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Jam Side Down
Traveling the West Highland Way by William Kerr
Chapter 2

Saturday Morning 08.30am

First we pick-up Kenny, my brother-in-law, and only experienced West Highland Way (WHW) walker. Kenny lives about ½ a mile away off Lancaster Avenue; it will seem strange driving up there this morning and not walking. I wonder if I’ll be keen to walk it when we get home.  Then we go over to Carfin for George. Then it’s up to Newmains for Johnny Park. That will be all that is walking. From the original six volunteers ten months earlier we are left with four. Not bad I thought. Along with James or Volunteer Sherpa we should hopefully get to Fort William and our target of £1500.00 from this walk. We are on our way.

It was good to see the guys all looking the part anyway. Kenny as to be expected, looking every bit the part, he is a born Akaela, this was his cup of tea. Walking in the wilds, our only experienced WHW walker and on the job mentor. Johnny full of craic as usual had shared with us immediately that he had left the Rowan Tree bar at 12.30am last night, to have an early night in view of this upcoming task of walking all the way to Fort William. I am sure he would have told everyone in the bar last night what he was doing the following day as well as reminding them all that next Saturday night on his return he will be looking for all the money they had pledged or in his words;

“I’ll be looking for you all next week; ya shower `o` bastards’. He was pleased to inform us that he had managed to get another fifty pounds last night alone and that he was well on his way to raising seven hundred pounds.

“Superb John Boy’ I said,

‘Aye great’ came back from George

“Ah reckon I’ve got around three hundred pounds so far, and I thought I was doing exceptionally well. You’ve set the standard again Johnny boy,” I said.

Both George and Kenny added that they had committed to themselves around three to four hundred pounds each and Sherpa James had also said last night at our final planning meeting (to arrange all the grub and carry-outs) that he had around two hundred pounds pledged and he wasn’t even walking.

“Great stuff, that’s us on the way to getting about £1800.00 from this walk alone, superb”.  I only hope now that we could all mange to complete the walk. I was sure collecting the money in would not be a problem.

The topic changed to provisions; who was doing the shopping and more so what was on the list. As Kenny wasn’t there the night before and being a man who liked his food he was interested in what was planned. We all filled him in.

“We’ll be living on Spam, Spam and Spam for the next seven days” Kenny concludes, I don` know if he is happy or not with the planned menus.

“Will we fuck” said Johnny ”I’ve a half bottle in my hip for starters.

 The conversation was now more lighthearted! I hoped that this would be the way for the next seven days. But I didn’t want to kid myself. Kenny had given me a bit of detail as to what to expect. It was however eleven years since he last did this walk and I was hopping that all he had told me was not a case of remembering all the good things that happened in the past and forgetting the bad, selective memory.

“Where are we meeting Sherpa James?” asked George

“I told him that we would first meet up with him at the Cherry Tree Inn at Dumgoyne, he has the shopping list and is planning on leaving the house about twelve, doing the shop and meeting us about two o’clock”

“I hope there is bottle of Gin on the list”

“As long as he dissnae forget the Vodka” Johnny joined in. “We need to get the staples in”

I can see it now, George, Johnny and I are all keen golfers who probably enjoy the game for all the wrong reasons, camaraderie, a good laugh, the craic as well as enjoying a few drams in the nineteenth and having known Kenny my Brother-in-law now for twenty years I also know that he will not say no to a half when the opportunity arises.

“I that’s right boys get the priorities right, carry out first and who cares. We will climb Ben Nevis and eat Spam at the top of it”. Kenny concluded.

We arrived at Airdrie station, or if you work in the Delhi call centre, Ayrdree, on route for Mulgab. I said my farewells to Bernie, she warned me to behave and do nothing stupid as well as take care of myself. She also wished everyone else well before she drove off. At this point as I looked at the car driving off I felt quite sentimental and a feeling of the unknown was now creeping in. I know I will see her again.

As we walked up the small incline to the station counter again I thought that if all the hills we face this coming week are as easy as this, if only. Kenny purchased the tickets, four singles, and non-returnable to Milngavie. That sounded a bit too real. We are now at the point where we dare not turn back. Just imagine it;

“Aye, he made it all the way to Airdrie train station” you would never cross the door again. But we are not hear to think of fear, but take up this challenge and go forth, raise a lot of money and hopefully have a laugh or two while doing it. No surrender. We agreed to square Kenny up for the tickets later on.

The four of us stood on the platform at Airdrie train station. We did look the part, but did we feel it, I am sure the other three guys where as apprehensive as me. I only hope they are not thinking, `what the hell have we let ourselves into? `. I take out my hip flask from my backpack and open it;

“Here’s to sore feet “I raised my flask of whisky skywards, taking in the grey dreich clouds that hung over us (I think, It’s going to piss down) and took a very large slug of whisky and pass it onto my walking companions. I silently pray, please God see me through this. For the first time I think of all that can go wrong, I remove it from my thoughts. The announcer calls the arrival of our train from Drumgelloch (or is that Drum-jel-ouch) and I start to tell the story of the previous days call to Delhi.

The train journey is uneventful, not much to see between Airdrie and Partick. I start to share a story from my days at High School as the train passes through Espeaside Park in Coatbridge. Home of Rugby and Football for Saint Patrick’s High, Coatbridge.

“ I used to doggit down here” I shared with the others as I stared out the window recognising many a hide-e hole.

 “This is where we played all our football with the school team”

“Do you not mean this is where you dogged the football, substitute for the cubs”?

Kenny reminded me and now shared with the others that I was substitute for the cubs and there was only twelve in the pack. I curse my own father for sharing that story with everyone that crossed our door.

“And out of that twelve two of them where women group leaders”, George couldn’t miss an opportunity.

“Aye he’s the only boy from Calderbank who was left sitting on the bench at the expense of his aunty” Kenny continued to rub it in; my Aunty Kathleen (our Kathleen) was our Akeala back then.

Aye there was no favoritism there,” I added

“Looks as if its goin to piss down boys” Johnny contributes, “anybody check the weather”

Now that fills me with confidence, here is a guy who is about to start a one hundred mile walk and never checked the weather. I hadn’t the guts to ask the same question. At least two us on this trip never thought to check the weather this morning. My excuse is if asked is; I have only prepared for the worst, good answear William.

“It’s goin to be overcast, with a good chance of rain,” George informed.

Good, that’s one person at least on the ball and I have all the confidence in Kenny also knowing what weather lay ahead.

Kenny gives the first Team talk, I feel quite glad of this as on Thursday night I asked him along to our monthly Spikey Shoes Meeting to have a chat with us all regarding the walk. You know, tell us what we need to know; what to wear, what to take with us, what will it be like, what not to do. But this never really came out. This was no fault of our own Akeala, but basically all we wanted to talk about was carry-outs, what we will do when we get to Fort William and will we have a night-out in the pub next Saturday when we get home. So I was hoping that Kenny wouldn’t fling any fastballs here and put the fear of God into us all.

So far so good, he hasn’t told us anything that I cannot handle. I could see a couple of weary faces as well as mine when he spoke about today’s walk into Dumgoyne where we meet up with Sherpa James, a bit of lunch at the Cherry Tree Inn and onto Gartness outside Drymen. He told us to expect it being a bit of a quagmire, especially with all the rain that has fallen lately (like the past two hundred years without a break). Am I glad I put a spare pair of Shoes in the backpack. I have from the greatest authority in hill walking (Andy Bennet, an old work colleague) that you must look after your feet, especially keep them dry. I wandered if Johnny and George had thought of this. I know Kenny would have.

We then discussed the contents of all our backpacks. Between us all we had more than enough to meet and beat any situation that comes our way, I was quite confident for a man who last done something like this more than thirty five years earlier with the Scouts (without my aunty Kathleen I may add) a weekend camping at the foot of the Lammermuir hills in Edinburgh. This is going to a dawdle.

