I suddenly had the overwhelming instinct to email a drama professor who taught me at university from 2013-2016 when I’d studied English and Drama in London. I had been meaning to reach out to her since I graduated, but for some unfathomable reason I had never got round to it. The years slipped by and like a blade of grass plucked completely at random, it was that day more than any other that I was finally ready to re-open that line of communication.
When I google searched her name in the hope of finding her email, I found that she passed away seven months ago. She could’ve only been in her early 40s. I started writing this piece because I had no other place to put my words.
I wasn’t really set on what I was going to tell her, but it was something along the lines of a sincere thank you. She had marked my dissertation in my final year (titled ‘David Bowie and the Artistry of Sexuality’) and during that time she had shown me such unwavering care and support. She opened my eyes to not only what a teacher was and could be, but how a person could wake every day with a purpose and make a dent in it. And she taught me that almost overnight.
I wanted to tell her I was so grateful for that. I wanted to tell her how much I admired her – a queer woman and scholar who wrote about LGBT representation and voices in the field of Shakespeare, as well as in wider theatre and performance. She held such an important and respected presence in that space, and yet she still gave so much energy and time to students like me. Students who couldn’t get their brain to work, who constantly toed the line between not turning up or not actively tuning in. Students who were just floating on, out of the loop, forever playing catching up.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I can recognise it fully now: University chipped away at me and reframed the way I think. It reversed all that I thought I knew and made me reconsider everything – from the way I structured the sentences I speak, to the way I sit in a room, to the attention I give to concepts I don’t understand. It was a series of evaluating me and what I considered important, as much as it was an evaluation of the books I read. It was professors, like her, that taught me far more than what is on the page. If I went back to university now, there isn’t many things I would do differently, but I wished I could’ve told my professor what I now know, reflect on the years in between and tell her that she made me kinder, better, more empathetic, hopelessly and perilously open.
This situation got me thinking about the unique relationship between professors (as well as teachers or mentors) and students. It is a dynamic like no other we have in our lives. It is formalised and professional, and subsequently it feels strangely undeserving to grieve the loss of them. It is different to how we might grieve our family or friends, though there are definite crossovers. And it is different because, in many ways, we don’t really know who our professors are, or know any real details of their personal lives. But, in so many ways, we are exposed to much more in them – we share something far more important.
At the core of English and Drama studies is examining how we think and feel – how those emotional states relate to the world around us, how it ties into the societal, historical, physical context of that world. Stripped down, literature and performance is an attempt to translate and understand human behaviours, relationships, why we exist at all. Naturally, this meant that the conversations I had with my professors, especially during university, were never surface level. With every seminar or lecture we unwrapped subjects that I would rarely approach with other people in my life. It was like we skipped the mundane small talk and immediately dove into examining our beliefs as they curiously questioned why you thought them.
This can be a very intimate thing, because it is confronting. And I felt the same way when I read through the tributes of my professor, with my heavy too little-too late heart. Isn’t it strange? I kept saying over and over to myself. For a small, intense raindrop of time in your life, you delve deeply into these subjects with professors and suddenly you graduate and leave them behind in the lecture hall as you step out and go on to someplace else. In the first couple of years after graduation, everything was busy and heady and exciting – my mind was set on change and I hardly thought about my professor at all. I would be reminded of her sporadically, and distantly think, as if I was in a sleep-state, ‘I need to email her and tell her what I’m doing’.
Well, we know how that turned out.
The truth is I don’t remember what my professor said to me now, on the day that marks almost five years since I left university. It’s her smile I remember the most – quietly kind, matched with eyes that shone with compassion. Her impact on me was colossal and permanent, even though our dynamic was constructed to be temporary and fleeting. It was always meant to be this way. Isn’t it strange?
I missed out on paying tribute to her, and I missed out on sending her an email to say thank you. There is a void in me that I can’t ever fill because of that, and I’m sure my professor would have something interesting to say about it. The only option I was left with was to write this academic-ish essay on it – the type of essays of mine she used to read – and one which I imagine she would read with humbled joy, if she could.
Thank you, Dr. Catherine Silverstone. Thank you so much.
Looking back on our West Highland Way adventure, day three came all too quickly. It surprised me how fast we became used to our morning routine, of squeezing the air out of our sleeping pads (the saddest sound ever), packing up the tent, folding all the corners the same way, tying our boots using the stump of a nearby tree. If we weren’t already, we felt like true wilderness women more than ever, who didn’t miss the beeps of our phones at all. In fact, it honestly felt a hassle to look at our phone screens. Although I always took great pride in texting my mum about how far we’d walked that day. That’s what a hike like the WHW does to you – it declutters your days and makes you stop and re-evaluate.
On day three, we woke up about 7:00 AM. We knew we could afford to sleep in for a bit that morning as we had walked two miles north of Rowardennan the previous night, in order that we could camp legally north of the permit zone. Surrounded by fern bushes with midgies, it wasn’t the prettiest of camp spots, but it had flat ground and gave us a good night’s sleep. We packed up and took a leisurely stroll to the lochside beach about 100 yards downhill on the path, where we boiled coffee and porridge and watched the rain make gentle droplets on the loch. Eventually, a few people we passed the day before walked by with their packs and waved at us with fresh hotel faces, and we knew we’d better get a move on – we had 14 miles to hike. By about 8:45 AM, we’d set off, excited for another day on the trail.
Off to a clambering start – Rowardennan to Inversnaid
The path from our camp spot, north of Rowardennan, almost immediately became twisty and turny and snaking uphill. We were toeing the path right on the edge of the loch, next to the rocky cliffside, brushing up against splattering waterfalls. There were many wooden bridges we had to walk across, some of which had fallen away in places, and the path required careful footing. When the bridge stopped, we had to clamber over rocks and duck under low tree branches, all the while glimpsing a never-ending Loch Lomond that stretched out to our left, with views of some distinctive Scottish mountains like the Cobbler.
We went into this day as we went into the rest of the days on the West Highland Way (except maybe day one), with no idea of what to expect. When other hikers around us had read about what was to come in guide books that they carried with them, we stepped blindly into the trail, with every corner, every hill, every bonnie view a fantastic surprise. Though I had read a couple of travel journals of the hike beforehand, I couldn’t remember any specific details about the route, and it all felt different when you were there, doing it yourself. Even with the beauty of hindsight we have no regrets about making this choice – we were well prepared for the terrain, the several hills it entailed, the long days of walking, and we had all the right gear we needed. Asides from that we didn’t need to know the specifics of what we were getting into, especially on a hiking day such as this. The Rowardennan to Inverarnan section was by far the hardest of the entire West Highland Way, and even experienced hikers agree on this. I think, sometimes, doing too much research on hikes can mentally hinder you, rather than help you, but that all depends on who you are as a person and as a hiker.
As the path continued to hug the rocky cliffs, we kept emerging out onto lochside beaches where people would shake off their packs and take a rest. We did this a couple of times, stopping to munch on snacks as we dipped our feet in the water. Throughout that morning we made good progress, crossing more bridges above trickling burns, and before long the path widened up. The tall pine trees greeted us shyly at first, then all of a sudden the landscape changed to a deeper green forest. This is when we stumbled upon Rowchoish Bothy which sat nestled into the trees to the left of the path. We had toyed with the idea of staying there, as we knew that is what our favourite YouTube hiker Athena Mellor had done, and we had long wanted to stay in a bothy. We didn’t venture inside but it felt great to put a face to the bothy we had heard about; I’m sure we will return one day to put our feet up by the fire.
