Use It or Lose It!
It was a stiff start to Day 2 – We felt like the Tin Man from the ‘Wizard of Oz’ story – the whole of our bodies in need of a good oiling! Sad but true; we quickly discovered that our bodies were no longer the refined, trail fit, hiking machines they once were. Well, last year at least!
It’s been less than six months since our last hiking adventure; but it’s crazy how quickly your body can lose its fitness and conditioning after a period of relative inactivity. The fitness mantra, you must ‘use it or lose it!’ might be a bit of a cliché, but it turns out that this saying perfectly sums up one of the key principles of fitness and exercise – reversibility.
So with winter behind us, it was time to put a stop to this steady decline, as well as the whinging, and get back on the trail! After everything we had endured in 2014 walking 700+ miles, The West Highland Way was not going to defeat us!
Our first view of Loch Lomond on Day 2 as we skirted around Conic Hill.
Saturday 4th April 2015 – 12.5 miles – ‘They Say There’s No Dry Men in Drymen!’ (pron. Dri-mon)
After waking around 7am, we’d had a good 9 hours sleep, which had helped to relieve a few of yesterday’s aches and pains (well slightly!) And after we got moving around, we felt a lot better.
There was no ‘full Scottish’ breakfast on the menu however. (We had decided to leave that until reaching Fort William as reward for completing the trail – there’s nothing like the thought of sausage and black pudding to keep you going!) Instead, we used up some of our food rations in an attempt to lighten the load. So it was porridge made with milk powder (lesson learnt from last year’s Pennine Way – water is a definite no, no) accompanied by a strong cup of ‘tea’. (Well we are English after all!) Whether we’ll entirely deplete our 14 sachets of porridge, who’s to say? The lure of black pudding and a ‘full Scottish’ might just be too irresistible before Fort William. As you may have already noted – we are already resuming our ‘hiker hunger’, with almost all of our discussions rapidly diverting to the subject of food, the traditional hiker topic of conversation. (Yawn – We’ll try and stay off the subject from now on!)
Thankfully the weather was being kind to us. As we set off from Drymen Camping (at Easter Drumquhassle Farm) there was a cloudy sky above, but not a raindrop in sight. We were even treated to bouts of intermittent sunshine. Hooray!
Leaving camp and re-joining the West Highland Way ready for Day 2.
Paying more attention to the scenery today instead of clock watching and mileage counting!
The first section of today’s walk took us a mile and a half into the village of Drymen itself where we stocked up on fresh duck eggs from the local Post Office/ Shop and sent a postcard home (a ritual we always do whilst travelling/ hiking in new places). We also couldn’t resist visiting the local butchers where we procured 4 rashers of smoked bacon, 2 wedges of Stornoway black pudding and 2 cracked black pepper sausages that we instantly decided that we’d have for dinner that evening. Seeing as the place was so well stocked, with a queue of customers reaching the door – this we know signifies it must be good quality stuff! (Plus having it all for dinner didn’t break our ‘breakfast reward plan’!)
Completing a few chores in the village whilst we had access to shops and services!
Camp dinner variety takes precedence over setting off early!
For ‘meat-lovers’ out there when instant noodles just don’t cut it any more!
I can feel this blog post is deteriorating into ‘food porn’ once more… I almost forgot the ‘Scottish pie’ that we thought we’d try for our mid-morning snack! We were already feeling the first mile and a half, so we needed the energy for the further 10 miles that lay ahead – or that’s what we told ourselves!
So after sitting on the wall outside the butchers, and instantly devouring half a scotch pie each, we were finally on our way again around 11am. (Our timings are seriously shocking!)
A cloudy sky above but thankfully no rain so far!
Reflections in the tarn as we head towards Conic Hill.
Today we were heading into Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park via the ancient village of Balmaha. The village marks the start of a chain of ancient oak woodlands that almost encircle the loch. (It also has a great coffee and ice-cream shop ‘The Oak Tree’ which is a perfect pit-stop for resting the feet after hiking over Conic Hill.)
A nice, easy trail to follow and good underfoot as it wasn’t too stony.
Conic Hill in the distance.
Crossing a river on the way to Conic Hill.
Looking across the highlands.
