20th April – Drymen to Rowardennan

20190421 Loch Lomond near Cashel
Loch Lomond near Cashel

Having spent a most enjoyable evening with Sue and Nigel, catching up with the news of our respective families, I slept in and had a late breakfast.  After stocking up on food, I left Drymen at 9.25.

20190421 Crowds on the West Highland Way

My immediate impression was that half the world was going up the West Highland Way.  We all tramped up to the start of the Conic Hill where, by a seemingly unanimous decision, we stopped for a break.

20190421 Conic Hill
Conic Hill

Little did we know what was to come. The ascent went well, but coming up to the final stretch to the summit I realised that the other half of the world was coming up from the opposite side.  The result was a human traffic jam.  Having avoided going to the summit of Pen-y-Ghent, I felt duty bound to go off-route onto the top.  Waiting my turn, I duly tagged the summit and left as soon as possible.  This was a good decision as even more people were coming up from Balmaha.

20190421 Summit of Conic Hill
On the summit

The car park at Balmaha was overflowing, and a quick visit to the Information Centre revealed that “78 bags of dog poop had been collected in the first kilometre of the path to the Conic Hill”.  From my observation on the canals, they were getting off lightly.

The path on from Balmaha suffers, for several miles, from passing through a major tourist destination.  However, I finally found a little peace on a small beach and stopped for lunch.

20190421 Finally somewhere quiet for lunch
Finally somewhere quiet for lunch

The views today were rather spoilt by the haze, so that any long-distance scenes disappeared in the gloom.  Nevertheless, the scenery improved as I moved further along Loch Lomond.  The Loch is 23 miles (37k) long and is the largest area of fresh water in Britain.   All a bit worrying, as I leave it behind tomorrow.

20190421 Quiet teatime stop
A quiet teatime stop

Moving towards Rowardennan the trail gets better, and the tourists are mainly left behind.  The path threads a route through woodland situated between the Loch and the road, and is very pleasing.

20190421 Pleasant woodland path beyond Anchorage Cottage
Woodland path beyond Anchorage Cottage

Today has been almost too hot for long-distance walking, and I was pleased to enter Rowardennan at 4.15.

20190421 Ben Lomond
Ben Lomond

Ben Lomond towers over Rowardennan, and has been chosen by my friend Karen as her last Munro.  My friends in MAC (Mountain Activities Club) tell me that they are confident my wheelchair will make it.

20190421 Loch Lomond from Rowardennan
View from Rowardennan Youth Hostel

The Youth Hostel is comfortable and is in a beautiful position.  It even has its own ferry service across the loch.  Eleven years ago my son Stuart and I used the ferry when I walked the Way in the opposite direction.

19th April – Lennoxtown to Drymen

20190419 Dumgoyne Hillsl
Dumgoyne Hills on the West Highland Way

As I only had 22k to travel today I had a leisurely breakfast, probably the best of the trip so far, and left at 8.50.

The hotel was just next to the Strathblane Railway Trail, so it was easy to rejoin the route.  Once again most of the day followed the Blane Valley Railway and the walking was easy but not inspiring.

20190419 Typical view of the Strathblane Railway Trail
Typical view of the Strathblane Railway Trail

Around Lennoxtown someone, presumably the parish council, had placed green bags for dog waste every 100m or so.  This seemed to work, as the omnipresent black and green poop bags were no longer decorating the trail.  Dog walkers must be the most forgetful people: “I’m leaving it but will pick it up on the way back”.  End of grumpy old man’s rant.

20190419 Dunglass Hill
Dunglass Hill

One bright spot was seeing a dipper in the nearby Glazert Water.  Dunglass Hill caught the eye just before Strathblane.  I stopped near the church for a short break and arranged to meet my friends, Nigel and Sue, for dinner this evening.  We were all at Swansea University together in the far-distant past.

20190419 Dunreath Castle
Duntreath Castle

Back on the Blane Valley Railway it was more of the same, until I reached Dumgoyach Farm and joined the West Highland Way. Over to the north the twin summits of Dumgoyne Hill were striking, as was Duntreath Castle, pretending to be a French chateau.