We had the compass (one between four), the torches (one each), the first aid-kits (one each), the whistle (one between four), mobile phones (one each, two for Johnny). So we all sounded as if we had the appropriate equipment and attire, but it certainly was not going to be a fashion parade for walkers weekly. The main focus of this conversation was hats. All hats had to be removed from the backpacks or in George’s case from his head. We all studied each other’s. I am sure they are envious of mine. I hope this was not the start of one-upmanship, too early for discord, the signs were good. We all complimented each other on how well all our caps would fit the bill. Please note how no one mentioned how good a hat looked, but the focus was on the purpose it would serve.

“Your like Deputy Dawg” Johnny points out about me in my Biggles bonnet.

“ Ah don’t care if I look like a Hun on a white horse, I’ll be as warm as toast”

I go for a pee. This I think is great, toilets on commuter trains. Who would have thought of that? Has it really been about thirty years since I was last on a local commuter train. There were no trains with toilets between Glasgow and Airdrie when I was a boy. There were still houses without toilets then let alone trains. Young married couples from Coatbridge would have been applying for trains to the Council instead of houses if that were the case. Surely a positive sign that standards of living in the West of Scotland where improving. That’s Devolution for you. I panic, the train intercom announces that we are pulling into Partick station. Just as well it was number ones and not number twos. I wonder how often that happens. Imagine being caught short, missing your station. Explain that to the boss. You would just tell him you missed the train, wouldn’t you, no need to give too much detail.              

The train pulls into Partick, I join the other guys and we grab our backpacks and alight, to wait on our connection to Milngavie. Bang on time too. That wee man in India was spot on, surely knows his stuff.

 We hang about on the platform at Partick, no need to change. Partick station like all the commuter stations are basically one way in and one way out. We were on the platform ourselves, seems like no one is rushing up to Milngavie to walk the West Highland Way other than us. The opposite platform was very different. It was packed with all-sorts going into town. I wonder if there was anyone thinking over there as to what we were doing. Standing here in our walking attire; boots and backpacks. I wander if it was obvious to them. They probably didn’t even notice, although there was nothing else for them to look at other than us directly across the track.

“Bars open” Kenny says as he pulls out his hippy, takes a swig and passes it on. We all join him. Now that will give platform two something to talk about now. I’m glad we have contributed to their day. I take out my camera from my backpack. I need to get as much proof as possible that I have done this walk and that starts right here, a picture of the train to Milngavie. I had brought my Olympus Trip and 3 spools. A Christmas present from Bernie, 17 years earlier. It had to be a 35mm camera. If I had brought my Digital camera the photos would never see daylight so it is my intention to get these developed and show them to everyone and their dog, if they would care to view them.

That’s it platform two will think we are train spotters or train spotting jakies. The platform announcer calls that our train is now approaching. Again the feeling of apprehension descends on me. I know that this will be the last mechanical support we will have for the next seven days.

Six more stops, Hyndland, Anniesland, Westerton, Bearsden, Hillfoot and then Milngave.

WELCOME TO MILNGAVIE, START OF THE WEST HIGHLAND WAY. The sign was big and bold with a certain look of officialdom about it, in place at the station entrance. Posh looking too, it had to be; of course for Milngavie. Blue background and gold writing. The people of `MULGUY` would have nothing of a lesser standard. Yes that’s it confirmed, take out the camera and get a photo. This is now the time, it has arrived. Every step we take now is one step nearer to completing the task and the only means of transport from now on in is ` Shank’s Pony`.

“Right boys, line-up”

“Where, I’m first” Johnny buts in

We all grin at Johnnies stab at humor, the old ones are the best               

“ Aye no luck Johnny” George added.

“Wish-full thinking, there’s a first time for everything,” Johnny comes back

“Maybe the Sherpa will do a turn for you later” says Kenny

“Ah widnae even use yours” Johnny smirked.

George, Johnny and Kenny quickly assumed the position. In front of the sign, making sure all the words got into the frame. This looked like a well-practiced maneuver. The shower of posers. Everyone was smiling. We were all up for this, the sun was now shining through the earlier threatening sky, lets get this show on the road, Its 10.40am we have ten miles to walk today at three miles an hour, plus an hour for lunch at Dumgoyne. Five hours should kill it, tents up fed and watered by six o’clock tonight. Superb

I placed the camera back into my backpack.

“Who fancies a pint before we get started” asks Johnny

“Do you think this is Newmains?” answers George the pubs are no` open yet”.

Already I start to recalculate my ETA at Gartnes. The best laid plans of mice and men…

“Right, a carry-oot then, we’ll get some beer for the walk” Johnny pronounces, never beaten.

“There is a Tesco, but its further back that way,” Kenny says pointing away from the direction of the walk.

“ No, there is no walking back, that’s not allowed, we will find something going through the town” I intervened

We headed off towards the town centre. The walk came away from the center of the town at Greiggs, the bakers. From there we start on the path that would take us to Mugdock Park the first part of the walk and a part of the walk that can be done easily as an afternoon stroll, or so I am told.

I noticed a bookies, William Hill and remembering it was Grand National day I had to put a bet on.

 “I fancy putting a line on” I tell the others.

 I marched over to the bookies and was joined by the others. Not spending too much time on making my selections, I picked four horses for a `lucky 15` and Strong Resolve the Scottish horse, from Milnathort that seemed to be getting well tipped by the Scottish media to win the big race of the day. George gave us a five-pound note to share the bet. Fifteen bets at 50 pence and a 2.50 single on the national. If that comes in the weeks paid for and more so here’s hoping. With a bit of luck we can get to the Cherry Tree Inn in time to see the race. The race had been put back to 4.10 in the afternoon to accommodate the wedding of Prince Charles to his first and what now seems to be his only true love 20 years down the road, Camilla Parker Bowles. Let us hope they are on the right channel as it will be hard to distinguish between all the Royals walking round Windsor and the horses parading at Aintree. Johnny then asked us all for a pound a head, to do a football coupon, good idea keeps us all interested in all today’s scores and will probably save us arguing over the old firm results.

With winners picked with no great knowledge of the sport of Kings we set on our way, no not quite yet;

“Carry-oot” Johnny was now practically demanding.

First we visited Iceland, we are sure to get beer in there. Spirits was not a problem. All hip flasks where full this morning with sufficient quantities left to see us through to our evening camp. No luck in Iceland. Is that panic I see setting in. The choice of beer was very poor, not to our liking!

“Marks and Spencer’s” I say, “They do booze and there is a good chance that it will be chilled as well”, nothing but the best.

“Who’s going to be carrying all this beer?” asked Kenny.

No one answered.

“No bother, I`ll carry it” Johnny said with little enthusiasm. I could read his thoughts. (The bastards will drink it, but no carry it).

“ I don’t really want any beer” That was my get out of carrying the carryout clause. George mirrored my statement. We still went on to Marks to get the beer. In the store we first went to the chilled sandwich cabinet, we may as well load up with carbohydrates and trail food. A pack of sandwiches each, all submarines, the biggest available and some Mars bars. That will keep us going to the Cherry Tree Inn.

“ Ah canny find any beer” again alarm is shown, I am sure I could see beads of sweat on Johnny’s brow. I need to fix this before the anxiety attack kicks in.

“Aye, it will be somewhere,” I said. With my superior knowledge of how food stores are laid out I went straight to the beer shelf with my three (what now seemed like Jakies) comrades in hot pursuit of me.

“It’s ambient,” I said, knowing they would not understand my shoptalk.

“Ah don’t care if it’s Albanian” Johnny said grabbing a ten pack off the shelf and studying the packaging.

“Five percent proof, that’ll do for me” Johnny had a smile on his face, I think I have saved the day. Walking fuel now in place, ready to fill the tank we all make our way to the checkout.

“Look at the queues” I said. Again I could sense that no one was interested in my statement, shop talk again, not the usual talking point for men.

“This would nae happen in your shop” George agreed. It was good to know that someone would converse with me when it came to talking shop.

