West Highland Way – Scotland’s Famous Long Distance Footpath
In June this year, along with three friends, I walked the West Highland Way for the second time. On the first occasion, in August 2003, two of the three friends had walked the West Highland Way with me. The post on that particular walk can be found here and the video for that walk here. This time we would walk the West Highland Way in 8 days instead of the 7 days we took in 2003.
Day 1 – Milngavie to Drymen (12 miles)
We stayed at Drymen for two nights, so on day 1 we got a taxi to the start of the West Highland Way at Milngavie. After a visit to the West Highland Way Information Centre we took the traditional photographs beside the starting obelisk in the town centre before setting off for the 12 mile journey.
The walk started in fine weather and we diverted to visit the Glengoyne Distillery. On the previous West Highland Way walk we enjoyed free tots of the malt whiskey. This time we were disappointed to realise that they were no longer giving away any free drams. So the next port of call was the Beech Tree Inn a little further on from the distillery. After a drink in the garden it started to drizzle so we retired to the covered area for further refreshments.
The rest of the walk to Mingavie was mainly uneventful and we spent the evening in the Clachan Inn.
Day 2 – Drymen to Rowardennan (13 miles)
The last time we walked the West Highland Way, in 2003, we backpacked and walked the 21 miles to Inversnaid. This time we used the Travel-lite baggage service and shortened the journey by only walking to Rowardennan 13 miles away. The weather approaching Garadhban Forest took a turn for the worst and we donned waterproofs. We came across a large group of Dutch youngsters who were walking the West Highland Way and took various photographs for them. Then it was the climb up Conic Hill and down to Loch Lomond.
We called in at the Oak Tree Inn at Balmaha for liquid refreshments. We also sampled the Cullen Skink soup, which although not cheap was impressive. A trek along Loch Lomond followed to reach Rowardennan and the delights of the Rob Roy bar. We stayed the night at the Rowardennan Hotel and further tastings were had by all.
Day 3 – Rowardennan to Ardleish (12 miles)
We started with a fairly long walk up Loch Lomond to Inversnaid, where we stopped at the hotel for a snack and lunchtime drink. Then it was further up the loch and on to Ardleish, where we caught the ferry across to Ardlui. We arrived early and watched the world cup game between Holland and Denmark while enjoying a beer or two at the Ardlui Hotel.
We were staying the night at the Ardlui Hotel so a quick shower and change and we were down for our evening meal. This was one of the best meals we had all week and the staff were top class with their service and attention. A few more drinks in the bar and it was a reasonably early night.
Day 4 – Ardleish to Tyndrum (13.5 miles)
We had breakfast then caught the ferry back over to our stopping point the previous afternoon. The weather didn’t look too promising but for now it was still dry. Midway through the walk it started to rain, so we all donned our waterproofs and trudged on in the wet weather, up through the forest area above Crianlarich.
It seemed a long walk down to Tyndrum and some well earned refreshments at Paddy’s Bar. We were staying at the Glengarry B&B, a mile in the opposite direction, so it was back on with the waterproofs and a wet walk along the A road to our digs. The people at the Glengarry provided some delicious home cooking and that was a real relief because I for one certainly didn’t fancy eating at Paddy’s Bar.
After our evening meal two of us decided to have an early night, so we were in bed at 9:00 pm, while the other two retired to Paddy’s for more beverages.
Day 5 – Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy (7 miles)
Two other guys at our B&B were up and fed just as we were coming down for breakfast. They were walking the West Highland Way in 4 days, so this trek of 20 miles was their shortest day. As we only had 7 miles to walk today we had a leisurely breakfast and left around 9:30. We passed a couple of guys just past the Tyndrum turn off who appeared to be panning in the river.
The short walk was soon over and we arrived at the Bridge of Orchy around lunchtime. The only option was an early start in the Bridge of Orchy Hotel. We were a little apprehensive after our last disastrous encounter in 2003 but thankfully the place had new management and was much improved.