20190419 Joining the West Highland Way

Onto the West Highland Way (WHW) and guess what?  It followed the railway.  The only difference was that I kept tripping over other walkers who were on the path in droves.

Four miles later I finally left the railway and immediately got onto a road, which did little to add to the excitement of the day.  The road led me to Drymen where I arrived at 2.10 to make it effectively a half-day.

20190419 Drymen and the Conic Hills
Drymen and the Conic Hills

The past few days have been a classic example of “Be careful what you wish for”.  Last year when I was spending days in Cornwall and Devon going up over headlands, and then down to the beach, and repeating this ad nauseam, I would have given almost anything for a few kilometres of flat level footpath.  But you can have too much of a good thing, and now I am looking forward to some variety and the superb scenery which I know awaits me over the next few days.

18th April – Falkirk to Lennoxtown

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The Forth & Clyde canal goes on… and on…

Today has been hard – and it should have been easy.  Physically it should probably have been the easiest terrain of the whole trip: I doubt that I have climbed as much as 50m.  The problem was psychological.  This was the third day walking along the canal.  Nothing really happens.  The scenery is largely farmland, there are very few locks and no canal traffic.  In summary, it is boring, especially if you are on your own.

Anyway, I left at 7.45 and got onto the canal at 8.30.  Six hours and around 16 miles later I reached Kirkintilloch and left the canal behind.  I almost forgot to mention that I switched from the Union Canal to the Forth and Clyde Canal at the Falkirk Wheel, used to lift barges between the two waterways.  As with the Kelpies, this is a must-visit attraction.  Unfortunately nothing was moving on the canal so I did not see it working.

20190418 Falkirk Wheel 1
The Falkirk Wheel

The Forth and Clyde Canal does not seem to get much use.  Nothing was happening at the marina near Kilsyth, despite the fine weather.

20190418 Marina near Kilsyth
Marina near Kilsyth
20190418 Heron
Depressed heron

The section across Dullarur Bog was almost my nemesis.  Admittedly it is interesting from an industrial engineering point of view: the embankment had to be built up 16m and allowed to settle before construction of the canal could take place.  Nevertheless after 6k of nearly arrow-straight walking it had lost its appeal. Even the heron walking down the path with me seemed to be suffering from depression.

At long last I arrived at Kirkintilloch, and said goodbye to the canals until after Fort William.

20190418 The end of the canal path
The end of the canal path

It was almost out of the frying-pan into the fire, as the next 5k was on a straight abandoned railway.

20190418 The Strathblane Railway Walkway
The Strathblane Railway Walkway

I hurried on to Milton of Campsie’s Old Station where I stopped at a very fine bench.  I was minding my own business when I was asked to film and direct an advert for an upcoming event in the village.  I think they might have got the wrong Neil Jordan!

Given all that had happened – or not – during the day, it was with some relief that I arrived at Lennoxtown at 3.45.

I have covered over 60 miles in the last 3 days, around 45 miles of which has been beside the canals.  The tarmac surface is hard on the legs, and I am heartily thankful that after tomorrow I will get back onto more normal terrain.

17th April – Uphall to Falkirk

20190417 The only barge we saw on the Union Canal
The only barge we saw on the Union Canal

This was to be another long day on the Union Canal.

20190417 Niddry Castle near Winchburgh
Niddry Castle near Winchburgh

I left Uphall at 7.45, as I had around 5k to walk before meeting up with Rachel at 9.00 at Winchburgh.  Luckily we arrived within minutes of each other.

The only memorable parts of this section were the huge slag heaps and the Peel tower at Niddry Castle.

After a lot of catching up, Linlithgow eventually appeared, with the skyline dominated by Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots.  In all honesty, we were more interested in tea and cakes which were amply provided by the Strawberry Cafe (highly recommended).

20190417 Linlithgow Palace
Linlithgow Palace

I am sometimes asked why I do not visit more of the tourist highlights that I pass.  I think it is that I have to view the trip as a job.  Each day the objective is to reach the next stopping place, and I do not want to be diverted from that task.

