After lunch at the bottom of Conic Hill, we set off along the shore of Loch Lomond. We were feeling pretty good about ourselves and expecting an easy walk along the lake to our destination for the day: the Rowardennan Hotel.

And the first part of the afternoon was, in fact, easy walking. The trail hugged the lakeshore and even wandered directly onto the beach in places.

Feet by Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond is the largest lake in Great Britain at 27.5 square miles. In contrast, Lake Tahoe is 191 square miles, and Lake Superior is 31,700. The reference points are just so very different in the UK – for size, age, and so much else. Loch Lomond is a long, narrow lake: just 5 miles across at its widest point and about 23 miles long. We walked most of that length in about a day and a half.

The West Highland Way goes up the less-developed, Eastern shore, with the highway and most of the towns across the lake on the Western shore. So it doesn’t get a lot of through traffic, but it is a popular area for both water and land recreational activities. This was probably the busiest part of the whole West Highland Way as we mingled with beach-goers and day hikers and vacationers.

A very narrow lake

The area is also part of Scotland’s first national park, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, which opened in 2002. In fact, Scotland currently only has 2 national parks; the second one is Cairngorms National Park, and it opened in 2003. Scottish national parks are significantly different than those in the US. While the park is a designated area, the land within it is not all owned by the government. And it’s not all “wilderness” either, as just about all of the land in Great Britain has been tamed and altered at some point in the past.

Later in the afternoon, the trail started to get rougher, with boulders to edge around, tree roots to step over, and stones to either avoid or turn into steps. It was no longer the smooth, wide trail we’d started off with the day before. We kept on walking though the going was slower, and by 3 pm, we figured we must be almost to the Rowardennan Hotel. Must be.

Loch Lomond

Then we met The Man With the Giant Feather In His Cap, and he told us that not only were we not going to see our hotel any time now around the next curve, but that there were still 3 hilly stretches left to conquer before we got there! The ease of the first day and a half had lulled into a false sense of ease, but it was quickly dashed that afternoon.

The Man With the Giant Feather In His Cap was Scottish and a local and regaled us for 20 minutes with his stories of his many walks along this part of the West Highland Way and the many unprepared tourists he’d met along the way. Yikes!

Now sufficiently worried about how many miles we had left and how long they would take us, we picked up our effort and our feet and tried to put on a little more speed. But as the The Man had foreshadowed, the trail got hilly as it occasionally veered away from the lakeshore. Looking at our guidebook later that night, we had to agree with its assessment of the final stretch as a “tiring, undulating path.” We might add to that description, “mean for the end of the day.”

Hello shaggy cows

But we did eventually make it to the Rowardennan Hotel, and we felt ourselves vindicated when the person checking us in at the front desk told us we were some of the first walkers to check in that afternoon.

The Rowardennan Hotel is pretty isolated and near the end of the road on the Eastern side of the Lake, but fortunately, it had a great pub with a wood-burning stove to keep it warm and a beautiful view of the Loch from the back patio.

Loch Lomond from the back patio of Rowardennan Hotel