#69 …AND I HAVE WALKED 500 MORE

Yes, I have walked 500 miles and now I’ve walked 500 more: LEJoG Day 69

Day 69 pre-amble

You knew this was coming once I reached the 1000 mile mark, surely.

LEJoG Day 69 (Saturday 19 September 2020)

Inversnaid to Tyndrum (19½ miles)

Cumulative: 1,006 miles! And without walking into the sea as well.

Facts: Time on walk: 6 hours 50 minutes. Average speed: 2.85mph. Weather: Cool but close morning, warm from lunchtime onwards.

Practicalities: Breakfast at 8:15. I ordered it (along with a packed lunch) the night before but don’t remember whether it was a full cooked breakfast. Fairly sure it must have been, although it was probably the smallest of the week.  For the first time this week, my bags hadn’t been picked up by Sherpa Van (Travel-Lite) before I was ready to check out. The guy at the restaurant assured me they’d turn up by late morning. Left the caravan at 9:45 and walked back down the hill to Inversnaid Hotel car park.

The walk

Start: Inversnaid Hotel car park, 10:05am. End: Brodie’s village store, Tyndrum, 6:00pm.

The only OS map required is OL39 Loch Lomond North (linked yesterday). Inversnaid is about ¾ of the way up the south sheet and Tyndrum near the top of the north sheet. My next map also covers the area south of Tyndrum but I will link that tomorrow.

This is the longest day of the week, in terms of both mileage and time. Trailblazer split this section into three. The first third, from Inversnaid to Inverarnan, is described thus:

This 6½ miles provides some of the best walking so far. It has a repuation for being one of the hardest sections of the Way but recent improvements have made it significantly easier.

I’m tempted to insert a quizzical GIF here. Apart from the first mile, which is pretty flat and straightforward, the rest of the walk along the shore of Loch Lomond was easily the least enjoyable walking of the week. It was also the slowest. I imagined yesterday’s low route (which was strongly advised against) to have been something like this. There are a lot of rocks and boulders to climb up, down and around. There are jutting tree roots. Several streams need to be negotiated, and those who remember the South West Coast Path know that means a lot of descending and ascending. OK, the Cornish cliffs were much higher, but these crags are steep and the terrain is so rough that fatigue is still a danger. Another potential issue is tedium, because you can’t see the end of Loch Lomond for well over an hour, and it’s easy to wonder how long you have to keep this up before you reach a decent stretch of footpath.

I have to wonder what it was like before the improvements.

Among the landmarks on or close to this section is Rob Roy’s Cave. It’s slightly off route, difficult to access and this was a long day so I didn’t look too hard for it. As on Day 68, the views of Loch Lomond are often interrupted by overhanging branches. There aren’t many good vantage points until the loch begins to narrow.

Early view of the most northerly part of Loch Lomond

Western shore and A82, just south of Ardlui

Just after Ardlui comes into view to the west, you enter a field and walk inland, away from the eastern shore. The path was wet underfoot, even after several days of lovely weather, so don’t expect to be jumping for joy that you’ve escaped the craggy nonsense. After passing Doune Bothy and a ruined castle, you will walk parallel with the shore of Loch Lomond for another ¼ mile, then head inland, never to get this close again.

View of Ardlui (settlement on far shore), from close to Doune Bothy (ruins visible on near shore)

After crossing a bridge, there’s a major junction of footpaths: left to the Ardlui ferry and straight on along the West Highland Way. Then comes a mild but sustained climb away from Loch Lomond and on towards Inverarnan. The walking is much more comfortable by now, and broadly level. The WHW doesn’t actually visit Inverarnan, instead ploughing straight through Beinglas Farm Campsite (keep your eyes peeled for the path leading away).

At last you’re now walking along a wide track and can really push on. Often on long days I will try and pass the halfway mark before stopping for lunch. However, as the weather was warming up rapidly, I stopped within a mile of passing Inverarnan (12:55 – 1:30). Ate the packed lunch on a grass embankment just before a sharp little ascent by the River Falloch. Took the opportunity to re-pack, removing my coat and unzippng my walking trousers down to shorts (bless you North Face).

