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Chad & Rory’s West Highland Way on Bikes in 24 Hours… An epic blog for an epic journey.


Finally an adventure worthy of a blog.  And a bank holiday Monday of rest meant I spent far too much time writing it.  If you get to the end I’ll be impressed!

The preparation

Sunday 18th September – Chad texts Rory: fancy the West Highland Way next wknd? – i’ve got the fri/mon off.

Rory: Yes, I’ll call you tomorrow.

We speak the next day and Rory emphasizes that he wants to make it an endurance exercise, self sufficient and only sleeping when absolutely necessary.  I am reluctant, but agree because he sounds so excited.

Wed 21st Sept – Rory texts Chad: Want to come round tonight to sort kit and food for the wknd? I agree.  I speak to colleagues at work who have done the walk and they stress that 4 days is not a long time to do it in, and may not be much fun.  I look at the route for the first time, and agree. I work on my argument to convince Rory to bike the first section to Crianlarich overnight, then walk the rest over the Saturday/Sunday.

Pre-adventure meeting – I arrive that night at Rory’s, where his kit is neatly organised on his bed, each bit of kit individually wrapped, pre-made portions of tea/coffee, tablets, and a kit list written to ensure not one gram is taken unless absolutely necessary.  I catch glimpse of his toothbrush – he has chopped off the bristle head and disgarded the handle.  I piss myself laughing, but agree it’s a good idea.  I wait for my moment, and attack with my suggestion to bike the first section.  He doesn’t like it.  The anticipated excuse is first, he’s only got a hybrid bike – it’s a fair point.  I suggest driving my van up friday day time, getting the train back down to Glasgow to set off, then when we get to Crianlarich we can shove the bikes in the car and crack on, on foot.  The pre-meditated plan seems to be working, he’s thinking.  The faff/ sync / transition is appealing to his military side.  He reluctantly agrees.  He suggests taking minimal kit – no tents etc, I don’t like it, but agree to think about it as a compromise.

Thurs 22nd Sept, Rory Texts Chad: I think we should bike the whole route, will phone you later.

Chad: Furry muff, doesn’t bother me fella.

Fri 23rd September. Chad: I’m also thinking about just not taking sleeping bags etc, what u think?

Rory: That would cut 3kg off the bags – makes it all easier. Minimum kit.

7pm, Rory: Ready?  Chad: No ( I had been off work all day – yet still I was faffing)

 

The journey

19:00: After an all day faff session, and fall out with girlfriend, Chad finally mounts his steed, in a dire mental state.  Even cycling along great western road to meet Rory at Gartnaval, is taxing on the legs.  True to form, Rory is waiting for my late arrival, as has come to be expected whenever faff is involved.  The two of us share heavier items between us, in what should have been the last pre-adventure faff.  I try to tell Rory of my woes, but he’s so excited about the journey ahead he tells me to man up.

19:30:  We reach Anniesland Cross, and decide to put our head torches on with the rapidly dimming grey sky.  Mine had been intermittently cutting out for the last few uses but I neglected this.  Sure enough, it chose this moment to pack in completely.  Turbo blag at the time, but a blessing in disguise now knowing the conditions we would face later on.  We tried Morrisons, and phoned Tesco Milngavie, but neither had a head torch.  A wise decision was made to return to the big tesco in Maryhill, where I had seen a headtorch earlier whilst buying a state of the art, £18 front light for my bike.  My £10 Tesco head torch would join forces with the LED lamp to light the path like a candle in the wind. We passed two 15 year old girls down the canal drinking 20/20,  Rory ducked as she swung for him, and we set off towards the start in Milngavie.

20:40: Already panting, we finally come to the West Highland Archway in Milngavie, and without stopping for a photo, crack on down the familiar paths leading to Mugdock.  It’s too dark to see now so I strap on the headtorch, hit the ‘on button’,  and it ignites like a lightsabre… one of those £5 toy replicas.  To be fair the two lights combined gave me enough light to see most rocks, not much different to Rory’s £50 Petzl Myo XP.  So far I’ve been miserable all journey, but I get a reassuring text from the mrs and it cheers me up tenfold.  We boost down the glorious dirt path, narrowly avoiding suicidal bats, a hedgehog and a baby deer. The flies were less fortunate.

