No two days […] are ever the same. There is always something fresh to admire. – Tom Weir
After such an easy time of it strolling up the east bank of Loch Lomond yesterday, today’s walk was far more strenuous. The guidebooks all mention having to scramble over rocks in this northern section which would take hands as well as feet to negotiate, and there were a fair amount of gnarly roots to clamber over as well.
This is not to say it wasn’t a gorgeous walk, because it was. The loch had a very different character from yesterday. There were moments of sunshine which we managed to capture on camera but the clouds were the prevailing weather for the day and in fact we finished the day with waterproof jackets on, wishing we had also taken the trouble to put on our waterproof trousers too, because we arrived in our bed and breakfast at the end of the day absolutely soaked.
After an exceptionally average breakfast provided by the YHA hostel (the worst value accommodation we have had so far with facilities all badly in need of an update) we set off to take on the second 20km of Loch Lomond. The first thing that struck us was the number of little burns tumbling down the rocks by the side of the path.
Most of them I am certain showcased the mosses that are so special in this area, if only I knew which species they were…
Each of them had their own special character, depending on the rocks and vegetation surrounding them.
Speaking of rocks, the ones at this end of the loch were really intriguing. According to the British Geological Society app, the rocks are some of the oldest we have walked across thus far, being laid down up to 635 million years ago. The bedrock is something called ‘metamorphic psammite and semipelite’, And when I looked it up it seems that psammite is a general term for sandstone. But there was a particular kind of rock which had a striking sheen to it and I have been unable to discover what it was. The sheen made it hard to photograph well, but it’s the first Mystery Picture of the day, if anyone can identify it for me:
There were some extraordinary rock formations en route. Some were clearly a kind of sandstone, but others were micro-folded in the most intricate patterns:
At other times huge rockfaces overshadowed both us and the path:
But it was the rocks on the path that were a major feature of the day, huge slabs of bedrock,
or boulders for us to climb over and around,
sometimes in combination with fiendish tree roots,
and sometimes precipitous climbs up and down over rocky outcrops jutting out of the hillside through which the path wound.
It required quite a lot of concentration and sometimes all four limbs, but every so often we made sure we were looking at the view to our left, out over the loch. There was clearly a change in weather on the way as the wind had got up, and had created sizeable waves.
The best water and rock combination came about halfway up the northern part of the loch at a hotel sited at a noted beauty spot. Ferries drop passengers off at the hotel which otherwise is only accessible by a very remote unclassified road.
After admiring the spectacular waterfalls set off by the rhododendron bushes in flower (magnificent, although they are very invasive), we enjoyed a wholemeal scone and jam and a cup of coffee to help steel ourselves against the next half of the climb out of Loch Lomond.
Because the route is so narrow, and because so many people are doing the West Highland Way, we tended to bump into the same people over and over depending on where we had all decided to take our stops. One group in particular we had encountered several times yesterday, a group of four sisters, the McDonalds, who had decided to do one fabulous walk together. One, Fiona, had brought her husband as a bagman, who was in charge of ferrying the girls around at the start and end of the day and was walking in to meet them. The girls are laughing and singing uproariously up the whole of the West Highland Way.
As well as the people we met some significant insects. The dor beetle is important for tunnelling dung into the ground. Its underside is spectacular metallic blue, as I saw when we came across one stranded on its back:
And I photographed it before turning it over and helping it on its way.
The dor beetle population nationally has been badly affected by pesticide-treated grass. The chemical passes through the cow’s system and ends up in its dung, still active, and then the beetles are killed off by processing the dung. They are such necessary species: not on the face of it as photogenic a poster-creature as the polar bear (unless you turn them over), but absolutely essential in the UK system to help get rid of all the dung that is produced. Which is a lot.
This beautiful moth which I think might be a poplar grey was sitting out the day on a rock by a stile; such extraordinary patterns.
As we neared the end of the loch the wind picked up, and the sky grew significantly darker. It suited the ruined house which at one time must have had a spectacular view out over Ardlui. There is a summertime-only ferry which can be called over from Ardlui by raising a buoy on a rope to the top of a small flagpole to alert the water taxi to cross the loch and pick you up.
At last there was one final view back over Loch Lomond,
and then we moved north away from the water, and started the long uphill climb through Glen Falloch out to Crianlarich. Lomond is such a long loch, that after 40km the wide spaces and hillsides seemed a real novelty.
Once out of the woodland along the bonnie banks, heath plants started to appear, biting stonecrop,
and the first of the heathers which over the next few months will colour and scent vast tracts of Scotland. This one was the cross-leaved heath:
and finally another variety of lousewort, a single example of the marsh lousewort, much taller than its squat cousin, and, with its square stem, more obviously type of figwort:
We reached the tumbling waters of the Falls of Falloch mid-afternoon, just before the weather closed in, about two hours out of Crianlarich.
With 8km still to go we were glad to join General Wade’s Military Road, a good path which allowed us to increase the pace; we wouldn’t get any less wet but we would reach Crianlarich, and a hot shower, sooner.
At last we reached the shelter of the plantation, the short walk through which would take us down to the village. It was quiet and muffled under the trees, and best of all, dry.
Hillview B&B was, miraculously, right in front of us as we came off the hill, wet and chilly. Ann welcomed us at the door and managed to dry all our clothes in the time it took us to shower so that we could go out and enjoy the highlight of the day, supper with our lovely friends Hamish and Elizabeth, who had driven all the way over from Loch Tummel to see us, kindly take us out to supper at a pub which served such gargantuan portions that half was boxed up to take home, and bring us supplies for the Highlands: Skin So Soft, which has the property of rendering the wearer olfactorily invisible to midges. Allegedly.
It was such a lovely evening that I took a break from writing the blog, and went to sleep early in the fabulously comfortable sleigh bed in one of Ann’s guest-rooms. A hot shower, dry clothes, supper with dear friends, a comfortable bed and no blog… it felt utterly luxurious at the end of the longest day for some while.