14 – 20. Apr 2019
This April I have been able to make a long held dream reality – going for a long walk in Scotland. In the middle of April my two eldest sons and I flew to Glasgow and embarked on the renowned and well-trodden West Highland Way, 154 km (95 miles) distance and 4000+ metres of elevation in the course of a week. We were really lucky weather wise and although the path is very well indicated and well maintained, it was still a great challenge, especially for us who had not done any or very little hiking before starting our adventure. The plan was to sleep mostly under our tarp, but not to carry more food than needed, and we pretty much stuck to it.
Day 1 – Milngavie to Milarrochy Bay (35.5 km, 9:20 h)
We start on a lovely sunny morning from the newly built WHW memorial in Milngavie. Although the sun is out we feel the chilly wind throughout the whole day. At noon we reach Drymen, which is the official end of the first stage, but we didn’t feel it was right to stop that early and so we continued over Conic Hill towards Balmaha and Milarrochy Bay, where we finally found some rest at the campground, too tired to even have dinner. Our initial plan had been to camp close to or on Conic Hill, but it was very windy and rather populated by day-hikers. We knew that night that we had pushed it too far and were in for a much shorter second day.
Day 2 – Milarrochy Bay to Rowchoish Bothy (16.3 km, 5 h)
In the morning we sleep in and don’t start the next leg before 10. The weather is dry, but overcast, windy and rather cold. We enjoy the path along the shore of Loch Lomond, although we soon realise that although we stay close to the loch there is no easy walking, always ascending and descending rather steep terrain. At Rowardennan Inn we stop to have lunch and continue only a short distance until we reach Rowchoish bothy where we are soon joined by other hikers from Germany, South Africa, the Netherlands and later that night two fellow Austrians. I have read about bothys before and now enjoyed staying at one. We spent the rest of the afternoon collecting firewood and getting fresh water. This evening we make fire in the chimney and enjoy the roof above our heads.
Day 3 – Rowchoish to Beinglas Farm, Inverarnan (16.8 km, 5:30 h)
We start refreshed after a good warm night at the bothy and continue along Loch Lomond, which does not seem to have an end. Finally we see the end of the loch and after we cross Cnap Mor we finally reach Inverarnan after five and a half hours, very tired and a little wet. We have a great lunch at Drovers Inn, which obviously tries to stand up to its reputation of being a very old and haunted place (“the ghosts are in the walls, generations of tales in the air”). We had actually planned on continuing on to Crianlarich, but my left knee doesn’t want to do its job anymore and so we stay at the campsite at Beinglas farm where we find some shelter from the rain.
Day 4 – Inverarnan to Tyndrum (25.7 km, 9 h)
After a night with some rain we start our walk on a dry but chilly day and enjoy the easy walking along the old military roads. My knee really bothers me, but I can somehow continue with the help of a newly acquired knee compression and my walking poles. Shortly before Crianlarich, the village we had actually wanted to spend the last night at, my younger son suddenly experienced much pain in his Achilles tendon and so we decided to stop here. My plan was to send him on by train to Bridge of Orchy, but he didn’t want to have any of that. At the local grocer’s we bought a lot to eat and drink and even found some walking poles for my son who was determined to finish the whole WHW on foot.
After Crianlarich we walk uphill again and enter some lush green woods and enjoy this change of scenery. When we leave the forest we pass the remains of St. Fillan’s Priory which dates from the 12 century. When we reach Tyndrum we stop for some time at at a nice Café to fill up our energy reserves, of our bodies and smartphones. Although we have already walked a good distance we decide on continuing. A short distance outside the village we cross the railway and find a fine place to make camp on the slopes of Beinn Odhar with a spectacular view on Beinn Dorain, which from this perspective looks like a volcano. For me this has been by far the greatest night on the WHW, wildcamping at its best.
Day 5 – Tyndrum to Kingshouse (27.9 km, 7:50 h)
The path leads along the slopes, down into the valley and partially along the railway until after six km we reach Bridge of Orchy where we have a coffee before we start on one of the remotest stretches on the WHW, crossing Rannoch Moor on old military roads. This is how I had envisioned the Scottish Highlands! Just the weather doesn’t seem to be right, sunshine with only a few clouds. During the whole time in Scotland we have only really had an afternoon and a night with drizzling rain! When we reach Kingshouse we realize that it is a rather luxurious hotel and restaurant and we hesitate to enter with our filthy walking attire, but are warmly received and served. The haggis with nips and tatties is delicious! With full stomachs we pitch our tarp behind the hotel along with many other campers.
Day 6 – Kingshouse to Kinlochleven (14 km, 4 h)
This really is a short stretch we have planned for today. We walk towards Glen Coe and understand why it is one of the best climbing areas in Scotland. We have quickly gain altitude when we walk up the “Devil’s Staircase”. On top we relish the view on Clen Coe and slowly descend towards Kinlochleven. Although this leg of our walk is short, we feel our hurt muscles while descending. Just as we enter the village we stumble upon the first of two campsites and pitch the tarp right away and have our first warm shower in a week. We cook at the campsite and go for a drink to a nearby pub.
Day 7 Kinlochleven to Fort William (24 km, 6:30 h)
After crossing the village we face a steep climb until we reach Lairig Mor, a beautiful and remote valley, which is easily walked through on the old military road. At the beginning of the valley I’m a little shocked about the construction of a new access road. For me as a tourist it is hard to believe why people need to build roads into the remotest areas, much like in the Austrian Alps. This is really a long and strenuous walk, especially the descent into Glen Nevis. Big logging operations take place and the stretch is not nice to look at. Once we reach the valley floor also the nice walking is over. We are condemned to walk beside a busy road into Ford William and reach the ugly official endpoint of the WHW. We don’t even bother to spend much time there and head into the town centre. After some refreshment we spend much time browsing at the Highland Bookshop, which we really enjoy. Our bus back to Glasgow leaves at 7pm and so we have plenty of time.