Day 23 Saturday 4th June Rest Day – Day trip to Edinburgh

A welcome day off and a chance to catch up. Thanks to everyone viewing and adding comments to the blog. Reading your comments really does help, so please feel free to add comments and let us know you are reading the blog and give us your news too. To date the blog has been visited by 19 of you so do pass the blog on to others who might be interested or who find it difficult to sleep. 
We walked to the nearest rail station at Kirknewton, because we felt we needed some exercise and fresh air (the tent being no place for fresh air after a curry the previous evening) and hopped on the train to the Scottish capital. It felt fitting to be in Edinburgh almost 10 years to the day since we were both together visiting the city. Our visit 10 years ago was to run in the Edinburgh marathon, which that year was held on 11 June, which is Lynn’s birthday. Lynn wanted to be as far away as possible that year as her birthday was a ‘big one’ ending in an 0. Those numerate among you will have worked out therefore that in a weeks time Lynn is also due a ‘big birthday’ and once again we had to be far away. The blog censor prevents any more clues being given as to the exact birthdays. Happy memories were brought back as we visited the marathon start point on Princess Street. In those days we could both run a little faster and Lynn did her second fastest ever marathon finishing in 3hrs 25 mins 50 secs and was 21st female overall and 7th in her age group. Steve ran it in 3 hrs 13mins 28 secs and got a banana. This visit we settled for buying an ice cream.

As ever our first port of call was a Wetherspoons and a grand one indeed called the ‘Standing Order’ and built within the old Union Bank of Scotland premises with each room named after a railway engineer. 

It was sad to see the news on the TV reporting the death of Muhammad Ali, one of Steve’s sporting heroes. Steve remembers as a youngster watching many of his bouts on TV together with his Dad. Steve had the privilege of meeting him when Ali visited Birmingham in 1984.

At the time Steve worked for a nightclub owner as a general gofer and his boss had bought a table of tickets for a ‘Meet Ali’ black tie charity event hosted by the Birmingham Men’s Sporting Club to entertain the club’s best customers. His boss fell ill with a bad back and could not move so Steve had to host the table. The clubs clients all had plenty of money and knew how to drink – Steve didn’t. After a film of Ali’s fights was shown Ali invited questions from the floor. He would take his time answering but he always managed a gracious and entertaining answer. One drunken idiot at the back of the room got up and asked Ali if it were true that Angelo Dundee had deliberately cut his glove in the Henry Cooper fight (a cut glove allegedly causing the cut to Henry’ s eye which ended the fight, Henry having floored Ali earlier in the fight). The room went very quiet but in an instant the old sparkle behind Ali’s eyes turned on and in an unfaltering voice which left no doubt as to the consequences, Ali invited the man to come up to the top table and repeat the question. The room cheered and the room was Ali’s. A true sporting legend. 

After more eating and drinking we did some final shopping for supplies and touristy wandering around, including the joint selfie as requested by Ryan. We had one final bit of shopping to complete. Readers might remember how seeing a dog on the trail wearing saddlebags had got Steve to thinking about a donkey to carry his rucksack, well today he found his donkeys. Regrettably negotiations with the owner broke down as the owner declined to split the two donkeys up so the search continues. 

The campsite we are at is superb due in no small part to Jean and Jim who run the site. They have been extremely welcoming and could not have done more for us. Jim gave us a lift to the local pub were we enjoyed the aforementioned curries. Jean even offered to do our washing while we were out, but this would have meant a trip to Edinburgh in only our waterproofs, not a good look in a city centre. A special thanks to Jean and Jim and a deserved plug for Linwater Caravan Park – we will return.

Back on the trail tomorrow after an evening sat outside the tent in sunshine which even had a fly past from the Red Arrows.


Day 22 Falkirk to East Calder (near Ratho) Friday 3 June

Distance 22.6 miles, cumulative distance 378.57 miles, time 8 hours, walking time 7hrs 5 mins, pace 3.2 mph, camped at Linwater Caravan Park.
After another ‘small’ Scottish breakfast including haggis we rejoined the Union Canal which was our route for the entire day. Today was the start of week 4 for us and a stock check of feet and limbs found them to be all in good working order. We are still talking to each other but that could change. Showers were forecast but we had another glorious day.
The canal has no locks but there are numerous viaducts and a tunnel which was 600 metres long. Two of the navvies who helped to construct the canal were Burke and Hare the notorious murderers and suppliers of body parts for medical dissection.

