Walking for days among pastoral landscapes, fields of bracken, pebbled lakeside beaches, meadows of heather, dark pine tree forests, rolling moors and ragged peaks interspersed with tiny streams, waterfalls and thunderous rivers: this is Scotland’s West Highland Way.
We took 8 days to complete the 155 km stretch from Milngavie, a suburb of Glasgow, to Fort William up in the Highlands. If you are planning to walk this route yourself, click here to jump to practical information and tips on the West Highland Way – or read the below travel story first to be inspired to put on your hiking boots and say YES to this exhausting but exhilarating new adventure.
The West Highland Way is all about immersing yourself in some of Scotland’s finest scenery, so it may be a bit surprising to know that the start of this hike is just a 20 minute train ride out of Glasgow. Riding the train to Milngavie (curiously pronounced ‘Mullgay’) it is easy to spot fellow hikers: people who, like us, are wearing their hiking boots, rain gear, and have their trekking poles ready for action. After getting off the train in Milngavie, we drop our big backpacks at the van of AMS Scotland that is already waiting there for us and fellow hikers in the train station’s car park. AMS Scotland provides a luggage transfer service which allows us to walk without our big packs as they will be transported for us to our accommodation for each day. After having experienced the freedom of hiking with just a light day pack when we trekked in Nepal using the services of a porter earlier this year, using this luggage transfer service is a clear no-brainer. From the train station, a short walk leads us to the official starting point of the West Highland Way: a stone obelisk where we of course take the obligatory photograph, and after a quick breakfast our feet are really itching to take off.
This first stage of the walk brings us to the hillside village of Drymen. The first kilometres lead us through parkland which seamlessly transforms into woodland, occasionally giving way to pastoral fields. This is the typical British countryside landscape: green hilly meadows dotted with cow and sheep and divided by dark green hedges and crumbling stone walls. It does not take long for us to spot our first Scottish Highlander cows as a premonition of the much rougher Highlands landscape that we will be traversing in the days to come.
The paths that have been linked up to form the West Highland Way are largely old drove roads that were used to walk cattle from the Highlands to the lowland town markets, and old military roads constructed in the 18th century, combined with forest and mountain paths that have been used by foot folk for centuries to link distant villages together. It does not take much effort to imagine how farmers with their cattle would have tramped through these hills for hours and hours, traversing an unforgiving wilderness scourged by wind and icy rains, to finally spot the faint lights of a lonely drover’s inn in the distance, where a jolly crowd, a pint of lukewarm beer and a plate of steaming food was waiting for them. Lucky for us, we have not experienced one drop of rain on this first day of our hike, but we do find a merry crowd that evening in the Drymen Inn where a singer equipped with guitar is enticing the pub’s denizens to break into a song and dance or two.
Drymen lies slightly off the WHW route, so in the morning we trace our tracks to resume the original route from where we left it the afternoon before. We walk through a field were some walkers have pitched their tents, and at a wooden way-mark we find a puzzled young man who asks us “Is this the West Highland Way? Direction north, to Fort William?” We assure him that he is on the right track, and we walk together for a while until we separate again. His face reminds me of that of a dog – but in a good way: it is an open face, friendly and curious and immediately likeable. He tells us that he is from Slovenia but has been working in England for some time, saving up money to buy camping gear to do some hiking in Scotland. During the eight days of our walk, we will meet different people and some of them we run into several times, as we are of course all following the same route. It creates a sense of comradery and a connection is easily established, because we all experience the same feeling of sore feet and we share the same excitement about the breathtaking scenery we walk through.
We ascend through forest and fields of heather and have some first glimpses of mighty Loch Lomond. Around 11 o’clock we find ourselves at the foot of Conic Hill. We climb up on a muddy and slippery trail for a brilliant panoramic view over the lake. Loch Lomond is the largest inland stretch of fresh water in the British Isles, and large it is: from where we stand, we cannot see where the lake ends. We can just see that it is big, containing numerous islands and with a curving shoreline which we will be walking along for the coming two days. Loch Lomond is situated on the Highland Boundary Fault, a geographical fault zone dividing the Lowlands topography from that of the Highlands. It feels like by traversing this fault, our Highlands adventure will really begin.
