My dad and I recently completed the West Highland Way, Scotland’s first – and most walked – official long distance route. We walked The Way over 7 (and a bit) days from Milngavie to Fort William. We alternated our accommodation along the route to allow us a night’s camping and a subsequent night indoors to dry any wet kit or get a warmer night’s sleep if the temperatures plummeted. As it happens, this plan was very beneficial on certain nights and certainly made our trip easier after some tough stages!
Click the links below to jump straight to specific days:
Day 1 – Milngavie to Drymen – 12 Miles
Our adventure began at our local railway station where we caught the train to Glasgow Central Station to meet up with the train to Milngavie. This made for a pleasant and relaxing morning and in just over an hour, we had travelled from Ayrshire to Milngavie. We walked the short distance through the centre of Milngavie to the start of the West Highland Way, which features an obelisk with the signature thistle symbol (a marker used to show directions on official long distance routes in Scotland) and a large banner. We had opted for a Subway brunch and after quickly polishing off our sandwiches, we began our adventure just before 1100.
Despite being the most walked trail in Scotland, the immediate start of the path is very underwhelming as it passes behind some shops and through a car park, taking care to ensure that walkers get a good view of the collection of bins too! However, we soon left the car park and headed along the banks of Allander water on our way to Mugdock Country Park. The walking was pleasant and easy with gravel paths and plenty of signposts to keep walkers going the correct way as there were plenty of junctions and branches to various parts of Milngavie and Mugdock to confuse those who aren’t quite giving the trail their full attention. We enjoyed this section as we passed through picturesque woodland and other than the occasional dog walker, the path was quiet and relaxing.
It wasn’t long before we were out of Mugdock country park and had a good view of the Campsie Fells, a group of hills to the north of Glasgow. The Way follows a relatively busy road for just under half a kilometre as it leaves the country park, but we were soon back off the road and turned north to catch a glimpse of Ben Lomond and the Arrochar Alps, hills that would stay in view for the next couple of days. We stopped a few minutes after turning off the road to be greeted by a group of people from a charity who run a small hut with snacks and drinks for those walking the trail. We declined the offer of free food as we had plenty to keep us going for the next few days and gave the group a small donation and were on our way once more.
We continued along the excellent path through Dumgoyach Farm, which eventually turns north west to follow an old dismantled railway. This was very easy going and a couple of hours in to our day we had passed Glengoyne Distillery, which has been in operation since 1833! We pressed on and passed the Beech Tree Inn, a well known stopping point on day 1 of the trail, but we kept walking and stopped another mile or so after the Inn to enjoy our second Subway of the day, which we had carefully carried from Milngavie, managing to not completely squash our lunch in our rucksacks. Lunch was quickly polished off and we were underway again just after 1330.
We crossed another busy road and from here to our stop for the night, the trail followed tarmac roads which made for easy walking. We stopped occasionally to take photographs but pressed on to get to our first stop of the trail.
We arrived at Easter Drumquhassle Farm, our campsite for the night, at around 1530, meaning we took just over 4.5 hours including stops to walk stage 1 of the way (granted, the campsite is slightly outside Drymen). We were unsure what to think of the site as prior to our trip, we had read mixed reviews. Some said that the place was untidy and the showers were locked with no toilet roll in the toilets, so we were slightly apprehensive upon arrival to see what the site would be like. With not another sole to be seen, we pitched our tents and took a wander down to the barn where the toilets are to see what the situation was. Unfortunately, the negative reviews were correct – the showers were locked and there was no toilet roll! Great! The toilet paper situation was soon rectified by someone who arrived in a car and put a few rolls in each cubicle, but he disappeared again before we had the chance to enquire about the locked showers! The camping ground was dry enough, but very uneven and not particularly level either. My dad and I both agreed that with a little bit of work, this wee site could have been a goldmine due to its convenient location on the West Highland Way and its proximity to Glasgow.
