Day 3 – Ptarmigan Lodge to Inverarnan (11 miles)
On paper, day 3 was to be a gentle day. A mere 11 miles compared to the 14 miles apiece of the previous two days… Things rarely work out the way they look on paper. It was 11 miles in total but I swear it felt more like 20…
There were 4 miles to go before our anticipated morning coffee at Inversnaid Hotel, a breeze, we felt, that should take about an hour and 20 minutes, maybe an hour and a half. However, the trail at this point gets thoroughly over excited and consists entirely of endless switchbacks of boulders and gnarled tree roots that you clamber up and down, pausing only to throw in the occasional climb up and over a wooden bridge, or skip across stepping stones.
Don’t mistake me, it’s utterly beguiling and enchanting. In Surrey I once hiked for an entire day just to see some stepping stones, and here they crop up around every corner. It’s fantastic.
It’s not, however, speedy going. Especially since I discovered that, because I’m rather short, some of the larger steps required me to push down with my hands on my knee to boost myself and my enormous backpack upwards, this motion then caused the top of my backpack to hit me in the back of the head. It went climb..stretch… shove… grunt of effort… bonk… ow… Repeat.
Things I learnt on the West Highland Way #1 – walking poles would be amazing. Not just for old people.
We finally reached Inversnaid Hotel at a time closer to lunch than breakfast. En route passing over the bridge spanning the impressive Inversnaid Falls, which crashes down on one side of the bridge and on the other opens out into the loch in a picture postcard manner that makes you catch your breath. It must have been beautiful for I was captivated and stayed there gazing for far longer than you might have expected a coffee-deprived pup within sight of a bar to stop.
Inversnaid hotel is delightfully set up for walkers, even laying on a special ‘walker’s lounge’ where you can sit and eat your own lunch even if you’re not a customer. Though how anyone would manage to resist the coffee and scones is beyond me. So we called our scones elevenses and later stopped for a leisurely second lunch in the open air overlooking the loch and the rolling hills beyond. Travelling lends itself to hobbit-like eating habits, it seems. The sun beamed upon us, and we beamed at each other, filled with gratitude for the chance to be there in that place. Random fellow walkers occasionally stopped and exclaimed ‘how lucky are we?’, so entranced were they by the warmth and visual splendour of the surroundings.
As the afternoon wore on we passed what is supposed to be Rob Roy’s cave or hideout, and the endless undulations of the forest track along the shore of Loch Lomond gradually gave way to our first taste of moorland as we left the water behind us. The hardest terrain of the entire trail had been along this section, and we were happy to have walked it without rain making things even more slippery and precarious.
Few things have been more welcome a sight than the campsite at Beinglas Farm that night. A shop! Showers! A flat, safe looking pitch! A bar! Such luxury! Nestled in a valley with hills all around, the sense of cosy welcome was completed by a fearless robin that came to sit on our tent and sometimes our bags as we were setting up. Adorable, we thought. Right up until we realised that its intention had purely been to poop over all of our stuff. Well played Robin, well played indeed.
Still, the people were welcoming and helpful, the camaraderie among fellow walkers was palpable, and we gleefully ditched our planned dehydrated beef hotpot in a bag for a delicious beer and an enormous steak each. This wonderful bounty more than made up for the fact that the bar was inexplicably playing christmas music in early October and we caroused until, oooh, at least half past eight before retiring.
To be continued…