The West Highland Way was the very first long-distance trail I had ever walked. In May of 2015, I set off for Scotland, on my own, with a lot of ambition and no experience. There was a lot of pain, misery, and learning taking place over the next 9 days. Even though I was cold, wet and miserable for a good portion of the journey, the beauty of Scotland and the friendliness of the people helped instill in me, a passion for trekking that has become part of my DNA.
I include the journal of my first trek here, just in case someone wants to learn from my mistakes before they head out and start their very own, first trekking adventure.
WEST HIGHLAND WAY — Things to Know Before You Go
The idea that a pathway should be made across the Scottish Highlands from Glasgow to the north, using old drove and military roads, was first mentioned in the 1930s. It was only after the completion of the Pennine Way in 1965, that the first real steps to establish the West Highland Way were taken. What makes this easily navigable trail so memorable is how its appearance alters as you pass through its varying topography and geology, as lowlands gradually become highlands.
It begins (if you go from South to North, as most hikers do) with farmlands and pastures characteristic of the region around Milngavie, then past the stunning but heavily populated Loch Lomond on Scotland’s High Boundry Fault. The relative solitude and otherworldly beauty of Rannoch Moor is a highlight. This is a land of peat bogs and lochans that can make for some difficult walking until you cross the moorlands and start heading into the highlands.
WHEN TO GO:
According to the many locals I have met along the way, the month of May is their favorite time to go for several reasons.
1. It is not too cold, and not too hot. I can tell you from experience that it is a bit chilly and when you get rained on (and you will get rained on) it can feel even colder. Even still, none of this felt unbearable, even when I was completely soaked by rain or when I had fallen over and was saturated with wet mud.
2. Not so crowded. In May you have not yet reached peak summer vacation time, so the pathways are not as populated, and you get to spend a little more time feeling alone in the peaceful, beautiful surroundings.
3. No ‘midgies’. Summer brings out flying swarms of gnat-sized insects that Scots call ‘midgies’. They bite you all over wherever you have exposed skin and the number of bites in even a small area can end up looking like a severe rash. In May, these pests haven’t woken up from their winter nap yet.
WHERE TO START:
Since you will more than likely be arriving in Glasgow to start your journey, use that as your base before you head off to start your epic trek. Glasgow is not only one of the most charming cities with some of the most friendly people on the planet, but it also has some great places to sleep, some amazing restaurants, a vibrant arts scene and most importantly, it has a military surplus store that is your last chance to stock up on clothing and supplies you might need for your adventure.
When you are ready to start on your trek, the village you travel to, Milngavie, is a suburb of Glasgow and only two stops away from Central Station on their subway line
WHAT TO TAKE:
For those of you that need to make last minute purchases for your epic trek, there is an amazing military outlet that has everything you need, at decent prices. Jackets, tents, stoves, boots, mosquito netting, military backpacks – absolutely everything. This is your last chance to get quality supplies, so don’t leave Glasgow without visiting this shop!
Survival and Military Supplies
38 Dundas Street, Glasgow G1 2AQ
There are a couple of supply stores in Milngavie, near the WHW entrance, so you can stock up on trail mix at the health food store and you can stock up on WHW maps and souvenirs at the information office and the staff that run this store are charming, but the tents and sleeping bags they sell there are crap.. so make sure you have quality gear before you get to this point.
TO BEGIN THE WEST HIGHLAND WAY:
The starting point of the West Highland Way is in Milngavie. This is pronounced very different from the way it looks “məl-GUY”. However, if you try to purchase a bus or train ticket and ask them for the fare to “mill-n-gav-ee” the locals will just smile and give you the correct transport ticket. They are quite used to this.
Take the train to Milngavie from Glasgow. It is faster and cheaper than the bus and the train stops just steps away from the entrance to The West Highland Way.
The latest you should leave Milngavie and begin the trek is 2 pm. You should reach the first village, Drymen, from 7 pm to 9 pm depending on the speed of walking. In the summer months, you will have sunlight until at least 9 pm, which means you will be able to walk a little further on the first day.
