The West Highland Way runs along the banks of Loch Lomond, through the Highlands, across the isolated Rannoch Moor, and finally into Fort William.
I’d never considered a walking holiday before, but recently I’ve been on the lookout for a different kind of holiday: something more relaxing than a city break but more exciting than a beach holiday.
Recently, my girlfriend and I decided to throw caution to the inevitable Scottish wind and finally tick walking the West Highland Way off our bucket lists. “After all,” we asked ourselves, “how much sunshine do we really need?”
We did the 96 mile route in seven days. If you want to (literally) follow in our footsteps here’s how our trip went. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can do it in less time. Plenty of people do, but remember to pack extra blister plasters and a few extra tubes of Deep Heat!
Day 1: Milngavie to Drymen (19km/12 miles)
Where we stayed: Kip in the Kirk
Take a break: The Beech Tree Inn
Every journey begins with a single step. In this case that step is taken in Milngavie (pronounced “mull-guy”), a small town on the outskirts of Glasgow.The path starts under anarchway, with the words West Highland Way etched into it. If you somehow miss that, there are usually plenty of fellow walkers (dressed head-to-toe in Gore-Tex) who’ll point you in the right direction.The first day is easy-going, following a gentle path through Mugdock Country Park. The route is well marked, leading all the way to Drymen unless you get confused (like we did) and begin following the path for the recently opened John Muir way which confusingly follows exactly the same path as the West Highland Way except for the last three miles.
Day 2: Drymen to Rowerdennan (14 miles/22.5 km)
Where we stayed: The Shepherd’s House (Available through TripAdvisor)
Take a break: The Oak Tree Inn
Day two is where you get your first taste of highland scenery, starting with an uphill climb through Garadbhan Forest and up the imposing Conic Hill. The route itself skirts below the peak, but it’s only about another fifty metres of scrambling to reach the top. It’s well worth the extra climb for the impressive views over Loch Lomond.
The village of Balmaha sits at the bottom of the hill, providing a spot for a well needed rest. We enjoyed some lunch in the Oak Tree Inn and stocked up on much needed calories (fried Scottish pub food is always good for that)before hitting the banks of Loch Lomond for the first time. The day ends at the Rowardennan Hotel, where you can have a few drinks and some more pub grub either inside by the roaring log fire or outside on the terrace, looking over Loch Lomond.
Day 3: Rowerdennan to Inverarnnan (14 miles/22.5 km)
Where we stayed: The Drover’s Inn: “Pub of the year 1705”
Take a break: The Inversnaid Hotel
Loaded with a breakfast of porridge and haggis, we began the hardest day of the walk. The distance wasn’t a problem – day five is a lot longer – it’s the path. There’s a lot of scrambling along those famous bonnie banks and we were definitely glad that we’d packed the Deep Heat and a couple of compression bandages for when we made it to our accommodation that night.
At one point in the day we looked up and realised we were just meters from a herd of wild mountain goats happily grazing at the side of the loch. They were undeterred by us and even happy to pose for a few photos. At the end of day three we waved goodbye to Loch Lomond for the last time, before hitting the sack in our haunted hotel.
Day 4: Inverarnan to Tyndrum (13.25 miles/21.25 km)
Where we stayed: Tigh na Fraoch
Take a break: There are pubs and shops in Crianlarich, about half a mile off the trail.
After another hearty highland breakfast we left Inverarnan for our next stop: Tyndrum.From the very fresh cow pats, it was obvious that we weren’t the only ones using the path. Dodging the natural landmines required a certain amount of nimbleness on the toes but somehow we managed. It was all going well until we bumped into the cows who were doing what cows do best, standing there and looking mildly threatening. If that wasn’t enough, they were also blocking the only exit to the path.
There was no other option but to squeeze past. We picked up the pace once the snorting and leg stamping started,hurdling over the stile in a feat of enthusiasm an Olympian would be proud of. Thankfully, we made it to Tyndrum without any further incidents.
Day 5: Tyndrum to Kingshouse (18.75 miles/30 km)
Where we stayed: King’s House Hotel
Take a break: Bridge of Orchy Hotel
Day 5 is the longest day. The first leg, Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy, is fairly easy. We set off first thing, and arrived at the half way point well ahead of schedule. The going gets tough on the second leg. We soon found that out as we navigated the steep climb up to Thomas Telford’s military road, a path that takes you through Rannoch Moor: one of the most beautiful, but most isolated, landscapes in the world. Look out for the wild deer, some of which are now tame enough to hand feed.
Day 6: Kinghouse to Kinlochleven (9 miles/14.5 km)
Where we stayed: Eden Coille
Take a break: N/A
Day 6 begins with another steep climb, this time up the ‘Devil’s Staircase.’Don’t let the name put you off: it wasn’t actually that bad and once you get to the top it’s all downhill for the rest of the day. After a brief break to snap some photos of Glencoe we meandered down the side of the mountain, following the path into picturesque Kinlochleven.
Day 7: Kinlochleven to Fort William (15 miles/24 km)
Where we stayed: Cruachan Hotel
Take a break: Pack a picnic and enjoy it in the countryside
Day 7 was difficult asit meant closing a very short but enjoyable chapter in our lives. When we were organising this trip we’d both thought this would be the most enjoyable day, but actually crossing the finish line was more bitter than sweet. Neither of us wanted it to end. Still, the impressive views of Ben Nevis and the scenery of Lairigmorsoftened the blow somewhat.
The Way officiallyends at a statue called ‘the man with the sore feet’. Given that we’d walked 96 miles to see this guy, we were keen to have our photos taken with him. Unfortunately we hadto fight our way through a bunch of tourists who were hogging it, blissfully unaware of the significance it held for us and our own sore feet.