Nevertheless, it would do for our first night’s camping as we were still pretty fresh from a fairly easy day, so we had our usual dinner of freeze dried camping food, chatted away for a few hours and got some sleep in preparation for the much longer and tougher day to come.
Day 2 – Drymen to Rowardennan (Youth Hostel) – 15.5 Miles
We woke after a particularly cold night under canvas, probably due to the fact that we hadn’t slept outdoors since December, and slowly packed up after our usual breakfast of cereal and powdered milk (a stroke of genius on my Dad’s part). We left the site, at which the showers had still not been unlocked despite 4 or 5 tents now pitched, just before 0930 and began what was to be, in my opinion, the toughest day of the whole trail.
Initially, the walking is very pleasant for the first mile or so into Drymen, where we took a short detour for some brunch and an errand to the local shop. The views across towards Conic Hill were excellent and we could see glimpses of Loch Lomond as we made our way down towards the village. We were shortly on our way again after a fantastic roll at “Skoosh”, a local deli, and began the ascent uphill towards Garadbhan Forest.
We made good progress on the logging roads through the forest and were soon back in the open with more fine views of Conic Hill and the hills on the West side of Loch Lomond. I was surprised to see that the area marked on our map as the informal wild camping area was quite level and grassy looking as I was expecting to stumble across some fire pits in a wooded area. My Dad and I both agreed that perhaps saving a fiver a head and camping here for the night would have been a better option. But, at least we had running water and use of a toilet!
The path up Conic hill was well constructed, but tough due to being pretty steep. Again, with a heavy pack the effort required is increased significantly, so we were pretty puffed by the time we reached the summit of the path. Nevertheless, we were rewarded with extensive views up Loch Lomond and across to the west side of the Loch. We didn’t detour to the very top of Conic Hill as by this point the path was quite busy and we both agreed that the views from the path were excellent enough. We stopped for a few quick photos and began the steep descent to Balmaha for our lunch stop.
We arrived in Balmaha at around 1300, so we had been on the go for 4 hours so far, but this included a 40 minute or so diversion to Drymen in the morning and a mile or so walk to reach the actual start of the second stage as our campsite was around a mile from the town. This meant that, so far, our average speed was around 2.5 miles an hour, a speed that would stay consistent for the rest of the trip.
Balmaha has a number of meal options, including a restaurant and shop. We opted for the village shop and purchased a hearty feast of rolls, chicken and nuts to keep us going for the next leg of our journey.
After a quick toilet stop we were back on our way as we began the loch-side part of the trail. Again, the path is well constructed here but seems to take some unnecessary diversions and takes walkers up every single small hill along the side of the loch. Granted, these give pretty excellent views but seem to add miles and miles onto the day’s walking and with tired legs, they become more of a pain than a pleasure. According to Walkhighlands, the path “gently undulates” for much of this section along the loch, but after 12 or 13 miles, the last few miles along hilly tracks felt like proper hill walking.
Despite being a very tough second half to the day, we were rewarded with relatively calm conditions on the loch which made for a very picturesque backdrop to our walk. We stopped at Milarrochy Bay for some photos of the famous tree by the side of the loch.
By this point, we were both pretty tired so we pressed on towards our stop for the evening, which was still another 6 or so miles away. We continued along the “gently undulating path”, stopping more frequently for water breaks as by this point it could almost be described as a summer’s day!
Just over an hour after passing Milarrochy Bay, we reached the informal campsite at Sallochy. When planning our trip, we had considered stopping here rather than continuing to the Youth Hostel, but I’m particularly glad we didn’t choose to stop here. Firstly, the tent pitches along the loch-side looked even worse than Drymen. Although they were level, they were covered in pine needles and tree roots. This would also have meant another 3 miles or so on day 3, which would also have been tough considering how demanding this day’s “walking” was (it turned out to be more scrambling than walking for much of the day). We trudged on and after another 90 minutes or so, we reached Rowardennan Hotel. Both relieved to be so close to our finish point for the day, we picked up the pace slightly and reached the Youth Hostel at exactly 1800.