WHERE TO STAY WHILE ON YOUR TREK:
If you plan on camping, it is absolutely a must that you insure that your tent is waterproof. You will encounter rain. If you wake up wet, if you have to start the day wearing wet clothing, and if you have the extra burden of carrying a backpack full of heavy, water-soaked clothes.. this can kind of ruin your happy vibe. With a completely waterproof tent you can wait out the storm no matter how long it lasts.
“Wild camping” is permitted throughout Scotland, which means anyone can pitch their tent anywhere, even on private property, for one or two nights, as long as they are not bothering anyone.
PLEASE NOTE THOUGH: That wild camping is not permitted on a 15 mile stretch between Dryman and Rowardennen, which is mostly along your second day of the trek.
TO BOOK HOSTELS AND HOTELS:
If you book all of your stays in guest houses and hotels along the way, you will be able to travel without a tent and sleeping bag, making your backpack much lighter. My advice to you is to not rely completely on sending them an email to make your booking. Some of these locations, especially the bunkhouses and hostels, do not have a dedicated front desk or reception staff. They may get to your email after finishing a full day of chores. Try booking online through their website first. If you can’t do that call them and place your reservation over the phone.
BAG CARRYING SERVICES:
If you want to forget about carrying any gear on your back so that you only have to carry your snacks and water there are several companies that can assist you with that. Average fee, from start to finish of the trek is about £80.
A1 – AMS Scotland Limited – www.amsscotland.co.uk
A2B Travel-Lite – www.travel-lite-uk.com
Ginger Routes – www.gingerroutes.com
Day 1 – London > Glasgow > Milngavie > Drymen
I arrived at London Heathrow Airport at 7 pm on April 30, 2015, with the intention to spend as much of the next four months trekking across Europe. Something I had always wanted to do but had never had the time or the resources.
However, I arrived in Europe one month earlier than expected. I had been planning on spending the month of May in the warm, tropical Philippines. Then after that, around June 15, I was to join my friend Suzanne from Dubai to complete the Camino de Santiago trek in Spain together. But those plans were all destroyed when I could not use my Space A ticket to get a seat on any of the fully booked flights headed to Manila. After several days of running back and forth to the airport, I decided to push forward my European trip.
During the flight, I decided to change my itinerary and tackle Scotland’s West Highland Way first. I needed to kill time, about one month’s worth, in order to get back onto the schedule where I would meet my friend on the Camino de Santiago in the middle of June.
All I brought with me on this trip was my backpack, several shirts, undies and shorts (all quick-drying fabrics), one pair of jeans, 3 pairs of black athletic socks, a Lonely Planet “Europe on a Shoestring” guide.. my toiletries, 4 bungee cords, poncho, sleeping bag liner, computer, 2 hard drives, pens, camera, and my beloved pair of Keen hiking sandals.
When I packed for my vacation, I had not intended to encounter any cold climates.
I was now headed directly to North Scotland in early May.
Upon reaching Heathrow the immigration officer asked me the purpose of my visit. I told him that I planned to hike through Europe for the next 4 months. Then, more specifically and earnestly, he asked me where I was staying ‘that evening.’ I tried to explain that I was immediately heading to Glasgow to begin the West Highland Way and that I would be staying at campsites and hostels along the way, but this only seemed to make him extremely suspicious. “Where will you be staying TONIGHT?” he asked for the fourth time. Eventually, I told him I could get the address from my emails online so I left the immigration line and switched on my computer to get the address of a friend in London to put on my immigration form. (As it turned out, I spent that night on the bus from London to Glasgow, and I spent the next two nights camping in my tent.)
After returning to the counter to present this new information, I was met with even more questions about my intent to enter the UK. So finally I started going through every last detail in my itinerary for the next four months. I talked about the villages I would be visiting along the West Highland Way, how then I might go to France and trek the Mont Blanc trail before heading to Spain and joining my friend on the Camino de Santiago and I also told them how long I had wanted to do the Camino de Santiago trail, almost 20 years, ever since reading ‘The Pilgrimage’, by Paulo Coelho where he documented his trip as a spiritual journey.
After I spoke enthusiastically and passionately for over 10 minutes about my trip, they let me go on my way, but the agent also inferred that they would be keeping track of me and looking further into this. This didn’t really bother me as I was traveling alone and now it felt like I had company with me.
