Day 1 – Burnt and Bitten

I started my journey along the West Highland Way a little bleary-eyed. It was shorty before nine and I had rolled off a sleeper train a little over an hour earlier. It turns out that the seated areas of sleeper trains are not entirely suited to sleeping on. I couldn’t stretch my legs out and so any sleep was punctuated by grumbles from my knee. I had also completely failed to think ahead enough to grab a bundle of clothes to use as a pillow. I did have my platypus though, which, containing 2 litres of water, made for a cold and plasticy pillow. If I’m honest, I probably wouldn’t have slept well anywhere; it was exciting to be starting a new adventure.

Bleary-eyed I may have been, but the first miles fell quickly underfoot. The first ten miles of the West Highland Way, and for now I felt unstoppable. My only company during that stretch was an old guy going on a day trip. We talked about the scale of my journey and he told me he was too old to do anything more than day trips. I replied that I was taking advantage of my knees while I still could. He advised me that it’s be my hips that would be the first to go. I think my IT band would agree with that.

By lunchtime I was coming around Conic Hill and looking over Loch Lomond. Fifteen miles down and I felt exhausted, the sun was hit and I was beginning to ache, but overall I still felt as though I was on top of the world.

I reached Balmaha and decided to treat myself with some snacks. Other than finding an honesty-box-shop thing for a can of coke, all I’d really had to keep me going since the night before was a bag of almonds and a chocolate bar. Neither the coke nor the almonds were providing sufficient calories and so I opted for an ice cream and a litre of banana milkshake. This turned out to be a mistake. Ten minutes later they were gone. Ten minutes later I was walking along and began to see the error of my ways. Not only was I walking away with a stomach filled with sugar and dairy, which was being dutifully digested by my stomach, but the sun was now fully determined to cook me. I must say that I didn’t feel particularly pleasant.

There were numerous other people out for the day, enjoying the sun and wandering around. I dread to think what they thought as hot and sweaty I stumbled along in an autopilot daze.

The sugar high came and went, the sun dropped and I began to feel better. I came across the first potential campsite for the night, it was overpopulated by people in caravans and the noise would have driven me mad. On I walked. I passed another campsite but decided to stretch myself and march through the restricted zone and wild camp along the loch.

Back at the tourist information office at the start of the way, the girl at the reception had dutifully explained the wild camping restriction zone – explaining to me that I could try and make it to either Milarrochy or Cashel Farm campsites, past that there would be a hostel at Rowardennan, but I wouldn’t make it that far. “You underestimate my power” I thought to myself, and it’s true that she did, but not by much. I called it a day just north of Ptarmigan lodge, and just north of the restricted zone.

Those last miles had been hard and slow. I’d not yet really met anyone to talk to along the way, so I was glad to be getting my tarp up and hoping to relax. Relaxation wasn’t really an option once the midges descended. That stretch of Loch Lomond is sheltered woodland next to the water. I would be sharing my accommodation with the local insect population. I had been tired since Conic Hill, so only managed a quick wash and to clean my rather sweaty t-shirt under a miniature waterfall. Without the energy to keep moving away from the midge cloud, burnt and bitten I retreated to my bivvy for what I hoped would be a restful sleep.