The euphoria of solo hiking
Updated: Sep 3, 2021
Date: 3rd April, 2021
Location: Drymen to Balloch via Conic Hill, West Highland Way, Scotland
Distance: 12.7 kilometres (7.9 miles)
Elevation gain: 409 metres (1342 feet)
Duration: 3+ hours
Highlights: Forest trails, bushland, small waterfalls, hill walking, magnificent views over Loch Lomond
Summary: A well marked hike perfect for those new to hill walking. The first stretch is fairly flat, winding through highlands and forests. The hike then climbs up Conic Hill, with views of Loch Lomond rewarding you as you ascend. Once reaching the top, it is a straightforward hike downhill to the parking lot, where there is a visitor centre, toilet and the bus stop! You are following the West Highland Way for the whole hike (except for the first kilometre at the beginning), so it is very easy to find your way.
With the “stay at home” restrictions lifted the day before, I pulled out my hiking boots and eagerly got on a train out of Glasgow for my first proper hike since moving to Scotland in September 2020! Glasgow is amazing, but too much time in the city makes me feel a bit claustrophobic, so I was very excited to get a break from it all.
I took the train from Glasgow to Balloch and then a bus to Drymen – the journey was very easy and took roughly an hour and thirty minutes. On the bus I chatted to some fellow hikers, realising how much I had missed talking to random people due to the isolation caused by the pandemic. Waving goodbye to them at Drymen, I got off the bus and started my hike. After walking for around 1 km (0.6 miles) on the road, I turned left into a forest, following the signs for the West Highland Way (an 8-day hike which is my goal to complete before leaving Scotland!).
With the sun shining down and not a cloud in the sky, I was happy to strip down into my t-shirt. Walking roughly 8 km (5 miles) on forest and highland paths with the soundtrack of Spirit playing in my ears, I was in awe at the beauty of Scotland.
Exiting the forest, I got my first glimpse of Conic Hill. It looked a bit intimidating and I couldn’t quite believe I was about to climb up it. After walking a few kilometres through fields, I reached the bridge at the bottom of the hill, put on Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells album, and started my ascent with anticipation.
The scenery changed drastically to one of vast rolling hills. As someone who grew up in the Netherlands – the third flattest country in the world – being surrounded by hills gives me a huge sense of joy and wonderment. The slight burn of walking uphill also created a further sense of adventure as I hiked further up. I was on a mission.
As I continued to climb up Conic Hill, I slowly got a view of Loch Lomond, the loch I had visited with my friends just the day before. Seeing it from over 300 metres up was awe-striking! Deciding to enjoy the view and take a break, I ate my homemade lentil soup while looking out over the loch. Indescribable feelings washed over me. A mix of euphoria, contentment and astonishment.
After eating, I started my descent. Walking down Conic Hill was much busier. On the previous part of the hike, I had seen the occasional hikers and mountain bikers, always exchanging warm hellos as we passed. The final two kilometres, however, appeared to be very popular, and I found myself surrounded by lots of people. One thing I noticed (as I was pacing down the hill in order to catch the bus which only comes every hour and a half!), was that I didn’t see anybody else hiking alone. Then I realised...I hadn’t seen anyone alone on my whole hike!
This got me thinking: why is doing things alone so abnormal? I do enjoy hiking with others, don’t get me wrong, but there is just something extra special about doing it alone. Being surrounded in nature all by yourself, and not seeing anybody for an hour, there’s something magical about it. Maybe it’s because of how chatty I am, but somehow when I’m alone I appreciate the nature around me so much more. I was literally tearing up with happiness as I trekked! As somebody who would call themselves an extrovert, it’s interesting to realise that sometimes I am my happiest when I’m alone. I just question why this isn’t more common? Why isn’t it normal to see people on adventures alone?
My hike came to an end and I popped open a cider, rested my back against a tree and waited for the bus. Funny, the same people I had met on the bus earlier were on my bus on the way back! It’s a small world. After returning to Glasgow, I wanted to make the most of the amazing weather (and was still having a rush from my experience), so I decided to go sit by the River Kelvin (which is only a five-minute walk from my flat). A friend joined me and after enjoying the river for a bit, we walked to go watch our favourite rock/funk band playing in Kelvingrove Park. For those in Glasgow – they currently play on most sunny days on Kelvin Way, you don't want to miss them (or miss watching me and my friends swing dancing to them)! Scotland really does impress!
After being in lockdown for months, doing something so liberating and in such a beautiful location was an experience I will take with me. The emotions I felt whilst trekking through the wilderness were indescribable. Knowing that this will be right in my backyard for the next two years fills me with excitement and anticipation for the future!
Getting to Drymen: Train from Glasgow to Balloch (45 mins), then Bus 309 from Balloch to Drymen (15 mins)
Getting back: Buses run from the parking lot at the bottom of Conic Hill to Balloch (30 mins)
Detailed walk description: https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/lochlomond/drymen-rowardennan.shtml