We all paid for our goods separately and left Marks stopping in the foyer to load our trail food into the backpacks. Now let us get on our way. We headed back to the town center. Stopping only once to get our photos taking at the Town clock in the middle of the town square. Not my call this time but Kenny’s. Three photos where taking one in each camera. We then proceeded the twenty-five yards to Greiggs the Bakers. This is where we would join the West Highland Way. Although the official start was at Milngavie train station, this was us now officially walking the Way. We probably had done about two miles around the town center. Could I bank that mileage I thought.

The West Highland Way leaves the town center behind Greiggs shop by a walkway over a stream, and then we walk along a lane that in years gone by used to be an old railway line. We would walk this line on a few more occasions today.

A man of about twenty five years of age approaches us on the path walking towards us, looks like the local chav; not very Milngavie I thought.

“Is this the way to Fort William mate “ Johnny asks him

No reply, just a rye smile

“ Whit’s the weather like up there,” He continues.

The chav walks on bye, no response expect for the grin, probably too cool to talk to the likes of us.

“Ah see the locals are friendly” George adds.

“He’s probably too frightened says Kenny.

I could see his point. We didn’t really look like the kind of guys that one would stop and pass the time of day with especially when he noticed Kenny and I swigging out of our hip flasks and Johnny supping on his beer. Not the sort of thing you would do walking through Milngavie. The boy will probably be on his mobile phoning the Police, making a complaint regarding four jakies drinking on a path leading up to Mugdock Park.

We walked along past the Allander water and after a short time we come to a sign, the Thistle, carved on a fence post that is used to mark out the West Highland Way along its full route. This takes us up to the right, to the higher ground, a climb for approximately of one hundred yards out of Allander Park and into Mugdock wood and Country Park. My first real climb, it felt ok. The walking at this stage was pretty easy, with a well-defined track, which used to be an old carriageway from Craigallion House into Milngavie. Mugdock wood in years gone past was associated with the distillation of illicit whisky, and has been reported as a scene of many a good punch up between revenue men and the lads who made the drop, no sign of them now however.

Ahead we could see a group of walkers, all women. You could say they could all have auditioned for `The Golden Girls`, that TV programme about women in there twilight years. They where all walking briskly and it was no time at all we had caught up with them, all looking the part in the proper garb.

“Are you goin all the way?” Johnny asked.

I new the double meaning of this question, George and Kenny probably new the double meaning of this question, I just hope the golden girls didn’t. I can see it now. How far did you get, Milngavie Police station. We had walked two miles and already we had two occasions where we could have brought our walk to a sudden end.

“No, just doing the circular walk of Mugdock wood” one of them replied.

She was smiling as well, I wonder if she had picked-up on Johnny’s metaphor. Anyway it looks as if he had got away with it.

“Och you don’t want to do that. Do you no fancy goin all the way with us,” Johnny continued, he’s now smiling; now playing with the double meaning.

“No thanks” she replied “Best of luck”

It looks as if he has picked on the stuck-up one.

“Are you sure now” Johnny was now sounding as if he really wanted to coax them;

“We’ve plenty of swally enough to do us all, as long as Wullie Kerr disnae get to it before you” he continued.

They all had a good laugh at this statement and in a chorus they all said no and wished us well. We all said thanks and consciously stepped up a gear to pull away from them.

“Ah didnae fancy” yours George said to Johnny.

“The sherpas beginning to sound good” Johnny answered.

Mugdock wood was a lovely place. You would say it was great place to go for a walk. The walk at this point offers a variety of scenes. Arranging from ruined castles and Lochs to wooded areas and open fields, all on good paths. The ruined castle, Mugdock Castle, which is in the process of being renovated, dates back to 1372, though little remains now apart from a high stonewall, the Southwest tower and walled gardens. There is also a ruined mansion house, Craigend Castle, at the other end of the park. However to see these you must leave the walk for a short period adding a distance of about two miles to the walk. Not for me.

The park is a haven for birds, and I am told that this is a good place to see cygnets, ducklings and goslings at this time of year (in the spring). There are two Lochs, a large one at Mugdock Castle and a smaller one at the Visitors' Center. Special islands have been created so that the birds can breed undisturbed by the many visitors to the park. I should come back here again I thought, I’ll bring Bernie along. It will probably look great in the autumn with all its different colours, a haven for photographers or painters at that time. The clouds where once again beginning to darken. I will come back on a sunny day.

As we head out of Mugdock Park, the rain starts. Not to heavy, a drizzle. But it’s a drizzle that is constant and will not stop. I can feel it on my face and it feels quite icy. From sunshine in Milngavie an hour earlier to this. I know this will be normal. This is to be expected.  Scotland is famous for having the four seasons in one day. I decide to stop and put on the weather proofs. Johnny and George have fallen behind us, about three hundred yards. Kenny also decides to do the same. He passes me his hip flask, I take a swig. May as well stop for a real reason.

The path continues to be good. We follow a stream that takes us to Craigallion Loch. I notice the way in front of us. It is as straight as a die for as long as I can see. With a small incline and some forestry plantations at either side of us as well as surrounding the Loch. I point out to Kenny the man fishing from the boat and also the boathouse at the Lochs edge to our right.

Kenny points out the car in the distance on the pathway that we are walking about half a mile further on. On reaching it we realise that it is a BMW 350. We assume it belongs to the fisherman and that it is also his boathouse and that he probably has total fishing rights to the Loch. A rich bastard we both agree.

“Wullie, stop right here, tell me exactly what you see straight ahead on the path” Kenny asks.

I wonder what this is all about; I tell him I see a blue BMW, lots of trees, the path, grey clouds and now lots of rain.

“Now think about this, what’s the slogan?” he questions me.

I think hard. A Mars a day? No.

“What is it “ I ask

“Think, the west highland way, a long straight path, a brand new BMW. Think of this picture in your head”

I don’t need to imagine it; I can see it right in front of me.

“Ok, what is it” I ask.

“If Carlsberg did the West Highland Way…”

“Good one” I reply. “If only.”

 We wait on George and Johnny, and ask them the same question.

At this point I was feeling pretty good. So far there was no issues or worries with the walk. It all felt really easy. I was sure that it would get harder. Although the rain had now decided to hit us a bit harder and was no longer a drizzle, I felt fine. I had experienced worse while hitting a small ball for eighteen holes. The clouds looked very heavy and one would have thought that looking at how bleak they where would conclude that this weather was going to stay with us for the rest of the day at least.

My thoughts moved on to later that night. I was now walking alone. This was no choice of my own but we had all discussed that everyone would walk at their own pace. No one would slow down another. This was important as walking at the pace you felt good with would mean that you would not be putting yourself or your body under any unnecessary pressure or holding someone back. Imagine a sprinter, a middle distance runner and marathon runner all going out for a five-mile run, their bodies and mental being would all be expecting to deal with the distance differently. I had to consider what Dr Ferry had told me. This was ok, as no one would walk for anymore than a mile ahead of the others this giving the straggler (probably me) the chance to catch up, somehow I feel that this could be the norm this week.

How can Sherpa James manage to put up the tent himself? The answer was simple. He couldn’t. The original plan was to have two Sherpas. James and Johnny. Johnny however decided to do the walk this leaving James to Sherpa on his own. Don’t get me wrong I was delighted that Johnny was walking as I new the more walkers we had the bigger the purse we would receive for the hospice, plus I know Johnny will cheer us all up along the way, good for morale and all that. We would help James put up the tents, this shouldn’t be a problem as long as we all had no issues with this, and it was dry at the time of assembly, and that days walk was easy and we were not too tired, soaking wet and hungry. I didn’t see any of these points becoming an issue with the exception of the rain. We could not put the tent up if it was raining. What would we do then? I thought the same scenario could happen even if there were two Sherpas. So I decided to stop worrying about it, why worry be happy. We can think on our feet at the time. This will happen and we all know what the contingencies are. 

I stop and look back. I take a mental note; saying to myself that I should remember and do this more often. It’s all different. I notice a large house on the left bank of the Loch. I pull the map from my backpack knowing that it is none of two afore mentioned castles as this building is inhabited and looks about one hundred and fifty years to two hundred years old at a guess. Craigallian Lodge, it looks mighty, sitting there alone not needing any friends in its own grandeur, that’s it. I wonder if it belongs also to the BMW owning fisherman. Anyone who knows Scotland will realise that when walking or using whatever means of transport you will see something completely different on your homeward journey as to what you would see on your outward journey.

