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West Highland Way

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The West Highland Way, or W.H.W (Scottish Gaelic: Slighe na Gàidhealtachd an Iar) [1] is a 95 mile (152km) long distance walk from Milngavie (outside Glasgow) to Fort William in the Highlands of Scotland. It is one of four officially-recognised "Long Distance Routes" in Scotland.

Get in[edit]

Buachaille Etive Mòr - fortunately you view it from the bottom when walking the Way.

Although it is of course possible to walk from Fort William (the northern end of the walk) to Milngavie in the south, it is generally advised to use the more gentle terrain in the south as a warmup to the remote and dramatic mountain areas further north, plus you will have the sun behind you.

Milngavie can be reached by train, bus, car or on foot, generally via the city of Glasgow.

ScotRail [2] operate up to four trains an hour to Milngavie. Two trains per hour run from Edinburgh Waverley via Glasgow Queen Street (Low Level) and Airdrie on the North Clyde Line. The other two trains travel from Motherwell via Glasgow Central (Low Level) and Blantyre on the Argyle Line (with two trains an hour coming from Lanark).

In addition to the trains, a number of regular bus services run from Glasgow Buchanan Bus Station to Milngavie. For those wanting to walk from Glasgow city centre, the Kelvin Walkway is the recommended route.

Walk[edit]

Generally, people take anywhere between 5 and 9 days to complete the W.H.W., with the position of overnight accommodation determining daily mileages. Typically, the walk takes place in the following stages in order to provide logical stops for rest and accommodation.

The opening stretch of the walk from Milngavie to Drymen eases walkers into the route through soft and pleasant agricultural countryside. This leg of the journey is approximately 12 miles. The next section of the route goes from Drymen to Rowardennan through the managed pines of Garadhban Forest, where you catch your first glimpse of Loch Lomond. From the forest you emerge into the Highlands, an unfarmable landscape carved by glaciers. On this leg of the route you can feast on the view from the top of Conic Hill near the town of Balmaha.

The stretch from Rowardennan to Inverarnan takes in the entire length of Loch Lomond's remote and wooded eastern shore. In May and early June the steep bank is wall-to-wall bluebells. When the sun is out, small sandy beaches invite you to swim in the famous loch.

The route around and close to Inverarnan is a less strenuous stretch of the walk. The path is wide and gently undulating, providing a change from the more rugged terrain experienced on other legs of the W.H.W. Peaks rise above you giving the first clue of the wild, mountainous scenery to come. From Inveroran you walk up onto the unfeasibly beautiful Rannoch Moor. Lovers of lonely desolation will catch their breath. The path across the moor brings you out at the Kings House Hotel, a speck at the top of the astonishing Glen Coe.

From the Kings House Hotel, the "Devil's Staircase" takes you up and over into Kinlochleven. It sounds worse than it is. From Kinlochleven a steady climb taking you up into Lairigmoor, a pristine glacial valley. At this point walkers can consider an optional scramble half way up one of the peaks on the northern side reveals the full beauty of this place, however less challenging options are also available. From Lairigmor the path snakes North into managed woodland. This stage includes a couple of tiring but short climbs with the path taking you over into Glen Nevis, from where the walk into Fort William is considered to be an easy one.

Fort William is considered as the end of the W.H.W., however, this area connects with the Great Glen Way, which runs a further 73 miles (118 kilometres) to Inverness offering you the chance to extend your walk.

Though it passes through mountainous country and fine scenery, the Way is not considered a mountain walk. The path is generally very good and easy to navigate, and any given section of the Way would simply be a pleasant stroll. The walk becomes more of a challenge when completed over a number of consecutive days, this is where endurance is required to complete the route.

Sleep[edit][add listing]

The Kings House Hotel, with Buachaille Etive Mòr in the background.

There are a number of hotels, B&Bs, bunkhouses, simple shelters and campsites along the way. You will find that prices vary seasonally. A number of towns and villages along the way provide options for accommodation:

  • Drymen (mile 12)
  • Balmaha (mile 18)
  • Rowardennan (mile 25)
  • Inversnaid (mile 33)
  • Ardlui (mile 37)
  • Inverarnan (mile 40)
  • Crianlarich (mile 46)
  • Tyndrum (mile 52)
  • Bridge of Orchy (mile 59)
  • Inveroran (mile 62)
  • Kings House Hotel (mile 72)
  • Kinlochleven (mile 80)
  • Fort William (mile 95).

Serviced campsites (i.e. one providing water, showers, toilets etc) can be found at:

  • Gartness (mile 10)
  • Easter Drumquassle Farm (mile 11)
  • Millarochy (mile 20)
  • Cashel (mile 21)
  • Ardlui (mile 37)
  • Inverarnan (mile 40)
  • Auchtertyre (mile 49)
  • Tyndrum (mile 52)
  • Inveroran (mile 62)
  • Kinlochleven (mile 80).

If this is your preferred option, a choice must be made between a shortish (11 mi) or longish (20 mi) first day. If you choose the latter, conic hill around mile 17, whilst a first taste of the scenic beauty to come, is a heartbreaker. Also note that a long second day to Ardlui or Inverarnan then follows. After that the sites are well spaced. The pick of the bunch is Beinglass Farm at Inverarnan. Basically it's an excellent bar/restaurant with a campsite and camping shop attached. The Millarochy site is also recommended for its lovely spot on Loch Lomond.

Wild camping is not permitted along many areas of the route, so this option is not recommended for this particular walking route in Scotland.

Microlodges that sleep 4 persons, new to Glencoe Ski centre, with W/C and shower facilities offer an alternative accommodation option. There are also serviced hard standings for camper vans and a grassed tent camping area. The bar/cafe will remain open later than it used to. You will pass these 5 minutes prior to reaching Kingshouse if walking South to North.

Additionally, there are Microlodges sited at the By the Way hostel in Tyndrum and at Blackwater Hostel in Kinlochleven.

Finally there are two bothies en route, Rowchoish and Doune, both on Loch Lomond. These are basically stone shelters without running water and so offer a wild camping experience without the need for a tent.

Walkers and visitors to the route may also consider arranging their walk with a tour provider who can book accommodations along the way to suit your budget. This can also aid in setting out the best route to follow to suit your walking ability.

Eat / Drink[edit]

Shops on the route can be few and far between, however some are available (in Drymen, Balmaha, Inverarnan,Crianlarich, Tyndrum, and Kinlochleven). Further north the shops disappear for long distances, however there are small public houses at reasonable intervals (Drymen, Balmaha, Rowardennan, Inverarnan, Crianlarich, Tyndrum, Bridge of Orchy, King's House, Kinlochleven). These establishments usually serve a range of hot food in addition to bar drinks.

Stay safe[edit]

The West Highland Way is a very enjoyable and rewarding walk. The remote country, changeable weather, and great length also mean you could find yourself in difficulty. Appropriate emergency equipment should therefore be carried, and all the usual mountain walking rules still apply. It is also recommended that someone is aware that you are traveling as well as your planned route should you get into difficulty. Many walking companies provide this service.

Get out[edit]

Assuming that you complete the West Highland Way in Fort William, there are a number of places that you can go:

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