The Roaches


West Highland Way - July 25th-30th 2004


Dave Swarbrook, Terry Jones, Ken Hodgkinson, Sean Bond, Mike Riley, Gordon Darlington, Jane Salt
Neil Scott, Alison Bond
DAY 1 - Milngavie to Balmaha.

The team arrived in Milngavie on a miserable, wet Saturday afternoon.

The forecast for the next few days was good but with this being Scotland anything could happen. Neil, who earlier in the week had doubted his ability to start the walk due to an achilles problem, decided to give it a go and turned up raring to go. Neil gave me a huge courgette as a peace offering in case he did have to pull out at such late notice - thanks Neil!

The day of reckoning finally arrived. Months of intense training and new kit was about to be tested in the wilds of Scotland. Dave strapped on his technical mountaineering bra for the first time in order to minimise 'breast bounce' and off we went.



The team at the official start of the West Highland Way


Milngavie to Balmaha is a 20 mile walk. This coupled with the heat would be a real test for some of the team who had never previously walked anywhere near this distance. Unfortunately the intense heat affected the expedition leader who missed the path after only a few miles and sent the team nearly a mile off route - oh how we laughed.

The 20 miles had now turned into nearly 22 miles so the opportunity to stop at the first pub on the route was taken. Amazingly it was mineral water and tuna sandwiches all round apart from Gordon who decided that beer was required. The rest of the first day's walk was easy going on fields and forest paths. A short section of road was encountered with the odd climb but apart from that we made good progress.



On the road between Gartness and Drymen



The end of the forest


After walking through Garadhban Forest the team had a decision to make. Thanks to Captain Compass the team had already walked approx 19 miles and ahead lay Conic Hill, one of the few climbs in the entire route - what to do now?, climb Conic Hill or take the alternative route and use the road to Balmaha?

The majority of the team decided to take the alternative route and assist Terry back to Balmaha as the day's walk was taking its toll on the 62 year old puffer. Sean and Ken decided to take on the mighty Conic Hill and pressed on, hoping that Terry's little legs would last the day. Conic Hill was a fantastic viewpoint with most of Loch Lomond visible along with Ben Lomond, the Isle of Arran and the Arrochar Alps forming the main views.



Decision time - Conic Hill or the road to Balmaha. Sean and Ken check the map while Terry, looking visibly shattered, opts for the road.



Loch Lomond from Conic Hill


The main party had already had a pint by the time Sean and Ken reached Balmaha (apart from Alison who managed to knock her drink over). Terry had made it, but only just.

The Oak Tree Inn turned out to be a pleasant overnight stop and the team enjoyed a few beers - not too many mind. However, as the night grew older certain team members were beginning to show signs of fatigue and blistering. Had the day's 22 mile walk and the heat taking its toll?

Could Terry recover from not taking in Conic Hill and the incessant piss-taking that he would endure for the rest of the walk? Would the lack of sleep enjoyed by Sean and Alison due to the steel band, laughing and general noise emanating from the Oak Tree kitchens prove to be their downfall? Day 2 was coming up. An easy 14 miler to Inversnaid.

DAY 2 - Balmaha to Inversnaid

The team awoke to beautiful sunshine, a big breakfast and the odd fart. Today was one of the easy days, a quick 14 miler to Inversnaid and welcome relief to the blisters and sores gained during the previous day.



Balmaha Marina


Day 2 started off as a gentle stroll on the side of Loch Lomond but the team had experienced the odd midge whilst stood on the pier and so the first mass midge repellent spray was required.



Take Cover!


The first few miles of the walk was enjoyed by all, glorious sunshine, great views, hearty banter, minimal midges and reasonable underfoot. Suddenly, and without warning, Terry dived into the undergrowth. Apparently it was the result of a trip but unfortunately Terry was fine and managed to battle on despite the ravages of age.

As the day wore on the previous day's injuries were beginning to take their toll. The pace had slowed significantly as blisters grew, burst, grew and burst again. A 100 metre climb took its toll on Dave but the 2 hour wait was welcome relief to the rest of the team. I think Dave enjoyed that ascent more than he likes to admit...



