I’ll admit, when I woke up for day two on the West Highland Way, I was not feeling as chipper as I was setting out for day one. I was sorer than I expected with tight calves and throbbing blisters on my feet. I was having doubts that I’d be able to do it all over again and mentally kicking myself for not practicing longer hikes wearing my pack.
Despite the pain and worry, I still found myself eager to see what the day had in store and experience more of Scotland. I did some stretching in my little garden pod, rewrapped my poor gnarly blisters in bandaids, and headed over to the main home for breakfast.
My new friends were already there eating and chatting away with the host, Tom. I gladly joined them in conversation and chats about the day ahead. Today included Conic Hill, so we knew we’d be up against some steeper walking. My aching muscles cringed at the thought.
I worried about eating too much breakfast and getting sleepy but knew I’d need enough to hold me over lunchtime. Tom and his wife packed up a lunch for me to take on the trail.
My WHW companions headed out before me for an earlier start. Today wasn’t one of the longer stretches, so I took my time at breakfast enjoying my breakfast and conversation with Tom. I enjoyed meeting people on this first leg of my hike whom I actually felt I could talk to about the things I cared about — not something I experience often with strangers back home.
And We’re Off
After breakfast, and a brief stop at a local convenience store for an outlet adapter, I was on my way. I walked back down through the village of Drymen until I reached the spot I passed yesterday where the West Highland Way picks back up again. It was marked by a rusted wrought iron gate and some steps.
I was officially back on the trail.
At the bottom of the steps, I walked into a large clearing of pastures with sheep and cows. Despite my aching muscles, joints, and blisters, it was a beautiful day and I felt better already. There were a handful of walkers in the field ahead, though not many behind. Had I gotten too late of a start?
After the pasture, I crossed a busy street and the path turned into one lined with hedges. I pretended I was on a mythical journey as I walked through it.
A Change in Terrain
After my short-lived adventure through the hedges, I noticed the terrain was starting to change. It felt less like farmland and started inclining slightly. It was also around this time that I met another West Highland Way companion—a rather tall German guy around my age, perhaps a few years younger.
He started up a conversation and we talked a lot about the hike, his new appreciation for his home country after Covid, traveling by train, and his stormy lodging the night before. Eventually, my short legs were no match for his long ones and he bid me adieu to go on ahead.
Having someone to talk to passed the time for a couple of miles, but I appreciated going back to my solitude to take it all in. My WHW companion was only going to Balmaha, the halfway point of my day.
Into the Forest, I Must Go
Not long after we parted, I entered the Garadhban forestry area. This first taste of forest terrain sparked some excitement in me as I continued on. While my heart loves the rolling green hills and moody, rugged, sometimes dramatic mountain scenery, I never expected to be equally as moved by the forest.
In Missouri, we have a lot of what I would call “woods”. Lots of trees, but on a smaller scale, and, to me, it usually feels more dead than alive. Still, growing up I had an affinity for playing in the woods surrounding my childhood home, so I should have known that this larger-scale version would speak to me.
(It also made great spots for “wild wees”)
The path here was easy going and I took the time to slow down and enjoy it. The day was gorgeous, low 60’s, a slight breeze, and some sunshine. It was easy to take my time. As I was walking, another solo female passed, the first I’d seen so far aside from myself. She was shorter and slighter than me with a big ol’ pack that took up half her frame. It was clear she was wild camping and I was impressed. I couldn’t imagine carrying the weight of my camping supplies and setting up camp alone.
Off to a Great Start
I took a break in a small clearing for a snack and some water. I didn’t want to spend every second of this adventure rushing to the next destination without enjoying all the beauty of my surroundings. In this moment, I was still in high spirits and enjoying the day.
I wondered how close I was to Conic Hill. Prior to the hike, I didn’t do much studying of landmarks or pictures along the way. I wanted to take it all in as I went along. All I knew was that Conic Hill was the climb marking the halfway point in my day, overlooking Loch Lomond.
(Loch Lomond and I would develop quite the love/hate relationship later on).
