The West Highland Way: Rowardennan to Crianlarich [Day 3]

This is a continuation of our journey through the West Highland Way. If you want to start reading from day 1, click here.

Our West Highland Way:

  • Day 1: Milngavie to Drymen 13.51 miles (419m elevation; 307m descent)
  • Day 2: Drymen to Rowardennan 15.28 miles (665m elevation; 815m descent)
  • Day 3: Rowardennan to Crianlarich 21.75 miles (1305m elevation; 844m descent)
  • Day 4: Crianlarich to Tyndrum 7.62 miles (431m elevation; 571m descent)
  • Day 5: Tyndrum to Kingshouse 18.85 miles (511m elevation; 434m descent)
  • Day 6: Kingshouse to Kinlochleven 8.70 miles (423m elevation; 659m descent)
  • Day 7: Kinlochleven to Fort William 15.76 miles (735m elevation; 737m descent)


Day 3: Rowardennan (Listen row-ahr-DEN-anto Crianlarich (Listen cree-ahn-larr-ik)
If you have been following along with our journey so far, you know that our night in the Rowardennan Youth Hostel was less than pleasant. Normally, I would have written it off and chalked it up to experience, but because our day 3 was 21 miles through the most challenging terrain, I am here to tell you to avoid it if you can.

In our research, we looked at multiple plans and maps, and most of them told us to get to Crianlarich on day 3. In retrospect, I cannot recommend highly enough to stop in Inverarnan. There is a self-catering B&B and also The Drovers Inn in this area (links below). If we had stopped there, we would not have had such a long day ahead and; therefore, a second sleepless night would not have been so troubling.

2016-05-03 05.34.55
Watching the rain fall over Loch Lomond in the early, early morning.

Like I mentioned in my previous post, after a much disturbed sleep, I decided to wake up at 4a and wait patiently for Jeff in the common lounge of the hostel. It was actually quite nice to have the whole lounge to myself and watch the sunrise. It started my day with a peaceful note, even as I watched rain shower after rain shower sweep over Loch Lomond.

Jeff finally joined me, and we made our escape at 730a eating our own snacks and coffee since the kitchen did not begin to serve breakfast until 730a. We did not want to wait much longer knowing what was in store for us.

2016-05-03 07.35.26
Ominous skies ahead!

The path for the WHW was right in the front lawn of the hostel, and as we headed off, we waved goodbye to our respective brash roommates who were outside for their morning smoke. The first 7 miles to Inversnaid were wonderful. I could not have asked for a better morning. The forest was thick and lush with waterfalls surrounding us. The path was level and easy to dance through as my iPod kept churning out perfect tunes to hike to. The rain couldn’t even bring me down as we covered our bags with our waterproof covers and munched on soaked protein bars.

About halfway to Inversnaid, we saw a little stand with fresh fruit, lime flavored water, and baked goods. The sign out front said, “A Wee Treat To Help Along the Way,” and we helped ourselves to apples and water. I loved seeing these “Honesty Boxes,” and it made me realize just how respected the WHW was to the locals. So, do make sure to bring a few coins along the path so you can stock up on much-needed water and give back to those who share from their home.

We made it to Inversnaid at about 1030a. We stopped for a quick meal in front of the Inversnaid Hotel, which had multiple picnic tables out front for walkers. While we were stopped, we sparked a conversation with a couple from Reading, UK. The husband had previously completed the walk two other times and echoed our fears that this would be a difficult and trying stretch, but I felt strangely calm knowing that from an experienced walker. I was prepared for what lay ahead. Bags on our backs, we began again the next 7 mile stretch to Inverarnan, and this part definitely lived up to its reputation.

2016-05-03 11.19.00
Let the games begin…the path to Inverarnan.

Each step had to be carefully calculated through the continuous pathways of tree roots and jagged rocks. Also, because of the rain, mud puddles punctuated every other corner making the day “tedious.” Just to our right was Loch Lomond by way of a cliffside, and to our right was impossibly high rock faces. You had nowhere to go, nowhere to peel off, no relief from the terrain. One wrong step and your ankle would go a different direction than your shoe, so we were incredibly cautious.

By the time we made it to Inverarnan, we had added a full 90 minutes to our 7 mile pace. But if we had gone any faster with our heavy bags on our backs, I’m sure we would have fallen and been marooned in Rob Roy’s cave, which was carefully hidden among the rocks and trees. While it is uncertain if we saw the actual cave, we did see the actual sign, so that was good enough. At that point in our day, exhausted, under-nourished, and sweating, we had little to care about Rob Roy and his place in history.

But after hours of mentally-taxing narrow mud paths, we finally saw the mouth of the loch signifying the beginning of the end. The husband of the couple had caught up to us and said the terrain would be much easier from that point on.