After Rowchoish bothy the path came to a junction and we turned left. Shortly after we passed a gorgeous waterfall, with water spurting out from quite a height. It felt like the setting of a fantasy novel around this foresty area to the east of Loch Lomond. It had such a mystical and magicial aura about it that I was expecting to see fairies fluttering about a mushroom stump and tiny gnomes scattered about. Or maybe this was my hiker mind starting to imagine things. We stopped at the waterfall for a few minutes to fill our nalgene bottle with fresh water (using purifying tablets of course).
Gear tip: For people who are preparing to walk the WHW, I would definitely recommend you to bring water purifying tablets – they saved us several times when we were thirsty and feeling the heat, with no water tap for miles. And, honestly, as long as you get it from the highest possible water source you can reach – fresh natural water in Scotland is better than anywhere in my opinion, although I’m bias. 🙂
Deep in the Scottish bush
The trail onwards in this section began to have the look and feel of the Rainforest, especially as the day became hot and sweaty with sporadic rain showers. Thick bushes surrounded us either side of the path, which we had to frequently push through with our arms outstretched in front of us. They were so bushy and leafy that I couldn’t see Jillianne in front of me, and I couldn’t help but keep glancing nervously at the ground for snakes – my biggest phobia. It really seemed like the perfect habitat for the slithery fuckers.
This jungle-like landscape is bizarre to describe, and far more messy and stuffy than pretty. As we climbed higher and the sun beat down on our backs, it was easy to forget that we were in Scotland, until glistening Loch Lomond swept into view. If I haven’t already mentioned this, we probably had the most beautiful weather I’ve ever experienced in Scotland in a single week and we were so grateful for it.
The long and winding road (that leads to Inversnaid)
The thick bushes reappeared intermittently along this section of the path, as we weaved through the big old trees. The path eventually morphed into a large ancient oakland, Craigrostan Woods, where the tight undulating path of clambering up and down continued. We hardly stopped at all in this bit – we found that if you stopped even for a minute the midgies would find you and swarm. This is why we don’t have many pictures in this section! A guy from Glasgow we met realised this to his peril, and frantically put on his head net as he tried to eat his apple. The path felt like it went on and on, but it was never one you could describe as boring – it made your body move and twist a whole lot, which kept things interesting and it was pretty well maintained. We passed a young friendly guy on a bike and asked him how far we were from Inversnaid to which he replied, with that knowing grin, “you’re not far!”
After fifteen minutes, we were cursing the poor lad for fibbing to us (classic). It certainly felt really far, as it always does when your muscles are aching and your mental state is crumbling. But, sure enough, Inversnaid Hotel eventually came into sight and we were happy as larry that we could rest and eat at long last. It was around 1 PM and we’d been walking for 4 hours. We were a bit crestfallen when we saw a bunch of steep wooden stairs (not more?!) that we had to climb to reach the foot of the bridge, but we crossed it in no time and could finally admire the Inversnaid falls in all their lunch-time glory at a picnic table just outside the hotel.
Food tip: The Inversnaid Hotel is a popular option for lunch, but it was closed due to the pandemic. This affected a few campers, but none more so than Niko, a hiker from Poland, who we chatted to later that evening at Beinglas. He had skipped breakfast at Rowardennan, thinking he would eat a big lunch at the hotel. When he saw it was hsut, he had no option but to keep walking, desperately hungry and low on energy. A guy he met along the way, Stuart, had given him his half-eaten chocolate bar, but learn from Niko – check your lunch spot is OPEN before leaving, and if it isn’t, get another food option pronto.
The second half: Inversnaid to Inverarnan
After fuelling up on hot food we cooked using our MSR (Jillianne had noodles, I had pasta n’sauce spicy arabiatta) we were feeling ready as we ever would for the next 7 miles to Beinglas Farm. During our break, our trail friends Cat and Ben told us that the author of their guide book described the next part as “tortorous”. It was difficult to imagine what a tortorous hike could be like without imagining something slippery and steep, but I figured it would be similar to the Rowardennan to Inversnaid section. This warning didn’t dampen our spirits, though, and we set off onto the WHW path, entering Inversnaid Nature Reserve, laughing about an inside joke on the subject of tent poles.
About 15 minutes into the second half of the walk on the jagged cliff of Loch Lomond, it started to dawn on us why it was “tortorous”. The path became increasingly rocky, and we essentially began to rock climb over huge boulders in the middle of the path that had fallen from the cliffs above. We don’t have many pictures due rocks lying everywhere, big and small, and careful footing was needed to clamber over them. We were constantly going up and down as the path zig-zagged slowly through the trees, making us work hard to gain even a few metres of ground. About an hour or so into this section we passed Rob Roy’s Cave, which unfortunately we didn’t stop to investigate, but will return to explore one day.
On rocky terrain like this, it is difficult to walk at any real speed. The constant climbing over rocks as we weaved along the lochside acted as a barrier for momentum, and it seemed to go on for hours (I mean, it literally did). At times I watched my feet so carefully that I didn’t take in the gorgeous views of the loch; if I did this part again, I would tell myself to look up more. Be more at confident with the rocks and to take more pictures! We were so determined to tackle this section and conserve as much energy as possible that we neglected our camera a wee bit.
The end of the rocks AT LAST
There were more wooden bridges on this section, more waterfalls and a memorable stack of steep stairs that hit hard on the legs. We stopped a few times along the loch to gauge on snacks, put our feet in the water and allow Jillianne to reapply KT tape on her ankle. After what felt, in all honestly like FOREVER, we eventually came to the end of the rocky cliffs of the lochside and into green woodland which punished us uphill for a while. I vividly remember the sun spilling between the oak trees as we hiked, these huge rocks giving way to tall grass and endless fields. It was a great feeling.
By this point, it would’ve been around 4:45 PM, and it felt like the end of the walk was approaching. People were tired, were looking forward to a hearty meal and a drink, and a sense of winding down was in the atmosphere. But, in hindsight, this was a red herring. We weren’t all close to the end, really. We spoke to two French guys about the tough day’s hike and where we were headed to. They told us they hadn’t booked anywhere in advance and so were planning to get the ferry across to Ardlui. Ardlui was still a couple miles away and the path kept going on and on.
We passed Doune byre bothy, which was closed, and the path dropped lazily back down to the loch and we caught our first glimpse of the ferry to Ardlui as we stood across the water at Ardleish. I won’t ever forget the view. It was that type of bright afternoon where the sun was making the waves flicker and sparkle. We could see the colourful huts and boats and happy sounds coming from Ardlui. I’d never seen Loch Lomond look more perfect. We’d gotten used to walking beside it for the past two days, so when the path rose unsympathetically up into the trees and we looked down from the top of the hill, we could see the French boys sat waiting at the dock for the ferry and I felt a heavy sadness come over me. It was goodbye for now, Loch Lomond. Tomorrow the landscape will be different.
