Their story, in their words….
We initially heard about the foundation and what it could do for young people during a school assembly in the early summer of 2018. Almost immediately afterwards, Luis, Oliver and I began discussing the possibility of long distance walks. Due to our joint interest in Scotland, these ideas boiled down to walking either Hadrian’s Wall or The West Highland Way. Looking for a significant challenge we all concluded the longer of the two, the 96 mile West Highland Way, would provide the greater test and so we soon set about organising the transport, equipment and insurance. Before we knew it, we were leaving on the 27th of July to board an overnight coach ride to Glasgow to start our expedition.
It ought to be noted that both Luis and myself had extensively camped in the few weeks prior to the expedition finding ourselves in both the Peak District for practice before heading off to the Breacon Beacons in Wales for the qualifying expedition within our Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award. This, in addition to Oliver’s history of climbing mountains such as Snowdon, raised our spirits high as we got off the train from Glasgow to Milngavie to begin the walk passing the official start of the West Highland Way marked by an impressive obelisk in the town square.
However, it soon began to dawn upon us just how much of a challenge this walk would be which, when combined with a severe lack of sleep and an onset of homesickness, created a sombre tone for the first night. We had always planned to wild camp on each of the 8 nights, finding hidden places here and there to throw down our gear and set up camp, something none of us had really experienced before. What sounded like fantasy and excitement in the planning stages soon came to reality as we often found ourselves on unlevelled ground which made sleeping interesting to say the least. I think I speak for all of us when I say that the first night was undoubtedly the worst.
The second day was the turning point for group morale and the start of the beautiful scenery of Loch Lomond which had up, until that point, evaded us behind hills and woodland. This sudden realisation of what the walk had in store for us greatly boosted the team’s attitudes as we begun to talk more and learn about the history as I read from a guidebook. We began to walk alongside the loch with the clear weather creating a picturesque view as we met and talked to other walkers. That night, we decided to book the only campsite during our challenge in an attempt to thoroughly rest and plan ahead for the next few days.
The next couple of days saw us walking along the loch’s edge and eventually leaving the loch entirely being met with new sceneries of meadows and livestock. It was during these days that we wild camped next to the loch and skimmed stones in the evening – these were the moments that, when combined with the new and exciting change in scenery, made us glad that we accepted the opportunity that the foundation provided.
With growing concerns over Oliver’s ankle which had begun to cause him severe pain, we decided as a group that the best course of action would be to aim to reach the Bridge of Orchy, a point that marks the last place which walkers can get a train which we agreed would be a satisfying conclusion to the walk given the circumstances (other than the ankle, we were all beginning to feel the results of wild camping in, most often cases, rainy weather in rough terrain).
Despite the sudden change in plan, we were all optimistic and energetic knowing that a more definite and ideal goal was within sight. The bridge itself also marked the 60 mile point since the start in Milngavie, a length which we were all proud to have achieved.
And so, on the 2nd, we arrived at the bridge of Orchy and decided to camp a little up the river before catching a scenic train ride to Fort William. Fort William served as an introduction back into civilisation after the long week of no contact with the outside world (spare the odd walker and the occasional cow).
On the 5th of August, we took a bus ride from Fort William to Glasgow before boarding an overnight coach back to London. Despite not finishing the entirety of the walk we had initially embarked upon little over a week before, we were all proud of the progress we made as a group and as individuals.
With all of this behind us, I think that my feelings about this journey can ultimately be best summarised by an encounter we had with the kind couple who operated the small train station at the Bridge of Orchy – after telling them of our regret of not completing the entire walk, the man reassured us by saying the walk “will be always be here”. It was a comment, which despite being minor, reminded me of a quote by Tim Cahill I read in the guidebook: ‘A journey is best measured in friends, not in miles.’
Finally, we all owe a great thanks to the Mark Evison Foundation for allowing us to have this opportunity to prove our capabilities to ourselves and to grow as individuals while increasing optimism towards future projects as we take the lessons we’ve learnt forward. We thoroughly recommend others take up this opportunity – It has been a truly unique experience.