The Youth Hostel was well worth the expense after a very long day’s walking. Although it hadn’t rained on the trip yet, we both welcomed a proper bed and a chance to air our kit before packing it up again for the next night’s camping. We feasted on freeze dried food once again and raided the Hostel’s reception shop for sweets and juice and had another early night in preparation for another tough day to come. As much as the next section’s reputation forces walkers to take caution and realise how tough this part of the trail is, I definitely found the second day the hardest of the whole week. Whether that was due to walking reasonably long distances “cold” (as I hadn’t managed to undergo any practice at all due to finishing uni days before we left) or just the fact that we probably didn’t pace ourselves as much as we should of when ascending Conic Hill, this was by far the most demanding day of the trip. It certainly gave me a healthy respect for everyone who manages to complete the trail.
Day 3 – Rowardennan to Inverarnan – 13 miles
We woke after a fantastic night’s sleep in very comfortable beds and made our way to the kitchen for a freeze dried breakfast in preparation for the notoriously tough day ahead. After demolishing breakfast pretty quickly, we headed back to our room to pack for the day and hastily left to be begin the next leg of our journey. I would definitely recommend the Youth Hostel as an overnight option to anyone completing the West Highland Way. Our room was spotless, the facilities are excellent and the staff were very polite and helpful.
The first half of our day was on fantastic forestry track (the route splits in 2 not far after Rowardennan – we opted for the “easier” high route) so walking was relatively painless and enjoyable to begin with. The forest occasionally opened up to present lovely views across Loch Lomond, but walking in the wooded area was cool and without any wind so we were the perfect temperature for walking. We stopped frequently for water and photos and pressed on to reach Inversnaid, our half way point for the day.
If you’re interested in spotting as many waterfalls and small streams as possible, then this is the day for you! Due to being on a steep hillside and having large hills on the east side of the loch, there are loads of waterfalls and streams to photograph along the way. However, there are only so many waterfall pictures one can take before they become a bit monotonous, so we pressed on and reached Inversnaid Hotel at 1230, 3 and a half hours after setting off. Again, this was not record-breaking pace, but we were pleased with our progress so far so we dumped our packs and enjoyed a fantastic seat on the pier in front of the hotel.
Something neither of us do too often is stop for a proper lunch on a walking trip – it’s usually just a collection of flapjacks and chocolate-based bars that keep us going – so we decided to make the most of having a stove and food with us and had a cup-a-soup and topped it off with our usual feast of flapjacks. Despite not being very calorific, some warm soup definitely felt like a hearty meal and after a half hour or so to rest, we were in good spirits as we set off on the second half of the day’s walking.
We set off once more on what was the worst section of “path” on the whole trail. From Inversnaid until just before Doune bothy the path twists and turns around every rock and every tree root up the side of the loch. The views across and down Loch Lomond made the efforts more than worth it and along with catching a glimpse of the famous “ferrel goats” that live on the hillside near the loch, we had plenty stunning scenery to look at on our travels.
As we passed the end of the loch and the red buoy that can be hoisted to summon the Ardlui ferry, the scenery changed almost instantly. After leaving the loch behind, the surrounding hills definitely started to feel more “highland”. We knew there wasn’t too much further to go before we arrived at Inverarnan and Beinglas Farm, so we pressed on and, just before 1800, made it to our 3rd stop.
My dad and I were both impressed with the campsite at Beinglas Farm. It was level and grassy (a stark contrast to our last campsite) and meant we had a great night’s sleep. We made use of the fantastic restaurant on-site, which was fairly well priced and very homely. I can definitely recommend the burger! Once again, we turned in early and got as much sleep as possible in preparation for the next day’s walking. We were in good spirits at the thought of reaching the half-way point tomorrow!
