In June 2018, my girlfriend Amalie and I traveled from Copenhagen to Edinburgh, Scotland and further to Glasgow to start our long-awaited walk. The West Highland Way stretches 154 km. (94 miles) from Milngavie to Fort William, taking in a huge variety of scenery along the way, from countryside parks to loch-shores and open moorlands to steep mountains.
Enjoy the read.
Day 1 - Milgavnie to Drymen (0 km. to 19 km.)
After a pleasant stay and heavy supply run at Alba Hostel in Glasgow and short train ride to Milngavie, we reached the southern terminus of the trial.
We seriously couldn't have asked for better starting conditions. The sun cheered us on as we paved our way through that first stretch of the route, which was flat as a pancake and admittedly, still had that urban-feel. However, it gradually got way better as we got closer to Drymen. Everything became a bit greener, a bit more hilly and we started to think about the daunting Conic Hill waiting for us in the distance. Conic Hill had to wait to the next day because we decided to make a halt for the night at Drymen (like most other hikers).
By recommendation of one the locals, we camped at a football pitch in the outskirt of Drymen. We also had the chance to celebrate our first day on the trail with a beer, a soda and the England vs. Sweden World Cup game at Drymen Inn.
TIP: Camping gas can be bought at the Iron Chef in Milngavie just next to the start of WHW.
Day 2 - Drymen to Rowardennan (19 km. to 43 km.)
After a good night's sleep, we had a quick breakfast consisting of oatmeal and bars before we got going around 7.30 AM.
Day Two brought a lot of ups and downs terrain-wise, starting off with a fairly steep climb up Conic Hill. The views from the top are absolutely incredible. It felt like we entered the Gateway to The Highlands, as we now laid the flat terrain behind us and looked towards Loch Lomond and the mountains lying ahead.
After the tough climb, we ascended down to the cozy village of Balmaha where we had a "second breakfast"/early lunch. This was the first time I had a Full Scottish Breakfast (with haggish, of course!). After Balmaha, the route cruises along Loch Lomond: Scotland biggest lake. The trail scenery around Loch Lomond is SO green and lush, it was a total change of environment. It had an almost tropical vibe to it.
TIP: There's a no camping zone around the village of Rowardennan, so make sure to book accommodation in advance or be ready to walk extra (or less) miles.
Day 3 - Rowardennan to Beinglas Farm (43 km. to 67 km.)
The weather on Day Three was the same as the day before: sunny, hot and super pleasant. We were in for a treat.
On this day we finished the Loch Lomond stretch, which was very joyful yet demanding due to the consistent up's and down's on the trail.
By the end of the day, we were sweaty, tired and quite hungry. But, our guidebook praised an upcoming accommodation only a couple of miles after Loch Lomond called Beinglas Farm. The guidebook promised tons of space for pitching tents, a hiker's shop, a restaurant (with beer!) and HOT SHOWERS. All we could ever dream of - a true Hiker's Heaven. We had some decent burgers with Highland meat, local beer, and a nice long shower after dinner time.
Almost too good of a place to leave the day after, but we had to get our arse's moving. Sadly.
TIP: On the Loch Lomond stretch, the trail divides into the High Route and the Low Route at one point. Both routes "meet up" again and takes you in the same direction, but the Low Route is far tougher and more adventurous. We picked the Low Route and even though it's only 5 kilometres or so, it'll add some spice to your day. You'll look even more forward to that beer in the end of the day. Promise ya.
Day 4 - Beinglas Farm to Tyndrum (67 km. to 86 km.)
It had to happen. Day Four was our first day with a full day of rain, fog and windy weather. Scotland like we envisioned. I wouldn't say it was cheerfully welcomed, but it was indeed very expected. Oh, and another thing...
Those. God. Damn. Midges.
We sort of knew, that we couldn't do the West Highland Way without encountering the infamous, bloodsucking devils that are Highland midges. They're tiny-tiny flies with the appetite of an elephant. Only in blood. This was the day that my Sea To Summit became my favorite piece of gear for the trip.
Aside from the midges, we had a nice day. It was actually not bad at all with the weather, it was nice to see things in a different atmosphere and light. We had a quick lunch at Bridge of Orchy and spent the night in Tyndrum, where we also saw France play Belgium at the local pub.
Day 5 - Tyndrum to Glencoe Mountain (86 km. to 114 km.)
We now traversed into Rannoch Moor territory: an open and vast stretch of nothingness. Beautiful and stunning in its own way.
This is a wild and remote section of the West Highland Way and one of the last great wildernesses of Europe. You walk along an old military road most of the day and the views are often quite amazing.
TIP: Due to the vast openness of this stretch, you're also exposed to the elements, so make sure to have your wind/rain-jacket at hand.
Day 6 - Glencoe Mountain to Kinlochleven (114 km. to 130 km.)
Day Six started out like Day Five; foggy, windy and with a jolly band of midges accompanying us as we made our way towards the West Highland Way's arguably most notorious climb: The Devil's Staircase.
In our guidebook, the story behind the name is explained:
"The Devil’s Staircase was initially given its name by the soldiers who were part of the road building programme of General Wade. The carrying of building materials up that stretch of the road was not popular! The name was perpetuated when some of the workers building the Blackwater Dam chose to travel to the nearest pub after their wages had been paid out. For the workers at Kinlochleven, the journey to the Kingshouse Hotel proved to be more difficult than many realized. The journey back was even worse as unsteady legs meant that many were unable to manage the return trip and, on a cold winter’s night, the devil often ”claimed his own“.
Poor soldiers - we now share their struggles. The climb up is quite demanding but nowhere impossible. And the views from the top are quite rewarding (even in misty conditions like we had).
In Kinlochleven, the last village before Fort Williams and the end of West Highland Way, there's plenty of options for resupply and accommodation. Also, the views of Loch Leven are stunning.
TIP: Glencoe Mountain Ski Resort offers tent sites plus they have hot showers and a nice lodge where you can eat and drink.
Day 7 - Kinlochleven to Fort William (130 km. to finish)
The final stretch. One of the awesome things about West Highland Way is that the trail gradually gets more and more exciting all the way to the end (that is if you walk from south to north).
With ambivalent hearts, a mix of excitement to reach our goal and sadness of having to say goodbye to the beautiful trail that has been our home for a week, we set off from Kinlochleven towards Fort William. However, we had to make a break already 5 minutes after we set off. Amalie had had some trouble with her shoes being too tiny and her toe finally said "NO! YOU STOP RIGHT NOW!". So, we had to cut a hole in her brand new hiking shoes so the toes could get some space:
Needlessly to say, the fix made wonders! However, Amalie's shoes were now a goner. If you want to avoid issues like this, I'd advice you to have a read at my friend Jenny's article at HoppyHelp: 'The Ultimate Guide to Hiking Footwear'.
With the toe problem out of the way, we begun our 26 kilometer soldier march towards Fort William: no breaks, no biggie. When Ben Nevis, UK's highest peak revealed itself after some hours of hiking, we knew we were close and picked up the pace. We reached the old finish of the West Highland Way at kilometer 154, but continued a bit further, as the new finish has been moved approximately 2 kilometers down to the city centre. Here, we celebrated, high-fived and had our pictures taken. We DID it!
7 days of adventure through the Highlands were now officially over, but we kinda already wanted to get back out there... after we had rested our feet a little. 'Till next time, Scotland.