However first we descend on slippery slopes and through a forest to the calm lakeside village of Balmaha, where we enjoy some lunch and an ice cream before hitting the trail again. For the remainder of the afternoon, the path follows the lake’s shoreline at varying altitudes and around 19h we check in at the Rowardennan youth hostel, which is beautifully situated at the water’s edge. We meet the Slovenian again, who is camping here in the hostel’s garden together with another solo walker, a girl from Sweden. We cheer on the successful completion of the second stage of our walk with a local craft beer and get ready for tomorrow’s stretch, reportedly the technically most difficult part of the entire way.
We have been lucky so far with the weather, but we wake up the next morning to a drizzling rain which transforms into a downpour by the time we are ready to depart. For the first time we have to dress in our rain gear – rain coat paired with poncho, which does nothing to stop our pants and shoes to get completely soaked within the first 30 minutes into our walk. The trail continues to follow the shores of the lake through fields of bracken. It undulates from the forests on higher altitudes to nearly touching the shoreline from time to time. Luckily, the rain ceases about an hour and half into our walk. When we stop to pack away our rain gear we meet the most feared adversary of West Highland Way walkers: midges. These tiny flies swarm in clouds to descend on any human or other mammal foolish enough to stand still for more than just a few seconds, to deliver a stingy bite and suck up blood, leaving you with annoyingly itchy bite marks. We had heard and read of these little bastards before coming here, but actually meeting them really brings home the point of everyone who warns you for them: they can drive a sane person to the point of insanity within a matter of mere seconds. Midges love humid, wet and cloudy conditions – so Scotland is obviously midge heaven. They are so small that any wind speed over 6 miles per hour prevents them from taking flight, so as long as you keep moving they cannot keep up with you. But as soon as you stand still and give them two seconds they will find you and descend on you for a collective blood sucking fest, like piranhas sensing the tiniest movement of prey in murky Amazon waters. Even taking a quick photograph becomes a trying activity, and I forego on plenty of pretty photo opportunities to save my face from a destructive midge attack. We try to sit down to enjoy our packed lunch on a pebble beach but end up eating while walking because of the midges, our boots and socks still wet, and the eagerness and zeal I felt during the past two walking days slowly starts to fade away and make place for a growing sense of exasperation. The second half of the day reveals why most people regard this stage as the most difficult one of the entire walk: the trail becomes increasingly steep and slippery, and continues to climb and then drop again. Advancing requires climbing large boulders and getting up and down steep steps, crossing streams and navigating rough terrain. It is demanding and I am so glad that I am not wearing my large heavy backpack. Just when I start to think that Loch Lomond must be Gaelic for “never-ending lake”, we suddenly come into a clearing where the lake shore fades into a swamp, and we realize that we made it: we walked the entire shore of Loch Lomond and are nearly done for today.
Or so we thought, because it takes us another two hours to reach our camp site for the night at Beinglas Farm near Inverarnan. However, leaving the shores of the lake immediately eases us into a more pleasant walk on less challenging paths that lead us up into the misty mountains through fern fields. It has been a long, wet and midgy day, and after a hearty meal we take an early retreat in our camping cabin for a night plagued by thunder and rains.
After a ‘full Scottish’ breakfast with oatmeal porridge, eggs and sausages we are ready to begin our fourth day with renewed vigour, excepting our still soggy boots. The rain has stopped and we enjoy a sunny day, walking through meadows and through a pine tree forest during the second half of the day. Our socks get humid again because of the wet boots, so we try to dry them a little by sticking them on our hiking poles while we enjoy our packed lunch. We run into the Slovenian once more, and ask him if he is aiming for Tyndrum as today’s destination, like us. He says, “No, not after yesterday’s rain and difficult walk along the lake. I will stop early today. My feet are damaged!” – and he flashes a beaming smile. I am feeling content again, although a bit weary from yesterday’s long hike. About 1.5 kilometres before our destination for the day, the town of Tyndrum, we see a sign pointing to The Old Church. We are pleasantly surprised, because this is the B&B where we have booked a room for tonight and this allows us an early end of the day.