Enjoying it Dave?


We stopped for lunch at Rowardennan Lodge and tucked into our sarnies - along with 3.5 million midges. This resulted in some serious spraying business and we were all glad to get going again.



You little bastards!


To be fair the midges were nowhere near as bad as they might have been. Only on the odd occasion were they any real nuisance but compared to previous trips to Scotland we got off lightly. After Rowardennan we decided to take the route which followed the forest track rather than the lochside. This wasn't the most interesting part of the route as any views were blocked by never ending legions of firs.

The gradual ascents were also tiresome and for the first time the team began to split as the quicker walkers decided to crack on. We finally hit the loch again and prepared ourselves for the final 2 mile saunter to Inversnaid. Some of the team were now suffering quite badly and were hoping to see Inversnaid soon. Unfortunately the next 2 miles turned out to be one of the toughest underfoot of the entire walk and we had to endure rocky, undulating terrain which wasn't blister\knee\leg\achilles friendly. Where was the Inversnaid hotel?

Surely we had walked the 2 miles by now? Suddenly, and not a moment too soon, the Inversnaid hotel was in view. We crossed the small bridge by the waterfall and assembled on the hotel car park. Dave, Alison and Neil were suffering badly from blisters and weren't happy bunnies to say the least.

The easy 14 miler had turned out to be nothing of the sort which was especially galling as the next day, Inversnaid to Tyndrum, was acknowledged to be the toughest day of the walk. We called Lorraine at the Corrie Arklet B&B and waited to be picked up.



Happy Bunnies at Inversnaid? - Mike was in the bar.


After a meal at the Inversnaid Hotel we returned to the 'lodge' at Corrie Arklet and exchanged tales from the day's walking. The conversation focused on the day's easy 14 miler and the tough 20 miler to be completed next day. The mood was generally good but the day ahead would be a severe test for some of the team.



Corrie Arklet B&B. An enjoyable place to stay and welcome relief after the day's walking. Far better than the Inversnaid hotel!

DAY 3 - Inversnaid to Tyndrum

We all said our goodbyes to Lorraine at the Corrie Arklet and prepared for the hardest day of the walk. Terry used his positive coaching techniques to gee the team up - 'the first 6 miles are a killer', 'there's plenty of up and down today Dave', 'the midges will be out today' and 'after the first hard 6 miles there's still another 14 to do!'.

We assembled on the Inversnaid hotel car park, exchanged expletives and performed final surgery on various injuries.



Happy, happy, happy, happy talk - talk about things you like to do......


The team was now suitably gee'd up and we set off on what is acknowledged as the toughest part of the walk - the rocky side of Loch Lomond. Luckily for some the dreaded first few miles turned out to be relatively easy, nowhere near as tortuous as the last few miles leading up to Inversnaid.

Team members with blisters were still suffering though and Dave's constant references to his GPS were geeing in the team up in a way that Terry would have been proud of - 'only done 2 miles', '2.3 now', '3.1 miles', 'surely we've walked further than 3.4 miles?' etc etc etc....

'

We've walked further than 2.3 miles Dave?'


The hard part was soon over and easier ground was reached. We reached the end of Loch Lomond and looked forward to the next 14 miles, well a few of us did anyway!



Bye bye Loch Lomond - hello good times! Dave can just be seen on the path.


The next few miles in Glen Falloch was pretty easy going on a decent path. A Grass snake added a touch of excitement and was photographed 129 times by various team members apart from Gordon - who strangely managed to take photos of every other object encountered on the walk. Neil offered to pick it up and take it off the path - what a hero!



A Grass snake suffering from the effects of numerous camera flashes


The Grass snake seemed to inject new energy into the team, the realisation that we were on an adventure in a strange land with mythical beasts hit home in dramatic style. However, after 10 yards the new energy had been used up - we continued up Glen Falloch and wondered what the next few miles would bring up?

