West Highland Way Day 1: Milngavie to Ptarmagin Lodge

After much anticipation the day had finally come for me to head to Scotland and embark on the West Highland Way. Typically the van had developed an issue a few days before but Matt at VW T5 Upgrades got it sorted for me in double quick time so I was hoping it would make the 700 mile round trip journey.

I set off from home around 3pm for a long, wet and at times traffic-heavy drive to the Metal Bridge Inn on the banks of the River Esk, just short of the England/Scotland border. I felt a little achy as if I was coming down with some sort of lurgy for much of the drive. A hearty meal and a beer in the pub didn’t help me feel any better so I tried a huge portion of sticky toffee pudding and ice cream just in case that would help as well.

It didn’t make any noticeable difference but it was definitely worth a try!! The pub was a BritStop so they were happy for me to camp in the camper in the car park and had a drinking water tap available too. The perfect place to break up the drive and get my head down for the night. Hopefully I’d feel better in the morning. The plan for the morning would be a 1 hr 40 minute drive to Milngavie, find somewhere to leave the van and then start the West Highland Way. Let’s hope I was just aching from sitting driving all afternoon rather than anything more sinister. 

Day 1: Milngavie to Ptarmagin Lodge.

I didn’t really get any sleep despite the relative comfort of the camper. Camping in a camper van is definitely a luxury, it’s warm, its dry, there’s a real mattress, a real duvet, proper pillows and plenty of room There’s a bedside cabinet, lights with a proper switch and it literally takes 2 minutes to set up – you don’t even have to go outside if you don’t want to! So, it was the wind rocking the van all night long that kept me awake, not any discomfort.

I did at least feel OK in the morning so set off and was soon in Milngavie where I filled up with diesel and parked at the train station. I grabbed my backpack and headed into the town centre and into Costa for a coffee and a croissant before setting off. There were a number of other people in there obviously about to set off on the West Highland Way as well.


As I was leaving a woman on her own said hello and asked how far I was going today. I said the plan was to stop short of Conic Hill and camp somewhere there for the night before walking through the Camping Management Zone tomorrow, but that I didn’t really have a plan as such. She then said she was going all the way to Rowardennan today so she’d probably see me later when she overtakes me…. WHAT?? Why did she have to say that?? That sounded like fighting talk to me. So much for taking it easy, I hadn’t even started and now I was going to have to go at least as far as Rowardennan and make sure I didn’t get overtaken!!! The race was on!!!

Easy Start

I did at least start the day with some easy walking. I set off just before 8am and it was overcast, grey and damp. I had my waterproofs on and didn’t want to get sweaty so I took an easy stroll out of Milngavie and onto the woodland paths. It was quite busy to start with so I chatted to people as I passed them and soon overtook enough people to find some peace and quiet.

I had a timer set on my watch so stopped every hour for a drink. Although the paths were now quiet I still passd the occasional walker and had a quick chat as I did so, including to a couple from Canada who lived just down the road from where Morgan is! After the gravelled paths of the Mugdock Country Park I continued on past Criangallian Loch, onto a road for a short while and then up and over a little hill into more open countryside. The going was easy, the weather was OK and all was good. I then dropped down, across Blane Water and onto a very wet and muddy, and completely flat path that went on for quite a way.

I stopped at Turnip the Beet for a brownie. I passed Glengoyne Distillery and The Beech Tree and I bought a drink from Gartness honesty box. I also had my first views of Loch Lomond in the distance.

Drymen and Conic Hill

I soon made it to the outskirts of Drymen and then headed into the Garadbhan Forest and then out onto the flanks of Conic Hill. I passed a few more people here, mainly those who had started at Drymen as part of Day 2 on their West Highland Way adventure. I got to the area was I had tentatively planned to camp but it was before 1pm, far too early to think about stopping for the day. Besides, thanks to the woman in Costa I may as well now continue on to at least Rowardennan! The trouble with that is that it would take me into the Camping Management Zone so I would have to go a little beyond Rowardennan to get back out of it. I felt good, I’d been walking for about 5 hours and had covered 17 miles so far. I estimated the distance remaining to get out of the CMZ would be about 12 miles so I’d have plenty of time.

Exposed Camping Spot with views of Loch Lomond
Exposed Camping Spot with views of Loch Lomond

It started raining quite heavily as I climbed Conic Hill, the high point for the day. The views from here should be spectacular but I could see nothing at all from the top. Fortunately, there were some views out across Loch Lomond just below the summit once out of the cloud.

View from Conic Hill
View from Conic Hill

The path back down the other side of the hill was very busy. I trotted down this section, not quite running but not walking either.

The Shores of Loch Lomond

I stopped at Oak Tree Inn in Balmaha where I had a jacket potato lunch with haggis, beans and cheese. Service was very quick so I was soon back out into the rain and started walking along Loch Lomond. The trail here was nice, as it hugged the shoreline with lovely views despite the on and off rain.

I passed the various campsite along this stretch but with no permit booked had to keep heading on. I was getting a little tired by the time I reached Rowardennan. The terrain suddenly got a little more challenging too with quite a few ups and downs. I stopped at the Bens’ Bakes Honesty Box and bought a cheese and pickle roll and a banana – that might have to do for dinner later.

Ben's Bakes Honesty Box
Ben’s Bakes Honesty Box


I then forged on to Ptarmagin lodge and the end of the CMZ.

CMZ End at last

I was expecting the first few camping spots to be full of people who had started in Drymen but I was the first to get there. That meant I could stop at the first one I came to. I set my tent up in the rain and then sheltered for a bit to recover.

Camping Spot at end of Day 1

The rain eased slightly so I headed out to wash in the stream and collect some water. I wished I’d bought some crisps as I had a craving for something salty so decided to keep the cheese and pickle roll for tomorrow’s lunch and instead cooked up a Pasta Bolognese dehydrated meal. It then started pouring down for so I sheltered in the tent as mud splashed up the sides. More people started to arrive and set up in nearby camp spots and as night fell I settled in for my first night ont he West Highland Way.

I slept a bit. My feet, legs, back and fingers were a little sore from the days exertions but I would be fine after a nights rest. I’d covered close to 30 miles with a heavy backpack so a little discomfort was to be expected.

The rain stopped overnight but annoyingly started again just before 5am so I thought I’d be packing up in the rain as I get ready for Day 2. I wonder where it would take me – find out in the next installment.

3 Responses

  1. Avatar forComment Author Mum x says:

    Did the lady in Costa overtake you ? X

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Alan Cole

Alan is a Freelance Website Designer, Sports & Exercise Science Lab Technician and full time Dad & husband with far too many hobbies: Triathlete, Swimming, Cycling, Running, MTBing, Surfing, Windsurfing, SUPing, Gardening, Photography.... The list goes on.

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