West Highland Way – Day 1

Milngavie to Balmaha

The one with the rope swing, the French guys and two new hiking buddies

Distance: 19.2 miles

Location: Milngavie to Balmaha

Weather: The morning was gorgeous, the afternoon was abysmal!

Health: I feel great. The new boots are fab and my feet are dry. After 19 miles my hips ache, as does my ankle, but nothing that a few stretches and a good nights sleep won’t cure!

Highlights: The bluebells at the beginning of the trail were lovely. Seeing Highland Cows was a nice surprise this early into the trail. Having a go on a rope swing, views of Loch Lomond and as always, making new friends.

The Long Winded Version

5.30am – I’m all packed and ready to go, but I have one item that just won’t fit in my rucksack! The airport rucksack bag is just too big and bulky. I boil the kettle and have another coffee and think of a solution.

6am – Keeping my fingers crossed 🤞 and hope that my plan goes well. I sweet talk the guy on reception who has agreed to hold my bag in the under the stairs cupboard until I return next Saturday! Result!

6.10am – The Beefeater does not open for breakfast until 7am, so I decide that a sausage and egg McMuffin will suffice. As I turn left out of the hotel I see the Golden Arches glowing! Oh no! McDonald's is closed. It opens at 7 am! Snacks it is then!! Perhaps McDonald's have different opening times in Scotland 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿?

🌳 6.30am – I’m off! I take way too many photos and videos at the southern terminal of The West Highland Way. Eventually, I get walking and I’m feeling excited. It’s beautiful already as I cross a river and head into the woods. Everywhere looks so green and alive!

🦅 6.37am – I spot my first heron as I follow the river through a lovely mossy woods. The birds are very vocal, and then I see bluebells. Hundreds of them like a purple sea flowing through the woods. There are lots of little statues and weird sculptures that keep me entertained on this section. I’m loving it!

🔥 8.20am – There is a shop/cafe/ place (closed for now, but that’s probably because it’s 8am on a Sunday morning!) that has a man growing out of a tree! Check out the photos and you’ll see what I mean. I also caught a cat (a real cat, not a fake one) sitting on a roof and underneath the cat there was a sign “For the life of….”

🌞 8.30am – For the next mile or so, I walk through the lovely pastures below the hill Dumgoyach. Wow! The sun is still shining and there is a hop in my step! 🐮 8.36am – I stop dead in my tracks. I spot my first West Highland Cows with massive horns! I start my breathing technique and check that my poles are ok for stabbing big beasts. As I slowly walk along the track and over the hill I can see the cows more clearly. To my relief there is a wire fence between us. All is ok in the world again!

🐴 9.45am – I reach Beech Tree Inn which looks amazing. The Shetland ponies are cute and the place feels very welcoming to walkers. My tummy rumbles as I’ve not yet had any breakfast so the timing is perfect. I look for the entrance, but it’s closed until 11am! Gutted! Note to self, never start this walk on. Sunday as everything is closed! I rest my feet, fill up my water bottle and wave at some hikers as they go by. They smile politely then continue on by. 10 mins pass and I launch Guthook. There is a garden centre 1 mile from here that has a cafe. I quickly check Google for the opening times… 10am! Right, let’s get going. A fry up is calling!

🏕 10.15am – 20 DofE youngsters were being shown how to pitch a tent. I smiled and continued on. I saw lots of DofE groups today.

☔️ 10.34am – Rain! Just as the first droplets of the wet stuff start to fall from the sky Oakwood Garden Centre appears like a beacon. I’m sitting in a lovely cafe enjoying a well deserved latte and full Scottish fry up! Life is good! 🍳 Square sausages! 🏕 My campsite for the night is only 2.2 miles from here and I’ll be there in less than an hour. I’ll carry on into Drymen and if I can find a gas canister for my stove then I’ll wild camp tonight. Perhaps try and get by Conic Hill. (That was my plan, but it all went wrong!)

🇫🇷 11.50am – Met two French hikers who are currently living in London. We chatted and walked together for about 30 mins. They had matching yellow rain jackets, matching walking poles and matching beards! I asked what their names were, and in a very strong French accent he replied “I’m Robin and this is Kevin” I couldn’t help myself but smiled and said “that does not sound like a French name?”. Robin explained that no-one in the UK could understand or pronounce their names so they gave themselves names that the British would get!

😂 He did tell me his name but he was right, I didn’t understand it.

👮‍♀️ 12.15pm I had a nice chat with Brian, a retired policeman who is walking the same route in 5 days. Lovely guy which we will probably leapfrog each other over the next few days. I popped into the Spar to get my gas canister (it’s huge!), but now I can eat!

🌧 12.50pm – Met up with two ladies from Southampton. Angie & Louise. Lovely ladies and even though the heavens opened and we were drenched to the core, the time passed quickly with chit chat. We saw our first view of Loch Lomond and posed for a group Selfie. There is a decision to make at the bottom of Conic Hill. Option A is “up and over” or option B is “down and round”. The weather was pelting down and visibility was poor so we opted for option B. What’s the point of climbing Conic Hill if we can’t see anything from the top?

4.15pm – We arrived at our destination, Balmaha. Angie and Louise are staying at the Oaktree. There is a campsite just a bit further on so I told them I’ll either walk back to the pub later or catch them tomorrow. We exchanged numbers and they went off to check in.

⛺️ 4.25pm – The campsite is closed! I’m now soaked to the skin and getting very cold. I can’t see anywhere to wild camp (not for another few miles, and I’m spent!). The thought of walking two more miles, then trying to pitch a tent in the rain with this wind does not sound like fun. I head back to the hotel where there is a coffee shop. I’ll grab a coffee and make a plan.

It’s now 5pm and I’ve just enjoyed a lovely hot shower at The Oaktree Hotel. They had a room left (a bit more expensive then a tent pitch, but soooo worth it!). I feel that I’ve let myself down a bit as I won’t have any option on the PCT, but hey, I feel dry, warm and I’m having dinner with new friends.

The West Highland Way is turning into a mini Camino and I’m loving it!