Stepping on the Trail & Stepping Back In Time…
Not only does the West Highland Way give you access to wander the wild and wonderful highlands of Scotland, but this beautiful and inspiring region of ancient landscapes also provides you with a fascinating history to muse over with each passing footstep. From debating the origins of how the humble weed, the thistle, became the emblem of the Scottish nation, to the legend of Robert the Bruce’s sword being lost in a lochan just outside of Strathfillan, which we found very intriguing to say the least, this thru-hike really stirs your imagination.
The ‘thistle’ emblem is clearly recognisable at every turn on the West Highland Way. But how did the thistle earn its place in the heart of the Scots? Legend has it that a sleeping party of Scots warriors were saved from ambush by an invading Norse army when one of the attackers trod on a thistle with his bare feet. His cries raised the alarm, the roused Scots duly defeated the invaders, and the thistle was adopted as the symbol of Scotland. Unfortunately, there is no historical evidence for this, but Scots, just like other nations, and especially us, love a good story! Similarly, in reference to the ‘Loch of the Legend of the Lost Sword’ it’s hard to think a sword could remain just sitting at the bottom of a lochan for over 700 years having been abandoned in haste by Robert the Bruce after being pursued by the English. But perhaps if it was unearthed by an eager West Highland way walker… Now that would be a very exciting discovery!
The prickly-leaved, pink or purple-flowered ‘Scotch’ thistle is, along with tartan, perhaps the most identifiable symbol of all things Scottish.
Tuesday 7th April 2015 – 12.2 miles – ‘From Wigwam to Wild Camp’
After a great night’s sleep in our impromptu ‘Strathfillan Wigwam’, we were raring to set foot on the next section of the West Highland Way. However, as we only had around 12 miles to go to reach our first wild camp spot at Inveroran (and check out wasn’t until 10:30am), we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and took our time vacating the wigwam – literally handing the keys back at the last possible moment.
Enjoying a leisurely breakfast and ‘poshing’ it up with proper plates, knives, forks and mugs in the dining area adjoined to the camp kitchen!
Our breakfast menu today – buttered bread rolls, scrambled eggs, baked beans and tomato sauce (or ‘ketchup’ as our USA audience like to call it!) was a collaboration of ‘freebies’ we had been thrifty enough to procure yesterday. Not quite a full ‘English’ (or Scottish), but a hot, filling breakfast all the same to set us up for the trail ahead. We also saved on gas by making use of the camp kitchen facilities once again, including the microwave and kettle. Good facilities like these are exactly what every thru-hiker needs. So it was with a little reluctance that we waved goodbye to our cosy retreat and set off once more. We were now 50 or so miles closer to Fort William our final destination, which we were due to reach by Friday (a fixed end date that we intended on sticking to as we had pre-booked a ‘Premier Inn’ hotel for the night as a reward for our efforts!)
Cutting yesterday’s itinerary short meant that today we had to start with a two-mile or so walk to Tyndrum where we needed to stock up with food provisions to see us through the next two days. From our trusty ‘Harvey Map’ we knew there was both a shop and a cafe in the village, so it would make a good first rest stop.
Rejoining the West Highland Way – next stop, the village of Tyndrum.
No complaints this morning so far… Good walking conditions with an excellent trail to follow.
It was after leaving Strathfillan that we came upon the infamous lochan that is supposed to have Robert the Bruce’s sword still hidden in its depths. The story goes that when the Scottish outlaw Robert the Bruce was being pursued by the English, he ordered his troops to lighten themselves by throwing their heavy weaponry into a small lochan on their route, the lochan being this one that we now found ourselves passing between Strathfillan and Tyndrum. Allegedly, amongst these weapons was Robert the Bruce’s legendary sword. According to the legend, the weapon was of huge size, reports going from between 5 and 9 feet in length. Shortly afterwards and only a mile from the loch, Bruce was overhauled, but despite his men being lightly armed they fought off the English and lived to fight another day. We mused over the story whilst we walked and took great delight in seeing the stone markers that survive close to the lochan.
Robert the Bruce’s legendary sword purportedly lays at the bottom of the lochan.
‘The Loch of the Legend of the Lost Sword’ – a great story to discuss whilst walking the WHW!
With the lochan now behind us, and no sign of the sword, the next sign that delighted us was a large billboard informing us of our upcoming achievement of being only 500 paces away from reaching the halfway point of the West Highland Way! (Had it been lunchtime, we would have sought out the fish and chip shop to celebrate!)
These are the kind of signs we love! They always put us in high spirits!
After seeing that sign, we had high hopes for Tyndrum. When we reached the village, we found that the largest shop with the most choice is the ‘Green Welly Stop’, a famous Scottish chain-store stocked to the brim with various souvenirs and gifts, as well as hiking and camping essentials for West Highland Wayers passing through. We had a quick browse around the gourmet food section but to Wayne’s relief (as always) we can never actually buy anything as we simply can’t afford the extra weight, or manage to carry anything else!