I could be a hundred miles from anywhere but in reality its only about four miles from Milngavies busy town centre. The peace and quiet is immense. I feel really alone although I can see the other guys ahead of me and the lone fisherman staring at his line in his boat, the feeling of not hearing anything other than the rain and wind is strange, I am not used to this, where is the noise from the telly, the car engines on the motorway, the electric guitars, the cry of daddy, quiet. This is why I wanted to do this, its these points that will make this all worthwhile and push us along. I see a yellow and a blue raincoat about a half a mile behind me, walking towards us on ground we have just covered. Other walkers I wonder. I face forward and march on.

I notice the Campsies to my right. All my life they have been so far away but on my doorstep and everyday I would see them and never notice them, blind to them. This close up they don’t look any different, just a bit bigger. I know if I climbed to the top I could see my home about twenty miles back to the east. We come from the east, three wise men and one! I look ahead and start to step up my pace. I don’t want to get out of sight of the others. I can see the great dumpling-shaped bulk of Dumgoyne beyond away to my right an extinct volcano and the first major landmark along the way.

Onward from Craigallian I head according to my map towards Carbeth. The track opens out onto a plantation of fir trees, non-native, where the wood is fenced off from our side. I can only think that this is to keep the deer away from the trees. At Carbeth I see a strange sight, something that I would consider alien to where we are, a sight that would be more familiar at an east coast seaside resort like the old holiday huts at Port Seton. This must be the wooden holiday huts`, which were built after the First World War for the city dwellers of Glasgow to have a place to visit in the country. I had heard of this place in the past and forgot that it ever existed and the last thing I was expecting to day was to walk in to it. Seeing `Carbeth` named on the map didn’t register in my head the stories that have surrounded it since its inception almost ninety years earlier.

The huts look a right mixed bunch. The other guys are waiting as I approach. We discuss what we see. Three Mercs outside one of the better looking huts, infact I have seen smaller bungalows in some modern housing estates.

“Looks ominous,” I say. “I bet they are all drug lords in there having a top level meeting, discussing where and when there next consignment is coming from”

“No the cars are too old” says Kenny “Drug lords would have brand spanking new ones”

“They’ll be the gophers cars then, the means of moving the goods about, and any dead bodies that they may have” George adds

Now it’s getting silly. I do not expect to see Detective Sergeant Jackie Reid aka Blyth Duff coming screaming round the corner at a hundred miles an hour. “I THINK THERES BEEN A MURDER SIR”. Superb Scottish telly at its best. You wander what these people see in these huts. Some of them look as if they wouldn’t even make a good bonfire, but some however look absolutely great and a lot better than some of the gaffs I spent my childhood holidays in. The sign on the Loch says `NO FISHING`. So what do they all do when they come up here except plan the next shipment of illegal goods or drugs? Fling stones in the water! Three guys come out the good-looking hut with the three Mercs and look at us. We say hello, they acknowledge the same, and we move on. Big bloody boots in those Mercs. You would get four dead bodies in them no bother.

I can remember a news story a few years back regarding these huts. It concerned over 100 tenants facing eviction from their homes, or rather huts. The first settlers came here shortly after world war one. The estate owener at the time had allowed a former servant on returning from the war to build a small hut to live in. As people from Glasgow and Clydebank would be walking in this part as a means of recreation (not much else to do in those days but walk as unemployment was high and people had no money) a fondness for the area evolved and they also where allowed to build huts with bitumen roofs and green timber walls and paying a nominal site rental to the land owener. However the communitty did grow bigger and one would say it ended up resembling a poor mans Butlins Holiday Park. The local burn was even damed to create a swimming pool. All the huts where built at the tennants own expense. In theory a great social experiment was taking place here. Residents would call their homes Dachas a word used also in Russia to describe a holiday/community home. Access would have been along the route we have just walked (known as the Kyber Pass by hutters) or over the Kilpatrick hills if coming from Clydebank, all on foot. The Carbeth huts where also a heaven of safety during the Clydebank blitz and that exodous is said to have resembled a mass movement of people similar to that seen in 1990s Yugoslavia. 

The price of land rent was hiked to high heaven and this was no longer cheap un-usable land being only four miles from Glasgow it had become prime land and highly valuable, we are talking Monopoly prices per acre. A bitter rent strike persued and many huts where mysteriously burned to the ground and a massive Police presence was brought in to manage the peacefull demonstrations.  A few have rebuilt and are sticking in. The high Court has ruled that the land owener is within his right, but still some, a small band fight on.

Leaving Carbeth we follow a track, which meets a road at a place called Balachalairy Yett.  Our faithful Thistle sign points us left for about a hundred yards, westward and then points us over to the right at a stile into Tinker's Loan. Tinker's Loan is a broad grassy ride, rising to a gentle slope between two dry stane dykes. On crossing the stile we agree at my request to have a break. Although little shelter from the now pounding rain, we needed to fill the tanks with water (and a few drams of the water of life) and top up on the carbs purchased earlier in Marks and Spencer’s. The only shelter was from a tree and the dyke. It was quiet, not much being said. We all look at my map. We agree that we have completed over four miles so far and would meet up with Sherpa James in about an hours time with another three and half miles to walk to the Cherry Tree Inn.

“We’ll get a good bowl of soup at the Pub” Kenny says

This perked us all up a bit.

“ Ah ha, whits this then” Johnny says looking back down the way we came.

We all turn at the same time. A few yards away walking towards us I notice the yellow and the blue raincoats that I saw earlier before Carbeth.

“It looks as if we are no` the only daft Bastards that are oot walking in this then” says George

“They seem to be carrying a light load for doing the walk,” says Kenny “Maybe James is doing a wee number on the side with them”

Two females approach us and catch our stare. They say hello and we return the same pleasantries as they walk through.

“No a bad day for it “ Johnny says

Here we go again. He will get us all the Jail. They are definitely walkers. They’ve got all the proper attire, but not carrying anything.

“I have seen better” one of them reply

“Aye, it looks as if James is doing a homer right enough, “ I say.

“As long as Eleanor dissnae find out,” Johnny quips

We allow them time to get ahead of us before we start off again. I was glad of the extended break.

We walk up a gentle incline to the head of Tinker's Loan. From this point as we approach the house at Arlehaven we see what I would consider to be our first real view. One with a sense of great space. It was my first feeling of being in a big country.  Surrounded by emptiness we could only hear ourselves, and the rain; now rattling off my waterproof jacket making it difficult to make out what the others where saying as I surveyed the Blane valley spread out in front of me.

 The ground drops away over open moor with the buildings of Arlehaven on our left and farther left again, the Kilpatrick hills, green but dark, the colour looks permanent, covered in a watery haze. To my right the mound of Dumgoyach, cone shaped and wooded and her big sister Dumgoyne, at the end of the Campsie Fells. Looking ahead beyond the Blane valley I could see for the first time where we were heading in a greater context and not through the eyes of someone going for a stroll in the country, walking a few miles, having a couple of pints and then home for tea. This is a lot bigger. I think of Bernie, Ewen, Liam and Susan. I will do this for them, as for our charity and myself.  At this point it sunk home; that between us and Fort William there where going to be a lot of obstacles. The butterflies I felt earlier at the train station now felt like Crows hacking at my stomach. What will the obstacles be? I stare ahead, I don’t know. Will I make it? I don’t know. I had all of a sudden a great feeling of fear and adventure. This is not going to be a country walk. This is a trek and the simple path that we have walked so far will turn on us and make us work for our charity cash. I will not give in. I place my hand in my jacket pocket and feel my Rosary and say a prayer for the second time today as I look straight ahead and view the Crianlarich hills and a good part of Ben Lomond the start of the Western Highlands.

 The path is fairly open as we pass the cottages at Arlehaven and ahead for about a mile to the farm buildings at Dumgoyach Farm at the foot of Dumgoyach, passing through Dumgoyach wood and across the Blane Water.