At 11 pm I was on a bus headed to Glasgow. I slept most of the 8-hour trip, and when I finally awoke at 6 am, it was just in time to see the sunrise over the Scottish hillsides, which were sparsely populated with colossal wind turbine windmills, all slowly and gracefully spinning in sync. It was a really beautiful sight to see first thing in the morning after almost 20 hours of traveling.
The reception I received in Glasgow could not have been more charming, happy and wonderful. From the very first question I asked at the Glasgow bus station and throughout the day, every single person I had the slightest interaction with seemed to be bursting with such positivity and I cannot remember the last time I have had so many lengthy conversations with complete strangers.
Things I needed to get done before heading to start the trek:
1. Put all of my cash money into a safe, travel, cash card. For this, I went to Thomas Cook and put nearly $6000 on two cards. One for the UK in Sterling. One for later in my trip in EU in Euros. This card can be used online and at ATMs and it also has a passcode, just like a regular bank card. So if this card is lost, it will be harder for someone to get money off of it before you call it in. For more information on this amazing service check out their website: www.cashpassport.com/thomascook
2. Get some warm clothing. I found a military surplus store right in the heart of town. You could get absolutely everything you need for your trek entirely from this store. Clothes, backpack, boots, walking sticks, gear, etc. I bought a Gor-Tex all-weather jacket and a wool ski cap.
Get a haircut. Luckily there was a Turkish Barber Shop immediately next door to the military surplus store.
After these tasks were done, I boarded a bus on the way to Milngavie. The bus ride was about 30 minutes and we didn’t pass anything memorable. The bus also let us off several blocks away from the start of the WHW. My advice is to take the train from Glasgow. It is only two stops away from Central Station and the train stop just steps away from the entrance to the trek.
In the middle of the village, I found the gate that marks the beginning of the WHW. I had meant to sleep the night in Milngavie and get an early morning start on the trek, but now that I had seen the entrance, my heart was racing and I couldn’t wait.
I visited the tourist information office and bought a WHW trekking map, a WHW passport/visa book with spaces to get stamped in each village that I travel through, a small tent and their warmest sleeping bag. I also bought a WHW patch which I planned to sew onto my backpack. I was now carrying a colossal backpack that weighed half my body weight. This didn’t matter to me at the moment, I just wanted to start walking.
I began walking the WHW at about 2:30 pm on May 1, 2015.
After getting my photo taken at the entrance to the WYW, I skipped down the concrete ramp, past a small charming waterfall and emerged immediately into … a parking lot. Yes, the first scene you will see after the joyous start of your adventure will be parked cars behind a building. Moments later, however, you are on an urban park trail leading you out of town. For the first hour, you are walking along streams and through the woods as massive factories and row houses are still within a few meters. By the third hour though, you are well out of town and the beauty of Scotland begins to unfold before you.
I left so late in the day that the only people I passed on the pathway were locals. Any other WHW trekkers that had left on this day had started many hours prior. I was so excited and enthusiastic about my adventure, I said ‘Hello’ to everyone. This is an open invitation to a lengthy conversation in Scotland, as I found out, as this simple greeting always seemed to lead to a quick 5-minute conversation with just about every person I passed.
Passing out of the urban park, into the relatively flat countryside, passing through sheep farm after sheep farm and eventually entering more rolling hills approaching Dryden, for the last few miles, my legs really started to ache. I kept tightening my waist harness thinking that a more secure fit would help with the weight of the backpack.
At around 8:30 pm, I finally came upon the Easter Farmhouse and saw the many tents in their yard. For £5 per person, you can camp on their farm. I expected that this adventure would really make me a bit sore, but finding a place to camp the first night was fairly easy.
I happened to lose my entire toiletry kit that night before I even got in the shower, but I was in my tent by 9:30 pm and slept quite well.
I was off to a great start!
Day 2 – Drymen > Balmaha > Rowardennan
I shouldn’t have been wishing so hard for an adventure, because the within the next 48 hours, I seriously had my ass kicked on the West Highland Way.
I had fallen asleep quite early, so I was up at 5 am having had a fairly good first night’s rest. I immediately started packing my tent, in the bitter morning cold.