20190417 Rachel at the Avon aqueduct
Rachel at the Avon Aqueduct

Leaving Linlithgow, we trudged on passing the Avon Aqueduct, which is very similar to the Pontcysyllte aqueduct in Wales.

20190417 Toad

The only other excitement was finding a toad on the path.

Nearing Falkirk things looked up.  The Falkirk Tunnel was a joy, with stalactites hanging from the ceiling and large picturesque calcite deposits on the walls.

The tunnel is 631m long and was constructed because a wealthy industrialist, John Forbes, objected to the canal being visible from his estate!

20190417 Neil at the Falkirk Tunnel
Neil at the Falkirk Tunnel

We left the canal at the Tunnel to walk into Falkirk for more tea.  We arrived around 3.45.  Once we found my hotel, Rachel caught a bus back to Winchburgh.  It was great to have Rachel’s company for a 20-mile day, and our conversation made the walk pass quickly.

After I had a quick shower and dinner, John arrived to take me to see the Kelpies.

20190417 Neil at the Kelpies
Neil at the Kelpies

These are breathtaking and a must-visit if you are ever in the area.  The photos speak for themselves.

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16th April – West Linton to Uphall

20190416 Covered bridge River Almond
En route: covered bridge over the River Almond

After 3 days off moving from Horton to Middridge and then up to Scotland, I arrived back at the Gordon Arms on April 15th.

I was able to organise an early breakfast and left the hotel at 7.45.  After all of the problems last year which ended the trip, it was good to be moving into new territory.

20190416 Agricola's Roman road
Agricola’s Roman road

There was a steep climb out of the village before the path joined a short section of Agricola’s Roman road.  Turning up the valley towards the col at Cauldstane Slap, I was back on the Drovers Trail.  Gentle climbing led to Baddingsgill Reservoir and the open moor.

20190416 Baddinsgill Reservoir
Baddinsgill Reservoir

I made good time up to and over the col in murky conditions, and was soon leaving the Pentland Hills and dropping into Scotland’s industrial heartland.

20190416 Harperrig Farm and Reservoir
Harperrig Farm and Reservoir from the path off Cauldstane Slap

The route took me past Harperrig Farm and Reservoir, before crossing the Waters of Leith and ascending to the A70.

20190416 Bridge over the Waters of Leith
Bridge over the Waters of Leith

Corston Hill was supposed to offer good views over Edinburgh but there was little visible through the mist.

20190416 Corston Hill
Corston Hill with misty views

After some tricky navigation in the park above Mid Calder, I started to follow the River Almond.  I stopped around 1.50 for a late lunch near an old railway viaduct, lamenting the lack of any seats.  Walker’s law was working well: 500m later there was a delightful picnic area with benches.

20190416 Lin's Mill aqueduct
Lin’s Mill aqueduct

Eventually I joined a feeder channel which would be followed until I reached the Union Canal at the appropriately named Lin’s Mill aqueduct.  At the last bridge, about 500m from the aqueduct, I found a sign saying “Path Closed”.  As no diversion was suggested or obvious, I chose once again to ignore the sign.  This time there was evidence of activity and I spotted two workmen digging out the channel.  Not wanting to admit to being a Sassenach who did not understand plain English, I nipped over a fence, crept past the workmen and rejoined the path.  Clambering round the barriers at Lin’s Mill, I was once again a law-abiding member of society.

20190416 Union Canal passing under M8 motorway
Union Canal passing under M8 motorway

The Union Canal will be my companion for 3 days, and I made good progress along the towpath to Broxburn.  I then faced a 3k walk along the main road before reaching the Orchard Hotel at Uphall at 4.15 after a 30k day.

After a quick shower I joined my friends Mark, Rachel and John for a delicious lasagne at Rachel and Mark’s home.  Rachel is joining me tomorrow when I walk on to Falkirk.

12th April – Malham to Horton in Ribblesdale

20190412 Malham Cove
Malham Cove

After a peaceful night at the Youth Hostel, aptly named as our combined ages are only 138, we had an early breakfast, collected our lunches, and left at 8.30.

