Paul and Midge
Midge and I have moved our blogging from our usual website. We will eventually migrate more of our stories over here - We hope you will enjoy it.
You can still read our older trips including the Coast to Coast Offas Dyke and others at
Paul and Midge
You can still read our older trips including the Coast to Coast Offas Dyke and others at
Paul and Midge
Thursday, 26 May 2011
Midge and I have moved our blogging from our usual website. We will eventually migrate more of our stories over here but in the meantime here is the account of our latest trip up the West Highland way - We hope you will enjoy it.
Paul and Midge
Paul and Midge
The West highland Way and Ben Nevis
This was the trip that very nearly did not happen. Midge has always been a very fit and active boy and has never had a real day of illness in his life. It was of little concern that around Christmas 2010 he developed a limp, I simply thought that this was due to a long walk we did over Kinder Scout on a very cold winter’s day with Midge running around like a loon as usual, diving into frozen streams and getting dreadful cramp as a result. The limp did not go away and developed after he had been walking for an hour or more. Gradually his tolerance of exercise reduced to about 20 minute before he started limping, he also had difficulty getting up from his bed. I checked his legs and could find no injury but there were ominous signs that his muscles in his back legs were wasting especially on the left. The vet was baffled but her colleague from the University Vet School saw Midge and diagnosed an inflammatory myopathy, a progressive degenerative disease with a likely poor outcome for my poor boy. At worst I was told he might even die of the condition in a few months and there was no useful treatment to help him.
I have written in more detail about this on the Wiccaweys website but needless to say I was devastated to learn this. However, Midge is a tough boy and almost as soon as we had the diagnosis confirmed he showed signs of recovery. I put him through a graded exercise regime and gradually increased his walks until he started to be able to walk without limping or getting cramp. His legs were painfully skinny with little muscle but these gradually increased in bulk and strength.
I had planned this trip before Midge became ill and had considered cancelling it completely but to do that would have been defeat so I held on to the hope that Midge would recover and would come with me on the walk. Thise of you who have read the rest of these stories will know that Midge and I cover good distances each day, if Midge were to recover I would have to reduce these to something he could manage. I aimed that we should try and get Midge fit enough to cover 20 miles per day with the option that we could always cancel the trip mid way if needed. We would camp to make our plans more flexible depending on his ability and response to daily exercise.
Before the trip he seemed about 80% fit although his right leg was still very thin and a little wobbly when he tried to stand on it to cock his leg. It was with some trepidation that I decided that the trip was on. We would just have to play it by ear and, if we were lucky, this would be the final part of his rehabilitation back to health.
We set off on the Friday afternoon, I finished my NHS clinic early and The Missus gave us a lift to the station at Grantham. Midge no longer tries to hide when there is the prospect of a car trip, he will get in meekly, but he still shakes and shivers all the way to the destination. The train was very late and made our connection in Doncaster for the Glasgow train unlikely. Spending such a long time on the station platform and picking up on my anxiety about making our next train made Midge very nervous and his shaking increased. When the train eventually arrived he dashed to get on as I struggled with my rucksack, a carrier bag containing my lunch and a nervous dog who was inent on getting on the train and hidden under a seat as quickly as possible. The journey to Doncaster was painfully slow and I was convinced we would miss the connection. A sudden increase in speed across the flat lands of north Nottinghamshire meant we arrived one minute before my connection. I grabbed my rucksack and ran down the platform as soon as the doors opened and arrived at the correct platform – no train! It had been cancelled!
Those of you who read the Cleveland Way trip will know Doncaster is a black hole for trains, they just disappear off the major departure board with no explanation, and so this had happened again. I asked a very helpful young lady station employee about my options for getting back on my itinerary and she helpfully gave me a print out and suggested I caught the next train to Darlington and changed there. However, I noticed that the train she suggested connecting with stopped at Doncaster anyway and was now 30 minutes late so not really a helpful suggestion.
We eventually got on the delayed Edinburgh train. Once settled in a seat the train manager announced that this was the train for Glasgow. The company in its wisdom had decided to extend the journey from Edinburgh to Glasgow but obviously had not mentioned this to the stations as they passed through, one could only get this information once you had boarded. This brought us nearer to our timetable but we would still be late into Milngalvie.
Glasgow Central station is big and scary for a collie, this is made ever more so by a thing called and escalator which Midge had never encountered before. I hoisted him up and weight down with a rucksack containing all we would need for a week plus a 20Kg collie we descended to the lower level of the station. Lots of people came to befriend Midge, especially a number of young girls which cheered him up no end as we waited the 20 mins or so for our final train.
On our final leg of the journey the rain started to fall, an ominous sig of what was in store for the next few days. The B+B was excellent and I was feeling happy with the world now we were at our first destination. This was brought to a rude halt when I noticed that my camera had either fallen from or had been removed from the strap on my rucksack. I cursed myself for not putting it inside and for leaving it on show. We went out into the drizzle which seemed to match my mood t see if there was anywhere I could get a meal at this late time.
None of the pubs in Milngalvie allowed dogs in so a bar meal was out. I did find a pretty good chippy and got a couple of bottles of beer from the local Tesco’s and so had an acceptable feast.
