Scotland: The West Highland Way to Bridge of Orchy

5 11 2022
On the way to Beinn Dorian. This was the 8th attempt at this image due to winds!

It’s the first day of our inn-to-inn Scottish Highlands Trek! My primary guide on this trek was American Cathy Ann Taylor, of Cattara. I’d been on three other treks with CAT, the Chomolhari Trek in Bhutan, Annapurna Sanctuary Trek in Nepal, and the Cordillera Huayhuash Trek in Peru. Those were high altitude treks, and we camped every night. Mind you, these were fancy glamping style treks – breakfast and dinner served at tables in dining tents, and your tents carried by horse, llama or porters. Here, however, it was staying in fine inns every night! Beds, showers, and some very fancy meals too! On this trip, we’d do 8 days hiking and a total of 46.12 miles. Tame compared to the other treks, but with my limited time to train and my body still fighting shingles, it was plenty challenging!

I’d been checking the weather forecast each day of the week prior. It was positively horrendous! Upon arrival, the BBC meteorologists forecasted this ‘stalled low pressure system’ west of Scotland, which would deliver days of rain and squalls. With that in mind, we all donned our full rain gear for the first day’s hike! Like they say in the movies, Scots really do say, “I’ll take it as it comes.” Our group of 10 were greeted by our local Scottish guides, Tania and Susie, from Wilderness Scotland. They would be with us the whole trip. After grabbing trail lunches, we set off in mini vans out of Glasgow, past Loch Lomond, to our trailhead near Auchtertyre. This was about the half-way point of the West Highland Way. The entirety of the West Highland Way is 95 miles, about 12 days, over moors, mountains and forest. The 21-miles we’d cover over two days were part of a military road constructed sometime in the 1700s.

Along the ride over, I glimpsed rain showers cloaking many of the hillsides. Upon reaching our starting point, I noticed other hikers. They were wearing full rain gear – pants and rain shells. Most had trekking poles and day packs with rain covers. We outfitted ourselves the same. Well, the rain held off for our start, but the wind did not. There was a good breeze with temperatures in the low 60’s. Considering our pace and athletic output, the breeze was most welcome. I was perspiring, and this evaporated the moisture and kept me relatively cool and comfortable. Every so often, gusts would muscle through with winds above 45 mph! At one point, I asked that a fellow trekker take my photo. Right then one of those gusts cranked up, and it took about 8 attempts to get that image.

Although the skies were gray, we had good views, and passed through some history. We paused at a historically significant battlefield – he Battlefield of the Battle of Dalrigh. Here, in 1306, Robert the Bruce’s army was intercepted and destroyed by Clan MacDougall, who were English allies. Legend has it that they threw their remaining weapons into one of the Lochans (ponds) here. But a modern-era ground penetrating radar search revealed nothing. Still, it was truly cool to stand in such a place.

We stopped at a spot safe from the midges to eat our lunch. My sandwiches were so awful, especially after athletic hiking, that I couldn’t eat them. Plain slice of cheese between two pieces of white bread! Susie was greatly concerned that I wasn’t going to get the calories necessary for the rest of the hike and thoughtfully bought some power bars for me at a package store when we crossed the road.

This day’s hike was often within eyesight of a highway, which really wasn’t so annoying. We also crossed a bridge over the West Highland Line railroad, and a small, four-car passenger train passed under and tooted its horn at us. It makes a stop at the Bridge of Orchy, our destination for today!

The trail took us right past the iconic cone shaped mountain Beinn Dorian. It’s 3,530ft high and dominates the landscape. It’s one of 282 Scottish Munros. A Munro is a mountain in Scotland at least 3,000 ft high. This area is highlighted by views of fields with sheep grazing. As we hiked, the weather was a series of breezes, rain squals, brightening, back and forth.

And then, we arrived!

At last, we were within striking distance of the Bridge of Orchy Hotel.

It’s a classically old-style inn. Out front and inside the original building very cozy. They’d built some out-buildings with additional rooms, where I stayed. Unfortunately, these, while very comfortable, were not constructed in a style matching the original hotel. Nevertheless, my room was welcome after a squall-filled hike. It had a heated towel rack, which was most helpful in drying out soggy clothing and boots!

Dinner was lovely table service! Wine, mackerel/cucumber appetizer, burger with salsa topping, and then I tried the iconic sticky toffee pudding with ice cream for dessert. Then off to my room for some me-time (writing my journal, of course). Tomorrow’s another “take it as it comes” kind of day! It was a stormy night, rain pelting my window.