The lowest point so far, and one of the highest
By this point my energy was low, my muscles were done and it was an effort to keep putting one foot in front of the other. This probably seems quite dramatic, but I was mentally and physically exhausted – we both were. Nearing the end of a hiking day like this, you can’t bear to stop. You realise how much everything hurts. So we kept going, in silence, because we were too tired to speak. Jillianne led the way and pushed us on, and she was brilliant. She always is in situations like this.
Two older men passed us in their 40s, and I remember asking them bluntly “how far is Inverarnan?” the younger of the two told us it was only a couple of miles. I could tell they were sympathic to how we were feeling, I can only imagine how miserable or pained I must have looked! They told us they had come from Sallochy Campsite and decided to get their bags carried – Sallochy, where we were meant to have stayed, which was an extremely long walk and were immediately relieved that we hadn’t done it. They headed past us, with a cheery “we’ll see you back at the campsite!” as they were staying at Beinglas Farm too. We ended up chatting to these two for the remainder of our trip, and they were so nice, though we only got one of them’s name – Ray.
The next two miles were perhaps the longest I’ve walked in my life. I am not ashamed to admit I was close to crying. Everything hurt and it was a real low point. But, as always with these things, this hiking day made the others easy in comparison. And every walk we’ve been on since we finished the West Highland Way, including climbing our second munro, Ben Hope, have still not been anywhere near as painful or as challenging as this section of the WHW. When we saw the sign for Beinglas Farm at the end of the route we were both overwhelmed with relief. It felt even better to know that for that evening, for the first time on our hike, we wouldn’t have to put up our tent. All we had to do was hobble to check in and collapse in our very own wig-wam.
Route-planning tip: This hiking day was the topic of a lot of convos amongst hikers during our trip. We spoke to one young female hiker, about the same age as us, who had walked from Balmaha to Inverarnan in one day. She told us the map had said it was just over 20 miles, but according to her steps she had done nearly 25 miles. She cried for the last 3 miles, and would never attempt it again. We saw her walk into the Bar later as we were tucking into our dinner, she got a pint of water and then left to pitch her tent in the dark. DON’T ATTEMPT THIS ROUTE IN ONE DAY.
A night to remember at Beinglas Farm
Even though we were utterly exhausted, that evening at Beinglas Farm was full of atmosphere and amazing memories. We ate hearty food (mac and cheese, it was so good), drank beer and chatted animatedly to the hikers around us, all of whom were from different parts of the UK and Europe. It felt amazing to be there, in this wooden hub with eccentric decorations on the walls and delicious smells wafting through the air, and we were all so proud of getting this far. The waitress kept telling us, “that’s the hardest part done girls”, and Ray gave me a warm wink at the bar and said, “you made it!”
Needlessly to say, Jillianne and I slept well that evening, in the warm shelter of our little wig-wam.
I will link to day 4, Inverarnan to Tyndrum once it’s up.
We woke up early on our first morning on the West Highland Way. Maybe 6 AM. Due to the period of dogs sniffing our tent the night before (bit creepy) and the slight incline in the ground we woke up halfway down our tent with our feet pushing the wall. Despite this, I felt rearing to go with a jolly spring in my step, fuelled by conquering our first day and inching ever closer to the 20 mile mark. We couldn’t believe we nearly had 20 miles under our belts already, I can only describe that realisation as a moment of deep, ripe contentment.
The morning was dreich and looked like it was constantly holding in the rain. At any moment, it could spill over and shower heavily down on us. There was a flecky, misty grey sky above and the mystic still water of Loch Lomond ahead. We kept looking at it dreamily as we packed. We recognised it as the same as the view as the one atop Conic Hill, with all the green land scattered throughout the water, so we knew that we’d be tackling Conic Hill with fresh legs in a mile or two – as we had planned.
Just before we set off for the day a trail runner ran passed us, a woman, who cheerily told us through her panting that the rain was being held at bay. I thought it was incredible that she got up that morning to go for a damp run, with basically nothing but a water bladder strapped to her back. She wished us good luck for our walk and ran off into the misty sunrise, and I wondered where her run would stop that day. What every day heroes we meet.
We began our walk chattering lowly with sleepy smiles. Jillianne was struggling to get going that morning and we stopped a few times to take jackets on and off, to eat snacks, to stretch. We had discovered, by that point, that her backpack was low-key shit so lots of forehead kisses were needed. As we stretched, a couple we had passed further back overtook us and we were surprised to see the guy who grinned our way had a ciggy in his hand. Smoking and hiking at 7AM. Mentaaaal.
A stand-off with a bunch of cows
Just before we ascended the start of Conic Hill we had a scary interaction with four cows on the path. They were standing in the middle of the path and not moving, just staring at us and mooing, a few feet from us. One of them even edged closer to us. They looked quite young, and their parents were standing a bit further away. Ever since Jillianne told me the story of her brother Callan getting chased by cows, and that film with Gemma Arterton where a random farmer gets trampled, I am terrified of them. They can be so unpredictable and the sheer size of them is enough to cause a lot of damage. Jillianne told me to put my head down and stop making eye contact, to show that we didn’t want to threaten them. We walked on thankfully unscathed, but out of fear I didn’t look up from the ground until we were at least 100 metres on, just in case they had followed us. This is the most scared I felt on the WHW and I honestly would NEVER want to be back on that cow-filled path again.
Climbing Conic Hill and a Glasgwegian descent
We’d climbed Conic Hill in our training for the West Highland Way, so we knew it was short but strenuous climb to the top. However, the West Highland Way tackles it from the other side, so at the end of the hill we arrive in Balmaha. Strangely, climbing it this way round felt a lot easier and more of a gradual ascent, and in no time we reached the top of Conic Hill and started the descent. We were immediately bombarded with a lot of families and groups of friends walking, most of whom had commuted from Glasgow. After being so alone on our walk so far it felt like a shock to be around loud walkers in such a high volumes. Although, I remember the wholesome interactions with people too – my favourite being chatting to a woman in her 20s who was panting and struggling to get to the top, and we told her to keep going, she was literally nearly there. We never knew if she did make it to the top, but I have a good feeling that she did and she was proud of herself.
Due to the amount of walkers on the path that morning, and given it was around 10 AM and perfect family-hiking time, the descent took a lot longer than the ascent. When we eventually made it to Balmaha, we promptly dropped our gear and collapsed on a wooden picnic table just past the car park. Jillianne nipped to the shop and brought us back cold cans of Diet Coke and Irn Bru and two coffees and we examined the map as we sipped. Ah, coffee! It tasted so good. We had planned to cook lunch here on our MSR but it felt way too exposed, so we settled for gobbling granola bars and chocolate for some sugar-energy.
A change of sleeping plans
We were intending to camp at Sallochy campsite that evening, but we realised that if we camped there we would have a huge 20 mile hike the following day to get to Beinglas Farm, where we had booked a wigwam (in hindsight, and having experienced what that day 3 hike was like I am so, so, SO glad we didn’t stay at Sallochy – more on that later.) It would be unpleasant to push ourselves that much, and we didn’t need to either. Our main focus of the WHW was to have mad amounts of fun and enjoy the views and love the experience as a whole. So we decided our end destination that day would be to wild camp past Rowardennan, north of the camping permit zone, where wild camping was legal.