We passed a prison which got Steve thinking about getting arrested as at least it would mean a solid roof, bed and three meals a day but alas it was a youth offenders institute and whilst he behaves like an adolescent he can not pass as one to look at – unlike Lynn, naturally. 

The Grangemouth refinery and chemical works were visible for much of the day as were the constant stream of planes landing into Edinburgh airport. 

A highlight of the day was meeting David and Chris who were walking LEJOG (Land’s End to John O’Groats) as opposed to our JOGLE. It was good to compare notes and exchange route information. You can follow them on Facebook at davidandchriscountrywalk. 

We made a new friend at the campsite, a very friendly chicken which Steve has named Colonel Saunders and whose days are numbered if we cannot find a nearby pub. Having completed the West Highland Way a day faster than planned we had a day in hand which has now come in handy as we could not get accommodation for Saturday night at our next point of call, but there was a room available on Sunday so we will spend two nights here and take a rest day tomorrow.

Day 21 Twecher to Falkirk Thursday 2June

Distance 15.92 miles, cumulative 355.97 miles, 6 hours 15 mins, walking time 5 hours 15 mins, pace 3 mph, B&B Rosie’s B&B.
The sun had it’s hat on again. 

After an extensive multi-course breakfast prepared by our host Elisabeth we had to walk up a steep hill as the John Muir Way took us up and along the Roman Antonine Wall to Barr and Croy hill forts.

The Antonine Wall was built by the Romans to keep the northern barbarians out, it ran for 39 miles from The Firth of Clyde to the Firth of Forth. Built after Hadrian’s Wall and further north it was later abandoned and the Romans moved back to Hadrian’s Wall. It was constructed under the order of Hadrian’s adopted son Antonious Pius.

Most of the route was along the Forth and Clyde Canal and for a while we followed a man with a spotty dog – see yesterday. 

We passed through Bonnybridge and on a bridge wall noticed some unusual graffiti art of a flying saucer hovering over some children. When we looked up Bonnybridge on the internet it is famous for being the place with the highest concentration of UFO sightings, in the middle of the ‘Falkirk Triangle’. JR would feel at home. 

We reached the Falkirk Wheel which is the worlds only rotational boat lift connecting the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. Opened in 2002 it takes 5 minutes to rotate 180 degrees, uses only the power of 8 kettles and can carry 100 adult African elephants. We hung around watching it transfer boats but we did not see any elephants. 

Our route also switched to the Union Canal to take us into Falkirk to complete our third week. 

Day 20 Milngavie to Kilsyth ( Twechars) Wednesday 1 June

Distance 13.74, cumulative 340.05 miles, 7 hours 40 mins, walking time 4hrs 30 mins, pace 3.1 mph, B&B Twechar Farm.
Another blue sky day. 
For the next week our route heads east towards Edinburgh using disused railways and the canal network, then heads south east across the Southern Uplands leaving Scotland and into Northumbria to meet the Pennine Way. 

The whole day was spent with views of the Campsie Fells to our north a ridge which marks the southern extremity of the Highlands. We continued by following the John Muir Way, initially along the path of a branch line of the old Strathkelvin railway which used to connect Glasgow and Edinburgh. On reaching Kirkintilloch we took a bit of a break as today was a shorter day. 

Kirkintilloch is the central canal capital of Scotland and the place were the red telephone boxes were made. Until 1967 it was a ‘dry town’ fortunately no longer the case as we spent a long lunch in the ‘Kirkby Puffer’ a Wetherspoons pub. As previously mentioned Lynn is a Wetherspoons fan and today was Chicken Club day. 

The route moved onto the Firth and Clyde canal and we passed a beautiful old building the ‘Shirva stables’ which was accommodation for the horses pulling the ‘Swifts’ canal barges, the high speed couriers of the day, so the horses pulling the barges were changed often. The ‘Swifts’ had right of way over other traffic, a bit like BMWs today.

