The Bonnie, Bonnie Banks O’ Loch Lomond…
As one of the best known bodies of water in the world largely due to the song ‘The Bonnie, Bonnie, Banks o’ Loch Lomond’, Loch Lomond’s real claim to fame is that the lake is the largest inland stretch of fresh water in Great Britain, with a surface area of 27 square miles. Impressive, by anyone’s standards!
Designated part of the Trossachs National Park since 2002, Loch Lomond fast became one of Scotland’s most popular tourist attractions, now receiving over 4 million visitors each year. Due to its close proximity to Scotland’s largest cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh, as well as its spectacular scenery and high density of accessible hilltops and Munros, it has become a firm favourite with hill walkers and ‘Munro baggers’ alike.
The last trails of early morning mist as we set off along the eastern shore of Loch Lomond for 18 gruelling miles.
Lying on the Highland Boundary Fault, the loch is often considered the boundary between the lowlands of Central Scotland and the Highlands, and in our opinion is where the better scenery begins. With an entire shoreline that stretches for 54.5 miles, we were glad that the West Highland Way, running alongside the eastern shore of Loch Lomond, only takes in around 18 miles of that distance. Eighteen long, intensive miles on Day 3 however was no easy task, as you’ll discover in our trail report below!
Sunday 5th April 2015 – Easter Sunday – 18.8 miles – ‘Beautiful But Laborious Loch Lomond’
Today we woke up to a misty morning over the Loch and the sound of a busy woodpecker tapping away. It was both serene yet wild. There’s something magical about waking up in the great outdoors and hearing nature’s sounds while everyone else sleeps.
Early morning view of the loch from our campsite at Cashel.
Peace and calm over Loch Lomond before we set off on an intensive day of walking.
Our little patch of grass for the night at the Cashel Caravan & Camping Club Campsite.
Unfortunately during the night we had woken several times due to sliding off our sleep pads. We’re currently making do with our old 3/4 Gelert blow up pads. They’re not the best in terms of size, weight or comfort but they were our first hiking roll mats and ‘cheap’, and more to the point, still going strong! Having had to contend with our Peak Elite ACs bursting on the Pennine Way and our egg-box Thermarest mats becoming well and truly flattened by the end of the JMT – we’ve already decided that we need to invest in some new ‘Exped Winterlite’ full length pads in time for our next adventure – hiking the GR20 across Corsica this summer.
Anyway, after not such a good night’s sleep, it was time to set off on what was to be our longest day out of the entire week on the West Highland Way. We had presumed (wrongly) that Loch Lomond would be kind to us. The picture in our heads that we’d imagined of a gentle, lakeside stroll couldn’t be further from the truth! In fact, much of the direct shoreline is inaccessible, so we found ourselves battling with continuous ups and downs along rocky ridges, which proved particularly draining. Not only was it labour intensive, but also very hard wearing on the feet.
We passed a designated wild camp area – Sallochy Woodland Camping – a little further on from Cashel. Perfect if you can go without a shower for a bit longer!
It wasn’t a gentle stroll along the shoreline, but more of a scramble through the woodland hoping for a good view of the loch at times!
Some nice steps to warm us up for the day ahead! This was actually a good section to walk on.
Eerily quiet, but all smiles on this well worn and maintained section of the trail!
Out of view, but Loch Lomond is definitely to the left of this meandering ridge.
Anyone seen the loch?
We stopped for our first ‘rest’ of the day just past Rowardennan, where there is an information station, toilets, picnic benches and a car park, – this being a popular spot with day hikers setting off to bag the peak of Ben Lomond. At this point we hadn’t realised the cumulative effect that countless ups and downs would have on our feet. It really was a challenge that lay ahead. We had hoped that the trail would be less demanding past this point, but no such luck, the trail actually got worse!
Just past Ptarmigan Lodge our map showed a split in the trail where you could continue along the higher ridge route or head down to the shoreline and access the water’s edge. Our preference would have been to walk by the water’s edge, however the alternative route was closed due to trail maintenance. We don’t know the duration for which this section had been shut off, but we guess a long time judging by the information sign saying that work was to be completed by May 2014!
Had we known what a tough walk this section would be, we may have opted to take the ferry across the loch! (But that would be cheating of course!)
Easter Sunday, and Spring is in the air!
Due to overuse and anti-social behaviour, camping bye-laws and restrictions have been put in place to prevent wild camping on the east side of the loch between Drymen and Ptarmigan.
We were diverted along the higher ridge route due to maintenance on the lower section of the trail which would have taken us closer to the water’s edge.
Tackling the higher route… Again this section afforded us restricted views of the loch!
With a vast expanse of blue as far as the eye could see, the loch literally seemed never ending (when we could see it of course!) Had it been raining, I would most definitely have been crying and questioning why we hadn’t broken this section of the walk into shorter stages. As said earlier, the continuous ups and downs alongside the meandering shoreline proved extremely wearing on our now ‘delicate’ feet, having not had the pleasure of wearing trail shoes for the past six months. Looking back now on our experiences over the whole week of hiking the West Highland Way, we think this was the toughest stretch of the WHW overall. Tackling the ‘Devil’s Staircase’ on Day 7 didn’t even come close! (But more of that later…)
Fortunately for me, (as well as for Wayne’s sanity when dragging along a miserable wife) it was blue skies ahead with the sun on our backs, which seriously makes all the difference to both your mood and momentum. (You’ve also got to especially like trees, rocks and mud as that’s what you’ll be clambering over and around all day!)