So we sat on a picnic bench outside the store with a takeaway coffee and tried in vain to connect to the free Wi-Fi, with limited success. A phone signal for either of us had been very hit and miss so far, so we began conserving our batteries by simply switching our phones off (unless Wayne was using his to record and share our route using View Ranger and ‘shareyouradventure.com’.
Restaurant, shops and toilets – always a good excuse for a pit-stop and a cup of coffee!
Finding ‘The Green Welly Stop’ a little on the expensive side for groceries, we decided to shop at Brodie’s Mini-Mart just across the road. The mini-mart was in fact similar in price, but unfortunately not as well stocked. However, not wanting to put our packs back on and then have to remove them again for the third time that morning, we made do with the limited choice on offer that day. 2 pasties, 2 packets of crisps, 2 packets of instant noodles, 2 chocolate bars, 2 big bags of Haribo, and a box of frozen fish fingers later, we were ready to get back on ‘The Way’. (After suddenly remembering to also visit the post box to enable our latest postcard updates to finally begin their homeward journey. Of course we had to show off to mum and dad about our stay in a wigwam!)
With cards posted and chores complete, we finally headed off up the track with the A82 in sight once more. It was a very gradual ascent uphill; nothing that really put us through our paces. We stopped briefly for a tripod shot of us stood looking down the valley with Beinn Odhar in the distance.
At last we were getting closer to the mountains…
After dismantling the tripod (I must master the art of using a ‘selfie’ stick) we continued along the track, which at this section is an old military road, until we came to a farm at Auch where we sat and ate lunch on the bridge over the river. Then we were off again, next stop ‘Bridge of Orchy’.
Watching my footing on this section!
The imposing cone of Beinn Dorain dominates the scene ahead.
Thankfully our route actually skirted around the bottom of the mountain!
The weather improved as the day continued…
Enjoying intermittent sunshine which made the yellow colour of the mountains more vivid.
Retrospective view of the lower glen.
The West Highland Way in the lower Auch glen.
First you pass the quaint, little railway station that politely informs you that there are ‘no public toilet facilities’ for walkers. (Thanks for that!) As you stroll down the main street, it seems rather like a ghost town as the primary school lays empty and in wrack and ruin. It is surprising then to discover the sophisticated looking ‘Bridge of Orchy Hotel’ perfectly placed on the river front. We eyed up the plush looking hotel room chalets with envy – they were certainly rooms with a stunning view to wake up to (and would most definitely be out of our budget!)So we sat on a bench in the public car park next door, soaking up the unexpected sunshine and resting our feet before we pushed on to our final stop – Inveroran.
The Bridge of Orchy Hotel looked an expensive place to stay. Maybe next time!
The chalet rooms at the back of the Bridge of Orchy Hotel look on to the River Orchy.
We crossed the river and headed through woodland, then up over the moors to the highest point Mam Carraigh – as always a cairn marks the spot! (Already being utilised by two hikers as a seat on which to enjoy the surrounding views. We could just spy Loch Tulla in the distance.
Leaving the Bridge of Orchy behind and continuing on to Inveroran.
The path climbs for nearly a mile through a forest plantation.
It was a gradual ascent up Mam Carraigh.
A glimpse of Loch Tulla seen from Mam Carraigh.
Time to set up the tripod for a time lapse sequence…
We enjoyed a great view of Loch Tulla with a backdrop of snow-capped peaks.
All smiles in readiness for wandering the highlands.
We agreed that today had been the best day for scenery so far.
We headed downhill to the Inveroran Hotel where we stopped to fill up our water supplies using the hotel’s outside tap, then carried on around 300m down the road to the designated wild camp area just over the bridge where the river feeds from Loch Tulla.
The Inveroran Hotel was a welcome sight by the time we reached it just before 5pm.
We immediately had some new friends in tow.
We thought we’d be the last to arrive around 5pm, however there was only one other tent pitched by the river at that time. The grass was dry and looked spongy, and although the designated wild camp area is near to the road, it is still relatively private. It afforded us fantastic views of the surrounding mountains, as well as the opportunity to spy on a few more inquisitive deer in the next field. We couldn’t complain – after all, we were camping here for free and it was completely legal!
Wayne works hard at getting the perfect pitch!
There are designated wild camp areas on both sides of the bridge.
Enjoying a few crepuscular rays.
We swiftly set up camp; Wayne went off taking photos; then we sat and enjoyed fish finger sarnies whilst watching sunset.
A serene scene to end the day!
All’s quiet at camp.
As soon as it was dark, we were fast asleep, the efforts of the past 5 days having well and truly caught up with us.
This week is certainly going fast. Compared with our previous long distance hikes, we haven’t allowed for any ‘zero’ hiking days, giving ourselves 8 days to complete the West Highland Way. Our itinerary is actually generous as keen long distance walkers comfortably knock off the West Highland Way in as few as 4 days. Runners have even completed the trail in less than 24 hours!
But 8 days suits us. It gives us chance to appreciate the scenery and build up our stamina (after all, we’re not as trail fit as we once were), and for us, it is our holiday too!