Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
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2008.09.10 : West Highland Way
Day 5 : Rowardennen to Inverarnan
Part i : Hot Chicks
"One was horribly afraid of doing the wrong thing; the etiquette of travel in wild places is as exacting as the etiquette of a new club."
- Graham Greene, Journey Without Maps

We bid farewell to the Crap YHA, and its lovely lochside backyard, on what was already starting to look like a nice day.

Something about a pier just demands picture-taking This is the Crap YHA, if you were wondering

First scribble; then ford
    We hit the trail. A lot of water had come down recently, so we found ourselves constantly fording little swollen streamlets coming down off of the mountains.
Face Plant City, baby Tim waits his turn for the dangerous maneuver . . . . . . and then skips across in one second
Tim: That was disappointingly easy.
Me: Those guys [ahead of us] are pussies.

The pussies in question, it turned out, were Shawn and Phil from our smelly room back at the YHA. Really, really nice guys. (Despite the silly gaiters.)

I kept falling behind taking photos and notes; particularly alone, there were some stunningly peaceful stretches of trail by the loch It wasn't clear if this guy was actually in here, or whether this was just a cairn; and I still haven't been able to figure out how he died Sunshine City – hardly looks like Scotland at all

For some reason, perhaps the mysterious dead guy we had just passed, we had a bit of a discussion about war – and about how the experiences of, say, the WWII generation were so very different from ours. Those guys didn't need to go trekking through Africa – they'd already done it, except they were being shot at. "I've been to Africa – and it sucked. I'm pretty happy staying right here in Southampton."

We were pretty happy right where we were – it had turned absolutely beautiful. Shorts weather.

Me: Most sunshine yet.
Tim: But nothing really to photograph.
Me: Don't worry – our Ben Nevis day will be just like this.
Tim: Okay. Whatever.
Me: Oh, my God – I'm turning into my mom.

My mom has a lovely habit of predicting – and genuinely believing – that conditions at an important time will be ideal. It's very sweet. But perhaps not a trait you want to cultivate when planning how to get down off a mountain alive. (The weather on Ben Nevis – the summit of which is in cloud 300 days a year – was going to be a huge factor. More on this later.)

I think I was scared by my own shadow I eat notebooks Into the dappled forest

We entered a lovely stretch of dappled, loch-side forest, with some enjoyable climbing and scrambling over boulders. Also through here, we were dogged, so to speak, by a woman and a pretty dog, who kept passing and being passed by us.

Time for Tea!

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Waterfall Smackdown

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Inversnaid pretty much consists of the Inversnaid Hotel – the only food/drink stop on our 13.5 mile day. We ducked inside the "walkers' entrance" round back for tea and nibbles, and took up a table in the sun. (Though not before the son of a bitch at the snack counter tried to give me 16 pound coins in change. Pretty much the ultimate through-hiker practical joke. They don't call it sterling for nothing.) When we got back outside, the tiny birds descended.

Tea – <i>nice</i> The hotel <i>First we will look for dropped crumbs on the ground…</i> <i>Then we will hit your table</i> <i>And now do a little bird dance for our supper</i> <i>Ah – lunch</i>

Tim and Tikka Not only the birds came out – but also the lovely dog and her walker. The dog was named Tikka. The walker was named Liz – much like Tim's girlfriend – and entrusted us as foster carers for Tikka while she ran in for the lavatory. Afterwards, we were sad to give Tikka up. But very glad to have met her. She was as sweet as she was pretty. Liz was nice, too.

Me: Nice woman. Everyone's nice. Except the fat, smelly guy.
Tim: Bastard.

It was as we were exiting the hotel's loch-side lounging area that we passed two Latina women sitting at the trailhead. According to Tim's much more timely (and perforce more accurate) mo-blog, the ensuing dialogue went like this:

Cuter of the two Latina Women: Where are you going?
Tim: Inverarnan.
CottLW: Can I come?
Michael: Sure!

The cuter of the two Latina women was called Lina. And we learned, in short order, that Lina's walking companion was, basically, flaking out – packing it in and taking a ferry to their next overnight stop. Lina, being cool and hard-core and Colombian, was not about to flake out; but she also recognised the possible dangers (or, at least, boredom) for a woman traveling alone. Thus did two become, for awhile, three.

Moss is boss Tim and Lina Lina Spectacular rock, tree, and cliff formations

"We Didn't Warn You About the Movies. Sorry."

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Lina, it transpired, had been working as an au pair in London for the last year. Sadly, she was shortly to return to Colombia. This was one of those last-minute jaunts one takes when one is living overseas and has to go back and realises in a panic one has hardly looked around. She was very cool, and had a nice digital SLR, and pretended to be impressed with my really crappy snippets of Spanish.

So, if you happen not to have seen the film Rob Roy – with Liam Neeson and that really creepy Tim Roth with that awful rape scene – Rob Roy MacGregor was more or less the Robin Hood of the Highlands. Anyway, you can read about him on Wikipedia (rather than here), but anyway a cave along here was supposedly one of his hideouts. It is now very helpfully marked for anyone looking for it.

It required some significant scrambling/climbing to reach I think this may be it

Is That All There Is?

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Tim – the Errol Flynn of the Highlands

Tim: Spokesmodel

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While clambering out on the Rob Roy hideout rocks, I took a call from Anna about the status our change of broadband at home. Because I spent awhile dealing with this, Tim and Lina decamped back to the trail well before me. Because I felt bad holding things up – and because I am an absolute world-class idiot – I decided to make up time scrambling over these huge slick boulders. I did one of those things where you think, Okay, this will work just as long as I don't slip here, and then proceed to slip exactly there – dinging the shit out of my knee. It ended up not being a big problem, but it could easily have not not been.