I had forgotten some simple, everyday concepts while in my first year of living in Dubai. Concepts such as “morning dew.” The night before, I had placed my towel I had used after showering over my tent. The next morning, the mixture of morning dew and morning frost had turned my travel towel into a stiff sheet of ice, which had to be tied to my backpack to dry throughout the day.
I was the first one out of camp that morning and on my way… but it didn’t take long before the muscles in my legs were once again screaming at me. The flat surfaces were OK to walk on, but the problem is there were very few flat surfaces. The rolling hills just kept going higher and higher and I started to find excuses to stop for short, 30-second breaks. To look at the map, to look at the amazing views, or take photos of the mountains, sheep or waterfalls I was passing. Those short breaks took up a massive amount of time but gave my legs a needed rest.
Then, just as the rolling hills have about taken their toll on my legs I see a massive hill in the distance and wonder which route the WHW will be taking around it. As I approach closer to the hill, I begin to see more clearly that there is a path going right up to the top of this hill. I began to curse the world, seriously. My pack felt insanely heavy at this point and I didn’t know how this was going to be possible.
Up until this point I’d had amazing conversations with locals along the way. I was alert and perky and full of positive energy. Upon my approach to Conic Hill and for the entire time crossing it, the people I met seemed genuinely concerned about me. Thinking back to the amount of discomfort I was in seems quite hilarious now because it was my own bad planning that was the cause. (1) My backpack was absolutely way too heavy. (2) I had not taken the time to train on hills or stairs before I left for this massive adventure. My legs were completely fatigued and shaking violently in protest at this point, and people would ask me “Are you OK?” I quickly waved off their concern, but that didn’t stop them from repeatedly looking back to check that I was still alive as they made their way up the hill ahead of me. I wanted to cry at some points and at others, I wanted to get down and crawl on my hands and knees, however then I would have to stand up again, and I doubt I would be able to lift myself back up. This was almost 4 miles of extreme angles and stairs. I kept thinking to myself that when I get over the hill it will be easier going down. Again, I was wrong. Downhill only allowed this adventure to terrorize a completely new set of muscles.
“Slow and steady wins the race.”
I kept repeating this to myself and I did make it over the hill.. eventually. Every single person that had been miles behind me when I started had been able to pass me as I made my way through the first half of this day.
When I finally got off Conic Hill, I spent a few hours in a coffee shop in Balmaha, to let my legs calm down. I had an amazing lunch, hydrated myself with lots of water and coffee.
The second-day route continued from Balmaha and ended after another 7 miles in Rawardennan. There I was going to try to get a bunk bed in a hostel as there is no ‘wild camping’ allowed between Drymen and Rawardennan. Sleeping in a bed sounded amazing at this point.
As I left the coffee shop I stopped at a general store and got some cereal bars and a bottle of red wine. Starting at this point and for the next few days, I’ll be walking along the shore of Loch Lamond and I was told that the path going forward would be a fairly flat surface for a while (lies!!).
After I left the coffee shop my legs once again felt quite good. So I set out to find a place to stay that night. There were no campgrounds and every hotel was way too expensive or booked. This meant that I had to keep walking until I exited the restricted zone for wild camping. The rest of the day, it rained in a slight drizzle. I didn’t mind.. as this felt kind of good.
Onward and literally upward, 10 more miles, I was out of the restricted camping area. However, the path down to where I could actually set up a tent was closed off due to maintenance and there are $1000 fines for leaving the path in some places. My legs were having a violent tantrum and it was really starting to rain hard when a couple came up the path behind me, and a girl from Canada had just about had it that day as well. We hopped the fence and took to set up our tents.
I found a nice place way down the hill, just across a small stream and right beside a great tree. A nice bed of thick grass would insulate me from the cold ground. As I was setting up the tent, a black deer ran right in front of me. It felt like a very rare, surreal and magical experience. The couple found a spot I pitched my tent, I drank a cup of red wine and went to sleep. Then it started raining quite hard. But I was in a tent. I slept amazingly well… for a while.
At one point in the night, I started feeling wet. At first, I dismissed this but then it got to be too much. I mopped up the water in the tent with the clothes from my backpack and squeezed the water out through the tent door. Then spent the 5 minutes getting my sleeping bag back over me and zipped up to my chin.