Milngalvie to Rowardenen
The B+B was full of people intending to walk “the way”. The people who run this place are great, very friendly and used to walkers and those with dogs. My breakfast was very good. But I still had the problem of the lost camera. I soon solved this by buying a disposable print camera from Tesco. I apologise for the quality of the photos herein but I really did need a record of this trip, it may well be the last one Midge was able to do – we would see.
The start and we are off!
At precisely 9.00 we walked past other people with rucksacks loitering by the start to the Way. I took my first picture on the new camera and we were off. The footpath starts through Mugdock Woods which Midge instantly renamed Mud-dog woods as he plunged into a peaty pool in relief at being off the lead at last. Following this he disappeared into the woods and returned with hi first find of the day – a very large and dirty pair of men’s underpants and encouraged me to play with this noisome article. I refused and hoped that no one would think these were anything to do with me. After amusing himself with these he disappeared again and returned with a T-shirt of gargantuan proportions.
We passed a number of people who had started earlier and I felt a little animosity to these people; I like to have the route for Midge and I only. On previous walks we don’t see many people but it was obvious from this introduction that we were going to have to share the route. This with the loss of my camera and the drizzle made me feel rather negative to the WHW.
The sun did not actually shine but it struggled to peek through the clouds and after about an hour we were well ahead of even the earliest starters and had the place to ourselves. The route follows a pipeline from Loch Lomond to Glasgow although you would scarcely know this. It feels as if you are following a disused railway line but the pipe line is right under your feet.
After no time we had got ahead of the other walkers and now we were on our own at the front of the day’s walkers and so no one on the route for the rest of the day.
The start is pleasant but not in the least challenging and we were in Drymen in no time. We crossed the main road and headed up into a forest. Here we met a local who told me that the farmer who lambed his sheep on the impending bulk of Conic Hill was not very keen on dogs on his land. We would read the situation when we got there. HE also informed me “At your speed you’ll be in Balmaha in an hour and a half”. If this were true we would complete our first day of 20 miles ridiculously early.
As it turned out we took less than this and the journey from where we met this gentle man just outside of Drymen to the pub in Balmaha took only one hour and twenty minutes. At twenty past one we had completed our first day in under 4 and a half hours with no sign of limping or discomfort from Midge. I had decided to stay at Milarrochy just a mile or so up the road but after a snack and a couple of pints of William Wallace ale I decided that this was far too soon to complete. The weather was dry and the going was easy for Midge in contrast to what we had to do tomorrow so I decided o continue to Rowardennan. As soon as we set off there was a loud crash of thunder announced a change in the weather. However our luck held out we wandered on the side of Loch Lomond as the rain poured its vengeance on the people on the west side of the Loch; we stayed dry. Midge of course had missed out on getting into water for the journey so far and was soon off into the water begging me to play. There were more people here, it being Saturday and Loch Lomond a magnet for tourists and we entertained them with some sheepdog antics in the water. I was pretty sure that I would be able to dry Midge off in the Rowardenen hotel later on.
Is this as far as we are going? - Balmaha
The area around Rowardenen had recently been designated a “no Camping” area but fortunately for us the act of the Scottish Parliament did not come into force until June and this was early May. IT is unfortunate that people come to this area to “have a good time” which usually involved getting blind drunk, lighting fires and being a nuisance to the locals. We passed a few lads obviously alredy drunk chopping wood and lighting a bonfire on our route.
The Rowardenan Hotel is the end of the easy access to the East side of Loch Lomond, from here there are only footpaths heading north. I thought we would nip into the Hotel for a cuppa before looking for a campsite. This was a good move. We were seated Midge holding court to a group of admirers when in came a large group of walkers wet through. The thunderstorm had finally crossed the loch and it was chucking it down.
I decided we would stay a while and see what happened. The weather did not deter some Scottish Kids who donned their waterproof and went to play on the swings and slide in the pub garden as it bucketed down. I suppose if you are a kid living in the west of Scotland if you don’t play out in the rain you will never play out. Their parents were happy to watch from the comfort of the indoors only venturing out to referee in the inevitable arguments about whose turn it was on the swing and break up the punch-ups.
The rain continued and there was little point getting oneself and one’s dog incarcerated in the tent so early in the evening, by the look of the rain it was likely to be a long evening. Despite having already eaten I persuaded myself that if this rain continued I would be unlikely to cook later and probably even might have to forgo breakfast. So I decided to eat again and add to this a couple of beers.
When backpacking I work to the opportunist view of food, eat when it is convenient not at any regular time. I don’t hold with this idea that a human needs regular meals. I see people weighed down with food for a day when I will happily go for 15 or 20 miles without food and often without water. I suppose I have become conditioned to it. Some people will not step out in the mountains without enough food and water to last a winter (even in summer). I am not a large individual and some might say slim but I probably have enough fat on me to last a week or so. Many of those who take large amounts of food could easily last longer.
The meat in venison casserole was nice and tender, the veggies were well cooked but why drown this all in a gravy which had enough artificial flavouring and preservatives and to embalm most of the dynasties of Ancient Egypt? This was to arise again later on. Perhaps the Scots around here like everything to taste of packet soup.?
I fed Midge in the pub, we having passed his dinner time and one of the bar staff followed this up with a selection of chews. A barmaid then brought him biscuits and another waiter brought him more chews. The poor boy was stuffed.