We had planned to camp but when we rang to book the proprietor said there was no running water but he would supply a 2 litre bottle each. Alarm bells sounded and we booked a B&B. Out of curiosity we visited the site having checked into our very comfortable room and it just goes to show how misleading websites can be. The ‘site’ was next to a waste management facility and looked like a scrapyard. There was no evidence of any other campers. Avoid the ‘Spotty Dog’ campsite.

Day 19 Cashel to Milngavie Tuesday 31 May

Distance 25.01 miles, cumulative 326.31 miles, time 10 hrs 35 mins, walking time 7 hrs 55 mins, pace 3.2 mph, camped Bankel Farm.
Another fantastic day, probably our hottest yet. If you are wondering why the long trousers in some of the photos, the Scottish Air Force won’t allow us to put on our shorts until at least 9 o’ clock.

We continued along Loch Lomond to Balmaha. In Balmaha there is a statue of Tom Weir who was the first recipient of the John Muir Trust lifetime achievement award. It is worth a short diversion to introduce both men, who we would now call conservationists. 

First John Muir – born in Scotland but moving to the United States as an eleven year old he is widely credited with single handedly persuading the the US government to establish Yosemite and Yellowstone as national parks the first such areas in the world. His legacy is much in evidence in Scotland as a result of the trust that bears his name. There is a long distance footpath named after him and we walked along a stretch of it today. The trust also now owns Ben Nevis and are ensuring it has a sustainable future. John Muir died on 24 December 1914. Tom

Weir was born 5 days later and lived in Balmaha for much of his life. He became famous in Scotland and elsewhere for presenting a Scottish TV programme called ‘Weir’s Way’ a programme about conservation and the countryside which ran from 1976 to 1987. His red wooly hat was his trademark. 

After climbing out of Balmaha We diverted off the path to visit Drymen 

to get supplies and enjoy a leisurely coffee and cake and do our best to converse with the locals. 

After Dryman we followed an old railway which is now the route of the water supply from Loch Lomond to Glasgow. Our campsite in Milngavie is by one of the reservoir complexes it supplies.

 For our final few miles we were expecting to see signs of Glasgow in the distance, but you don’t. Just three miles out we disturbed a deer and the path takes you right into the centre of Milngavie which is a northern suburb of Glasgow and a very well to do one. So not the Glasgow we were expecting at all.

We completed the WHW in 6 rather than our planned 7 days to avoid a very short day, so now we have a day in hand. 

Lynn felt a little emotional on finishing the West Highland Way. Whatever else we encounter over the next seven and a half weeks she will have a lasting memory of the magnificent and diverse scenery of the 11 days spent walking the Great Glen and WHW. She would highly recommend both. 

Steve of the other hand felt emotional for another reason. As he sat watching the aircraft pass over, having taken off from the nearby Glasgow airport, he thought he saw a Flybe flight with Exeter in the windscreen.

Day 18 Iverarnan to Cashel Monday 30 May Bank Holiday Monday

Distance 20.39 miles, cumulative 301.3 miles, 9 hours 30 mins, walking time 7 hrs 30 mins, pace 2.8 mph, camped at Cashel Farm.
After a heavy downpour yesterday evening while we were eating in the bar (good timing) we awoke this morning to a smog of midges. 

Originally we thought we would be in for an easy day walking along the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond but walkers coming the other way kept saying how tough it had been. The first three hours were up and down with quite a few scrambles hence our slower pace today. We then bumped into a West Highland Way volunteer who said we had done the worst of it and the path soon become easier underfoot. We saw two walkers with a dog which was carrying doggy saddle bags. Steve got all excited and started to think about getting a dog until Lynn pointed out it would only be carrying it’s own supplies. The sulk was a short one as Steve cheered up when he started to think about getting a ………donkey. 

On day one of the West Highland Way a wildlife information board promised feral goats amongst other treats. Steve had been looking forward to seeing them as he is fond of goats. Today we finally saw a small herd of feral goats which kept Steve happy for several hours.

