Well rested after a good night’s sleep and two short days walking, we were ready to tackle the longest, most challenging day. First, we had to say goodbye to Christine who sadly was leaving us to return to London and then quickly turn around to go to a conference in Liverpool. She had a long journey ahead: a boat from the pier right by the youth hostel over to Luss, then bus to Tarbet, train to Glasgow and on to London. Her day would be longer than ours, but perhaps rather less tiring!
We left at 8.40, heralded by our friendly cuckoo. It was clearly escorting us…. Not far along the path, we met a German couple consulting their guidebook who sought reassurance from us that their interpretation of the alternatives was correct: a rocky scramble by the shore or a high-level walk along the track through the forest. This was clearly what our ‘advisor’ yesterday had been talking about! My guidebook hadn’t mentioned the alternative route but when I consulted the map, it was clear. We all chose the High Road and were at the join before those who chose the Low Road, as the song suggests! This also meant that we were conserving energy for the challenges ahead. We proceeded to walk through lovely mixed woodland with many more bluebells and then, further up, through dark pine forest where there was no understory. It was very quiet on the High Road, but many other walkers joined us where the paths reconnected.
We continued to Inversnaid through vast fields of bluebells and past shingle bays where we enjoyed a couple of short breaks. The peace was only marginally affected by the traffic on the western side of the loch and trains on the West Highland Line. We past a group of mountain goats, with young enjoying the fresh green shoots of the trees, little knowing that we would need their sure-footed skills very soon.
After crossing the bridge over the Mare’s Tail waterfall, we stopped to have our packed lunch at Inversnaid on the picnic tables above pier. The Inversnaid Hotel up the steps was very well set up for both walkers and tourists. Entering by the walkers’ entrance, with a drinking water tap to the side, there is a room for boots and waterproofs and then one with picnic tables for use in wet weather. Coach parties and day trippers from the tour boats use the ‘posh’ entrance around the corner.
After lunch, we carried on along shore through the RSPB reserve. After a while a lovely woodland walk became a rock and boulder-strewn nightmare! It was easy to see how and why the outlaw Rob Roy had chosen to hide in a cave here. Lots of very tough scrambling slowed us and everyone else down until we reached the end of Loch opposite Ardlui. How those with big rucksacks managed, I have no idea – it was quite hard enough with just a daypack. When we finally reached the end of this stretch and took a break to recuperate, everyone’s face fell when I said how much further there was still to go to our accommodation for the night – 3.5 miles and it was already 4.15pm! This day’s walking was taking much longer than I had estimated.
Shortly after re-starting our walk, we passed Doune bothy, one of the many shelters in remote places maintained by volunteers of the Mountain Bothy Association. These basic cottages provide a water-tight roof over the head of walkers or climbers. They are left unlocked and anyone can use them for free providing they make sure there is a stock of firewood ready for the next incumbent. We looked in out of curiosity and found a couple of sleeping platforms around a wood burning stove with a wood saw ready for use. Two rucksacks had staked the claim of a couple sitting outside in the sun.
We plodded on through the glen between Cnap Mor and Cruach and then up and over the pass into Glen Falloch. Spring flowers lined our route – ones I’d seen on Lundy a month before – primroses, celandine, wild garlic and, of course, the ubiquitous bluebells. Some rhododendrons were also blossoming in response to the warmth of the sun. We also passed some curiously short-legged goats – perhaps like us they had done too much bouldering!
We finally arrived at Beinglas Farm, where we had booked to stay the night, at 6.20 – exhausted but satisfied. We couldn’t find reception, meaning extra metres to walk – we tried the shop and round the back but were redirected back to the bar. On registering, we asked where we would find our cases and were shown the hut. We then had to our drag cases over gravel – using up more energy we didn’t have, but none of this mattered when we opened the doors to our B&B chalet rooms with comfortable beds, tea & coffee making facilities and en suite showers – yes! What’s more, there was an offer of 10% off meals and drinks in bar – we were hardly going to walk into Inverarnan! Olivia, a young Swiss woman we’d first met two nights previously at Balmaha, had already erected her tent on the campsite having completed the walk in 7 hours with full rucksack! Still, she was roughly half our ages!