West Highland Way: Inversnaid to Ardleish

Sometimes you want to get out there and spend some time outdoors, but you can’t get the time. Sometimes work gets in the way. At other times the mind is willing but the body is weak. Both of the latter have severely curtailed my outdoor activities over the last few years. I’m spending more time working than ever before, one of the main reasons being that my knee has restricted me from getting out and about: if my knee was fine I wouldn’t be confining myself to the workplace so much.

Back in April I decided that enough was enough. My knee was feeling a bit better and it was time to get out for an overnight camp. As luck would have it I found a small window in which I could get away, the problem was, where to?

Big hills were out of the question, and a short low level walk was more realistic. The camping ban in Loch Lomond was something else to contend with- I refuse to pay to camp out of principle, so I decided that much of Loch Lomond was out- until I stumbled on a solution: boats.

There’s a ferry from Tarbet on west Loch Lomondside to Inversnaid on the east side, cleverly bypassing the area at the south of the loch which falls within the camping ban area and dropping you bang on the West Highland Way, around four miles south of Doune Bothy. I had only walked this section once, overly laden with an army bergan and kit that was anything but lightweight. Is it any wonder my knees are knackered?

Looking Grim

It was good to be back on the train again, I hadn’t been on this line for a year or more, and it was good to see some of the old haunts again. Less welcome was the weather. Having had a mini-heatwave in the previous days the weather had turned and snow was forecast, a grey blanket of cloud hung over the Clyde, threatening to spew forth at any second.

Walkers on the West Highland Way

I got off at Arrochar & Tarbet Station and headed down to the Bay Tarbet Hotel for a hot chocolate before the boat was due, at the jetty just across the road. I stayed up top for the journey, taking in the sights. It was the first time I’d seen the loch from this angle. Only a week before I’d been cruising on Lake Como in Italy, where there had been no need for wooly hats or waterproofs; no such luck today. Through the trees I could see the brightly coloured jackets of plodding walkers, all drawn north, Inversnaid bound. The water was choppy and the wind was gusting, so much so that the boat missed it’s mark and had to draw round for a second attempt: I got off, no one got on and it wheeled away again, leaving me at the foot of the steps. Onwards and upwards…

This is the way to travel!

My one previous visit here was a strange and memorable one. Having decided to camp here I headed in to the bar to be asked by the lady behind the bar “Are you James Cassidy?” I was somewhat taken aback to find that she used to babysit me when I was small! It is odd how you bump into people you know in the strangest places. The other memorable incident was next morning- for the wrong reasons. Filling my pot to prepare breakfast I slipped and fell into the loch! With no dry clothes left I began my walk with soaking clothing, and by Crianlarich was crippled, my thighs chafed red raw. I hobbled down into the village, to the train, defeated. I never got round to finishing the whole Way, although I’ve now done much of it as day walks.

Come back, I’ve left ma pieces!

The section from Inversnaid to Doune Bothy is one of the roughest of the entire route. Last time I’d been struggling with soaking clothing and an oversized bergan; this time was slightly more pleasant. My lack of fitness was telling, and it took me around four hours to cover the four mile route. I wasn’t pushing it though, and my main concern was that I would be able to complete the walk. Clambering round rocks searching for Rob Roy’s Cave didn’t help and I felt a few twinges, but otherwise I was ok. The snow which had threatened didn’t amount to much, although it was bitterly cold at times, and I was pleased when Doune Bothy came in sight- even more please to see smoke coming from the chimney!

It gets a bit gnarly here…

Doune Bothy

I was sharing with a couple from Devon and a couple from the Czech Republic, all doing the complete way. I added my firewood to the huge pile already there and got settled in for the evening, taking time after dinner to photograph the wild goats who were lurking nearby. A glass of red wine helped send me off to the Land of Nod, waking later for the obligatory mid-night trip to the toilet.

In the bothy

Is it that time already?

The next morning dawned grey. I’d had a restless night, there’s always one snorer and once I hear it I can’t hear anything else, even through my headphones. I packed my gear and headed off to the lochside opposite Ardlui, where I would be catching the boat back to the western shore. The departure point is clearly marked on the map, and I’d read that you simply pull a brightly coloured ball on a rope to the top of a pole. It can be seen from the other side of the loch, and they dispatch the boat to pick you up. So you can imagine my dismay to arrive at said grid reference to find the stump of a pole and pretty much nothing else. I carried on up the loch-side, where through the trees and well out of sight of the original landing spot was a jetty and pole: a white ball on a white pole though. How would anyone notice that from this distance?

The old pole. Imagine my disappointment…

The new departure point

(On returning home I contacted Ordnance Survey about this and supplied the new grid reference, and I’ve now been told this will be included in a future revision of the map data).The boat starts at around 0915, so with time to kill I got the stove on and got breakfast going, before taking a wander up the hill to see the wild goats which the area is known for. These ones were less skittish than the ones which had been near the bothy last night, eyeing me lazily as they lay in the grass. I came back down through Ardleish, noting the cottage with its smashed windows. From the other side of the loch it looks quite idyllic; up close it just looks rather sad.

Do you have any wild goats? No, but I have one I can aggravate for you…

Ardleish Cottage: Idyllic from a distance

Less idyllic up close

Ardlui bound!

I hoisted the ball up the pole and wondered if anyone would see it, and it wasn’t long before I could see a small boat ploughing across the loch towards me. It tied up, and three walkers who I had seen the previous evening disembarked, ready to carry on their journey; and as I sat in the boat, soaked by spray, I began to plan a wee walk…