Easier? Yes. Easy? Far from it. The path was still completely covered in mud and the subtle, but continuous, incline still had us begging for a break. We finally took a rest on top of a small hill with nothing as far as we could see. Determined to be happy the “worst was over,” we rested on a small mound of grass. (Note: be aware of ticks in the grass. While we did not pick up permanent visitors, we smashed a few off our shirts before high-tailing it out of there.)

The narrow path with mud, tree roots, and rocks.
The narrow path with mud, tree roots, and rocks.

That same husband of the couple met up with us again and saw us happily munching on trail mix and guzzling water, and that is when the day turned for me. He said there was a coffee shop in about “one mile.” I looked up at him and reacted as if it were the best news I could have heard in decades. We donned our bags again and, with blue skies ahead of us, we took off toward the coffee shop.

Now, this gentleman is a marathon runner and repeat walker. I trusted him to know how long a mile was. By our pace, a mile would take roughly 20 minutes. Mentally, I was prepared for anther 20 minutes of tedious terrain, but when we made it to the next mile with no relief in sight, I broke down. Tears filled my eyes, and I let my walking poles slump. Carelessly, I let my eyes blur and I was not watching the ground for jagged rocks. I very easily could have tripped ending my walk right then and there.

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The sky rumbling making the trek seem endless.

When I was stopped at another gate to scale and jump over, I doubled over and let it all out. My frustrations and mental capacity were at a max, and I was also dehydrated and overheating. But because we had terrible sleep, improper meals, and not enough water, my body told me to give in. Jeff was a saint. He pulled me off the path and let me cry it out as many other campers walked by. He shoved water in my face and tore my jacket off to let my body breathe.

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Finally, the Beinglas Farm and Pub.

This meltdown cost us about ten minutes, but it was enough to regain my mental composure, and we soldiered on to the Beinglas Farm, which finally appeared another mile down the way. This time, I wanted to burst into tears of happiness.

We walked in and saw the couple sitting happily drinking beer, and so badly, I wanted to put a hex on their house for their careless lies. But instead, I ordered a large glass of wine and a perfect lamb curry. We still had another 7 miles ahead of us. We had about three hours of sunlight left, and this is where the comedy of errors began.

2016-05-03 19.03.07
Losing sunlight, but there was still enough to keep us walking.

Our food was forgotten and served to us late, so we didn’t get started on our last leg until 515pm, and the sporadic rain had muddied the ground even further. But we soldiered on, essentially alone. Everyone else had the forethought to stop in Inverarnan, but not us. We were on the path to Crianlarich.

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A gorgeous waterfall and creek on the way to Crianlarich.

The terrain was mostly non-descript around this time. We saw a lot of construction on the path and crossed many farmlands, but the solitude and vastness of the landscape was truly breathtaking. I was determined to enjoy my surroundings and not shed another tear. But again, that was to change.

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The road never ends…

After a couple of miles, we found ourselves at a muddy impasse. A river of ankle deep mud (and cow piles) stood before us. We wasted a good 15 minutes trying to plan how to get across. Jeff jumped over a small ravine and threw a large rock down in the middle like a coat for a lady. I hopped over, and we hopped back and continued on our way only to turn a corner and see our adversaries in the flesh. Cows. And not the friendly-looking “Highland Cews.” These were moms and babies, and they were blocking the tunnel.

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Our first cow sighting.

Terrified that our mental capacity would get us trampled by a mother cow defending its baby, we thought we would try and get help from the house on the hill. Foiled by an empty home, we walked back to the blocked tunnel. We banged our walking poles together and formed a fence with our sticks and bodies. Curious, the cows took their sweet time coming out, and we bee-lined it through the foul tunnel to the other side. Another 10 minutes was wasted, and the sun continued to fall.

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We knew we were in trouble.

In the distance, we saw a rainbow, which gave us hope, but what took it swiftly away was the continued lack of civilization. Just as we got back into a rhythm of walking, we came across another cow-trampled mud river. My eyes filled with tears again, but Jeff said, “You can cry, just keep moving forward.” He showed me in full MacGyver style how to press my body against the jagged rock wall and step, toe at a time, across the facade.

It was not until 9pm that we made it to our Inverardran Guest House. We passed the Crianlarich Youth Hostel and gladly continued another half mile to our accommodation. Another half mile was an easy trade for another sleepless night. When our host, John, opened the door, he said, “I thought we had lost you!” I replied, “It almost came to that.”

Needless to say, we slept like rocks that night.

Stay tuned to our continued journey through the West Highland Way with Robert the Bruce, fighter jets, and Inebriated Newts.

Click each image to enlarge the maps.

Helpful Links for the West Highland Way:

WHW Elevation Chart
An elevation chart for the West Highland Way.

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