Balmaha to Inverarnan | West Highland Way (curtailed!)

Disaster struck on day three of our journey north up the West Highland Way. We couldn’t have asked for better weather – mist hung low over Loch Lomond as we ate breakfast at a fantastic little B & B at Balmaha. We were confident that it would burn off under the morning sun, and so it proved as we began the hardest day of the walk – twenty-one miles up the east side of the loch.

During preparation for the West Highland Way I had given myself problems with blisters on my feet. I thought I had given myself enough rest time for them to heal up and be ready for the ninety-six miles of the way. Upon the descent from Conic Hill, however, the tell-tale signs of blisters began to appear, not helped by my over-compensating in my stance. Sure enough, the evening removing-of-the-boots revealed the worst (a full description of which I will not sully your day with here). Polysporin was applied liberally overnight, but after three miles of significant pain along a beautiful coastal path, I was forced to abandon the journey.

I was heartbroken at having to stop, and tried to continue several times before coming to the sensible decision. My father and brother went on and completed the walk in unbroken, glorious sunshine over the next five days. I met them in Fort William on the Sunday and was by equal turns pleased for them and green with jealously. My foot has just about healed up and I’m walking with very minimal pain. The WHW will remain an unscratched itch for me meantime, but one that I will attempt again, with slightly better planning! My brother sportingly agreed to write the blog for the journey from Balmaha to Inverarnan below:


Balmaha was deserted as we set off from the village in early morning. The village itself is nestled at the south-eastern tip of the Loch, and the day’s route stretched 20.5 miles up its shore. 

An unseasonably hot sun cut through the soft haze and warmed our backs for the first few miles. A short distance in, though, and we had to stop. 20 miles of friction had turned my brother’s toe into one giant blister, and it became clear that the next 70 were no longer possible. Frantic phone calls were made as his little toe quietly oozed pus at the side of the road until a lift was arranged. My father and I reluctantly left my brother at the side of the road, to hobble his way back to Balmaha. 

It was ten o’clock and only three miles had been covered, so we hardened our hearts and lengthened our stride as the path undulated through native woodland. The canopy provided welcome shelter from the sun, but our t-shirts were stuck to our backs before long.

Seven miles in and we reached Rowardennan, little more than a couple of houses and a hotel. The path rose; the Loch was soon far below and the Arrochar Alps crept towards us on the opposite bank. Beinn Ime, Ben Vane, Ben Vorlich – all were snow-streaked and forbidding, but fell behind us as the afternoon passed.

After 14 miles the path degenerated to a scramble, squeezing between boulders and tree trucks, and we used our hands as often as our feet. 17 miles in and I allowed my mind to drift to our destination, the Drovers Inn, for the first time. But the going was slow, tired legs and feet combined with the punishing path to drive our pace down. 19 miles, and the pleasant Loch Lomond had turned into the Loch That Wouldn’t End. The sun sank below the mountains to our left. Our total mileage for the day, 20.5 miles, came and went without the Inn in sight. The Loch had ended but it was replaced with low bracken-clad hills that hid any view of our progress. The last of the daylight faded, and we were walking into the dusk, contemplating whether we should start using a torch, when the light of the inn appeared in the distance. After 22.5 miles, we stumbled into the Inn and put up our feet, suddenly very cheerful. We never did find out where the extra two miles came from.

*Thanks for reading, folks. Recent stories of mine include ‘Water Memory‘ and ‘Alder, Beech, Hawthorn, and Hazel‘.


Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Close to the Bone, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, Flashback Fiction, Cafelit, Best MicroFiction 2021, Writer’s Egg, and Shooter magazine. He is a doctoral student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father. He blogs at www.matthewjrichardson.com and tweets at https://twitter.com/mjrichardso0

Drymen to Balmaha – West Highland Way

Day two of my journey up the West Highland Way, and with the addition of a couple of nasty blisters I headed Northwards after an on-the-go breakfast of a sausage and egg roll from The Drymen Inn – excellent value and they provided it to go.

The journey out of Drymen took us east and then north, through fields and clusters of woodland. Before long, the protagonist of today’s leg took up centre stage on the horizon – the long, humpbacked shape of Conic Hill. The weather had been kind again, and a haze hung low over Loch Lomond in the morning heat. There was not a breath of wind.

Eventually, the climb up Conic began, and it was not long before we were rewarded with views of the still snow-laden Ben Lomond further up the Loch, and Beinn Ime across in the Arrochar Alps. The paths on the West Highland Way have so far been in excellent condition, and Conic Hill saw the first signs of erosion, no doubt due to the high amount of footfall.

There were plenty of places to stop and admire the view, with only the birds of prey wheeling above us having a better view. The path got rather busier as we neared the summit – the route from Balmaha is a popular day trek for many – and upon reaching the top my blisters were starting to nip. Nevertheless, I soldiered on over quite a steep descent. There were plenty of opportunities to turn an ankle in the loose scree, and I had reached the treeline befire I was on safe ground once more.