At the bed and breakfast we are welcomed by Mabel, an elderly lady who treats us to a most welcome afternoon tea and homemade cakes with lemon curd and cream. We get to dry our boots by stuffing them with newspapers and putting them next to the heater. The sun is still shining and life feels good again! The next morning Mabel spoils us with fresh trout from the nearby river, as well as porridge, fresh juice, eggs and scones. Our morale is as good as can be when we set off for one of the shortest days of our trip of only 15.5 kilometres.
The scenery is top notch and completely meets what I had drawn up prior to this trip in my imagination when thinking of the Scottish Highlands: long and winding trails past naked mountain walls in various shades of green, ochre, grey and purple. We break our walk by having lunch at the Bridge of Orchy, which was constructed at the time of the development of Scotland’s military roads and which now goes accompanied by a solitary hotel. We don’t intend on spending the night here though, opposed to some fellow walkers who are pitching their tents on the banks of the Orchy river, but we continue our hike by ascending into a forest as a soft drizzle starts to come down from the clouds above.
But the rain does not faze us, because upon exiting the seclusion of the forest we walk into a landscape that is out of this world: grassy hills and endless moors, a large lake in the distance and the path that continues without any sign of the civilized world bar the lone structure of the Inveroran Hotel, our destination for today. The hotel’s existence in this rugged environment seems only logical: crossing its doorstep feels like being transported to another day and age, when covering large distances could only be done by foot and when drovers took refuge here to break up their long journey. Many of the hotel’s historical features have been maintained (lots of dark wood, creaky carpeted hallways) and we settle for a quiet and comfortable evening in the lounge, reading through the hotel’s guest book with entries dating back to the 1940s.
In the morning we enjoy a nice breakfast in the hotel’s tea room before setting off for Kings House. Soon into the start of the walk, I realize that this must be my favourite day so far. We are starting to achieve more and more remoteness from the civilized world and are surrounded by sweeping views of Scotland’s wilderness. We enter Rannoch Moor, and it is easy to imagine Cathy and Heathcliff roaming these grassy hills together. The heather stretches as far as the eye can see, and winding rivers cut through distant lowlands. We continue to walk north with a mountainside to our left and the vast expanse of moor on our right. This is the most remote point on the entire West Highland Way route, and I sense a delightful feeling of adventure and a deep love for nature. The weather gods are largely in our favour as a mild breeze keeps the midges at bay and blows away clouds from time to time to reveal a dance of shadows and golden sunlight on the moor.
We enjoy our packed lunch on a river’s edge while consuming the magnificent views with our eyes. Coming up behind us is the Slovenian, now walking together with another girl. “Is the Swedish girl no longer walking with you?” I ask. “No, she had to give up. She developed a fever after Inverarnan.” I feel for her, because she is missing out on a lot of beauty. The West Highland Way becomes progressively more charming and beautiful as each day passes, as if Mother Nature is rewarding you for all the effort and energy you invest in completing each stage of the trail. As we resume our walk, leaving behind the Slovenian and his walking companion who still want to rest some more, I tell my partner, “I understand why there are always girls walking with him. His face is so open and friendly, he is the type of man that girls easily feel they can trust.” My partner responds, “Most psychopaths have the friendliest faces. Are you sure that the Swedish girl really had to give up because of a fever?” We put jokes aside, and quickly start to descend to leave Rannoch Moor behind. We experience a short bout of drizzling rain followed by a proverbial rainbow stretching across the moor. Today was another short day and we arrive at Kings House around 15:00h, where we are warmly greeted by large swarms of midges as if to not so subtly remind us that perfection does not exist.
