The West Highland Way – the Devil’s Staircase to Kinlochleven

August 9 – For our penultimate day on this hike, we are climbing the Devil’s Staircase – the highest point on the trail. Our taxi driver Peter arrived promptly at 9am to take us back around the mountain to the point on the trail where the ascent begins.

The mountaintops are covered in cloud, but the day is bright and no rain is expected. I looked behind and took a picture of the little white house across the road.

As we climbed, the house got smaller…

And smaller…

And smaller still.

Can you still see the little house?

And we climbed higher and higher.

Until we got to the top!

Then there was the long walk down the other side.

We met Angela again!

And a man with a dog coming up the other side.

We ate our lunch on a sunny rock, then walked down into Kinlochleven.

Kinlochleven depends on the salmon industry

Approaching our hotel, we admired some front garden kitsch. We thought this yard was pretty cool:

Until we saw this one – definitely the best!

Gnome Sweet Gnome

The West Highland Way – Bridge of Orchy to Kingshouse

August 8 – This morning we met a Hungarian and two Dutch on our way out of town. More mossy woods, climbing up, up and up some more.

Trees being felled here

We are on our way to Kingshouse, which we think is a hotel, not a town.

Once again, we walk past beautiful mountains topped with clouds, down a stony path or an old military road. It’s chilly today, with a steady wind.

We are attracted to the micro-flowers that grow here.

We see Kingshouse in the distance, surrounded by trees. Kingshouse was built as an inn in the 1750s – the only place to stop for miles around. Things haven’t changed very much!

Kingshouse in the distance
Getting closer
There it is!

In addition to the hotel, there is a bunkhouse and places for tent camping. Even so, our tour people couldn’t find us a room at Kingshouse, so they arranged a taxi to pick us up here and take us to the next town.

Standing majestically right in front of the hotel was a red stag – the first wildlife we’ve seen.

Don’t get too close, Jim!
What a beauty

I’m sure he was tamed by being fed by tourists, but he is still a thrilling sight.

We shared a taxi with a young Canadian woman, Chloe, who works in London. She has been hiking with her little dog, but the rocks and gravel proved too much for little paws.

Our taxi driver Peter is a local man from Kinlochleven. He told us that he once drove Claire Foy and James McAvoy in this very cab, when they were here on location to shoot a film (My Son, not available in the U.S.) He stopped a few times so we could take pictures.

River Coe
Loch Leven

So here we are in Kinlochlevan, at the venerable old MacDonald Hotel.

A view from our hotel

Peter will return for us in the morning, to put us back on the trail.

The West Highland Way – Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy

August 7 – After yesterday’s exciting post, today’s may be less so.

We met Angela, a lovely lady from Nova Scotia doing a solo hike, at our B and B. We set out together after breakfast, and walked together for a while.

Karen and Angela
This is the softest moss I’ve ever seen

After a while the trail became an open track, with mountains to the left and mountains to the right. Our book says this is an old military road, used to keep the Jacobites in their place.

Clouds touching the mountaintops

And so it remained for the rest of the day.

The road ahead
The road behind
Look! Train tracks!

In the middle of nowhere was a solitary little house, with a sign saying it belonged to the Mc Dougals . They must really like their privacy.

Before we knew it, we’d reached Bridge of Orchy, which was our stop for the day. There is a bridge here:

Bridge over the River Orchy

There is one hotel / restaurant here:

The restaurant was all booked for tonight, so we accepted our B and B host’s gracious offer to fix us dinner. She made pasta and veg and salad and apple pie for dessert, and rolled the feast into our room on a little cart. It was lovely – and no chips!

Our room also contained a drying closet, which is a much sought-after amenity here in the highlands. You hang your damp things in it, push a button, and four hours later, you have dry clothes! It also dries your boots, but makes the whole room smell like dirty feet. Better than squelching around all day in wet boots!

The West Highland Way – Inverarnan to Tyndrum

August 6 – I miss Loch Lomond. Now I’ll have to come up with a new song to hum as we walk along.

