The West Highland Way – A Scottish Long Distance Footpath
Although it is 9 years since I completed the West Highland Way, the memories are still vivid and treasured. The walk with three friends started in August 2003 at Milngavie (pronounced Mill-guy-ee) on the outskirts of Glasgow and finished at Fort William 7 days later.
It is reckoned that every year 30,000 people complete the West Highland Way. It is 96 miles long and was opened in October 1980. It was the first officially designated long distance footpath in Scotland. In June 2010 the West Highland Way was co-designated as part of the International Appalachian Trail.
The West Highland Way uses old drovers roads, coaching roads and military roads. The traditional direction is south to north. The biggest problem walkers face are the dreaded midges and mosquitos which can be out in force anytime between May and late August, as we learnt to our cost!
The West Highland Way has also become a course for long distance runners, with the time of 15 hours 44 minutes 50 seconds, setting the record in 2006.
We didn’t use a baggage service but backpacked the full route stopping in pubs, hotels and B&B’s. Being 57 at the time, the weight did bother me for a day or two but I soon got used to it. The weather throughout the week was wonderful, sunny with only a spot of rain one day.
We drove the 200 mile plus distance to Glasgow on a Friday, leaving at lunchtime and arriving in Milngavie around 5:00 pm. We stayed at the Premier Inn and dined in the Burnbrae Hotel, a nearby pub. Many jars later we hit the sack, looking forward to the first long distance footpath two of the party had ever attempted.
The following morning we breakfasted at the Burnbrae and were ready for the road around 09:00 hours. After the long journey to Scotland the gentle start to the walk was very welcome. Lanes and footpaths led to Mugdock Wood, then past Craigallian Loch and Carbeth Loch.
The next port of call on this leg of the West Highland Way was the Glengoyne Distillary where the local nectar was sampled before a stop at a nearby pub, The Beech Tree. Then it was onward to Drymen for the evening. We stayed overnight at the Hawthorns which was excellent at the time.
Day 2 – Drymen to Inversnaid (21 miles)
A heavy night on the beer wasn’t the best preparation for a long walk but boots were laced and we were off. The walk started through Garadhban Forest, then a steep climb up Conic Hill followed with a descent to Loch Lomond. Liquid refreshments were gratefully consumed in the beer garden at The Rowardennan Hotel before the final 7 mile trek through the forest to our accommodation at the Inversnaid Hotel.
Day 3 – Inversnaid to Crianlarich (13 miles)
After a quiet night, a lovely 7 mile walk to Inverarnan started the day. Of course we had to detour to sample the ‘delights’ of the Drovers Inn on the other side of the water. I have to say that dining there certainly didn’t appeal and regular cleaning and dusting didn’t seem to be on the agenda, but it was well worth a visit all the same. We continued along the River Falloch, then the old military road to Crianlarich. A great meal followed in a local hotel, the name of which, I cannot remember.
Day 4 – Crianlarich to Bridge of Orchy (13 miles)
Some great walking to Tyndrum, followed by a lunchtime session in the Green Man, then again great walking to Bridge of Orchy. We stayed in the Bridge of Orchy Hotel and the standards at the time were dire to say the least. It more than likely will have changed hands since 2003, as I couldn’t see the disinterested owner being in business for much longer.
Day 5 – Bridge of Orchy to Kinghouse (12 miles)
This was to be a quick walk over Rannoch Moor which we completed in 3½ hours. The biggest problem was the midges which were out in full force that day. We arrived at the Kings House Hotel just before 1:00 pm. We spent the rest of the day and night sampling the delights of the hotel bar in the company of other walkers we had already met on the Way. I cannot comment on the food as it is all still a blank.
Day 6 – Kinghouse to Kinlochleven (9 miles)
The old military road, accessed from the rear of the hotel, eventually led to the Devil’s Staircase. This is the highest point on the West highland Way at 550 metres/1,850 ft. It was a tough climb with everyone suffering the effects of over imbibing, but thankfully it was then all downhill to Kinlochleven and our accommodation at the Tail Race Inn.
Day 7 – Kinlochleven to Fort William (16 miles)
A long walk started with a steep clinb out of Kinlochleven on the old military road, then down through the Nevis Forest to the final destination at Fort William. We finished the day celebrating at a local hostelry with a party of doctors and nurses who had been in our company the previous evening. A great way to finish a long weeks walking.
Of all the long distance footpaths I have walked, I would put the West Highland Way in the top 6, highly recommended, especially for those new to long distance walking. In fact we enjoyed it so much we are walking the West Highland Way again in June and hopefully I will be able to give a more comprehensive account of the walk.