I am not going to go through my walk in detail and outline the best places to eat, best things to see or must do’s, as you will find much of this on the West highland Way website. I have however included a number of useful websites at the bottom of my blog, along with a few within the blog, which hopefully you can use too.
Instead I would like to tell you about my adventure and why this has been one of my most memorable experiences to date. I of course hope it would also inspire you to walk the West Highland Way or maybe just sections at a time.
MY CHILDHOOD DREAM
Ever since I was young, my dad insisted on us walking during our holidays and often at weekends. This would be along vast beaches, through local forests or over the small rolling hills you will find across Denmark.
To heat our house where I grew up, we had to use felled and chopped wood, almost like a biomass boiler. This meant we would be out and about a lot at weekends and during holidays, visiting local woods and forests, helping neighbours and farmers clear and tidy their land. In return we got free fuel! Not only did we really get the opportunity to connect with nature, but we also got to walk amongst the trees at a pace which allowed us to see and hear things you wouldn’t usually when passing on a forest path walking, cycling or driving.
I remember as a young boy, often standing waiting for the bus in the mornings on route to school and looking east towards the sunrise. What I saw, I imagined was huge and beautiful mountains, which I frequently dreamed of walking to and climbing. These were in fact just the clouds, as Denmark is a very flat country and you’re unlikely to find any hill much over 100 feet. I’ve always had an urge to see and climb mountains. What I didn’t know then was that one day I would have mountains like those I dreamt of on my doorstep and it would be part of our lifestyle and circle of friends to head to the mountains on a regular basis.
My love for Scotland began even before moving here in 2005. I, like many, had visited and fell in love with the country a few years earlier. I learned about the West Highland Way only a couple of years after moving to Scotland. After walking a small section in September 2010 – I had dreamed ever since of walking what is the most spectacular walk in Scotland, well probably in the UK!
When the opportunity arose for me to start planning the walk, there was an exciting moment of realisation that I may actually be able to complete it within the next few months.
Like most, I chose to walk from Milngavie, just outside Glasgow and finish in Fort William in the Scottish Highlands.
For me, like many, 2020 has been a worrying year, full of uncertainty and anxiety. Having gone on furlough leave in April of 2020 and not knowing when I would be going back to work, I looked to the outdoors for peace and rest. With the initial restrictions in place we could not leave the house much or go very far, I therefore started walking frequently during early mornings, during sunsets or going for cycles once the kids were in bed.
Doing this meant that I was actually already building up my general fitness, my additional training therefore just included carrying a rucksack on my walks. I started using an App called Strava, to track my pace and distance, which also helped me focus on the end goal, the 96 miles (155 kilometres) I needed to achieve to complete the walk. When you are planning the walk there are various maps which are useful, depending on how long you are planning on walking and where you want to stop, you should check out PlotaRoute to plan your individual route and stopovers.
Having already walked a bit over the years, I had most of the outdoor gear required. I did decide pretty late to purchase a new pair of hiking boots and a new lighter tent and made sure I did about 60 miles (100 kilometres) practice walking before using them, although not sure if this was quite enough in the end.
The tent was bought a couple of months before the walk and I managed a couple of sleeps in the garden, which went well and also practiced setting it up indoors and outdoors.
Having completed 18 formal practice walks of between 10km and 30km with my rucksack, plus many other walks and cycles, I felt ready!
I travelled through to Glasgow the night before starting the walk, to make sure I was there early enough and to meet someone from the West Highland Way team. As it happens, the WHW (06/10/1980) and I shared a birth year and only a week apart, so my 40th was celebrated in style, albeit a month early. I had offered to help share my story as part of their celebration. My story and video clips can be found here 40th Birthday Walk
Day 1 Milngavie to Milarrochy Campsite, Loch Lomond
I set off from Glasgow Queen Street train station the first morning, I arrived in Milngavie and had a quick chat with Paul from the WHW and we did a brief video before starting. Before you set off there are a couple of shops and cafes where you can pick up your first day’s supplies, but there are also a few places on route.