After repeating this process several times, I knew that I needed to get creative to solve this problem. I took my rain poncho and draped it over my tent. This actually helped quite a bit and I got a bit more sleep until the wind blew the poncho off. My next step was to use the binder clips I brought with me to clamp the poncho to the corners of my tent. The tent was still leaking a bit, but not so much. I just want to get to sleep now.
Day 3 – Rowardennan > Inversnaid
I woke up at 6 am, then 9 am, then 11 am.. and then couldn’t sleep anymore and it was still raining hard. If my tent had been absolutely waterproof, I would have waited for the full storm out and then packed up and carried on when it was dry. That was not the case. I was wet and grumpy and the tent was still leaking, so I packed my things in the cold rain. I tried to wring all of the water out of my sleeping bag and all of my clothes, but in the end, my already heavy backpack now weighed an additional 10 pounds due to complete water saturation of absolutely everything.
Can you guess the mood I am in at this point? I can bet you are wrong. As I set out that morning, completely soggy and cold, I was beaming with happiness. I was doing this. I am having my adventure.
But now I had to get back to the path I was on before I hopped the fence last night and slept in an area that was blocked off for maintenance. After a full night of rain, the small stream I had crossed the night before, not so small.
In my mind, I was now facing rapids the size of the Colorado River. I had no idea how I was going to get across this insanity without being washed away. So I ended up climbing down the hill, all the way to the shore of Loch Lamond, and wading through the water to the other side of the water runoff, then I had to climb all the way back up the hill on the other side through the brush.
(Looking back on this first water obstacle of the day would later cause me to laugh. By the end of that day, within the next 6 hours, I crossed by foot many much more frightening waterfalls and rapids. If I had to face those first rapids again, I could walk right across no problem.)
It was at this next crossing that I stood there and looked at it for about 5 minutes. Absolutely terrified. It doesn’t look like much in the video, but please also keep in mind my legs felt completely depleted of energy and my backpack now felt like it weighed about 70 pounds. If the wind or the water happened to tip me over, I would be falling all the way down the side of that mountain.
But luckily, after 5 minutes of standing and staring, an elderly couple came up behind me and asked if I needed help. I did not wave off the invitation for assistance this time and I replied with a whimpering “Yes.” They linked arms with me and walked me across the water. I was ever so thankful.
I didn’t want to travel far this day, so I only had to walk 5 miles to get to the next village, Inversnaid. Due to the now insanely heavy backpack and a multitude of water obstacles, it took me over 6 hours of extremely difficult trekking to get this distance.
By the time I arrived at the bridge where I could glimpse the Inversnaid Hotel, I was wishing for a hotel room. The hotel called up to the Inversnaid Bunkhouse up the hill and there was one cancellation! They drove down to the hotel to pick me up and take me to the bunkhouse. Before I even got out of the car I asked if I could stay at the bunkhouse for 2 nights.
The first night I shared a room with 4 Germans. We all looked pretty worn out and we traded horror stories of our rain-soaked travels. That day almost broke me. There were times I wanted to call a taxi to come and pick me up, but thankfully that wasn’t an option.
I had made it 33 miles out of 96, I was 1/3 done!!!
The next day I opened up my backpack and spread everything out on the lawn to dry.
I also went through my bag and found many items I had been carrying that I thought were necessities, but that I never used. I got rid of my camping fork/knife/spoon set, my medicine box with aspirin and vitamin C powder, and I finished that bottle of red wine.. and realized what a bad idea it was to be carrying that in an already heavy backpack.
I absolutely loved my stay at Inversnaid Bunkhouse which is a historic church, converted into dorm rooms for trekkers. The top floor is a restaurant/bar/relaxing area called ‘The Top Bunk” and there I got my first helpings of legendary Scottish meals like ‘Haggis’ and I also had a “Black Pudding Salad.’
After a full day of rest, I am still loving this.. and I will finish.
I highly recommend:
T: 01877 386 249
Bunks starting at £17.50
Great hostel with generous and kind staff in a converted village church. Extremely helpful in assisting to plan your further journeys. A fun pub upstairs with good food. Here you can have the Haggis appetizer and the Black Pudding salad to for a complete Scottish dining experience.