I felt we had outstayed out welcome around 8, there is only so long you can sit looking at a warming dreg of beer. The heavy rain had been replaced by a heavy drizzle as we went to look for a camping place near the carpark at the end of the road. There were quite a few people here and the ominous chopping sound of trees being felled so we travelled a short distance up hill and found a quiet spot on our own for the night.
Midge has a thing about owls and told the ones in the woods that, now he was here, they had better keep quiet. He does this at home too, if he hears an owl he has to bark until it shuts up, which they of course do to. What owl can make itself heard over that racket?. I told him to shut up and I did not want another peep out of him so he sat up sentry-like performing a low growl and blowing out his cheeks with an almost silent “woof”.
It had been a good day about 27 miles covered with little effort and most importantly of all. Midge had not limped at all. I was hopeful he would make it and that would really make the whole holiday – to have my walking companion back and fully fit.
Rowardenen to Inverarnan.
As we went to bed very early so we awoke early to the sound of rain and wind. Poor Midge had been cooped up in the tent for over 10 hours and his little bladder was probably bursting. I waited until after 7.30 and let him out – not to come in again on account of the rain. He was very happy with this arrangement and went off to find sticks to throw at the tent to remind me that we had not played any games since the previous afternoon. I fed Midge and packed up our gear. I was not hungry having had 3 good meals the previous day so a clean of the teeth, a hand full of trail mix and a good swig of water were sufficient preparations for the day. It was raining again so this also deterred me from bothering to brew a cuppa. People gathering by the toilet block were passing around the weather forcast, rain in the morning improving during the day.
Back in the rain
We set off at 9, people had already set off from the Hotel and were on the trail and once again I took against the West Highland Way but this soon abated once we were well ahead of everyone and we had the place to ourselves. The rain was light but persistent for the first hour or so but eventually stopped and the sun occasionally struggled through the clouds. We went through forest with carpets of bluebells. It was a little early, and far too damp and cloudy, for the beautiful sent these lovely flowers have. Only occasionally was there a group open sufficiently to release their odour.
The only punctuation mark in the route along the Loch is the Inversnaid hotel and we knew were were getting close when we started to see people walking along the Loch side. Midge instantly picked up a stick and ran to these people to get them to play. My playing tolerance had been exhausted after 5 miles.
Stormy across Loch Lomond
AS we crossed the waterfall at Inversnaid the sun shone brightly. We were speeding along the Loch so I thought a break for tea was in order. If you have read other reports you will know that this is not usual for me. But, I reasoned, if the weather broke It would be better to be walking than stuck in a tent for hour after hour with a damp, restless dog. So a stop to delay our arrival at Inverarnan was a good plan.
I left Midge on a seat overlooking the Loch to enjoy the sun and went to find a pot of tea. There were other people wandering around trying to do the same. I think I could have probably gone behind the bar made my own tea, drunk the taps dry, down a few bottles of whisky and walked out with the safe and it still would not have hastened the staff into the bar to serve the group of potential customers waiting, wondering if this really was a hotel and did they really want business.
Eventually a comedy barman with an Eastern European accent arrived. I asked for a pot of tea. “Sure na prollem” and off he went. Back he came “you se te?” “Yes please” I returned. A long while passed, the other customers wondered if he would ever return, some looked at the number of people in front of them in the queue and made a mental calculation of the likely time until their order was taken and left. The barman returned with a tray with a cup and a pot on it “Aaaaaah” “he started “di you se te or Coffee” “Tea please” I answered “You like coffee yes, cous I med you coffee” “I would like tea please not coffee”. “Annywan in room like coffee, you people like coffee yes?” he bawled over my head. There was no response. “No wan wan coffee? I jes med it.” he sounded a little hurt now. “OK I make you te” and off he went again. Eventually he returned with my tea.
I wandered back out onto the terrace overlooking the Loch “you’ve missed the good weather” said a couple of train drivers from Stockport as they put back on their waterproofs and prepared to leave. I looked down the Loch at the impending storm approaching, sat down quickly, poured my tea and tried to drink it before the monsoon arrived. Having an asbestos throat I succeeded – just.
But the waterfalls look good
There is much written about the difficulty of the section from Inversnaid to Inverarnan but the path is very good and much more interesting that the wide tracks which make up most of the WHW. It is clear and although it does scramble occasionally over rocks it is a pretty mild path. The rain increase in intensity and we soon passed the train drivers who were sheltering under an overhang out of the worst of the weather. I saw little point in this, the rain looked set for an hour or two and this proved to be the case.
The rain sped up our progress, there was nothing to hang around for and I did not fancy playing with Midge in the rain. Midge however, as is usual for him kept running into the Loch to encourage me to send him out swimming in the swimming sheepdog game. This is the same as on dry land. He wants me to direct him away, left, right and in as if herding sheep only with the added interest of doing it in the water. If anyone wants a collie to direct a new breed of aquatic sheep, Midge is your dog. Perhaps I should get him a job on a Fish farm?