At 361m, the West Highland Way doesn’t actually take you to the summit of Conic Hill, but rather skirts it around the right-hand side. You can easily take an adjoining track to the top another 100 metres or so, but we decided against this having the burden of our large packs and not wanting to add any extra mileage to the day. As you round the hill, the incredible expanse of Loch Lomond comes into view, which is a perfect place to stop and take a few ‘selfies’. It was also a prime spot for Wayne to set up the tripod and try out his new motion controller for his first time lapse of this trip!
Our first glimpse of Loch Lomond.
Even without a bear cannister, Wayne was overloaded with camera gear! But his new rucksack cover fitted perfectly. A great new addition to our kit!
Stopping and posing for the camera whilst heading downhill towards Loch Lomond for a better view.
The West Highland Way skirts around Conic Hill. Day walkers were heading up from Balmaha in the opposite direction to us!
The vast reaches of Loch Lomond. It is the largest inland stretch of water in Great Britain by surface area, which is which is 71 km².
Trying out the new ‘selfie’ stick! We need more practise to get the right angle!
Passing us along the trail, mostly going in the opposite direction towards the summit of Conic Hill, were large numbers of day walkers enjoying the pleasant weather (not usually typical of a Bank Holiday weekend, as whenever we have plans it almost certainly rains!)
Half an hour or so later, one time lapse overlooking Loch Lomond complete, we headed off downhill. This was not the same as the gradual ascent we had experienced on our way up, but rather a steep and taxing descent down several steps that had been built into the hillside (reminding us very much of the gruelling Hua Mountain in China we had tackled back in 2011).
Downhill all the way to the village of Balmaha. The summit of Conic Hill in the background.
Upon reaching the bottom, it is just a short walk to the National Park Visitor Centre where we made use of the toilet facilities and stone seating area at the entrance. We were also in need of a cafe and a cuppa by then, which is when we happened upon the ‘Oak Tree’ after following the trail of hikers walking by with tempting looking home-made ice-creams. (I’m sure hiking has become our excuse for over indulgent eating!)
You can make use of the clean public toilets at the Visitor Centre.
A rest is always good, but before long you find yourself stiffening up and the pain of putting the back pack on starting afresh, making you wish you’d never removed it and stopped in the first place!
Well, we forced ourselves to get going again; the saving grace being that we only had 3 miles left and this part of the walk took us directly along the shore of Loch Lomond. (As well as a bit more ‘up’ that we weren’t expecting.)
A statue of popular countryside broadcaster Tom Weir wearing his signature ‘toorie’ (bobble hat) stands on the shores of Loch Lomond.
As we reached the shore, there were several groups of ‘sunbathers’ scattered about enjoying the first bit of real sunshine this year (we wouldn’t expect anything less), but apart from taking a couple of photos, we didn’t have time to stop. We were pushing on to Cashel to experience our first Scottish Caravan and Camping Club Campsite, which turned out to have amazing hot showers and a well stocked camp shop. (We just wished we had a picnic bench to sit on, as the backpacker’s camp area is just a patch of grass between two roads near to the toilet block, where several children were kicking footballs around. When all you have is the ground to sit on, a picnic bench is a real luxury item!) There was no Wi-Fi either, but at £6.50 p/p per night, we can’t really complain!
One of the sections along Loch Lomond where you can actually walk along the shore line.
A well trodden trail to follow at this section.
Small Visitor Centre along the shore of Loch Lomond that we passed on the way to the campsite.
Cashel Caravan and Camping Club Campsite is a good place to pitch for the night if you want proper facilities such as hot showers and a camp shop.
So far, both the weather and people along the trail had treated us kindly. We found ourselves camped again amongst a mixture of nationalities, who, just like us, were making the most of the Easter holidays, and hiking in Scotland at a time with the least chance of midges. (If you have a flexible itinerary, avoid the blighters at all costs!)
Egg, bacon and Stornoway black pudding cobs for dinner!
Oh and just for your information, having enjoyed a fantastic camp dinner this evening, I can assure you that Stornoway black pudding was a real taste sensation! Quite literally the best black pudding we’ve ever tasted (and that’s a big statement considering the numerous parillas we feasted on in South America!)
Well time to get some shut eye – we’re bracing ourselves for an 18 miler tomorrow!