So it was, then, that with weary feet and sore knees I made my way to our B and B for the night. A lovely meal of fish and chips at the Oak Tree Inn topped the day of nicely. Tomorrow will be a bit of a slog – twenty-one miles up the east side of Loch Lomond…

Milngavie to Drymen – West Highland Way

Following years of idle discussion about walking the West Highland Way, my brother, father and I eventually got organised this year and decided to walk the 96-mile route from lowlands to highlands in Scotland.

Winding its way from suburban Milngavie, via the winding banks of Loch Lomond, over desolate Rannoch Moor, up the Devil’s Staircase, and finally to Fort William in the shadow of Ben Nevis, the WHW is a rite of passage for many Scots. We decided to spare ourselves the ordeal of carrying camping equipment with us, and rather make use of Scotland famous B & B accommodation over the seven-day journey.

Beginning under the underwhelming ‘West Highland Way’ metallic sign in Milngavie, we wound our way through Mugdock Country Park, gradually leaving behind the dog walkers and Monday morning joggers.  We have been exceptionally lucky with weather so far – mid March is right on the boundary of recommended WHW traversing – and the weak spring sun shone down on all all day. Buzzards swung overhead as we walked. The trail really is excellently preserved, with little or no need to use maps to keep on route.

Past Farmhouse and quarry, wishing well and well-kept woodland we walked, until after a quick twelve miles we came to our repose for the night – the Clachan Inn, reputedly the oldest licensed public house in Scotland. Food at the aforementioned was excellent, and the low-slung building very atmospheric, although not as (reputedly) haunted as some of out forthcoming accommodation will be. Tomorrow will be a slightly more sedate wander into Balmaha, before the gruelling twenty-miler up the east Bank of Loch Lomond…

Chris has got a new book out! — luna’s on line

Chris Hall is a longstanding friend of mine on WordPress. Her writing is routinely brilliant and her work ethic consistently embarrasses me. Chris has six books to her name, her most recent being ‘Spirit of the Shell Man’. ‘A thrilling and compelling adventure story which combines action, fantasy and a touch of mythology’ reads a review, and I have no trouble believing such an endorsement. Take a look at her work – it speaks for itself…

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Read yourself into the venue via my second Six Sentence Story this week. The Prompt Word (helpfully) was BOOK. A neon sign lights up the narrow side street which leads to the Six Sentence Café and Bistro where a bearded man waits, watching as a minivan draws up. The driver leans out of her window […]

Chris has got a new book out! — luna’s on line

Igloos in the Tundra – Idea Formation

Igloo

Morning fellow scribblers,

I have always been intrigued to find out about other writers’ processes. Interaction with other authors, whether it be in writing courses, workshops, critique groups, or in academia, has taught me that no two writers approach their work in the same way. Indeed, what one writer swears by, another will see as anathema!

Throughout the next few weeks, I’ll be exploring the different processes involved in being a writer. This is not by any means to suggest that this is the right way to approach writing, but merely a way which has worked for me in getting my short stories published. Today I’ll be exploring idea formation.

I’d be fascinated to hear what tips and tricks you have found useful in your work.

Idea formation

Any author worth their salt will know that an idea can strike at any time – on the bus, on the treadmill, on the loo! Most of these a writer will explore and discard on an almost subconscious level, but a few will ignite that creative touch paper. What I’ve found useful is getting these down on paper as quickly as possible. Many, and indeed most, will peter out before ever reaching the end of a first draft, but it is important to at least have that discussion with yourself.

A recurring complaint I hear amongst writers is that they are bankrupt of ideas. I don’t see this as a failure of imagination, but rather of mindset. Most of my stories are set in banal backdrops – a convenience store, a railway station, a bus; the catalyst for changing these into narratives is the question ‘What If?’ What if a woman tried liposuction using a vacuum cleaner in the bath? What if an agoraphobic man had to announce himself to the world? I think an author should always be on standby for an idea, their mind should always be worrying away at a ‘What If?’ like a schoolboy with a wobbly tooth. Stories don’t announce themselves; they have to be teased out.

Cliched as it is, I find that a lot of ideas strike me just as I am going to sleep (Watan, Light in the Blackhouse). For that reason, I will routinely text myself ideas before I forget them. Consequently, I often wake up to a badly written, almost indecipherable message on my phone which, if successfully decoded, may or may not result in a story! Whether it results in a final product is immaterial. Once it is written down it acts as an igloo in the tundra; somewhere I can explore from and return to if that exploration is unsuccessful. Like many writers, my tundra is littered with igloos whose bricks did not quite fit together.

That’s not to say that they won’t someday…

Let me know if the start of your creative process differs…