West Highland Way
The world famous West Highland Way is a first class long-distance trail running from Milngavie, lying to the north of Glasgow, to Fort William, some 96 miles to north.
The West Highland Way is typically walked in 7 days, though you can shorten or lengthen your trip depending on how fit you are and what speed you walk at, and whether you want to take a more leisurely pace or to go on side trips along the way. This might include trips to local towns and villages of interest, or you might decide you want to climb some hills or mountains along the way.
Here is the schedule for a normal trip on the West Highland Way going from south to north:
Day 1: Milngavie to Drymen (12 miles)
Traditionally, the first day is spent walking from Milngavie to Drymen. You will probably get the train to Milngavie – trains run from Glasgow Queen Street station – and then you will begin walking from the West Highland Way obelisk near the station.
You will snake your way through Mugdock Country Park, passing Craigallian Loch and Carbeth Loch. The beautiful Campsie Fells will then begin to open out in front of you – you will note the little volcanic knob of Dumgoyne at the western end of the ridge. Indeed, you will pass below Dumgoyne where you should be able to pick up refreshments (opening times permitting). Just before that you will have passed close to Glengoyne Distillery – tours are available to the public, and you can purchase this fine single malt whisky for yourself or friends and family (though you might not want to carry it all the way!).
You will then follow a well-signposted network of country roads and lanes, and you will eventually reach Drymen, your first night of the trip. There is a campsite at Drymen and there is some accommodation available in the village itself.
Day 2: Drymen to Rowardennan (15 miles)
Your second day will see you heading north through the Garadhban Forest, which is a conifer plantation, and you will then emerge onto an open plain where you will see the trail heading up onto Conic Hill. There is a low-level bypass route for those walkers who do not wish to climb Conic Hill, but the view from the top on a clear day is stunning: right out over the great expanse of Loch Lomond with all its little islands shimmering on the silver water (if it’s sunny!). After descending Conic Hill you will come into the little village of Balmaha.
After Balmaha, you will head north along the banks of Loch Lomond, often through woodland. These pleasant paths are followed north all the way to Rowardennan, where there is a hotel, a youth hostel and a campsite. This is also the main point of ascent of Ben Lomond, Scotland’s most popular mountain.
Day 3: Rowardennan to Inverarnan (14 miles)
The third day sees you heading north through more woodland, still along the shore of Loch Lomond, on a path that becomes increasingly rocky and rough underfoot. You should be properly prepared for this section of the route especially, as you have now left the road behind and the path is on its own. There are no ways out of this area apart from along the path itself. Follow this path all the way to the Inversnaid Hotel, which has a spectacular waterfall, great views across Loch Lomond to the Arrochar Alps, and a good point to have some lunch, a rest, and possibly even a boat trip on Loch Lomond itself.
The path north from Inversnaid is quite deceiving and can often seem to take a long time! You will eventually arrive at Beinglas Farm, near Inverarnan, and here there are wigwams and a campsite.
Day 4: Inverarnan to Tyndrum (12 miles)
Head north from Beinglas Farm up Glen Falloch, where the West Highland Way follows the attractive River Falloch which plummets down the glen in a series of cascades, gorges and pools. The Falls of Falloch are an interesting diversion well worth seeing. Shortly after Derrydarroch Farm the path goes through a “sheep creep”, which is a low tunnel under the road and railway.
The West Highland Way does not actually go into Crianlarich, but it passes very close to it, and it is signposted to the right at the appropriate point. You can either go to Crianlarich for lunch, a rest, accommodation or as an access point to the West Highland Line. Alternatively, you can continue on towards Tyndrum, up Strath Fillan. Be very careful where the West Highland Way crosses the A82 road, as this is a very busy and dangerous road. You will pass Kirkton Farm and see the ruins of St. Fillan’s Chapel and its graveyard. Continue on past Auchtertyre Farm, follow the path along the side of the River Cononish and if you take the path to Tyndrum Lower station you will shortly arrive in Tyndrum itself. Tyndrum has accommodation, a campsite and opportunities to re-supply.
Day 5: Tyndrum to Kingshouse (19 miles)
This is the epic day. Leaving Tyndrum, you will head north beside the West Highland Line towards Bridge of Orchy. You will see the great conical mountain of Beinn Dorain in front of you, and it is now that you are entering the Scottish Highlands proper. Bridge of Orchy has a hotel, a bunkhouse and a train station on the West Highland Line.
Continuing on from Bridge of Orchy, you climb over the hill and then down into Inveroran. You might want to follow the single track road to Inveroran if you do not want to climb the hill, though this route is longer. The Inveroran Hotel has accommodation which you might want to use if you intend to use a different itinerary from this one. This is also the last point before you head out over the wilderness that is the Rannoch Moor.
There are no facilities whatsoever on the Rannoch Moor, so again you must be very well prepared for this section. There are no roads near to you. Pass the beautiful Loch Tulla which is on your right, with its ancient crannogs and trout rippling on the surface of the water. Admire the dark and atmospheric Black Mount on your left as you head along the West Highland Way. Ba Bridge is approximately half way across the Rannoch Moor; if you are in doubt about your safety or weather conditions you should turn back at this point. Do not at any point wander out onto the Rannoch Moor, as it is very boggy and dangerous, and you could sink into it – fatalities have occurred in just this way. If you are continuing on, you will pass under Meall a’Bhuiridh and then begin the descent down towards the Kingshouse Hotel. There is accommodation and a campsite here (though no train station – you will not see the West Highland Line after Bridge of Orchy until you reach Fort William itself).
Day 6: Kingshouse to Kinlochleven (9 miles)
This is a short day, to give you some rest after the long day before from Tyndrum to Kingshouse. You walk towards Glen Coe, and then once reaching Altnafeadh you climb out of Glen Coe up the famous Devil’s Staircase. There is a good vantage point from the top of here – again, do not attempt to climb up here unless weather conditions permit and you have no doubts about your safety.
From the top of the Devil’s Staircase, you descend down the back of the ridge, all the way down into Kinlochleven. You will see a whole new range of mountains has opened out to your right – the Mamores – and you should also see the great mass of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain, standing out. At Kinlochleven there is accommodation, bus links, and an opportunity to get supplies.
Day 7: Kinlochleven to Fort William (16 miles)
The final day of your trip begins with a tough climb out of Kinlochleven. You will head through a wild glen past Lairigmor, with mountains on either side of you. You will pass Lundavra and head through woodland, passing into Glen Nevis, with Ben Nevis now very obvious. Following your descent, as signposted, down into Glen Nevis, you will follow the last short stretch of road before arriving in your destination at Fort William – complete with an obelisk to mark the end of the West Highland Way and your great achievement.
Fort William is a sizeable town, well-stocked with hotels, guesthouses, bed and breakfasts, shops, restaurants and a supermarket. This is also the terminus of the West Highland Line, so you can easily take train here back to Glasgow Queen Street; there are also train connections to Edinburgh Waverley and London Euston from here. Alternatively, take the coach to Glasgow, Inverness or Kyle of Lochalsh and the Isle of Skye.
Proper preparation is crucial
You must make sure you are properly prepared to take this trip. This includes ensuring your fitness is good enough before attempting the West Highland Way, and also that you take and know how to use the proper equipment. Stay warm and stay safe: the weather can be very changeable in this part of Scotland, and too many people have been caught short. Don’t let it happen to you.