Hiking Scotland Travel

The West Highland Way; Day Two. Drymen to Sallochy

Loch lomond

Wild camping ban and a bloody big hill.

As is always the way after a restless nights sleep, when the time came to finally get out of bed I didn’t want to move.  It took me a good 30 minutes to coax myself from my sleeping bag and squeeze my aching feet into my Solomons.  The clouds rolled down the hills as I boiled up some porridge for breakfast and broke down my tent.  While packing up I thought about the day ahead, I knew I would enter the wild camping ban zone and wasn’t sure what to make of it.  Breaking camp took an age and it was past 9 by the time I finally got back on the road.

The first section of today was along a country lane, the tarmac road was hard on my sore feet.  I walked quickly, keen to get to the next section which takes the West Highland Way across farmland.  Before I could get that far, however, my progress was halted by an oncoming hiker who introduced himself as David.  He skipped the niceties and asked from a few feet away, ‘How far you going?’  David looked a hiker through and through, with long legs, a small backpack, and expensive waterproof trousers, he stomped towards me with purpose.  I realized that he must have done at least 10 of 15 miles already today to have come to this point.

‘How far are you going?’

I considered David’s question but didn’t know the answer.  I wasn’t sure how far I was going today.  Keen to wild camp but knowing that at some point I would enter a section of the Way which is subject to a wild camping ban, I wasn’t sure what to do.  Having not been able to find much information online I was unsure where I would be spending the night.  The wild camping ban zone would mean that I would either need to do 26 miles (to walk through the zone and come out the other side) or only 12 miles, not enough considering I wanted to get to Fort William in 5 days.  I need to average 18 miles a day.  It seemed there was no official campsite inside the ban zone, only a designated spot by Loch Lomond which required a permit that had to be booked in advance.

I told David my concerns about the wild camping ban zone and he proceeded to tell me different ways around it.  His ways including buses I could take to leapfrog the wild camping ban and a shortcut down the main road which had the same result.  He took his sweet time explaining my options, none of which were appealing to me.  I hadn’t come all this way to skip parts of the trail, my goal was to walk it from end to end.  I didn’t want to miss out a single step.

Kit assessment!

David, having decided where I would camp tonight, then went on to assess the rest of my efforts.  He was impressed that I was hiking the West Highland Way alone, and this gave me confidence.  Having felt the weight of my pack he went on to question me about the equipment I was carrying.  My pack was small and light at about 7kg.  I was carrying only the essentials and the lightest gear that I could afford.  After 20 minutes, assured that I had everything I needed to survive, David finally said his goodbyes and went onwards with his hike.

It was great to meet such a keen and kind guy who wanted to impart knowledge on me.  However, I was now running even later and was still none the wiser about the wild camping ban zone.  I decided the best thing to do was to keep putting one foot in front of the other and trust that it would all be okay!

Loch Lomond

Killer Conic Hill.

Day 2 has one of the West Highland Way’s biggest challenges, Conic Hill.  Conic Hill is a steep, sharp 361-meter climb between Drymen and Balmaha.  After a couple of miles of small ascents and descent, Conic Hill revealed itself.  It’s a daunting sight.  The Way dips down steeply before rising at a rather uncomfortable rate!  The climb is steep but the path is well maintained.  As I climbed, a runner passed me going in the opposite direction, I envied him.  Firstly he was heading downhill and secondly he seemed so fast and agile, so light on his feet.  My feet felt like blocks of concrete.  A few minutes later the same runner overtook me, heading back up the hill.  I was impressed but also wanted to trip him, bloody show-off!

Conic Hill

Huge hill, huge disappointment!

As I neared the crest of the hill I realized that the Way doesn’t actually summit Conic Hill, it skirts around the side, about 50 meters from the top.  Pretty disheartening after all that effort! I sat down to catch my breath and contemplate whether I had it in me to push to the top.  I decided I didn’t, instead opting to annihilate 3 protein bars and a liter of water.  The decent into Balmaha was sharp and rocky, the last part constructed of man-made steps which made my legs quiver.  I was grateful for my walking poles, which I almost left at home.

Conic Hill


Camping problems solved.

In Balmaha the Way makes across a carpark to the Loch Lomond Visitors Centre.  I popped inside in the hope of finding more information about the wild camping ban.  I was in luck and the helpful rangers gave me advice on where to camp.  By all accounts the ban zone is not clearly marked, in fact, I never did see any markers noting it’s beginning or end.  The rangers told me about a designated camping spot in Salochy, where for £7 per night you can ‘wild camp’ by the loch. This is the designated spot I had read about, where you need to book a permit in advance.  That wasn’t the case, just rock up, pay and camp.

A few miles past Salochy there is a youth hostel at Rodannan which allows camping in the garden, however, this was closed due to flooding.  I decided to head for Salochy.  My mileage for that day would be low but I vowed to get up early and make up the miles the following day.


That sorted, I was now on the hunt for food.  Balmaha has a pub and a small shop, the pub was busy so I opted for the shop.  I bought a sandwich and a zesty drink and sat down on a bench to eat and rest my feet.  My feet were stinking after the efforts of Conic Hill.  Boots off, I assessed the situation; a couple of blisters and a swollen ankle.  I covered the blisters with Compeed and strapped up my ankle with KT tape.  I sat for a while and then stood to push on.  My feet tingled after the rest.

The next miles to Salochy were slow, due to the unbelievable beauty of the place I was walking through!  I couldn’t help but stop to take photos every few steps.  Arriving at Salochy around 5 pm and wondered if I should keep going, I still had 3 more hours of daylight left.  I felt cheated by the restrictions the wild camping ban was putting on me.  After speaking to a ranger who told me that the next section had a steep ascent, I decided to stick to my plan and stop for the day.  This turned out to be an excellent decision as the camping spot I bagged was the most perfect and awe-inspiring place I have ever slept.

wild camping ban zone loch lomond

A new friend!

As I pitched my tent I had company, a tiny robin sat on a tree stump and watched my every move.  Once I was all set up the little guy came closer and we shared my dinner.  I felt it was a well-rehearsed routine!

Loch lomond

Deciding on an early night with a view to starting early the next day, I settled into my sleeping bag.  After reading a few pages of Walking the Americas by Levison Wood I remembered my promise to stay present.  I put my book away, unzipped the tent and sat by the loch in complete silence while the sun went down.

They were special moments.

wild camping ban zone loch lomond

Learning from experience, I donned every item of clothing I was carrying before I got back into my sleeping bag.  Tonight I was as warm as toast.  I fell asleep with a smile on my face and slept like a baby.

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.

If you missed day 1 of my journey (Milngavie to Drymen) click here to read it.  Day 3 coming soon!


-Kat 🌳




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    January 26, 2018 at 9:18 pm

    […] The West Highland Way; Day Two. Drymen to Sallochy December 17, 2017 […]

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