The first part of the walk is urban landscape, but this quickly turns into a more rural setting. Make sure you look out for wildlife at the start, for bird of prey or similar. Before my first stop, I passed the iconic Glengoyne Distillery, and a short walk from there I reached the Beech Tree Inn. As this was during the Covid period in 2020, they were unfortunately not operating their usual service. They still offered some refreshments, all had to be ordered and paid online and they would serve this outside.
A short walk later I managed to pick up lunch from the Turnip The Beet, which is a small independent shop, who also has a honesty shop for outside opening hours. On the first day of the walk you will find the most honesty boxes with things like snacks, fizzy drinks and there was even ice cream in a couple I passed.
As you walk along Garthness Road, which you will need to do for a while, before reaching the end of it, you will see your first glimpse of Loch Lomond. For me this was an exciting moment and it really hit me, I am now walking the West Highland Way!!
The walk continued and the views got even better as I started the ascent up Conic Hill, which lies south of Loch Lomond near Drymen and Balmaha. This is the first steep part of the walk and made even harder if you’ve already walked over 15 miles (20 km) on the same day.
Going up was not too hard, but going down was pretty steep and as ever, I was grateful for my walking sticks. Not only are they good for hills, but I also find using them for walking with my rucksack helps me even out the effort and lessen any knee pain.
As I came to the bottom, I arrived in Balmaha, which is a quaint little village on the shores of Loch Lomond and beside the Old Oak Tree Inn you’ll find the Village Shop with plentiful supplies for visitors and campers alike. While in Blamaha you would pass the Tom Weir statue and I’d recommend you pay it a visit.
It was then onto the last 2 mile stretch to the campsite. I had already booked ahead for my first two nights and would always recommend you book ahead, especially if you are walking during the busier months.
I arrived at Milarrochy Bay Campsite as the sun was setting, having walked about 21 miles (32 km), it was a race to get the tent set up before cooking dinner. This was cooked literally on the banks of Loch Lomond. If you do the same, I’d recommend you bring a midge net if you have it, if not – get one! It has come in very handy over the years!
Day 2 Milarrochy Campsite to Beinglas Farm Campsite
The second morning was the first of several glorious days of blue skies over Scotland and the West Highland Way. I had a shower, breakfast and then packed my gear. Left my camping spot as I found it, the way we should all do it, but unfortunately is not always the case as sometimes seen around Scotland’s lochs and forests.
I knew this was going to be a tough and long day, another 20+ miles (30+ km), but extremely rewarding with amazing scenery over Loch Lomond and wonderful wildlife spots along the route. My first stop after a couple of hours of reasonably easy walking, was at the Rowardennan Hotel, Clansman Bar. Absolutely stunning setting at the foot of Ben Lomond and with beautiful clear skies, ideal for a coffee and home baking for calories.
Next up was one of the more remote parts of the walk, still following the banks of Loch Lomond, the first stage of the walk is at least on a decent path. A few hours in you will come to a split in the path and you can either take the lower or higher path. Depending on the weather, the lower walk can be a little more difficult due to it being a smaller and more rocky path. I took the higher path just in case and as I knew I was doing a long distance, so didn’t need any extra challenges. On this section I started to see a lot of the same people walking, when others stopped for snacks or lunch, they then overtook me at my next stop and so it often went. I occasionally managed to stop and have a chat or briefly walked along with someone to hear what they had been up to, seen and their journey to get there. This was one of the things I also really loved about the walk.
My next brief stop and to top up water was at Inversnaid Hotel. Due to covid the hotel had to close unexpectedly, but thankfully there were still plenty of seats to take a rest outside and take in the impressive views overlooking Loch Lomond. You will find a small fresh water tap of drinking water available. This was very welcomed as it had been a very hot day, for September in Scotland, and I needed a lot of water!
The rest came at a good time, as the final stretch of this walk was by far the hardest of my West Highland Walk experience. The path is slow (and I mean slow), as little as one kilometre an hour at times, scrambling over rocks, sliding down ones or just having to take extra care due to the small path, right next to the loch. I also got the pleasure of meeting or rather smelling the local wild black goats. These fellas have been there for a long time and clearly used to the visitors passing by, although I would not recommend hanging around for too long to chat. It is fascinating though seeing them within only a few feet of your path just grazing or standing staring you in the face!!
