Our second day of walking was a practise run for the trials to come – a shorter but more demanding walk than the day before – up and over Conic Hill, crossing the Highland fault which divides the Lowlands from the Highlands.
After a good night’s sleep in our luxury B&B, we had delicious porridge for breakfast with whatever additions we fancied. Some of us requested honey – no problem for Tommy – he found some crystalized stuff lurking in the cupboard which was fine once heated in the porridge. He vowed to get more for the next guests. We left at 9.30, saying our farewells to Tommy and his friendly copper spaniel Couper.
After his recce of the road ahead the previous evening, Colin had advised us to go straight up the road rather than out of the village to reconnect with the Way. As we walked up the road, an elderly couple waved at us from chairs in the window of their bungalow, clearly revelling in the early morning activity as walkers set off for the day. As we went up the hill, another group asked the way and we advised them (correctly), but that didn’t stop them checking with the Forestry Commission officer sitting in her van a bit further on. As soon as we reached the turning into the forest where we reconnected with the Way, we heard a woodpecker drumming on a trunk. Later on, we were delighted to hear a cuckoo. Little did we know that we would hear one every day of our walk from then on. We also saw a robin and a tree sparrow and, possibly, a wood warbler.
As we walked through the forest, we caught glimpses of Loch Lomond. The Way was busy – we greeted walkers of all ages and levels of fitness, some clearly better prepared than others. We had a snack while sitting on tree stumps by the side of the path before descending to a couple of wooden bridges over burns before climbing Conic Hill, almost to the top. It was a steady rather than steep climb and good training for what was to come. Those who wanted to conquer the hill could nip up the path to the top. Many did. We didn’t. We were satisfied with the views from about 100m below the 1000m summit. We specialise in steady, careful walking and are often passed by younger more bullish walkers (particularly young men carrying huge rucksacks), but then we not infrequently catch them up a bit further on – just like people passing you in fast cars at the traffic lights! One middle-aged fit-looking man passed me by as we headed down the steep stony path from the top and immediately stumbled. I’m ashamed to say I felt a degree of satisfaction.
Comic Hill lies on the fault line between the Lowlands and Highlands of Scotland with the distinction between the soft green landscapes to the south east and the brown mountainous moorland to the north west. There were amazing views of Loch Lomond and its islands and the mountains beyond. We entered into a pine forest at the foot of the hill before coming to the village of Balmaha where we were to spend the night, while many other walkers were carrying on to Rowardennan where we would spend the following night. There was a lot of moss and fern in the understory of the wood, as well as carpets of bluebells. There was a peaceful moment when just three of us were alone on the path.
We arrived in the car park at the village at 2pm where there was a support van for a Macmillan challenge walk – they were to do the Way in 4 days compared with our 9 – a definite test of endurance which didn’t sound at all pleasurable! We had a restorative cup of tea from the café and made our way to the bunkhouse where we were staying. The accommodation proved to be rather basic, but still adequate. The main problems being a small room with 3 pairs of rickety bunks and no room for luggage and only two showers and no additional toilets to serve us and 8 others! Fortunately, it proved to be the poorest accommodation of the trip and needless to say we survived it perfectly well.
Alicia and I had a walk around the peninsula and encountered a piper playing by the pier. We assumed he was welcoming in the boat we could see approaching – a romantic arrival for someone! Boats and ducks were bobbing in the bay – an idyllic scene. We went to the National Park Information Centre to learn about the Highland Fault, amongst other facts about the area. We all went to the Oak Tree Inn for supper, albeit in two separate sittings as I met my brother and sister-in-law after the others had already eaten. A relaxed evening in preparation for the next stage.