My next route, the trail from Rowardennan to Inverarnan is often considered one of the most challenging stretches on the West Highland Way.
I awoke on day three with a throbbing blister and a new hobble to my walk. It’s amazing how many muscles you use on long-distance hikes without realizing it. As I was getting ready for breakfast, I looked out my window and noticed a group of people coming out of the loch from a swim. I wish I’d thought to participate in this activity the night before so I could have gotten up earlier, but yesterday my thoughts buzzed with the challenging day I’d had.
As I went down to breakfast, others were discussing their cold morning swims. Locals typically swim in wetsuits, but the tourists from the walk did it in their swimsuits. They said it was freezing but relieved their aching muscles.
I sat in a corner booth where I could watch people coming and going. It pleased me to see I wasn’t the only one hobbling about on sore legs.
Breakfast Chatter – A New Daily Activity for Me
Conversation over breakfast was becoming a daily occurrence for me on this adventure and, surprisingly, I didn’t mind it. I enjoyed the talk about our experiences on the trail so far and hearing everyone’s unique stories.
At breakfast, I ran into my West Highland Way Companions for the second time at the Rowardenann Inn- the first couple from the garden B&B with the friendly host. I believe the man’s name was Kevin, but unfortunately, the woman’s name escapes me. (One day, I’ll get better at remembering names. Maybe on my next long-distance hike).
They stopped and chatted about how things were going so far. Another couple joined in on the conversation while we discussed the upcoming fork in the trail. We’d read that on today’s hike, there would be an option to go one of two routes: An easier one and a difficult one along the shores of the loch. I’d personally debated all night what to do when I reached this fork. My blisters, sore knee, and aching hip longed to take a break on the easy path, but I also didn’t want to turn away from a challenge or must-have experience. The woman in the other couple mentioned how she thought she’d read that the more challenging trail was closed today, but if it was open she planned to take it because it was part of the original West Highland Way route.
After a little more conversation, some shock that I don’t mind black pudding, and promises to see one another on the trail, we went our separate ways.
Ready For My Day on the West Highland Way
I was apprehensive about my aches and pains and nervous about the longer hike today. I struggled so much at the end yesterday and didn’t want that to happen again. Still, I kept a positive attitude and went on my way with the intention of heading out early.
Fun fact about me: My good intentions to head out early for something never seem to pan out.
I didn’t end up hitting the trail until 8:45 am and I noticed that not many people were still hanging around the Inn. I was heading out around 30 minutes earlier than usual and was feeling okay about my time. My knee and hip were aching like crazy today so I vowed to take it slow.
Luckily, the start of the trail was easygoing, though it would be one of the only easygoing portions during the day.
I encountered Kevin and his wife again at a generosity box at the start of the trail. This one was adorned with a mural stating how far we had come and how far we had yet to go.
So far we’d gone 28 miles. Only 68 left on my journey. It felt bittersweet. I still had a ways to go but found myself not wanting it to end too soon.
The Fork in the Road
About a mile into my walk, sooner than I’d anticipated, I reached the fork in the trail and had to make my decision. The challenging path would add another mile or two to my day, but I knew I could persevere. As the woman at breakfast had said, this route was original to the Way and I knew I’d have regrets if I took the easier path.
My companions and I separated, as they opted for the easier route through the forest.
The path I chose meandered along the shores of Loch Lomond. It was narrow and rocky with almost constant up and down. I found myself rambling over the rocks much of the way. This activity was the most unkind to my aching knee, but not as challenging as I’d built it up to be in my mind. After veering off the shore of the loch, the path leveled out into a big, beautiful forest.
Wandering Through the Moss
I’ve always loved moss, I remember being drawn to it even as a child playing out in the yard. This particular area was completely covered. I felt at peace during this stretch, surrounded by my favorite color displayed in the form of forest moss. I even took a small break sitting down on the mossy ground to take it all in. This was what it was all about, enjoying the moment and all the joy I found along the way.
Another part I enjoyed about this stretch of the trail was how quiet it was. Once I made my way to the forest, I hadn’t seen another hiker in quite some time. Part of me worried that meant I was too far behind in my day, but it was also relaxing. I listened to the birds, the creaking of the trees, and the feeling that I’d entered a fairytale world of green. Perhaps I’d soon stumble into a small little cottage where the fairies meet.
Eventually, the forest trail met with the other path at the fork in the road. At the convergence, I met with the group I met on my very first day. The friends from the east coast, bird watchers, and professors who met up for a long-distance hike once a year. After this moment, they would become some of the West Highland Way Companions I ran into most often. I believe one of them referred to me as “Missouri”. It wasn’t uncommon to develop little nicknames from the faces you kept running into.
I felt tired at this point but energized from my walk in the forest.
The Halfway Point
By the time we reached Inversnaid- a town at the halfway point of our day with a hotel and resting area, I felt pretty beat. I was 9 miles into the hike.