About 2 miles from Inverarnan it stopped raining and the sun came out. En route to the campsite I heard barking and saw two collies had got two sheep cornered. Obviously these were not true sheepdogs and I was worried they might do the sheep some harm. They ran to me barking but a stiff word and they immediately obeyed – so they had some training. We were still over a mile from Inverarnan and there was no habitation until then so these dogs were strays. What do you do? I did not really want the responsibility of these dogs but I was worried they might damage the sheep so I called them and they came meekly along. Just before we arrived in Inverarnan I could hear shouting – obviously people calling a dog. A group of amazingly overweight kids came wheezing up the hill. “Hae ye seen two dugs mister?” Of course I had and handed them over to the kids who bawled and hit the dogs – I would have run away. I told them that these dogs had been worrying sheep and it was luck I found them. This appeared to make no impression on the kids and it had no impression on their father who, as I entered the campsite asked me if I had see said “dugs” and I relayed the story to him also.
BeinnGlas campsite is very well run and the sun shone on it deservedly which gave me enough time to put up my tent and get it dry before I treated myself to a shower, shave and clean undies and t-shirt. Of all things when back packing the three things that I find a total luxury are well brushed teeth, clean socks and clean undies. Well at least I had two of these.
Camp at Inverarnan
Although the campsite had a bar that served food I decided to eat at the self proclaimed “famous” Drovers arms. This is an idiosyncratic place but fortunately is does serve descent food and beer, at a price. A huge fire was burning in the bar and was burning so furiously that on one was able to sit in the three or four tables nearest to it. The staff are specially chose (or so it seems) so that none of them are Scottish but all wear kilts. I suppose there is much novelty for the Aussies, Canadians, French and English staff to relate back home about the wearing of a kilt.
I drank a nice pint of Duechars at the not so nice price of nearly £4 (price in my English local £2.70). The Scotch Broth was nice with only a hint of the packet soup flavour which had marred the meal in Rowardenan. The Haggis with Tatties and Neeps was very good but was swamped by .......... you’ve guessed it packet soup flavoured gravy. I rescued the lovely haggis and neeps from the swamp of chemicals.
I was seated at a table opposite a rather large couple. Sorry let me get this straight, a large man and his enormous wife. When I initially looked over at them I thought they were sitting at a particularly small table. It dawned on me that this was a four seater table but they made it look tiny. They both had eaten a starter and then made a full roast pork dinner disappear with alarming speed. This was followed by bread and butter pudding with ice-cream for the both for them, likewise dispatched with great haste. We I don’t suppose you get to that size by spinning out the duration of your meals. I suppose they had to eat so quickly in time to get home for a fish supper.
I was enjoying my meal when they departed. The lady struggled to her feet and stepped around the table. It was at this point that she dropped something. Having such a huge girth and a full stomach she found it hard to bend to retrieve what she had dropped and struggled to bend. Now here is the physics of what happened next. A gut full of digesting food and fizzy drink creates gas which increases the intra-abdominal pressure. In order to breath the diaphragm must descend but the contents of the gut does not allow for this. Bending even further increases the intra-abdominal pressure as the chest expands and the diaphragm lowers. As they say in the song something’s gotta give. And it did. By this time her backside was about 1 metre away from my right ear. She made a sudden final grasp for the lost object and a thunderous fart shocked me from the reverie of my dinner. I would have sat there open mouthed in astonishment but I figured this was not a wise thing to do under the circumstances. She stood herself up, I expected an embarrassed look. There was nothing. It was as though nothing had happened. I suppose when you are so large such an explosion is as if it had happened somewhere in a far off galaxy. Fortunately I was very hungry and was able to continue.
It had rained while we were in the Drovers but as soon as I saw it stop we made a dash for the campsite. The Waterfall above the campsite was spectacular, there are some saving graces about the rain. On returning to the campsite Midge started to limp. “Oh no Midge if you limp we’ll have to go home!” He looked at me with his “sorry Dad” look and immediately put his foot to the ground and walked normally. We spent the evening in the campsite bar watching the TV waiting for the weather forecast. When it came it was not good; “Showers becoming heavy combining to form longer outbreaks of rain”.
There were other windy problems after the one in the Drover’s, Midge had recently been on antibiotics for an infection in his paw which had now cleared up, but these have an unfortunate effect on his tum. He lay there flat rolling his eyes and looking ashamed, I know this look – he had farted. This is the early warning of what is to come later, this doleful look, eyes darting from side to side the whites showing, ears held down and backwards – this is the sorry I have farted look and sure enough a terrible stench followed. I made my usual mistake and said “Good grief Midge you stink!” at this he goes into his supplication and apology routine which is rolling onto his back, tail tuck between his legs wagging furiously which enhances the flow of noxious gas out of this thick hairy trousers. I am never too sure what to do in this situation, not mention it and allow a gradual release from his fur or accuse him of dealing it and getting a more intense, choking waft which is over all the sooner. Fortunately my new tent has excellent ventilation which must have been specially designed for such an eventuality and there are even cords you can pull to enhance the circulation of air – thank you Wild Country/Terra Nova!
Inverarnan to Inveroran
It rained during the night but the morning was dry and very blustery. I took the tent down and put it on a fence to dry and went into the campsite bar where I knew they were serving breakfast to all comers. I had a breakfast bap served up with as much teas as you wanted. The bap was huge and could not contain the bacon, sausage, egg and potato cake laid on top of it. This would set me up very well for the day.
We set off about 9 ahead of most of the other people who were still enjoying the breakfasts. After a couple of miles I stopped to adjust my rucksack and put down Midge’s lead and promptly forgot it only realising the fact after another mile which required a jog back down the route to retrieve it; the 22 miles to be covered today was increased to 24.
