THE Three Lochs Way snakes along in an exaggerated ‘C’ shape for 34-miles from Balloch, at the bottom end of Loch Lomond, across to Helensburgh and then up to Garelochhead and onto the finish at Inveruglas, halfway up Loch Lomond.
Even though Lomond is the start and finish point you see very little of it because soon after the walk starts you turn your back on it, until it pops up again some 30-odd miles away at Tarbet.
This lack of Loch Lomond is, however, readdressed with stunning views of Gare Loch and Loch Long.
The official Three Lochs Way website splits the walk into four days with each one being around eight miles.
It’s not a hilly walk, it has a total ascent of only 1,000 metres, and with the accommodation section of the website only listing bed & breakfast places I’m guessing it’s aimed at the leisurely hiker who is seeking a bit of luxury.
This lack of camping determined how I would split the walk; day one to Garelochhead (around 15 miles) for a night of wild camping, and the next as far as Tarbet (approximately 12 miles).
LOCH LOMOND FERRY
At Tarbet I would cut off the final few miles to Inveruglas and take a ferry across Loch Lomond to Inversnaid for a night in the bunkhouse there.
I had thought about wild camping at Inversnaid but that would have meant three days without a wash* and, besides which, Inversnaid Bunkhouse looked like an interesting place to stay being a converted church.
From Inversnaid I would walk down the West Highland Way to Balmaha (14-miles) for late lunch at the Oak Tree Inn before jumping on a ferry back to where I had started three days earlier.
This had all the ingredients to be an awesome microaventure. However, after several days of warm weather by Saturday afternoon things were starting to change.
The rain started just after I’d set out from Balloch, in fact I’d only done just over a mile when I crossed the footbridge over the A82, one of the main arteries to the Highlands and Islands, when I had to don full waterproofs, including mini-gaiters.
It became heavier as I walked up a shallow slope, gaining height with every step. Onwards through scrubland that had once been a forest, and then into an actual forest it where it began to get seriously difficult.
The forest was very dark, partly due to the lack of sunshine, and it was steep. There wasn’t even a path as such; just a muddy track rising diagonally to the top of what should have been a viewpoint.
I descended quickly into Helensburgh, found the town’s Wetherspoons pub and ate a veggie burger there, while also refreshing myself with a pint of Tennent’s lager.
Outside the pub the rain had turned to drizzle and this stayed with me most of the way to Garelochhead, even along the almost five-mile long road into town. (I appreciate there’s still work going on along the route to make it as accessible as possible so I’m hoping that the Glen Fruin Road section will eventually be diverted off-road.)
Just before 9:00pm I arrived at Garelochhead, casting my eyes around for somewhere to wild camp and by the time I reached the Anchor Inn, sweaty and tired, I decided to see if there were any rooms available – secretly hoping there weren’t).
My luck was in, there was nothing left available but Stewart/Stuart the landlord said I could sleep around the back of the pub as there was a grassy area there, although he said it hadn’t been cut for a while.
He wasn’t wrong; but at least it was level, even though it was on a bit of a slope.
RAIN AND DRIZZLE
It rained all night, and it was drizzling when I got up at 9:00am. I really wanted to carry on with the rest of the walk but I was aching from the previous day, which my Garmin said had been just under 19-miles.
The night before, when I’d been in the Archor having a drink after pitching my tent, I’d heard the weather forecast on the television and it was going to be worse than the previous day.
And so I packed up and went and waited for an hour for a bus to Helensburgh, where I then caught a train to Balloch. And it had rained the whole journey.
Because I’d already paid for my bunkhouse I decided that I might as well go and stay there so off to Inversnaid I drove; past Drymen and across to Aberfoyle and then along possibly the world’s longest cul de sac, Lochard Road at just over 14-miles and lots of it single track.
The bunkhouse is a converted 19th century church and can now sleep 27 people plus a few tents; and it has a bar and restaurant, books to read, DVDs to watch and newspapers to glance through. Perfect for when it’s raining outside, except it wasn’t any more.
THE SUN SHINES
The rain had started to ease after Aberfolyle, and now the sun was out and making up for lost time; which made me wonder if I’d done the right thing by abandoning the walk.
Yes I had, because it had rained continually all day; it would have been 12-miles of misery.
That evening I had a walk around the forest high up above Inversnaid soaking up the Arrochar Alps in front of me while down below pockets of mist floating across Loch Lomond. Bliss.
However, because I had the car I wasn’t able to walk down the West Highland Way the next day so instead I took a leisurely drive around the area before heading home.
This microadventure goes down as unfinished business.
* I know Alastair Humphreys would have jumped in a loch or a river for wash but that’s not for me.
By Richard Hamer.