The hotel sat lochside with several picnic tables scattered about. I commandeered one for myself and figured it was the perfect opportunity to have my lunch. Inside, I took off my boots in the large mudroom off of the lobby before hobbling in my socks over to the restroom. I took some time to top off my water and stretch, knowing I wasn’t out of the woods yet.
After lacing up my boots once more, I returned to my picnic table. I did NOT feel motivated to get up and go another 7+ miles after getting this opportunity to rest. My knee, hip, and blister were aching. I spotted my companions from earlier at a nearby picnic table and bummed some painkillers off of them, vowing to get my own supply at the first opportunity.
Finally, after a big pep talk, I got myself up and back on the trail.
Challenging Trail Terrain
The route after Inversnaid was one of the toughest ones I encountered thus far on the West Highland Way. The trail was narrow, rocky, and muddy with washed-out portions from the rain a couple of days prior. I couldn’t imagine the people hiking on that day and not slipping and falling, so I counted my lucky stars that it was a clear day.
Still, I had my fair share of near tumbles on loose rocks as I stepped up and down the weaving path. My knee was not happy and I stopped several times to let other, faster walkers pass me by. One couple looked to be close to their mid-seventies which, I’ll admit, hurt my pride just a smidge.
I did catch a glimpse of the infamous wild goats of Loch Lomond and thought of the story called The Three Billy Goats Gruff I read as a child. These hairy goats were not at all bothered by tourists and stood munching on the foliage as several of us gathered around to take their picture.
It was also along this stretch of the trail that I began to develop more of my love/hate relationship with Loch Lomond. I cursed its rocky shores, but loved the scenery and the sound of the water lapping the shore to accompany my hike. The day was sunny, and I often fantasized about swimming in the loch to cool off. I vowed to return and swim in it one day.
One of the best parts of this stretch of trail is that the bluebells appeared to be in abundance. I passed a beautiful hill covered in them as I stopped to have a snack.
Later, when the difficult terrain gave way and the trail veered away from the shores of Loch Lomond, the scene opened up into a flat stretch of bluebell-covered fields.
This flat stretch was not only beautiful but a temporary relief from the constant scrambling up and down that I felt like I endured most of the day. It was short-lived as I hiked through another forest that opened up to beautiful rolling hills past the northern stretch of the loch.
I was still around 3.5 miles away from my stopping point for the day in Inverarnan. The stunning scenery made the home stretch much more bearable. I remembered Day One walking along the paved road for so long and was grateful for the scenery to keep me company.
A Distant Inn
Nearing the end of the road, you could see an Inn across the way. I had a hunch it was where I would be staying for the evening and was excited that it was now in sight. However, if there’s one thing I learned on this walk, it’s that objects are much farther than they appear.
It felt like forever, as the route to the Inn was a large U shape and I was still on the first leg of the U. On this final stretch, I met some other West Highland Way Companions that I would run into often: Deb and Kris from California. It was clear they were petering out just like I was, but the small conversation helped me pass this stretch of time before I finally passed them to continue on my way.
Finally, after weaving through a campground, The Drover’s Inn sprawled out before me at the end of the road. It looked like an old building and I felt relieved and excited for it to be my stopping point of the day. I wondered how old it was and vowed to look up the history when I finally reached my room.
A Room at the Inn
When you enter the Drover’s Inn, the first thing there to greet you are taxidermy animals of all kinds. Bears, turkeys, deer, seals, and birds. Yet, it had an old hunting lodge feel and it felt as if you’d stepped back in time. I hear it’s under new management now and I do hope they keep the charm! (Chris and I even stopped back for a meal when I met up with him after the hike).
I was disappointed to find out that my room was in one of the newer buildings across the street rather than in the inn itself. I guess I’ll never know if the Drover’s Inn is as haunted as they say!
After reserving time for dinner, I went back to my room and took a shower, and relaxed for a while. It felt good to clean the mud off from the day.
A Satisfying End to the Day
When I returned for dinner, I sat in the bar area of the pub. It felt much like I imagined the original might have back in the day. It was dark with old walls, tables, ceilings, flooring, and decor with candles lit on the tables. The workers wore kilts and sporrans as music played on the speakers.
I loved the vibe and felt like I could sit there all evening people-watching. I enjoyed an incredible chicken bacon salad and a pint while listening to nearby hikers discuss their journey on the West Highland Way so far. The bar even had some fellow Midwesterners. I once again ran into Deb and Kris, who were buying shots at the bar to celebrate a birthday with some friends they’d made along the way – I quickly learned that Deb made friends with almost everyone she met.
I even had a mother and her daughter join me at my table for a few minutes, needing somewhere to sit. They spoke with me about the hike, visiting the US (she even honeymooned in Arkansas, which I found strange), and her daughter going off to college soon in Edinburgh.
This relaxing evening in a unique setting was the perfect end to my day that I didn’t realize I needed. I slept soundly and felt like I was truly finding my stride on this adventure of mine.
Start at the beginning of my West Highland Way adventure here.