In between the showers
The route follows the river for some distance and once again, Midge and I were soon ahead of everyone. We travelled through fields of cattle who looked outraged at a collie walking through their fields but did not try to chase us off. Midge was soon into the river, seeing as it was not yet raining he thought himself far to dry to continue so a good soaking and swim were needed.
We crossed the river for a final time and headed under the railway and the A82 onto the forested hills overlooking Crianlarich. It was at this point that the rain started. Typical of Scottish rain it started with a shower which stopped as soon as you put your jacket on but then stopped only to restart once you had removed your jacket. I played this on-off game with the weather right the way into Tyndrum when it decided it had had enough of playing and got nasty. We had just entered the village by the campsite when a real Scottish monsoon started. Those of you familiar with this will know that the rain in Scotland has the ability to come down upon with a force that physically pushes your neck down between your shoulders. The car on the A82 were moving at a crawl because it was so difficult to see through the intensity of the rain. Midge and I sheltered under the canopy of a sign waiting until the worst of it was over. After 15 minutes we gave up and headed into the maelstrom.
The track out of Tyndrum opens out onto fields where I let Midge off the lead. He had been decidedly fed up with being on a lead and with the downpour thwacking him on his head and nose. However, he soon bucked up once he was off the lead and disappeared with his own solution to the wet weather, a wellington boot, which he was very proud of, all he needed now was the other three and he would be well away. He carried this new found treasure for about half an hour and I occasionally threw it for him for entertainment.
Midge finds his own rain wear
The rain let up only very little as we met a group of walkers heading in the other direction sheltering under the railway line. We exchanged mutual moans and gallows humour about the weather.
More fields of highland cattle with calves followed as we progressed towards Bridge of Orchy, all were calm and took little notice of Midge and I. We passed a couple of Scottish blokes who were, like us, on the way to Bridge of Orchy. I had contemplated stopping here for the night. There is a place by the river where wild camping is allowed but there was no way I was going to put up a tent at the moment in this torrential rain.
On arriving at the Bridge or Orchy hotel I decided we should stop for lunch. There was an area set aside for hikers, which was just as posh as the rest of the hotel. Midge and I stood there dripping water all over the beautifully polished floor which necessitated the extremely friendly Polish barmaid to bring out the yellow warning wet floor signs. Midge got water, I got a very nice pint of Harvistoun Bitter and Twisted and I had a bowl of lovely soup followed by a home made Aberdeen Angus burger and chips – lovely. I would eat now and not bother eating in the evening. It looked as if the lousy weather was in for good so this lunch and the good breakfast would last me until the morning. It is such a bind trying to cook in pouring rain, especially when the wind is so strong.
The Scottish lads arrived about 20 minutes after us and we chatted about the pros and cons of going on. I had already decided that we would press on to Inveroran, it was only 2 more miles and that would give me a good sart for the morning. Also I could not face getting in the tent anytime soon to be trapped in there for 14 hours. After another pint the lads also had decided to go on. Midge and I left before them and headed back into the rain. My waterproofs were still wringing wet as I put them on.
We wandered up the hill and over to Inveroran, the footpath came out near the hotel and the continued rain forced us in for a cup of tea. The landlady (English) told me that she did not usually serve tea in the bar but she would make an exception, not exactly a friendly start. However, under protest she brought me a big pot of tea which was very welcome. I fell in conversation with a local chap and kept an eye on the weather as the rain fell outside. We dried off a little and then a miracle – it stopped raining. I had overstayed my welcome here, having spent an hour over a £1.60 pot of tea and thought it was only decent to leave so at 5.30 I left and immediately bumped into the two Scottish lads. They were repeating the WHW 21 years after they had first completed it aged 21 following the same stopping points en route.
The wild camping area at Inveroran is much nicer than that at Bridge of Orchy. A nice flat area of grass, raised up above the river is protected by a wall and the road. The only problem I was to encounter was the wind roaring through the bridge when the wind changed direction. The sun came out as I put up my tent so we were able to dry of Midge, my waterproofs and the tent. I even managed to spend half an hour throwing Midge’s ball until the rain returned. The rest of the evening was spent dodging in and out of the tent between the showers to let Midge have soem exercise, he hates being in the tent for too long but around 8pm we had to give up as the rain showers became longer. Midge of course would have stayed out all night but his towel was still wet and there would be no chance of drying him off, as it was he was still very wet. He is very good and never gets on my sleeping bag. I have a length of old Karrimat which is just long enough for him to sleep on. I also have a foil blanket which I tuck under my bed and fold over so he can lean against me without getting my bed damp. The foil blanket also reflects heat back onto him so he keeps warm.
A lovely campsite at Inveroran
I lay in the superb comfort of my bed. I must gloat about this. I had replaced all my old gear. The tent Wild country Laser 2 man was new as were the adrenalin 1 sleeping bag and the Pacific Outdoors thermal mattress. I even had an inflatable pillow! I listened to the weather battering and beating the life out of the tent but I was so snug I hardly wanted to fall asleep because I just wanted to revel in this perfect comfort. Midge on the other hand was a real pain, he wanted to be outside and kept his nose pressed to the mesh on the inner door inhaling and snorting as if he was suffocating with being in the tent. I too follow this expression after the tell tale rolling of the eyes forewarned of another gaseous event.