The next morning we get ready for our ascent to the highest point of the entire West Highland Way: we will have to climb the Devil’s Staircase at Glen Coe before descending to the village of Kinlochleven where we will be spending the night. We have perfect hiking temperatures at around 18 degrees and the sun comes out from time to time. The landscape has changed: we are no longer crossing the moor but now have mountain peaks in our view and we walk along a green ridge. The climb on the Devil’s Staircase comes quickly enough, and we are happy to experience that the ascent does not do its name justice: it is not a very challenging climb as the path slowly zigzags its way up the face of the mountain. Looking back from the top we soak up spectacular views over the green valley of Glen Coe. If yesterday was my favourite day of the walk, today is even better. The path continues downwards behind the shoulder of the peak, but to our left we see a very tempting smaller path leading up an even higher peak. We cannot help ourselves and scramble up, to be rewarded after twenty minutes with even more jaw dropping 360° views of Glen Coe, distant lakes, mountain peaks, forested valleys and Ben Nevis looming in the distance. There is no sound but that of the wind, the sun warms our faces and bodies, and we sit there for half an hour just to absorb the beauty that lies in this Scottish Highland wilderness.
Continue we must, as always on the West Highland Way, so we trace our tracks back to the official path where we meet the Slovenian once more (without a female companion this time). He is sitting on a rock, having taken his shoes off to give his tired toes some rest. “It occurs to me that after all these encounters, I have never asked for your name,” I say. “My name is Stojan,” he responds, and it is only fitting to now have a name to that friendly face that we keep seeing along our journey. We strongly recommend him to do as we did and hike up to the top of the peak and then we continue our walk to Kinlochleven down the mountain path, which begins to grow quite steep as we near the village, hurting our toes and knees. As we sit down for a while to take a rest, Stojan catches up with us and says “thank you for urging me to go up that mountain. You were right, it was amazing and I was so glad that I did it despite my tired feet,” before he moves on. After some time we also get on our feet again and after crossing a river we enter the quiet village of Kinlochleven. It looks like a piece of suburban paradise: leafy, quiet streets with detached and cosy homes, birds twittering in the trees and the river roaring through the town. However, as we cross the river we see that most of the streets on this side are lined with identical looking houses, once built for the workers of the aluminium factory that used to provide a livelihood to the villagers. When I later read that a large part of this town lies in a continuous shadow of the mountains in winter and does not get to see even a ray of sunlight, I quickly abandon my notion that it might be exceptionally lovely to live here. Nevertheless, it is still a fine place to spend the night and after the rugged and remote landscapes we walked through in the past days, Kinlochleven’s few pubs are great to help us ease ourselves back into the hustle of civilization.
The eighth and final stage of our walk is also the longest one: on our last day we have 24 kilometres ahead of us. We quickly leave the village behind us by climbing steeply through a forested area, plagued by midges who ensure that we hurry up to rise above the tree line as soon as our feet can carry us. Once we leave the forest we welcome a sturdy breeze which keeps the annoying insects away from us. The path becomes broader and less steep, and soon we find ourselves walking through a gorgeously remote and deserted landscape of green mountain’s flanks and brimming rivers. After some hours we leave the valley behind us and enter an arid landscape: what must until recently have been a dense pine tree forest is now an empty land dotted with eerie looking tree stumps. It looks like we are walking through the aftermath of an apocalypse, and although our walk has been tough and challenging at times, this does not feel like fitting symbolism for this final stage. But like the weather, the midges, and the direction of the trail, this is not in our hands. Walking the West Highland Way requires surrendering yourself to the unpredictability of the circumstances that you will be facing, and the essence of this hike is not to conquer the way but to have the beauty and the wilderness of the way conquer you.