Day 4 – Inversnaid > Crianlarich
The day I took off to sit in the Inversnaid Bunkhouse to recover, it was an absolutely stunning day. The next day, the day I started walking again, it rained lightly all day. I was refreshed and dry under my poncho so I absolutely loved it. The overcast skies were giving me the most perfect lighting for photographs, so there really was a major plus side to the drizzle. If I could only keep my camera lens dry.
While at Inversnaid, I had the staff at the Bunkhouse help with suggestions for booking hostels for the rest of the trip. I was able to book cheap places in Crianlarich (my next stop), Kinlochleven and at the end of the trek in Ft. William. This left two more nights that I would need to camp in the highlands when I would be at Bridge of Orchy and at Kingshouse. The idea of getting rained on in my leaky tent again during that time absolutely terrified me. I didn’t care if I got rained on during the day. But I didn’t want to sleep in a wet tent and then carry a soaked, wet pack again.
But moving along, this days trek took me from the shores of Loch Lamond and into the highlands. The pathways became thick with mud. As I traveled closer to the moors of Scotland the richer and thicker the mud got and the deeper my feet would sing into the pitch black goo if I happened to not find a stone path to cross the muck.
I found a discarded walking stick that was perfect and I thought I was being clever and used it for balance along a series of stones through an extra large area of mud. One little slip off of one slippery stone and my feet slid into the mud, and with the weight of my pack n my back it brought my knees into the mud.. and there was no stopping my entire upper body from going completely face-first into the blackest, most fertile mud I have ever had the pleasure of eating. I was horrified for about 5 seconds, but then, of course, started laughing hysterically. Thanks to my rain poncho, only my face and my lower legs were covered with mud. The rest eventually washed off in the rain. It turns out that this very thick black mud clumps up and falls off fairly easily.
I was completely covered in mud, but my legs hurt a lot less due to a lighter pack and I was still fairly dry under my poncho.. so I was still absolutely loving every second of this.
This is the part of the trek that allows you to begin to feel the warmth and charm of some remote Scottish villages. Except for the occasional modern convenience store, the villages are a charming reflection on what small village life has been like here in the past and the people of Scotland continue to be among the most cheerful and pleasant. I honestly have loved every second here, even the parts with the rain.
Along this path, you will cross quite a few mossy stones, some abandoned farmhouses and then later you will pass through miles of magnificent waterfalls. The Falls of Falloch could easily be the location of a 6-star luxury hotel. Majestic scenery, but somehow completely preserved as an all-natural beauty.
The falls go on for miles and miles and at one point, you are completely surrounded by waterfalls. This was an amazing and unexpected highlight of the trip.
My legs had also started to adjust to the experience and by the fourth day of major trekking through steep mountains with a massively heavy pack on my back, my legs felt as big and beefy as when I used to do cycling in my 20’s. I am not feeling the pain anymore from the weight of the bag, even though by the end of the day of walking, my legs still can hurt pretty bad. I can walk quite aggressively now though, instead of doing time-consuming baby-steps and whimpering the whole way (Day 1 – 3).
I now had to follow an itinerary set in stone with my reservations along the route that I had paid for in advance. May 9th I was to finish the West Highland Way. When I first started on WHW, I had also planned on continuing on through the “Great Glen Way” up past Loch Ness for another 90+ miles. The rain and experience with the leaky tent caused me to reconsider this options and I knew I would be saving this experience for another trip.
I got through even more mud, and then mud mixed with copious amounts of horse manure to finally reach the turn to Crianlarich. The path to Crianlarich took me a mile away from the main trail, but it was through a beautiful wooded area, no mud, and took me to the edge of the village. I tried walking down the steep hill to the storm tunnel that goes under the railroad tracks (the only way into the village from the path) but I ended up slipping and sliding down it most of the way on my butt, leaving now my front and backsides completely filthy.
By the time I got to the front door of the Crianlarich Youth Hostel, I stood outside so they could see me and I waited for them to motion for to me to come in before I made an attempt. I was filthy with mud, front and back, and I didn’t want to walk in looking like a wild animal without their invitation.
I got into the shower almost completely clothed so that I could rinse the pounds of Earth off. Stripping layers of clothing off and wringing them dry, I finally was completely nude in the shower, standing in a fine collection of mud, and somehow, rocks. I cleaned out the shower after I finally got myself clean. You could have grown crops in there after I was done.
