Sunday, 1 April 2012

Chainsaw Massacre (West Highland Way Training Run: Drymen-Balmaha(via Conic Hill)-Drymen)

This is another of the sections of the West Highland Way route that I've only run during the 'Fling' and I, admittedly haven't given it the attention it deserves. It's a great section and although Conic Hill is hard work and normally boggy underfoot has great views to reward the hard graft involved getting up there. I parked in Drymen and followed the road out the village to the roadside gate and waymarker post pointing up the hill.
This section has a nice gentle uphill start, although being on fresh legs for today's run it was bound to feel easy. It feels different on race day as by the time you get here you've run around a half marathon. Soon you climb up onto a wider land rover track and are under the protective shade in the trees. It gets a bit steeper as you approach the road crossing and small parking area. This road, which climbs up out of Drymen is also part of the 'Rob Roy Way LDFP'. After crossing the road you are entering Garadhban Forest.  It was on the climb up towards the road crossing that I was surprised by the amount of damage that had been inflicted on the trees here. But this was nothing compared to what lay ahead. I paused at the parking area to admire the view down to Drymen and catch my breath.
The weather was fantastic and I could see over to Dumgoyne and beyond. Between Drymen and here, which is around a mile and a wee bit, I passed about 10 walkers, all lugging big packs. I carried on my way, but had only gone a short distance before grinding to a halt. It was a scene of utter devastation that met me as I rounded a corner. Broken and smashed trees and stumps were all that remained of Garadhban Forest. Huge piles of neatly stacked logs lay on both sides of the path, which itself was a churned up mess from logging machinery. What the Hell happened up here?!!, I muttered (actually it was more like WTF!!). Nothing was left. As much as it was sad to see the destruction, the views down to Loch Lomond, Balmaha and Inchcailoch were breathtaking.
It was also a bit disorientating as everything looked out of place and unfamiliar. I didn't recognise the path as it snaked through the now empty landscape. I had a wee chuckle when I discovered that John K also felt the same and even ended up running over a mile in the wrong direction! Sorry John! Normally in this weather you get plenty of shade from the sun, but no more. The pictures don't do the scene justice, it literally took my breath away. Gobsmacked! Anyway, on I ran.
Soon Conic Hill came into full view and along the path to the wee wooden bridge at it's base I passed more walkers. Love it or loath it, Conic can make or break you. It's not a big lump but it is deceptively steep and can be rubbish underfoot in bits. The path was in a right state on the lower bit and care needs to taken to not go over on an ankle and end up on your face. As most WHW runners know, the WHW path doesn't go to the summit of Conic but skirts around the top before decending to Balmaha.  So when I got to the high point of the WHW path I turned and took the path up onto the summit of Conic Hill. I took a few minutes up here to take in the glorous views. WOW!! Amazing, considering that Conic is only 358m high. I've never taken the detour up onto the top of Conic before and the panarama was worth the extra steep climb. I decended to Bealach Ard and rejoined the WHW path, allbeit briefly, before leaving it to climb up onto one of Conic's other tops 'Tom nan Oisgean', and then diverted onto a ridge to the west (Druim nam Biraich) which brings you down on the 'backside' of Craigie Fort, onto the road at the top of the 'Pass of Balmaha'.
I crossed the road, jumped a couple of fences and rejoined the WHW on the Lochside at a stunning beach. After a short break here I ran along the WHW to the foot of Craigie Fort, but instead of taking the path up and over it, I took the Lochside path and ran around it at Loch level. I followed it around past another wee beach, over a metal bridge and round to a 'fishing' pier before the path joined a tarmac road into Balmaha. It was roasting so decided I deserved an ice cream at the Oak Tree, Because I'm worth it! I sat outside the hotel enjoying a Magnum and a chilled can of Coke and suddenly remembered I still had to run back to Drymen! I used the roadside 'dirt' path to get back to Drymen. I enjoyed the run in the sun and hope to do this section again before the 'Fling'. It ended up at 16.5miles with all the detours I made and did so in a leisurely 3 and a quarter hours. All those photos stops do add a fair bit on!!


  1. really stunning pics Colin, weather has beem pretty awesome at mo for running :) well done

  2. We were up Conic Hill on Saturday morning with the kids and came down the same wee path along the ridge as you did - it's a cracking wee path, much nicer than the WHW descent, and must be lovely to run down. You're dead right that the panoramic view from the summit is amazing (could you see Arran today?) and is worth the detour, though maybe not on April 28th.