Inveroran to Kinlochleven
The weather forecast we saw in the Bridge of Orchy hotel said the rain would clear temporarily in the early morning returning soon thereafter at about 6 or 7. Of course they cannot be so accurate and are often pretty hopelessly inaccurate. It had rained all night and now at 6 am it had stopped. I lay considering my options – wait until the tent dried out before packing and risk getting cought in another shower or pack up now and have breakfast in the dry. I lay there until 7.00 then let Midge out and soaked his breakfast (dry food). At 7.30 I started to pack up, it was still not raining. As soon as I stood out of the tent the rain started so Midge quickly ate his food while I packed up. No breakfast for me. The wind was still battering the tent so preparing breakfast would be difficult and any way even though I had not eaten for about 15 hours I was not in the least hungry a couple of hands full of trail mix and a swig of water would do perfectly well. At just before 8 we set off.
There would be no proper food until Kinlochleven in 20 miles and after my meagre breakfast I did not touch anything, nor did I feel the need to eat or drink until I got to my destination. What it this obsession with eating regularly for energy. Ok if you are an ultradistance runner (which I was once) but not for walking 20 miles.
Across Rannoch Moor
The rain continued off and on until we got to Ba Bridge half way across Rannoch moor when it once again came down dramatically. The path was again a river. This did not deter Midge who, as if in preparation for the journey over the desolate moor had picked up a stick at Victoria Lodge at the start of the moor and carried it all the way across, occasionally letting me through it for him. We rounded a bend in the track and there was Buchaille Etive Mor at the head of Glencoe. That is I knew the bit of mountain I could see below the cloud was the Buchaille from previous experience, very little of it was visible. Well under two hours after setting off we were passing the Kingshouse where fellow WHWers were just setting off, nice and dry with full stomachs after a night in the hotel. On chatting to them all were having their bags carried. So why were their rucksacks so large, almost as large as my own and I was carrying everything myself? This is another mystery to me. What do people actually carry in those huge day sacks? If I am doing a B+B trip I carry all my stuff and this is only about 5Kgs including Midges food. Think more - pack less should be the motto.
Buchaille Etive Mor (nearly) comes into view
The rain was coming sideways at us as we progressed down Glencoe towards the Devils staircare the steepest and highest point on the route. We passed a few more people and saw others just cresting the pass of the staircase ahead. This incline is nothing much despite its reputation. The only problem I had was the wind which seemed determined to batter us into a standstill. As soon as we reached the crest we caught up with the people we had seen from the bottom. In common with most people today they were heading from the Kingshouse to Kinlochleven.
We were making very rapid progress in the foul weather so I had to decide whether to carry on to Fort William today I had just decided to do so when Midge had a short spell of limping which passed off in no time, after about 3 seconds. I was being selfish. I could very well make it to Fort William but I had to remember this was Midge’s convalescent walk and I must keep that in mind. So I determined we would stop in Kinlochleven, I was to be glad I did.
Heading to Kinlochleven – still raining.
We arrived at midday. I had run out of food for Midge but this was no problem as there was a shop. I had actually planned this; Midge was to be treated to one of his favourite meals tonight, tuna and bread rolls which I bought in the Co-op. Although I was not yet hungry I thought I should really eat something. There are two places to eat that will allow dogs in but I had been in neitherbefore. The nearest was the Tailrace Inn so I went there first. I ordered soup – very nice carrot and coriander – and a pot of tea. I asked if they did sandwiches. They did not, they only did Paninis. Oh dear! What is the difference between a Panini and a sandwich? About £3. Most Italians have never heard of a Panini – or as it should be in the singular a panino (little bread) and it does not appear in my Italian dictionary. I have been to Italy many times and had schiacciatini, tramazzini, ciabatte but have never had a Panini. Why do we allow people to do this – get a bread roll, fill it with rubbish, squash it flat, burn it then serve it up? I declined. After my soup I headed to the Mc Donald hotel which I knew also allowed camping in the grounds; a great choice.
I entered the bar of the McDonald’s and asked the usual question “Can I bring my dog in? He is well behaved.” “Sure no problem as long as you are as well behaved as him” said the Aussie barman. As I approached the bar he disappeared and returned with a bowl of water and biscuits and a towel – all for Midge! He explained that the owner loved dogs and insisted that they were made welcome. I had apparently just passed her on the road, an English lady walking two deerhounds who had billed and cooed at Midge. I ordered another pot of tea and relaxed, this was to be a good place. There was an excellent range of beer from the Caringorm Brewery and the food menu looked great. The rain stopped so I left Midge in the bar (“No worries, we’ll look after him”) put up the tent, had a shower and changed clothes. There was a drying room but this was already almost full with wet gear, I had been so long relaxing and chatting that people had arrived from the Kingshouse and filled it up. I found some space but there was none for my socks and trousers.
Camping at the Excellent McDonalds Hotel Kinlochleven
On returning to the bar the owner was there feeding Midge biscuits. She asked me if I had found room in the drying room. I told her it was a bit full so she took my wet socks and trousers and put them in the tumble drier. This is a place where all the staff pull out the stops to make you feel welcome and it is deservedly popular. After a brief snooze in the tent I returned to have dinner and to feed Midge. The place was starting to fill up with WHWers and there was a real atmosphere about the place. I chatted with others about our experiences and had lovely food smoked venison for started and steak and ale pie for main with great beers. Midge was treated to as many biscuits and chews as he could manage until he was stuffed. I rounded off the night with a short walk with Midge and then back to the bar for a very good Whisky and retired to bed very, very happy that I had stopped here, you will too if you have any sense.
