Left Behind on the West Highland WayReading Time: 5 minutes
My body has an annoying and inconvenient way of reminding me that I am not limitless. I’m a Mandlovu woman-apparently, it doesn’t care. One of these reminders came three days after my friend, Sarah, and I had started the 7-day, 154.5km West Highland Way hike in the north of Scotland.
This hike takes one from Milngavie (just north of Glasgow) to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands exploring the ancient roads, including military and coaching roads. The route allows walkers to truly appreciate the diversity of the landscape as they walk along streams, hills and along the longest stretch of inland water in Great Britain, Loch Lomond.
Three days after walking about 8 hours a day and resting each evening at an assortment of lodgings, my knee started its protests. It was then, that it objected to continuing to be subjected to the pressure, induced by the uneven terrain on the path, without sufficient rest.
I was determined to complete this hike. ‘Mind over Matter’ I encouraged the voices in my head to tell my nerves as I continued putting one foot after the other, while internalising a deep desire to screech in pain every time I put my foot down. I decided to slow down and therefore, encouraged Sarah to continue ahead of me.
The rocks, the loch, random logs, vegetative growth and an inconsistent path became my companions as I continued alone with the occasional appearance of human life every half an hour, giving me a chance to exchange a few words and exercise my vocals.
People offered to help, and encouraged me to keep going. Seeing the distance between my new hiking buddies become greater, I felt the need to send them with a message for Sarah. After each encounter, I eagerly tried to increase my pace, but my legs were having none of it and tears flooded my eyes. I walked for miles and miles with no sightings of buildings on the trail.
As the terrain roughened more and more along Loch Lomond, I regretted not having brought walking sticks. I was seriously relieved when I FINALLY saw the waterfall at Inversnaid just behind the Inversnaid Hotel. It was so overwhelming, involuntary tears streamed down my cheeks.
I took a ferry over Loch Lomond, to avoid straining my knee further, before taking a bus from Tarbet to Crianlarich where we had booked accommodation for the night. The views from the ferry were absolutely, breath-taking; surrounded by water and mountains. The sun and clouds, playing cat and mouse, created such lovely contrasts when the light came through changing the background for the giant mountains in view.
After arriving at Tarbet, I enjoyed the park directly off the pier. It looked like a painting straight out of a story book; the flawless, green grass dotted with families playing cricket, couples with their intricately woven picnic baskets, children running after bright round balls and some young men debating on whether or not to add more firewood to their barbeque. Temporarily forgetting my pain, I wished that Sarah had been there with me and we too could sit and watch the boats coming and going while enjoying a picnic.
I received a warm welcome at the quintessentially Scottish, Tarbet Hotel where, on request, the friendly staff told me where to get the right bus which was to arrive 45mins later.
On the bus to Crianlarich, I bumped into a girl I had originally met at one of the lodgings, Kip in the Kirk, in Drymen and a couple of times along the trail. She was also catching the bus to her accommodation. Finding accommodation on the trail can be a little tricky in the summer, as it is limited in some of the towns, and quickly becomes oversubscribed. Some hikers then use the bus to go where they can find lodgings, and take it back to where they started to maintain the integrity of the hike.
The bus dropped me off at The Crianlarich Hotel but the 3G on my phone seems to have stayed behind in Glasgow. The staff at the Crianlarich Hotel called me a taxi to drop me off at the Inverardran Guesthouse.
The guesthouse had quaint English décor that was so lovely, I almost felt bad going in with my hiking clothes. However, the overwhelming need for a shower and a rested knee trumped how bad I could have felt quickly.
I had a refreshing shower, made a cuppa, then laid down on the bed only to realise that my mobile and the B&B wifi were not going to work. How was I going to tell Sarah that I had arrived and where the hotel was? Seriously, this dependency on technology can become crippling. Luckily, I remembered another friend’s BT internet login details and used them to gain internet access, therefore was able to use Whatsapp and ask another friend to call Sarah and update her with the details.
After having spent the previous 72hours together, I was so happy to see Sarah’s face after our 6 hour separation. I made us a makeshift dinner with some of the goodies we still had in our hiking bags and we enjoyed a cuppa together. Sarah continued the hike the following day, but that was the end of my first multi-day hiking holiday.
Has your body ever cut short an adventure you were on? What did you do?