It had actually been quite good fun to begin with: walking in the country, for once decidedly oblivious to whatever might be swimming beneath our feet — be it water, mud or faeces. There was an uncanny novelty in it, and I for one fell just short of jumping in every puddle we passed.
Heavy rain from the day before — which had dogged Paul, Nathanael and I all the way from Glasgow Queen Street to the small satellite town of Bothwell — had left the ground water-logged and loose beneath our feet. It was now comparatively dry overhead, however, and we’d left our lodgings outside Strathclyde Country Park in relatively high spirits. Our clothes had for the most part dried overnight, and we’d ate a hearty breakfast before setting off on the second stage of our journey.
Aside from fleeting views of the athlete’s village (nearing completion ahead of the summer’s Commonwealth Games), the unimaginatively named Green Bridge (which proved utterly unworthy of capitalisation) and the ruined battlements of Bothwell Castle (a 13th Century edifice that had been abandoned since the 1700s), the first part of the journey had been rather unremarkable — with certain stretches through Glasgow’s east end occasionally verging on unsightly. There had been a mad scramble to the top of a muddy slope across the Clyde from Uddington, but otherwise the day had passed without incident.
Happily, we were now ambling through picturesque country parks and pristine nature reserves, past man-made lakes and Scotland’s only “theme park” (as M&D’s would have it, anyway), finally giving us reason to look up from the path and appreciate the views. The M74 rumbled incoherently in the distance, but otherwise the park proved peaceful and pleasant. As we passed a bird hide looking out onto Strathclyde Loch there was even cause to stop and take photographs. We marched on, posing and comparing plots for low-budget British thrillers as we went. Jaime Winstone’s ears must have been burning.
The day before we’d unfortunately had to stop short of our destination and summon a taxi to take us from Bothwell to our hotel; we’d been running late and risked walking the final few miles not just in the rain, but in the dark too. Besides, we had evening commitments back in Glasgow (Paul was hosting a pub quiz, which Nathanael and I were determined to win), meaning that we were forced to choose between another hour’s toil or eating dinner before our train back into the city. Determined to see the second day through we didn’t wish to delay, and risked the quicker summer path along the side of the River Clyde in order to cut out quite a lengthy diversion.
For a time we reaped the rewards of our obviously terrific idea, as we walked through Baron Hough Nature Reserve, past Cambusnethan Cemetary and almost cross-country along the weather-beaten banks of the Clyde itself towards Lower Charbarns Farm. But then disaster struck, and we hit a stretch of mud so thick and viscous as to be almost impassable. Already bothered by blisters, Paul had worn trainers in the hope of giving his feet a rest, but now found himself working harder than anyone to keep his shoes on his feet. A veritable quagmire, it slowed our otherwise productive pace to a crawl, and proved almost as tiring as it did time-consuming.
Conditions didn’t exactly improve, and though there were brief stretches along road or across wooden walkways, the terrain bore a closer resemblance to liquid than to solid ground. Every time we dared to hope that we had left the worst of it behind us, we were almost immediately proved wrong. Dirty, demoralised and almost completely depleted, we stopped for lunch at Garrion Bridge Garden and Antiques Centre — jostling for space in its busy canteen and marveling briefly at its sub-Rejects attractions. As we self-consciously shed muck all over the centre’s clean floor, we considered our options; we were behind schedule once more, and were unlikely to make it to Lanark in time for our train home.
We continued along Route 75 as far as Crossford, pausing to read each information post (once we’d worked out how to operate them) and guess the identity of the latest roadkill (badger, was our best guess), and though the next section of the journey was billed as the most attractive we decided to leave it there and instead follow the road to Carluke, from which we could also catch a train back to Glasgow. This, like our previous short-cut, also proved unwise, however, and for the next hour we fought our way up one of the steepest and most dangerous roads imaginable, finally giving up and calling for a taxi from the first shop we had passed for miles. It was closed.
Like our (considerably more successful) attempt to walk from Dundee to St Andrews the month before, Glasgow-Lanark showed us that walking the West Highland Way wasn’t always going to be easy. It was also our first taste of walking in bad weather, and opened our eyes to the harsh realities of walking in rain and through mud. April will be a different month and an entirely new season, however, and we took some solace in the knowledge that we would likely be walking in better weather and during longer days.
What’s more, it was also our first experience of walking for more than one day as a group, and whenever the rain abated or we hit a stretch of dry land the experience could almost be described as enjoyable. What’s more, once we had arrived at our hotel, had showered and sat down to a Toby Carvery together, the thought of doing exactly the same for five nights in a row was almost attractive enough to compensate for the slog we would eventually face the next day. Throw in the occasional hot tub — as the Way will indeed do — and there suddenly isn’t enough mud in the world to hold me back.
We still have work to do, clearly, but luckily we also still have time to do it in. Should you wish to, you can sponsor us (and donate to Cancer Research UK) here.