About an hour before sunset I was still walking with over an hour to go. The path was long, but still so much amazing scenery around and probably would have been even better had I not had to do such a long stretch in one day, next time I might get a luggage transfer and spend some more days walking, maybe when I’m 50!
I managed to get to Beinglas Farm Camping just after sunset and it was a very welcome sight seeing their bar and facilities open. I managed to get the tent up in minutes and then headed straight for the bar for a refreshment and filling meal to top up the thousands of calories burnt during that day, which went down a treat.
After the first two days I had, I made the decision I would not make the walk in the five days I had planned, so I had to own up to my wife that I would be home a day later than expected! This definitely turned out to be the right decision. If you ever get to a stage when you have to stop or even slow down, make sure you do the right thing as it could be incredibly dangerous to your wellbeing and potentially to your future fitness or health if you don’t.
That night I had a good night’s sleep, despite it being very cold under the clear Scottish skies.
Day 3 Beinglas Farm Campsite to Tyndrum, By the Way Campsite
On the third day it was refreshing to know it was going to be a slightly shorter walk than expected, so I started it off with a spring in the step. It was also the first morning I had to buy more Compeed (blister plaster). If you have never heard of it, I’d highly recommend you check it out before any long distance walks. It’s like plaster, but much better and soothing, I ended up using a lot. It’s great for your feet, but if like me you plan on carrying 20 kg or more, then your shoulders may end up needing patched up like mine!
This walk felt so much more comfortable than the previous, so it almost felt easy. It was still about 12 miles (19 km). As you walk alongside the A82 for a while, you really get a sense of the scale of the mountains that we have so often driven past on the road below, but at a slower pace, it certainly changes your perspective. There were a number of interesting tunnels and crossings, at one point I found myself crawling through a sheep tunnel…
This part of Scotland we have driven a fair bit over the years, so it really was a wonderful feeling seeing it from above and taking in the incredible views.
As this was such a ‘short’ walk, I arrived into Tyndrum and the By the Way Campsite about 4pm, with hours before sunset to actually enjoy the village and pay a visit to the iconic Green Welly Stop for supplies. That evening dinner was at the Real Food Cafe on the high street of Tyndrum, which serves up a really nice fish and chips. We’ve been for dinner and even just coffee and cakes over the years and well worth a visit.
Day 4 Tyndrum, By the Way Campsite to Glen Coe, Kingshouse
It was another very chilly night under a clear sky, with a very wet tent from the humidity in the morning, but a warm shower and coffee made it all better.
This day was another long day at around 19 miles (31 km), but with better terrain than the banks of Loch Lomond and still very enjoyable. A nice and reasonably easy walk to Bridge of Orchy Hotel, where I had actually stayed a few years earlier (Link). Here was a small free drinking water tap at the side of the hotel by the main road, these are always welcome.
After a wee pit stop beside the bridge on the banks of River Orchy, it was onwards and up the next hill, which was a little longer than I had expected. Lunch was enjoyed at the top, with the view towards Loch Tulla and the path on the other side where I would be going next. This was also a great spot for drying the tent after the previous evening’s cold and humid weather.
At the bottom of the hill I was almost out of water, but thankfully the Inveroran Hotel had a free drinking water station. Due to covid they did not allow non residents to use their facilities, I assume they do during usual circumstances, but worth checking.
From there it was onto the old military road, Telford’s Parliamentary Road, which is pretty hard going due to the surface under your feet. But the walk is otherwise spectacular as you make your way onto the edge of Rannoch Moor, which is definitely one of the more remote parts of the walk.
While walking along the road I spotted a lone glider hanging in the skies above over the hills, beautiful and peaceful looking. During one of my stops I had a very nice ’cap’ shower from the stream, putting water in my waterproof cap and pouring it over my head and back, freezing cold, but GREAT!
I eventually got to the side of the Glen Coe mountains and this was just as the sun was setting over the hills, such as the iconic Buachaille Etive Mor and what a sight! As I approached the refurbished Kingshouse Hotel and campsite it looked busy, so I decided to pitch my tent about half mile from the hotel. What came as a nice surprise was the new shower and toilet facilities they now offer, definitely a welcoming sight.
