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.
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