The historic Highlands of Scotland, have inspired many an artist and author, who from time immemorial have utilized their fairy tale charm, in some way or the other, as a background for their creative narratives. Today hikers and trail blazers consider this awe-inspiring region to offer some of the best walking routes to be found anywhere in the world, of which the West Highland Way is arguably one of the most precious assets of the country. So, if the heart is willing, here is what all you need to know about this trek before you set out on the most scenic long distance hike of your lifetime.
The total length of the West Highland Way is approximately 96 miles or 154 km, stretching from Milngavie in the south,to Fort William in the north. This route is said to be less demanding, and is generally followed by trekkers. Owing to the ever changing terrain, the distances involved and the ability level of the hiker, the walk planning is done in stages and usually completed in eight to nine days, or even less. It is advisable to opt for a guided tour with Mickledore Walking Holidays for the first time to get an idea about the terrain and route.
The West Highland Way passes through some of the most beautiful landscapes in Scotland, but with a diverse climate, so one should be well prepared to counter all eventualities in order to have a good time.
Clothing and accessories for changing weather conditions should include, breathable layers, lightweight and windproof trousers, Hat, warm gloves and most importantly, sturdy, ankle high waterproof boots.
Waste bags, preferably biodegradable, are a must to carry your rubbish and dispose it at the proper point.
A range of excellent guide books with good West Highland Way maps are available. Carrying one is very important, especially those which display the route in multiple images, all on one sheet.
Disposal of own waste is equally necessary, and more so when there is no toilet near you. A small trowel will come in handy to bury the poo and level up the area.
To attract someone in an emergency.
Water bottle, torch, high energy food bars, knife, watch with alarm.
To help you retain balance and take the pressure off the knees
First Aid kit–
Just to be extra careful a small first aid kit containing paracetamol, antihistamines, blister pads, bandage,knee support, antiseptic cream, safety pins, scissors and tweezers. Make sure your First aid kit is in your day pack.
Size will depend on the length and how you intend to walk the Way. Either way it should have a waterproof cover to protect your kit from getting wet.
Traditionally, the Way is traversed from Milngavie (South) to Fort William (North). An obelisk sign is marked at the Milngavie town centre, which is the starting point of the route. The finish is designated by the West Highland Way Walker statue in Gordon Square in Fort William. Regular train and bus services connect both these towns with Glasgow, making public transport a convenient option. In fact, the Milngavie town centre is just 25 minutes by train from Glasgow station. Waterbus services are available along the shores of Loch Lomond, that skirts the West Highland Way, for those who want to hike and explore the loch as well.
West Highland Way accommodation
There is a wide range of accommodation and support service on offer, should one choose to break journey at any point. From spending a comfortable night in a classy hotel to camping, all types of options are available. In fact, West Highland Way camping is very popular, as the designated sites come with all amenities like parking, pet friendly, WiFi and children play fields. The Ardoch House Hotel and Campsite, located just five miles from Milngavie, is a highly rated property ideal for a first night stop for walkers.
Best Time to Go the West Highland Way
Spring and early Autumn are the two best seasons for undertaking the walk, because at the height of summer the trail gets extremely busy and crowded. May is good for those who require dry weather, but again the traffic is heavy and the midge swarms are a real nuisance during the evenings. A fine sprinkling of snow on the top of mountains can occur in Autumn, but this just adds to the mystery and makes the hike no less spectacular. Having said, the Scottish weather is known for its fickleness and one should always be prepared to face the burning sun along with the horrendous rain at any moment of the trip.
Walking the West Highland Way
The route sections are given below, but due to the variety of terrain involved, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it should be covered the same day. Planning should be done taking into account the fitness levels and the places of interest on the way which are likely to take up extra time.
Milngavie to Drymen(12 miles)
Initially your trail passes through open countryside and winds its way across country paths, an abandoned railway line, picturesque Conic Hill to arrive at Balmaha on Loch Lomond. Walking up to Drymen is mainly flat and low lying, on good footpaths of which some are tarred.
Drymen to Rowardennan(14 miles)
Good tracks and paths along a major portion with just one difficult climb. The road is undulating and twists it’s way along some parts of Loch Lomond.
Rowardennan to Inverarnan(14 miles)
From here the route goes along the secluded eastern shores of the Loch, via Inversnaid to Inverarnan. The road has many ups and downs and is difficult and can get extremely tiring. This is a demanding and challenging section, but is rewarded with spectacular scenery.
Inverarnan to Tyndrum(12 miles)
The trail now winds its way via Crianlarich to Tyndrum in the north. Paths here are generally in good condition and covered with gravel. The road gradually ascends into the Scottish Highlands.
Tyndrum to Inveroran(9 miles)
Barring some ascends and descends, the road is gravel topped and well drained
Inveroran to Kingshouse(10 miles)
This scenic route crosses over Drovers’ road between Bridge of Orchy and Inveroran and provides stunning panoramic views of the largely isolated countryside. The trek passes over moorland and can become quite tricky, should the weather turns sour.
Kingshouse to Kinlochleven(9 miles)
A remote walk passing through some difficult stretches, including a steep climb followed by a sharp descent into the town of Kinlochleven.
Kinlochleven to Fort William (16 miles)
Starts with another steep climb which skirts the Mamoré Mountains from Kinlochleven. The walk is over open country with no shade till you reach Glen Nevis, the forest area just before approaching Fort William, and by the foot of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain.
The West Highland Way is an extremely popular trekking route and early booking is highly recommended as tours tend to get reserved months in advance. This classic long distance walk is now a part of the International Appalachian Trail.
Thinking of doing the West Highland way Now? Tell me more about your experience when you do.