It is late afternoon when we tiredly stride into Fort William’s town center. The final stretch through the village’s main street to the official end point of the West Highland Way is a drag, and I feel energy draining from my body with every stumbling step I take. The weariness probably also comes from the realization that we are nearing the end of eight days of steady walking – and while during the walk the way sometimes seemed endless, the repetitive motion of putting one foot in front of the other for hours at a stretch also had a comforting aspect: the rhythm of the West Highland Way revolves around walking, eating, resting, then walking again, and life can hardly be any simpler. The overwhelming beauty of the Scottish Highlands occupies your awareness in full and combined with the meditative aspect of walking, it allows your thoughts to be completely cleared, as if a fresh breeze is blowing all stingy midges from your mind.
It is only fitting that a husker is playing a traditional Scottish theme on bagpipes as we walk through Fort William’s main street, providing a soundtrack to the closing credits of our epic achievement. Upon reaching the official end-point we high five and take another obligatory photo, just as we did eight days earlier at the start of our adventure in Milngavie, which now feels like a lifetime and a world away.
Strangely enough and unfortunately we never saw Stojan again in Fort William, nor any of the other walkers whom who had encountered from time to time during different days on the walk. They must have finished before us, or after us, and then disappeared into their regular, non-walking lives. The next morning when we took a train back to Glasgow it felt surreal to backtrack our route and span a distance that took us eight days on foot in just 3.5 hours by train. The train ran past Glen Coe, along the edge of Rannoch Moor, made a stop at Bridge of Orchy station and at Tyndrum, and in just a few hours an entire week of walking flashed by us on the other side of the train window. It was as if the train ride attempted to diminish our efforts, to symbolically shrink them just like the towering mountains and deserted moors of the Highlands made us feel very small in the bigger picture of nature’s wilderness – but it was OK, because we were finally resting our weary feet.
Create your own adventure!
If you want to walk the West Highland Way yourself, it requires a little preparation but all in all this is an easy but very rewarding hike.
How difficult is it to walk the West Highland Way?
This is not a technically difficult walk, and it does not have a lot of steep climbs or descents, but I do think you need to be in a reasonably fit condition to be able to enjoy it and if you have knee problems then I would probably recommend not to walk it or to only select sections that are relatively level. As I mentioned in the above blog, the most difficult part of the walk is along the shores of Loch Lomond between Inversnaid and Inverarnan – this requires some skill and attention to navigate and can be pretty tiring. In any case, I would not call myself super fit – I sadly spend the majority of my days sitting behind a desk in an office for 8 hours – but I managed to do it without extraordinary effort. In fact, while we were there we saw a group of blind and visually impaired people walking the trail – so this definitely strengthened me in the conviction that if they could do it, certainly could I (and you probably too). I would not necessarily recommend to walk this trail with children (< 15 years old) unless you can take some more time and break up the stages in shorter sections. The trail is well way-marked and easy to follow; you will not be likely to get lost.
How long does it take to walk the West Highland Way?
This is entirely up to you. There are super humans who complete the trail in 5 days, but you can take as long as you like. We decided to take 8 days for our hike – this was supposed to be a vacation after all, and not a madman’s race for the finish line. Taking 8 days allowed us to complete each stage in a leisurely manner, with plenty of resting stops (on most days we took an hour to 1.5 hours to eat our lunch and rest our feet in the middle of the day) and to have enough time to really soak up the sights, enjoy the environs and take photographs, rather than having to rush through all these beautiful landscapes. See below for a break down of our journey and some recommendations in case you wish to shorten or expand this hike’s duration.
Where do I sleep?
We used a variety of different accommodation types during our trek which are listed below in the overview of our daily walking stages. Generally, you have three different sleeping options during your walk:
- Option 1: Use accommodation with proper beds like we did, and stay in bed & breakfasts, hotels, hostels or camp site cabins. There is a variety of choice along the way, although there are some bottleneck overnight spots where there is only one hostel or hotel available (e.g. Inveroran and Kings House). I strongly recommend to book all your accommodation well in advance, especially if you are walking in July or August, because they can fill up quickly and you will be quite bummed if you need to walk another 20 km after finding that there are no vacancies in the town where you intended to spend the night. I started booking our accommodation 2 months in advance of our trip and I must say that this was pretty tight – in some locations, there were almost no beds left at all. So I would recommend to book your accommodation as soon as possible after booking your flights and having figured out your walking schedule. See our trekking schedule below to read where we spent the nights on the WHW. The prices of our accommodation ranged from 25 GPB per person for a bunk in a dorm room at Kings House to 60 GBP per person at the Inveroran Hotel, with most prices averaging around 30 to 40 GPB per person per night. I would say that B&Bs usually have the best value for money as they include good breakfasts, are small scale and provide en-suite private rooms.