We woke up feeling very fresh due to a windless night, so packing up was relaxed and quick, a strange feeling when we were so used to striking camp on an often windy and rainy Isle of Arran. We once again made use of the lovely restaurant for a cooked breakfast and bought lunch in the well-stocked campsite shop before heading on our way around 0900.
Compared to the previous day, the path was much more forgiving and allowed us to make quick and easy progress. With great views over the Crianlarich Munros to enjoy, we played hopscotch with the road and railway line a few times before reaching our half way point for the day and half way for the whole trail – Crianlarich.
Due to being slightly off route, we never bothered taking the 20 minute detour into the village as we already had lunch with us from Inverarnan. We enjoyed a tasty roll each and watched the world go by for 20 minutes or so before continuing on our way with a new-found spring in our step as we were now half way along the West Highland Way!
The section of path between Crianlarich and Strathfillan is absolutely breathtaking at times, but steep and hard going at points. Every so often, the trees opened up in different directions to give us views of the magnificent hills all around us. After a lenghty section in the forest, we once again crossed the A82 back into open farmland where we were greeted with yet more stunning views of Munros to the north and south.
The wigwams at Strathfillan looked very tempting, but we were already booked into By The Way campsite in Tyndrum so we pressed on to our stop for the evening. After passing underneath the A82 again, we were then into another lovely wooded section all the way to Tyndrum. Our accommodation was right next to the path so was very easy to locate. We checked in to our camping cabin and unloaded our packs to air some kit for the next night’s camping and made use of the fantastic facilities on the site to do some laundry and freshen our clothes, which had now been walked in for 4 days!
After sorting our kit, we wandered into Tyndrum to resupply for the next couple of days to get us as far as Kinlochleven. Stupidly, we arrived in Tyndrum on a Saturday evening, meaning the local shops would not be receiving stock the following morning so we were left with very little choice. As well as little stock, the prices were absolutely shocking! I understand it’s in a rural area and is a popular stop on the way to Fort William or Oban by car so people will pay almost anything for food, but £4 for a small box of a dozen cherry tomatoes was a bit steep! Nevertheless, we managed to buy enough for dinner, breakfast and lunch without needing a mortgage so we walked back to our accommodation, feasted on overpriced food and got some much needed sleep for a very tough day to follow.
We woke up early to pack our kit away and get breakfast in preparation for a very long day to Bridge of Orchy then across the wild expanse of Rannoch Moor to the ski centre at the head of Glen Coe, our stop for the evening.
Having a microwave at By The Way was very handy and allowed us to make a lovely breakfast of scrambled egg – with a side of 3 rolls and jam each – to set us up for the day. I was very impressed with the newly refurbished facilities at this site and would recommend it to anyone stopping in Tyndrum on the West Highland Way or even looking for somewhere to stay for a short break.
We were on our way just after 0830 and set off uphill out of Tyndrum on a cloudy and damp morning, the first such morning on our trip so far. Still, the air was cool and there wasn’t much wind so it was perfect walking weather. We pressed on to complete the 10 kilometres to Bridge of Orchy, completing a significant portion of the day’s journey.
As we knew that Inveroran was slightly over half way for the day, we pressed on from Bridge of Orchy over Mam Carraigh to reach Inveroran Hotel. Shortly after the hotel is a popular wild camping spot on the way, so we stopped here to enjoy a spot of lunch and prepare for the wildest section of our trip so far – Rannoch Moor.
We continued walking again at 1330 and for the first time on the trip, we were met by rain. We stopped and quickly donned our waterproofs in preparation for our trip over the moor.
Rannoch Moor certainly was a bleak and pretty lifeless place. Unfortunately, the cloud was sitting very low on the moor and meant we didn’t get much of a chance to admire the surrounding hills and mountains. Every so often, we were rewarded with a glimpse of the southern ridges of the Creise group.