“This is the part that was a quagmire the last time I was here,” says Kenny

With all the rain that had fallen, I feared that we had a hard walk ahead of us before we got to the Pub that was now about a mile and half away. I was later told that there is standing stones in the woods and we had missed them. That is the problem when walking in heavy rain; your head tends to stay down keeping the hammering wind and rain from your exposed face as well as watching your feet.

 The stretch from Tinker's Loan what we thought was going to be extremely rough actually turned out to be very easy on the feet to Dumgoyach Farm, even in all this rain. The good men of Stirlingshire Council had done some great work to this part of the walk (or someone else for that matter), is this Stirlingshire? This part of the walk used to be the old Blane Valley Railway later owned by The North British Railway and helped us make up some good time thanks to the good walking surface. We were now also in view of the Kilearn to Drymen road. The pathway is signed as part of the walk and is reached by the lane behind Dumgoyach farm, which crosses an old wooden bridge over the Blane water, the main tributary to the Endrick Water. On looking at the map the way stretched for about four or five miles straight ahead of us for as far as we could see, to our first nights camp at Gartness.

To our right we could see the Glengoyne Distillery sitting at the foot of Dumgoyne with the main A81 road separating the still house from the bonds. I shared the story with the others of my first ever visit to a Distillery, and it was Glengoyne. My best memory and thanks to having too much whisky that day was probably my only memory was the fact that in the bar there was no till. All the Whisky we tested was free and along with a great meal at the Cherry Tree Inn it turned out to be a great day arranged by our shops Liquor Manager.

“We should give Sherpa James a call,” says Kenny

We could see the pub now ahead and hopefully as planned James would be there to meet us and join us for lunch albeit a late lunch. By this time James should have done the shopping and arranged the pitch at our first campsite in Gartness a further two and half miles on after the Cherry Tree Inn. I am sure he wouldn’t have any problems with the first of his daily tasks.

Johnny phones James;

“James its Johnny”

“Where are you” James asks “ I cannae find the Cherry Tree Inn”

“We’re walking past the distillery, heading towards it ”

“ That’s no the Cherry Tree. I’m at the distillery, I’ve done the tour, its some place” James informs him “I cannot see you, where abouts` are you”

“We are walking past the distillery heading for the pub,” Johnny repeats himself

“How come a canny sees you?”

“Where in the distillery are you?” Johnny asks

“I’m parked in front of the bonds facing the road watching for yies”

“Well you’ll no see us sitting there, Drive along to the pub, we’ll be there in ten minutes. Aye, cheerio” Johnny switches off the phone.

“He wonders how he canny see us, he’s sitting at the other side of that big black building there, ah think he thinks we are walking along the main road”

We continue along the path discussing what is the giant mound that is on our left hand side of the path, about three metres wide and a metre and a half high covered in grass, going all the way into the distance in both directions east to west. We all agree that it will be a water pipe and they have used the old railway as a cheap roadway for it all the way into Glasgow.

 A family approaches, all the attire, walking sticks as well. They look absolutely miserable, especially the two kids, a boy and a girl about nine and ten years old respectively. I think, looking at whom I believe to be the father, how could you do that to these two weans, why not take them to the pictures or the baths. People like that should be reported to the cruelty man. Once they had passed this quickly became our next topic of conversation.

“Imagine our father saying to us on a Saturday morning, pissing with rain, lets all go for a walk. You would tell him to get on his bike,” says Johnny

“The only place I could get my da to walk to on a Saturday was the pub” I added “And he certainly wouldn’t be walking back, not very straight anyway”

 As we approach the Pub James meets us with a golf umbrella keeping the heavy rain off him. I cannot help but mention that James is probably three hours late in coming to meet us with brollies. Kenny asks him if he is expecting the Bishop to join us with a brolly that size, reminding me of Church parades in the rain at Carfin Grotta, Scotlands Marian Shrine. The only one allowed the brolly was the Bishop, well according to my mam anyway. George and Johnny wouldn’t understand the point Kenny was making, but James would.

“Take it as your penance” she would say. Is this a sign, I wonder?

 The information board on the path at the pub confirms that under the mound a huge pipe is concealed which takes water from Loch Lomond, and distributes it all over Scotland. I know what it feels like inside that pipe. It also confirms that we are not at the Cherry Tree Inn but in fact we are at the Beech Tree Inn. I remember having this conversation with one of these guys (I will mention no names) and they assured me the name of this pub was the Cherry Tree Inn, hence telling James we would meet him at the Cherry Tree Inn. I like Cherry Tree Inn better.

We all follow the sign that says `WALKERS ENTRANCE`. That sounds promising and very welcoming. Never having done this before I think it better to hold back and follow Kenny’s moves. I don’t want to be going into this Pub and not using walker’s etiquette if there is such a thing. After all, there could be cashmere carpets in there, I barge in, and end up getting us all flung out. No, that plate of soup is too important. I’ll watch Kenny and follow his lead. Johnny and George have sussed it out to. They are holding back as well, we all watch Kenny and follow his every move. Again maybe the two of them are holding back in case they have to buy the first round at the bar. Miserable Bastards. We head for the wooden gazebo at the pub entrance where we take off our boots, our waterproofs and hats and proceed into the public bar. I can smell the soup. Its twenty past three, plenty of time to get some warm food, watch the horses on the telly (not the Windsor variety), get back out there and walk the final two and half miles to our first nights camp. Easy Peasy.

It felt great to be in the Cherry Tree Inn. I noticed the two dames that passed us earlier at the start of Tinkers loan. We nodded a hello to each other and again mentioned the weather. How come they don’t look as wet and as exhausted as all us. I wonder. We also take some looks from day-trippers, out for a run in the country. You can see the “Are they aff their bloody heads out walking in this” looks they are giving us. I hope none of us has any holes in their socks.  Smelly Feet! What do they expect?

 I have been in here a few times before along with Bernie, George and his wife Gerry. The food is really good and they don’t rob you. Good on them, as well as really friendly staff we are all made to feel very welcome.

“Right boys” I say grabbing their attention” Will we kitty up for this or will we just use the kitty we already started for groceries and swally”

It was decided at Thursday meeting that we would all kitty up to cover all costs, i.e. Food and swally. Johnny’s employer had kindly donated all diesel costs for the van courtesy of Johnny’s company credit card. Saving us a fortune as it turns out.  We all gave Sherpa James fifty quid each for starters.

We are quickly served and four plates of soup are ordered. The Sherpa refuses.

“Is there no a telly in here” I ask, making enquires to benefit the horse lovers amongst us.

“Sorry” I am told by the young waitress.

Not to worry I will get the radio on when we make camp. The conversation moves to provisions.

“What did you get for dinner the night James“ George asks.

“Pasta, I hope you like it as I got four packets” came the reply.

The general consensus was fine as we had previously given James some meal ideas but as we quickly found out we should also have shared with him some recepies.

“What kind of Pasta did you get?” I ask

 I could see that was a difficult one to ask.

“What kind of sauce did you get?” I continued

“Ah never got any sauce” came the reply “Just pasta, you never telt me to get any sauce”

“Jesus, we’ll be eating plain pasta for a week” said Kenny “No spam either”

“No, I got corned beef,”

“We can always make necklaces and bracelets for presents with the dried pasta” says Johnny

“Aye, that’ll gie us all something to do round the camp fire the night in the pissing rain” George adds

“Well a don’t fancy dried plain pasta and corned doggy” I said

“I got tinned tatties as well” James says, now trying to save tonight’s menu.

“Sounds good, tatties and corned Beef” says Kenny.

“What about sausage rolls, Eleanor gave us half a dozen Tunnocks sausage rolls. We could have them and rolls on sausage,” James is now trying to convince us all that there is options and good ones as well. 

We all agree. Sausage rolls and rolls on sausage.

 The soup arrives we are all quiet. Along with a couple of pints, Kenny and myself had Guinness and George and Johnny had lager we all felt we had a hearty lunch. Time to get back on the march.