- Option 2: Bring your own tent and stay at camp sites. There are a number of paid camp sites along the trail, and also many hotels and hostels offer limited camping space on their property so you can use their kitchen and shower facilities for a fee. These camp sites typically cost about 8 GBP per person per night and do not need to be booked in advance; you can simply show up and pitch your small tent as there is generally always enough space for a small tent.
- Option 3: Bring your own tent and go wild camping. Wild camping is allowed in Scotland, meaning that you can pitch your tent practically everywhere as long as you stick to the guidelines, which you can read more about on the website of Mountaineering Scotland. Wild camping is obviously free of cost and does not require advance booking, but provides no access to any cooking, shower or toilet facilities.
What should I bring? What should be on my West Highland Way packing list? And how can I arrange a luggage transfer service?
Of course the clothes you may wish to bring are up to your personal preference and of course there will be obvious things to pack like your toiletries, but let me list some items that I think are essentials for this hike:
- Sturdy, waterproof walking boots that have been properly broken in. I would not recommend to walk this trail on low walking shoes – boots provide more support for your ankles and will be more efficient in keeping your feet dry in case of rain but also when crossing river streams and muddy fields (I have sank into mud well onto my ankles, and boy was I glad to be wearing proper boots). If you are buying new boots for the WHW, make sure you break them in well enough before starting your walk!
- Two pairs of hiking pants or leggings – you can bring more of course, but you’ll want to have at least one extra pair in case you get completely soaked by rain.
- Good quality hiking socks, preferably wool. Don’t use cotton socks! Woolen socks are less likely to cause blisters (I had none at all during the walk), they dry quickly and are less smelly.
- A warm base layer; I used a merino wool top.
- A fleece: in case of cold wind and also nice to wear in the evenings.
- Rain gear: a rain shell with hat and rain pants plus gaiters. I only brought the shell and regretted not bringing pants and gaiters as my legs and feet got soaked during a bout of heavy rain at Loch Lomond.
- Comfortable shoes and clothes to wear in the evenings. You will be SO happy to take off your boots in the evening and exchange them for a pair of comfy sneakers. You will also be happy to change into snug and dry clothing after taking a shower. Also, bring flip flops to wear in communal showers.
- Trekking poles: this is a personal preference, but I would definitely recommend poles for this walk. They were a great support especially during the Loch Lomond stage and to provide some extra balance when crossing rivers on stepping stones. There is a lot of ascending and descending on the trail for which the poles come in handy.
- A headlight or flash light because the Highlands get pretty dark at night and not all accommodation types are lit during the nightly hours.
- A power bank to charge your phone as you may not have access to electricity everywhere.
Because we were smart enough to arrange our luggage transfer with AMS Scotland, we did not have to carry our large backpacks and were able to walk each day with only a small and light day pack. This is what was in my day pack:
- A good map. I recommend the map that comes with the guide “Walking the West Highland Way” by Terry Marsh, which is a small but extensive guidebook with lots of useful information and good descriptions of the walking stages. It has a route map booklet that we found very useful for determining our location along the way.
- A spare pair of dry socks. Your socks may get wet during the day, either because of rain or because you step in muddy puddles or get wet feet when crossing rivers. Changing to dry socks is really going to be effective in making the walking more comfortable and preventing blisters.
- A small first aid kit including blister tape, nail clippers and a tick removal tool.