We stopped for about an hour in Balmaha and then hiked on, walking along a road before the path disappeared into the trees off to the right and quickly ascended higher and higher. When we reached the rocky top there was a sunny view of Loch Lomond peeking through the tree tops. The sun was beating down strongly that day and for the first of many times on our WHW trip we hiked in t-shirts. This is a beautiful rarity in Scotland and an opportunity we always snap up with both hands. In the first two miles after Balmaha, and before Arrochbeg, the path was gorgeous. It winded through trees which often opened up so we glimpsed some stunning loch-side beaches, where we stopped for a few minutes to take photographs of ducks.
The thirst is REAL
One important and essential thing was a real struggle that day – our lack of water. We hadn’t been able to fill up overnight, and there was no water taps in Balmaha that we could find. Due to the pandemic, shops weren’t filling up hiker’s water bottles either. So, we had to ration the little we had left in my Nalgene and Jillianne’s water bladder from the day before until we could fill up again. This obviously wasn’t ideal and if we had planned ahead better we would’ve bought water from the shop in Balmaha instead of fizzy drinks and coffee. But, in our defence, hikers suffer with intense cravings for fizzy drinks on the trail, it’s one of the best tasting things after hours of hiking.
Our Harvie map said there was a water tap in Arrochybeg campsite, but when we got there it had been taped up and out of use because of COVID. By the time we got to Cashell Farm on mile 22.5 I was so thirsty I couldn’t walk any more. I sunk to the ground and lay there for a few minutes, defeated. Having no option but to keep going, it was Jillianne’s turn to pull me up and push us forward. We walked off the path into this Cashell Farm building where we tried to chance our luck with a water tap, but there was none. Desperate, we walked a little on past Cashell Farm and spotted a potential lunch spot a short scramble down some rocks, where we could reach the loch, cook hot food and most crucially fill up our bottles with water using purifer tablets. Loch Lomond had shown up and saved us!
Peanut butter noodles baby
The lunch break was heavenly. Those first sips of fresh loch water (after waiting 30 mins for the tablets to set in) tasted life-affirming. We set up our MSR in a wee cave by some rocks to avoid the wind and cooked our favourite packets of noodles. Jillianne ate first, and then I cooked mine, vigorously mixing a peanut butter sachet into my noodles once they were cooked. I love peanut butter, and I’d learnt this trick from Jillianne’s brother, Michael, when we first moved to Glasgow. We were staying at their flat one evening, and he’d come in and set a bowl of noodles swamped in peanut butter sauce on my lap. The start of a lovely friendship.
With every stop we made along Loch Lomond, we made an effort to strip off our hiking boots and socks and cool our feet in the loch. We’d read that airing your feet out often was the best way to avoid blisters or any shooting pains while hiking, and we abided by this rule religiously and it treated us well in return. Neither of us had any sign of foot problems yet. We stopped for lunch for maybe 30-40 minutes, then clambered back up the rocks, heaving our packs from boulder to boulder. Back on the trail again.
Our trail friends, yay
It was during this morning and lunch on the trail that we begun to bump into people we would see most days of our hike. Cat and Ben were two of them, a couple from down south who seemed to be as self-depreciating about their hiking ability as we were. These interactions never lasted too long, a knowing wave, grin and “isn’t this fucking painful” usually sufficed. After Cashell the path went on and off the road for a bit, until it meandered off to the left and up through thick forestry, which became apparent to be Rowardennan Forest. By this time it was around 2:30 PM and we wanted to cover miles quicker so we wouldn’t be setting up camp in the dark, like the night before.
It was along this section that we spoke to a local couple, who told us that the ascent we were doing during the forest was one of the toughest that day. The man looked at me and said “you’ve got one more little hill after this and then you’re done”. He said it really casually, whilst watching me closely to gauge my reaction. Looking back on this, they were definitely lying to us. This happened a few times along the WHW, with people telling us “[enter destination] is just up there, only about five mins away” but it never was five minutes and always closer to half an hour (at least it felt like that). This couple had our best interests at heart really, they didn’t want to tell us that the last hill of the day was a killer; I am so glad we entered the final five miles of the day blindly, and basically the whole trip itself.
From Sallochy to Rowardennan (well, north of it)
We eventually got to Sallochy Campsite, which was our original camp spot for day 2. We stopped for about 30 minutes on the most beautiful beach to slurp down an electrolyte drink and take in the view. We had bought a tube of tablets (ginger and tumeric flavour) that dissolved into water and were meant to repair your muscles and fill you with energy. At that point, we really needed some. With no one about, and with the sun shining brighter than ever, it was so tempting to wild swim on that beach. I’m sad that we didn’t, but with our camp site in mind and a much-needed final rest spot we hiked on.
The section after Sallochy and before Rowardennan was the most challenging of the day. The path ascended and descended without mercy, reaching a particularly gruelling climb up a never-ending flight of stairs. It sounds tame in a sentence but with a heavy pack on and screaming calves it was tough. A big group of boys who we think were a Scout group hung about at the bottom of the stairs, silently watching us do it. I think their instructor doubted our ability, being two girls, but we marched on and left them behind. I must admit we felt like cool warriors when we noticed that they weren’t carrying any packs.
Nearly there and Rowardennan hotel grub
After the hefty stairs the forestry path continued to ascend and descend, and it went on forever. I kept thinking the path would stop suddenly and we’d enter the road, and Rowardennan would be there, but it tricked us time and again. There was some beautiful scenes along this path though, and seeing Loch Lomond in all its wonder on such a sunny day was a sight to behold. The path passed a French-looking summer villa through the trees on the right, which reminded me of the setting in the book Call Me By Your Name. Next to the opening was a sign that said Rowardennan was 2 kilometres away. Again, surely a lie. To this day, I still don’t believe it. It felt SO LONG. MILES AND MILES. A bit like the length of this blog!
After a few moments of sore ranting that the sign was wrong, we crossed multiple bridges over rivers and eventuuually got to the road and saw Rowardennan Hotel a few yards away. Wow, what a moment! Our bodies were in pain and we could think of nothing else but sitting down and eating. After such a tough last section, there was no way we weren’t going to eat a massive hot dinner that we didn’t have to cook. We got a table outside with a view ahead of Loch Lomond and children playing in the grass. Ben Lomond sat proudly to the right, swelling out over the mountainous landscape. Jillianne ate pizza and I ate a vegan burger and we drank pale ales, our reward, as we chatted about our day.
Sooo close to the end, thank GOODNESS
After we ate, we filled up our water bottles at the tap outside the hotel and spotted Cat and Ben again. They were showered with new comfy clothes on and staying at the hotel. We hadn’t yet showered (we stank) and told them we were off to find a camp spot, north of the permit zone. Even with our exhausted bones, not for a second did I feel envious of the people staying at the hotel. There was such grit and adventure with wild camping. We set off in the dusty orange evening, laughing, looking out for the sign that said ‘End of camping management zone’. It took us about an hour before we found it, and there was several tents that had pitched up literally right after the sign. This was where we were planning to camp, so we had to walk further on again until we found a free spot, surrounded by ferns and brambles, but as good as any. Jillianne gleefully reported that the spot had flat ground and we dropped our bags and pitched our tent. Our limbs dead but our spirits flying with achievement.