(Lost track of time): Somewhere just beyond mugdock the path is full of puddles, I go through them until I decide that my feet are suitably wet enough to consider covering them up.  Looking down to Rory’s feet with carrier bags strapped in insulation tape, then slowly up to his smug grinning face I take off my back pack and start routing for plastic.  My goody bag of sweets was the first victim, double bagged as the inner bag was torn. Second – plastic bag holding my bashed up Robinsons water bottle – It only leaked a bit.  The bags were round the feet, and after unsuccessfully applying wet insulation tape / long reeds of grass, i tied the handles together to give a nice loose fit.  Two minutes later the bag on my right foot is ripped open by the cogs. I sigh and carry on.  Only to come across a gate every minute for the next half hour.

Aprrox. 11pm. Queen Elizabeths forest Park, nr. Drymen:  We stop for the first food break, I already regret not bringing enough supplies – Rory insisted that the trip be self sufficient in true military style.  Fortunately, Rory knowing how much of a spaz I am, had brought epic amounts of junk food. We gorged on cold pizza and donuts, as Rory confessed, ” I’m sick of eating healthy shit”.  We remounted and made our way up through the forest and started climbing conic hill.  Some of this was ridable – for 2 fairly incompetent mountain bikers – of one whom (Rory) was on a hybrid bike (AKA ‘the Chad Bike’).  Most of it however, was not ridable.  The bikes were flung up onto our backs, shuffled about until they felt almost comfortable, and we stomped up the hill.  Stopping only to moan and sigh, and be freaked out by the reflection of the sheep’s eyes (sheep’s eyes – grammatically correct??).  Rory turbo’d this section and waited for me at the top. I was starting to feel the tiredness. The ridable sections saw the first fall of the journey, myself falling sideways, pedals still clipped, into a bush.

12:30ish: We had reached the top of Conic hill where a hearty ‘ Yess’ was roared, likely to be audible from the other side of Loch Lomond. And the journey had barely begun.  This is where the MTB came up trumps, I tackled the first section of downhill – sparking the adrenalin and reawakening my senses.  A couple of ejects, and I was back to pushing my bike down the muddy rocky slope.  The views from this hill are always impressive, but especially so in moonlit darkness.

1am:  Stopped at Balmaha Car Park for our first coffee break, boiled with Rory’s Jetboil (Must have for any adventure), more donuts and chocolate.  Doggers were rife, so we set our headtorches to flashing mode to see what would happen. Nobody came close, and the neddy dance music drowned out the doggers cries.

Balmaha to Rowardennan – We used the road where we could get away with it, and the section was fast and enjoyable – albeit a few gnarly hill climbs.  At Rowardeannan, Rory said that he’d nearly fallen asleep on the downhill section of road – a worrying thought, but I felt amazing so i didn’t mind too much.  This was the point where I realised the Rory/Chad body sync had kicked in. We discovered this sync at the Green belter rat race in July (in which we won!) – which also happened to be the last time either of us had ridden our bikes.  Every race / adventure sees one of us peak whilst the other one troughs, enabling each other to push the other one through to the other side.  We try to support each other, but more often than not, slagging is our favourite means of motivation. ie. “come on you big fucking girl “. Our chat revolves around women, sex, life and love. Cocks, tits, farts and food.  We’ve made fairly impressive time so far and our goal of reaching Fort William in 24 hours seems at this point, to be almost too easy.  Clearly neither of us had done the full west highland way before.  And it’s just started raining.. getting gradually heavier.