We trudged on and made our way to the ski centre as by this point it was getting very wet and we were both the wrong side of a comfortable temperature. We arrived at the ski centre shortly after 1700 meaning it had taken us just over 8.5 hours to walk the 18 miles of today’s leg of the journey. Considering we stopped for a lengthy lunch break and were subjected to driving wind and rain over the length of Rannoch Moor, we were both quite pleased at this progress.
Our initial intention was also to camp at the Ski Centre, but as we walked past the camping area at the bottom end of the car park and saw the tents that were already pitched being blown around, we decided that it might be an idea to splash out on a wigwam for the evening. Thankfully, there was one free and we made use of the heater and got our kit dried off ready for the next day’s walking.
Once again, we feasted on freeze dried food – but this time with a side of “Mug Shot” for good measure – and got ourselves to sleep for a much shorter, but hopefully very picturesque day. I feel asleep hoping that the weather would improve by the morning and I’d get a chance to see Glen Coe and Buachaille Etive Mor in all its glory.
We woke up at around 0730 once more and I quickly ran to the door of our wigwam to see if the weather had moved on. Thankfully, it had! I was going to get a virtually cloudless morning to take countless photographs! We quickly ate breakfast and packed our rucksacks to make the most of the clear weather. We were on the move towards Kingshouse just after 0900.
What a morning this turned out to be. We had been very lucky until day 5 with the weather on our trip, but I’m so glad the clouds lifted and gave way to such magnificent views. It’s a deceptively long way from the ski centre to the base of the Devil’s Staircase at Alltnafeadh (around half way for the day), but it went unnoticed as we stopped frequently to admire the awesome views in front of us.
We made it to Alltnafeadh just after 1100 and stopped for a short break as this may have been nearly half of the day’s distance, but definitely not half the effort as the Devil’s staircase and a steep drop into Kinlochleven was to follow. After taking another heap of photographs, we were on our way up the infamous Devil’s Staircase.
As with most walk reports I read before leaving for the WHW, I would definitely agree that the Devil’s Staircase is by no means as bad as it is made out to be. Perhaps this is because my dad and I were used to steep ascent with a heavy pack, or perhaps it’s just not as difficult as it’s name suggests. Whatever the reason, we reached the top and stopped once more to take in the panoramic views of the Mamores and Grey Corries to the north and Buachaille to the south.
The descent from the top of the Devil’s staircase to Kinlochleven was definitely much tougher than the ascent. However, with the cloud staying high we were again blessed with awesome views across the huge Blackwater Reservoir and, as we made our way closer to Kinlochleven, the northern side of the Aonach Eagach ridge even made an appearance.
By now we were both pretty spent after 6 days of walking, so we were glad to finally make our way into the town of Kinlochleven. As we made our way round the head of Loch Leven to our campsite for the night at the Macdonald Hotel, we mapped our plan of attack on the town for food and supplies. We had booked into a cabin at the hotel prior to leaving for the trip, so we checked in, dumped our kit and went for a much needed shower as we were too tired to care about hygiene after the 18 mile day yesterday. We did another round of laundry and then wandered into the town once more for a very tasty and competitively priced burger and chips in the Tailrace Inn. Following this, we stocked up for the next day’s breakfast and lunch in the CoOp and made our way back to the cabin to turn in for the night.
As with all our indoor accommodation so far, we were very impressed with the cabin at the Macdonald. These were slightly cheaper than the cabins at Blackwater Hostel due to no appliances in the cabin, but were clean, warm and dry so we were happy enough! Breakfast and evening meals are also available from the hotel as well as sleeping bag hire, laundry facilities and towel hire so would make an ideal base for bagging some of the Mamores or Grey Corries.
As this was our last full day of walking, we woke up early again to pack up and get moving. Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side. The clouds were low, the wind had picked up and a fine drizzle was falling. Still, we were nearly finished so after another hearty breakfast of rolls and jam, we set off uphill towards the Lairig Mor and Glen Nevis, our final stop.