On Saturday 1st August 2020 at around 1 PM we set off on our West Highland Way adventure – we were to hike 96 miles from Milngavie in North Glasgow to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands. Seven challenging and emotional and sublime days later we reached the finish line in Fort William town centre, finally throwing off our heavy packs and resting our burning legs and throbbing feet. As people around us sipped their coffee and went about their Saturday shopping we sat still, our hearts full of pride at our achievement and what it took to get here.
In the coming blogs, I will be writing about our trials and tribulations. The wholesome meaty adventure of each day of our week-long hike. It will be difficult to squeeze this trip into words. Being our first multi-day hiking trip ever, each day was more physically and mentally demanding than any other trip in my life so far. I am proud that Jillianne and I were able to rise to the challenge with such humour and spirit and support each other throughout our lowest low’s and our highest high’s.
The morning of our hike
It was a Saturday morning and we had a million last-minute things to do, including sending a few ‘see you in a week’ e-mails, a trip to the post office and a pop-in to the chemist. By the time we were ready it was already past the time we wanted to leave, so we decided to drive to Milngavie to save time. About five minutes away from Milngavie we realised that we had forgotten our hiking boots – yes, our actual hiking boots! I usually travel in mine as they are trail runners, and Jillianne changes into hers, and because we already had shoes on from venturing out to the shops that morning we didn’t notice this before.
This is a remarkable set of circumstances even for us but it happened and we laughed and laughed. We drove all the way back home again (25 minutes in Glasgow traffic, painful), grabbed our hiking shoes and we eventually arrived in Milngavie about 12:45pm. We left our car at Milngavie railway station car park after reading online that parking was free and made our way to the start of the West Highland Way. Walking through the start gate honestly felt like a dream – I had seen the start point in so many pictures and YouTube videos for the last two months it felt surreal to finally be there, at long last, making our first steps into this iconic trail.
Section 1 – Milngavie to Garadhban Forest
The terrain through Mugdock Wood was flat and smooth. We passed a lot of dog walkers, each who gave us a nod or a knowing smile – our packs and giddy energy gave us away. As we passed one group, we heard a guy murmur to his family, “Look – there’s people walking it now, they’ve got a long way to go.” Having done less than one mile at that point, we thought this was funny. The guy was not wrong.
There were one or two instances where we checked signposts and our Harvey map to make sure we were going the right way; we knew that people had often got lost in this section and ended up in Mugdock Country Park. Close attention meant this didn’t happen to us, and we sped through the first 7-8 miles with a hop in our step, bouncing on pure excitement alone.
The terrain on this section was mostly green fields, which were hilly in parts but relatively flat. The concrete road up to Drymen is steep in parts and feels like it goes on and on, in the way the last mile or two of a hiking day always does. This day is one of the easiest sections of the hike, but take it steady to help your feet get used to the week ahead.
Other memorable moments
We loved the wooden holiday huts at Carbeth – we thought they were v cute.
We took a quick break in a field overlooking the Glengoyne distillery in Killearn, about 7 miles in. Sadly, the distillery was shut for tours, but we vowed to return one day soon for whisky tastings, even if we have to lie through our teeth that we like the taste.
We spied our first Honesty Boxes in this section (there were at least 4 of them). The Honesty boxes offer food (baked goods, chocolate, ice cream) and drink (fizzy drinks, bottled water, sometimes tea and coffee) which you can take for loose change, the recommended payment is usually £1. They are a welcome sight for tired West Highland Way walkers and such a kind gesture from the local folks who run them. We stopped at the Duncan family farm honesty box which was at the top of a hill near Gartness, about two miles from Drymen. It had a wooden shed and picnic tables outside. Jillianne got an irn bru and I got a diet coke, and as we rested and nattered and laughed at our red faces we were so grateful for the treat. It was here that we got chatting to a cyclist who had just cycled from Partick and was taking a quick stop before riding back again. He assured us he had lights.
As we arrived in Drymen at about 7 PM, a man waiting to cross the road was quick to tell me I looked goosed and was dismayed to find this was only after 12 miles. Based on that meeting I don’t think he held much hope that we would finish the WHW, but we knew ourselves better. I found people often underestimate the willpower of two female hikers. Throughout our hike people were constantly surprised that we were carrying our packs and wild camping.
Anyway. We stopped at the Drymen Inn for dinner. Jillianne got her beloved mac and cheese with a Birra Moretti. I had a banging margherita pizza with a Tennants. The barman was kind.
Thoroughly filled, we set off into the evening for another 4 miles, walking along the road and turning left up into the High Wood, which eventually turned into Garadhban Forest. This was our camping spot for the night, as we knew wild camping was tolerated here. It felt like we walked for hours in that forest (passing several tents and campfires and calling several ‘hiya’s’ at each, because ‘hiya’ is all you need to say to other walkers when you are tired). It was about 10:40 PM by the time we finally found a suitable enough spot to pitch our tent, with Loch Lomond peeking into view.
I obviously don’t recommend pitching your tent this late. Its always best to pitch your tent before it is dark, so you have time to get settled, cook dinner (thankfully we ate already) and watch the night draw in. However, we were so late in leaving that morning that we expected a late-pitching, especially since we had walked 16 miles. A popular first night stop for West Highland Way walkers is Drymen, but we wanted to walk further on day one because:
A) We were wild camping, and
B) We wanted to get as close as possible to Conic Hill, so we could tackle it on fresh legs the following morning. We had climbed Conic Hill before and it is not the sort of ascent you want to do at the end of a day’s hike.
We heard a dog sniffing our tent around midnight, which was a bit weird. Dog walkers are a bit nocturnal, eh? We slept like the dead after that and woke up at around 6 AM to pack up our tent and start a whole new day.
nothing really matters.
not the crows poised trilling
with neat claws and
in the corridor drenched
with expired notice boards.
not the pale white light
boasting leftover liquid cereal
on dark nights of slobber
spinning drunk over sloshy rain slabs
and honks that pull you up.
not the Kiss,
or the sheets
that sheltered you both soft
for a time.
not the cupboards upon cupboards,
of cold stale and printer paper, of you
nine years old and smiling with silk
at the jarring jolts of making.
thinking how something so crammed tight
with everything, and everything,
ends swiftly like a clap
a crow's head tilt to the last laugh
a sharp unravel to the
deep well of endings.
AN: not sure. why don't you tell me what you think?
Hey! I hope you are keeping safe and well and all that. Just a quick one today to say that we leave for our West Highland Way adventure this Saturday, 1st August, hiking 96 miles from Milngavie in Glasgow to Fort William. After nearly two months of preparing for what will be our first multi-day hike, it feels sPeCTAcuLAR and DrEAMy that it is only a few days away. Jillianne and I are so excited, so ready (fingers crossed), so grateful to be able to experience Scotland’s beautiful national trail on what will be its 40th anniversary.
This blog will briefly cover our itinerary and the walks we have done to train our bodies (and our minds, actually) for the West Highland Way. Stick with us, k. 🙂
In my last blog I went through our itinerary for the West Highland Way. Since then, our itinerary has basically stayed the same, with one small change: instead of camping in Drymen on the first day, we are walking a bit further north with the hopes of pitching our tent in the Garadhban forest, which is outside of the wild camping restriction.
