Hogwarts LEJoG Day 68
Day 68 pre-amble
68 days in and I think that’s the first Harry Potter reference on 50FootHead. I read all of the books between 2003 and 2007 but wouldn’t call myself a “fan” as such. For example: I haven’t seen all of the films, thought Order of the Phoenix was absurdly over-long without the plot to justify it, and have no interest in seeing or reading Cursed Child. The Prisoner of Azkaban is brilliant though – it may be my favourite because it combines the story-telling devices of two of my favourite childhood films. (That would be this and this.)
For those unfamiliar with the Potter mythos, here’s a quick guide to invisibility cloaks (although I’m sure you could work out their purpose). And as for their bearing on my walk, here comes the explanation. This was a day on which Loch Lomond is a constant companion. As such I expected to be constantly spoiled by spectacular views across the lake. However, the West Highland Way does not always hug the shore. Often the mountains are obscured by trees. And, most notably of all, a dense mist profoundly affected visibility for most of the morning. Eventually the sun burst through and the fog lifted, making for an intriguing progression of photgraphs.
These multiple impediments to visual splendour gave me the title ‘Invisibility Cloaks’. I hope the pictures help to illustrate how this unusual day panned out.
LEJoG Day 68 (Friday 18 September 2020)
Balmaha to Inversnaid (15½ miles)
Cumulative: 986½ miles
Facts: Time on walk: 4 hours 50 minutes. Average speed: 3.21 mph. Weather: Foggy morning, lifting by lunchtime. Cool start, mild by lunch, warmer afternoon, very warm by finish.
Practicalities: Booked breakfast for 8am. It was ENORMOUS, much more so than yesterday’s Premier Inn effort. Good helping of muesli, toast, huge ‘full English’ breakfast. I would say ‘full Scottish’, but I was yet to indulge in morning haggis, black pudding or square sausage. Took quite a while digesting it in my room before starting the walk. The Sherpa Van drop-off was just before 8am, incidentally. Checked out at 9:55am and bought a couple of rolls from the village shop.
Start: Green opposite Oak Tree Inn, Balmaha, 10:05am. End: Inversnaid Hotel car park, 4:00pm, then a 15-minute walk (mainly uphill) to Inversnaid Bunkhouse.
This walk continues on OL38 Loch Lomond South (linked yesterday), changing to OL39 Loch Lomond North just after Anchorage Cottage, around 4 miles in.
The route starts with a short stretch of road walking (pavement available). You will pass the boatyard, jetty and small harbour. This was the first photo opportunity.
Balmaha harbour, shrouded in mist
That’s not a deceptive picture: the fog was concealing the loch entirely. The nearby island of Inchailloch was invisible, and as for the western shore, forget it. Visibility was ok on the walking route, but anyone expecting lakeland vistas would be sorely disappointed this morning.
On leaving the road, there’s a stiff little climb to Craigie Fort and a similarly precipitous descent back to the shores of Loch Lomond. For the next half mile you alternate between the beach and a wooded path. Below is the view from the beach:
Yes, it’s still foggy (Loch Lomond beach, about 15 minutes out of Balmaha)
After passing a car park and an information point for the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, you join the road between Balmaha and Rowardennan. The route sticks closely to the road for half a mile before branching left and climbing through a wood. I was reminded of some days on the South West Coast Path, particularly in Devon, where your view is dominated far more by trees than water. Much of today’s route was like this actually, mist or sun.
The path rejoins the road and takes you past Cashel Farm and Anchorage Cottage. Soon after that it’s back into the woods on the left, for a steeper climb around a large crag. Trailblazer describe this as “superb walking through oak woodland”: on another day I might have appreciated it more, but I was still frustrated by the ongoing lack of Loch. Eventually you emerge at a car park near Sallochy. Some young ‘uns (in their 20s maybe) were preparing to surf, there were picnic tables and a campsite nearby. I thought it was a good place for a 5-minute snack stop. The time was about 11:45am.
As noon approached and the sun became brighter, Loch Lomond’s invisibility cloak began to lift. I captured some of this in real time near Sallochy Bay.
Mist on Loch Lomond, near Sallochy Bay, obscuring Beinn Dubh across the water (time 11:37)
Mist lifting a little further round the bay, at a cove near the University Field Station (time 11:48)
It was now starting to look like a beautiful late summer Friday.
Shortly after this cove is a 90m climb back into the woods – easily the hardest of the day. I had covered 5 miles and, according to my guidebook, there were only 2 more miles to Rowardennan, where I planned to stop for lunch. But this section took me another 50 minutes from Sallochy, and my watch read 8 miles (rather than 7) when I arrived there. There was a lot of undulation in the wood. Once again Loch Lomond was largely hidden, although there were tantalising glimpses of Ben Lomond in the middle distance.
