Wandering the West Highland Way

Now I am finished with the 197 countries, I am quite keen to get a lot more hiking in…. so decided to sneak in a cheeky few nights in my tent and try and cover 70% of the West Highland Way over three days…. cheeky as I snuck what feels like a week of hiking in between leaving the office Friday night and arriving back Tuesday morning like nothing happened.

Day 0 – Ben Lomond. 15km 1100m of climbing

I finished a board meeting in Glasgow, changed into my hiking gear, offloaded my work gear on a colleague and hurriedly made last minute purchases of a lighter and some midge spray.  I headed north in an Uber ( more expensive but three hours faster than the bus alternative) 

My entertaining Uber ride to Rowardennan on the shores of Loch Lomond took an hour.  My driver was a retired restauranteur who was born in Islamabad and raised in Glasgow. He had only seen the Loch once in his 38 years there so he was quite happy for the ride.  We had a broad ranging discussion about the woes of the world covering everything from how the impact of the British partition of the subcontinent continues today to the Chinese expansion in Africa

It was a gloriously sunny day so I shouldered my enormous pack, with 10kg of gear and headed up to Ben Lomond.  I am out of shape and the going is slow, though I did manage to overtake a few day hikers on the way up.   I did a lovely loop route coming back along a ridge line with some lovely tarns and there were spectacular views down the loch.   

Ben Lomond summit

Back down to the lakeshore and I strolled a few kilometres past Rowardennan to pitch my tent on an idyllic spot by the shore with a stunning view, and amazing phone signal.   A luxury dinner of packet asparagus soup, pasta and decaf cappuccino with a slice of millionaires shortbread I had taken off the buffet lunch in the office, and to bed.  Fortunately the midges weren’t too horrendous

The rain started around 10pm and continued all night!  It didn’t bode well for the next day 

Day 1 – Rowardennan to Inveroran 52km

I roused myself at 5.30 am and eventually got going after a coffee and a muesli bar around 6.15.   The first 7k were a pretty relaxed stroll along the lake shore which ended with an excellent bacon bap and a latte at the Inversnaid hotel.

I left the hotel at the same time as some mountain bikers who zipped off at pace.  I was amused to overtake them less than 2km later carrying their bikes over the rocks.

After that it was more lovely lakeside strolling past some abandoned farm buildings and a bothy until the top of the lake at Beinglas where I stopped for some toffee crunch and a Diet Coke, but was swiftly chased off by the midges.

Bothy

Then – gentle steady uphill stroll following the river, overtaking lots of hikers through Crianlarich forest.  The forest was lovely but the last 5km to Tyndrum was interminable, flat and boring, made worse by the rain pissing down.  

My mood was restored by soup and excellent orange sponge at the real food cafe in Tyndrum.  I used their power, sat out two rainstorms and finally summoned the courage to leave at 4pm

It was a long flat 11 k to bridge of orchy on a hard roman road, at least the sun was out for the first hour.  I hadn’t meant to go that far but in the 10k from Tyndrum there was nowhere to camp as you can’t camp near livestock.  

I stopped for pint of cider at the bridge or Orchy hotel and watched all the posh hikers who were staying in the hotel.  Oddly I much prefer pitching my tent in splendid isolation on the hill with the midges and no facilities than being in a hotel – maybe I am a wee bit feral.

It was hard work going up hill after a pint (I never drink and had been quite dehydrated so it was an odd choice but I felt like one at the time).  I mildly regretted it as I swayed up the hill.  There were scant camping options, After dismissing the first two sites for being too boggy and windy, I found a perfect location on Mam Carraigh with a little bit of shelter and pitched the tent in the evening sun.  By this time it was 8pm and I had been on the move for almost 14 hours.  I had soup and pasta and some chocolate – all cooked in my tent to avoid the midges. I put all my clothes on and bedded down for the night.  The sunset was spectacular through the tent doors, reflecting bright red in the lake below but the midges discouraged me from getting out of the tent to take a photo

Just near Mam Carraigh

Day 2 – to just after Kinlochleven – 32km

I woke up late at 7 and decided to make a coffee and then opportunistically hit up the Inveroran hotel down the hill for breakfast.   I broke camp, the worst part is always putting on your wet clothes and socks from the day before, and was rewarded with a bacon buttie and a latte at the hotel. 

The sun was shining as I set off for the 15k to kingshouse, but it was hailing when I arrived.   The trail was awful on the feet, like a lot of the WHW its an old roman road so it is both hard underfoot and rocky.    The landscape was bleak but striking.  The hills are black, fierce and gloomy and look imposing even when the sun was shining on them.  

I rolled into kingshouse hotel soaking wet and with no feeling in my fingers.   I didn’t really warm up while I was there, but the welcome was tremendous.  They weren’t bothered that I was soaking wet and also charging my devices.  I had two pots of tea, an excellent fish finger sandwich and a scone with jam and cream and watched the torrential rain through the windows.   All of the people I passed on my way to Kingshouse from Inveroran eventually rolled in, and all of them were staying there for the night.  I couldn’t!  A 15 hiking day would be an embarrassment.  So, I geared up and headed out shivering into the rain….. Scotland must of been smiling at me as the rain stopped about ten minutes later and I eventually dried off.   

Buchaille Etive Mor
Buchaille Etive Mor

This section to Kinlochleven started off badly with 5km following adjacent to the main road, but with stunning views of Buchaille Etive Mor (which I had planned to climb today but the weather was too iffy).  The trail then left the road and climbed up the ‘devils staircase’ over to a more remote trail to Kinlochleven.   We had half an hour of torrential rain, but the sun came out as I rolled into town. 

Given I skipped my side trip today and my feet are a sodden mess I decided to stop early and camp near Kinlochleven….. but it would have been rude not to stop in town, so I spent two wonderful hours at the excellent Bothy bar in Kinlochleven eating cheesy fries, goujons and a brownie!   That bar was amazing!  It was warm and my shirt even dried for the first time in three days!  I had to tear myself away, but I slogged uphill with three litres of water until I found a sheltered spot about 1km from town to pitch my tent with a view of Lochleven peaking through the trees.   

Day 3 – 22km to Fort William 

I woke up at 5am and it was raining, again at 6am, still raining…. and so on until 7.30 when it was still raining but I decided to make coffee.  I eventually headed out in a break in the rain at around 8.30.

It was lovely landscape, grey and broody in the rain, which came and went for the 20km to Glen Nevis.  Ben Nevis finally peaking through as I can down the final stretch towards town.  I stopped at the foot of Ben Nevis for a burger.  I had planned to hike up but the weather was foul and I had been up before.  So instead I wandered the final 3km into town for cake 🙂

Ben Nevis in the clouds

The verdict on the WHW 

  • Pros – quite a few good pubs with excellent food, plenty of cake stops, lots of good wild camping, some stunning views and landscape, impossible to get lost as the trail is a highway
  • Cons – too flat, as you walk past the mountains rather than go up them, too many people for my liking, and the trails are mostly 4wd type trails which are hard on your feet 
  • Best cake – Real Food Inn
  • Best cider – Bridge of Orchy hotel
  • Best welcome and fish finger sandwich – Kingshouse hotel
  • Best bacon bap and walkers charging station – Inversnaid hotel 
  • Best sausage bap – Inveroran hotel 

No need to buy a guide but the OS maps app is helpful

Definitely take midge spray and a net and make sure you understand the Scottish access code for wild camping and heed the relevant bans eg the south part of Loch Lomond. Easy access to Glasgow on the flights and back from Fort William on the Caledonian sleeper

Fort William 17 July 2019