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Day 65: Loch

Rowardennan to Ardlui jetty. 12.8 miles. Miles to date: 985.2.

Consciousness returns. Radio with news stories that I lost touch with somewhere around Exmoor. There are sunbeams nudging through the floor-length curtains that are rippling in the early morning breeze.

I perform a full body check. Left leg still operational? Check. Right leg? Check. I’m not sure I deserve their continued support.

I pull back the duvet, sit up and slowly transfer my weight onto each foot. How much pain? A fair bit. I always half hope I’ll heal overnight like a character in a computer game. If anything I feel worse than I did when I settled into bed last night. But I know this is normal; joints stiff for the first half hour, putting up one last red flag of defiance that says Please give us a break, before giving in and getting on with the job.

I check my heels. Both still numb. But the numbness isn’t spreading. I assess the blisters. There are no more – though none have gone either. One seems better, another couple worse. Compeed on the shopping list again.

Then and only then do I cross the room – slowly – and draw the curtains.

It’s another gorgeous day.

LeJog is not technically difficult. That’s my take on it, anyway. Its not the kind of extreme adventure that demands heroic fitness, athletic mastery or superhuman stamina. It is, ultimately, no more than a long walk. And it’s a walk that you can – in theory – take at your own pace.

The hard bit is looking after yourself as you go.

Where mariners must keep their vessel afloat at all costs, the LeJoger has to keep body and soul in good enough health to reach the end of the road.

There’s an argument to say I’ve been neglecting that fundamental responsibility. Throwing 29 mile curveball days into my schedule was playing with fire. And there’s always a price to pay.

For me, it has been blisters, and the most pain on my trip north to date, but an inevitable hangover from my two-day binge walk along the canals.

Unfortunately, my schedule’s lost the flexibility that served me so well throughout England. While I used to shorten days or take a rest when my body needed it I haven’t had that luxury for the past few days, and won’t again until I hit the east coast two weeks from now.

Either I’ve been faced with long stretches without easily accessible accommodation (the canals), or the accommodation’s been so packed that I’ve had to book days ahead with no option to reschedule (pretty much every stopping point on the West Highland Way).

I don’t like being stuck in a timetable straitjacket. But with the Scottish holidays in full swing on one of the busiest walking trails in the world that’s the way it is.

I breakfast in the beautifully situated Rowardennan Lodge YHA.

I always enjoy the breakfast buzz in youth hostels. I love the noisy sense of purpose – different groups all ready and eager for the day ahead as they fill up on carbs and fats.

If offices could bottle that energy British productivity would double overnight.

I get my money’s worth: the full veggie, toast, juice, yoghurt, fruit, tea and, ahem, Cocoa Pops (hey, my feet hurt. I’m allowed a treat, OK?)

Then it’s back out onto the shores of Loch Lomond and the West Highland Way.

Rowardennan Lodge YHA. They serve great breakfasts. Including Cocoa Pops.

View from the YHA.

First rays of sun on the YHA.

It is a near-as-damnit perfect walk on a near-as-damnit perfect day.

The breeze is just enough to create movement on the Loch and take the edge off the already warm sunshine, while the murk that was in the air yesterday has cleared overnight so that the mountains hang clear in the blue.

It’s my second day along 24 mile long Loch Lomond, but today is even better. The road and gravel tracks end and a narrow path picks its way over gnarly roots and boulders as it traces the shore.

Sunshine filters through Scots pines, oaks and birches, rays drifting as the wind nudges the canopy. Sometimes the path drops down to little bays where overnight stoppers are striking camp, dosing smouldering fires with loch water. And sometimes it climbs, up fractured rock chimneys that call for hands and feet.

Just metres from the path the woods thicken into a dense undergrowth of heather and fern through which burns tumble in sparkling falls.

And above it all, the mountains, shifting on the skyline as I clock up the miles: the instantly recognisable rock features on The Cobbler opposite, Ben Vorlich to the northwest.

Hills over the Loch. The Cobbler (2,900ft) – aka Ben Arthur – is on the left.

Close up of the distinctive summit of The Cobbler.

The woodland path was beautiful.

Arklet Waterfalls.

The jetty below Inversnaid Hotel.

Somewhere past Rob Roy's Prison there’s music on the breeze.

Singing in the woods.

The voices gradually get louder until a couple of 20-something French scouts – scarves, woggles, shorts and all – track through the bracken at a cracking pace. The leader, brandishing a large backpack and a blackened saucepan in his right hand is singing verses of what sounds like a folk song. His companion, with an equally large pack, holding a frying pan, joins in to provide chorus harmony,

They’re not the world’s finest singers, and the harmonies could be tighter.

But there’s a freeform exuberance in their voices that fits the morning. The same energy that was in the Youth Hostel dining room – a careless joy in being able to stride out in this magnificent landscape.

The path winds through Scots Pines.

Woodland memorial to Bill Lobban in peaceful Cailness. Bill Lobban died trying to save a student and two fellow teachers from drowning.

High quality trail-side tuckshop.

The day gets better and better.

At mile eight I drop down to a secluded bay. I take off my boots and socks. My feet still hurt. But the scenery’s winning the fight for my attention.

I paddle into the loch. It’s bracing cold. I paddle deeper and let the minutes drift as ripples fold onto the beach. A motorboat ploughs a whitewater furrow past I Vow Island, dragging screaming kids in a donut behind. A few minutes later its wake splashes along the rocky shoreline.

At mile nine I find a clearing in Craigrostan Woods and shelter from the now blazing sun beneath a tree clinging to a crag. These are the last remnants of the Atlantic oak forest that once cloaked the hillsides, which only survived because of the precipitous terrain. There is music in the woods again. Birdsong this time. An RSPB board that I pass shortly after details sightings: warblers, sandpipers, wagtail, dipper – a golden eagle.

Then at mile 12 a choice.

There’s a jetty for a ferry that crosses the loch to my stopping point of Ardlui (pronounced Ard Louis) that I’d known nothing about. I’d planned to walk another two miles along the West Highland Way to Inverarnan then get a bus back to my hotel.

But the ferry will take me there direct and transfer two miles onto tomorrow’s schedule, giving me a blissfully short day. All I have to do is winch a buoy up the jetty-side flagpole to summon the ferry.

Do I want the extra miles – and the pain – today or tomorrow?

On another day I might have made a different choice, but not today. This is a day to enjoy the loch, and the sun, and give my body time to heal.

So I raise the buoy, watch as the ferry crosses the waters, then lean back as we motor back over the waves, outboard throwing ozone into the air as the mountains recede into the heat haze above the sparking blue.

Mountains at the head of Loch Lomond.

Done Byre bothy.

Raising the buoy summons the ferry from Ardlui, opposite.

Ferry ride.


Next: Day 66 – Ardlui ferry to Tyndrum.

Previous: Day 64 – Killeath to Rowardennan.

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