The easy walking across Glen Falloch offers plenty of photo opportunities – unfortunately my phone battery died again here, so here are the last two photographs of the day:

Across the A82 towards the West Highland Line (girder bridge visible just right of centre), from Glen Falloch

Rapids, near Glen Falloch

Just in case the walk became too easy and relaxing at this point, the Way threw me its first real curveball. The bridge over Allt a’ Chuilinn (a tributary of the River Falloch) was closed due to a landslip, and walkers were obliged to follow the tributary upstream for about 500 metres before joining a new path. I don’t think the diversion added more than 10 minutes to my walking time, but the hillside climb was a rude interruption nevertheless.

For several miles, the West Highland Way sticks close to both the A82 and the West Highland railway line. This inescapable triumvirate of Scottish Highland routes really dominates the mid-section of today’s walk. After completing the descent from Glen Falloch, you negotiate two underpasses: the first (very low!) under the railway and the second under the road. Now on the north-west flank of the A82, there’s a steep little climb away from the road before you join another wide, easy track that runs all the way to the Crianlarich Turn. The expansive views of distant mountain peaks in all directions, and Caledonian pine forest on the far side of the A82, are quite exhilarating. Dumgoyne, Conic Hill and Ben Lomond were teasing glimpses, but I think it’s only now that you begin to feel like you’re on the verge of the true Highlands.

The Crianlarich Turn…

After 13½ miles there’s a sign for the village of Crianlarich. In my guidebook, this point marks the end of the second section of today’s walk. It’s a hugely significant landmark, hence the capitalisation and sub-heading. Not only is it the halfway point of the West Highland Way, but (give or take ¼ mile of climbing into the conifer plantation above) it denotes the 1,000 mile point in my LEJoG walk!

Obviously I wanted to take a photo from the plantation viewpoint, but the phone had let me down. So I sought one out:

View of Ben More (east of Crianlarich) from the West Highland Way 

(photograph credited to Jim Barton at geograph.org.uk)

Apart from the cloud and snow-top, that’s what the view from 1,000 miles would have looked like today.

To savour the milestone I took two breaks: the first at the viewpoint (3:30 – 3:35) and the second after a few minutes more climbing (3:40 – 4:05). The second stop involved reaching a clearing, dropping everything, lying down, closing my eyes and staying there. One minute’s rest for every 40 miles walked.

…and onwards

The last 6 miles isn’t the most exciting. That enticing wide open space before the turn for Crianlarich is now replaced by dense woodland. One of those endless, undulating paths eventually takes you (via a steep closing descent) back to the A82. After crossing the road, a lane leads the walker past Kirkton Farm and Strathfillan campsite. From here it’s back under the A-road again to join a path by the River Fillan. On your right, take a narrow path through heather and on into a pine wood, emerging near Tyndrum Lower Station. A short section of road walking, another riverside path and a small residential complex and – quite suddenly – you find yourself near the busy A82/A85 road junction in the middle of Tyndrum itself. Brodie’s village store is across the road and makes the ideal starting point for the next day’s walk.

After the walk

I checked in at the Tyndrum Inn, just 100 yards or so from Brodie’s. Apart from the Kingshouse and Alexandra Hotels, this was comfortably the largest accommodation on my West Highland Way. The restaurant was in a different building from the hotel and bar, for example. Everything about it was decent, if unspectacular. Evening meal 8pm. Single malt watch: Glenfiddich (which I’ve had before).

Postscript – My Listening Pleasure

Caught up with two editions of Remainiacs during the tricky first couple of hours. No further listening after that – saving phone battery for photos again.

Second postscript – A Bit More Craig and Charlie: The 50FootHead Awards!

I thought I’d celebrate 1000 miles by announcing (should that be ‘proclaiming’?) the awards for best and worst so far on 50FootHead. Awards for the first 500 miles (Days 1 – 36) will be the ‘Craigs’ and for the second 500 miles (Days 36 – 69) the ‘Charlies’. So without further ado…

THE CRAIGS (Days 1 to 36: the first 500 miles)

Best day

GOLDEN CRAIG: Day 1 (Land’s End to Zennor) – one of the slowest (see below) and toughest, and I was nowhere near as fit as I would be 15 months later. However, its monumental significance transcends all of that. That you were actually doing this, that it had become more than an idea, that you finished it instinctively knowing you’d go all the way (health permitting). Psychologically it was massive. Plus beautiful scenery and great weather.

SILVER CRAIG: Day 28 (Ledbury to Great Malvern) – a hill-walker’s playground, superb weather, magnificent views, relatively short distance (the second shortest walk since leaving Minehead) and peak Chart Music, two days after completing the purchase of my first house. What more could you ask for?