The scenery was once again stunning and included lots of bluebells, wild garlic and wakeboarders!

There are either a lot of cuckoos in Scotland or one which has followed us throughout. As you may have guessed we do not know our birds very well but the RSPB wardens at the Inversnaid reserve are experts and every day they write the birds sighted in the reserve on a whiteboard. So as a little tester for JC we wondered what the Latin names were:

Wood warbler, tree pipit, pied wagtail, willow warbler, chaffinch, robin, blackbird, cuckoo, wren and buzzard.

Today it was Steve’s turn to hallucinate and get excited about seeing a snack wagon only to reach it and find out it was a Ben Lomond ranger service mobile information trailer. Later we did hear the chimes of an ice cream van but just as we reached the car park it was visiting it pulled away. Steve threw a little tantrum.

It was a beautiful day and we were surprised by how many beaches there are on Loch Lomond and some were busy with sunbathers and swimmers. The Scots do not share the same half term week but there were plenty of English families and Scots enjoying the Bank Holiday.

The campsite we are staying on is right on the lochside behind the beach. 

Today’s milestone was passing the three hundred mile mark. 

Day 17 Tyndrum to Iverarnan Sunday 28 May

Distance 14 miles, cumulative 280.91, 5 hrs 40 mins, walking time 4 hrs 25 mins, pace 3.1 mph, camped Beinglas Farm campsite.
Last night was Steve’s turn to sleep through the noise and Lynn who could not get off to sleep. Steve was sound asleep as Lynn got up and asked two lots of other campers to be quiet at half past midnight. When striking camp the midges were out in force but we had a solution and have provided a selfie for Ryan.
Soon after leaving Tyndrum we passed the halfway marker for the West Highland Way. We then passed ‘The Lochan of the Lost Sword’ were it is thought that Robert the Bruce and his army following their defeat at Dalrigh dumped their weapons including Robert the Bruce’s long sword (claymore). 
At Auchtertyre we passed an automated weather station, which is in one of the wettest parts of the U.K. with 4 times the rainfall of Edinburgh and 280 days of rain per year. The station sends readings to Exeter every hour. It was good to see home being mentioned on the information board – Steve got all weepy, Lynn told him to ‘man up’. Ironically we have just had our seventh consecutive day without having to put waterproofs on. The streams and rivers are all quite low compared to last year when we had to alter walks because we couldn’t ford the rivers. 
Before dropping into Inverarnan we crossed the A82 and a railway. The A82 crossing was served by an underpass but there were no buskers or rough sleepers, which was a pleasant surprise. There was also a tunnel under the railway which was very small and required removing rucksacks, crouching down and shuffling through. When we looked on the map it was marked as a ‘sheep creep’.
Plenty of activity on the trail again and stunning scenery. We turned up at what we thought would be a basic farm campsite to find a lovely site with bar, restaurant, shop and good facilities – all the more unusual for a site that only takes tents as the access across a bridge will not take caravans or camper vans. 

Day 16 Glencoe to Tyndrum Saturday 28 May

Distance 20.54 miles, cumulative 266.91 miles, 8 hrs 15 mins, walking time 6 hrs 20mins, pace 3.2 mph, camped at ‘byetheway’ campsite.

Steve started the day in his usual place – the doghouse. Having woken Lynn to ask her the time at 10 minutes past midnight. He could not read his watch and was being kept awake by mountain bikers who were camped a few feet away. The site was very busy, in the picture our tent is in the right hand corner.

The route dropped out of Glencoe to the Bridge of Orchy and then paralleled the road, river and railway to Tyndrum. The weather was fine and the clouds gradually burnt off. 

Plenty of walkers coming towards us and one walker heading our way who we passed and were passed by throughout the day. 

The West Highland Way challenge ultra distance running race was being held today. The race starts in Milngavie at the southern end at midnight and the aim is to complete the 95 miles in a day. One competitor wanted an excuse for a rest and chatted to us. Having started at midnight it was now 2pm and he was hoping to finish at 2am. If he finished he would have had 26 hours on his feet. Lynn wants to do it next year. Steve politely declined to join her. 

