Hiking the West Highland Way in Scotland

The Trail

Walking the West Highland Way in Scotland is a real adventure. The trail is opened in 1980, became popular with those who like the outdoors and not without a reason. The trail is 152 km long so it takes a couple of days to finish it, depending on your speed. The official start is in a Milngavie (close to Glasgow) and it goes all the way to Fort Willams through very divers and beautiful landscapes. In the Highlands you will find raw nature with green mossy forests, rough snowy mountains and desolate moorlands. It will make you realize that the earth in its purest form is nothing more than rocks, water and flora and fauna.

The West Highland Way

The villages you will find along the trail are small. Sometimes nothing more than a hotel and a house though they are excellent places to find some warmth and a good meal after a day of walking. The trail is long but not particularly hard. Some parts are a bit more difficult because of rocky terrain and the Devil’s Staircase can be a real climb but overall it is quite easy. You do not have to be a hardcore hiker in order to finish and enjoy it. Especially not if you travel light and stay in hotels or bed and breakfasts. I have seen four grannies doing it.

Once you have started walking you will leave Milngavie soon and you will start to see something you will find everywhere along the trail. Moss! It is on trees and rocks and covers forest floors and mountains. The second thing you will start to notice are sheep. Pretty much the same story as with moss although I have not seen them in trees. To be fair, the first day is the least spectacular but nice enough for a good first impression of the country. You will get to see the first iconic grassy hills and you can enjoy the quiet farm life. Old oaks are standing in the fields and when we were there, lots of parts were colored yellow because of all the daffodils.

Highland Sheep

From Drymen, the landscape becomes more interesting. There are parts with denser forests and soon you will get your first views on Loch Lomond which is the largest lake in Great Britain by water surface. You can climb the Conic Hill for some beautiful views before you will descent to the shores of the lake. The lake is 37 km long and you will follow the shores until the end in Ardlui. It is a tough but rewarding part of the trail with rocky terrain, nice lake views and oak forests.

Oak Forest Loch Lomond

Once you have reached the end of the lake you will enter the desolate moorlands which are so characteristic for the Highlands. Sometimes you will cross pine forests but most of the landscape exist of heather, gras, rocks and water. Mountain peaks covered with snow surround valleys and the views are fantastic. At one point you have to climb the Devil’s Staircase which will take you to the highest point of the trail. Standing on the highest point in this rough and unforgiving landscape made me feel a bit like a mountaineer.

On the last part you will have to cross a big and long mountain pass. In bad weather the path can turn into small creek with water coming from everywhere like we have experienced. The good thing is that the path will lead you to the end in Fort Willams which is a bigger city with plenty of bed and breakfasts so you will have a nice place to rest and sleep. Here you can choose to climb Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Great Britain as a dessert on the whole trip. That means, if you have energy left. In my photo essay about the Highlands you can find more pictures to get a better impression.

View on Ben Lomond

The people

Although there are not a big amount of people living in the Highlands, you will get to meet the local people in the villages along the way. In the pubs or on campsites for example and there is one thing I have to say about the Scottish: they are incredibly friendly! People stepped out of the car to ask if we needed help with directions when we were looking on the map, they were always in for a friendly chat and seemed very honest. When we arrived wet to our bones in Fort William, the lady of our bed and breakfast washed and dried our clothes immediately. I am just saying.

Together in the Pub

Now the fellow hikers. Because everyone is walking the same trail it is likely you will meet people more often. Especially in the last part because there are not a lot of options to sleep. Hotels and campsites are limited so at the end of the day you will all see each other in the pub or hotel bar. It is a lot of fun. You are all doing the same thing which is quite extreme and it gives some kind of bond. You drink some pints together, eat some and just have a good time together. I enjoyed this aspect of the trip as well. Perhaps it happens more when you are camping because you have no warm room to relax in so you go to the pub instead.

The weather

I have never seen such changes in weather as in Scotland. I must say that we have been extremely lucky with the weather. Scotland is well known for its rain but we have had quite some amount of sun. Some days the weather could change so fast. One moment you are walking with your face in the sun while the next moment you see a huge grey wall of rainclouds approaching you. It looks like you have to face the worse weather ever but after 5 minutes of rain the sun is shining again, like it had never happened.

Changing Weather Scotland

Personally, I am a bigger fan of sunshine but sometimes the grey days we had, added something to the scenery as well. It made the landscape mystique. Mountain peaks hidden in clouds and a vibe that made the empty landscape even more desolate. Some nights it was below freezing and we had ice on the tent. We have had hail and snow so accept for a hurricane we quite had it all. The last day we had rain all day and that makes it hard to enjoy things. I think if we had days like that all the time we would not have finished the trail. Especially because we were camping. Keep in mind that May and June are the driest months.

Flora and Fauna

You are probably not going to walk the West Highland Way if you do not like nature because that is exactly what you get. There are still a lot of untouched areas formed by the glaciers of the last ice age. Along the trail you will find a lot of diversity in flora and fauna. In the forests you will find oaks, birches, pine trees and moss covered floors colored in red and green. In the open areas you will find grass, heather and moss. Of course if you take a closer look you will find much more like sundew which is a carnivorous plant. The good thing is that almost every day you will have a different scenery with different kinds of vegetation. It keeps the track very interesting.

Moorland

If you are lucky you can spot some fauna too. Alright, you do not have to be lucky to find some sheep. Next to the sheep you will meet another domesticated animal which is the highland cattle. It is basically a big cow with long hair and some have big horns. Quite impressive. In an area next to the lake you can spot some feral goats. They have big horns as well and I think the rocky terrain suits them pretty well. Another bigger mammal is the deer and we saw a lot of them around Inveroran. I think they are wild but they had a pretty big interest in the area around the hotel and were not shy at all. There are supposed to be wild cats as well but we did not see one. Just like the golden eagle. We did saw a lot of bird though. Buzzards for example, the Common Chaffinch, the White Wagtail and lots of birds I do not know the name of.

Highland Cattle

Accommodation

The trail itself is the same for everyone but you can choose how you want to walk it. You can decide to travel light or with a heavy Backpack. We decided to travel with a heavy backpack because we brought our own tent. It is tougher but it gives more freedom. If you decide to go for hotels or B&Bs you have to book everything in advanced and for some places you have to book a long time ahead. With a tent we did not need to do this, we did not had to be somewhere at some point and it is much cheaper.

Wild Camping on the West Highland Way

Sure, a warm soft bed is nice after a day of walking but a tent can be cozy too. If you are older or not used to walk with a heavy bag for so long I would advise to stay in a hotel or B&B but otherwise, take the adventure and freedom of a tent. There are campsites along the way with showers but not everywhere. We had to camp in the wild twice and had to use the creek.

Another option and a little bit in between are the trekkers huts. You can find them on campsites and they are basic huts made of wood with a heater and bed (no sheets and pillows). One night we gave ourselves a threat and took one and it was luxury after the tent.

Walking the West Highland Way has been very special to me. I loved to be surrounded by nature and to have lived basic for those nine days. It was beautiful and together with some good company there is actually nothing more that I need. Thanks for sharing this with me dad! Is was also the first challenge I gave myself for my project. A dream I have realized and which I can scratch of my list. I feel satisfied and a wonderful memory richer.

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