Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Scotland Part Three ~ Balmaha to Inverarnan

I woke up early on the morning of my second day running and knew it would be a difficult one.  I just had this looming sense about it.  Day one of running had been big ~ nearly 20 miles, and the last half was quite hot, the last 4 miles I was without water.  My night at the Oak Tree Inn in Balmaha had been quite restful, despite the popularity of the place.  I think everyone else had gone to bed fairly early as well.

I made a cup of instant coffee (Taster's Choice) in the room from the tea and coffee service tray (this would become one of the highlights of my time in Scotland) and thought to myself (after having a conversation with my tweaking stomach), "There is now way in H-E-double hockey sticks that I am going to be able to choke down a full Scottish breakfast this morning."  I tend to be not much of a breakfast eater anyway, and today was proving no different.  I packed an extra energy bar, and the extra water bottle in my pack, set my bag out for AMS Outdoors to take to my next stop, and checked out at the front desk.  (I had gotten a stamp in my log book the night before.)

I queried where the Way started from the Oak Tree Inn, and the desk clerk told me, "Just go straight down the road to the wee cottage and follow the trail up the hill."  Indeed.  There was a wee, quaint cottage, and some stone steps heading up the hill through a grove of purple wild flowers.  Ahh, the beginning of the "Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond".

"Wee cottage" at the start of Day 2, Balmaha.
Stone path heading up to the top of the first (small) hill.
I soon attained gorgeous views of the Loch from atop the first hill, and could see the marina of Balmaha down below.  The morning was cool, which was delightful compared to the heat that I had experienced the previous afternoon.  You can tell by my face that I look a bit tired, probably from the strenuousness of the day before.  Day two always seems to be a bit rough for me (from previous multi-day backpacking experience), because your body is still getting used to the fact that you will do this repeatedly day after day without a true break.
Looking just a little bit tired at the start of Day 2 ~
above Balmaha marina.
I cruised easily through the beach and campground areas on the east side of the Loch, seeing a few other walkers and hikers, then hit a pretty significant uphill up an old cobbled military road.  Then traveled through a gorgeous woods with shamrocks and wild garlic growing on the sides of the trail.  After about 6 miles, I came across the Rowardenan Hotel, and decided that with a third of my mileage down, I should probably take the opportunity to fill up my bottles, because it was likely to start warming up from this point in the day forward (10:30am).
Beach near the campground at Loch Lomond.
shamrocks on the trail
Mill of Ross ~ a small quaint cottage in the woods
on the shores of Loch Lomond.
I went in the side entrance to the Rowardenan Hotel, where there was a small check in desk.  No one was manning it.  Then I saw a woman come around the corner:  "Excuse me, could I just fill up a couple of water bottles?"  I said.  She sighed, "Well I suppose.  Come this way ~ hurry up."  Apparently she was the maid and she was busy cleaning rooms and didn't really want to be bothered by a(nother) dang hiker wanting free water.  "I'm sorry, maybe I'm in the wrong place?  Should I go around to the front?" I said.  She replied, "No, no.  It's alright.  Hurry up, this way!"  She led me into one of the guest rooms and I filled my bottles from the bathroom tap.  "I really appreciate this," I explained.  "I was out yesterday, too, and it was so hot!  I ran out of water with several miles to go and I'm trying to avoid a similar situation today."  She warmed up to me a little bit after that and said it was quite alright.  I didn't bother to get a stamp in my booklet from her, because I figured that would be just asking a bit too much!  Poor thing probably gets tired of being bothered by what seem to be such petty requests, and I can imagine that people like me (cheap-skates) are the norm, not wanting to pay 3 pounds for a bottle of water.

Rowardenan Hotel ~ site of the surly maid.
I continued up the path near the hostel, and met up with a fellow (with a larger pack than mine, maybe 25 pounds) and told him my story of the lady in the hotel.  He said he wasn't surprised and agreed that she was probably just tired of similar type requests (hope she gets used to it ~ it's only just the start of tourist season, being May.  I'd hate to see her mood come the end of August).  The fellow hiker's name was David, and he was a 50-something retired policeman from Chester, Cheshire, England.  He had done the West Highland Way before, and was thinking of doing the majority of it this time too, but might stop halfway (in Tyndrum) due to time constraints (sheesh~ time constraints?  This guy had a pack three times heavier than mine and I could barely keep up with him).

