|Rowardennan to Ardlui (20 km)|
Bridge of Orchy
This moderately demanding day keeps to the eastern shore of Loch Lomond - sometimes hugging the water's edge, at other times traversing the forests higher on the steep slopes below Ben Lomond. The route ranges from forest roads to excellent paths and rough tracks. Halfway through the day, the Way comes to the Inversnaid Hotel - a curious interruption of the wilderness by civilisation (but handy for lunch). In fine weather this is a great stroll through sun-dappled woods with wonderful views over the glistening loch, listening to the birds and admiring nature. In less fine weather it is an atmospheric route through gloomy woods with glimpses of mist rolling over the loch waters. In bad weather this is a long arduous day that you will be glad to get behind you.
|Anchorage Cottage||B&B||01360 870394|
|Ardess wild campsite||A good flat grassy patch behind the Rowardennan YH.|
|Ben Lomond Cottage||B&B||01360 870411|
|Coorie Doon||B&B||01360 870320|
|Northwood Cottage||B&B||01360 870351|
|Rowardennan Hotel||Hotel||01360 870273|
Leave the Rowardennan Youth Hostel and head south back to the junction with a forest road which is followed to the north. A junction is reached after a kilometre with the Ptarmigan Lodge to the left. The West Highland Way takes the right-hand fork for another 300 metres where there is a path dropping down steps to the loch shore. When I was there in 1992 the path along the shore had been closed due to erosion. However it should have been reopened (check at the youth hostel). Note that the thick woods along shoreline path mean few views and rather confined travelling. This means that the better option for views is to follow the forest road for 3 kilometres. This is fairly boring but provides quick and easy walking with some views behind you down the loch. A spur track gives access back to the shoreline just before the sidle above Rowchoish but the road can be taken for another 750 metres to its end on the West Highland Way.
From before Rowchoish, the West Highland Way heads uphill in a pocket glen through conifers. The Rowchoish bothy is just to the left of the path at the crest and provides very basic accommodation (just four walls and a roof).
The Way climbs gently beyond the bothy to meet the road which however vanishes in a few hundred metres. A nice path then leads through pleasant woods of birch, pine and oak for over a kilometre of delightful walking. A bridge across the Cailness Burn with the tidy Cailness farmhouse on the other bank provides relief from the closeness of the woods with a good view to the south-west to the Arrochar-Tarbet gap which is an ancient pathway between Loch Long and Loch Lomond. The wooded slopes beyond Cailness are popular with bird-watchers. It is worthwhile to have a break along here to sit quietly and allow the birds to gather. You can expect to see jays, woodpeckers and (if you are lucky and patient) treecreepers and hear cuckoos and the drumming of the great spotted woodpecker.
Rumbling announces that Inversnaid is nearby. This is not your stomach but the famous Mare's Tail waterfall on the Snaid Burn. The Way crosses the burn above the waterfall and descends sharply to the carpark, pier and imposing Victorian hotel - take a moment to wander back south and look up at the waterfall. The hotel has a good but touristy bar for lunch and liquid refreshment.
The difficulties of this part of the walk up to Ardlui can be avoided by taking the ferry across to Inverglas and either walking up the western shore or taking the bus. This is not recommended unless the weather is especially foul - in which case the ferry ride may also be suspect. Anyone who enjoys rough terrain and wild woodlands will love the rest of the day. The remoteness of the area has lead to a great variety of plants and animals including wild goats (not often seen but you may catch a hint of their unique musty odour).
A clear and popular footpath takes the West Highland Way north from the hotel and up to Rob Roy's Cave (about a kilometre). This is a crevice in the jumble of boulders under Sroin Uaidh and has "CAVE" painted in white paint on boulders to its right to distinguish it from the other, smaller crannies. The enormous size of the sign suggests that it is for boaties out on the loch. This may have been used by Rob Roy as he had a house nearby (frequently burnt down by his enemies) but it had an earlier name of "King Robert's Cave" (after Robert the Bruce). These associations and the many locations named after Bonnie Prince Charlie may spring from a romantic leaning in the Scottish soul.
Beyond the cave, the Way becomes rougher as it wanders up and down and in and out through oak woods and bracken-covered boggy flats, over rocks and shoreline gravel, under crags and fallen trees. The quality of the trail will slow you down but this allows you to drink in the atmosphere of the wilderness around you. There are occasional glances through the trees over the loch to the steep and craggy slopes of Ben Vorlich to the west and to the nearing Ben Oss and Ben Dubhchraig ahead.
The small wooded island of Island I Vow (a very corrupted form of a Gaelic name, previously anglicised as 'Ylenow') appears as you approach the Allt Rostan. Over the burn, the final obstacle of the day is a steep slippery climb to one side of a bridge perched almost directly above the loch. The waterfall that makes the bridge necessary is quite impressive in wet weather. The drop back to the loch after the bridge is also steep and greasy. Another 300 metres of scrambling along the hillside brings the West Highland Way to a nice gravel bay just south of Doune - a good spot for a break and the last of the hard going.
|South down Loch Lomond from Ardleish|
Doune Bothy is found as the Way rises uphill to a tiny saddle between the main hills to the east and a bump on the shore of the loch. This old outbuilding is 40 metres to the east of the restored Doune Farm house and has been reconstructed as a bothy by the Mountain Bothies Association. It is a solid structure with a wooden sleeping platform and a grand location. Past the bothy, the Way drops gently back to the shore where there is a signal hoist to raise for the ferry across to Ardlui (summertime only). This is the option that I took to enjoy the "luxuries" of Ardlui (a hotel, shop and campsite) as an extra reward for the long, hard day. There is also a railway station and the A82 road if you need to get to places further away.
The path rises from the signal hoist through scattered woods, passing above Ardleish farmhouse and then following a burn for a kilometre to the pond of Dubh Lochan. The wet col just before the lochan is a great viewpoint and forms the boundary between the Loch Lomond section of the West Highland Way and the entry into the true Highlands. Ahead the sharp top of Ben Lui makes its first appearance over the nearer hills. The path keeps to a grassy ledge to the east of the lochan for several hundred metres and then runs gently down through woods to the floor of Glen Falloch. It emerges on the flats a short distance south of the Ben Glas Burn where there is a bridge across the stream next to the substantial ruin of the old Beinglas farm.
Beinglas Farm itself offers camping, bunkhouse accommodation (in cute wigwams) and refreshments, otherwise the nearest accommodation is the Drovers Inn (Inverarnan) - an ancient drovers inn. This is four hundred metres south down the relatively busy A82 road which is accessible by a spur track from the West Highland Way. It is also the best spot to appreciate the fine waterfalls that cascade down from the slopes above your head. Ardlui is another three kilometres to the south and provides a good base for the ascent of Ben Vorlich where the views back along the loch (and West Highland Way) are fantastic.