I knew what was coming next - a sizeable 200 metre climb! Not wanting to inform the team of this I continued along the river, under the road, past the railway line and then onto the climb itself. Alison had reared a new kind of blister that preferred uphill whilst Dave had reared blisters that preferred beer and sleep - the next few miles climbing through the forest was a real tester but there was worse to come.



The climb begins! - along with the palpitations.


The climb wasn't made any easier by the noticeable rise in temperature. The greyness of the morning was slowly disappearing and the afternoon was quickly turning into a scorcher.

The descent into Strath Fillan was a slow affair with many of the team members now suffering from some form of discomfort (apart from Terry, Sean, Gordon, Jane and Mike) - blisters, knees, backs etc. Eventually we reached the railway bridge and drew energy from the fact that there was only another 2 miles to go!



Cheer up - Only another 2 miles to go!


Well I suppose I stretched the truth a little by saying it was 2 miles to Tyndrum - it was 3. My attempt to raise the team spirit backfired badly as the remaining 3 miles, in scorching weather, turned out to be a slow painful trudge. Neil, a history teacher, showed surprisingly little interest in St Fillan and his priory which highlighted the fact that most of us had now had enough and wanted to get to the bar\bed\restaurant\hospital\chiropodists\defibrilator\railway station\taxi rank (delete as necessary) sooner rather than later.

If Neil had kept the courgette he gave me on the previous week I'm quite sure he would have rammed it up my arse. This, for many, was the low point of the walk. Eventually we reached Tyndrum and checked into the Invervey Hotel - some of us visited the bar, some of us went straight to the room.

The excellent food helped to improve the atmosphere but the day had taken its toll. Dave retired to his room at 9:15pm, Alison treated herself to £20 worth of second skin, knee supports and plasters and prayed that the next day would be easier and I wondered if tomorrow would see the first retirements. As expected, this had proven to be the toughest day.

DAY 4 - Tyndrum to Kingshouse

Day 4, another 20 miler and hot weather. This was an easier day but for many the excesses of the previous day meant another hard grind through some of the most remote sections of the walk.



Team Spastic approaching Beinn Dorain.


An easy start helped the tired limbs recover to a small extent. The early blistering heat had mellowed due to increasing cloud cover and the general mood was good considering the gloom of the trudge into Tyndrum. The path twisted below the imposing Beinn Dorain and dropped into the Bridge of Orchy, a convenient break point and a chance to fill up the water bottles.



Jane performing minor foot surgery on Gordon - hang on, he said he didn't get any blisters?



Terry, Neil and Mike enjoying a drink at the Bridge of Orchy hotel.


The next few miles introduced another climb similar to that of the day before. Jane and Gordon decided to accompany Dave and follow the road to the Inveroran hotel whilst the rest of the team took on the small alp of Mam Carraigh. Mike and Alison began to suffer from knee problems on the descent and so the arrival at Inveroran was met with much relief. The sarnies were out along with the drinks!



The descent to Inveroran looking over to Loch Tulla

The next stage of the walk followed the old drove road to Glencoe, crossing Rannoch Moor and overlooking the hills of the Black Mount. The going was generally excellent but the hard stony drove road was punishing to those with blisters. The views towards the Black Mount were excellent but strangely not as good as that from the A82.



This unexpected stop was the result of Alison being knocked out after Dave's stomach airbag accidentally went off.

On we went, past the memorial to Ian Fleming's brother and then finally, a view of the Kingshouse in the distance. Buachaille Etive Mor burst onto the scene and for many the walk was well and truly sussed - the big days were over, just the Devils Staircase and the final trudge into Fort William to go.

One of the stranger injuries experienced during the week came on this section of the walk when Sean experienced a twang in the nether regions whilst picking up Alison's rucsac. The feeling was similar to that of a testicle bursting but as the pain began to subside it became obvious that the source of the problem was the groin and not the conkers - phew!



Buachaille Etive Mor from Blackrock cottage.


The descent to the Kingshouse seemed to drag and everybody was glad to get to the bar and enjoy a beer. There was a definite improvement in morale from the previous night and any concerns that this day would see the first retirements were quashed. A few more beers were enjoyed that night and even though the Devil's Staircase was next on the agenda nothing could stop us now!