My heel started to get quite tender on the long uphill climb that we walked together (he reassured me that I was allowed to "run along ahead" at any point.  I was fine with walking this section, really.  It was starting to get warm, and the hill was about a mile and a half long and quite steep).  My heel had been bugging me a bit before I left Salt Lake City for this trip.  It hurt a lot from inactivity on the airplane, and was quite sore the night before in Balmaha while I was resting from my first day on the trail.  I was pretty sure it was a tendonitis-type thing and I tried to put thoughts of my Achilles tendon spontaneously tearing off of my heel out of my head.  But that's a hard task when every step you take is quite uncomfortable.

I got to the top of the hill and said goodbye to David, started jogging along the flats and my heel started feeling better as I wasn't flexing my ankle quite as far forward.  This would be my modus oparenandi for the day ~ a steady shuffling jog.  I picked up the pace a little on the back side of the hill and thought how nice this was.  Truly, really nice.  Then the "rough section" hit.  If it were not for the beautiful wildflowers, small brooks, wild goats and gorgeous glimpses of the Loch through the trees, I think I would have been quite discouraged by the section along the Loch.  It was quite rough, going up and down over large rocks and slowing my progress significantly from about 4 miles per hour down to about 2.  The roughness of the trail did not make my heel feel any better either.  There was actually a group of three mountain bikers in this section and I thought to myself, "Stop feeling sorry for yourself.  You could be carrying a mountain bike through this crap," and it honestly made me feel a bit better about my situation.

Inversnaid Hotel
I got to the Inversnaid Hotel, a destination Hotel reachable by a dead-end road from the east or by ferry across the Loch.  After first being greeted by a bellman who called me "love", I proceeded to the bar to get my logbook stamped.  The barmaid was a bit cool and unsociable, so I had her stamp my logbook and not wanting to trouble her for water with "ice and a slice (of lemon)" as others before me were doing, I continued on my way.

At one stream crossing I met up with a very nice Dutch couple who were eating lunch by the water.  They were having trouble too, and the heat was really starting to affect us all (it was probably around 1pm).  We still had a fair distance (about 7 miles) to go until the next stop.  They too would be staying in Crianlarich, the next main town after Inverarnan, but were hopefully going to catch the bus into town to stay in the hostel there.  I wished them a good afternoon and we said we hoped to see each other at some point farther down the Way.

One of many small brooks on the east side of the Loch.
Wild goat sighting.
Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond with a hillside of wild garlic.
There were some points along the Way on this east shore of Loch Lomond that claimed to be Rob Roy's jail and Rob Roy's cave.  I didn't stop to investigate.  I knew that I still had a full day ahead of me and that I would be challenged by the heat (80 degree temps) and long mileage, so I chalked it up to just another tourism ploy.  (Upon my reunion with Davie, I would be correct in the assumption that there are literally dozens of places that claim to be historical markers linked to Rob Roy.  Many of them probably truly are sites that I spent time at, but from what little I know of him he didn't like to settle in one spot for too long so we can't really be sure where he actually spent any length of time.)  Indeed, some of the paths that I was traveling on this day were old Drover (cattle herding) trails and it is quite likely that Rob Roy, a known cattleman, was traveling along this very route several hundred years before me.

I exited the woods at the north end of Loch Lomond and there was a small beach off to my left and a man standing on the beach with nothing but a kilt on (shirtless).  Now, I know I'm in Scotland and I should expect to see men in kilts, but honestly he looked a little weird.  Like he was really proud to be standing there with the tourists coming by looking at him wearing his kilt.  I have spoken with my Scottish friend, Davie, about men in kilts, and he too thinks it is just a little bit weird.  Davie is a native Glasgowian, and I tend to take his opinion as frank and down to Earth.

After passing the kilt-wearing fellow by the Loch and a group of twenty-somethings with huge backpacks (seriously, people, just pay the 40 pounds and have the van take your stuff for you) I was significantly distracted enough to hit my head full on (hard) on a low lying tree.  Not a branch.  A tree about 18 inches in diameter that was hung low across the trail.  It knocked me flat on my a**.  Ouch.  Shoot.  Did I have a concussion from that?  I hoped not.  Dang it, that hurt.  I quickly got up and looked around to see if anyone had seen me walk straight into the tree, and didn't see anyone else around (the twenty-somethings were not that far behind me but apparently hadn't witnessed anything as I couldn't see them anymore).  I walked a few paces and then started my shuffle-jog again, looking at the rolling hills in front of me and thinking, "it can't be much farther now (to the end of this stage)".  It was getting quite hot (2:30pm).

