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…

Ben Vane (second attempt) | Hiking

Our previous attempt at climbing Ben Vane in March of this year had to be abandoned after the weather turned on us close to the summit. We were pretty sure that we had made the right decision at the time – the lowering snow clouds chased us down the mountain – but the questions of how close we had come to the top and whether we should have pushed on through the weather had been prodding away at me ever since.

Continue reading “Ben Vane (second attempt) | Hiking”