Day 3: Sunburn, a Saunter and Soil risotto

20140617-225225-82345706.jpgOur rest day on the birthday walk has been to take the West Highland Way from Crianlarich to Bridge of Orchy. After day one of unrelenting bog and drizzle and day two of Munros in the blazing sun, each day finished and preceded by vast amounts of food and wine, this was to be a rest from route finding, uphill slog and wet feet but also a rest from overindulgence. No wine at all today. No late night, and certainly no prosecco chilled in a snowdrift. We need to prepare physically and mentally for the towering task looming ahead (literally looming over me as I write this on the remarkably midge free banks of the river orchy). Tomorrow we leave early to start our traverse of the Black Mount with its 4 munros, its 2000m of climbing and its 25km.

So to our ‘rest day’. We took the link path to the West Highland Way through the dramatic earthworks of the new by-pass that being constructed through the village. And from there the path wove through rather picturesque plantation forest (for a plantation forest) and gained views across the glen. At one point a jet fighter flew so low above us it looked like he was clipping the tree tops. Another fighter pilot who passed a little later while we were on open ground turned to fly over us, tilted and gave us a wave from the cockpit. We had our fingers jammed too far down our lugs to return the greeting.

We stopped for lunch at the real food cafe, the lean-to tent housing extra tables now replaced by a beautiful wood-clad extension. It felt rather safer to be able to sit separated by more than some flimsy sheeting and polyethene from the vast juggernaughts carrying tree trunks and seafood southward and fuel oil north. The food was as good as ever.

My goat’s cheese and red onion marmalade salad was exquisite but, looking at the size of the three generous slices of goats cheese, I wondered how much it really contributed to my day of rest from overindulgence. Nevertheless we stayed away from the bottles of real ale and after an espresso we headed on our way.

The final 7 miles were very straightforward along a good track with very little height gain. The track goes close to the road as it climbs out of Tyndrum and, on the countless occasions we have driven up that stretch of road in the past, I have felt nothing but pity for the bedraggled hordes of west highland way walkers carrying leaden rucksacks and shuffling nose-to-tail like a tourist mule-train. However as we scampered unhindered by heavy packs (having entrusted them to the excellent travel-lite) in blazing sunshine (only inconvenience the risk of sunburnt ears) and with not a soul on the path, I began to rethink my prejudice against the West Highland Way.

We passed no-one all day but a German group made up of two mothers and their grown-up daughters who we’d met at the youth hostel, a man clad in nothing but a pair of pants and a cap basking by the side of the path and, right at the very end, a Dutch family of four with two very obedient-looking children each arguing their own rucksac. We passed the time during the walk musing on the lack of people. One theory was that it was because most people start off on a Sunday and so would be doing this stretch on a Wednesday- or, another theory was that people stay mainly at Beinn glass campsite hadn’t made it to our point on the walk and the few folks who stayed in crianlarich set off way before us. Either way, we had the west highland way to ourselves on a glorious hot and sunny June day.

Our B&B was stance cottage, recommended by the denizens of the internet and we were not disappointed. Our host, a tall white haired man, settled us in and warned us not to open the windows for fear of midges. I opened my rucksac, deposited efficiently by travel lite only to be hit by a powerful waft of overripe cheese. We need this cheese for day five – and we won’t be at a shop before then. What to do?

I opened the window and hung the cheese out in the fresh air. ‘That will do for the midgies’ I thought.

We ate at the bridge of orchy hotel for free tonight: my soil-garnished risotto did not go down well with your walk-weary and starving hungry correspondent. Those of you who know me will know it’s not a great idea to get between me and my food when my blood sugar is low (mild mannered janitor to hong-kong-fuey with a hint of Incredible Hulk springs to mind….) So I was not best pleased to crunch into a mouthful of unmistakably peaty, crumbly and unpleasantly gritty soil in my asparagus and Dunsyre blue risotto.

Fortunately getting ones meal and drinks for free goes a long way in the Kat book of hotel etiquette towards repairing good feeling. It’s just a shame it’s our mid-walk day of abstinence and between the two of us we had only managed to consume two orange juice and sodas and a small glass of rosé.

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