Tired of mountains and trees? Today we have some history! Also, mountains and trees…

Mountains, trees, and sheep!

King Robert the First of Scotland (Robert the Bruce) fought the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. On the night before the battle, he prayed to St. Fillan, a monk from the early 700s. When Robert won the battle, he dedicated a new priory to St. Fillan, the ruins of which can be seen below.

The ruins of St. Fillan’s Priory from the 14th century

The Fillan River was known for healing the mentally ill when monks dunked them in this deep pool. Men were dunked in this section, and women were dunked a little further upstream. St. Fillan is the patron saint of the mentally ill.

The Holy Pool
Old bridge crossing over the River Fillan

A little further on is an old cemetery, containing some memorial stones from the 8th century. One of the stones bears the image of a forearm – a very unusual thing to carve on a memorial stone. Except…. St. Fillan was known to have a luminous forearm, that he used as a lantern so that he could continue reading scripture in the dark! Coincidence? You decide!

Kirkton family graveyard containing some 8th century memorial stones

Skipping forward to Robert the Bruce again, when his army lost the battle at Dalrigh right here in 1306, he disgustedly threw all his army’s swords into this small lake, known as the Lochen of the Lost Sword.

Lochen of the Lost Sword
Field of the Battle of Dalrigh

Wow! That’s a lot of history for one day’s walk. So, here are some more sheep and goats.

And flowers:

We approach the town of Tyndrum, where they used to mine lead.

There is a sign here inviting people to pan for gold, and we stood and watched for a while as some fellows panned away.

So now we are cozy in our B and B, after another hearty meal of haddock and chips (what we would call steak fries). I’m beginning to weary of the chips, which are served with every meal, but the fish is very good.

The places we’ve eaten in Scotland are all very solicitous of dietary restrictions / food allergies, and offer lots of vegetarian, vegan and gluten free choices. On our menu tonight was ‘tofush’ for those who desire a plant based alternative to fish.

Out the window of the restaurant were a row of bird feeders, set up for the entertainment of those eating within.

What a nice place.

The West Highland Way – Rowardennan to Inverarnan

August 4 – What do we do on our rest day? We walk around, of course!

Today was our first opportunity to order a full Scottish breakfast, which is very much like a full English – fried egg, tomato, farm sausage, beans, black pudding (blood sausage), mushrooms and bacon (looks like ham). We pronounced it excellent.

It’s a beautiful sunny morning, but a chilly 50 degrees, so we put on our fleece jackets and set off to see the first part of the hike to Inverarnan.

Not sure what this is, but isn’t it interesting?
A reminder of how far we have to go

We met a Ukrainian who was spraying foliage along the trail. We asked what he was spraying for, and he told us that he was killing rhododendrons, which are very bad. We pressed: the shrubs with pink flowers in the spring? Yes – very bad. Huh!

Spraying the rhododendrons

We encountered a family – mother, son and girlfriend of son – having a jolly walk. What a good son!

August 5 – So here is our conundrum. The guidebooks all agree that the next leg of our journey is the hardest day of the Way. It is over 14 miles of rugged walk with lots of big hills. Jim is under strict orders not to let me die on this vacation. There is no bus, no Uber, no way to get north of here as the road ceases to exist on this (east) side of the Loch. There are no bridges or ferries that can get us across the Loch to civilization. What to do?

Jim, who always says there is no corner so sharp that it cannot be rounded, found a solution, of course. For a princely sum, we hired a taxi to take us 30 miles all the way back to a town at the southern tip of Loch Lomond. From there, we caught a bus heading north on the west side of the Loch, and in 45 minutes, presto: Inverarnan (In-ver-ARR-nun).

Once again, not a town, just a hotel and a campsite. Once again, we were given a cabin, very cozy and nice.

View from our cabin

We spent the rest of the day walking south back down the West Highland Way to see a few miles of what we missed on the trail today.

A mossy old tree

Walking the trail, which is a stream. Lots of jumping on rocks to keep our boots semi-dry.