As we leave the pub we say our thanks and are wished all the best on our journey from the man behind the bar. We all go to the loo and then head outside to the gazebo where we start to put our waterproofs and boots on. It’s still raining, but not as bad.

“Looks as if its going to clear up” George says

“Ah wish” Kenny replies

 As we only have a couple of miles to do we decide to give our backpacks to the Sherpa to take to the campsite in the van. No need to carry them, nothing will be needed we all thought.

 Akeala jumps in.” I’ll take my bag, just in case. You don’t know when you might need a first-aid kit or something else”

“You see” I said, “That’s how I asked Kenny to come along with us. If I where to depend on you two (looking at George and Johnny) in a life threatening situation God only knows what would happen”

They know I am only kidding

“Ah no what would happen” said Johnny” I would still be in that pub and phonin a taxi at eleven o’clock the night. Never mind if Carlsberg done the West Highland Way, think of how Johnny Park would do the West Highland Way”

We all laughed.

We were joined by the two dames in the gazebo. They informed us that they where only walking to Drymen as they both lived there. They had decided to take the bus to Glasgow and walk it back. Johnny offered them a lift home in the van if they wished;

“It’s a terrible day after all,” he says 

But they refused thanking Johnny and pointing out that it would make their Jacuzzi feel a lot more inviting if they walked the last couple of miles.

“Ah Jacuzzi! Ah bloody Jacuzzi! All we’ve got to look forward to is Willie Kerr’s` bowels rattling in a five man tent all night and you two are away for a Jacuzzi! Any room for another four” he exclaims.

Not tonight was the reply.

“ We’ll bring our own bubbles, sure we will Wullie, eh!”

A long pause… Too much detail Johnny. Can anyone see my embarrassment?

 “No even room for one then” he is a trier

“It really is only a wee one,” I add

We have a laugh; the dames wish us well and head out. A swig from our hip flasks and then we head towards the Sherpas van. We give our backpacks to James, except the sensible one, Akeala. 

We join the way again, crossing the main A81 road as we leave the Cherry Tree Inn. No sign of the Dames. They were certainly off their mark very quickly. It does look as if it is going to clear up. There was now a bit of heat in the air and in the five or so minutes since we put on our walking gear the rain had stopped, so down came my hood and off with the Biggles bonnet, life is getting better. I could see a break in the clouds ahead of us in the direction we were heading.

We are back on the old railway track again and I assume that we are also walking on top of the water pipe now as well. This will take us all the way to our first nights stop. James has told us that the walk will take us right to our campsite at Gartness. We pass the old buildings of Killearn hospital, heading out of the Blane Valley. The waterproof jacket is now off and folded into its pocket holder. I open my fleece jacket and let the air about me. Its amazing how quickly the temperature changes. As the day got more into the late afternoon one would expect it to get colder as the evening grew nearer but we were now experiencing our best weather of the day. All I was wanting at this time was for it to stay dry so as we could pitch the tent. The Big Yin was with us. I know it.

Gartness was the home of John Napier, once of this parish but now long gone. A philosopher and Scotland’s greatest mathematical genius ever. A man who was like myself, as black was like white. I sometimes however may philosophies, a claim that would be made by most Scotsman but mathematician I was not, a `D` at `O` grade was the best I could muster. Napiers`family at one time owned the land around the village and he was famous as the inventor of logarithms (what are they all about) and also the person who devised the dot, `.`, the decimal point that has had a significant effect in the computer age now. The village itself was no more than a few houses spread sparsley along with the coffee shop, come campsite.

James once again had walked about twenty yards to meet us and escorted us home to our first nights stop. The way ended this part of the walk just outside Gartness under an old railway bridge that carried the road from Drumore to Gartness at the Wishing Well Campsite and Cafe. It was at this point we could see the last remaining signs of the Blane Valley railway line as it came to an abrupt end at the very position where we would camp tonight. The last trains pulled out of here in 1959 the year I was born. As we walked under the bridge James informed us that the ten by twenty square yards we where now standing on and separated from the path we have just walked off by a six feet paneled fence is the camp site. We are almost knee deep in grass, great grazing for our neighbours. The white building to our right across a very muddy patch of the same size was the café and toilet block. This was no Camping Marastang in the South of France. This was roughing it Scottish style with a full supporting act of sheep and cows in your living room in a setting of rolling parkland with the only thing going for it so far is the fact that it is still dry and looking quite promising to be a nice spring evening. Even with the thought of sausage rolls for supper I was finding it hard to bring a positive thought into my head.

The task now at hand was to make hay while the sun was still shining and get the tent up and the dinner made. We all waded through the muddy quagmire between our pitch and the car park in front of the café to the van where all our gear and provisions where waiting for us. Opening the back doors of the van I realised that this is not going to be easy. Everything was packed as we say in the grocery trade, can tight. Not another thing could you get in this van. From top to bottom and back to front this van was jam-packed.

“ What in the name of God have we got in here” Kenny asked. “ Is this a flitting we are doing”?

I was pretty impressed myself. Here we are five guys away for a week and we have managed to fill this van to use the Scottish vernacular, `to the gunnels`. What in the name is all in there?

` Haw Johnny, is there a family of Romanians hiding in here hoping to be seeking asylum in Fort William” I asked.

“Ah don’t know whits in there, everything was just flung in last night” he replied

“Is the tent in there?” Kenny asked

Please God let it be.

“Aye” said Johnny “ah put that in myself”

Now there is a story attached to this tent. For a start no one other than Johnny has seen it and the tent itself has never seen daylight as it was purchased only a few days earlier from Argos. Well that’s not really true as we where all shown a picture of it at Thursday nights meeting, ripped straight out the Argos catalogue. The original plan ten months earlier was to bring our nine-man tent that is jointly owned with George, Julia, (Georges mother-in-law) and myself. How that shared tenancy came about is another story. As there were now only five of us doing the trip I thought the nine-man tent would be inappropriate, as it could not be built with one Sherpa alone. I suggested we all chipped in twenty quid each and buy a five man tent as this would give James a fighting chance to build the tent himself and have everything ready for us each day at the end of the walk, unlike today. We all agreed that this was a good idea but Johnny wanted to buy the tent himself so his daughter can then have exclusive use of the tent once we had finished with it. He assured us all that he was intending to buy one anyway in the summer so this seemed like a good option suiting us all.   

“ Right we need to get this organised,” I said “Lets take everything out that is needed and I will repack the van”

“The tents right behind the seats as it was first in,” said Johnny

Good I thought the one thing we now need is the last thing I’ll get to. We started hand-balling all the bags of clothing, sleeping bags and who knows what else onto the wet ground, avoiding a few puddles at the back of the van until we came across the tent and the cooker. These where grabbed by Kenny, George and Johnny and carried over the quagmire to the pitch. James and I started to place everything back in the van in an order that was organised in comparison to what we found, leaving out the essentials such as food, alcoholic beverages, cleaning materials and toilet rolls. The bags of clothing (one each) where placed in last so anyone requiring a change of clothing tonight or their toilet bag could get easy access. Although I could not imagine why anyone would want to change clothes tonight, all dressed up and nowhere to go comes to mind. But who knows, Johnny Park after all is from Lesmahagow originally and I have seen him looking and acting a bit funny around sheep in the past.

 What an inventory we had;

Six case of Highland Spring Still Water, four cases of fun size mars bars, seven white pokes full of Tunnocks Caramel Wafers (seconds from the factory), Four packs of dried pasta (no sauce), Eight tins of tatties, two packets of Cup-o-Soups, two case of Miller MGD, two litres of whisky, one litre of vodka, four litres of Irn Bru, two litres of lemonade, two litres of coke, two packets of bacon, two packets of links sausage, two packets of tattie scones, two case of crisps, two tins of corned beef, various packets of cold meats, two dozen rolls a loaf and tonight’s main fare, half a dozen sausage rolls. The extra one is bound to cause a fight. We are not going to starve, not tonight anyway. Along with four lanterns (battery powered) five chairs and various airbeds and tools to blow them up with I could now see why the van was so full.

