Thought about walking the West Highland Way?
As so many visitors, from all parts of the world, already know; there is no better place to complete a long journey than in the friendly arms of beautiful Fort William. While many come by car, bus, train, or occasionally, water, the town is also a truly welcoming end point for the many folk who decide to walk the world renowned West Highland Way.
For many, it’s a once in a lifetime experience, or for others just possibly a stroll worth repeating! If you haven’t yet tried it for yourself, there is much to be recommended for making such an unforgettable journey.
Preparing for the journey itself
The West Highland Way is just short of a hundred miles long, or 154KM if you prefer, and starts in Milngavie, Glasgow and completes its path at Gordon Square in Fort William. As a long distance walk, undertaken best at a pace that all participants find comfortable, we’ll later mention some of the key places to visit along the way.
First, a few guidelines to help you best prepare. Much of this will be well known to the experienced walker, but please bear with us, as we know many folk will be enjoying this as a new holiday adventure.
Firstly, it’s Scotland, so we must discuss the weather. It is vital to keep a check on conditions, as these can change quickly, and will vary greatly. A warm summer’s day as you pass through Drymen might be much colder and wilder when you reach Bridge of Orchy!
Therefore, it’s important to take advice on the clothing, from sun hats in high summer (yes protection is needed, even in the west highlands of Scotland), to the warmth needed on less hospitable days. It’s good to be able to build up layers of clothing, and then adapt these to each set of conditions. A breathable and waterproof outer layer is surely vital for any season.
As the walk itself should be a pleasure, it’s best to be well-prepared but also to make good use of the excellent baggage handling services that can move your gear to your booked accommodation or a collection point in one of the villages you’ll reach after an exhilarating day. These services usually operate from Easter right through to October.
Where to stay is also a key consideration. You’ll be able to find a range of booked accommodation package options to cover the whole route, allowing you to relax and enjoy the scenery, climate and wildlife of the different places you’ll pass through.
Obviously, especially in high season, pre-booking hotels, guest houses, or bed & breakfast options is vital. Other choices, especially on a limited budget, include bunkhouses and hostels, or you might turn the walk into a camping experience. There are a range of official sites, but do be aware that there are restrictions in the East Loch Lomond area, and potentially heavy fines for those who camp outside of the official designated sites. So, do check!
Of course, at the end of your trek, there’s a range of terrific accommodation, great eateries, and much more in Fort William itself. The friendly locals will help you celebrate the end of what is a marathon stroll! On our site, you’ll find many other great ways to pass those few days of downtime you should award yourself to celebrate your successful completed journey.
A quick introduction to the West Highland Way Route
Of course, you’ll need to buy and study a detailed guide to plan your journey, and there are many to be found. Online step-by-step plans are also available. There are detours to consider, different levels of climb or exertion to choose from. Here we offer no more than a quick overview of the route. You can even obtain a unique record – a West Highland Way Passport, to be stamped at various key points across your journey.
Your adventure starts at a granite obelisk in Milngavie, and then heads out to the beautiful village of Drymen in Stirlingshire. On the way, you’ll spot the hills of Dumgoyne and Dumgoyach.
You’ll find your way down to the shores of the astonishingly beautiful Loch Lomond, and it is many folks’ favourite place in all of the world. Ben Lomond can be climbed, and then you follow Glen Falloch, close to many great peaks. The Way turns north beyond Crianlarich, following the A82. You head north west after Bridge of Orchy, and the way then follows an ancient cobbled road to the high moorlands of the Black Mount, with Rannoch Moor spreading to the east.
The next few miles offers neither escape nor shelter from the elements so great care must be taken! The Way then descends towards Glen Etive and the legendary Glen Coe. Back on the A82, you then move off to climb the Devil’s Staircase, taking you to the route’s highest point at 548m. We’ll leave you to describe the astonishing views for yourself.
After a long but gentle descent, you’ll return to sea level and find yourself in Kinlochleven. Upwards again and onto an old military road to a high pass, Lairigmor. From 330m, your final descent, through stunning pine forests, takes you to Glen Nevis, and your final, probably weary, steps bring you into those truly welcoming arms of Fort William!
This is no more than a general and introductory sketch. So do take the time for a detailed examination, as this is considered by so many to be one of our planet’s most remarkably beautiful on-foot journeys.
You’ll find so much to interest the naturalist in you, from red, roe, and other deer, to the mountain hare, pine martin. Some are truly fortunate to catch a glimpse of the elusive Scottish Wildcat, but you’re more likely to see feral goats, each unique, as you make your journey. You might also spot a golden eagle or Sparrowhawk, a selection of owls, maybe a buzzard.
Sadly, unless after a good night in a local hostelry, you’re not likely to catch sight of Robert the Bruce, Rob Roy MacGregor, or legendary road and bridge builder Thomas Telford – but you might recognise their influence on this area!
Some fun finishing facts about the West Highland Way
It’s Gaelic name is Slighe na Gàidhealtachd an Iar; and more than 50,000 people use this path in a single year. It’s estimated that around a third or so aim to walk all 96 miles. It’s also the site of some ultramarathons, including the 53 mile Highland Fling Race. In fact, the West Highland Way Race covers the full 95 miles from south to north.
Glaswegian Tom Hunter came up with the idea and it was officially opened over 35 years ago. Amazingly, in 2010, it was even co-designated as part of the International Appalachian Trail! By the way, ever thoughtful, the south to north route helps keep the sun out of your eyes. Yes, it does shine a lot in Scotland – it only rains or snows in-between!
The complete West Highland Way is a fairly leisurely 7 or 8 day, respectful of the environment, adventure. Scurry faster if you wish, but your eyes may not have time to take in the majesty of lochs, forest and mountains. You head from near the modern-day city of Glasgow slowly and inexorably into Scotland’s magnificent wilderness; and the whispering echoes of her wild and lawless past. And, at the end of it all, bonny Fort William awaits you!