West Highland Way: Day One

Milngavie to Drymen. 19km, or 11.75 miles if you want to do it the old fashioned way.

“There must be somewhere in Milngavie that sells porridge.”

“There’s Greggs.”

We’d just dropped our bags with our bag transfer company, Ginger Routes, and were about to set off on the hike of a lifetime. But first: breakfast. Having been on a diet for the past three months (THREE. FRICKING. MONTHS) I was quite in the mood for something involving white bread, fried meats, and lashings of sauce ala broon. James, however, had other ideas.

“There must be somewhere other than Greggs.”

Unfortunately for him, the good people of Milngavie seem to have the same idea about what constitutes a good breakfast as I do. After adding about 5 miles onto our walk by trekking back and forth up the high street a few times looking for porridge, we eventually wandered into a greasy spoon for a couple of morning rolls and some caffeine. That out of the way, we were ready to go! Well, almost.

We stopped to take the obligatory photos of ourselves setting off, and we were approached by a chap with two wee laddies. He offered to take our picture, and I returned the favour. He asked us how long we were doing the walk for. “Oh seven days” I said. “We’re doing it in five” he replied. Cue me no longer feeling like an intrepid adventurer, but feeling like a big ol’ wimp instead.

WHW start

Still, it was hard to stop me from feeling excited. It was a sunny morning, we’d met a few friendly faces, and to top it off a mariachi band had set up beside the arch leading to the West Highland Way path and were playing a jaunty wee tune to see us on our way. It was definitely enough to put a spring in my step!

The first section of the West Highland Way is a bit like the Water of Leith path in Edinburgh. It’s quite foresty and you bump into a lot of people walking their dogs. It’s pretty easy going at this point, but I think for most of the first day I was pretty apprehensive expecting things to get suddenly difficult.

DayOneA

I think we were walking for about an hour when we were overtaken for the first time: by a group of rowdy young walkers we’d seen in the greasy spoon that morning. We’d taken to calling them the “Yes Campaign” because I overheard them talking about Scottish Independence to their English friends, trying to convince them to vote yes. We got chatting to them for a wee bit, but nothing too deep. We didn’t get round to exchanging names or anything. They asked if we were stopping in at Glengoyne Distillery for lunch: we weren’t. If I’d done my research and known there was a distillery I’d have definitely popped in for a dram (or five).

COO
I needed a drink after seeing this warning

Soon after that the terrain opened up, and we got our first wee taste of Scottish countryside. Hills all around, sheep frolicking in the fields, and beautiful blue skies and sunshine. It’s funny: a few months before we’d been practicing walking in the Algarve. We used to joke about how walking in Scotland would be exactly the same weather wise. Turns out we were right!

DayOneB

I was pretty surprised at how well we were doing by the time we reached the Beech Tree, a wee restaurant just off the main drag. I had to stop and snap a picture of their sign, as they’d written a cute little poem to tempt passers by to come in for a rest. It worked! In we went to order a big plate of chilli nachos to share, and a can of Irn Bru for me. The weather was glorious, so we settled ourselves down in the beer garden and made friends with the cute animals in the petting zoo.

Beech Tree

Ahh I could have sat there all day! Sadly that wasn’t an option, so on we toddled towards our next stop: Drymen. We got overtaken again, by the chap with the two kiddywinks (who passed us while James was taking his fortieth photograph of a baby lamb getting some milk from its mum) and by one of the English girls from the Yes Campaign. She was on her own: I think she was keen to get on to Drymen while the others were quite happy getting stuck into into the drams, man.

Stephen & Julie: Dead or Engaged? I say Engaged. James disagrees.
Steven & Julie: Dead or Engaged? I say engaged. James says “same difference.”

Unfortunately we managed to get off the main path a little bit. Everything was fine: until we decided to follow the John Muir Way along a trail road instead of continuing along the motor road. It was an easy mistake to make, so if you’re planning a West Highland Way adventure any time soon make sure you don’t. Thankfully I was tracking our walk with MapMyFitness (and also feeling a bit paranoid) so I noticed that we’d gone a bit off track. We were able to turn right at the next road and get to Drymen without too many problems, and it didn’t add too much extra on to our day’s walk.

DayOneD

Half an hour later we were at our B&B, the lovely Kip in the Kirk! It’s an old converted church which the owners have transformed into a big dorm room and two B&B rooms. We were given fresh baked scones with jam and cream on arrival, as well as a big pot of tea (for me) and coffee for James. We sat down and got chatting to three other girls who were staying in the B&B section: Hannah, Anna and Rebecca. They were doing the walk in 7 days too, so I allowed myself to feel like less of a wimp.

We didn’t go too far that night, just to the pub up the road, where I had the first of many two course meals. I can’t actually remember what I ate but I’m sure it involved haggis spring rolls…

My Tips for Hiking the West Highland Way

I’ve wanted to walk the West Highland Way for years, ever since my friend Alan mentioned it during a long and boring shift at work back in 2007. Starting outside Milngavie, the 96 mile walk takes in the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, the desolate Rannoch Moor, mysterious Glen Coe, then onwards up the Devil’s Staircase towards Fort William.

West Highland Way

Over the years I’ve found plenty of excuses not to do it. I’m not sure what made me finally decide that 2014 was the year. All I know is that I spent the day before my 28th birthday picking out some excellent B&Bs and putting together an itinerary. Once the deposits were paid, it was really happening! We were going to walk the West Highland Way!

We did the walk back in April, and although I meant to blog about it earlier life just kind of got in the way. It was such an adventure though that I really want to share it! I’m going to write about each day separately in a wee series (just to bore you all to tears) but first I’m going to share a few tips for any of you who are planning on doing the walk.