BRONZE CRAIG: Day 11 (Bude to Hartland Quay) – without doubt one of the most challenging days of the whole walk, but all the more memorable and satisfying for that. If you want one day to sum up the South West Coast experience, this is it.

Best weather/conditions

GOLD: Day 4 (Portreath to Perranporth) – the day after this was too hot and I had hay fever, but this one was pure summer beach holiday with just enough breeze.

SILVER: Day 28 (Ledbury to Great Malvern) – sure there was cloud, and the summer of 2018 had many warmer days. But plenty were just too hot, whereas this one was spot on for someone climbing seven hills.

BRONZE: Day 16 (Simonsbath to Minehead) – that said, it’s only fair to pick one of those days from the great long heatwave of 2018, and I’ve gone for a spring day that resembled high summer, where the skies were blue and the heat not too onerous.

Best moment

GOLD: Drinking that Leffe blonde at the Tinners Arms, Zennor, Day 1

SILVER: The inspiring, nostalgic sight of Fistral Beach, Newquay, approached in a completely new way, Day 5

BRONZE: Photographing the Clifton Suspension Bridge and savouring what turned out to be the last few hours of the 2018 heatwave, Day 23

Best view

GOLD: The Clifton Suspension Bridge from above, Day 23 (actually taken Day 24) – as any GB map will show, this is a real watershed for LEJoG, marking the end of the West Country and the point where you begin to head (almost) unrelentingly north.

SILVER: Land’s End, Day 1 – to represent the many stupendous views offered by the South West Coast Path. If you’re not inspired when you take your inevitable photo of Land’s End, you probably shouldn’t bother with LEJoG.

BRONZE: Overlooking Cheddar village and reservoir from Cheddar Gorge, Day 22

Best accommodation

GOLD: The Old School House, Sampford Brett (Day 17)

SILVER: Copper Beech House, Great Malvern (Day 28) – Great Malvern running away with the Jimmy White award for runner-up spots here.

BRONZE: Bewdley Hill House, Kidderminster (Day 30)

Narrowly missing a medal: St. Bernards Guest House, Newquay (Days 4 and 5)

Worst day

GOLD: Day 27 (Ross-on-Wye to Ledbury) – the “why bother?” episode and polar opposite to Day 1

SILVER: Day 19 (Bishops Lydeard to Bridgwater) – (Patrick Allen voice) Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Britain’s worst spy, navigator and rancher, Mr Ben Wainless!

BRONZE: Day 31 (Kidderminster to Hagley) – genuinely the dullest stage of LEJoG by more than eight miles.

Worst weather/conditions

GOLD: Day 8 (Port Isaac to Boscastle) – at least it gave me my favourite post title!

SILVER: Day 25 (Chepstow to Monmouth) – the only fully Welsh stage saw heavy rain in the afternoon, after a storm the previous night.

BRONZE: Day 5 (Perranporth to Newquay) – going counter-intuitive here: it was just too bloody HOT, my eyes were running and I had no shades.

Worst moment

GOLD: Navigational error near Oakenford Farm taking me back to Goathurst (Day 19) – this, combined with the diversion already caused by cows, added 3 miles to the day.

SILVER: Needing to unload baggage on another hot day and wait for parents in a layby near Greinton (Day 20)

BRONZE: The Friesian Standoff (Day 24)

(No awards for worst view and worst accommodation: the first because there’s no such thing and the second because there’s no need to celebrate negativity. It was probably obvious to the reader anyway, and it’s not the caravan.)

THE CHARLIES (Days 36 to 69: the second 500 miles)

Best day

GOLDEN CHARLIE: Day 46 (Malham to Horton-in-Ribblesdale) – for Pen-y-Ghent, Malham Cove and Fountains Fell

SILVER CHARLIE: Day 67 (Milngavie to Balmaha) – for Conic Hill, views of Loch Lomond, weather, general scenery

BRONZE CHARLIE: Day 40 (Edale to Torside) – for Kinder Scout (I’m biased, I love it), Bleaklow and descent

Best weather/conditions

GOLD: Day 67 (Milngavie to Balmaha) – the definition of perfect walking weather

SILVER: Day 62 (Peebles to Carlops) – such a blessed relief after Days 60 and 61

BRONZE: Day 51 (Langdon Beck to Dufton) – perhaps too warm and not enough wind approaching Dufton, otherwise beautiful with a cooling breeze

Best moment

GOLD: Reveal of Pen-y-Ghent, Day 46

SILVER: Conic Hill, Robyn and Loch Lomond, Day 67

BRONZE: The heart flying as I arrived in Dovedale, Day 36

Best view

GOLD: High Cup Nick, Day 51

SILVER: From Bore Stane, looking left to right (west to east) from the Forth Bridge to Edinburgh, Day 63

BRONZE: From Conic Hill across Loch Lomond, Day 67

I’m distinguishing between a great view which you can admire for a long time, and a great moment such as the reveal of Pen-y-ghent’s unusual shape after a long ascent.