The well-timed and perfectly situated bench over looking the loch when our feet were in need of some pampering.
A ‘rest stop’ on a perfectly situated bench overlooking the loch on a high ridge before ‘Rob Roy’s Prison’ gave us the opportunity to take off our trail shoes and massage our feet with our favourite essential item ‘Deep Freeze’. We rested for a while and envied people rowing across the loch in their little boats, then considered for the umpteenth time taking a ferry to the end of the loch. It never happened. We pushed on…
Tackling a wild ridge line of tree roots and rocky outcrops.
Hiking along a well-worn section of the trail, the never ending shore of Loch Lomond continues…
A better view from here, the loch looks so inviting!
The entire shore line of Loch Lomond stretches for 54.5 miles! Thank goodness we were only walking 18 miles of it!
As there are camping bye-laws and restrictions on wild camping on the est side of the loch between Drymen and Ptarmigan Lodge, the majority of hikers power on through this section of the walk aiming for Inverarnan, so just like sheep, we joined the wave of hikers on a mission to get past Loch Lomond in a day.
Spotting a well camouflaged mountain goat lifted our spirits for a while.
We were happy at last to find a short section of shoreline leading to the water’s edge!
A labour intensive walk along the meandering ridges of the loch.
Just when we thought we were almost there…
A rock hop across the steam… Civilisation in the distance… Fingers crossed for an ice-cream!
Grateful for a bridge across at this section.
A bit of a distraction from the aches and pains we were suffering from!
Yeah! A quick stop for ice-cream at the Inversnaid Hotel on the WHW route.
Eyeing up anyone in a boat and feeling very envious!
Is the end of the loch in sight?
Looking out over the loch…
The end is near…
Thankfully we had good weather for walking. We were still eager to get our packs off and call it a day!
Had we stocked up with supplies for dinner from the camp shop before leaving Cashel, we seriously would have considered taking respite and camping out in Doune Bothy as it was still vacant when we arrived late in the afternoon. (This bothy is a fantastic little place on the WHW route, complete with fire place and fixtures and fittings, ideal for seeking refuge if you are faced with bad weather.) But with the thought of a home-cooked meal from the bar at Beinglas Farm spurring us on, we fought through the pain barrier and pushed on regardless to make our miles.
Covering 18 miles today would make for a less pressured time scale later in the week. And of course, we always reward ourselves with food, so it was the perfect motivator! We were positively drooling over the menu by the time we arrived at the campsite, a little after 7:30pm.
Spying ‘Doune Bothy’ in the distance. This would have been the perfect place to stop for the night had we been stocked up with supplies.
Taking a rest inside the bothy. A seat was most welcome at this point in the day!
If you find that you really can’t face the last three miles or so to Beinglas Farm, then another alternative is to take the ferry across the loch to Ardlui marina and spend the night on the northern shore in a luxury lodge. If you are on a frugal budget, you could simply pitch your tent at the Ardlui Campsite, unless you’re tempted with an overnight stay in a quirky ‘hobbit house’, which is very reasonably priced if you’re in need of a few more home comforts.
A perfect advertising spot on the trail! We were very tempted with an overnight stay in a ‘hobbit house’ across the loch at Ardlui. However, hunger got the better of us and we promised ourselves a hearty bar meal and a pint as a reward for completing the last 3 miles!
Finally leaving the loch behind as the trail took us north east.
Heading towards more mountainous scenery and hopefully Beinglas Farm around the bend…
By 7:30pm this sign was a very welcome sight!
We were very relieved as Beinglas Farm came into view. Despite our aching feet, we practically hopped. skipped and jumped our way to the on-site bar and restaurant! With the thought of food firmly on our minds, we agreed we’d shower and pitch the tent after we’d been fed! Unfortunately ‘fish & chips’ must have been the most popular dish of the day and was sold out by the time we placed our order, so we both opted for 8oz Caledonian rib-eye steaks with chips, complete with mushrooms, onion rings and salad. A feast fit for any walker!
(We’re saving ourselves until Fort William to sample some real Scottish fayre in the form of ‘haggis’.)
A steak worth waiting for… Walking 18 miles certainly works up an appetite!
After impatiently awaiting the arrival of our steaks, it was rather like blink and you’d miss them! They were devoured in seconds! It had been a long day, but it goes without saying that next we had to put up the tent and take a shower. The chores of camping!
With carrying the weight of our packs, 18 miles is always just that bit too far for us. We both agree that on long distance hikes where we have to carry everything but the kitchen sink, 12-14 miles is what our bodies feel most comfortable with and is our preferred daily distance.
After hiking the eastern shore of Loch Lomond in a day, completely fatigued, we headed to the tent hoping we wouldn’t be too stiff in the morning…
Loch Lomond, you almost broke us – the next time we visit, rest assured it will be by boat!