Day 2: West Highland Way

Drymen to Rowardennan; 25km/ 15m

Our Kip in the Kirk breakfast was continental style, and I was happy to not have a plate of fried food. We chatted with the Canadian ladies we had passed yesterday – they were staying at Kip in the Kirk as well, and were also taking an eight day route to Fort William. We wouldn’t stay at the same accommodation again but we would see them every day. Despite their age, their tenacity and ability to maintain a steady walking speed even on uphill climbs led Husband to dub them “the Terminators”.

Today was one of our longest days on the trail, 25km/15m. We knew it would be a long one but the guidebook estimate was for 6.5 hours, so we felt pretty confident we could do it easily.

The day’s walking started with a good omen – as we entered the first forest stretch outside Drymen, a red squirrel appeared and paused in the path ahead of us. Not long enough for us to get a photo, but enough time for us and the squirrel to regard each other before it disappeared off into the trees. I had never seen a red squirrel this clearly before. My one or two previous ‘sightings’ of this UK native had been more like glimpses – a flash of red amongst the green of a forest, a hint of a fluffy tail. But this was the real thing. It had to be a good omen.

Forest walking near Drymen

We continued on through the forest for maybe half an hour before the trees ended and the view opened up to give us clearer views of Loch Lomond and our first major climb of the walk, Conic Hill.

Cross country to Conic Hill

Heading across the open land to the start of the Conic Hill climb we were buffeted by strong winds, and despite the sunniness of the day we had to keep rugged up and were grateful for our hiking poles to help keep us upright as the wind gusts were strong enough to make you unsteady on your feet.

The climb up Conic Hill wasn’t difficult but the winds didn’t make it easy. However the views from the top were gorgeous – Loch Lomond shining blue in the sunshine spread out below us. It was a great moment and made the climb worthwhile. However those strong winds made it unpleasant to stay up near the summit too long so we stepped down the steep path to Balmaha, our halfway point and chance to have a break for lunch.

Conic Hill view across Loch Lomond

We expected the afternoon walk to be easier, thinking it would involve a stroll along the shore of Loch Lomond. We hadn’t studied the guidebook thoroughly, as there were still some steep climbs through forest interspersed with flat and glorious beach side walking. I say beach, because the pebbly shores of Loch Lomond looked so appealing in the sunshine, and made me want to go swimming. Don’t be fooled by the sunshine. That water temperature was still pure winter.

Pebbled beach by Loch Lomond – bonnie bonnie banks indeed.

We stopped for a toilet break and checked how far we still had to go. We were down heartened to see how little distance we’d covered since lunch. We had been enjoying the sunshine and the relaxed holiday feeling and not been thinking about the distance we still had to cover. Our 5pm expected arrival time to Rowardennan was way behind reality. We considered – we could try and increase our pace to match the time/distance guidelines in the guidebook or we could take our time, enjoy the afternoon light, and take lots of photos.

We opted for the latter.

With the pressure off, we were able to enjoy the great day, despite being tired and really wanting to get to our hotel so we could go straight to bed. We passed Sallochy campsite and on a sunny afternoon, the idea of camping in a basic campsite (composting toilets!) by Loch Lomond and being able to wake up and watch the sun light up the water in the morning did seem appealing. But we had a hotel to get to.

We passed houses in the middle of nowhere, and where the path followed the road and cars zoomed past us. Where were they going? We passed wild camping spots in the forest, some occupied, some available. It all looked idyllic in the golden afternoon light.

But then so did our hotel when it finally came into sight. We thought we must have been the last people on the trail but once we got to our room, out the window we saw a group of four Spanish people coming down the road, people we’d seen on Conic Hill and at Balmaha, and were impressed there were people who were even slower than us.

The Rowardennan Hotel has a great location by Loch Lomond and in other circumstances we might have gone for a little walk around the grounds to admire the last of the daylight. Instead we ate at the hotel bar (a fantastic bowl of Cullen Skink and a venison burger) and then limped our way back onto our room to sleep.

Looking out from the bar, Rowardennan Hotel

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