We are doing the 7-day route, which is by far the most popular, and we are wild camping the whole way (with the exception of a night in Beinglas Farm wigwams, simply because we’ve heard great things about this experience and neither of us have stayed in wigwams before.) I’ll be writing a travel journal of our trip as we hike, along with the places we camped, so keep an eye out for that when we return!
Training for the West Highland Way
We have tried to do as much preparation for the trip as possible. Not only because we want to enjoy the route and the views it offers, but because we want to give ourselves the best chance of getting to the finish line in Fort William. A lot of people (including you, reading this) know that we are doing it now, so we want to do you proud and complete it with our fists raised victoriously in the air.
We’ve been practicing hikes for the past two months. We started small, doing walks we’d done previously around Glasgow (Pollok Park, Linn Park) but each week we did them with more regularlity and pace. Then, we gradually increased the mileage and varied the terrain, walking on dramatic ascents and rocky trails, using and testing our gear each time. Eventually, we brought our full backpacks with us. This has probably been the most significant step, given that we will be carrying them for 7 days, at the complete mercy of the Scottish weather.
Living in Scotland, we are no stranger to hiking or wild camping in the rain, mist, or even light snow (shout out to New Years Eve 2019 in Glen Etive, with the zips of our tent frozen). We are expecting it to be rainy and dreich most days of our hike – there is no point in expecting for better to be honest. If there is any spot of sun we will be amazed and ecstastic. If there isn’t, well, this is what we expect. You may think I’m being negative about this but our weather is temperamental and rapidly changing, especially in the mountains, so I’m just being realistic m’amore.
Below are the walks / hikes we have done in the two months leading up to us doing the West Highland Way. Some of them we enjoyed so much we’ve done them multiple times. I’ve added some notes of what we thought of them too, in case you would like to venture out on them yourself.
Short walks (under 3 miles)
Terrain / difficulty
Carron Valley Reservoir Shore Trail
Rating (out of 5): 3 stars
2.75 miles / 4.25 km
Easy-going and mostly flat walk, more suited to dog-walkers and families. Good views of lochs. Boggy in parts. This is a lovely walk if you’re feeling chill and want to get outside without doing anything strenuous.
Pollok Country Park, Glasgow southside
Rating: 4.5 stars
One of our favourite walks in Glasgow. For a country park close to the city centre, this is a beautiful walk with plenty to see. Cafe, a country house and flower gardens (owned previously by the Maxwell family), a golf course and a herd of highland cows. Class.
Linn Park, Glasgow southside
Rating: 5 stars
This is my all-time favourite walk to do in Glasgow. It is similar to Pollok Park but it feels more wild and remote in places. The trail differs in ascent and terrain, as does the scenery. You pass under tall trees, garlic plants, a burn and even a waterfall, which is a great picnic spot. Appparently the park is home to over 60 species of birds, too, so there’s that. (hoot, hoot.)
Conic Hill, Balmaha
Rating: 5 stars
4 km / 2.5 miles – 350 metres
Conic Hill is a classic hike, with a short but very steep climb to the peak. It offers some of the best views of Loch Lomond and the surrounding trossachs than I’ve ever seen. We will be hiking up Conic Hill for years to come, which is just as well, because we climb it again on day 2 of the West Highland Way.
These walks are perfect for calm Sundays and week nights where you want to get some fresh air.
Moderate walks (3 – 6 miles)
Terrain / difficulty
Locherwood & Lady Muir woodland, Clyde Muirshiel
Rating (out of 5): 3 stars
7.5 km / 4.75 miles
This walk was seriously boggy, so I recommend wearing waterproof hiking boots and gaiters, if you have them. The path was confusing at times, and the forestry work in the area makes this even more difficult. A short ascent up Windyhill leads to a wide track path which eventually leads to a farm with sheep fields either side. We spied some beautiful oak trees here.
Chaterherault Country Park, near Hamilton
Rating: 4.5 stars
7.5 km / 4.75 miles
This country park is a recent discovery of ours, and we have walked the route twice already, in different directions. The path is well sheltered by mighty tall trees and I love watching the sun shine through them. There are amazing views of the River Avon from several bridges along the path, including a stone bridge which stands surprisingly high above the burn. I love this walk and its simple tranquility.
Cort-Ma-Law, near Lennoxtown
Rating: 4.5 stars
9 km / 5.5 miles – 351 metres
This was a pretty scary walk for us as the mist ascended suddenly and it was hard to see the path. However, the views before this of the surrounding hills (Meikle Bin) and Glasgow city in the distance were gorgeous and moody. This hill is extremely boggy in areas (to quote Jillianne, “boggy is putting it lightly”, and it is far boggier than the Muirshiel walk above) so please bring suitable footwear and a map, as you won’t have signal.
Cathkin Braes, Glasgow southside
Rating: 4 stars
Around 6 miles
Cathkin Braes is officially the highest point in Glasgow, and there are pretty views out over the city here and on a clear day Ben Lomond and the Cobbler can be seen. When we walk in Cathkin Braes we just wander everywhere, I don’t think we’ve followed the same path each time (hence around 6 miles.) There is a looong set of steep stairs too which is a big ascent to test your stamina.
Lochgoin circuit, Whitelee Windfarm, near Eaglesham
Rating (out of 5): 2.5 stars
13.5 km / 8.5 miles
Don’t be dismayed by the rating. Being mostly flat and with clear, wide paths the Whitelee windfarm is ideal for dog walkers and families as there are shorter walks you can do. However, for the full circuit the novelty of the hundreds of turbines wears off and the views become very repetitive, which makes the walk feel WAY longer than it actually is. If you like wind turbines, and standing right beneath them, this walk is perfect for you. It’s cool that we did the whole thing but we probs won’t be doing it again.
Glen Loin loop, near Loch Long
Rating: 5 stars
17.5 km / 11 miles
This is one of our favourite walks so far (and by far the longest) which we completed in 5 hours the weekend before the West Highland Way. The route has a range of terrain from smooth gravel paths to slow rocky inclines, and it frequently ascends and descends and ascends again, reaching the highest point of 455 metres. There are so many munros you can spot in various sections of this walk, including our pal Ben Lomond, and our acquintances Ben Vorlich and Ben Vane. You walk alongside a gorgeous glen and multiple waterfalls too, and for most of the hike we were alone and it felt just heavenly.
For these longer walks we brought a full packed lunch with us, as well as oatcakes and cheese obv.
These are the walks we’ve done so far. We are planning a couple more this week, squeezed in just before we start the WHW on Saturday.
I feel very grateful for these months of prep and for having Jillianne by my side with every step and every glug from our nalgenes. We have been able to see so many quiet, wild places and country parks and waterfalls and old oak trees and random stretches of peaceful land that we would have never found if it wasn’t for lockdown travel restrictions and the need for WHW training. We are constantly amazed by the sense of remoteness and the stunning views we get to see after just a 30 minute drive outside of Glasgow. What a privelege it is to be here. Even if you are not embarking on a 96 mile hike, even if you are not an experienced hillwalker or camper or whatever, hopefully these walks inspire you to get outside and start exploring, because I promise you in these unsettling times you will feel so much better, physically and mentally.
