Charlie and Sue Soord, Perth, WA
When planning a trip to the UK earlier this year my wife Sue and I thought it would be a good opportunity to complete a hike in Scotland. After some research on the internet, we came up with the West Highland Way (WHW). The WHW is a very popular walk of about 95 miles (154 km) in the Scottish Highlands, starting at Milngavie, just north of Glasgow, and finishing at Fort William. We were a bit apprehensive about undertaking this walk due to its popularity—some 40,000 walkers complete it every year—and had images of a track with day walkers, horse riders and tourists everywhere. We were pleasantly surprised to find that this was not the case.
Our estimate for the walk was eight days, with a day off about half way for a break to take in some of the Scottish countryside. We had our luggage transported ahead to our pre-booked accommodation, which meant we be carrying only day packs, an added bonus.
Our adventure started with a train trip from Glasgow to Milngavie, which lasted about one hour. We walked from Milngavie town centre, where the pictured monument indicates the start of the walk, to Drymen, a distance of about 19km. We did encounter a few walkers on this day, but this was expected as it was the official start of the walk and a popular day walking route. The walk was on a well designated pathway through farming areas and some quaint Scottish villages with which we both fell in love. The weather was mild and slightly overcast. We booked ourselves into an excellent B&B at the Clachan Inn.
On the second day the walking distance increased to 24km we walked from Drymen to Rowardennan, with the route taking us away from civilisation and out into the countryside. We had a steady climb up to the top of Conic Hill (358 metres) which provided great views over Loch Lomond, and experienced the chill of the Scottish wind for the first time. The walking on this day was quite varied and interesting, especially alongside Loch Lomond through ancient oak woodlands. We ended up for the night at a great YHA located just outside Rowardennan.
The weather had to change sometime, after all this was Scotland. On the third morning we left Rowardennan in misty light rain, but luckily no strong wind. As we walked alongside the loch it was like a millpond. The walking was easy for a few kilometres and once again we walked next to an ancient oak forest. We reached Inversnaid for a morning tea of coffee and scones as the misty rain started to clear and once again we had great views over the loch. The track became quite rocky and covered in greasy tree roots, reminding us of our tramping experiences in New Zealand and Tasmania. Also another delight reminiscent of New Zealand were the midges that gave us the ‘hurry up’ every time we stopped. We came across a walkers’ hut, or ‘bothy’ as the Scots call them, where walkers could stay overnight if they wished. After walking 22.5km we reached Inverarnan, where we experience our first Wigwam accommodation (I likened it to staying in a hobbit’s house!) (Ed note: Wigwams are a fairly recent innovation, built of wood and shaped rather like a upturned boat. They are found in many parts of the UK as shelters for walkers).
Day four was an easy day’s walk, 19km to Tyndrum. We had a bit of a climb just after Carmyle Cottage, where the track joins an old military road built in the 18 century. We also walked through the ruins of the thirteenth century Saint Fillan’s Chapel and graveyard, and passed through the countryside where the Battle of Dal Righ took place, when Robert the Bruce was defeated in 1306. We experienced some Melbourne weather with four seasons in one day (but thank goodness no midges). Stayed in a great Hostel called “By The Way” run by outdoor enthusiasts.
Time to rest our tired legs. The thought of walking 28km the next day was a great excuse for a break. The Scottish weather finely caught up with us and it rained all day. We decided to catch the train to Oban, a fishing and ferry port. The train trip lasted for about one hour and was very scenic. Once in Oban we caught a small ferry to the nearby island of Kerrera for a fantastic seafood lunch and yes, it rained all the way back to Tyndrum.
Day six got off to a great start when I realised it was going to a 30 plus kilometre walk, not 28, to the Kings House Hotel! We had an early start about 7:15 am and walked alongside Beinn Odhar (899m) and Benin Doran (1074m).The low clouds obscured their tops but they were still very impressive.
We walked towards Rannoch Moor on an old military road, which had cobble stones the were very painful on our feet. The moor itself was a very interesting place to walk across, no sheep or cattle to been seen anywhere. In fact there was nothing to seen for miles. Thank goodness the weather was calm, I would not like to be caught out there in the heavy rain or strong winds.
We began to think that we had the moor to ourselves and we could not believe it when some marathon runners came flying past us! Unbeknown to us there was an ultra-marathon planned for the day that had started in Milngavie early that morning. The winner apparently completed the 154 km course in 16 hours.
We left Kings House Hotel early the next morning and headed for Kinlochleven, about 14km distant. The weather was overcast with no wind. Our next challenge was the Devil’s Staircase, which we were looking forward to, as when we climbed it we would reach the highest point of the walk at 564 metres. Once we reached the top the 360 degree views were amazing, especially the fantastic sight of Buachaille Etive Mor. This mountain is one of the most impressive and photographed peaks in Scotland. We started a steep descent towards the village of Kinlochleven and passed an extensive hydroelectric power station. The views of the pretty village were spectacular.
The final day of this great walk left us with some 24km to go. We climbed steeply to leave Kinlochleven and walked along another old military road. Again, the views of the valley and Loch Leven were spectacular. We walked across Lairig Moor, another exposed isolated area where for miles only the ruins of old buildings were to been seen, and then descended steeply into Glen Nevis, with great views of Ben Nevis (1342m). The weather was kind to us again and we could see walkers taking the winding tracks to the top of the largest mountain in the UK. From there we took a leisurely walk into Fort William for a well earned break and a great curry dinner.
Sue and I were very impressed with the West Highland Way, which surpassed all of our expectations, Scotland is an amazing country with incredible scenery, and the history of the places we walked through was fascinating. The track is well marked and on a worn pathway. We both would like to go back and complete some more walks in this unique area. The highlights were many, especially walking alongside the lochs, the remoteness and isolation of some parts of the walk and walking across the barren moors.