Not The West Highland Way
Day 3: Foot of Ben Lomond – Doune Byre Bothy
Saturday 26th May 2018
Distance: 13.5 miles [view on map]
Although I was camping part way up the path, I was not the first up Ben Lomond on Saturday morning. The midges lurking outside my tent had discouraged me from leaving it until about 8:30am, by which time perhaps hundreds of people had started their ascent and some were already on the way down. It must be one of the most popular Munros of the Highlands.
The ascent was not too hard due to a good path, but I noticed that I was one of the few crazy enough to carry a full pack with camping gear up! At the top about 50 people were standing around admiring the views or sitting eating a sandwich, despite the wind. I did not stay for long, and started to come down on a path to the north west, which would swung me back round to the south had I continued on it. But I was headed north, and although there was no path north, that would not stop me!
I came down the grassy north face, avoiding steep rocky outcrops in places. The walking was much tougher than the path up, but the thick grass made the descent fairly easy on the knees. I headed towards a smaller hill, Cruin a’ Bheinn, which my guidebook suggested going up. First I had to squeeze through a deer fence. Which I reached the base of Cruin a’ Bheinn I decided I had done enough ascent for the day so I swung round the side. I then had to cross a stretch of low, boggy ground, but it was not too bad because of the lack of rain. I mostly followed deer tracks to avoid the boggiest bits.
I reached a farm track, which took me back down to Loch Lomond, and I then continued north along the shore for the rest of the afternoon and into the early evening. When I reached Doune Byre Bothy, I found no-one was staying there, despite being right next to the West Highland Way, so I decided to stay there overnight.
As I unpacked and cooked my quick cook pasta dinner, various people stopped by. First couple of German lads turned up, just arrived off the ferry, and seemingly knew nothing about the Highlands except that they wanted to see it, so I explained a few things like the West Highland Way. They decided to go off and camp.
Next a couple of northerners on mountain bikes turned up, and explained they were cycling the West Highland Way and were 30km behind their schedule because the stretch along the northern half of Loch Lomond had been so rocky they had to carry their bikes most of the way. They could not get to their hotel and everything was booked up because it was bank holiday weekend, so it seemed they were in luck having just found a bothy! But they seemed determined to continue, attracted the idea of reaching a campsite with facilities or perhaps even better, a pub where they could drink away their worries! They took some of the sleeping gear that people had left behind and the bothy, and continued on to the campsite – without a tent. I wonder if anyone had told them about the Scottish midges.
Finally, a group of Czechs arrived who did want to stay. They slept at one end of the Bothy while I slept at the other. They, like me, were carrying all their camping gear, but had not invested in lightweight gear so had huge packs. Over the following days I kept meeting them at various points along the West Highland Way, unfortunately they were not easing in to the walk. The last time I saw them they were limping along as though they were lost in the desert.