If you have any thoughts on the WHW, or on the walks I’ve talked about today, I’d love to to hear them. Stay safe out there. Wish us luck!
This is my first blog about hiking, and I am overwhelmed at where to begin, namely because hiking, wild camping, wild swimming, being outdoors in any capacity (specifically in Scotland) is all I’ve been able to think about recently. Compiling these constant yearnings into a concise and readable blog will be a challenge, but that won’t deter me. Let’s get into it.
In late July / early August my partner Jillianne and I will be hiking the West Highland Way, Scotland’s most famous long-distance national trail. We will be documenting our hike in a video (which hopefully, will have the look and feel of a beaut, slow-burning independent film) and a series of travel journals that will be published on this blog. This will be our first multi-day hike ever, which is a wee bit intimidating, but our giddy banshee excitement to start outweighs any fear. If you’ve met us, you will understand what I mean by this.
What is the West Highland Way?
The West Highland Way is a 96-mile (154 km) walk that begins in Milngavie in North Glasgow and ends in Fort William. The walk is famous for its range of wild scenery, mountains and lochs it passes through, including the bonny banks of Loch Lomond and the rugged serenity of Glen Coe and Glen Etive. One of the reasons why the West Highland Way is so popular is because of its accessibility. You can get to the start and end points of the trail via public transport, and the route is relatively flat throughout, making it a majestic experience for people of all ages who have some hiking experience.
The trail is close to towns and villages as well, meaning hikers can choose to stay in hotels or bnb’s along the route or opt for more rustic wild-camping (we adore wild-camping, so we have gone for the latter.) If you want to take the weight of the world off your shoulders, you can even go with a luggage carrier service to transport your rucksack from one place to the next. This is a good option for people who have travelled from other countries to hike the trail and may have more luggage than people who have travelled, say, from Shawlands in Glasgow (yo, it me). Some people may think this is cheating, but honestly, who really cares?
All of these reasons make the West Highland Way a great choice for first-time multi-day hikers.
How have we prepared?
The West Highland Way has been on my bucket-list for the longest time now, and it feels really good to finally put the dream into action. I feel I could get to the finish line of the WHW on pure excitement and ecstatic energy alone. To aid our prep, we have been binge-watching YouTube videos and reading travel journals from people who have hiked it. We owe a big, grateful thank you to Athena Mellor, who solo-hiked the WHW in 2017, and whose information is always as helpful as it is inspiring! Athena, you probably won’t read this but in the rare case you do, your content has been invaluable to our West Highland Way prep and we think you’re amazin’.
Of course, our prep hasn’t stopped at consuming YouTube videos on the sofa. We have been physically training for the hike too. Jillianne and I have never been total 17-steps-a-day kinda slobs, but we’re far (far, faaar) from being the fittest outdoorsy people around. We do have some hiking and wild camping experience in Scotland, though. Last September we hiked our first munro, Ben Lomond (974 metres), and to be honest it was a bit of an ordeal. We started the hike quite late and had barely trained – two things I wouldn’t recommend AT ALL. A tough experience like this has meant that now, we know what to expect. We know that physically training our feet and our muscles to be able to do long hikes on different terrain is the most important way you can help yourself out – we want to actually enjoy the hike and eat up the whole experience, rather than cry with pain because we didn’t know what we’d got ourselves in for. Of course, we aren’t ruling out that we won’t cry with pain (especially on the Devil’s Staircase), but at least we have given ourselves the best chance of success.
Over the past month, we have been packing our weeks with 3 mile, 5 mile, 6 mile, even 8.7 mile walks in our local area of Glasgow, building our strength up, stretching properly and testing our gear to make sure it all works. All whilst finding incredible walking places close to our home that we wouldn’t usually stumble upon. We’ve had a brill time doing it too and learning together. I’ve already noticed a huge difference in my body and its recovery time, which is a positive sign.
Our West Highland Way itinerary
We’ve gone for the seven day itinerary (see below), but you can choose to go for a shorter option (five days, six days) or longer, (eight days, nine days) depending on your fitness level and the time you have available.
As this is our first multi-day hike, we’ve decided we don’t want to push our bodies too much and suffer an injury which may prevent us from getting to the finish. It’s important to us that we enjoy the views without feeling rushed. We just want to have the best time on the trail, really take it all in, and have our heads in the clouds rather than looking down at our watches. This has always been our sort of vibe, and the beauty of the WHW is that you can adapt your hike to your vibe, your hopes and dreams, what you want to do.
Milngavie to Drymen
Drymen to Rowardennan
Rowardennan to Inverarnan
Inverarnan to Tyndrum
Tyndrum to Kingshouse
Kingshouse to Kinlochleven
Kinlochleven to Fort William
Our itinerary may change slightly, but this roughly what we’re doing!
When is the best time to walk the West Highland Way?
People generally walk the route between April and October, due to the high ground and colder temperatures in the Highlands in the winter months. In the summer the route can be busy and the midgies come out to play (Scotland’s no.1 tiny nuisance bug.) The midgies thrive in warm and wet evenings and they can be infuriating. But, with the aid of smidge repellent and a head net, and if you are clever in where you pitch your tent (away from water, and where there is a bit of breeze) midgies – ach, they’re alright.
We’re walking the Way in late July / early August, mainly because of personal circumstances and we don’t want to wait any longer. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic over the globe, we don’t want to travel internationally until next year, when it is safer for everyone. So, it feels like the right time to stay close to home, complete the route and wild-camp without using barely any local amenities.
Next up: WHW Gear List
In my next blog I’ll share mine and Jillianne’s gear list for the West Highland Way (something we are still finalising now) and after we’ve completed the walk (fingers crossed we do, all being well) I’ll let you know in a post-WHW blog if any of the kit will change for our next hike.
If you have walked the West Highland Way, what did you do? What was your fave moment? What would you do differently? If you are planning to walk the Way, let me know what your thoughts are. What are your plans? What are you most looking forward to? If you have no experience with any of this, come say hi anyway. It’ll be so nice to hear from you.
If poetry is dead
then I am long gone
Forget I am writing
even as I am speaking
Throw the book in the river
Bury the sounds I make under-ground.
If poetry is dead
then I am weeping
for if ears have been hiding
then what I have been saying
Recall the lost sonnets, essays
Calcuate the time wasted on your phone.
If poetry is dead
then I am confused, waiting
for the dining room is empty
whilst the concert halls are heaving
It's in these rooms, I've found, where poetry grew.
Not in somebody bearded, Oxbridge-educated.
It is not poetry that is dead, but you.
There are Killing Eve spoilers in this from all seasons, so stay or leave at your own peril. Either way I’m going to start now.
Killing Eve was my favourite TV show, possibly ever. Watching season one the show was punchy, shocking, deeply vibrant and abrupt – it oozed sex and dry European wit. All of the characters in Killing Eve were charmingly strange from the beginning, because navigating MI-6 and a sort of unseen Russian mafia every day is exceedingly strange, especially to an audience base of normal 9-5 office clerks; an all-consuming job at MI-6 and the world of the characters that surround it makes returning home to a fruit bowl on the dinner table and shopping lists on the fridge seem incredibly mundane. Wasn’t that why Eve eventually lost Niko anyway? Because whilst she was living the domestic married life with a mustached Maths teacher and getting the bus everywhere, she walked knowingly and intelligently into an obsession with Villanelle, the gorgeous, outrageous killer.
