On Monday May 13th 2013 I began my charity walk at John O'Groats in North East Scotland. It seemed a fairly daunting task to walk all the way down to Lands End in South West England. Mother Nature was really rather kind, though, with the weather she supplied for the entire walk being exceptionally good for our comparitively little island. There was very little need for even a coat, let alone the waterproofs I had taken with me! Indeed, the waterproof trousers went on twice, the jacket only once more, and I had merely a t-shirt on for all bar a dozen or so days out of the 56 it took to complete the walk! (as well as boots and M & S thermal troos I hasten to add!)
The sun shone well into the evening on most days, and the pictures above show how calm the sea was. This was on the coast at Latheron Wheel, otherwise known as Janetstown, a lovely quiet village some 35 odd miles South of Groats.
Indeed, the weather really was perfect for walking, the picture above left being Helmsdale harbour at 9 a.m. - and the one on the right being the lovely beach at Brora, both again showing the sea so calm and friendly, with clear blue skies and warm sunshine. Beautiful Scotland!
After passing into the county of Ross, near Dingwall, more delights were to follow in the shape of some seriously beautiful Lochs and majestic mountains. The Great Glen Way was picked up at Drumnadrochit, and followed to it's Southern conclusion at Fort William. This leads beautifully and conveniently straight into The West Highland Way. This, surely one of the world's most beautiful mid to long distance paths, takes the walker all the way to the Northern outskirts of Glasgow, and rewards you with some of the most beautiful scenery you could imagine, particularly if Mother Nature has blessed you with good weather!
On the left, above, the Dornoch Firth; cloudy but fine, and above right high above The Great Glen Way on the approach to Drumnadrochit. Beautiful little lochs high in the hills give a taster of what's to come!
My first sight of Loch Ness, and the sun winning against the low cloud as it's rays dance upon the calm and spooky waters of one of the world's most famous bodies of water.
A wonderful feat of engineering many years ago created The Caledonian Canal. From The North Sea above the Moray Firth the canal runs straight from there through Inverness, to feed into Loch Ness. From the Southern end of Ness it then links with Loch Oich and Loch Lochy, before finally joining Loch Linnhe and into the Firth of Lorne, the Sound of Jura and the wide open sea. It really is quite magnificent, and a splendid path allows the walker to enjoy good walking with marvellous views.
Fort William to Kinlochleven really is a stunning start to the walk. A few miles of steady and fairly arduous climbing, through a mixture of dense woodland and wide open clearance areas leads to the most beautiful of mountain paths. A few steady miles to plod at around 1500 feet are to follow, with the walker handsomely rewarded as the climb down to Kinlochleven brings a fantastic view of this most beautiful of highland villages. With Loch Leven at it's Northern end, and the River Leven flowing down the distant mountains to feed it.
If the weather holds, the views are just as good as you carry on from Kinlochleven to Glen Coe. As you can see above, glorious sunshine highlighting the majestic highland mountains, or Monroes. The cairn at the top in the picture on the right is at the top of 'The Devil's Staircase', at 1850 feet the highest part of The West Highland Way.
The many red deer that happily graze outside the hotel, have, I suppose, got quite used to human interest. It is to be sincerely hoped that this situation isn't changed by any stupid acts, or building projects that tend to ruin many beautiful places.
The views around Kings House really are magnificent, with the Nevis range to the North, Rannoch Moor to the East, the Black Mounts to the South, and Glen Etive to the West. I saw not a single drop of rain for the 3 days of walking through Glen Coe, which must be pretty rare!
Onwards along the Western edges of Rannoch Moor through tiny Inveroran, past lovely Loch Tulla, ascending a little, then descending past Bridge of Orchy .
The path is very clearly marked the whole way, and the vast majority of the walking is easy to moderate, and the views continue to be stunning.
The picture above is looking back to Bridge of Orchy from the path to Tyndrum, where Glen Coe is left behind and another magnificent area is entered; Loch Lomond and The Trossachs.
As a reminder against complacency, the heavens did indeed open overnight at Tyndrum, and the rain continued to fall heavily all day on the lovely walk to Inverarnan.
The rivers Coninish and Falloch, above, bear witness to the amount of rain that fell in some 15 hours, the mountain streams gushing down the hills in more places than the eye can follow, to swell the powerful gushing torrents.
The reward at the end of this section is splendid. A visit to the marvellously well run and welcoming Drovers Inn at Inverarnan has to be on any walkers short list. The Drovers is fantastic.
The very bonny Loch Lomond. Do not rush this part, don't rush any of it, but particularly this.
Sit and linger, ponder the many stories of Rob Roy, take in all the peaceful beauty of the calm waters. Marvel at the majesty of the mountains that stand guard over this most beautiful of Lochs. Take your time and be thankful that you are here, and nowhere else, for this was surely one of Mother Nature's lovliest creations.
Passing through several quiet villages as you hug the shore of the loch, you will forget that Glasgow is really not so far away to the South. As you climb out of Balmaha up Conic Hill, take a long pause to take in the last really good views of this bonniest of lochs.
A clear path takes you through open sheep grazing country, dense woodland and clearance areas, to the village of Drymen which is nice, then on Southwards on the flat to Milngavie and the end of The West Highland Way.
I must have been struggling to concentrate as I planned the next section of the walk, for much flat walking through towns and villages was to follow. Some nice bits, but not too much to inspire the walker who by nature would always want to be climbing a hill, or coming down one. The author of this particular walking story is most definitely one of those, but never mind, as I said there were some good bits!
The River Clyde was followed pretty closely from Glasgow to Lanark, quite pretty in parts, and it combined with the evening sun at New Lanark to produce the shots below.
Lanark is a lovely little town, with a very friendly disposition to visitors - like most of Scotland I should add - and I did enjoy my fleeting visit there, particularly these inventive preperations for the town's very historic Lanimers Day.
Designed and thought up entirely by a young Scots lad named Cameron, these 'soldiers' were in place to commerorate the rather daft closing of the barracks at nearby Hyndford. I didn't find out if young Cameron and his pals won a prize, but I certainly think they deserved one!
The walk to Moffat, with part of the Southern Uplands providing some good views, was good
as were The Black Bull hotel, and Moffatt church - which rang it's tuneful bells as a marvellous morning wake up call!
It was shortly after passing through Moffatt that the English border was reached, a few yards after Gretna Green. I will admit to much sadness at leaving Scotland. The Scots that I met on this first section of the walk had, without exception, been warm and friendly, welcoming and generous.
Way back up at Groats Kevin and Dorothy MacGregor had warmly wished me well, and filled my glass several times with whisky. Several publicans had, without any asking, just offered to shift bags to the next stop. Many folk had donated to my 4 charities, and many more had provided free drinks, dinners, and warm friendly greetings on arrival, and warm wishes for good luck on departure.
I felt quite guilty that my route had only half done justice to this most beautiful of lands. I decided then, as I sat and sipped tea on the border, that I absolutely must walk the length of Britain again, the other way, and see much more of Scotland. That I must climb so many more mountains, gaze on so many more beautiful lochs, and drink in some more wonderful Scottish hospitality and humour.
Yes, Scotland, you were my favourite part of my long distance walk for charity.
Alec Hawkes. 17.07.13
My review - part one. Part two will follow shortly.