Nerves and excitement.
Today was my first day on the West Highland Way, a 96-mile trail in the beautiful Scotish highlands! I dragged myself out of bed at the crack of dawn and took the train to Manchester Piccadilly. A coffee and a 30-minute wait later I was on the Pennine Express, Glasgow bound. From Glasgow I took another train to Milngavie. A short walk through the town center, and a quick pit stop to buy some sunglasses (hadn’t banked on Scotland being so wonderfully sunny!) I was ready to begin!
A journey of 96 miles must begin with a single step.
After literally DAYS of planning and many SECONDS spent thinking about this trip I was ready to get started. I took a quick selfie next to the ‘West Highland Way’ monument and ambled under the barrier marking the official start of my 96-mile journey. It was pretty unceremonious actually. The next few steps saw me through a carpark, past some overexerted wheely bins and finally onto a well-tended woodland path. I set off a quite a pace, it being 3 pm and having 10 miles to bash out to reach the sanctuary of Drymen Campsite. I marched on, music blaring in my headphones, waving my walking poles about to the beat. After almost taking out a rather stealthy runner, I decided to somewhat calm my waving limbs and get on with the job in hand; walking. All I had to do now was walk. For the next few days, it was just me and the 96 miles of the West Highland Way.
Monkeys on the West Highland Way?!
As I walked my mind also rambled on, nothing new there. I have what Buddhists call a ‘Monkey Mind’. My inner voice speaks a never-ending stream of thoughts, some relevant, some not, sometimes many different subjects all at one time, battling for my attention. In the first few miles of this journey, my little monkeys spoke of a hundred different things; ‘Is this the right path? Did I lock my car? Hey! Look at that tree! I wonder what the weather is like in Mongolia? Maybe I should try to pass an A-Level. Does the dog miss me? Will I get to the campsite before dark? That time I crashed my scooter in Thailand. If I wild camp, will I shit my pants when a rabbit hops by my tent at 3 am? Probably. Hey, remember that one time at band camp?’
How did I end up here? (A question I often find myself asking!)
To answer this I have to take you back, literally 2 or 3 whole weeks back. (Hey, 2 or 3 whole weeks is a long time when you’re a live by the seat of your pants kinda girl!) When I came home from my big trip in 2014 I had vowed to spend some time exploring my Homeland. Spending so long in Thailand had made me appreciate where I was from, my upbringing, my British passport and the freedom it grants me. Having met people who hadn’t been as lucky as I had, I realized that I should be more grateful. The UK is BEAUTIFUL, it took 2 years of living 6000 miles away from it to really appreciate that. I considered this on my flight home and vowed there and then that I would spend the next few years getting to know the country I call home. But, you know how it is, the lure of distant kingdoms, the pull of exotic lands, plus Ryanair and their bloody £9.99 flights!
I need an adventure!
In 2017 the UK was still on my to do list. Something has definitely changed in my being this year and rather than just traveling to new countries and seeing the sights, I have found myself needing more of an adventure element to each trip. I recently discovered a podcast called Tough Girl Challenges, where the host, Sarah Williams, interviews amazing women that have accomplished awesome challenges all over the world. Listening to these interviews just fed the fire inside me. I posted in the Tough Girl Challenges Facebook group asking for any advice on how I could jump start my new adventurous way of travel, and someone told me that I should go and hike the West Highland Way. I thought it was a good idea, so I booked a train ticket, spent enough money for a 2 week holiday in Barbados on camping equipment, and off I went!
Open your eyes, Kat!
I walked for over an hour before I really started to look around and take note of my surroundings. As I crested a hill and began the descent into the loch splatted valley below, my legs stopped moving and my fingers spontaneously plucked the headphones from my ears. ‘Jeezeeus!!’, I howled at one of the most amazing scenes I’d ever seen. Scotland really is incredibly beautiful. I sent the monkeys to their cage and promised myself that I would take more notice. I tried to think of words to describe what I was seeing, after a few hours of contemplation I realized there weren’t any. If you were to correctly describe the beauty of this part of the world, you would require a whole new dictionary. I tried to make some up, but it was useless. I gave up and aimed my feet in the direction of the next thistle.
Follow the thistles.
The direction of the West Highland Way is marked with a thistle symbol, they are every few hundred feet in most parts, the trail is very easy to follow. A map and compass are not necessary, which is lucky as I had either and even if I did, wouldn’t know how to use them.
‘Someone is following me’, said the monkey.
After passing the first of many lochs I came to a road crossing and a completely different type of terrain. The Way now moved onto open moorland. I noticed another walker, the first I had seen. He and his dog joined the trail behind me. I felt uneasy and I walked fast to put some distance between us. After a mile of power walking, looking back every few minutes to see if the stranger was still ‘following’ me, I decided my anxiety was ridiculous. I slowed down and waited for him to catch up so I could say hello. It got me thinking about how sad it is that we are scared of our own kind. I hadn’t worried once about the terrain, weather or wildlife, the only thing I was cautious of was other people. You know, those weirdos who walk their dogs and follow hikers into the wilderness to rob them of their camping stoves and protein bars! As it turned out he never arrived, he must have taken a different path, I was a little gutted and a tiny bit relieved.
Though the path was over open moorland there actually was a path, not just a worn trail of grass but an actual path. The going was easy and I made good ground. Through this section, I thought of things I had done in the past, the things I had accomplished and the amazing places I had seen. I did this, me, not anyone else. Drive and self-belief had got me here and that’s something I don’t give myself enough credit for. I was proud.
On and on and on!
The last few miles to Drymen dragged on, I was happy to finally see signs for the campsite. I walked past a sign directing me to pitch my tent where ever I felt like it and someone would be around soon to collect my £5 fee. No one ever came and I dropped a fiver in an honesty box I found by the shower block. The campsite was busy, maybe 10 other tents. I was the only solo hiker, everyone else traveling as couples or groups. I was also the only English speaker on the site, seemed odd, this been the UK and all. However I feel most at home among a mixture of nationalities, so I was happy. I boiled up some pasta, inhaled it, chugged a pint of water and settled into my tent for the night.
Toasty in my tent. Not!
I had purchased a thicker sleeping bag for this trip, so was looking forward to a cozy night in the tent. How wrong was I?! Come 2 am I was wide awake and shivering, I couldn’t believe how cold it was. I listened to other stone-cold hikers turning on their sleeping mats and took comfort in knowing I wasn’t suffering alone. I put on some music and tried to drift off for a few more hours.
Click here for day two, Drymen to Sallochy.
Are you planning to hike the West Highland Way? Drop a comment below if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to help you out.
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