A clear view of Ben Lomond (usually hidden by trees on the path to Rowardennan)
Rowardennan is a small village about halfway along today’s walk, and the end of Stage 2 (from Drymen) in the Trailblazer guide to the West Highland Way. It’s also the base for those climbing nearby Ben Lomond, the most southerly Munro. To the passing walker, Rowardennan is dominated by the huge car park at the foot of the Ben Lomond path. As there were picnic tables right by the shore of Loch Lomond, and as visibility had improved dramatically in the midday sun, I decided to take a long lunch. Stayed here for fully 50 minutes (12:40 – 1:30).
View from Rowardennan to the western shore of Loch Lomond
As you can see above (and in the header image), the views were worth waiting for.
The first mile and a half out of Rowardennan is flat and easy. Just after Ptarmigan Lodge there’s a choice between a low route which sticks close to the shore, and a higher route via a forestry track. This was not a difficult choice. By all accounts the lower route is fairly nightmarish – fallen trees, short and steep climbs, rough, rocky terrain throughout. It’s worth paying the price of a short and not especially testing ascent to stick with the forest path. (Note: this decision looks even wiser after the first few miles out of Inversnaid tomorrow…)
Of the forest track there is little to say. Once again you’ll be grateful for the views of Loch Lomond from Rowardennan, because you won’t see much of it, or its mountainous western shores, from the path. Here’s a rare moment where the trees allow the walker to peek at a peak:
The high and low routes are reunited near Rowchoish Bothy. The rest of the walk to Inversnaid, rather like the last few miles from Sallochy to Rowardennan, is an undulating blend of rocky paths and woodland. Only with more rocks this time. Again it seems to drag on for longer than the guidebook indicates: eventually I recorded 15½ miles today compared to the 14 suggested by Trailblazer. It should be said that one or two of the later stages seemed to overstate the mileage, and I ended up at 96½ miles on the watch, compared to the 96-mile official distance.
The path was also at its busiest in these last 2-3 miles. I stopped for 10 minutes on a log bench near Cailness and was passed by a dozen walkers, most of whom I came across again after re-starting. Overall though today’s stage was much quieter than yesterday’s. Finally Inversnaid welcomes you with a spectacular waterfall – perhaps fittingly for today, veiled by greenery.
The (part-invisible) waterfall at Inversnaid
There are two main accommodation options in Inversnaid. The first is the Inversnaid Hotel, whose car park denotes the end of today’s walk (that’s a gorgeous picture in the link by the way). At the jetty you can relax and enjoy arguably the day’s finest views of Loch Lomond:
View west from Inversnaid Hotel
View north west from Inversnaid Hotel
That early mist seems an awful long time ago now, right?
After the walk
My accommodation, the Inversnaid Bunkhouse, was 15 minutes’ walk away. The first 5-10 minutes is a strenuous climb up a winding road with blind bends. I’d booked a dorm bed but had already been told this was no longer permitted due to COVID-19. The proprietor said I would be upgraded to a “caravan”. Rather foolishly I allowed myself to think this was a hostel insider’s term for a basic single room. I was wrong.
It was literally a caravan. That one there, in the picture.
Well you have to laugh and make do, right? The blind came off the window the first time I tried to close it, there wasn’t a lot of space and I’ve never in my life felt more incentivised to get in a sleeping bag before 10pm on a Friday night. In passing, you can’t help but wonder about the life choices that led you to be a single 40-something man sleeping in a tiny caravan in Scotland on a lonely Friday. In my case it was a slightly unsettling reminder of the weeks I spent living in a caravan the summer after graduation (it’s complicated, right!).
Anyway, apart from that, the Inversnaid Bunkhouse could not have done a better job accommodating people in a plague year. The bathroom facilities were adequate, once you got used to traipsing in and out from and to the outdoor caravan. The restaurant and bar were the night’s saving grace: a three course meal* for under £15 and a cracking selection of beers. I had two half-litre bottles of Fraoch Heather Ale. Can’t imagine anything going down much better after a day by the loch to be honest. No malt whisky tonight though.
*actually they’d run out of my chosen dessert, but I had a great big piece of flapjack anyway.
Postscript – My Listening Pleasure
Nothing between Balmaha and Rowardennan – too much road walking. Another full blast of Body Talk on the forest path though.
Picture (18 September 2020) shows the view north from the shore of Loch Lomond at Rowardennan towards Tarbet and the Arrochar Alps.
Next: Day 69 (19 September 2020)… in which I fall down at your door.