Monday, June 2, 2014

West Highland Way Day 3 - Rowardennan to Ardlui

Bluebells AboundTHis would turn out to be the best bluebell covered hill we would pass though it was hardly the only one we would pass.
Phew. The mileage was less but the going was tougher. Even for people with normal vision I am sure care was taken and speed dropped especially on the 3 or so miles of trail after Inversnaid hotel. That stretch, a similar one exists south of the hotel though not as bad or long, was a definite pain for me. While it only rose and fell a bit as it hugged the shoreline of Loch Lomond it took us over innumerable rocks, man-made gaps for streams to gurgle through, over tree roots, and up and down rough steps (and not quite steps). I have to carefully pick my steps and that means lots of pauses and straining muscles. No way can I just move smoothly along the rough path like one fellow we met who was carrying a mountain bike (I don't quite know why though it had something to do with his travelling companion who sometimes just had to ride because his feet couldn't take walking). I've no doubt I slowed the group by a solid half hour. Certainly the views, when we could look at them as we struggled along, of Loch Lomond were quite nice but this was no cakewalk. The Way actually has two choices to follow for a few kilometers between Ptarmingan Lodge and a couple kilometers before Inversnaid hotel. The shoreline hugging route is reported to have splendid views of the loch as well as giving you access to Rob Roy's Prison (cave) but it is also exceedingly rocky and considered a bad choice if you are lugging a large backpack. The route we took follows a forest road considerably higher up and though the forest blocks views it isn't all that bad. You pass by countless streams pouring off the steep forested hillside as you go (and even more later on which cross the trail through man-made gaps that I have to pause at to judge distance to step across).
DSCN0981.jpg Perhaps 10 minutes earlier Steve hoisted the large orange ball on its flagpole to signal the ferry to come fetch us. At the time I didn't realize what that loud squeaking sound was but that was what it had to be. The ride doesn't take too long though I do wonder how rough the water is allowed to get before the ferry ceases to make the half-mile crossing.
Perhaps the most memorable sight will be the most ephemeral. We passed by many hills shrouded in bluebells. The first was the best as it had the fewest trees obstructing the spread of the flowers but over several kilometers before and after passing the Snaid Burn (a "burn" is the Scottish term for a stream and the Snaid is a roaring one). When we finally reached the ferry dock a bit before 18:00 we did not have long to wait for the ferryman. You hoist a large, though it seems small , orange ball on a flagpole to get the ferryman's attention and he motors across the loch to fetch you. I think Steve raised the ball just a few minutes before I arrived and it was only about 5 more minutes before the boat docked. Very prompt. A neat way to end the hiking day too I think. Most people have to hike on a bit farther to a different hotel or campsite but the ferry takes you to Ardlui marina which is just a couple minutes from our small hotel. I don't think it's hotel-only though if you aren't staying at the hotel you do have to pay a fee to cross. That seems fair to me. If I have a gripe with this section of 12.5 miles of trail besides the rough (for me especially) rocky going, it is that sound carries all too well across Loch Lomond. We often could easily hear the roar of car engines as we moved along. It sounded like a race course thundering by sometimes. Twice a train rolled on by carrying either freight or people (I think) to Fort Willikam. Those sounds are a bit intrusive and serve to point out that while the land here may be rugged it is hardly uninhabited. We even heard the PA of a tour boat blaring one time though I have no idea what was being said. Finally the obligatory weather note: it was overcast all day though a couple of times you felt as though the sun would burst through and shine upon us. Air temperature likely did not break 60 today though the wind was minimal. Though no rain fell. I at least managed to get muddy slogging along the rough path hitting mud puddles along the way. I also slipped off the path on an eroded bit and fell down the loch-side slope a few feet. I never left my feet but it could have been a Bad Thing.

Not that many photos today but you can see all 5 of them at a much greater size in this Flickr photo album.

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