- A generic insect repellent with DEET – although this did nothing to deter the midges from attacking us full force. There are special midge sprays available in Scottish drug stores such as a spray called ‘Smidge’, but some people swear by a skin lotion called “Avon skin so soft”. We did not try either of them. If you plan to go camping, you should seriously consider getting a midge net to cover your face. Midges like to get into your tent and they love getting onto your face, and if you are camping you really have no where to run and hide so you better protect yourself for all it’s worth.
- Tissues and small plastic bags. When nature calls you gotta go, but I am a firm believer in the principle of leaving only footprints so I recommend bringing small plastic bags in which you can keep your used tissues until you can properly dispose of them. Ladies, keep in mind that there are few places where you can discretely do your thing as much of the terrain you will be walking through is pretty bare, and there will often be other hikers coming up after you. So if you see a good spot, go for it as soon as you see it (and preferably figure out a favourable wind direction, because you especially don’t want any midges up your cooch).
- Packed lunch – on many days you walk through very remote areas with no possibilities to sit down and order lunch somewhere. Most accommodations offer a packed lunch for about 7 GBP which typically includes a sandwich, chips, a chocolate bar, a piece of fruit, fruit juice or yoghurt and small snacks like raisins. Check our trekking schedule below to see during which stages you’ll need to arrange a packed lunch.
- Snacks – we usually brought two granola bars every day in addition to our lunch although on most days we ate only one of them. It’s nice to bring snacks because they can really help to restore your powers after endless hours of walking.
- Water bottle – we each carried a 1 litre reusable water bottle. Best to bring a filter or purifying tablets if you intend on filling your bottle from a stream, and make sure that the water is flowing rapidly and has no contamination sources upstream such as animal carcasses.
- Sun lotion and a hat, although I never really had to use them. I did use my sunglasses occasionally.
- The fleece and rain gear including a poncho.
- Cash money – some accommodations require payment in cash and ATMs are not widespread along the trail, so ensure you have enough money at hand during your entire trek.
- Of course my photo camera to capture the beauty!
- A whistle and a compass. During large parts of the walks you will find that you have no phone coverage, and these items may be of help in case you run into trouble.
So I mentioned how happy we were to be carrying only our daily essentials and not our entire backpack. I highly recommend using a luggage transfer service, because it will make your walk so much more light and pleasant! I am quite convinced that I would not have enjoyed the West Highland Way as much as I did if I would have walked it with my heavy pack. There are several luggage transfer services who operate along this trail, but we opted for AMS Scotland who provided an excellent service. They picked up our bags at the very beginning of the trail in Milngavie and without failure delivered them to our next sleeping destination on every following day. The process is so simple: just hand your bags to them at Milngavie train station and then on the following days ensure that you put them back where you found them at your accommodation before 9 AM (usually they deliver them in a shed or storage room on your accommodation’s premises). Easy does it! They also deliver at camp sites, so even if you are camping you can walk hassle free without having to carry your tent and camping gear. The cost of this service is GBP 45 per bag, regardless of how many days you need to complete the trail. You can also decide to use the service on certain parts of the way only and pay them only a daily fee, if you want to try it out for one day. Book in advance on their website or book on the spot as many accommodation services offer a booking service. Considering that if you would take eight days to walk the WHW like we did, this service will cost you only a mere 5 pounds per day – the price of a pint of beer in a pub and I think it will bring you so much more benefit than a pint of beer ever will. In my honest opinion, you are either a wild camper, a masochist or an idiot if you don’t use this service 🙂
Below I list our walking schedule to give you some idea on how to plan your own trip.
Day 1- Milngavie to Drymen: 20 km.
A fairly long but easy walk through countryside landscape, following broad trails and partly even a paved road. You can take a train to Milngavie from Glasgow and this takes about 20 to 30 minutes. We spent the night at the Premier Inn Charing Cross which sits practically on top of Glasgow’s Charing Cross station from which direct trains depart for Milngavie (one change required on Sundays in Westerton). You can bring your own lunch or have lunch at the Beech Tree Inn, a restaurant/pub that you will stumble upon halfway today’s hike. We slept at a lovely B&B called Kip in the Kirk which is housed in a renovated church and whose friendly owner served a delicious breakfast. In Drymen there is a supermarket and an ATM.
