Saturday, March 10, 2007

Day 47 : Drymen to Inverarnen

Friday 2nd March 2007

Distance Walked: 24.7 miles
Start Time: 7:51
End Time: 17:26
Elapsed Time: 9:35
Weather: Atmospheric. Then very wet.
Distance walked so far: 868 miles

Loch Lomond has the largest surface area of any body of fresh water in the country, and today I walked its entire length, transfixed by the moody beauty of it all. The waters were still, the clouds slowly drifting across the peaks, and the grey morning light reflecting on the surface like a seductive mirror. This is a special place.

From the tiny harbour town of Balmaha, the Way attempts to hug the shoreline as it winds northwestwards. It largely fails in this pursuit, forced onto the road that leads towards Rowardennan, or settling for tracks through the wooded lands that sit by the water, but occasionally the path emerges on the very edge of the loch itself, at deserted stony beaches where the gnarly trees protrude from the water in sinister ways. Somewhere up above is Ben Lomond, the southernmost of the munros (the peaks above 3000ft that denote mountain status), but the overhanging fir trees prevent any view of it. It's the sporadic glimpses of water that dominate, each new vista exposing another delight as another island becomes visible or a brief burst of sunshine changes the greys to greens and browns. It’s splendid stuff, each new image inviting admiration and calm reflection.

But I had many miles to cover, for again my ambitions were threatening to cripple me. Passing through the logical stopping points of Rowardennan and Inversnaid, with their inviting but bland hotels, I pressed on. The literature says that the section of the way between Inversnaid and Inverarnen is the most difficult of the entire West Highland Way, scrambling sharply over rocks, roots and roughage, so of course, at that point, the rain began to fall to add an extra dimension to the challenge. It was certainly hard going, the prospect of slipping into the water never far from reality, but somehow both a snapped ankle and soaked arse was avoided. If you’re wondering what the perfect soundtrack for such an activity might be, try the soundtrack to “Shaun Of The Dead”. It worked for me and, as the last dregs of light faded along with the signals on the GPS and mobile, the clouds rolled in and I finally reached the point where the huge expanse of water narrows, almost inconceivably, to a minor river.

Once again, I hadn’t booked ahead for a place to stay, so all day there was the nagging concern that I was heading towards disaster but, though the facilities at Beinglas were closed, a treat was in store across the bridge in Inverarnen. The Drovers Inn claims that it’s not a Scottish theme pub. If so, this is what all theme pubs aspire to, for it’s a wonderfully evocative place. Three hundred years of history accumulating in the wonky rooms, held together with spittle and dust. The roaring fires in the wooded bar encourage celtic cavorting, as do the kilted barstaff, though they’re actually from the southern hemisphere and slightly tetchy.

They provide me with shelter, though, and a thoroughly decent feed, before I retreat upstairs as the bar band begins to twang the life from a dozen Americana classics. In the rickety bedroom there’s a rickety bedside cabinet, with a Gideon’s Bible stashed within. Inside the front cover somebody has scribbled, “All the best, God”. Unfortunately, that somebody was me.

Song of the day:

Richard Ashcroft
“Check the Meaning”

When I'm low, and I'm weak, and I'm lost
I don't know who I can trust
Paranoia, the destroyer, comes knocking on my door
You know the pain drifts to days, turns to nights
But it slowly will subside
And when it does, I take a step, I take a breath
And wonder what I'll find

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