The Youth Hostel was charming, but completely no frills. The Internet cost quite a bit to use as well. The staff was awesome, and the chill-out area of the hostel was a great spot to chat with local travelers. Most of the hostel guests were well-past-retired gentlemen that loved to get up every day and walk up the mountains. 75 and 80 years old was not stopping these guys from loving the great outdoors. I hope I can be like these older kids when I grow up.
Off to an amazing night of sleep.
SYHA Crianlarich Youth Hostel
T: 01838 300 260
Bunks starting at £16
A no-frills youth hostel, but exceptionally well-maintained and immaculately clean. I sound a bit redundant here, but once again, the staff is extremely kind and upbeat. There is no food service on site, but you can buy a frozen meal from the front desk and use their well-equipped kitchen to cook. As an option, there is a well-stocked convenience store down the road. Here you can find pre-made sandwiches and snacks, for those of you who don’t like to cook.
Day 5 – Crianlarich > Bridge of Orchy
The day started with a hint that it would start raining, but throughout the day it just kept getting brighter and brighter.
A wonderful, dry walk through the highlands.
I got to Bridge of Orchy and pitched my tend with a bunch of others, just along the side of the river. It was a short and glorious walk, and though the mountains were towering all around us, the path was relatively smooth.
Day 6 – Bridge of Orchy > Kingshouse (Glencoe)
The terrain has changed drastically! First, there were dry open fields. Then came the muggy shorelines of Loch Lamond. Then up into the soggy hillsides entering the dramatic open highlands and now that we are in the highlands, some of the toughest paths have yet to be trekked.
The paths are not hard because they are muddy, steep or slippery, they are not even more difficult because of all of the large, random rocks all over the path. It is even more of a workout dodging this rubble as it threatens to twist your ankle at every step.
But at least at this point, my legs are in excellent trekking condition and I got a lesson from the one of the staff at the Youth Hostel in Crianlarich on how to adjust my rucksack. Now the traveling is so much easier and the weight on my back is dispersed evenly.
I’ve gone 13 miles through the mountains in about 6 hours today. I feel like I’m practically flying now. I’ve finished with the days hike at 4 pm which is considerably faster than my 9 pm end times when I began this trek almost a week ago.
In the middle of my walk this day, I made this 360* video to show just how wide open and blissfully alone you can be on a path through the Highlands of Scotland.
On the way into town, I started walking astride an older man from Essex, England who told me all about the history of the surrounding area. The path I was on would take me directly through the area of the Massacre of Glencoe. Quite a horrific event that occurred in 1692, on the very ground I slept on that night.
The end of the days’ trek is supposed to be at the Kingshouse Inn, but I had called ahead and there were no rooms available there, so I camped at the base of Glencoe Mountain Resort. This is a stop 2 miles before you get to Kingshouse, so I was thankful to get off my feet a little earlier than expected. There is a ski resort here that is open to hikers in the summer to camp and they have a great lodge with food and drink. I just got a Haggis Potato and a Pear Cider, so I’m all good. I just hope the spirits of the massacre do not interrupt my last camping experience of the West Highland Way.
On this night, I suggested a campfire with the guy that has a tent next to me. Several others from the campground joined us with extra bottles of cider, wine, and even Jagermeister. It took us forever to start the fire with all of the damp wood around us, but in the end, we got it going. For the rest of my trek, my clothes smelled like campfire smoke. Not the worst smell in the world.
In the morning, I gave my sleeping bag and tent to the people running the Glencoe resort and asked for them to donate them to someone who may need them. This was an additional 5 to 7 kilos that I would be walking without now. Compared to its weight when I started, my backpack felt extremely light. Two more days of trekking and I’ll be done with my first trek this summer. I’m in NO WAY getting tired of this just yet.
Not as many photos now, since the highlands are so wide and open, it takes many miles for the scenery to change.
Day 7 – Kingshouse > Kinlochleven
It was freezing last night. My sleeping bag and tent didn’t quite do enough to keep me warm in the Highland winds and the artificial grass under my tent did nothing to insulate me from the icy chill of the ground. (I did not pack a sleeping bag pad, so this is my own fault.) But as I stated in my last blog entry, it was also my last night camping, so this morning I gave my tent and my sleeping bag to the lady at the campground cafe and asked they be donated to charity, and I now have a much lighter load to carry.