Next: Day 5, part ii - including the "end" of Loch Lomond; creepy feral goats of the forest; a boozy bothy; Scotland's Inn of the Year (for 1705); and sleeping in a wigwam (seriously).


2008.09.10 : West Highland Way
Day 5 : Rowardennen to Inverarnan
Part ii : Of Flags, Frogs, and Feralness

When the light is right I realised something today that was already probably obvious to anyone with a head: photography is all about light. If the source light sucks, it's like trying to make whiskey out of brackish water. This is one reason why a lot of my earlier pictures were rather sucky. Another is that this was my first trip with a camera with full manual controls – and I was trying to learn to use them. A final reason was that I ignored my own advice when I bought this camera. (click for more on this if you care)

Tim was archly amused by this – Someone had to carry this thing out here! Wonder Twin Rain Kit Powers – <i>Activate</i>

The rain came back, as of course it must. Aside from the encumbrance of the rain kit – seven miles (the first half of the day) is not always seven miles (the second half) – it made for some lovely, peaceful walking in a gentle rain. All the while munching on yummy wholemeal biscuits.

Tim: It seems more like Scotland when it's raining.

The Sound of Trains

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"Oh, Gloria Inmarcesible!"

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We happy few, we band of ramblers

Proceeding past what I was so very sure was the end of the loch, we wandered into some pasture (sheep!), followed by hills and forest.

I am so cute you should just die right now

In the forest we caught a glimpse of the unusual feral goats of the caves and woods north of Rowardennan. They are descendents of goats which escaped their captors and went rogue during the Highland clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries.

<i>Who’s that trotting over my bridge?</i> <i>Billy Goat Gruff!</i>

It was only when we came upon a big loch-side bothy that we realised our reports of the loch's demise had been slightly exaggerated. Seeing the structure, Tim got his hopes up:

Tim: I could use a cup of tea.
Me: Of course you could, dear man.
Like those blighted false summits – always one more bit
Booze you can use     But there was nothing in this bothy but some dregs of Scotch – and a few tins of food and sundries. We pretty quickly got the impression that someone was doing whatever the bothy equivalent of squatting is; and, getting that uneasy "Someone's been sleeping in my bed" feeling, we hit the trail.

<i>Just gotta…</i> <i>…get myself up here</i> From Tim's moblog entry (well worth looking at for the photographic study in obsession dedication): "If you need a 10 minute break simply point out some interesting wildlife such as a little frog in the grass!" And, by little, by the way, Tim means it was actually about 3cm in length. When you're tiny, grass is a jungle!

<i>Oh dear; this is not ideal</i> <i>Heyh-na-heynah!</i> <i>Gaaa!</i>

Then it was some lovely, rolling slogging to get into camp for the night.

Bye Loch Lomond! – for real, this time

And camp was – wigwams! Yes, you know, you're going through the guidebook making bookings for lodging and you're looking at pretty B&Bs and grotty hostels and rustic bunkhouses – and then you see wigwams. And the place in question, Beinglass Farm, is highly recommended. And you can get a whole four-person wigwam (private) for a bit less than those bunks in that attrocious-smelling YHA (disastrously unprivate). And you think, Hey! why not?

Wigwam City, baby Fortress Wigwam In the land of the four-man wigwams, the two-man wigwam captain is king

Poor Lina, though, had a slight logistics problem. Basically, her next overnight stop – to which her companion had conveniently taken a ferry – was still something like eight miles away. And the sun was going down – at that very moment. We reassured her that if worst came to it, our wigwam slept four. But we were actually able to put her on a direct bus that passed right on the main road in front of the camp site. (Albeit the main road was a half mile down the drive. And she had to flag down the bus to get it to stop. But, otherwise.)

So, after showering and doing some much-needed laundry, Tim and I got on with the serious (and unvarying) business of evening drinks and dinner. On the downside, we had a long walk in what was now a downpour. On the upside, we were going to the Drovers Inn.

Embrace the Suck Water off the mountain – we'd be wading through this tomorrow Yeah, you read that right – <i>1705</i> All that's changed in 300 years is the type of horsepower I snapped this one step in the door, just to get it out of the way

The Drovers Inn is described by the guidebook as "world famous" (well, okay, "self-styled 'world famous'"), "not to be missed", and "an eccentric mix of smoke-blackened walls, sagging velvet-covered chairs, moulting stuffed animals with bar staff wearing kilts". It did not disappoint.

Kilts on bar staff – check Tartan and edged weapons were major themes It's hardly an Inn without a cosy fire (and a two-handed sword) Chocolate lab beneath table – check Yes, they had Glengoyne – we always checked, after our tour Kick ass I took a walk around… …transfixed by the stunning array of ex-wildlife <i>Grrr</i> <i>Snarl</i> Veggie haggis, neeps, and tatties for me; 'Just the two sets of cutlery?' the server asked upon delivering us half the menu For some reason it amuses me to step into photos from the guidebook – you can make out the shield and painting twice here Home sweet Wigwam

Next: Day 6, Inverarnan to Bridge of Orchy, 19.5 miles – the Longest Day of the Entire Walk; and When We Get There, We Get to Sleep in a Railway Station. Seriously.

I was obviously so spaced out because I hadn't had my tea yet.         (hide)
Or a tour guide.         (hide)
That was the type of magical bendy rain that homes in on the entries to your Gortex garments. Oh that's right it's called Scottish.         (hide)
Michael spent most of the evening trying to sneakily take a photo of the staff tshirt.         (hide)

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about
close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

You can reach him on .

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ARISEN, Book Fourteen - Endgame by Michael Stephen Fuchs
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