Season three of Killing Eve was all about the fruit bowls on dinner tables and less about the seductive world of London, of British and Russian intelligence, of majestic murders. Killing Eve has all gone to shit.
The season three finale aired this week and it didn’t know what it was doing. Throughout the entire season the characters have become – dare I say it – very lost and very boring. Each character was placed into situations the everyday Jane and John from Slough have been in: Villanelle was dealt with a heavy influx of emotions and stressing about her future career prospects. Eve was working at a Chinese restaurant and trying to wean herself off her ex whilst chasing her new lover. Carolyn was coping with the inescapable loss of her son and performing small-talk really badly with her daughter. Konstantin was on his phone all the time and suffering with bad health problems that he ignored. No shocking situations here. Compared to the previous two seasons, season three engrained very normal, very human emotions from characters who live in the backdrop of spies, lavish work trips and mysterious deaths. Cut back to when Villanelle murdered beloved Bill on the dancefloor of a club whilst she donned a miraculous pantsuit, and you will realise we are so far gone from those glory days.
Giving back a sense of slow normality to the characters is not a bad thing, exactly. It builds character development, which in turn, should aid story development. I found watching Carolyn attempt to deal with her grief in her cold and distanced manner simply fascinating – the scene with Carolyn sitting in the car, sucking on mints and listening to opera music loudly displayed a real acting masterclass by Fiona Shaw. Equally interesting was following Villanelle back to mother Russia and her literal mother for a whole episode, although I felt the episode was slapped needlessly in the middle of the season and brought the theatrical intensity of Niko’s fork in the neck in the previous episode to a grinding halt. And this is the thing. Sometimes, character development doesn’t help story development. Sometimes, it actively hinders it, and makes the future story line stale. I think we have reached a point in Killing Eve when the writers were so keen to focus on heavy character growth that is has done nothing but lead to scenes of illogical meetings and flimsy dialogue that goes round in circles until the story eventually reaches no conclusion at all.
Kenny’s unfortunate death is a good example of this. After Kenny’s death, the series was focussed on uncovering what Kenny and his toilet roll had discovered about the Twelve. But come the season finale, I honestly couldn’t tell you one thing about the Twelve that we didn’t already know. Yes, unlikeable snaky Paul was involved in the Twelve and giving orders to Konstantin, but who cares? Paul was barely given screen time, and when he did, he wasn’t that nice or funny and all he wore was grey suits, so having his death form the crescendo of the finale is extremely underwhelming and puzzling. Paul’s death doesn’t serve anything – we will never know the extent to which Paul was tied up in Kenny’s death and we will never know whether Konstantin was lying or not, since Carolyn shot her main source of information in the head and let Konstantin leave unscathed.
I was hoping that Carolyn and Konstantin would share a moment where it would be revealed, one way or another, whether or not Kenny was Konstantin’s son. Alas, there was no answer for us there either, not even when Carolyn demanded Konstantin kneel before her as she pointed a gun at his skull. Surely, an opportune moment for a “you’re the father” announcement after over two decades. Kenny’s death was supposed to drive the whole season’s narrative, but come the finale, we don’t actually know who actually killed Kenny. Whether it was, like Konstantin said, a slip of the foot accident, or whether someone can be held accountable for his murder. Rather than give us answers or even some semblance of a conclusion, the show has raised only more questions and eventually people will stop asking them altogether if they realise they won’t be dealt with. And it all feels frustrating – devoid of the ruthlessness and moments of sparkling clarity from the Killing Eve of old.
This feeling of emptiness isn’t all down to the season three lead writer, Suzanne Heathcote. The ‘cat and mouse’ dance between Eve and Villanelle that holds the show together is, in itself, restricting. It is a framework that demands the two characters to constantly exist in contrast to one another. When one kills, the other is saving, when one is relishing, the other is repulsing, when one is on the ground the other is watching from above. Their movements often mirror each other, but the show has always trickled along the narrative that Eve is far more similar to Villanelle than other characters comprehend. She has a behind-closed-doors fascination with murderers, blood, hurting others emotionally and physically and relishing in how alive it makes her feel. So, when this portrayal of Eve is shown more frequently, the instinctive reaction of the writer’s is for Villanelle to become softer and less brutal in her behaviour, which deeply conflicts with her ability to kill.
What is Villanelle without killing? Carolyn begs the question, to which Villanelle, in her childlike and naïve manner has no answer. The reality is even without her killing Villanelle in her magnificent clothes and uncompromising attractiveness would still be a lot more interesting than Eve in her parkas. One of the only questions the show has managed to answer is what is Eve without Villanelle? And the sad answer is it boils down to nothing much. With no job, no friends, no husband, no real sense of direction, Eve has become a shell of nothing, which helplessly clings on to Villanelle; when Villanelle has undergone transformation and self-analysis Eve has remained the packet of crisps constantly stuck in the vending machine, completely denied all momentum. The show named ‘Killing Eve’ has effectively killed its protagonist who was once so sarcastically funny and intuitive and wild. An Eve that was actually good at her job and made significant breakthroughs on her cases. Eve used to be captivating to watch, and now, following the cat and mouse characters existing in contrast, Villanelle has basically stolen Eve’s identity. Or maybe Eve has just voluntarily given it to her.
The ‘cat and mouse’ chase that structures Killing Eve means there are limited options of where the show can go next. Most episodes have Villanelle and Eve chasing each other, which inevitably leads to heated confrontation that materialises into a fierce toss-up between killing each other or kissing each other, the contrast once again. So far, each season finale has shown confrontation between Eve and Villanelle landing on aggression when on the brink of romance: Eve stabs Villanelle in bed at the season 1 finale, Villanelle shoots Eve at the season 2 finale, they both decide to walk away from each other only to turn around again in the season 3 finale. Surely, now, the show must end in only a few ways. Either they fuck and raise mischievous children together or they leave one another for good, by killing each other or by running separate ways to live out their days alone in exile.
It is almost sad to be typing those possibilities, because they are not good enough. These characters shouldn’t have to settle for such concrete endings that are no way near intricate or clever enough. However, when the show is framed on such solid parallels it is difficult to remove them without the entire narrative collapsing and moving away from what it was in the beginning. The ‘cat and mouse’ act is fun for a while, but we all know that it has a short shelf life before it starts to repeat previous seasons, unless the writers are willing to inject some hearty surprises and invigorating challenges in the script and actively set objectives for characters to meet. Otherwise Killing Eve, like poor Kenny, will fall flat on the ground from such a daring height.
Killing Eve has been renewed for a fourthseason but its air date is unknown.
it’s been hard to write anything in the past few days. i have held off from posting any poetry to give space to black voices, black artists, black activists and black lives. my heart is so heavy for black communities in the usa and around the world, whom history and governments have treated like second class citizens. as queer white ally, i stand with the black lives matter movement. i will continue to educate myself and donate to support the cause. if you see this post and have any recommendations of more articles or books I should read, please let me know. 🙂