The West Highland Way is a 154km walking challenge which goes from the outskirts of Glasgow to Fort William. It was first invented in the 1980's as a long-distance walking trail which takes you from the gentle lowlands to some more rugged terrain further North. Some people run the whole lot in under 24 hours and some walk it in 10 days. A guy I used to race against did it in just over 9hrs on a mountain bike.
In my mind it doesn’t really matter how you do it as long as you enjoy yourself.
So we planned to do it in 2 days with a romantic B&B in Tyndrum on the Saturday night followed by smashing on to Fort William on Sunday, a train journey back to Milngavie to pick up the car and then a drive back to the Lake District for work on Monday morning. Ideal!
It all sounded quite feasible on paper... but by the time my idiot mate had driven from Yorkshire to Cumbria to pick me up on the Saturday morning it was about 10:00am. Then, by the time we’d faffed about and eaten lunch and dumped the car at the start it was about 2pm... ‘It’s ok, it’s only 50 miles to Tyndrum. What’s that? 4-5hrs tops? Easy!’
After what felt like forever, we finally cleared the ‘tricky bit’ and were riding through some lush forest which also seemed to be taking us longer than expected.
‘How much further to Tyndrum’ I asked?
‘About 15 miles’.
‘Is it going to be dark soon?’
‘Yeah, I think it is’.
‘What are we going to do?’
Then out of a clearing, we came across a murdery-looking bothy (think Blair Witch).
I went into full Ray Mears mode and started trying to get kindling and things to burn. We had about 30 mins before it was going to be ridiculously dark. We finally got a fire going by burning my baggy mtb shorts (there’s a good tip for you), transforming the Bothy from freezing to tepid. We now had time for all the luxuries like swilling ourselves off in a stream. Mmmm, I suppose we’d better wait this out till morning then.
It was freezing, it was dark, we had no torch and we had finished eating our ‘supper’ of one cereal bar each so…off to bed. We each took a hard plywood bench and lay like mummies until daylight. Sleep, as you can imagine, didn’t come easily and I was sure I’d heard an animal in the night (or it could have been a murderer/bothy ghost?). Who or whatever it was, they decided to open and eat 2 of the 3 bars we had saved for breakfast.
We then looked at the weather forecast for the day; heavy rain coming in later, probably around the time we’d be tackling the Devil’s Staircase. Mmmm no thank you! So that was that. I finally got my fish and chips and we waited for a train back to the car.
We laughed about this at the time; it was funny. However, it could have been a lot worse - the mouse/ghost/murderer could have eaten all the bars. Our arrogance about the speed we assumed we’d be going tripped us up. I’m very glad that we found the bothy, murdery as it may have felt.
Many years have passed since this stupidity and I’ve driven through Tyndrum many a time since. Each time, I think about what could have been a good run out or a big disaster. I often think about the lack of kit and if one of us had stacked it and we’d had to wait for help - I shudder at this.
However, this year I’m going back. I’m not going to try and complete it in 12 hours. Katie and I are going to try to run it over 4 days (she says 5) but I’m going to take the correct kit and some spares. I’d like to back-pack it, sleep in a hedge. But I think there will be some creature comforts along the way. I’m still not right after my ordeal with Lyme disease so I’ll be happy just to complete it. Still, doing a marathon 4 days on the trot is still something quite ambitious. However, I know for a fact that as soon as I get started, I’ll be wanting to press on for my fish and chips in Tyndrum.