Pit stops on the West Highland Way

A COUPLE of weeks’ ago I read an article on glasgowlive.co.uk titled “six perfect pit stops for walkers on the West Highland Way”. It came across more as an advertising feature than actual journalism, so here’s my version – which I haven’t received any money for.

If you’d like me to blog about your hotel or pub get in touch.

The Beech Tree Inn is odd. Or is it strange? It could be both. It’s at a place called Dumgoyne – also home to the Glengoyne Distillery which, thanks to being close to Glasgow and various television studios, has resulted in it being used in several films and TV series. It’s next to one of the main water pipes to Glasgow as well as the long-defunct Blane Valley Railway between Killearn and Glasgow. And on the other side is the A81.

It’s a single storey, small but somehow sprawling white-coloured building. And it has a beer garden. And a menagerie; rabbits, pygmy goats, mini Shetland ponies, Aylesbury white ducks, sheep, quails, Cayuga black ducks and zebra finch.

Beech Tree Inn

The Beech Tree is a lunch stop being only about six miles from the start of the West Highland Way, in Milngavie, so a bowl of chips is strongly advised.

The Winnock Hotel, Drymen, is as you’d expect a hotel but it also has a bar serving decent drinks and good food. It’s likely you’ll be there at the end of day one because Drymen is 12 miles from Milngavie making it a convenient stopping off point unless you’ve enough left in the tank to continue onto Balmaha over the majestic 1,184 feet high Conic Hill.

There’s a raised decking area at the back where a few years ago I was sat with my walking partner Steve after we’d arrived in Drymen mid-afternoon on our way to Balmaha. We were both aware that Comic Hill was next but neither of us could really face it as we’d had a long day so we looked up the bus times and found that there was one due in 40 minutes, so we went for beer.

We sat on the decking area and we were soon joined by a group of Glaswegians; three couples and about six young children. The youngsters ran around and around while also doing a lot of screaming. The adults shouted at the children such classy lines as ‘fukun’ pack thad ein’ and ‘ye bloody shite’ in between drinking and smoking (to clarify, that’s the adults not the children).

I don’t know if they were staying locally or had driven there for the day – they could have got the bus – but either way there was a lot of booze being consumed. It was funny yet tragic.

If you’re lucky enough you might get the chance to overhear the entertainment in the function room laid on especially for coach parties. On my last visit it was a singer with a backing tape of accordion music singing traditional Scottish songs; Donald Where’s Your Trousers?; You Take The High Road, Loch Tay Boat Song etc.

The Oak Tree Inn, Balmaha, is highly recommended, but I don’t want to say anymore at the moment because I’m planning on doing a full blog post about it.

Oak Tree Inn, Balmaha

The Rowardennan Hotel can often be lunchtime or evening stop as it’s in a good location being between Balmaha and Inversnaid. I’ve done both, even a lunchtime going in the opposite direction on the final leg of my version of the Three Lochs Way.

Once upon a time they served natchos.

They don’t serve nachos anymore.

They should serve natchos.

Let’s start a petition!

Clansman Rowardennan

My first visit was quite memorable. I was wild camping behind Rowardennan Lodge, in the days before the blanket ban, and I’d walked there from Easter Drumquhassle campsite, near Drymen. Even though it had been a fine day, that evening it rained really hard; but luckily the downpour didn’t start until I’d pitched my tent. My plan was to walk to the hotel for food and drink; which is just under a mile away, but unfortunately the rain had brought with it quite a substantial drop in temperature as well as dulling the sky so I marched quickly with my head down.

There was a group of workmen in the bar who were there to repair the potholed road outside and with Rowardennan being quite remote they were staying overnight either in the hotel or somewhere else. One of the men decided to strike up a conversation with me, asking me what I was doing there. I explaining that I was walking the West Highland Way and told him how lovely it was (despite that evening’s downpour). In a drunken slur he kept telling me how great Scotland was and kept insisting to me: “Bring yer pals”. He was wearing glasses and one of the lenses was cracked. I doubt he was working for the clumsily titled Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park – it didn’t even exist then – but he did a very good PR job as I’ve been back to the area many times.