We missed the rugby but have just caught the closing moments via a Twitter feed. Sounds like a great game from the commentaries and a strong second half from the Chiefs. Hope the gang that went to Twickenham had good day and sank a few beers. 

Day 15 Kinlochleven to Glencoe Mountain Resort Friday 27 May

Distance 12.76 miles, cumulative 246.37 miles,  4 hrs 55 mins, walking time 4 hours 10 mins, pace 3.1 mph. Camped  at Glencoe mountain resort.

We had camped at Kinlochleven. On our arrival the previous afternoon we were one of three tents on the camping area which was about 50 meters x 4 metres by the time we turned in it had 38 tents crammed in. Despite the number of people it was very quiet – everyone zonked out. We awoke in the morning to find another tent pitched next to us, we hadn’t heard it arrive. We were not the first to rise but we were first to leave and get on the trail. 

At the start of week three we are now in uncharted territory for us, having only been able to do two week backpacking holidays when we were both working. Our bodies and kit is holding up. We are keeping well fuelled by eating a little and often (see picture). Our kit is a tried and tested mixture of lightweight high tech stuff and cheap and cheerful which can be binned and replaced if needs be en-route. The larger heavier items such as the tent, sleeping bags and rucksacks are high tech and lightweight. Most of our clothing is all dri-fit technical clothing. Lynn uses a Garmin Fenix 3 GPS watch to record our distances etc and Steve uses an iPhone 6s for photos and doing the blog.  

We try and stay clean and smart and we continue to get mistaken for George and Amal Clooney especially by American tourists. We both play along and pose for photos and scribble passable autographs – we hope George does not mind. 

Today our route climbed steadily for two hours and then dropped steeply into Glencoe down the Devil’s Staircase. Most other walkers were walking south to north and today reminded us of the sense in that, as the route for those walkers gradually gets harder. The scenery continues to be spectacular. The photos do not really capture it.

Lynn was shocked when Steve had said they were booked into a mountain resort for the night but had come round and was looking forward to using the spa and having a luxurious evening. She was little disappointed to find out that at £6 per head for camping the facilities were less 5 star and more half a dim lightbulb. We spent a lazy afternoon watching lunatic downhill mountain bikers career down the mountain side as they practised before a competition on Saturday. The whole area is getting full of mountain bikers with a round of the mountain bike World Cup being hosted in Fort William next weekend. 


Day 14 Fort William to Kinlochleven Thursday 26 May

Distance 15.95 miles, cumulative 233.61 miles, 6 hours 20 mins, walking time 5 hrs 15 mins, pace 3 mph, camped at Blackwater hostel.
Our route now follows the West Highland Way. The WHW is 95 miles long and connects Scotland’s largest city, highest mountain and follows the shores of it’s largest freshwater loch – Glasgow, Ben Nevis and Loch Lomond. Most walkers walk the route south to north starting in Glasgow and finishing at Fort William to walk with the prevailing wind. We started the day with a long climb passing quite a few hikers wild camping on the trail. Lynn pointed out how lucky Steve was by being allowed to use formal campsites with all the facilities. Most days Lynn reminds Steve how lucky he is. 

We passed a small loch where legend has it that a mythical water bull lived which would emerge at night and devour livestock. We must be unlucky we did not spot Nessie or the bull. Lynn keeps saying she can see ice cream vans, they always seem to have gone when we reach the spot. 

We passed the place where the Argyles finally gave up pursuing the defeated McDonalds as the bowed and blooded McDonalds fled back to their highland homes. A large cairn marks the spot and the custom is to add a stone if you sympathise with the McDonalds or remove a stone if you side with the Argyles. We think this would be a much better method of voting on EU membership, it might encourage a higher turnout and determining the result would not need counts. When walking you have time to think about these things. 

As the morning progressed, there were so many walkers coming in the opposite direction that it felt a bit like walking back on the A9, but with people and not lorries to avoid. An easy afternoon ensued lazing about in Kinlochleven, which is home to the National Ice Climbing Centre. Built inside an old aluminium smelting plant turbine hall it has a refrigerated ice climbing wall and several other climbing walls – quite impressive.

End of week 2!