Abandoned farm just before the Beinglais.
The stopping point for the day was the Beinglais Farm at Inverarnan.  Before that, I ran through a beautiful high hillside above the farm with old, abandoned farm buildings and quaint stone walls, even an old over-grown apple orchard.  There were spectacular views from that hillside, and thankfully the Beinglais Farm was just below.

There is a full-service restaurant and bar at the farm, along with cabins for rent, a campground, a small snack shop, and bathrooms with free showers.  I was tempted to walk right into one of those shower stalls and turn on the cold water, I was so parched.  Instead, I went into the cool darkness of the bar, got my card stamped, and ordered a pint of ice-cold Pepsi.  The barmaid asked if I would like ice.  In my head I said, "Oh, glorious angel-barmaid it would be heaven-sent if you would fill my glass first with ice," but out loud I just said, "Yes, please."

I went outside and drank my Pepsi in the picnic area under the shade of an umbrella, and the barmaid came out and gave me some mole-skin that I had apparently dropped out of my pack when I was getting my money out.  How nice!  I really do love it here, I though to myself.

My instructions were to proceed across the bridge (the River Falloch flows into Loch Lomond at this point) to the Drovers Inn.  Fair enough, all I have to do is walk a quarter-mile farther.  Ugh, it was hot, though.  Thankfully, I had stopped for that Pepsi.

I got to the Drovers Inn and called ahead from the pay phone to Crianlarich Hotel, where I would be staying for the night.  I went across the road to the shady side, popped out my iPhone, and started reading my book (my mother always told me to bring a book with me, because you never know when you are going to be stuck waiting for someone or something, and it's a nice, productive way to pass the time).  Besides that, I couldn't get much of a phone signal to update my Facebook.  Ha!

The taxi came along in a few minutes, the driver looked at the bikers outside the pub (the Drovers Inn is a notorious biker-bar) and I popped up just as he must have been thinking to himself, "Well, none of these fellows fit the description of the person I'm supposed to pick up."

We had a nice chat on the 10 minute drive to the next town and the hotel (I only understood about half of what Colin, the taxi driver was saying in his thick, rural-Scottish accent).  I arrived at the hotel and Fiona, a really nice young lady with a smart, asymmetric haircut checked me in.  I retrieved my bag from the hallway drying room (Hot!) and lugged it up to my room (hoping that my chocolate wouldn't be too badly melted in my bag).
Route signs in English and Gaelic in the
town of Crianlarich.
Now in the room, I looked at the coffee/tea service tray which had yummy biscuits (cookies) on it and thought, I'll get right on that!  I looked at what appeared to be closet doors in the room, thinking maybe the bathroom was down the hall, but then magically when I opened the doors, a small bathroom appeared behind them!  Score!  I figured out how to turn on the shower, got cleaned up, and took a spot on the bed with my coffee and cookies (Taster's Choice and chocolate biscuits).  Heaven.

That night I ate a delicious burger and chips (fries) in the Hotel restaurant.  It was really quiet and there were only a handful of guests there.  I drank a pint of Deuchars Ale, took a little stroll down the street to stretch my legs, and was in bed by 8pm (the beer pretty much knocked me out).

Looking back on the day, it was a tough day in the heat, but I met so many great people along this stage of the Way, it made the difficulties a lot more tolerable and relatively insignificant.  I made a plan to get up early in the morning and lined up my taxi ride with Fiona at the front desk so that I could get back to Inverarnan and not miss any section of the trail.

On the day:  22.18 miles, 7hr 30min (including stoppage time).

To be continued...  (Day 3 of 5, Inverarnan to Inveroran next).

Footnote:  I was actually thinking, after passing through the town of Inverarnan and the Drovers Inn, that it wouldn't be a bad place to stay.  I just looked up the history on it, and it is notoriously *haunted*.  Strike that desire to ever want to stay there!  In hindsight, it was just a little bit creepy in there, although the barmaid and the bikers outside seemed to be friendly enough.  I'd hate to know what happens around there in the wee hours of the morning.  If you want to read more about Drovers, click here.

Continue to Part Four here.

1 comment:

  1. My favorite picture is the one with the shamrocks! Keep the recaps coming...love to hear about it!