Best accommodation

GOLD: Middle Studfold Farm, Horton-in-Ribblesdale (Day 46) – perfect end to a perfect walk.

SILVER: Forest View Walkers’ Inn, Byrness (Days 55 and 56– hope Colin and Joyce are thoroughly enjoying their well-deserved retirement and the new owners are flourishing as well as they can in these abysmal times. (One day later) I’ve now checked Trip Advisor and they’ve delayed their retirement, completing another season in the shadow of Covid-19. I guess a potential new owner would have withdrawn from the purchase once the lockdown was imposed, and it would have been unfair for anyone to take it on in the circumstances. Colin and Joyce deserve a special ‘Heroes of LEJoG’ award.

BRONZE: Windy Harbour Farm, Torside (Day 40) – sealed a medal with the pick-up service.

The closest-fought category of all. Honourable mentions to the Old Swan Inn, Gargrave (Day 45), Dufton YHA (Day 51), the Green Tree Hotel, Peebles (Day 61) and the Oak Tree Inn at Balmaha (Day 67).

Worst day

GOLD: Day 60 (Melrose to Traquair) – absolutely no contest. I hope it wins the overall award, because that would mean no day between Fort William and John o’ Groats rivals it.

SILVER: Day 65 (Linlithgow to Kilsyth) – atrocious weather and nothing to look at apart from canals. Apart from when I was diverted… along busy roads. 

BRONZE: Day 59 (Jedburgh to Melrose) – blisters and fitness issues after a year without consecutive long day walks; horrible convoluted route; dull finish.

Worst weather/conditions

GOLD: Day 60 (Melrose to Traquair) – once again, no contest.

SILVER: Day 65 (Linlithgow to Kilsyth) – unquestionably the most relentless rain, but Day 60 had very high winds, dense fog and significant elevation to cope with as well.

BRONZE: Day 37 (Dovedale to Miller’s Dale) – I’d almost forgotten this one. It didn’t rain as hard as on Day 65, and the clouds relented in the last half hour. Otherwise, grim. And much colder.

Worst moment

GOLD: After the worst day walk of my life, dragging myself through an extra 1½ miles along roads to Innerleithen, arriving at the Corner House Hotel to find it closed, having to phone the owner with less than 5% battery, desperately hoping to get through and speak to someone. And it was STILL RAINING. Utter misery.

SILVER: The moment when I realised just how bad Day 60 was going to get: at the Three Brethren with no mobile battery, very low visibility and complete exposure to high winds, gale-force gusts and driving winds. With two hours before I could descend.

BRONZE: The bogs approaching Black Hill, south of Greenhead (Day 53)

I’ll revisit the awards at the end of the journey, announcing overall winners.

Finally, some facts and feats (non-judgemental) from the first 69 days/1000 miles.

Longest days (mileage)

  1. Day 15 (Barnstaple to Simonsbath) – 24½ miles
  2. Day 54 (Greenhead to Bellingham) – 22½ miles
  3. Day 65 (Linlithgow to Kilsyth) – 20½ miles

Four days share 4th place with 19½ miles (Days 37, 44, 64 and this one, Day 69).

Longest days (walking time)

  1. Day 15 (Barnstaple to Simonsbath) – 7 hours 55 minutes
  2. Day 54 (Greenhead to Bellingham) – 7 hours 30 minutes
  3. Day 60 (Melrose to Traquair) – 7 hours
  4. Day 1 (Land’s End to Zennor) – 6 hours 55 minutes
  5. = Day 11 (Bude to Hartland Quay) and this one, Day 69 (Inversnaid to Tyndrum) – 6 hours 50 minutes

Quickest average speed

  1. Day 35 (Rugeley to Uttoxeter) – 3.80mph
  2. Day 32 (Hagley to Birmingham Gas Street Basin) – 3.74mph
  3. Day 17 (Minehead to Sampford Brett) – 3.71mph
  4. Day 31 (Kidderminster to Hagley) – 3.69mph
  5. = Day 14 (Bideford to Barnstaple) and Day 33 (Birmingham Gas Street Basin to Sutton Park) – 3.64mph

I really put a spurt on in the West Midlands, huh? I had just got back to my old waist size and weight, and wasn’t carrying a rucksack.