Use a baggage transfer company

Why carry a heavy rucksack up and down hills when you can pay someone else to do it for you? There are lots of baggage transfer companies operating along the Way, and the price is very reasonable. They pick your bag up from your accommodation every morning, and drop it off to the next place in time for your arrival. We used Ginger Routes and they were fantastic. The guy even gave us some tourist guides and free blister plasters- win!

But do carry a day bag

Bring a small rucksack with the things you’ll need to get you through the day. Money, mobile phones, a copy of your itinerary, a map, a bottle of water, a torch, some plasters, anti-bacterial gel, and a few things to munch on. We took one small rucksack and it was enough for the two of us.

Stay well fuelled

Jemma mushroom

I joked to James that I’ll probably be the first person to gain weight walking 100 miles, but the thing is you really do need to keep your body well fuelled if you’re going to be marching 14 miles every day. There are loads of wee shops along the way where you can stock up on fruit, nuts, crisps and chocolate bars for snacking on as you go. You should also make a point of stopping half way through the day, even if you’re not starving. There are plenty of pubs where you can stop and have a calorie laden lunch such as chilli nachos, chips and cheese, or a scone with jam and cream.

Pack extra socks

There’s nothing better after a wet and sweaty day of trekking than slipping your freshly showered feet into a pair of lovely clean socks. Makes sure you have two pairs of socks (and pants!) for every day: one for walking, one for feeling clean and fresh in the evening.

Pack some evening wear

Most of the time you’ll be arriving at your destination for about 4pm. Most of the hotels have bars, and if you’re staying in a small town you might want to head out for a knees up in the local pub. You won’t want to be going out for dinner in mud splattered trousers and hiking boots, so bring something nice to wear like a good pair of jeans and a shirt or a couple of comfy day dresses and ballerina shoes.

Break in your trousers

I took the time to break in my hiking boots, but didn’t try my trousers on until the day of the walk. Big mistake! Those m’f’ers chaffed like nobody’s business. I ended up wearing a pair of James’s lycra boxer shorts underneath them for the rest of the trip (over my underpants, of course). So if your trousers are a bit rough round the edges, pack some boxers for underneath.

Use a tracking app

I started out using MapMyWalk to keep track of calories burned, but it ended up becoming a life saver on day one when I compared it with our map and realised we were going off track. If you’re not so good with maps (like me!) I’d highly recommend doing this. Be careful: this can drain the battery on your smartphone. I’d recommend bringing an old handset for emergency phone calls if you’re hiking alone.

Make copies of your itinerary

Put your planned route, where you’re going to be staying, and the phone number of the hotel/B&B. Obviously you should give a copy to your baggage handler: I also gave one to my parents, in case something went wrong, and kept one for myself because I’m getting older and my memory ain’t what it used to be.

Have you walked the West Highland Way? What are your top tips?

Scotland voted no: let’s make Britain great

I originally posted this on Facebook, but I wanted to share it with more people than my immediate friends and family.

Free Scotland and prosper

On Friday, Scotland voted against self-determination. I was heartbroken and in typical Jemma fashion I threw my toys out the pram, decided that I’m not Scottish anymore, and vowed that I’ll never be stepping foot in Britain again. Obviously I was overreacting but that’s me: I’m a passionate person and I don’t see the point in pretending I’m fine when inside I’m torn to ribbons.

On the plus side, 55% of the electorate voting “no” means more job security, and has strengthened the British economy. While this is excellent news for lots of you reading this, it hasn’t made a jot of difference to those at the bottom of society: on zero hour contracts, facing strict benefit sanctions, and struggling to feed themselves.

What I’m saying is, “I’m alright, Jack” isn’t good enough.

No voters: if you woke up on Friday, excited that your financial future is still sound, please think back to that feeling of fear and worry you had on Thursday when there was a possibility that everything might not be okay. That’s what poor people go through every day of every week of every year.

A big reason I voted Yes is that I don’t believe in austerity. I hate the thought that thousands of children will be entering poverty while people like Ian Duncan Smith are spending £39 on breakfast and trying to claim it on expenses. Dude, how!? Did you walk into Greggs and order one of everything?

The reason I subscribed to the idea of Yes was the idea of social justice. Whether iScotland could have sorted everything out or not isn’t up for debate: we’ll never know, so it’s inconsequential.

What we do know is that child poverty is here to stay until we can make more positive changes together, as part of the UK. Today I joined a political party for the first time, and I’ll be donating £5 a month to them. That’s £60 a year- so I’ve decided to donate £60 to the Trussell Trust as well. They need the money as much as, if not a lot more than, our politicians do. I’ll put a reminder in my diary to donate to the food banks again next September, but hopefully I won’t need to do it at all.

If you want to join me in making a positive change, you can donate to The Trussell Trust here. Or choose another charity who are doing great things for the people living in poverty in our country. If you do, I would so appreciate it if you leave me a comment telling me all about them and the great work they do. Who knows- maybe you’ll inspire some other people to donate, too.

Now is the time to make our country an amazing place to live in, and I think we can do it. 

So if your future is secure and your salary is safe, celebrate by sharing just a tiny wee bit with those who have nothing. If I can do it on an unstable freelancer’s income, I’m sure one or two of you can too. You don’t even have to do it online, and it doesn’t have to cost you a packet. Just buy a Big Issue next time you see a seller. Buy a takeaway for a homeless person. If you think a friend might be struggling silently to make ends meet, order her some goodies from Tesco. I’ve just realised all of these involve food, but hey: that’s what I’m supposed to be blogging about anyway, right?

Think globally, act locally, and once our battered Britain is repaired we can start to heal the world.