The West Highland Way & Great Glen Way

Walked in August 2010

Day 4 - Wednesday 18th August

Inverarnan - Bridge of Orchy
21 miles

We got up and had some breakfast in the dining area. There were quite a few people up early and getting ready to leave. I packed up my tent and gear and waited for Darryl at the back of the dining area, noticing the hundreds of midges that had been snagged in the cobwebs by the doorway. Good old spiders, they’ll never go hungry.
Before we left Beinglas I visited the shop and bought some more food. Outside there was another impressive early morning bank of mist below the mountains opposite. We got walking and at first took the wrong path heading steeply up the side of the hill. We soon corrected ourselves though and started on the path that would eventually take us to Tyndrum which was our intended destination for the day. The road was a lot flatter than the day before and the climbing was only slight to begin with. We passed a couple of groups of walkers, and a few passed us. Although some were clearly keen to get stuck into the day, a lot of walkers seemed to be having a later start, perhaps because they only intended to go as far as Tyndrum which was 12 miles away. This would mean only a couple of hours of walking, and a short day, but we had thought about maybe walking further. We decided to wait until Tyndrum to make our minds up.

Drizzle started to fall again as we came to a ‘sheep creep’ which is a low tunnel beneath the railway. It’s ideal for sheep but not for backpackers who have to almost squat down and shuffle along in order to get through. Once out of it we walked along the road, under another tunnel and then up a steep hill, passing two Scottish guys we’d seen at Beinglas farm with their dog. They weren’t hanging around and although we passed them a couple of times during the morning we would soon lose sight of them before catching up with them again at the end of the day. At the top of the hill we had to walk along for a while before climbing over a stile by the signpost that pointed along the way to Tyndrum and in the opposite direction to Crianlarich for people staying the night there or in desperate need of refreshment. We decided it wasn’t worth the diversion to Crianlarich as we had enough food and drink to last us, so I sat and had a break while Darryl wandered off to take a quick toilet break, which was hampered somewhat by the arrival of a group of merry walkers. They stopped near the stile and one of them, an older Scottish guy in a kilt offered around his hipflask. I took a welcome nip and was quite surprised by the fiery concoction. I asked him what was in it and he said it was a mix of two thirds single malt whiskey and one third Drambuie. He said it was an expensive cocktail, but it was pretty damn good. The group soon moved on along the path and when Darryl returned we shared some chocolate digestives and a drink, then continued on after them.

It didn’t take long to catch up with and overtake the group, then we were back into our stride. Compared to the previous long distance walks we’d done, the West Highland Way seemed to be the busiest by far. I’m not completely surprised as the scenery is impressive and the walking is fairly easy-going with the exception of one or two stretches. There are certainly a lot less challenging climbs than the Pennine Way or Coast to Coast.
The path through the woods that followed was rocky and very up and down. The rain had been light and intermittent until this point, but it now worsened so we put on our jackets with the hoods up, which for me is always an annoyance.

A mile or so later we dropped down to a railway track and road, then a bridge over the River Cononish leading to the remains of St Fillan’s Priory which seemed to be nothing more than a collection of gravestones on a small grass hump. I stopped to take photos while a group of walkers passed by. We carried on for a while, crossing the main road again and following the path to Strathfillan Farm which had more of the wooden wigwams we had seen at other places. We stopped at the camp shop and ordered two bacon and egg baps and coffees. While we waited Darryl asked about camping opportunities further along the way as we had decided (tempting as it was) not to stay at this campsite. The woman at the shop asked a colleague for information and he said that there was somewhere to camp at Bridge of Orchy. It sounded like it could be a wild camping site, but this would be better than nothing.

