West Highland Way

Overview

Hugely popular and deservedly so. You will not be short of company on this route from Milngavie to Fort William taking you across the desolate Rannoch Moor into Glen Coe. Internationally known and walked by 10’s of thousands each year.  Catch the weather and this will be a memorial experience, but be prepared for changeable conditions at any time of year.

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Time of year

To avoid the midges any month except late June, July, August and early September.  Avoid the winter months unless you are experienced in those conditions as the trail passes across remote high level moorland and a number of mountain passes.  Many people say May and late September are ideal, as is the case for most of Scotland.

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Length of walk

95 miles. Almost always walked from Milngavie (pronounced “Mul-guy”) to Fort William to keep the sun on your shoulder and gently ease you into the Scottish mountains from the low lands north of Glasgow.

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Accommodation

Unless you are camping you must book in advance, up to a year in some cases.  This is a very popular route and much of the accommodation is booked up by package tour companies.  Likewise the youth hostels.  Camping sites are good as are wild camping possibilities, the former always welcoming a lone backpacker and generally with good facilities.

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Experience

I had just finished the Southern Upland Way, some 200 miles across the desolate and remote Scottish Borders. On reaching Portpatrick on the west coast I caught the bus/train to Glasgow and onward to Milngavie having found accommodation at a B&B that had just received a cancellation.  Waking the next morning I was greeted by a huge room full of walkers from all over the world. Mostly USA and Canada, with a few Germans.  Most of them on pre-booked walking holidays.  You had to queue at the start point for a photograph, kindly taken for me by a chatty couple of gnarly ladies from Yorkshire.  Mini buses also queued to take luggage to the next stop over point.  So no point in rushing, but easing my way into the walk, almost to rest having completed the SUW.

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The gnarly ‘calendar girl’ ladies had the clothes off skinny dipping within a few miles from the start as I passed numerous clackity clack walking poles travelling north.  My pace meant I was ahead of most of the crowd before lunchtime into Drymen.  The ascent of Conic Hill gave spectacular views across Loch Lomond. A popular spot for tourists walking up from Balmaha.  I spot a Peregrine Falcon on the descent for a nice meal and a short walk to a good campsite, thankfully midge free (almost). Glorious weather forecast for the next 4 days 🙂

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Up early as fellow campers zzz zzz away to stop at Rowardennan Hotel for breakfast. Inversaid for lunch, all very civilised. I meet a couple of 5 day through hikers and walk with them into Benglas campsite for a nice meal and afternoon kip.

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In this weather it is almost criminal to waste the day with a lie in, so up early again to enjoy the early morning light, the best time of the day. Crainlarich and Tyndrum pass quickly as I progress into the highlands.  At Inverannan I decide to carry on after for a further 6 miles into the moor to wild camp.  What a good decision. Fantastic views and beautiful quiet evening, watching the wild deer try to steal my food.  It is much colder, so full gear on for a blissful sleep.

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As I wake very early this time (5AM). It is very cold given the cloudless sky, but exhilarating to walk into Glen Coe and the Kings House Hotel for breakfast, just as a vast campsite is waking. It dawns on me that it is possible to walk a full 30 miles into Fort William and complete the path in 4 days. I’m feeling great so march up Devil’s Staircase with ease followed by a rapid descent into Kinlochleven. The pace is terminated with a fall where I twist my ankle, but I am still able to walk into Fort William along some hard going rocky tracks with superb view of Ben Nevis.  I am exhausted on reaching the brass statue in FW high street and phone around for a B&B as I eat some Fish and Chips. Luckily someone has a bed and after a couple of pints in the bar I am away with the fairies until breakfast the next day and the start of the Great Glen Way.  This day is perhaps one of the best walking days I have had in Scotland.

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Itinerary

  • Day 1 – 19m – Balmaha – Tent
  • Day 2 – 20m – Benglas Farm – Tent
  • Day 3 – 26m – Ba Bridge – Tent
  • Day 4 – 30m – Fort William – B&B

Depart Fort William for the Great Glen Way