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The waves of Loch Lomond hitting the beach near Balmaha are quite high, but nevertheless it is a reasonably friendly day with some spells of sunshine, and hasn't rained for the past two days. Camping, alas, has recently been forbidden along the southern shore of the lake, due to "anti-social behaviour mostly by car-campers" as we read on a sign where an “official wild campsite” used to be. So instead of pitching the tent, we just have some cheese rolls with freshly picked ramsons, and ginger bread with lemon curd, and on we go.
Just behind the "no camping" line, we encounter three local women on a day hike and have a little chat. Yes, they say, we would find some nice spots for the tent down by the lake. And yes, we say, we think Scotland is great – only it could be a bit warmer! The three of them get the giggles: "You are in Scotland – you know, when we see the sun, we take a picture!"
That night the anticipated rain sets in and practically doesn't stop for the next five days until the end of our hike. The West Highland Way leads us along an occasionally steep trail on the northern shore of Loch Lomond and we are walking with umbrellas instead of telescope poles. To our surprise many of the Scottish hikers complain more about the rain than the foreign tourists. We think of last year's drenched hiking trip to the Lake District, where the British hikers never lost their sense of humour. In the evening, we meet everyone we saw during the day again in the Drovers' Inn, a 300-year old pub that is basically the only house making up the settlement of Inverarnan.
The next day we spend most of the morning wading through deep stinking mud, where rainwater, little streams and woolly cow herds join us in using the vaguely cobbled path. We read that this section of the path was restored with financial aid from the "Caledonian Challenge Team Event" and wonder how it looked before being restored. There's barely enough of a break in the rain to stop for a flapjack and Manner Hazelnut Wafers before we walk on to the Bridge of Orchy, which again is little more than a train station and a pub. In the evening our fellow hikers fervently discuss the dangers of the Scottish wilderness and how many people died last year alone.
Over the following days, though, except for two or three times nearly being blown off the mountain side by strong gales, and walking against heavy downpours, we don't really see as much wilderness as we had expected. Most of the time, there is a modern road not too far away, and the West Highland Way itself is rather level and broad – no wonder considering that it used to be a trading route for up to 100.000 sheep per year going to the markets in England, and later on a military road.
Due to rain, fog and snow, however, we don't see as much landscape as we had expected either. Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain, can only be guessed to be towering over our last campsite and opposite that panorama window in the "Ben Nevis Inn" where more hikers (including ourselves) toast with Nessie's Monster Mash (a local ale) to having finished the West Highland Way.
Here's our GPS track for the West Highland Way, along with some possible campsites (official and unofficial ones): Download APR2013_WESTWARDS_WHW.gpx (1688.3K)
We used the trailblazer guide, 2013 edition.
We did not use the travel-lite luggage service, who do deliver to official campsites as well.