Rowandennan to Inversnaid – We started off in a jolly mood, and were happily on and off our bikes to get over the unridable sections.  It seemed exciting at first.  Over time the path became more treacherous, the constant stop starting and heaving bikes onto our backs was starting to take it’s toll.  Stopping only to fill up our water from the hill streams (adding water purification tabs), and to let out the occasional burst of tourretts as my bike pedals smashed into my legs.. Never has my mouth been so filthy.  I imagined I was in a computer game trudging through the jungle, with the scores of swear words being tallied up along the top.  The big two, Fu*k, and c*nt were in the lead, most commonly used in combination. Fu*king c*unt, or c*nty F*ck F*ck.  The less harsh words, sh*t, d*ck and b*tch were not nearly strong enough in isolation for the torturous conditions, but they occasionally creeped into to get a bonus score combo, F*cking C*nt Sh*t D*ck B*itch F***CCKKK, AAHHHH!  The only relief was as we walked along the bank of the loch, the water lapped up the shore and triggered a deep breath, then exhale to remain calm.  The rain was lashing down.

Inversnaid hotel – In preparation for the journey, I had briefly read a terrain report of each section, and seemed to remember that the last section was the worst.  Then when we stopped at Inversnaid hotel I looked at Rory’s OS map and saw the name Inverarnan.  Oh C*nty F*ck f*ck, that was the stretch that they had warned about.  Feeling as though we were two steps into a marathon, we sloped into a dismal state, sheltering from the heavy rain in the hotel porch.  Warm gear on, I brewed up whilst Rory replaced his brake pads – a fairly demanding task in our state of mind.  We stayed for 20 mins until we got cold and then went looking for the way markers.

Inversnaid to Inverarnan – I’m fairly sure I have blanked most of this from my mind.  There were sections of rock that were ridiculous to carry bikes over.  Shuffling around trees like Lara Croft without the boob tube. Several instances where a fall would have resulted in certain air ambulance (or water I guess).  Those bloody pedals kept smashing into my leg and each time it felt like a medieval whip.  It wasn’t until the end of this stretch when I realised that the screw had come loose, and the sharp metal was cutting chunks out of my leg – this is an indication of state of mind, where I didn’t even stop to question the pain.  We took turns to throw a wobbler.

saturday 7:00 – Arriving at Inverarnan campsite, we felt like ravaged beasts crawling out of the wilderness.  We found some pallets just outside the campsite and took a seat to cook breakfast – boil in the bag survival meals that were fairly shite.  We ate, as happy campers walked merrily into the breakfast house, serving full english (sorry Scottish) breakfast – strangely the thought of buying one didn’t enter our heads, although I told Rory of the wonderful cafe situated in Crianlarich Train station where we could be warm and eat bacon.  That would be the thought that got us moving again.

8:00 –  Inverarnan to Crianlarich – The path eased up and we used the road when we lost the path, stopping in at the falls of Falloch to admire the views.  Shortly after, I descended into a sorry state and convinced Rory that we needed to sleep.  He suggested 10 minutes.  I said 2 hours. We settled on one hour.  We looked for shelter under a bridge, but then we passed a cottage with no sign of life – some kind of old railway house.  Rory wasn’t convinced, but as far as I was concerned, it may aswell have had a sign saying “Rory and Chad, welcome home”. We opened the shed door, to the usual family type gear – unfinished DIY projects and burst kids inflatables.  There was some foil insulation on the ground about the size of a double mattress, and pipe insulation for a pillow. Bob’s your uncle. Rory sets his alarm for precisely one hour.. 9:59am.  Contact lenses out, warm gear on and passed out – twitching violently as I drifted off.  Jolting upright I scream and put my hands in the air. Rory says : ” It’s ok, it’s just a train”.  When the alarm went off I was not a happy chappy.  Rory only snoozed for 20 mins so wasn’t too zonked, but I was out cold.  He watched painfully as I slowly and reluctantly packed my things, put my spare contacts in and put on my wet gear.  He must have realised this was not an appropriate time to tell me to “man up”, as he didn’t utter a word.  If he had, he’d have gotten a full blown tantrum.  15 minutes later we set off – ” We are getting a cooked breakfast”.

