Day 16 – Balmaha to Hamilton

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What a day of contrasts! One that didn’t start out well, though. I’m usually an overcautious person when it comes to forgetting things, because, well, I always forget things. I walked from the Oak Tree Inn to Conic Hill first thing in the morning after a huge cooked breakfast. (Thanks @ captainmarkdexter, you were right, the views were incredible.) It was my last leg of the West Highland Way so I thought to take things a bit leisurely. So leisurely, in fact, that I forgot my phone at the hotel. By the time I recollected it time was against me, so instead of rounding back up Conic Hill I walked the A road to Drymen and rejoined the WHW to Milngavie (məl-GUY). It was a nice way to end the 4 1/2 day trek in the highlands walking through country lanes and farms and singing songs in my head about sheep – or at least, I thought they were in my head. Please note: it is not good for one’s street cred when you sing made up songs about sheep in a lousy Scottish accent when there is a group of burly cyclists behind you within earshot. 

The final stretch was a tangle of town roads, fields, forest walks, and meadows. As the end neared I came across a small stone monument that was dedicated to those men and women during the Depression era who came out of Glasgow seeking adventure, as it was they who laid the foundation for all others to freely roam (and camp) Scotland – photo below. 

Reflecting back on the Great Glen Way and West Highland Way, I suppose I now wonder what I was worried about. Yes, it was challenging and a struggle, but those are the exact factors I was looking most forward to. My decision to undertake this whole journey was to shake myself out of my comfort zone and get back to ‘me’. I felt I was becoming more and more complacent and unwilling to take risks as the years went by, and quite frankly, I knew Ruh was in there, somewhere, he just needed to be forced back out. I’m very happy with my decision to travel through Scotland first, rather than in Cornwall, as it truly put me through my paces. It slapped me violently upside the head, kicked me in the gut, and gave me a big, fat hug for respecting its wild spaces. Tough love, I suppose, but highly rewarding.

One thing that has been bothering me, though, something I feel I need to get off my chest, is people’s reluctance to greet you when you pass them, be it on the road or on the trail. I understand city living and the self absorbed microcosms everyone lives in, but I usually try to make a concerted effort to smile, look someone in the eye, and say “hello” or “good morning” when outside city limits. The feeling it gives you when someone returns that gesture is invaluable and gives you a little moment of elation; some obscure connection between strangers.  So why have we drifted so far away from what used to be a somewhat mandatory social norm? I was taught it was considered rude not to greet or acknowledge a person when you pass in close proximity. When faced with so many people either completely ignoring me or darting looks of disgust – one elderly lady actually looked directly at me and then pointed her nose up straight to the sky (I thought this was only done in cartoons or 19th century political satire, but clearly I was mistaken) – I started to consider why I wasting my breath, but mum’s inner voice gave me a virtual thick ear everytime I even entertained the mere thought of not greeting someone. Strangely, it was the young travelers and North Americans I encountered who freely brought up big smiles and a cheery greeting, sad to say this was not the same truth of fellow countrymen or Europeans. Discouraging to say the least.

Coming out of the bush was indeed a rude awakening. Planes replaced birds singing, sounds of contruction replaced tree branches creaking in the wind, and grafitti under concrete bridges replaced old stone piles on the hillside. In order to escape this new explosion of noise pollution I quickly scoffed a pint of Guinness at a local dive and endeavored to get out of Milngavie and straight through Glasgow as quickly as I could. It was another 18 miles of walking in order to reach Hamilton, but the tarmac was a welcome change on my feet and I was now determined more than ever to get as far south as I could in as little time. 

Walking through the highlands with a backpack and a pair of socks hanging from its side to dry wasn’t out of place with other similarly dressed and likeminded individuals, however the same cannot be said when trying to navigate the inner city, especially in Glasgow. 

It wasn’t until at least 10pm that I emerged from the concrete jungle and limped up to the Holiday Inn Express at Hamilton. Yet again no bathtub, but a hot shower and sleep in a warm bed was still a little piece of heaven- oh yeah, and a sink to wash my smalls. 🤗

Stone monument for those who ‘freely roam the Scottish wilds’.

Totally unexpected, a bridge opened on the day I was born. 

Last view of the West Highland Way before dipping down to the town of Milngavie.

Since Milngavie is usually the starting point for the WHW, this is the sign you encounter when taking your first steps.