I was keen to see how the tent was being put up, but by the time we got back to the pitch with all the food, drink, chairs, lights, cups, plates and cutlery (all plastic) and sleeping gear it was practically complete. I had the impression that it was an easy build.

“It seems to have built up easy enough,” I said

“Dawdle“ Johnny replied

“Could one man do it himself? “I asked

Kenny replied no and Johnny said that it wouldn’t be a problem anyway as we would all be there each night to help build it. I new that would be the case but it may not be the ideal situation to be in. I was thinking what could I do to make this better.

After tightening the guy ropes we all flung our sleeping bags inside, put up the chairs outside the tent and I started to build the cooker.

“Let me do that” George said “We want to get fed the night”.

Why is it people have no faith in my abilities to build or fix things. I let George get on with it, poured myself a half and sulked for all of ten seconds.

It looks as if it could be a grand night weather wise. It was very mild about twelve degrees at a guess and no wind. If only the cloud would clear this would be a great place to sit back in a chair and watch the dark night sky, something I love to do on holiday in France each year. The cloud was now high in the sky with an occasional break and all the signs said no rain. I could hear a jet accelerating above us coming out of Glasgow turning as it approached Loch Lomond. I noticed it ahead of us to our left. It was a sight I was familiar with from a plane coming out of Glasgow and over Loch Lomond but I realised that this is probably the first time I had experienced it from the ground almost at Loch Lomond and looking up. It was big, looked like an Air Bus, but I was not feeling jealous of those people aboard heading for the sun. I was very content right here. I think I could get to like this.

George having built the cooker was now in charge of cooking assisted by James, that worked out well I thought. As planned earlier at the Cherry Tree Inn, sausage rolls and rolls on sausage where the main course, preceded by Tomato Cup-O-Soup followed by what I thought, as many Tunnocks Caramel Wafer (seconds) you could poke a stick at.

“Haw, they’re limited to two each a day” James shouts at Kenny as he takes a handful of caramel wafers from one of the white pokes.

“What, you’re joking, there is enough here to feed an army” Kenny retorts

“Eleanor only gave me enough for two each everyday” James pleads

“Don’t worry James a wont tell her a broke my allowance if you don’t” Kenny added

“I’ll clipe on you, “ I said

“Squealer” Kenny points me out to the group

 I went to the van to get my radio out of my clothes bag and to take off my boots and put on a pair of soft tennis shoes or gutties in these parts. I was advised to take my walking boots off at every opportunity to allow the fresh air to circulate around my feet. It felt good walking in the soft shoes with no socks on as I now felt as if I was walking on air after removing a massive weight. By the time I got back to the pitch I had changed my mind, my nice clean gutties where now covered in sheep shit. I was not going back for my boots so I wiped my feet on the damp grass and re-introduced my self to the group as `The Shite Gutty Man` in reference to Calderbank and Clelands most famous Ghost and spooky thing `The White Gutty Man` who has terrorised every kid in the villages for the past hundred years.

 Its now about five-thirty and all the football results will be in as well as the horses, here’s hoping I’ve got a few winners. I tune into Radio Scotland and the phone in with Jim Traynor is still on with some guy phoning in spouting off about conspiracy theories, clandestine groups and everyone in the world basically hating Glasgow Celtic. A theory I do not share.

“Here we go, listen to this guy, everybody hates us, nobody likes us, some of these Celtic supporters are absolutely paranoid. You’d think the whole world is out to get us. Get rid of the big bloody chips on your shoulder pal.” Kenny points out talking at the radio.

“The boys right, everybody does hate you all, he is not paranoid at all” George quips in “ You lot have got nothing going for you at all”

“Voted the best Football supporters in the world last year by FIFA us lot where” I add.

 I better keep away from this. There is no point in us all falling out with each other on the first night over Celtic and Rangers, I am sure there will be plenty of opportunities later for that. The results came on after the six o’clock news. There was not much to discuss, Celtic where playing in the semi-finals the following day, Sunday, against Hearts, who incidentally had beaten us a week earlier at home two nil. Being eliminated earlier Rangers also had no game this weekend as they where scheduled to play against one of the other Scottish Cup semi-finalists Dundee or Hibs. This was the only result worth looking at today. The winner is surely going to be playing Celtic in the final. I am confident we will beat Hearts tomorrow at Hampden.

The six o’clock news brings us what I expected to hear Strong Resolve, never got a mention in the national and the football results confirmed that Johnny Park was no good at picking football teams either. I’ll have to wait, to get to a bookies to check my lucky fifteen, probably when I get back home. However Kenny picked the big one, the winner of the National, jammy bass.

My phone beeps, a message. Looking it up I see it’s from Tam Sinclair. Now Tam is a workmate or colleague as we call each other and had promised to send me a text each day we were walking with a title relating to the walk or walking itself to keep up morale. To-days song is the Proclaimers classic, “500 miles”. I explain to the guys what the message is all about and what today’s song is.

“Tra-la-la-la, Tra-la-la-la, bumperi-bum-peri-bum-piri-bum-piri-bum-pum-bum” Johnny bursts into the chorus at the mention of the song title.

“Tra-la-la-la, Tra-la-la-la,” Kenny starts the next line.

“Bumperi-bum-peri-bum-piri-bum-piri-bum-pum-bum” Johnny finishes it.

Tra-la-la-la, Tra-la-la-la, bumperi-bum-peri-bum-piri-bum-piri-bum-pum-bum” we are all it.

Me -“And I will walk 500 hundred miles and I will walk 500 hundred more, just to be the man who walks a million miles to be outside your door”

All- “Tra-la-la-la, Tra-la-la-la, Tra-la-la-la, Tra-la-la-la, bumperi-bum-peri-bum-piri-bum-piri-bum-pum-bum” 

    - “Tra-la-la-la, Tra-la-la-la, Tra-la-la-la, Tra-la-la-la, bumperi-bum-peri-bum-piri-bum-piri-bum-pum-bum”

From behind the panel fence three male Latinos appeared, all about twenty-two years of age, tanned skin, dark hair and about 5`10 each. They looked quite frightened at what they had stumbled upon. Where the hell did they come from I thought. It was obvious they were West Highland Way walkers, looking very miserable and very wet, still wearing their water-proofs and with the sun shinning too. We stop our communal singing and we all acknowledge them. They all nod back. With a look of trepidation on their face I could see they where just a wee bit anxious. In my head I could hear the banjo playing. You can imagine the scene straight out of the movie `Deliverance`. We are the incestual, banjo playing local yokels. They had stumbled across us. What where we going to do to them? They walked with their backs to the bridge wall, staring at us. We stared back.

“Is this the Highland Walk?” one asked

“Aye” was the stark reply from George. There was a pause. They looked at us and we looked at them.

“Where is the walk?” the talker asked. It was obvious they where unsure where they had to go now to keep on the way. As the pathway literally stops at the panel fence, I could understand their confusion. Kenny pointed out that they had to climb up the banking and go onto the road starting from the bridge. He pointed in the direction they should head.

“Di, yi want some swally,” Johnny asked.

From trepidation to bewilderment their expressions change. I could read their thoughts and Kenny could to.

“Would you like a beer” Kenny asked.

“No thanks” the talker said.

I thought what about the other guys. It was obvious who their Akeala was. They thanked us and walked on. The last one up the banking turned and looked back at us. I couldn’t help but think that he felt quite relieved to be on his way but wondering if our cousins where waiting to capture them further along the way.

“Where Do you think they are from” I ask’

“Spain” replies Johnny.

“How do you know that?” I enquired.

“They’re Spaniards and they’re Firemen” Johnny continues, smirking to himself.

“Aye, but how do you know that”

“Did you no notice their names on their backpacks? It said Jose, Hose B and Hose C”

Aye you’ve got to laugh.

“No they looked more Italian,” said George

“How do you know that”?

“They just did, way their accent”

“The shortest book I ever read was written by an Italian,” I added

Pause. They’re not going to ask me what was it called. Not taking the bait.

“What book was that Willie” Kenny took the fly, or recognises my predicament.

