We opted to do the West Highland Way as our third long distance walk. We thought that we needed to build up to this one as people in their late sixties and this one is described as moderate to difficult. The strategy must have worked because we coped well with the demands of the walk despite the poor weather for the time of year. It is a truly spectacular route and the rainy weather did not detract from our enjoyment of the route. I would advise anyone doing it however, to make sure they have good quality water proof clothing and water proof walking boots. On our previous walking holidays, one in a similar part of the Scottish Highlands and the other in the North of England, the waterproof garments were literally baggage, as we basked in temperatures from the low to high 20s at a very similar time of year. This year was very different.
Another decision you will need to make is the length of time you are going to take over the walk. Our tour company offered the choice of of 6,7,8 or 9 days. We chose a fairly conservative 8 days averaging 12 miles a day. The walk begins at Milngavie on the north western outskirts of Glasgow. Do get you "passport" at the outdoor shop close to the start of the trail. You can then opt to have it stamped at hotels, inns and guest houses en route.
We started on 29 May and after a very dry month the first real rain arrived in the area with us on the Wednesday evening before we started. Thursday dawned with the rain persisting but by the time we set off from the comfortable Milngavie Premier Inn it was little more than nuisance drizzle and as we progressed through Allander Park northwards, even this subsided. It never got bright but it was a pleasant and relatively easy walk towards the first nights stop in the village of Drymen and the more challenging terrain ahead. There were plenty of potential picnic spots for a fairer day but we decided to take advantage of the pleasant cafe at the Oakwood Garden Centre cafe for lunch on Day One. About an hour from Drymen the heavens opened and we did get properly wet. Our B&B in Drymen was comfortable and we had a decent dinner in the Clachan Inn. We had identified other WHW walkers back in Milngavie and caught up with some of those in Drymen. It is a feature of this walk that you are likely to come across walkers from all over the world. In our case we shared parts of the trail with walkers from Canada, Australia, The Netherlands, Germany, France and Italy. There was a real sense of camaraderie. It would take me a long time to describe every day in detail so I will try and pick out highlights.
Quite early in Day 2 the first real ascent begins up Conic Hill. On a good day it affords a magnificent view over the southern end of Loch Lomond and the surrounding countryside. We did see it on a good day 2 years ago but the views were limited by the dark rain clouds and mist on day 2. Despite this it was still a very pretty descent into the attractive loch shore village of Balamaha. Our second night was at the Rowardennan Hotel. The walk from Balmaha to Rowardennan and indeed the following morning is through undulating forest trails, with some steep climbs and views of this most scenic of lochs.
The Inversnaid Hotel provides a haven for Lunch on Day 3, even offering an area inside for walkers to take their packed lunches - very impressive. The journey along the eastern shore of the loch continues but the terrain changes after Inversnaid. For about 90 minutes the trail is a constant obstacle course of rocky terrain taking you up and down the hillside and across the many burns stimulated by the heavy rainfall of the last couple of days. This section of the trail places a premium on being sure footed and was the part of the trail we found most demanding. There is the reward of reaching the head of the Loch with beautiful views over the harbour of Ardlui on the western side of the loch.
It was with some relief that we emerged into meadowland and the climbs now offering magnificent views of the highland landscape. It took about another 90 minutes to reach Inverarnon and our next overnight stay at Beinglas Farm lodges. Undoubtedly the most demanding day so far although it had offered stunning highland views and had been mostly dry.
The Falls of Falloch looked quite magnificent early in the walk on morning 4.The scenery is now open and even on a rainy day the peaks of the Monroes, Ben More and Stop Binnein are clearly visible rising up to the west of the trail. We took the diversion of about a kilometre down into Crianlarich and had lunch in the hotel there. Another hotel which catered for walkers and provided a drying room for boots and coats.
After ascending back up on to the trail a remarkable thing happened - the sun came out and the moors and mountains looked truly resplendent bathed in the light. We even allowed ourselves an ice cream at Kirkton Farm and a further hour took us to Tyndrum and our stay at the homely Glengarry Guest House.
From Tyndrum the path is an old military road which runs close to the A82 and the train line from Fort William to Glasgow. It was very satisfying when travelling back on the train to see the path, which you have trodden. The proximity of the road does not detract from the impressive views of another Monroe, Being Dorain, this time to the east. The Bridge of Orchy and its hotel provided a refuge on Day 5 lunch time, with the now customary drying facilities and welcome tea and scones.
Leaving the hotel we crossed the bridge over the raging River Orchy and a short afternoon over the hillside offering picturesque views of Ranoch Moor and Loch Tulla. The rain began to intensify so the Inveroran hotel was a welcome sight and our next stop.
The morning rain cleared soon after we had started on Day 6 and we walked over Victoria Bridge and began our climb up the Black Mount. The beautiful scenery carries on during the climb up to just short of 450 metres. As the guide book remarks, "true highland scenery wild and desolate." The descent down to the Kingshouse Hotel is just as stunning with the magnificent pass of Glencoe becoming apparent.
This was a short day for us and we arrived at the newly refurbished Kingshouse hotel at lunch time. Should we have gone for the further 10 miles on to Kinlochleven?
One of the reasons for stopping at that point was that soon into the next section of the trail is the climb up the forbiddingly named "Devil's Staircase." We saved this for the morning of Day 7. Like most features with this kind of name it is not as bad as its name suggests although it is a steep climb with a number of switchbacks up to two cairns at 548 metres. Top views north to the Mamores with Ben Nevis rising behind. This section finishes with a steep descent down to Kinlochleven at sea level.
Our final day was a demanding 15 miles to Fort William with an initial climb up through "The Big Pass," which I found as demanding as yesterdays climb. Draw dropping scenery the whole day ending with a steep descent into Fort William. We made doubly sure that we secured our final passport stamp in the tourist office.
Even as someone who has run 23 marathons and an ultra marathon I felt a real sense of achievement. It was also rewarding to share it with others whom we had befriended along the trail. A top class experience!