DAY 5 - Kingshouse - Mamore Lodge

This was the easy day - a 9 mile stroll over the Devil's Staircase to Kinlochleven and the Mamores. Terry began the day by accidentally mistaking a Newfoundland dog for a suitcase - come on, we've all done it. To hide his embarrassment he decided to don his magic hat that makes him invisible. Unfortunately it didn't work.



Terry and his midge net - a miraculous bit of kit that also prevented midge bites to the arms and legs. How does that work then? and what's Ken laughing at?.

Day 5 started on a rocky path that meandered towards the bottom of the Devil's Staircase. It was a slightly cloudier day but the temperature was still quite muggy so the midges were noticeable whenever we stopped. Time to crack on!



'Put those cameras away you bastards'



' I should have bought a barge'



The Devil's Staircase seemed to provide Sean, Ken, Neil and Gordon with ample opportunity to capture Dave's heroic ascent. Note the look of sheer fatigue on each shot....come on, pump it big boy!


The Devil's Staircase wasn't really that devilish. However , the long slow descent to near sea level that followed, again on a hard path, pushed the team members with knee problems to the limit.

The day's destination, the Mamore Lodge, could be seen shortly after descending from the top of the Devil's Staircase and remained in view for what seemed an eternity.



Hooray - we can see the Mamore Lodge nestling on the side of Am Bodach. We should be there in an hour? Hang on a min, its up a hill!


Down and down we went, down, down, down until suddenly and without any warning there was more down to be done. The more spatially aware members of the team had noticed that the Mamore Lodge was perched 700ft up on the side of Am Bodach and this, obviously, meant that the 700ft had to be climbed at some point.



Neil breathing in.



Neil not breathing in - can you spot the difference?



Nearly there - apart from the 700ft climb to the Mamore Lodge!


After a hot, sticky, humid, sweaty climb the Mamore Lodge was finally reached. Ken had ignored Terry's challenge to run the last mile and Dave ignored Sean's challenge to reach the hotel by midnight.

The Mamore Lodge was adequately described by Alison as 'spooky'. This may have been because of the wood panelled rooms and corridors or the 'spooky' names of previous occupants present on each of the doors. Sean and Alison stayed in Col Codringtons room - who was Col Codrington and how did he die? Could his death be linked in any way to the ridiculously hot water in the rooms?



The faint sound of a giggling child could be heard in that cold, dark corridor - 'is that you mummy, why did you burn me in the bath?'


The team were treated to cracking food and beer in the Mamore Lodge. The view from the lounge over Loch Leven was spectacular as the clouds darkened and the first rain of the week came in from the west. Hopefully the weather would clear in readiness for the final push to Fort William, the end of the epic challenge and the smug feeling of success.

Surely the team would awake with new vigour and march to Fort William as if on drugs? Why did Jane leave the bar laughing uncontrollably that night?

DAY 6 - Mamore Lodge - Fort William

The sweet smell of success lingered in the air - along with the smell of 3 gallons of blister cream, midge spray, compeed, second skin and 3 day old t-shirts. This was it. The final 14 mile march to Fort William.

The previous night's rain had blown over and the weather had returned to the cloudy humid conditions experienced on the previous day. The team assembled on the veranda of the Mamore Lodge and off we went.

Dave was feeling slightly depressed after Terry informed him that he would never, ever, in a million years lose any weight unless he walked 40 miles a day and stopped drinking and eating. How could he possibly get through the day? - Dave had the answer.



Ready to go? Dave and Alison have that 'can't wait' look on their face.


The first few miles were a real problem for Alison, her knees were almost at breaking point.

The route again consisted of a hard, rocky, path that made fast progress difficult and was especially unkind to blisters and knees. At one point Terry caught up with a walker who turned out to be a doctor to see if he could do anything to assist Alison and her injury ravaged knees.

Any doubts that we had of him not being a doctor were eased when he recommended paracetamol - problem being that Alison had already taken painkillers so unless she overdosed there was very little that could be done. Apart from make a stretcher and carry her! - yep, that was the serious suggestion from the doctor.