Kinlochleven to Fort William
Of course it rained overnight but conveniently stopped at 7.30 when I let Midge out and fed him. The hotel does breakfast for campers in the restaurant but dogs were not allowed there so I had my own table in the bar set out with biscuits for Midge. I had a good full breakfast with a big pot of tea and relaxed until the weight of it descended sufficiently to allow me to continue which was about 9am.
We were soon ahead of everyone and had the walk all to ourselves all the way to the forest which leads you into Glen Nevis. I had previously snowshoed this and knew it well. After a short incline the route follows a wide glen with abandoned farm houses, the walking is easy and we scooted along. It rained on and off but not with the earnestness of the previous days. Unfortunately I have no photographs of this day because the disposable camera I bought stopped working before it had used up all the frames it had promised – I was annoyed, I would have to get another one.
Midge decided this was a fetish day – a rubber fetish day. He sought out various things made of rubber. This started with a long strip of what looked like a fan belt which he spun around with and threw in the air until he lost it in a stream. Not to be outdone by this he found a rubber band which he grabbed between his paws and teeth until his paws slipped and the rubber band thwacked him on the nose with a sharp “Whack” he yipped and yelled at the band like a puppy and threw it high in the air until he caught it and it lodged in his throat making him gag and throw up some of his breakfast so this was abandoned. He then made off across the valley some 200m away sniffing he air on the scent of something. He returned with a fully inflated bicycle inner tube. I can only imagine that someone had repaired it and it had been washed down the river as he checked for any more leaks. Midge toused this and played with it for the next 3 or 4 miles.
We saw only one person. At first I could not make out if he was coming towards us or going away from us. Then I realise he was walking very slowly. We very quickly caught him up and I recognised him a one of a group in the bar the previous night. He had set off at 6 in the morning because he had to catch a bus at two and his blisters were making progress painfully slow. I wished him luck with his bus. At the speed he was walking I figured it would be a close run thing for him to get there in time.
We passed through the blasted landscape of tree felling and soon got onto the forestry tracks in Glen Nevis. We ignored the signpost for the WHW. If you follow this you will spend the last 2 miles of the route following a road, a ridiculous way to complete a route. So we followed the track through the forest and came out by the leisure centre near the centre of town. We went straight for the only decent pub in Fort William, the Grog and Gruel to celebrate the completion of the way. Of course it was dreadfully early but at 12.30 we passed through the doors for a bowl of vegetable soup and a pint – lovely.
After a bit of shopping to buy another camera we visited the official completion points of the WHW, there are two one by a roundabout, the original, and second in the centre which is a statue of a walker with his boot off rubbing his foot. You should notice that this walker only has one boot- do we assume the residents of FW have nicked the other? Photos taken we played in the park, Midge found astick and amused onlookers as he threw it in the air and caught it. “What a bonny, bonny collie” was one comment. I phoned up my B+B, they told me I could come over anytime so I made my way to Inverlochy.
A young lass was looking after the B+B, the owner being away. She had a little girl aged about 2 and Midge went dippy. He loves children especially girls. He sat there moon-eyed wagging his tail hoping for a love from her. She ran over to him and gave him a big cuddle and squealed with delight as he licked her ear. We were shown to our room and I dried my tent out on the clothes line – well for 20 minutes until the rain started again. After a shower we both lay down and had a long snooze. WHW done – job done!
That night we enjoyed the great food in the Grog and Gruel, this is excellent pub food and the Boars Breath Chilli is excellent as too are the boar burgers. Midge was much admired by a group of German walkers who declared him a very handsome dog and made a great fuss of him. A run along the beer pumps ended a great evening.
When Midge was ill I had dreamed that he would become well enough to come with me again. Thsi trip had demonstrated he was almost back to his old self. I wanted to celebrate this with a trip to the top of Ben Nevis. I have been up “The Ben” many, many times but never in summer, I usually go up there for the ice climbing in winter, so this would be a new experience for me.
There was a group of walkers in the breakfast room who were about to set out on the Great Glen way. They unmmed and ahhed about what to have for breakfast. I went straight for the full breakfast and full was the operative word. After my cereal and juice, two rashers of bacon, two sausages, two tattie cakes, two pieces of Lorn (Square) Sausage, two eggs, a pile of beans, tomatoes, mushrooms were balanced on a huge plate and served up with a huge pot of tea for my own personal use. All top notch stuff too, I was well impressed but scarcely able to move afterwards.
Despite the weight gain after breakfast I waddled out towards Achintee farm arriving there dead on 9.30. I passed a couple of people en route to the point where the Achintee path joins the other path coming up from the youth hostel. Although I was walking at my usual brisk pace I was not really speeding. I made the turn in a switch back in the path and noticed a figure in shorts and t-shirt running, making a short cut across the switchbacks. This annoys me, the switchbacks are there to prevent soil erosion, if I must stick to them so should others. I noticed that this “runner” was making a running motion but was not going all that fast for a fell runner. I decided to exact a little retribution on the runner for taking the short cut. The runner could not see me as I went around a bend in the track so I set off runnig until the track turned and the runner could see me. What they would have seen was a bloke walking who, despite they having taken a short cut, was still way ahead, in fact further ahead. The runner closed on me and was now about 50m behind me as we came to the next change in the track. Again I ran ahead out of sight so on coming around some rocks the runner would now see this walker was nearly 100m ahead of them!