We took our second breakfast outside and scoffed it watching the little birds landing and hopping about nearby in the hope of snagging some crumbs. After a few minutes a Scottish couple and their dog came and sat in the porch with us. We chatted with them for a while and found out that the wooden wigwams were actually pretty good. They were heated and had a fridge, as well as the padded benches for sleeping on. We regretted not trying one out on the trip, but if I was to walk that way again I would definitely give one a go. The couple said they had bought their dog (a Patterdale Terrier cross) from a group of gypsies at a gypsy fair. The woman said that they didn’t intend to buy a dog but they felt they had to rescue it. At one point they thought they were being asked to buy children! Scary. The woman had the odd habit of saying rude words instead of the words she was thinking of, leading Darryl to suspect afterwards that she had sex on the brain. We decided it was time we made a move so we said goodbye to the couple and walked on toward Tyndrum wishing the rain would disappear and never come back.

When we reached Tyndrum we went into the café where I ordered macaroni and cheese and Darryl ordered a chicken pasta bake. I bought a couple more things to eat from the shop next door then we took it in turns to have a look around the gift shop where we both bought whiskey miniatures. We hung around for a good while before deciding we had better make a move and press on to Bridge of Orchy which was another six miles away. We stopped at the shop just down the road for last minute provisions then after crossing the busy road headed on up the old military road out of Tyndrum as the light rain returned. For a good stretch the path ran parallel to the busy A82, the railway and a stream as it headed toward the awesome sight of Beinn Odhar which was huge and pyramid-like, with a cloud near its summit that looked like it had snagged itself there.

The sun was trying to fight its way through the clouds, but for the time being it was held at bay, a lot of mist still lingering around the hills. The path was refreshingly flat so we were able to get a good pace going, the views getting better as we walked along. It was still a hard slog however, and I started to feel really tired, possibly due in part to the large lunch I’d had. My feet were pretty sore too and I couldn’t wait to lie down. We stopped for a break at one point so I could filter some more water from the stream, and further along we passed through another sheep tunnel before walking downhill toward the railway station at Bridge of Orchy.
We knew the old railway station had been converted into a bunkhouse, and I was really liking the idea of a bed, but Darryl insisted we continue on to have a look at the wild campsite first. We walked down a slope between the houses and the small fire station then stopped outside the Bridge of Orchy Hotel. We chatted to a couple of foreign walkers, one of whom said she was walking a few miles further on to camp beside a Loch. The next day we discovered that this Loch would have been a pretty awful place to camp as it was deep in midge country. I had images of wandering past tents the next morning seeing skeletons inside. . .

Saying that, Bridge of Orchy certainly had its fair share of the little biters, and they hovered around me as Darryl made some enquiries inside the hotel and confirmed that it was ok to camp on the other side of the bridge. We headed over and found a number of other tents already there. There weren’t a lot of flat spots, but we managed to find a decent area to pitch. We were both using six-reed inflatable mattresses. They were cheap and fairly light, but most importantly comfortable. The first night we wild camped in the wood was the first time I had used mine and I was impressed that even though there were tree roots and general detritus under the tent, I couldn’t feel any of it because of the mattress. Each reed of the mattress is inflated separately too, meaning that if one bursts there are still five left. Apart from a mishap involving a camping stove at the Glen Nevis campsite later on in the trip, the mattresses turned out to be very robust.

It wasn’t long before midges started making their presence known again, so we ducked into the tents to read and listen to the radio for a while, emerging only to brush our teeth before calling it a day. It turned out to be another cold night, and it was again apparent that we both had sleeping bags that just weren’t cut out for these low temperatures, necessitating the need to wear extra layers during the night. On more than one occasion during the trip I woke up in the early hours feeling very cold with a wet nose, and found it hard to get to sleep again. Wearing plenty of clothes seemed to be the only real remedy for this, as a bigger, warmer sleeping bag would have meant significantly more weight to carry. Several times I flirted with the idea of buying a fleece blanket to keep me warmer during the night, but I just suffered on. Laying out my clothes on the mattress underneath the sleeping bag seemed to help a little. Sleep wasn’t too long in coming despite the loud noise of the river and the increasing cold.

 

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