After dinner by the tent in a pretty special setting, I decided to head for a pint in what was the original Kingshouse Hotel. Inside was too busy so it was an outdoor experience, with a pretty spectacular setting with the iconic Buachaille Etive Mor behind you so this made up for not having a warming fire next to me.
Day 5 Glen Coe, Kingshouse to Kinlochleven, wild camping
It had been another chilly night, but after a shower in the morning and on route back to the tent, I had probably the most surreal experience during the whole walk. As I approached the tent I saw a few deer roaming around, and of course expected them to walk away. Well they did not do that, pretty much the opposite. After roaming around while I was there, one decided to get close, as in really close. I proceeded to pick up a bit of heather and it came close enough to sniff it… well that was it, I was truly blown away and I thought I couldn’t love Scotland anymore, well I could! This was all with the setting of the already spectacular Glen Coe mountain ranges lit in a golden red colour from the sunrise.
First test to the legs that morning was the famous Devil’s Staircase just along the road from the Kingshouse. It was one of the shorter walks, but harder with the terrain in terms of the hill walks up and down. As it turned out, compared to some of the walking I had already experienced and also enjoyed, the Devil’s Staircase was reasonably easy and the views really were pretty spectacular. The downward walk to Kinlochleven however was pretty tough going, a lot of miles just going down down down and probably the second or third toughest part of the walk.
When I finally got to Kinlochleven, having passed some of the largest waterworks I’ve seen, with a refreshing spray from a leak in the giant pipes, it was late afternoon. I bought a couple of supplies from the local Coop. I had decided to wild camp that evening, the last of the walk, so there was another very hard two kilometers uphill just outside Kinlochleven, which was hard after an already long day. I made it about five kilometers beyond Kinlochleven before pitching my tent.
Day 6 Kinlochleven to Fort William
Another really good sleep, went to bed about 7pm as it was an early start the last morning, I could not miss the train back or my wife would probably have divorced me!
Started off with a cloudy morning, which was not that bad as the heat the whole week had been hard going carrying so much luggage. This last leg of the walk almost felt like I just needed to get to the end and finish up, which was a shame, but after over 80 miles of walking in five days and there being one day left, it was a huge relief and sense of achievement that I was almost at the end. This part of the walk was not the most spectacular and there seem to have been a lot of forestry work in recent years, so the scenery had clearly changed a lot. The moment I turned a corner and saw the giant that is Ben Nevis in front of me, I knew I was near the end but was also overcome with joy, not only that I was so close, but that it was now all downhill and all within reach only a few miles left.
I arrived in Fort William to meet Paul again from the WHW team for my finish. I thankfully had time to enjoy a pizza (well two) in the Black Isle Bar and a pint to top up some of all the calories used on my walk over those last six days.
Before heading onto the train, it was a quick stop at Mountain Warehouse for a new pair of socks for the journey home.
It really was a strange feeling getting on the train in Fort William and it did not feel real that I had actually completed the walk. I had never travelled by train to or from Fort William, but definitely something I’d love to do again, for the scenery alone if nothing else. As you travel through Rannoch Moor the wild deer were running alongside the train and making an already spectacular scenery even more special.
In conclusion, when (rather than if) I walk the West Highland Walk again, there are a few key points to take away.
- Luggage weight needs to be kept sensible i.e. not over 15kg if camping or much less if a day pack.
- Unless wild camping, I’d recommend the luggage transfer services, several are available and it’s very affordable for what you get.
- Having proper higher calorie foods, I had tried not to spend too much money and just bought cheaper meals, it’s not worth it!
- Make sure your clothes are waterproof, mine was okay, but could easily have been very different had it not been such a sunny week.
- Slow down and enjoy, maybe spend 8 to 10 days doing the walk.
I had the pleasure of getting interviewed by my friend Glen Moyer, a Texan by birth, but Scottish by heart on his podcast, Under the Tartan Sky, you should give it a listen A big thanks to Glen for taking the time to hear about my adventures.
Finally I wanted to give a big thanks to everyone who was giving advice, support etc before and during my walk, without them I would never have completed it!
West Highland Way here you will find helpful tips and advice on suggested routes, luggage transfers etc.
Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park website for local and up to date details.
Travel-Lite: West Highland Way Baggage Transfer since 1995
AMS Scotland: West Highland Way Baggage Transfer