Lunch: Babybel, chorizo and wrap
Camping dinner: Pasta in a cup
The first five miles are always the best. You’re ache-free and refreshed enough to enjoy the scenery without the full thud of pain. Last night I slept better than at home – something about the fresh cool air had shown my cough the door. But I was woken up at 11 pm by cries and yells – men shouting and hollering right on the path next to my tent.
They took so long to move on that I didn’t dare move accept to grip my pen knife. I was worried they would push through the trees and stumble across my tent. I didn’t understand why they were on The Way. And they didn’t sound savoury. I repeated to myself ‘they don’t know who’s in here, they don’t know who’s in here,’ but my heart only rested when their shouts faded completely. I thought about moving my tent behind the fallen, skeletal tree. But when I got out I saw how much the darkness veiled me.
I woke up at 6.30am, just before sunrise. I popped some water for tea and porridge, packed up and left at 8.15am. I saw deer dance behind me and off into the bushes. Mist appeared as I walked past Dumgoyne – a beast of a mountain. From the path, he looked like Smaug resting. Lumps of open rock showed his nostrils and sleepy eyes that looked like they could open at any moment. Smoke from the distillery below bellowed up as if puffed from Smaug himself, stirring and dreaming of gold.
There is a public phone box at Dumgoyne – but it’s phoneless. Gartness had an honesty box for sweets and drinks just over the cobbled bridge surrounded by cottages. There was a ‘Troll bridge’ further on – I looked – but no trolls. I passed through Drymen (pronounced more like Drimen) and there wasn’t a working phone box there either. So I carried on up to Garadhban forest, expecting to have an umbrella of trees, but most of the way is a graveyard. Grey tree stumps as their headstones. When you do see pine trees brushing up against the path, there’s an eerie quiet, as if snow has fallen and at any moment the White Witch of Narnia might appear. The smell of pine sparkled in my nose.
Towards the end of the forest there was a ‘no camping’ restriction sign that was sooner than I expected. I decided to walk on to Balmaha and find a campsite – bad, bad idea. The WHW looks like it skirts Conic Hill but it actually climbs it. This added an extra mile onto my journey and the worst sort of mile too. I took a break beforehand – none the wiser – to rest my feet and drink some tea.
I hate to say that the ‘Bob the builder’ tune became my motivational song of choice to climb Conic Hill. I changed the words to ‘Freya the walker, can she climb it? Freya the walker, YES SHE CAN!’ The way down offers no relief, and is actually worse on the feet, and would be a talking-point with many WHW walkers in days to come. Something terrible started happening to my small toe on the right foot. Not even the stunning views of Loch Lomond acted as a compress.