The West Highland Way 2– Drymen to Critreoch Forest

By Bryan • photography, scotland, travel, west highland way • 27 Sep 2014

If one follows a strict 7-day approach to the West Highland Way, Day two from Drymen to Rowardennan rolls in at a cool 15 miles (24KM).  By the first day, I knew I wasn’t going to be following the classic 7 day itinerary and was opting for an 8 day approach.  Drymen to Rowardennan became Drymen to Critreoch Forest.  Given the blistery hot weather at the time, this was a good call.  The Drymen to Balmaha segment contains the tiny, yet completely exposed Conic Hill…which might as well be Mt. Everest when facing down 30+ degree heat with no shade cover or water sources to speak of.  Luckily, the lakeshore village of Balmaha at the northern base of the Conic Hill has several excellent pub establishments from which one can regain the strength to move further up the lake.  

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The outskirts of Drymen.  I made a quick detour into Drymen following my first night to load up on blister bandages.  I cleared out the local pharmacy of their entire (albeit, limited) supply. While I was using my trusty 10 year old Salomon’s…20KM+ a day will beat in the best feet.

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It was just north of Drymen that one first encounters Scotland’s small, but apparently flourishing forestry industry.  Controversial among the usual suspects (mainland Europeans), the clear-cuts are viewed as damaging the trekking experience.  I for one, felt the broke up what would otherwise be a rather monotonous trek through a typical forest.  These are not ‘old growth’ stands by any means.  A quick ring count from one of the log decks indicates timber in the 30-35 year range.  Replanted stock appears to be very fast growing with leaders on the new trees in excess of 1m. 

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This was my first view of the Conic Hill.  A tiny 310m bump in the Highlands, it is surprisingly challenging on a hot day given the complete exposure one has to the sun and the lack of water.  I don’t contend well with the heat and consume copious amounts of water on a normal day of trekking.  On this particular day I believe I drank close to 8 litres of water, five of which were consumed on the hill.

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This is the Garadhban Forest.  I really like how all of the forests in Scotland have unique names.   Rather dense mixed  foliage with obvious deep greens.  It doesn’t look to offer particularly easy off-trail hiking

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Moving close to the Conic Hill, one will pass through a rather nice 10 year old plantation with a variety of birch, aspen, fir and pine species.  This is what the clear-cut will look like in a few years time.  Offering nice landscape while preserving views of both Loch Lomond and the Conic Hill.

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This is probably my favourite view of the mighty Loch Lomond.  Taken from the south approach to the Conic Hill. Loch Lomond is the largest lake in the United Kingdom by surface area.

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The North Face of the Conic Hill looking out towards the real Highlands.  In the distance one can make out Ben Lomond peaking at 974m.  The most southerly of the famous Munro peaks. 

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While it is certainly not the best cure to Conic Hill dehydration, the pubs of Balmaha certainly provided a subtle numbness to the weary feet.  Three pints of Balmaha Best and I was good to go for another five kilometers.

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I would argue that one of the nicest segments of the WHW occurs between Balmaha and the small village of Rowardennan.  The well-groomed trail meanders around the loch’s many bays and inlets, passing through immaculate estates and gorgeous pine and birch forests.  Hardly any trail grade at all makes this a wonderful afternoon hike before setting up the tent.  As I generally value my evenings, I decided not to push all the way to Rowardennan.  I choose to stay at the private campsite located within Critreoch Forest. 

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One of the many estates on the way to Critreoch Forest.  This particular owner was offering free water bottles to the weary.  Just another example of Scottish hospitality.

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Sunset Highland view from the east shore of Loch Lomond, near Critreoch Forest. 

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