Little waterfall

Our last views of Loch Lomond. We’ll miss you!

A wonderful day.

The West Highland Way – Drymen to Balmaha

August 2 – We shared breakfast with our B and B companions – a couple from Holland and a young couple from Paris. We all practiced saying Balmaha (Bal-muh-HAAA). They are all walking 14 miles today, but we are only walking seven. Some people walk 21!

Nice young couple from Paris

After yesterday’s long but fairly flat walk, today’s route will be more challenging, requiring a steep climb to get over Conic Hill. The weather is overcast and gray, but the promised rain isn’t falling yet. Off we go.

Conic Hill – see the trail heading up on the right?

We met a couple from Calgary, and walked together until the trail started to get steep. Everybody is faster than me when going uphill.

We saw our first glimpse of Loch Lomond. Remember the old song?

You take the high road and I’ll take the low road
And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye
For me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonny bonny banks of Loch Lomond.

Loch Lomond is a great long lake and we will be walking beside it for days. Gaelic for Dummies advised to always pronounce Loch as though clearing one’s throat. Lochhhh LOW-mun .

First glimpse of Loch Lomond in the distance

As we climbed, the rain started, and the trail was busy with hikers ascending the narrow path. The trail became a stream, with water cascading down as we went up. I was going really slowly, and looking for a place to rest, but there was none. No pix of the uphill slog – you’ll have to use your imagination! Finally, we got to the top.

Made it to the top!

What goes up, must come down, and so we did. The rain stopped, and the views were gorgeous.

Heading down toward the Loch

We walked triumphantly into Balmaha, and found our B and B. Our hostess invited us to use her hot tub – what luxury!

Balmaha is a lakeside tourist town, with lots of boats in the harbor and families on holiday.

Their hometown hero, Tom Weir, has a statue at the waterside. I wonder what he did to deserve it?

Tom Weir

A tiring but successful day!

The West Highland Way – Balmaha to Rowardennan

August 3 – After a hearty breakfast, we put Balmaha in our rearview, and walked on. Once again, it’s gray but not raining, temperature in the 50s.

Because most hikers do not stop overnight in Balmaha, the trail was quiet this morning, as we walked along the shore of Loch Lomond.

Ducks!

In a little while, the sun came out.

Even when the path moved close to the road, we could still hear the sounds of the nearby Loch.

A house flying the Scottish flag – St. Andrews Cross

We met a man from Bangalore, taking a holiday hike before starting his new job in Ireland. Lots of young people are hiking with big packs on their backs, and some are just out for the day.

Jim climbing some stone steps – I’m not far behind

We saw some Oreo cows – they are actually called belted Galloway cows. They looked content.

Belted Galloways

So we followed the up and down path throughout the day, ending up in Rowardennan (Row-ar-DEN-an) at the edge of the Loch.

There isn’t a town, just a hotel and a youth hostel. People come here to enjoy the Loch, or to climb Ben Lomond, a huge mountain that is, thankfully, not part of our plans. Rowardennan is literally the end of the road – there is no way to proceed north from here except on foot.

View of the Loch from Rowardennan Hotel

We hear Polish, German, French and languages we can’t decipher at dinner. I order steak and ale pie, which is neither steak nor pie, but chunks of pot roast in brown gravy served with mash (potatoes) and veg.

Bird that kept us company

Our hotel room is actually a little cabin!

We have walked three days in a row, and now deserve a day of rest, don’t you think? This will be a lovely place to chill out.

The West Highland Way – Milngavie to Drymen

July 31 – This morning we packed our stuff and bid adieu to our tiny room in Glasgow. It is time to hop on the bus and move on to the town where we will begin our hike tomorrow.

Before leaving home, I looked up Scottish Gaelic for Dummies, and learned several things. First, unlike Irish Gaelic (GAY-lick), in Scotland it’s pronounced GAL-lick. Second, I have no hope of mastering the rules of this confounding language. Since arriving here, we’ve found it challenging enough to try to understand folks when they are speaking English!