Shortest days (mileage)

  1. Day 39 (Castleton to Edale) – 4½ miles
  2. Day 2 (Zennor to St. Ives) – 6 miles
  3. Day 45 (Gargrave to Malham) – 6 miles (slightly longer than Day 2)
  4. Day 38 (Miller’s Dale to Castleton) – 6½ miles
  5. Day 9 (Boscastle to Crackington Haven) – 7 miles

Shortest days (walking time)

  1. Day 39 (Castleton to Edale) – 1 hour 40 minutes
  2. Day 45 (Gargrave to Malham) – 2 hours
  3. Day 38 (Miller’s Dale to Castleton) – 2 hours, higher mileage
  4. Day 31 (Kidderminster to Hagley) – 2 hours 10 minutes
  5. Day 23 (Chew Magna to Bristol) – 2 hours 40 minutes

Slowest average speed

  1. Day 2 (Zennor to St. Ives) – 1.80mph
  2. Day 9 (Boscastle to Crackington Haven) – 2.15mph
  3. Day 61 (Traquair to Peebles) – 2.45mph
  4. Day 1 (Land’s End to Zennor) – 2.46mph
  5. Day 11 (Bude to Hartland Quay) – 2.49mph

The cliffs of the South West Coast Path and that pre-summer 2018 extra stone or two really telling here. Day 61 was due to sweaty tiredness the morning after the worst day of the whole walk, a brief navigational error and probably the pizza and chocolate from the previous night.

Average mileage per day

Overall (1006 in 69 days): 14.58 miles

First 500 miles (513 in 36 days): 14.25 miles

Second 500 miles (493 in 33 days): 14.94 miles

Other milestones (approximate)

100 miles – Above Tregardock Beach, 4½ miles out of Port Isaac, Cornwall, Day 8 (1 April 2018)

200 miles – Crossroads near Devon/Somerset border, 3½ miles from Simonsbath, Day 15 (5 May 2018)

250 miles – Near Broomfield village, 5½ miles out of Bishops Lydeard, Somerset, Day 19 (28 May 2018)

300 miles – Near Charterhouse, 6½ miles out of Cheddar, Somerset, Day 22 (25 June 2018)

400 miles – Great Malvern, ½ mile before Copper Beech House, Worcestershire, Day 28 (4 August 2018)

500 miles – Doveridge Clay Sports Club, 2 miles out of Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, Day 36 (13 October 2018)

600 miles – Reservoir Road, Stanbury, ½ mile from bridleway sign near Haworth, West Yorkshire, Day 44 (4 May 2019)

700 miles –  Between Cauldron Snout and Birkdale Farm, near Durham/Cumbria border, 4 miles out of Langdon Beck, Day 51 (23 July 2019)

750 miles – Caw Gap, on Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland, 5 miles out of Greenhead, Day 54 (20 August 2019)

800 miles – Turn for the Cheviot, Pennine Way, Northumberland, 4 miles from Russell’s Cairn, Day 57 (23 August 2019)

900 miles – Scott Russell Aqueduct, passing over A720 City of Edinburgh Bypass, 2 miles from Union Canal junction with Water of Leith, Day 64 (24 August 2020)

1000 miles – Viewpoint above turn for Crianlarich, West Highland Way, Stirling council area, Scotland, Day 69 (19 September 2020)

This really illustrates how many miles you have to do in the West Country before you really feel like you’re making northward progress. After 350 miles I was approximately at the Severn Crossing. 350 miles from the foot of Britain, and I’d barely even made it above the shin.

 

Picture of Craig and Charlie Reid (The Proclaimers) from memegenerator.net. I wanted to include the text originally, but my WordPress theme tends to cut the top and bottom of header images. In any case this would have obscured the post title, so I changed it from ‘A Bit More Craig and Charlie’ to ‘…And I Have Walked 500 More’.

Next: Day 70 (20 September 2020)… in which I reach another ‘Inver’, but this time I’m ‘inver’ hotel not ‘inver’ caravan 🙂

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