At this point the track turned on another switchback and the runner took another short cut. Due to the steepness of the ground the runner could no longer see me and on returning to the track found that the “Walker” was still way ahead. Being a runner myself, I know there is nothing so soul destroying than seeing someone you cannot catch up with, especially when they appear to be going so slowly. I deceided that this was psychological warfare and kept up this game of running when the runner could not see me and walking when she (for now I could see it was a woman) could. On approaching the long stretch before the Red Burn I had increased the distance to well over 100 metres and tried to keep to a walking rhythm despite my speed. People often complain that they have to run to keep up with my waking speed so I kept to that pace which stopped her catching me up.
At the Red Burn the route proper goes way out to the left and a notice forbids you taking a short cut up the burn, surely she would not take the short-cut in disobedience of the notice. She did! There was no way I could now stay ahead, my route, although less steep was about 400m longer so I claimed some sort of moral victory and carried on. At least I had made her work hard this far.
I passed a group of Irish people who were doing the 4 peaks. What are the 4 peaks you might ask. In the UK we have the 3 peaks, an attempt to climb Snowdon, Scafell Pikes and Ben Nevis one after the others. The Irish add in their own Carrauntoohil to make a real challenge of it. I don’t meet many English, Scots or Welsh who do this. The Ben was their first so I wished them luck and carried on.
As I approached the crossing of the Red burn I looked in vain for sight of the runner, she had obviously beaten me to the crossing point and I had lost her in the mist which I was now entering along with a sharp rain. Then, just as I reached the crossing of the Burn, there she was about 20m below me, the race was back on! I quickened my pace to below a run and pressed on, but I was to be disappointed, she continued up the Burn and I never saw her again so I proceeded at my regular pace.
I passed many people on the way up. Midge did not like the rocky path which was unpleasant on his feet and he was bored by no ball throwing or sheepdog games. He is not impressed with climbing a mountain just for its own sake. As the path makes its final rise onto the plateau we came to a big patch of snow. Midge went mad, he ran around, threw himself on his back and wriggled and sledged down the snow slope until I feared he might crack his head on the rocks below, but he stopped and ran back up the slope to sledge down again. Hs gathered up mouths full of snow and threw them in the air and begged me to throw snowballs at him which I did. He loves snow and he would have stayed there all day to enjoy it but we had to press on.
Midge completes his UK 3 peaks – top of Ben Nevis
The visibility was down to about 50m now and it was very difficult to follow the path or the huge stone markers which show the way to the top. We found our way to the old Observatory and then cold see the summit shelter and trig point. It started to snow heavy wet flakes of snow. The mist thickened in the time it took to take Midge’s photo to add to his tally of Snowdon and Scafell Pikes and on turning to go back down it was barely possible to follow the route. The snow stuck to my glasses and wearing them made little difference to the visibility. This is the peril of the Ben especially in winter when the snow lies thick on the ground. People lose their direction and it is only too easy to follow downhill into the clutches of the infamous Five Finger Gulley to the south and south west or fall down one of the bigger gullies on the north side. I knew how to get off the Ben in lousy conditions and pulled out my compass and followed bearing 231 for 140 metres and 282 thereafter. I could almost make out the markers and the compass just made sure I found and kept to the path. These bearings are burned into the memory of every climber who has seen what the weather can be like on Ben Nevis, it is no place to be lost if the weather turns nasty.
We made good time one the way back down. Midge had a long play in the snow again and we cheered on the Irish party heading for the top. Back near the Red Burn we started to meet people badly kitted out for the top, no map (I asked how they intended to find the top “just keep walking up hill they said” I advised them that if they had any slightest difficulty in seeing the markers to turn back), in appropriate shoes - deck shoes, setting off too late, three Chinese/American girls about 600metres below the Red burn thought they were just above half way (no map). One group asked me what the weather was like on the top I said 30 metres visibility and snowing “Yeah right” they derided. I told them it was true and should it remain the same they should consider turning back. They had one map between 8 but no compass. Of course there were others well equipped and perhaps those ill-equipped follow them down and that is how they keep out of trouble. I have helped many people off the mountains in the past mainly due to being ill equipped or inexperienced.
The weather finally improves - briefly
As we descended to Achintee the sun came out! A rare view over the whole week. We returned to Achintee Farm and I checked my watch, 1pm, it had taken us just three and a half hours for a return journey to the top of Ben Nevis, mainly thanks to the lady fell runner. This is not fast but respectable and it was completed by my boy who 5 months ago looked as if he might never come into the mountain with me again. We deserved another visit to the Grog and Gruel so that is where we went. A return journey in the evening to the G+G meant we met up with people who had been on the WHW as they completed it after us. Another good meal there left us feeling very happy as we bedded down for our last night in the B+B.
Despite our return being on Friday 13th it went without a hitch and Midge was once again glad to be back home but ready for our next adventure. I was just thankful for his return to fitness, my partner back again. Look out the Brecon Beacons Way in July!!