Day 2- Drymen to Rowardennan: 22.5 km.
Gravel trails lead to a steep but short climb on Conic Hill with amazing views over Loch Lomond. Have lunch in a pub in Balmaha (which also has a small shop and an ATM) before continuing on a more narrow and rocky trail along the lake’s shore. We slept at Rowardennan Lodge, affiliated with the Scottish Youth Hostel Association. It is beautifully situated. Because we booked quite late, we had to sleep in dorms (separated by gender) but there are a few private rooms available. There is no shop in town but you can buy dinner and breakfast in the hostel restaurant as well as a packed lunch to bring on the next day. The hostel also sells a few small hiking amenities and toiletries.
Day 3 – Rowardennan to Inverarnan: 22.5 km
This was the least fun day to me. It is a long day, and very tiring as the trail is tricky, slippery and steep from time to time. Bring a packed lunch or eat halfway the stage at Inversnaid Hotel. We slept in a small cabin at Beinglass Farm Campsite (Inverarnan) which also has an on-site pub/restaurant and small camping shop. They can provide packed lunches.
Day 4 – Inverarnan to Tyndrum: 21 km
A relatively easy walking day on broad trails with little change in elevation. Bring a packed lunch as there is no where to eat during the day. Tyndrum has a selection of shops including a well stacked outdoor gear shop, as well as an ATM and a few pubs/restaurants. There is a camp site and a choice of B&Bs. We stayed at The Old Church B&B which had a lovely setting and a kind owner who provided tea and scones upon arrival and a scrumptious breakfast to get us started the next day.
Day 5 – Tyndrum to Inveroran: 15.5 km
Again a fairly easy day on good trails and drover roads. You can have lunch mid-way at the Bridge of Orchy hotel. Your only sleeping option at Inveroran is the splendid Inveroran Hotel which provides dinner, breakfast and packed lunch. No shops or ATMs anywhere near.
Day 6 – Inveroran to Kings House: 16 km
Gorgeous walking on Rannoch Moor on old drover roads; few harsh changes in elevation. Bring a packed lunch and sleep at Kings House Hotel (which is currently being renovated but has beds available in the nearby bunk house, including 2-bed dorms for those who prefer not to sleep with many others in one room). This is the only available accommodation here. There is also an on-site restaurant called The Way Inn that provides all meals (including packed lunch). There are no other facilities in the vicinity.
Day 7 – Kings House to Kinlochleven: 14.5 km
A short but a little demanding walk as today you reach the highest point of the entire WHW, and then make a long descent on a rocky path to Kinlochleven. Bring packed lunch. Kinlochleven offers a couple of accommodation choices and has 3 restaurants as well as a supermarket and an ATM. We stayed at Tich Na Cheo B&B which we can highly recommend for its comfortable rooms and delicious breakfast. Buy your lunch for the next day at the supermarket.
Day 8 – Kinlochleven to Fort William: 24 km
A fairly long stretch on old military roads, with some elevation changes but nothing too demanding. Once you make it to the end in Fort William there are plenty of restaurants where you can celebrate your achievement and there is also plenty of accommodation choice. We stayed at an airBnB.
If you are looking to shorten the hike into fewer days, I’d recommend to skip Inveroran and walk directly from Tyndrum to Kings House (making this a long but doable day). If you wish to take more time you can break up your journey by overnighting in Balmaha (between Drymen and Rowerdennan), Inversnaid (between Rowardennan and Inverarnan) and Crianlarich (between Inverarnan and Tyndrum) and/or Bridge of Orchy (between Tyndrum and Inveroran).
If you have any questions about preparing for the West Highland Way, feel free to ask them in a comment to this post and I’ll reply as soon as possible! Also see the official West Highland Way website which provides a wealth of information.