20190412 Wyn at the top of the climb
The climb up Malham Cove

The weather was fine but very cold and with some of Yorkshire’s finest scenery before us we set off with a spring in our step.  This enthusiasm soon waned when we started up the 400 steps to reach the top of Malham Cove.  On December 6th 2015 after Storm Desmond a waterfall appeared for the first time in living memory.  At 70m or 230 ft that must have been quite a sight.

Avoiding the limestone pavement above the Cove, by using a higher route, we dropped into the valley which led the way to Malham Tarn.

 

20190412 Malham Tarn
Malham Tarn

Walking on the level made a pleasant change and although we did not see a roe deer buck in the woods, as we did in 2008, there were some very fine carvings and sculptures.

20190412 Woodcarving at Malham Tarn
Wood carving at Malham Tarn

Leaving the Tarn the track to Tennant Gill was a delight: short, soft grass and easy walking.  From the farm at Tennant Gill the work of the day started, 3k of continuous ascent to the cairns on Fountains Fell.

20190412 Above Tenant Gill farm
The climb above Tennant Gill Farm

By now we had lost the sun and the wind made it very cold. Our lunch stop in a sheltered depression was necessarily brief.

20190412 Enjoying lunch
“Enjoying” lunch

Once at the cairns it was possible to look north across the intervening valley to the imposing bulk of Pen-y-Ghent with Ingleborough visible on the horizon.

20190412 Pen-y-Ghent with Ingleborough behind
Pen-y-Ghent (right) and Ingleborough (left)

The descent of Fountains Fell is rough, long and steep and we were wary of aggravating Wyn’s knee.  Having reached the road at Dale Head around 3.00pm a decision had to be taken.  Taking into account the time and the fact that we were going quite slowly, the nature of the ground and Wyn’s knee we resolved to miss out Pen-y-Ghent.

20190412 Path up Pen-y-Ghent
Contemplating the route up Pen-y-Ghent

By taking an alternative path via Brackenbottom, which still involved a knee jarring descent, we reached Horton in Ribblesdale at 5.30.

20190412 Wyn and Pen-y-Ghent
The alternative route

Wyn and I had a small celebration as I have now linked up with where I recommenced last summer. I have therefore walked from the Lizard in Cornwall to West Linton in Scotland.

20190412 Neil back in Horton in Ribblesdale
Back in Horton in Ribblesdale and the end of the English section of the journey!

Wyn returns home tomorrow and will rejoin me at Fort William for the Great Glen Way. Thanks are due to Wyn for his grit, enthusiasm and, as always, his good company.

Tomorrow I am being picked up by my brother Alan who will take me up to West Linton on Monday. I will restart the walk and the blog on Tuesday.

11th April – Gargrave to Malham

20190411 Beside the River Aire
Beside the River Aire

Today has been a semi-rest day.  We only had a half day walk across easy rolling hills and along the River Aire.

Wanting to get away and not wait until 8.30 to get cooked breakfast, we made do with continental, and left the Mason’s Arms (recommended) at 8.30.

20190411 Wyn on Eshton Moor near Gargrave
Wyn on Eshton Moor

Easy road walking, past Gargrave House and Home Farm, led to field walking over Eshton Moor and then a gentle descent to the Aire.

20190411 A typical Yorkshire step stile
A typical Yorkshire step stile

Turning upstream we followed the river all the way to Malham.

20190411 Riverside Mill at Aireton, now apartments
Airton Mill, now apartments

The old mill at Airton, now converted into apartments, was a very fine building.  Further up the river, we left it briefly for a steep but short climb past Hanlith Hall.

20190411 Hanlith Hall, a des res in the country
Hanlith Hall, a very desirable country cottage

Turning back towards the river we dropped down to the viewpoint at Aire Head with Malham, Malham Cove and Goredale Scar in view to the north.

20190411 The descent to Malham
Neil on the route to Malham

We arrived at Malham at 12.15 for tea and lunch. As I write this we are sitting in the sunshine rehydrating at the Lister Arms before going up to the Youth Hostel.

20190411 Malham village and Cove
Malham village with the Cove behind