk, and is conveniently provided with a pub – the Oak Tree this time. It’s also where the path from Conic Hill rejoins, and we saw various parties we had seen before.

After the climb above Balmaha
Refreshments duly consumed, we set off on the second half of our walk. This follows the side of Loch Lomond, partly along the road, but more often on paths through the wooded areas of the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. This is largely broad leaved native woodland, with thankfully relatively few conifers.

Immediately after Balmaha there is a short, stiff climb to the summit of a small hill, from which there are tremendous views over Loch Lomond in all directions. This is still the broad part of the Loch, with several islands, and looks like a wonderful area for boating. There were several moored in Balmaha, but few actually out on the water.

Afternoon sunshine at last!
By now the weather had improved: still cloudy, but no rain. So the afternoon’s walk was a pleasant experience. As well as appreciating the scenery there was plenty of entertaining conversation to pass the time. We arrived at the Rowardennan Hotel in the late afternoon. There was a friendly welcome, excellent rooms, and a very acceptable dinner.

My chief frustration was the failure of my camera. It had worked the previous day, but seemed to have given up the ghost overnight. I don’t have a good record with cameras. I managed to get sand in one in Norfolk a couple of years ago, and drowned another when salmon fishing last September. And now this. It should be covered by guarantee, but that’s not too much of a consolation when one needs it now. So today, and for the next few, it was the iPhone or nothing.

View back across Loch Lomond
Cloudy all day with occasional showers. 14-18C. Good paths all the way, with road to start and part way through the walk. Max altitude 170m, minimum 10m. 23.6 km. 476m of ascent, 518 descent. Midge factor 1 – evening.

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