Our guidebook cautioned that we need to learn to pronounce the name of this town if we have any hope of getting there successfully. Any guesses on which letters to pronounce and which to skip over? I won’t keep you in suspense. Milngavie is Mell-GUY. Who needs all those extra vowels and consonants? And just in case, we started in ED-in-burra, then visited GLAZ-go. Now you’re all caught up.

We checked into our lovely hotel (windows! coffee maker!), set down our packs, and went out to explore the town.

I liked the speed limit signs for the residential areas – twenty is plenty!

I liked that they have signs for people like us:

There was a shopping street for pedestrians, with lots of folks out enjoying the afternoon sunshine. There was a busker singing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, and a carved bench to bring a tear to your eye.

Mostly, there were signs for the West Highland Way.

We had a scrumptious three course supper at the local restaurant (I had prawns, not shrimp) and rolled back to our room to figure out what to carry in our daypacks and what to send ahead in our big packs. Will it be too chilly in the morning for my sweatshirt? Should I bring my fleece jacket? No rain is forecast until late afternoon – should we chance not carrying raincoats? Momentous decisions before our first day – you’d think we’d never done this before!

August 1 – 12 miles planned. We were up at 5:30 and and anxious to start our hike, but the restaurant didn’t open for another hour. It was 39 degrees, although the sun had been up for an hour. Guess I’m wearing my fleece!

The trail started in the middle of Milngavie, descending to a shady path along a babbling brook.

There were several sculptures topped with polished rocks – when we asked one of the local dog walkers what they were for, she said the town had installed them because this area of the Way was so boring. Not so!

Polished rock sculptures surrounded by pretty ferns

Then things became more interesting:

The West Highland Way trail marker is supposed to be a thistle. You really have to use your imagination:

There’s a mountain in the distance. I wonder when we’ll reach it?

We talked to lots of fellow hikers as they passed us by – two couples from Holland, a group of 10 from Ottawa, a couple from Paris and several who came from different parts of Scotland. Lots of young girls hiking on their own, including a Muslim woman fully covered and in a headscarf.

The first hikers to pass us today were from Liverpool

Pretty flowers:

Never saw this plant before:

Unusual plant with shiny black pods
A bit of humor at the 7 mile mark

As we approached Drymen, we saw a small waterfall, and some interesting signs.

So now we’ve arrived in Drymen (pronounced DREM-men, rhymes with lemon) at Kip in the Kirk, a B and B that used to be a church.

We’re clean and warm, with bellies full of good supper. Our total mileage today was 13.5. The rain is pouring down outside our window, and the weather forecast is for rain for the rest of the week. This may be my last happy post!

More from Glasgow

July 30 – There is only one item on our agenda today. We walked a mile and a half across town to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, which we have been told is the very best thing to see in Glasgow.

Kelvingrove

The gallery is near the River Kelvin, hence the name, although we did not see the river today. The museum has some natural history, with dinosaur bones, ancient Scottish animals, and an ancient Egypt room.

Ancient Irish elk

We moved on to the art gallery. The main hall contained a mobile of faces in various expressions, which gave me my focus for the day: faces.

A Man in Armour – Rembrandt
Robert Louis Stevenson
Portrait of the Art Dealer Alexander Reid – Van Gogh
Woman in Oriental Dress – Matisse
Portrait of Madame Fray – Renoir
The Young Girls – Mary Cassatt

There were many more faces, as you can imagine, and many more things to see if you were not looking for faces.

At 1pm, everyone gathered round to hear the famous Kelvingrove organ concert, built in 1901 and containing 2889 pipes. Not only could we watch the organist as he played, but there were close up jumbo cams on his hands and on his feet! The concert consisted of the entire soundtrack from Grease. I miss Pat.

We can’t leave Glasgow without sharing some wall art:

On we go!

Glasgow

July 28 – Our West Highland Way hike starts in three days, in a little town just north of Glasgow, so this morning we made our way to the ScotRail station in Haymarket, and caught the train for the forty five minute ride west to Glasgow. Once again, the train was super clean, with cheerful personnel and stations clearly marked. What a pleasure!