A couple of hours later we decided to go to our digs, which was only next to the hotel. We would take turns to shower then come back in time to watch the World Cup football between France and England. After the match we had a good meal and retired to the bar to chat to a young lady and her mother who were also walking the West Highland Way. The following day they were heading for Kinlochleven 24 miles away.
Day 6 – Bridge of Orchy to Kingshouse (13 miles)
This was one of the best days walking on the West Highland Way. With the sun out we set off over the River Orchy and began the short climb to Mam Carraig overlooking Loch Tulla. With great views all around we headed down to pass Inveroran. We came across a group of men erecting a staging post for the forthcoming Caledonian Challenge. This is a 54 mile charity hike in aid of the Scottish Community Foundation. It goes over the most scenic part of the West Highland Way and has to be completed in 24 hours.
Continuing over the track past Ba Bridge we eventually reached the lower slopes of the skiing area of the Glencoe Mountain Resort. Soon we arrived at the Kingshouse Hotel our accommodation for the night. It was early afternoon and time for a snack and liquid refreshments.
We should have known better than to expect a different outcome to our last visit in 2003. As then, a 10 hour session was to prove our downfall and the following morning was proof of this.
Day 7 – Kingshouse to Kinlochleven (10.5 miles)
A great breakfast of smoked haddock and scrambled eggs relieved our symptoms somewhat. We left Kingshouse behind us and turned down the track with Buachaille Etive Mor our companion over to the left. Next it was the long steady climb up Devil’s Staircase with some amazing views looking back to Glencoe.
We met some lads at the top of Devil’s Staircase who were new to walking long distances and they were suffering from sore feet and fatigue. It was then all downhill to Kinlochleven and a welcome drink or three at the Tailrace Inn. We had stayed at the Tailrace Inn on our previous trip in 2003 but this time we opted for the Highland Getaway, which proved a good choice.
The lads mentioned turned up at the inn and surprised us by saying they were heading for Fort William, after they had taken a drink or two. As it was now 3:00pm and they had a further 6 hour, 14 mile walk in front of them and they looked done in aready, we queried whether they should attempt it. They were adamant that they were going to do it and we wondered during the evening how they had got on and whether they had managed it before darkness.
In the evening we decided to dine at the chip shop opposite the Tailrace Inn and it was OK, although expensive for fish and chips.
Day 8 – Kinlochleven to Fort William (14 miles)
This was the final day of our trip and we began with the climb out of Kinlochleven on the trail above the eastern end of Loch Leven. The track through the the valley is quite a long one and on the way we met a couple who were walking from Lands End to John O’Groats. The guy was an experienced walker but his lady companion was new to it. What a way to start your walking career!
A big disappointment on the section below Mullach nan Coirean to almost the Nevis Forest was the desolate landscape where the plantations once stood. The trees had all been felled for quite a few miles and it did nothing to enhance the views, with only tree stumps for company.
Eventually we reached the stunning views of Ben Nevis and went through what was left of the Nevis Forest and onward and down the road to the finishing point. On reaching this we were surprised to find it was now called ‘The original end of the West Highland Way’, as this was our finishing point 9 years previously.
We decided that we would find the new finishing point after a pint of the local ale. After a short stroll down the high street we found the statue and after the obligatory photographs retired to another hostelry to quench our thirst. We were spending the night back in Milngavie so had ordered a taxi for the long trip back.
We were picked up at the appointed time and after a scenic journey arrived at our accommodation at the Premier Inn in Milngavie. A curry was the choice of evening meal and it turned out to be less than average and two of our party suffered from the effects of it.
So we had completed the West Highland Way for the second time, what were our thoughts on the trip?
Despite the reservations we had about the advice, “never go back”, when you have had a great time somewhere, we all thoroughly enjoyed it and all agreed it was still one of our favourite long distance walks. The only downside was that Scotland was now very expensive for accommodation, food and drink. We were all past the stage of camping to save money so a proper bed was a neccessary option. At our time in life we also liked to eat well and as you may summise we all like a good drink. All things considered a great week’s walk.