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Donkin's World: The West Highland Way

Richard Donkin tels of a 97-mile (or was it 98) "stroll'' in Scotland.

Back in to the old Jeep for the last (and seventh) trip to Scotland this year, this time to walk the West Highland Way, a 97 or 98-mile walk, depending on the guide book, from Milngavie, north of Glasgow, to Fort William at the start of the Great Glen.

The problem with such walks is that you must leave your transport at one end and then get to the other for the start or finish. We drove up, parked, then stayed the night at Fort William before taking the train down to Cardross, then a taxi the next morning to the start at Milngavie.

After the route march that was the Coast-to-Coast walk last year http://donkinlife.blogspot.com/2010/07/coast-to-coast-bond-for-life.html, we decided on a more leisurely eight day schedule for this one with friends, Charles Godden and Toni Taylor and their labrador, Wanda. We thought about taking our Jack Russell pup, Pippa, but decided it might be a bit much for her.

It was not an auspicious start when I discovered on the morning of the walk that one of my boots had a gaping hole in the toe, fixed temporarily with a liberal application of Evo-Stik. It didn't last.

It might have lasted had it not been for the downpours of rain that continued for the whole trip until the day we drove home when the country was bathed in bright sunshine.

Most of the first part of the walk follows the eastern bank of Loch Lomond - much negotiating of tree roots and a rocky shoreline. We called at the Glengoyne distillery, producer of the first of many malts we would try in the next week. Gill decided she would try a malt a night but often it was two and I tried a few different ones too, so between us we sampled quite a lot.Married status apart, I will refer to the Godden-Taylors as the Goddens for brevity. They are avid walkers so only Gill was doubting her fitness because of a dicky knee which began to play up coming down off a windswept Conic hill on day two. We took refuge from the wind and rain in a pub, which, like too many on the way, was not dog-friendly.

As a dog-lover I don't care much for anti-dog establishments and Scotland seems to have more, proportionately, than the rest of the UK. At this pub a waitress came to the rescue of our wet friends and sheltered their dog in the back of her car over lunch.

Scottish bars, generally, are a lot better than they used to be, but too many of them still need to pull their socks up. Cask beer was available at no more than a quarter of the pubs we visited and most of the keg stuff came ready prepared for the urinal without the complications of passing through a digestive system.

The worst pub of the trip was the Inversnaid Hotel about half-way up Loch Lomond, relying for much of its lunchtime income on captive coach and pleasure boat parties. The sandwiches were pathetic and when I asked at the bar for a packet of crisps I was told I could find one in a vending machine. The Goddens and their dog stood outside in the rain while we found a dry niche in the ballroom. It takes more than tartan carpets and waist-coated Eastern European staff to deliver a friendly welcome in the glen.

Scottish bars love their big tellies and gleaming silver taps for pressured keg beverages. The best room we had on the whole trip was in a small bed-and-breakfast run by Heather and Colin Clement in Tyndrum - spotlessly clean and good warm showers, not these wall attachments that have all the pressure of a can of hairspray.

The Green Welly shop in Tyndrum was a foot-saver as my old boots were letting in water. It's not recommended to change your boots mid-trip but in this case it worked a dream with a fine new pair of Lowas in the sale.

Gill's knees were improving so from the half-way mark it was just a matter of covering the hard yards to the end. It was wet on the way to Tyndrum and wet again over Rannoch Moor to the last stage beyond Glen Coe when it rained again. Jane Corfield came down from her lighthouse at Neist Point on Skye http://dickdonkin.smugmug.com/Holidays/Neist-Point-Lighthouse-Isle-of/1853781_KGVpZm#93017242_Heqv9 to join us on that last wet day.Despite the rain, despite the conversations when we wondered whether we'd have preferred sunbathing in some (much cheaper) resort overseas, it was good to get some walking in. I'd like to say it improved my fitness but back home I've discovered that I put on half a stone, eating all those big breakfasts that I thought I would walk off during the day.

Next time we should have our own dog to confront the prejudices on the way. I'm not sure what dogs did to deserve such treatment. Most people seem to like them but we live in a sterile society and dogs and sterility just don't mix. Perhaps that's why I don't get ill too often.

I've kept up my picture-a-day regime on Blipfoto. All those expansive scenes can't last. It's back to photographing the paperclips.

For those interested in doing the walk, I thought it might be helpful to add a schedule. This is what I would call a comfortable schedule with a mixture of days between 10 and 15 miles. Those wanting something a bit tougher could shorten the time and lengthen the distances. The options are outlined neatly in the Harvey route map of the West Highland Way.http://www.amazon.co.uk/West-Highland-Way-XT40-Route/dp/1851374582/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&qid=1317373409&sr=8-10 Don't buy the Cicerone guide. It is dull and out of date. A good place to stay in Fort William is the Lime Tree - great food. http://www.limetreefortwilliam.co.uk/

Day 1: Milngavie to to Drymen (12 miles)
Day 2: Drymen to Rowardennan (15 miles)
Day 3: Rowardennan to Inverarnan (14 miles)
Day 4: Inverarnan to Tyndrum (12 miles)
Day 5: Tyndrum to Inveroran (10 miles)
Day 6: Inveroran to Kingshouse (10 miles)
Day 7: Kingshouse to Kinlochleven (8 miles)
Day 8: Kinlochleven to Fort William (14 miles)

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