10:30 – Crianlarich to Tyndrum – With the thought of warmth and hot food our spirits lifted, and the tracks were great.  Got to the cafe at 12pm – opening time! first in the queue.  We made great time over to the real food cafe, and after rolls, tea and orange juice, we freshened up in the toilets (and defreshened the toilets).  I pulled out my toothbrush – an exact copy of Rory’s bristle head with no handle.  It was the most depressing brushing I have done in years, being used to my electric baby.  Next trip a full handled brush will be taken and the extra 5 grams carried with pleasure.  We got a few funny looks in the cafe, as the punters eyes followed a visible trail of mud traipsed through the place to the table where two cavemen sat pushing sausages into their mouths.

Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy – A breeze. Great tracks compared to at Loch Lomond, feeling great and past the half way point.

Bridge of Orchy to Kingshouse hotel – A couple of steep climbs worth every bit of effort as the downhill was pretty sweet here.  The exhaustion had eroded my fear and was going over things that I wouldn’t normally attempt.  Rory was enjoying it too even though the hybrid suspension was taking a beasting, and his newly replaced brake pads had almost worn down already.  The rain was on and off over Rannoch moor, and the views were fairly awesome as to be expected around Glencoe.  At the hotel we boiled up some water and had our last proper meal – another boil in the bag, but this time they tasted great.. a trick of the mind? Or perhaps just different flavour meals.  We had resisted the temptation to give up and get pissed in the notorious pub, and booked a B&B in fort william so we couldn’t back out.  It was around 6pm, and we gave an ambitious ETA of 10pm.  She seemed dubious, but said as long as we were there by 10:30pm at reception closing time it would be ok.  All hope of achieving the route in 24 hours had been lost at this point, but the thought of sleeping now and getting back on the bikes was just too much to bare. We had to finish.

Kingshouse to Kinlochleven – Started off pretty good, but we couldn’t quite get the words “devils staircase” out of our minds, as we watched ourselves approach slowly on our Marauders OS map.  When we arrived at the stairs it was absolutely pissing down.  Bikes hauled up on to shoulders – feeling at least 5 times heavier than they did at the start, we began stomping up again.  We passed some MTBikers on their way down.  You could just tell they were thinking – ‘absolute fannies’, as they tried to stop themselves laughing when we told them we were riding till we reached Fort William.  We had been going for about 20 mins, when I asked Rory how far we had to go – he replied “keep going”.  I gritted my teeth and carried on.  Another ten minutes, I asked again, to which he said the same.  The toys came out the pram and I shouted – “You’ve got the map you c*nt just tell me!”  “about 8 hours”.  I had meant to the top of the devils staircase but he though I meant till Fort William. I let him off.  Soon enough we arrived at the top, where we could see Kinlochleven in the distance. The town was lit by streetlight,  revealing a beautiful harbour on the edge of the loch.  The sight of the town was deceiving, as it was at least an hour until we arrived in Kinlochleven alongside the giant water pipes. The town was pretty stunning in darkness, with the silhouette of the surrounding hills making the place seem remote and settled.  The kind of place I would want to live if I was a pirate.

Kinlochleven to Fort William – The saddle sores at this point were fairly brutal, and fun was definitely not being had by either of us.  The path out of Kinlochleven was giant slippy steps and the rain was so hard it felt like we were basically walking upstream a river.  Being the last stretch we were trying to beast the uphill sections, stopping at nothing with no holding back.  If this were not the last leg I think we may have crumbled.  Worse still, my Achilles heels felt like they were going to snap.  I asked Rory ” Do you know anyone who’s have snapped?” – hoping for a “no don’t be silly”.. He replied “yeah my dad, and this girl I know, it’s fairly common”.  I dropped down a few gears.  The path had opened up into a landrover track which was fairly easy riding.  Our morale got a boost, and combined with the neurofen allowed us to keep going.  10 o clock came around and we thought we better phone the B&B. ” We miscalculated our timing, and we think it’s going to be more like 12am when we arrive..”  she asks where we are.  “We’re about 2 thirds of the way from kinlochleven to fort william (more like half), we’re on bikes”.  She laughs and says we’re mad, we say we’re making good ground and she seems to think we’l be in by 11pm and that it would be fine.  With a little of Chad charm we had got her onto our side, and feeling less worried about the thought of having to sleep at the train station we carried on up the track.