Eventually, I passed through a livestock gate with posted signs warning against dogs. It was lambing season. The sign made me think of my dog back home, thinking about how she’d feel right at home in the Scottish countryside. In the distance were plenty of lambs, and what I suspected to be Conic Hill.
As I weaved through the sheep, I often found myself talking to them, “Hello, sheep!”, though they usually weren’t impressed. Is it just me or are the Irish sheep more personable than the Scottish variety?
I was a little nervous about the climb coming up. Though I’d been distracted from my aching muscles and blisters, they were still there—prepared to come back in full force when I reached my accommodation. Nearing the hill, I walked across a small bridge over a stream. I loved the sound so much that I vowed to stop on every bridge I encountered to take a moment to enjoy it, no matter how tired I was.
The Climb Up Conic Hill
The climb up Conic Hill was steady but steep in spots. I’ll admit that I paused several times to catch my breath. I enjoyed the breaks, looking out over the scenery behind me as I climbed higher, letting the fit people pass me by. There were even a couple of locals jogging up…impressive.
Once you reach the path at the top, you have the option to continue walking and start your decline or climb up further, to the uppermost part of the hill. Though I knew 7 miles in after a moderate climb was only the halfway point in my day, I told myself, “When in Rome” (or Scotland, for that matter). Up I went.
Lunch With a View
Though it wasn’t the clearest of days, once I saw the view of Loch Lomond below, I was glad I took the extra time. I snagged a spot in the grass against a rock and decided to enjoy lunch with a view. It was windy at this height, so I had to hold tight to my wrappers.
A short distance away, I noticed my morning WHW companion laying in the grass with his head on his pack. He only had a couple of miles left in his day and was clearly taking his time on the hill. I had someone take my photo at the top. After a 30-45 minute break, decided it was time to make my way down.
Coming down, the trail was more crowded with locals taking day climbs up the hill. It was here that I had my first (and only) fall of the entire hike. Right on my butt down the makeshift steps coming down. I’m still a little embarrassed thinking about it.
Back at the bottom, the path again turned into forest land. I ran into more WHW companions—the couple from the New England area. We talked and walked together briefly before I stopped off at a park bathroom near Balmaha for a break.
In Balmaha, where several people ended their hike for the day, I topped up my water and continued on. It seemed like a cute little place, and I wished I had more time to spend there.
A Challenging End to Day 2
It wasn’t long into the second half of my day that I could feel myself losing momentum. I was tired and sore from the climb up Conic Hill and the terrain along Loch Lomond was becoming more of a challenge. There were loose rocks and more regular steep inclines. I loved the moments when the path wove me closer to the loch, where I took a moment to stop and listen to the water lapping against the shore.
I was slowing down. I remember coming to one of these inclines, exhausted, and taking a moment at the bottom where I said, out loud, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me”.
One of the biggest errors I made, was memorizing the length of the stretch incorrectly. Once I passed the amount of mileage I thought the day would be, I was discouraged knowing I wasn’t there yet and unsure of how long remained.
I’d misjudged my time so poorly that Mickledore, the walking tour company I’d booked through, called me to make sure I was alright. I was glad they were thorough about checking in since I was a solo female traveler, but my pride was a little wounded.
For the last few miles, I mentally tormented myself, making it harder than it had to be. I was hungry and ready for a rest. When I finally saw the Rowardennan Inn in the distance, I was so happy I could have sprinted for it.
I arrived so late, that I had to go to the bar and restaurant to check into my room. There, I ran into the couple I’d shared accommodations with the night before. They’d been wondering where I was and I was glad to see them again.
That’s a Wrap on Day 2
My final challenge of the day was climbing a set of stairs to my room. The funny part about long-distance walks is that you power through the soreness for most of the day, but once you get to a place of rest, it all comes back in full force. I was excited to discover that my room had a lovely view of the edge of Loch Lomond.
I sat at the desk beside it to journal about my day on the West Highland Way. Afterward, I would head down for some dinner and prepare for tomorrow. I was nervous about what was in store after such a challenging day, but the views outside my window brought me some excitement too. I’d come this far already.