After the first two miles, I passed the historic Kingshouse Inn. I didn’t know that they regularly feed the deer here, so the deer have absolutely no fear of humans. I passed a large pack of them and gently walked by as to not frighten them. Very much an unnecessary effort, as I later learned.
The day began by crossing more of the moors the vast, wide-open, uninhabited areas in the highlands. The WHW then brings you to the “Devil’s Staircase” which is a steep climb all the way up the side of a fairly tall mountain. A week ago I would have been in tears with a pain in my legs and hips, and my shoulders would have gone numb from the weight of the backpack. — Today I did take one or two short breathers, but I never even thought about the bag on my back and I even ENJOYED the climb!
It was a short walk today, 10 miles, and I ended up in one of the most charming villages on Earth. Kinlockleven. The town on the side of the mountain looks like something out of a storybook. Something remarkable in this little village is the ‘The Ice Factor – National Ice Climbing Centre.’ This is a recreational facility that includes an indoor ice-wall which you can don gear and climb year round. I found out that ice climbing is a big thing here as some of the mountains locally are frozen for 9 months of the year.
I did take a short tour of the extremely charming village, but I know that the most fun is always back at the hostel, so I grabbed some food and headed back to where I had booked myself for the night, the Blackwater Hostel.
I was at the hostel on my computer, minding my own business, when the hostel was invaded by the self-proclaimed “BAD GIRLS” of Glasgow. These ladies were so much fun and only added to my opinion that Scotland has the friendliest people on the planet. After a full night of drinks and laughs, I went to bed while the Bad Girls continued their debauchery. One of them ended up in the flowerbed, which means they had a bonafide Bad Girl night. They all got onto my Facebook page and I am thrilled that I will be able to keep up with their sporadic reign or terror across the Scottish highlands. Plus, they made me a yummy breakfast in the morning. LOVE!!!
Tomorrow will be the last day of the WHW. And strangely I am not thinking so much about finishing tomorrow, all I can think of is when I can possibly come back and do it again. Maybe next year. WHW Round 2. I have learned so much and already I want to do it again.
Day 8 – Kinlochleven > Ft William
After the wonderful breakfast fixed for me by the ‘Bad Girls’ of Glasgow, (sausage, eggs, and some other stuff they called ‘dumplings’), I was off to finish the West Highland Way. Only 15 more miles to go.
A long 7 hours of climbing mountains and walking along ridge-lines before turning north for a final walk through the forest. It was depressing to see so many trees cut down. On the map, I was supposed to be walking through several different forest areas. Several of these areas had been completely decimated and it was now just open hillside with a multitude of sun-bleached tree stumps covering the vast open areas.
As sad as it was to see so many trees cut down, I do have to hand it to Scotland on another side. On my entire walk, this entire past 9 days, I do not think I saw enough trash or litter to fill up one small garbage bag. I walked 97 miles through the countryside, a path that is used by thousands of people each year, and there was NO LITTER! This made me love Scotland and the Scottish people even more.
With 5 miles left to go, I passed over the last hill and I could see Ft William way in the distance. This is when my legs and feet started hurting for the last time. No matter how good they felt at the beginning of each day, for the last 5 miles of each day, they started to get a bit sore. Today, I was also blessed with blisters for the first time, forming under both of my little toes.
You can tell the people in town that have just finished the West Highland Way, they are the ones that are walking funny, I’m so very proud to be in that group!
I stayed in the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel. You reach this location a full two miles before you finish the West Highland Way. So I stopped, took an amazing hot shower, had dinner, and then finished the trek.
To finish the WHW, you have to not only make it to Ft William, you have to walk an additional 1.5 miles through the city and all the way to the end of High Street to get to the ‘OFFICIAL’ end to the West Highland Way. I did it! When you get there you get to pose with the sign, and you can sit next to a statue of a man rubbing his feet.
In about one week I’ll be in France, on the border of Spain, to begin the Camino de Santiago, 472 miles across the top of Spain, then I’ll continue trekking down through Portugal.. all the way down to Sevilla, Spain (2 months walking), then back to the UK to do a quick trek of Wales then back to Dubai.
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