The initial climb out of Kinlochleven was very steep indeed, made more difficult by the increasingly heavy rain and strong winds. We soon reached the top of the path and the views opened up along the Lairig Mor. We pressed on to the ruin of Lairigmor and sheltered against the crumbling walls to take on some food and water before setting off again into the weather. The rain was beginning to ease slightly though, so we hoped the worst of the weather had passed.
Despite being cloudy, the views in the pass were fantastic and we could feel a real sense of scale being surrounded by steep hills on both sides. This was definitely one of the most enjoyable sections of the way.
We passed major forestry operations a few kilometres from Glen Nevis, which, unfortunately, had ruined a lot of the path. However, as we passed there were workers sorting sections that had been ruined by the tree felling. After another steep section we were finally on the forestry track that would take us all the way to Glen Nevis. We pressed on once more and, chilled and wet, made it to the campsite at around 1530.
We checked in at the reception of Glen Nevis campsite and after attempting to bail out purchase another wigwam for the night (only to be told there were none left, bummer!) we found a spot for our tents that wasn’t exactly flat, but would do. At least the slope was continuous and not quite as uneven as our first night in Drymen. We threw our packs in our tents and made a beeline for the on-site restaurant to thaw out and have dinner. For the third time on the trip, I enjoyed a burger and chips. My dad had a fantastic looking haddock and chips and, although pricey, we were both very impressed with the quality of the food.
After quite a while of thawing out, we thought it best to get back to the tents and settle in for the night. We walked back along to our camp and dove into the tents at around 1930, not to be seen again until the morning!
We woke up on another damp and miserable morning and, not even bothering with breakfast, packed up our tents, threw everything into our packs and set off on the final few miles into Fort William. Although not the most exciting leg of the journey – this was on a tarmac pavement next to a busy road – we were both excited to finally complete what had been an epic week. We had been very lucky with the weather for the majority of the trip so we were willing to accept being wet and miserable as we headed into town (perhaps via McDonalds for breakfast…) and completed our second long distance route.
We were both very relieved to have finished what was a tough week. Credit to anyone who completes this trail, whether that is staying in a hotel each night or backpacking with a week’s food in your pack. The trail was definitely tougher than we had both anticipated, but we had both very much enjoyed the vast array of scenery, well constructed paths (for the most part), pleasant people, great accommodation and fantastic food on offer throughout our journey. West Highland Way – complete!
We made our way to the train station after a look in the local outdoor shops and boarded the 1140 train to Glasgow Queen St, which would see us home to Ayrshire by 1700. On the whole, walking the West Highland Way was definitely a much better experience than our last long distance trail (Speyside Way, June 2015) and has definitely inspired numerous new backpacking and hillwalking trips in the near future. I have already started planning a number of adventures in the coming weeks and months, so keep an eye out for these!
- I’m definitely glad we decided to mix our accommodation between indoors and outdoors. Had we limited ourselves to just camping, we would probably have been very cold and miserable indeed towards the end of our week.
- The toughest day by far for both of us was day 2 (Drymen to Rowardennan). Although day 3 is notoriously difficult, we still didn’t find it as tricky as the previous day.
- We were both pretty pleased with how our equipment performed. However, after buying a new Rab Spark jacket to bring as my waterproof layer for this trip, I was very disappointed that after several miles across Rannoch Moor, the “stow on the go” pole holder had managed to ruin the arm of my jacket. The jacket still seemed to be waterproof despite being sawed at by the silly plastic sleeve over the elastic, which was duly cut off my pack after I discovered the damage. Thankfully, the jacket is still usable, but bear this in mind if you have an Osprey pack.
- We were disappointed with the choice of food available in Tyndrum on a Saturday evening so perhaps plan your own trip to arrive in Tyndrum when stock will be delivered to the shops in the village.