“Great Italian war heroes” I said.

Johnny quips in,” Did you hear the wan aboot the Scotsman, Irishman and Italian in a bar, and this big blonde walks up to them and says, “I love a man who is intellectual. Whoever can give me a sentence with the words Liver and Cheese in it will have a night with me they will never forget.

The Scots man says, “I love liver and cheese”. Absolutely rubbish the blonde says.

The Irish man says,” I hate liver and cheese” Terrible she says are you all thick?

The Italian man says,” I love ah feisty ah women, Liver alone, Cheese mine”

Aye good one I thought, we all have a laugh

“Grubs up” George rallies us round the cooker. Now this is a sight to be witnessed. Sausage rolls done on a camping cooker. A metal tray was placed over the two gas rings and the sausage rolls sat on top of that. I assume the idea is that the metal plate heats up and passes on the heat to the sausage roll. Great theory but obviously never tested, not until now anyway. The arse was burnt out the base of the sausage roll, black as the Earl of Hells waistcoat. Too warm to hold due to the burnt pastry and the sausage in the centre was still cold. Barbecued sausage rolls, who would have thought of that one. A bit disappointed we all eat them after all we had the rolls on sausage to look forward to next. Nothing much could go wrong there I thought. George was now placing the sausages on to the metal plate.

“Do you know what’s wrong with these” I point out about the sausage roll

“Aye they’re fuckin` burnt “Johnny adds

“Besides that”

“They’re burnt and cold”

“No, all that was needed here was a bit of tin foil wrapped around them and they wouldn’t have burned”

“Write you can do that the next time” George is now pissed off at us pointing out his culinary failings.

The rolls and sausage quickly came along and the spare sausage roll was left not causing the fall-outs that I had earlier predicted. Along with the Cup-O-Soup and the now limited supply of Caramel Wafers the meal in all was deemed quite satisfactory and we all complimented the `cooker`. We sat in our camp chairs in a circle drinking hot coffee to wash down the lavish meal. I asked Kenny if he would like a nip added but he declines saying that he wouldn’t waste good whisky on coffee.

George announces that the bar is now opened and asks James where the Gin is as he can only see whisky and Vodka.

“Ah never got any Gin” The Sherpa replied

The look on Georges face is priceless. “Whit, no Gin, bloody great”

He is at the party but he cannot dance. He’s in the team but cannot play.

“Ah don’t believe it. You were asked last night to get three things specifically; Whisky, Vodka and Gin. And whit do you do, you forget the bloody Gin, Great. You’re some man to send the messages”

“Ah forgot, ah got you the lemonade” James is trying to save the day

For a minute I thought James was taking the Mickey, but he is not. He really has forgot the Gin.

“Do you want a glass of lemonade?” I ask George, gloating. I have got to laugh. Here is a man who has walked ten miles in the pissing rain, looking forward to one thing only at the end of the day, along with a decent hot meal and nothing develops. I know George, he wont take a Whisky or Vodka, well not for a whole session. Gin only and only Gordon’s.

“Have a beer,” Johnny offers.

“No ah don’t` want to start beer, I’ll be running to the bathroom all night”

“You’ll no have to run very far, just stick it out the tent door and you’re there.” Kenny says.

“No I’ll gie it a bye “ George says in total disgust.

“Well if you’re no drinking you’re as well going to look for some wood for the fire”, that’s it Johnny, support your comrade when he is feeling down. First rule of teamwork; keep them busy so their mind is not on the problem. Johnny was not thinking this way obviously but continuing to gloat, as were we all.

James volunteered to do this, I guess trying to make-up for forgetting Georges Gin. He goes behind the fence and walks into the wooded area that runs along the path that we walked through into Gartness. I cannot guess where he will find any dry wood at all. Kenny and George look around for some kindling under the bridge and in no time we have the makings of a campfire. A half burned log from a previous fire is added and catches alight in no time.

Robbie Shepard is on the radio. `Take the Floor`. Radio Scotland’s weekly Saturday night Scottish Country Dancing show. The finest Celidh and accordion music to be found is right here. I always wondered if there is people all over Scotland every Saturday night from six-thirty to nine o’clock listening to this show and dancing up and down the living room floor. “Right Betty, lift the carpets, its time to `Take the Floor`. And away we go.

Fifteen minutes later James returns. He struggles through the gap in the fence. Trailing behind him he has what looks like half a tree.

“Ah thought a heard a tree getting felled” Kenny says

“It’s the only thing that James will feel the night,” Johnny says.

“Did you chop that down yourself James” I asked.

“No, ah found it”

“Where about, Milngavie, you’ve been away for ages”

“No it was laying on the ground”

“Fallen trees, lying on the ground, whit next?”

Kenny takes it off him and starts breaking it all into smaller pieces. Johnny helps. Then we all start on it. In no time we have quite a pile and Kenny assures us that it will dry out quickly. He places a pile on top of the now dying fire. In no time the smoke is intense. It all gathers under the road bridge and fills the space in no time. We have to walk away from this. Rubbing our eyes we stand about ten yards away as the smoke will not allow us to get any nearer. I am sure the smoke will be seen for miles around and hope that it does not draw any unwanted attention.  

In no time we were back in our chairs, pouring each other a drink (except Gin less George) and enjoying a bit of craic. We spoke about what was still to be done and if it were as easy as today it would not present any problems whatsoever. That is if Sherpa James doesn’t forget the carry out. Tomorrow we had a thirteen-mile walk to Cashel on the banks of Loch Lomond. This is about four miles north of the village of Balmaha.

Again I explain the week in front of us. Sunday we walk thirteen miles to Cashel. Monday we walk sixteen miles to Ardlui, still on Loch Lomond where we get the ferry to take us across the Loch to that nights camp site. Tuesday we walk fourteen miles to Tyndrum (pronounced Tyne-drum). Wednesday is our biggest day as we walk twenty miles to Kings House where again we camp but this time there are no facilities. On Thursday we have a short walk. This is intentional as this part of the walk takes in the `Devils Staircase` said to be the hardest part, spending the night camping in Kinlochleven and then on Friday we have our final day, a fifteen-mile jaunt into Fort William. As I said a dawdle!  

I got up and went for a walk around our ten by twenty yards back yard, this time watching where I place my feet. The night had turned out really nice weather wise. It was now dusk. The sky was a dark grey but the cloud remained high so no chance of rain I thought and it had also remained quite mild. Our sheep and cow friends had seen enough and walked off to see something better. I noticed them about two hundred yards away. Do sheep sleep standing up or lying down?

 Will it be as easy tomorrow, I don’t know. My thoughts moved from today’s walk to the days ahead. We were lucky today. I was lucky today. The walk was fairly easy. We had managed to get the tents up with ease and managed to cook a meal of sorts. But I do not know what the weather will bring tomorrow. Radio Scotland had said to expect rain at sometime. Will it come when we are putting the tent up? I now know that James cannot do this task himself, so he will not be able to take advantage of any dry spells he may have while waiting for us. It is not ideal after doing a hard days walking to arrange a tent and make a meal in the pouring rain. This is one problem I will have to overcome.

I join the others back at the fire. It is now giving off a great glow and if I may say so myself looking great. If Carlsberg made campfires well this is the campfire they would make.

“Right folks it looks like bed time, I’m feeling a bit knackered now” Kenny points us all in the same direction. If one goes to bed we all go. When one gets up in the morning we will all be up.

“Ditcher” Johnny shouts.

Myself, Kenny and Johnny pour one more drink. I offer George a whisky. He refuses. James doesn’t touch the stuff. Akeala kicks dust over the fire to bring it to an end. We all crawl into the tent. It is now dark and the lanterns are on, one in each room. Myself, George and Kenny crawl into one room and Johnny and James into the other. My bag is all rolled out ready for me to climb in as is the others. Someone must have arranged all this earlier. I remove my trousers and shit clad gutties only and climb in to my bag. I feel tired. No one is talking now, all is very quiet. I lay thinking of our predicament regards building the tent. There is only one thing to do, call the President.  

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