Day 5: West Highland Way

We had a good sleep a Tyndrum Lodges. Our room was cosy and comfortable and we would have loved to stay longer and avoid the trail that awaited us. But instead we ate our pastries, yoghurt, fruit and juice, packed our bags, put on our hiking clothes (now dried out after yesterday’s rain), laced up our boots and set out walking.

We headed out onto the path which we had peeled off the day before just before it reached Tyndrum, and found after five minutes the path had looped in a C-shape and crossed back over the main road through Tyndrum. This was handy for me, as I had the opportunity to pop into Brodies (the town convenience store) in search of a sewing kit. Not to repair the small lining tear in my waterproof jacket (bad form Berghaus! I didn’t expect threads to unravel so quickly!) but to lance the blisters on my feet. Something I could look forward to when we arrived in the afternoon in Inveroran.

The walk started cold but unchallenging. We had all our layers on to keep us warm as we trekked across open land. Open land, but parallel to a main road and the railway line, so not wild by any means. There were farm animals about – sheep, cattle – and as we walked along the valley we started to be hemmed in by high mountains.

Yes, we are really in the Highlands now.

This section was much busier than previous legs of the way, possibly due to having better public transport links. But it made things difficult when the coffee and juice I had as part of my breakfast took effect. Combine cold, overload of liquid, over abundance of people and a landscape largely bereft of trees and I was getting anxious. Luckily we came upon a pile of rocks (possibly ruins of a long abandoned house) that gave me something to hide behind.

Despite having hats pulled down and jackets zipped up, there was still enough of our faces left exposed to be struck with sharp icy precipitation. Luckily this only came in a few short waves and wasn’t prolonged. The low temperatures however were prolonged and we were glad to see the Bridge Of Orchy hotel appear in the distance, marking mile seven of our shorter 10 mile day.

We crossed the railway line and walked downhill into the cluster of buildings that makes up Bridge of Orchy (pronounced “orky” for those who want to know). We passed the buildings that were once a primary school. I guess the buildings are still a primary school – the sign was still there – but it was evident the school had not been in use for some time. The children of Bridge of Orchy have grown up and moved away.

The Bridge of Orchy hotel seemed to be set up for a more genteel and better dressed clientele than the number of walkers who took up the majority of the seats in their restaurant. We ordered the Cullen Skink not because we were hungry but because we wanted something warming and soup was the obvious warming liquid. The waiter told us the Cullen Skink was fine, but on tasting it, we decided it was not Cullen Skink but creamy haddock and leek soup and therefore not fine at all. Did we say anything when they took our empty bowls and asked if everything was OK? No, we did not.

Looking around the dining room, we saw all other hikers were staring into space, looking dazed and exhausted. Twix man, the young German couple, the Spanish – we saw lots of people we recognised. They all looked like that short spell of cold walking had drained them and they dreaded going outside again.

We knew we had just three more miles to go to our final destination of Inveroran, but this last leg started with an uphill (of course) then downhill to our hotel. The uphill took us much longer than expected (50 vs 30 minutes according to the guidebook) but we were also very slow on the downhill as the view was tremendous and we kept stopping to admire it. We were on the edge of Rannoch Moor here, and the empty landscape rolled away to the horizon. Even the road that I knew was there (I’ve driven on it after all) was sufficiently distant and mostly hidden behind hills that I could pretend it wasn’t there.

We weren’t slow just because of the view though, the path underfoot was loose gravel and not an easy surface for speedy downhill walking.

First views of the Inveroran Hotel

The Inveroran Hotel is a much loved institution on the West Highland Way. It’s in a gorgeous location by Loch Tulla, run by great people, with the first (and only) restaurant quality food we would encounter on the trail. Of course, with Husband suffering from his cold, he didn’t want to order anything delicious that he couldn’t taste, so he had soup again.

The Lady Owner of the Inveroran was upset to hear Husband was sick and promised him a hot toddy to help him sleep. We sat in the tiny bar, him with his toddy, me with my whisky (first of the trip!).

“Where are you from?” asked the group of four to the young German couple.

“Germany,” said the young German man. “Where are you from?”

“We are from the Czech Republic,” replied the group of four’s spokesperson.

The young German man’s face creased in puzzlement. “I’ve never heard of it.”

It was the Czech spokesman’s turn to look puzzled. “We have a border with Germany,” he said. “We’re neighbours.”

The young German man smiled emptily.

“You’ve heard of Prague?” The Czech spokesman persisted.

The young German man tipped his head from side to side as if trying to shake water out of his ears.

“Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic.”

The young German man smiled back. “There are so many new countries now, I can’t keep up.”

The Czech spokesman wasn’t giving up. “You’ve heard of Czechoslovakia?“

The young German man looked thoughtful. “I think so.”

“Well we separated into Czech and Slovak republics,” here he paused and conferred with his group, “in the early 90s.”

“Oh,” said the young German man, still smiling.

Husband and I didn’t say anything at the time but once on our room we exclaimed at how stupid the young German guy was. I don’t know how old he was but he was young enough that the Czech Republic had been the Czech Republic for his whole life. And it shared a border with Germany.

We saw him and his girlfriend enough times on the walk to know she always looked miserable. Up until now we had joked it was because he had promised her a lovely holiday. She was picturing a week on Crete, not a week camping and hiking in Scotland.

After the Czech incident we figured it was because not only did he take her camping, he was also not very smart. We started to speculate. She was probably taking a photo on her phone but we insisted “She’s on Tinder looking for a new boyfriend – ‘must love city breaks’.”; “She’s got seven dates set up already – the first one is meeting her for coffee when she lands at the airport.”

It’s a wild life on the trail – we finished our whisky and were tucked up in bed by 8:30pm.

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