Sean and Alison can be seen in the distance. This first section proved to be particularly painful for Alison but my constant joking about life without knees kept her going. The doctor can be seen in the foreground.


As would be expected from such a caring bunch we decided that there was fuck all chance of making a stretcher and carrying Alison the remaining 8 miles to Fort William. She carried on and hoped for the best.



'A spot of cottaging?'


Dave was also beginning to suffer but ignored the doctor's advice and overdosed on a concoction of mind bending painkillers. Dave could see bluebirds and rainbows - the final few miles must have been like a scene from the Yellow Submarine as industrial strength levels of drugs powered through Dave's veins.

The scenery changed as did Alison's condition. The knees were beginning to feel slightly better and Alison could now pick up a quicker pace. The team regrouped after the initial early morning split due to the slow pace and we all looked forward to marching into Fort William together. Nearly there now, nearly there...



The final forest and no more blue meanies. Every step a joy.


With the forest now behind us all that was left was a gradual descent into Glen Nevis and the march along to road to Fort William. The pace quickened as hearts raced and we all now knew that nothing could stop us from reaching our goal - the Grog and Gruel.



Terry telling a fellow walker that 4 out of 5 people who walk the West Highland Way die of cancer within 12 months. Terry had only spoken to this bloke on two occasions and each time he made him feel suicidal.


The team split again as we walked along Glen Nevis. Terry and Mike formed the front with Neil, Sean, Alison and Ken the middle and Gordon, Jane and Dave forming the rear.



Alison and Ken on the Glen Nevis path with Gordon, Jane and Dave in the background.


The team regrouped again so we could all reach the finishing point together. One final glorious moment of group bonding, togetherness, tears and hugs. Well that was the plan until Dave decided to go off like a cock in a shop full of fannies. His pace was relentless as 5 kilos of pain killers kicked into action. Nobody could get near him - Neil tried, Terry tried and then I tried but to no avail.

After 5.9 days of 'waiting for Dave' he managed to pull a fast one and move into the lead. Dave reached the end a full minute before the rest of the team. When we finally caught up the group hugs and kisses began - Ken and Terry tongued like two long lost lovers (definitely one of the low points of the week), Neil refused to talk to Dave as a punishment for tricking us all into finishing last and Alison finally collapsed after we had ignored her pleas to build a stretcher.

We had done it - 97 miles of the West Highland Way (95 officially but we did make an error on the first day).



Get in there - job done!


The rest of the day revolved around the pool in the Milton Hotel, the bar in the Milton Hotel, the curry house, the Grog and Gruel, the bar in the Milton Hotel again, Jimmy fucking Saville and finally the bed. Everybody enjoyed the walk in their own way - the weather had been fantastic, the accommodation excellent, the food was good and the organisation, well what can I say?

What will the team do next? Will Ken and Terry finally get married? Will Alison and Neil burn their boots as promised? Will Dave ever come down from his painkiller high? Just what are Mike and Neil capable of if they train? Are Gordon and Jane unbreakable? - Who knows?

Next years walk is already being planned - can we take it up to the next level? Below is a table displaying the full (known) list of injuries experienced on the walk. Please update me with any errors or omissions
Walker Blisters Knee Hip Cerebral Failure Exploding Testicle Drug Overdose Achilles
Sean X X
Alison X X
Ken X
Mike X
Neil X X X
Terry X
Gordon
Dave X X
Jane

OUTTAKES

Not being content with taking the 'mick' out of team members during the general WHW pages I decided it would be a good idea to extract a few 'choice' photos from the magic lens of Gordon, Neil, Ken and myself.



Terry with wood



The 'Shit tree of Drymen'



Ken never complained once about his room at Tyndrum



Jane stood guard whilst Gordon had a quick toilet stop



'Oscar, Foxtrot, Tango - I can see them. Get emergency rations of Compeed and Second Skin to Tyndrum now!'



It must mean 19 stone and a 66 inch waist?


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