We stepped out of the Glasgow Queen St. station right onto historic George Square, laid out in 1781 and named in honor of King George III. The first thing we saw was a row of statues, some with traffic cones on their heads – how curious!

Prince Albert in a cone
A young Queen Victoria with crown and bird
Sir Robert Peel with only a bird

Around the corner, in front of the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art, stood a statue of the First Duke of Wellington with a cone on his head colored in pink and blue to support the Ukraine!

The Duke of Wellington

My Google search revealed that a traffic cone first appeared on the Duke’s statue back in the 1980s, and as fast as city workers removed it, it would reappear the next evening. The city threatened action against anyone defacing the statue, but the people of Glasgow rallied round the cause, and now the statue with cone (sometimes the horse has a cone too) appears on Glasgow tee shirts and post cards as a symbol of the city. I like a city that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

As we were there at the Gallery of Modern Art, we checked it out. There was lots of space, and not much art. We watched some videos, like a woman riding on a snowmobile for twelve minutes. Other offerings:

Head in a basket
Dream Forever
Group of Coffee Mugs

There was one Andy Warhol, and here it is:

Oyster Stew Soup, 1969

At 3pm we were able to check into our hotel, one of a UK chain called Point A. When we opened the door to our room, I thought we were on the lowest deck of a ship. The room is just slightly larger than the bed, with no furniture, no seating, no doorknobs, no amenities of any sort, and no windows. A little pull-out tray may hold a few of your things, but if the tray is pulled out, you can’t walk around the bed. The hotel is highly rated. Oh dear.

July 29 – As there was no coffee maker in our room, Jim got out his camp stove, placed it in the shower, cooked us a lovely oatmeal and coffee breakfast, and served it on the bed. Some day, we’re going to get in trouble.

Glasgow, known as the Merchant City, is a working class city that doesn’t offer the range of touristy attractions that we had in Edinburgh. Don’t worry, we’ll find things to do. We set out this morning for a walk to the Glasgow Cathedral and Necropolis.

Glasgow Cathedral

The cathedral is dedicated to St. Mungo, the founder and patron saint of Glasgow. He was a missionary in the sixth century, and named Glasgow, which means ‘beloved green place’.

Adam and Eve stained glass

The cathedral was dark and austere. Outlander fans will be interested to know that the cathedral served as Claire’s French hospital in season 2.

The 37 acre cemetery behind the cathedral is called the Necropolis, containing the bodies of 50,000 Victorian souls, including a memorial to John Knox, founder of the Presbyterian church in the 1500s.

Sir John Knox memorial

It also contains a memorial to William Wallace, who you will remember from Braveheart. Freedom!

William Wallace memorial

We wandered up and down many rows of monuments, but we didn’t find a single Hay or Blair (my ancestral clans) even though my forebears hailed from Lanarkshire, just a half hour’s drive south of here. I guess a half hour was pretty far, back in the day.

Many of the monuments were topped with statues of caskets or urns, which seemed a little odd to me.

Down at the bottom of the hill was a small, fenced-off area where the Victorian Jews were interred. There was a sign with a tally of the number of men, women, children and babies buried there.

After lunch we walked across town to the Glasgow Botanic Garedens. Lots of Glaswegians strolling the walkways or lying in the sunshine – the weather got up to a balmy 72 degrees.

There were rows of connected greenhouses displaying tropical plants that Scots might not typically see – ferns, cacti, and some teensy orchids.

The largest greenhouse, the Kibble Palace, also held a group of Victorian marble statues:

Kibble Palace

The main lawn was landscaped with identical plants in rows like soldiers. I kept thinking, ‘Eliese would not approve!’

One of the parks benches was covered in colorful crochet. When we stopped to admire it, a local woman stopped to ask if we knew the story. She told us that after the death of a local artist, her daughters decorated her favorite bench as a memorial. Another nice person, stopping to share.

We walked all afternoon, admiring the plants and enjoying the sunshine. A good day!