11pm came, she had asked us to phone her if we had not made it by now.  But we couldn’t get a signal for the life of us, and we were both hallucinating, thinking every rock was some sort of beast.  More sheep eyes were glowing in every direction.  We were on the final slog climbing through Nevis Forest.  Our bodies broken, but no choice but to carry on. With every stop, we risked the chance our landlady might abandon us to sleep on the streets.  At last, we reach the top of the hill.  Glen Nevis Campsite looked like a reflection of the starry sky, it looked how an American tourist might picture the town of Fort William, a thousand chinese lanterns floating to the sky. Wooden taverns and men with beards drinking grog. again, still and calm – sailor town.  The path down is long and winding, beautifully soft forestry tracks with no bloody rocks.. good job as my head torch was now so dim i could see about a metre a head.  We head in to the town, along the wonderful flat road, to embrace the finishing sign like a true friend.

B&B – After much faff, and me forgetting the name of the place, we finally turn up at 12:30am.  I ring the doorbell and hear nothing. We stand still for 30 seconds, and then hear footsteps coming down the stairs… “YESS!”.  She opens the door in her dressing gown, and were it not two drowned muddy rats at the door with desperately hopeful faces, I think she’d have turned us away.  We apologised profusely as she walked us to our rooms in the building next door.  Two big luxurious double rooms with white carpets and a dressing gowns on the beds.  We tried to keep the mud of the carpets, and just about succeeded, had a 20 minute shower each – waking up all the other residents with the groaning of hot water pipes.  Set the alarm for breakfast turned out the lights and before we knew it it was morning.  A hearty breakfast, Rory chatting to over enthusiastic American tourists who had just done the walk, and onto the 11:40am train home, with a bag full of beer, meat and chocolate from Morrisons. Yes!

About High-8

High-8 is a loose gathering of like minded adventurists who document first person, on the ground experiences with words, photos and film. The hope is to form a rough guide to outdoor adventure sports in Scotland and provide a warts and all, honest representation of what we find. No sport is excluded from mountaineering and mountain biking to gorge walking and kayak all are welcome and encouraged.

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We have compiled a list of usefull weather forecasts to help with planning trips. This list is designed to work on mobile phones, so it can be used when out in the wilds. Signal willing of course...

The Code

The Country Code, which most of us learned in school (and we probably haven't read since!), was updated in 2004 when it became the Countryside Code. Here's the updated version:
  • Be safe - plan ahead and follow any signs
  • Leave gates and property as you find them
  • Protect plants and animals, and take your litter home
  • Keep dogs under close control
  • Consider other people
In Scotland, where there is a more general right of access, there also exists the Scottish Outdoor Access Code:
  • Take responsibility for your own actions
  • Respect people’s privacy and peace of mind
  • Help farmers, landowners and others to work safely and effectively
  • Care for the environment
  • Keep your dog under proper control
  • Take extra care if you are organising a group, an event or running a business.
There's obviously a lot to to be learned from these - it's amazing how many people get out to enjoy the countryside but are still happy to leave it in a mess. Even with the recent updates, the Countryside Codes seem slightly outdated when considering the wider issues involved when lots of people get out into the countryside. Some places just can't handle high volumes of people, no matter how they behave and publicity, no matter how interesting or well-done , has the potential to attract lots of people to an area. Blogs including video, pictures or words, form part the the wider media which could easily contribute to tipping the balance, and so we as bloggers have to consider the implications of what we decide to post. Can the place we're writing about take more people, and if not, it might be wiser to leave maps, place names or grid references out of posts. In Scotland, the Mountain Bothies Association has been careful to protect the location of some Bothies due to mis-treatment and, in some cases, even malicious vandalism. That is not to say they would not advocate people using them - in fact, a well used, maintained and loved network of bothies exist, and the MBA as an organisation is there to encourage this. Some bothies are busier than others but generally it is the less remote places which are more susceptible to abuse - something which might be worth considering when deciding whether to post information. It must be said, in most cases it's obvious what should or shouldn't be publisiced, but it's worth taking these considerations to mind.

Please note: The Code is constantly being revised and added to. If you like to add something login in to the discussion on the forum.