Walk through beautiful scenery, wild camp at night and round off the week with a climb up Ben Nevis. That was the rough plan for our trip along the West Highland Way.
There is something wonderfully simple about getting up, hiking all day, pitching your tent and doing it all over again the next day. Walking means travelling slowly, but there’s a lot to be said for taking the time to appreciate where you are and where you’re going.
It’s about the journey after all.
Starting just north of Glasgow in Milngavie, the WHW travels 95 miles up to Fort William. Past Loch Lomond, into the Highlands and through some of the most stunning scenery in Scotland.
I think our first day was the only one of the entire week it was warm enough to wear T-Shirts and oh how glorious it was.
Stopping in Drymen it quickly became clear that the tent pegs were nowhere to be seen… No one likes to point figures but technically I had been in charge of them, so I may or may not have been to blame.
Ewok Village minus tent pegs = Alex having a sulk.
Luckily a solution presented itself which didn’t involve a cab ride back to Glasgow.
Natures tent pegs!
To get to the southern end of Loch Lomond you must first climb Conic Hill. Grandly marking the divide between the Lowlands we were leaving behind and the Highlands we were headed towards.
We met two guys with a dog around here (theres a lot of middle aged men hiking the WHW, I think Alex and I were the youngest by about 15 years). I remember it well because the dog jumped up to lick my face and accidentally gave me a fat lip.
Loch Lomond is stunning, they don’t call it bonny for nothing. There’s fields of wild garlic and bluebells, rocks to scramble over and secluded beaches. I had a sort of scruffy hiking pirate look I adopted this day and stuck with for the rest of trip.
The path splits just North of Rowandennan (and you leave the resticted wild camping zone that runs from Drymen to here). There was some excellent looking camping spots down a scrambly path, just off the trail and we pitched our tent in a clearing surrounded by bluebells and overlooking the Loch.
In a cruel twist of fate, having carried the makeshift stick pegs all day, I then found the actual tent pegs in my bag.
Filtering water like Bear Grylls.
The weather up in Scotland is certainly unreliable at the best of times but the 20 miles between Inverarnan and the Bridge of Orchy were truly character building. Nothing a few packets of miniature nutella couldnt sort out though. Plus half way!
The Bridge of Orchy is where you begin the most exposed, but also the most spectacular sections of the WHW, past Glencoe and down into Kingshouse. From there its a shortish 8 miles up and over the ominously named ‘Devils Staircase’ into Kinlochleven before the final 15 miles to Fort William via Glen Nevis (at the base of Ben Nevis).
I was finally getting to grips with carrying my 12kg pack, its amazing when you take it off at the end of the day and it feels like your whole body rises off the ground. If you’re not traveling light on the first day, you certainly will be by the second. Carrying those packs is hard work.
Stunning, stunning, stunning.
Ewok Village in Kingshouse.
Kingshouse to Kinlochleven, the descent down from the Devils Staircase is just insane. What a place.
There was a gorgeous house which sat right on the banks of the Loch Leven with this view and two giant Irish Wolfhounds that roamed around the garden. I saw the house up for a sale in an estate agents in Fort William and I was this close to chucking in my life in the suburbs.
The one good thing about the eternal winter we seemed to be walking through was no midgies. Not a single one the entire trip. All the locals kept telling us this was unheard of.
The final proper day of walking between Kinlochleven and Fort William the weather got truly biblical. Driving rain and freezing wind turned the exposed valley we were walking through into an ice cold wind tunnel of doom. I made the fatal mistake of packing my ski gloves and hat at the bottom of my dry bag and had to get my sleeping bag out to get to them. Trust me, never make this mistake.
Baselayer, mid-layer, fleece, down jacket, waterproof jacket, waterproof trousers, gloves, hat, buff.
Summer in the Highlands!
Like most long distance trails the WHW peters out rather unspectacularly at the end of the High Street in Fort William, after passing the imposing slopes of Ben Nevis and meandering along a main road. A statue of a walker resting on a bench marks the finish.
And just like that, we were done.
On our final day we climbed Ben Nevis. Minus packs, thankfully.
Above 900m there was a total white out and navigation cairns that normally sit 12ft tall were almost fully buried under the snow. After reaching the summit (where mysteriously 20 people eating sandwiches appeared out of the void) we began our precarious descent.
Several near misses later and very much wishing I’d worn something a bit more suitable (crampons?). The clouds that had been shrouding us suddenly lifted to reveal the stunning Highland scenery we had spent the last six days travelling through.
It was the perfect the end to the trip. Thank you weather gods.