The beauty of Loch Lomond
Anyone who knows anyone from Scotland - or who has listened to any Scottish folk music or read any Scottish poetry - has heard of Loch Lomond. We had read a great deal about the natural beauty of the lake and its shoreline, and so chose to take our time along this stretch. While many folks recommend making stage three a 22 km (about 13.5 mi) jump from Rowardennan to Inverarnan we chose to break that section into two equal 11 km (6.75 mi) stages: Rowardennan to Inversnaid for stage three; and, Inversnaid to Inverarnan for stage four. That made for two relatively easy walking days, although admittedly some of the terrain is challenging in bits, especially with full packs.
Rowardennan to Inversnaid
This two-stage approach to the eastern shores of Loch Lomond afforded lots of time to take in the natural splendour of the flora along this section of the Way. The forested path is magical, intersected continuously by small waterfalls and rivulets cascading out of the hills. There are sections of the path where the weathered roots of ancient trees are visible above ground and are almost indistinguishable from the stone and rock that line the path. At times we felt like we were walking through a living Lord of the Rings set!
The flowers along this section of the Way are, in a word, spectacular. There
were swathes of bluebells carpeting the hillsides, abundant yellow, coconut scented gorse in full May bloom, and boughs of hawthorn trees laden with white flowers. Along one truly stunning 1/2 kilometer stretch all three of these glorious plants were sharing the same hillsides and lakeshore, filling the air with lovely perfume and the hum of hundreds - perhaps thousands - of bees. Needless to say this was one of those moments we had dreamed about; we dropped our packs, settled down into a patch of soft grass, poured ourselves some tea, and just took things in for about an hour. It was magical!
We arrived in Inversnaid in high spirits and full of energy. We had booked a room at the Inversnaid Bunkhouse, and we remain grateful that we did. The Bunkhouse - which is actually a lovely, renovated church - is perched high in the hills overlooking the Loch so it's best to call them to be picked up and driven up the hill. (*they'll drive you back down in the morning as well) While we waited we treated ourselves to a relaxing reverie while gazing south across Loch Lomond. To be clear the 800 meter uphill grunt was doable but it would have been a serious pull with full packs to we were grateful for the lift. The Bunkhouse offers bunk bed rooms, as well as one five-bed dorm, as well as a number of small but very cozy cottages that are essentially a bedroom and ensuite toilet, with shared shower with an adjacent cottage. All these options are available at very reasonable prices.
The really pleasant surprise was the quality of the food. The Top Bunk Bistro offers both dinner and breakfast, both served in a large dining room that allows lots of visiting with fellow hikers. Both dinner and breakfast were of good quality and were very good value for money. And the staff was super accommodating and friendly. If your staging finds you planning a stop at Inversnaid we can recommend the Bunkhouse with no hesitation.
Inversnaid to Inveraran
The next stage was another deliberately easy day. We had read a lot about ensuring plenty of time to appreciate the north-east shore of the Loch before setting off towards "The Wilds", and we weren't disappointed. Similar to the previous day we took advantage of the short walking day (and the continuing almost perfect weather) to settle in along the shore at several locations to appreciate the stunning views, listen to the waves lapping at the shore, and just contemplate life. Again, it was a lovely way to spend a leisurely day.
A word about accommodation in Inveraran. We chose to stay at the Drover's Inn, in part so we could say that we had stayed at an Inn that had been in continuous operation since 1705. While the Inn certainly has "atmosphere" to spare - and the pub is outstanding (highly recommended for both food and drink) - the common spaces are very tired and the rooms are a wee bit worn. While our room was HUGE, allowing us to spread out our gear and get re-organized, we've since joked that we weren't expecting the mattress to be original to the construction of the Inn!
After passing by the campground at the Beinglas Farm on our way to the Drover's Inn, we regretted not having the option to camp. The campground is situated on level, delightfully soft, mossy grounds and provides amenities like a small shop, laundry facilities, and a restaurant/bar. If we ever pass this way again we will most definitely pitch-up at this campground for the night.
Up next: we're off to The Wilds