Inversnaid Hotel. Over the years it has served me some of the worst food I’ve ever tasted; but sometimes you have no choice because the last shop is back at Balmaha, and the next place to pick up supplies is at Beinglass Farm. Sometimes, though, curiosity gets the better of you and you just wonder if the food has improved. Is it only me that thinks sitting in a hotel bar eating from a takeaway carton is a bit odd? On TripAdvisor it gets four out of five stars so I’m guessing it’s a decent enough place to stay but not if you’re a sweaty walker.

If you must stay overnight in Inversnaid, then walk up the hill behind the hotel to Inversnaid Bunkhouse.

Beinglass Farm and the Drovers Inn, Inverarnan. Beinglass Farm is one of my favourite campsites; I have many happy memories from staying there either from passing through on the West Highland Way or using it as a base for Munroing in the area. A few years ago it opened its own bar, either because they wanted a cut of the money that their campers were spending in the Drovers Inn, or to take some of the pressure off the Drovers Inn. However, even with the addition of the Beinglass bar both these places still get very busy.

The Drovers lies less than half a mile away from Beinglass and is one of Scotland’s most famous coaching houses. It sits next to the A84, it’s haunted (what a surprise) and Rob Roy (possibly) stayed there (what a surprise). It’s primarily a hotel with a bar with the drinking area being a single oblong room with fires at either end and surrounded by bare stone walls. Even if you’re only passing by and not staying in the area it’s well worth stopping off there for a drink.

Bridge of Orchy Hotel. I should hate this place; probably even despise it, because a few years ago it had a bunkhouse until the owners knocked it down and built chalets that cost about £200 per night to stay in. It saves itself by having a really nice restaurant and a good bar; and you can wild camp next to the Bridge of Orchy itself, meaning that if you’re brave, or stupid, you can roll out of your tent in the morning and take a dip in the ice cold River Orchy. I thought about it once; I dipped my toes in and then quickly retreated.

Bridge of Orchy Hotel

In a further defence of the hotel, I would imagine that the chalets generate far more income than the bunkhouse and are more likely to be used all year round.

Kings House Hotel, Climbers’ Bar. If you’ve ever ventured into the hotel, it’s a bit like stepping back in time to the 1950s; not in a cool retro way but in a tired and jaded way. However, early this year the hotel owners, Black Corries Estate, announced it would be refurbishing the hotel (much to the disapproval of Scottish Rights of Way and Access Society) but once complete it should hopefully bring it in line with places such as the Bridge of Orchy Hotel.

At the back of the hotel is the Climbers’ Bar; and it couldn’t be more different to the hotel – stone flags on the floor and old bits of climbing and skiing equipment on the walls, none of the chintz of the main building.

Kings House

Warning: Do not under any circumstances go there at lunchtime and think that just because the next stopping place, Kinlochleven, is only nine away then why not have a couple of beers. It’ll be the worst nine miles you’ll ever walk because your trek begins with a three-mile section along the old military road that runs parallel to the A84 and takes you to the Devil’s Staircase where, fingers’ crossed, the weather will be good at the top so that you can sit and admire the view. You’re not home and dry though because there’s a twisty section down to the Blackwater Dam access road which then snakes its way to Kinlochleven.

Chillers Bar & Grill, Kinlochleven, is part of the Ice Factor, Scotland’s national ice climbing centre and the largest such place in the world which is housed in the old British Alcan smelting works. The bar is by far and away the most welcoming place in Kinlochleven with its aluminum surfaces, great range of beers (which used to be brewed in another part of the complex) and packet food. It’s the only place in the village that I’ve ever felt welcome.

It’s been a couple of years since I was last there and in between there’s been a fire which caused extensive smoke damage, including to the ice climbing walls, meaning it had to close temporarily while it had a makeover; and I’m pretty certain the bar also changed its name from Bothan Bar.

Fort William, Grog & Gruel. There’s only one contender and that’s the Grog & Gruel. Unfortunately, it gets incredibly busy although in the past few years JD Wetherspoon has opened the Great Glen pub in a new build unit a few doors away so that when you can’t even get through the Grog’s door at least you can wander there.

However, when I was there last summer there was a queue of about 20 people in the Great Glen just for food; bad timing on my part because there was a mountain biking event on nearby which meant Fort William was even more at bursting point than usual.

Surely, Fort William is one of those towns that’s ripe for some craft beer bars? Now is not the time to discuss it though. Sláinte!

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