Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Rowardennan to Inverarnan

Rowardennan Hotel
After breakfast it was time for John to catch a taxi as the first stage of his journey back down to Kent. He has been excellent company, and helped make the miles fly by. So it was off by myself for the first half of the day, with a meeting with Brian Rowson scheduled for lunch time at Inversnaid – another conveniently located half-way watering hole.

The first part of the walk from Rowardennan, past Ptarmigan Lodge on the lakeshore, climbs steadily up from the side of Loch Lomond, reaching a maximum elevation of about 120m. Once again I was passed by a number of other walkers, although (rather encouragingly) some were actually slower than me.
Memorial Park sculpture, Rowardennan
One who caught me up seemed to be looking for birds, but when I questioned him, said he was just looking all around at “nature” in general. He then went on to say that he didn’t believe in evolution, and started to tell me his life story. Fortunately, after learning that he comes from Uxbridge, he engaged in conversation with some other walkers, and I was able to get ahead without being treated to further creationist views.

This part of the walk is largely beneath trees, so there are only limited views over the Loch. There was one point at which there was a seat and a clear view, but it proved to be midge-infested, and so my brief watering break as shorter than it might have been. All the same, as well as the bulk of Ben Lomond behind me, there were good views of three Munros on the far side of the Loch. This is beginning to be the Highlands proper.

View from lookout over Loch Lomond. (You can't
see the midges.)
It turned out that there was a lot of work being carried out on the track, so there was various heavy equipment around, and sections of the path were fenced off. The surprising thing was that, although it was a weekday, no-one was working. This became a common experience – signs of work, and obvious improvements already made, but nothing actually being done. Perhaps it’s all done on a voluntary basis at weekends, but given that a lot of the equipment is quite complex and the terrain very challenging, it looks as if it would require professionals rather than amateurs.

The last bit before Inversnaid was much rougher going – rocks and tree roots instead of an improved path. Finally there’s a bridge over the stream that comes down from the reservoir at Loch Arklett, and a short climb down to the Hotel. This proved to be a popular tourist spot, with visitors by coach and boat outnumbering walkers. The hotel itself is quite large, and there’s an even larger bunkhouse next door.

Typical rough going above Inversnaid
I had arranged with Brian to meet at the hotel, and he arrived just a few minutes after me. He had travelled up from Bideford in Devon the previous day. It’s something of an epic journey, involving four separate trains, but Brian is a great railway enthusiast so it as an adventure rather than a chore. Besides, much of the scenery in the latter part of the journey is quite stunning.

Brian was one of my contemporaries at Cambridge, where he read English. I had stayed with the Rowsons in Bideford at the end of the third week of my walk in 2012, and they had accompanied Susan and me between Bideford and Barnstable, one of the totally flat stages of the journey. As well as meeting me at Inversnaid, Brian was on a mission to see the bridge where Wordsworth had written of the Highland Maid in his tour of Scotland in 1803.

The mission duly accomplished, after lunch it was time for us to continue on the way to Inverornan – or more accurately, for me to continue and for Brian to retrace his steps. This proved to be very arduous going – by far the most challenging on the whole WHW. For about four miles it’s incredibly rocky, undulating, with the added hazard of tree roots to trip the unwary. Shortly after passing a group of German lads who were braving the cold waters of the Loch, I succumbed to an unnoticed root and fell flat on my face. No injuries, fortunately, other than to my pride – and a slight curvature imparted to one of my walking poles.

Brian Rowson leading the way back to Inverarnan
The tough section finishes almost at the top end of Loch Lomond, where there is a wonderful open meadow before a final uphill climb along a stream to reach a lochan beside the path. Then it’s downhill pretty well all the way to Beinglas Farm – an extensive camping and caravan site. Our hotel, the Drover’s Inn, was on the far bank of the River Falloch, which flows into Loch Lomond, and involved a final 400m or so going back South.

It had taken four hours for Brian to do the journey South; it took five to retrace his steps. I suspect it was mainly my own slower progress, though Brian was decent enough to suggest that he was more tired than he had been in the morning. All the same, I think it was a pretty impressive performance to cover the worst section of the WHW twice in a day, covering the best part of 14 miles of pretty demanding country.

View back from the North end of Loch Lomond
The Drover’s Inn – “world famous”, it claims – is a huge stone building right on the A82. Some of the staff’s shirts referred to “Pub of the Year 1705”, which is a pretty accurate reflection of the state of the decorations. The top floor appears deserted, with gaping open windows, and all the woodwork appears to be in an advanced state of decay. Fortunately my room was in newer buildings on the other side of the road - not particularly salubrious, but serviceable. The room was stuffy, so I ignored the instruction not to open windows. Luckily they were not too bad, so I went unpunished even though I was unable to close the window. It seemed as though the new building was trying to emulate the old, but it was simply that I didn’t discover the latch that had to be depressed, and so had a window open all night.

The beer was acceptable, but the food indifferent. Is that what makes the place “world famous”?

Cloudy in the morning with a couple of showers; improving by mid-afternoon, and a fine evening. 15-20C. Good track for most of the way to Inversnaid, but the last mile there, and the four miles or so after, were extremely tough going with lots of very rocky stages and tree roots to further complicate matters. Better towards the end with mostly reasonable paths. Max altitude 126m, minimum 5m. 24.5 km. 553m of ascent, same descent. Midge factor 1 – evening.

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