Our Mini-Adventure In Scotland Begins…
The West Highland Way, stretching a distance of 96 miles from Milngavie (on the outskirts of Glasgow) to Fort William, the gateway to Ben Nevis (Great Britain’s highest mountain), is Scotland’s original and most popular long distance walk, receiving on average upwards of 50,000 visitors per year. So why the West Highland Way next for us? Well, from where we live in the Midlands in the heart of England, it’s a fairly cheap and relatively quick train journey north. So why not?
After completing England’s two premier walks last year, Scotland seemed the next best thing to experience something new, neither of us having hiked in the Highlands before. Not only would we be taking in some of Scotland’s finest scenery, and adding another long distance walk to our accomplishments, but we also hoped to summit Ben Nevis. (Had the weather held out for us on our last day it would have been the perfect end to our week long adventure. But more of that later…)
All smiles setting off from Milngavie, the start point of the West Highland Way.
Friday 3rd April 2015 – 11 miles – ‘Back to Basics’
Having done almost ‘zero’ hiking with a full backpack since completing the JMT back in September 2014, today was tough!
Where previously our bodies had been well conditioned to wearing both our backpacks and hiking shoes after walking 700 miles last summer, today felt like we were complete beginners. Despite so much training last year, it was as if we were starting afresh and our bodies were in complete shock!
The saving grace was that our backpacks were lighter. After all the hiking we’ve done, we now have a finely tuned kit, which means no extra burden of ‘just in case’ items – and I really have found I can get by on just the bare ‘essentials’. (Not having a bear cannister crammed to bursting point with 10 days’ worth of food inside certainly makes a huge difference too.) But where we initially felt like we were reuniting with an old friend, today we couldn’t wait to get the backpacks off by mile 8!
All packed and ready to go! It was an early start to get to Scotland by lunchtime…
It was an early start to catch the 7:38am train to Glasgow, via Edinburgh, from our hometown of Newark in Nottinghamshire. Arriving in Glasgow at 12:20pm, we had around half an hour to spare waiting for a local train to take us on to Milngavie, the start point of our walk. So as it was already drizzling with light rain we made an impromptu visit to ‘Tiso Outdoor’ (a fantastic Scottish chain of hiking gear shops) to make a last minute purchase by way of an extra large rain cover that would fit properly over Wayne’s pack and new camera equipment. (Recent additions to his kit include a camera rail and slider system with a Syrp Genie Motion Control Unit to enhance his time lapse work.) We also purchased a large gas cannister to see us through the 96 miles (hopefully!).
Arriving in Milngavie, the first sign pointing us in the direction of the West Highland Way.
The journey to Milngavie (pronounced mull-guy – we’re already having trouble reading Scottish place names) from Glasgow Central Station took around half an hour with several small village stops along the route. Arriving around 1:30pm, we decided to stop for lunch at a cafe before popping into the Tourist Information Centre (which now also doubles up as the public toilets, the previous town centre conveniences having closed down). The lady on duty was extremely helpful, directing us in terms of good campsites along the route as well as giving us an information leaflet detailing the ‘East Loch Lomond Camping Bye-laws’ as there are now restrictions in place on wild camping along that section of the WHW route. We had not really planned on any ‘proper’ wild camps anyway as there are lots of campsites en route, and if the facilities of a toilet and shower are there, then we’d rather use them!
Last but not least, we nipped into the Marks & Spencers Supermarket situated across from the West Highland Way start point to purchase all important bottles of drinking water and some bread rolls to accompany our cuppa-soup that evening. We knew we had 10+ miles to go to reach our campsite just outside of Drymen – so 2:30pm was really the latest time we could leave Milngavie and set off!
Interesting benches at the start of the West Highland Way.
Of course we had to stop for an obligatory photo at the West Highland Way obelisk in the centre of town, where there are also a couple of cute benches marking the start of the walk. But today was really not about scenery – in the widest possible sense, it was literally about getting to Scotland and getting to our first campsite!
At 96 miles long, the West Highland Way was our first hike in Scotland!
We found the route clearly signposted the entire way – a definite thumbs up!
Simply follow the thistle…
So off we went, Wayne setting a pace of 3.2 miles per hour as we needed to reach the campsite and set up before dark. Signposting was regular and well placed as we found ourselves following posts marked with a ‘thistle’, Scotland’s national emblem. The fine drizzle that had begun earlier in Glasgow persisted, however it was so light we didn’t need to put our waterproof jackets on and it certainly wasn’t cold. So we hiked on in good spirits, happy that after 4 months of being back at work, we had returned to the great outdoors and were breathing in the fresh air!
An overcast day with fine drizzle.
But it felt good to be in the great outdoors and back on the trail!
Just after leaving Milngavie, we faced a boggy section of ground that I was especially reluctant to cross not wanting to muddy my new trail shoes! Investing in a pair of Gortex lined shoes proved a good move though as they were well and truly christened by the end of the day (but my feet and socks were completely dry)!
Trying to maintain our pace and keep to a tight schedule before sundown, we had one quick rest stop around the half way mark, where we refuelled with a quick snack and had a moan about the weight and fit of our packs. They were taking some getting used to again!
Then it was time to push on once more. The campsite we were heading for just outside of Drymen couldn’t come quick enough! Still, only 3 more miles to go…
Brightening up a little – or is that just the optimism shining through?!
We stood for a while reading the sign trying to practice our Scottish lingo!
A quirky wooden mural showing the WHW route.
I consoled myself with thinking how many calories I must have burnt, and the fact that 11 miles was going to equate to around 30,000 steps, which would put me at the top of the ‘Fitbit’ leader board for that day! Remember how competitive Wayne and I are – well as I have a shorter stride I inevitably walk a few more steps than him. (Trailing behind has therefore turned out not to be such a bad thing after all!)
Day 1 and we had already spied an ‘Honesty Box’ – such is the kindness of strangers – particularly well timed for two exhausted walkers!
‘Trip trap, trip trap, trip trap…’ I couldn’t help but think of the Billy Goats Gruff story!
Buildings in sight! Drymen Camping was just around the bend… Thankfully!
We were the last walkers to arrive at Drymen Camping around 6:30pm but managed to get a camp spot next to a picnic bench (also next to a large group of noisy hikers merrily drinking beer having had their gear transported by a sherpa van – we were just very slightly jealous!).
The noise didn’t really bother us though as we were thoroughly exhausted after our first day and were out for the count when we crawled into our sleeping bags around 9:30pm having showered and had soup and bread rolls for our dinner!
Drymen Camping is located on a working farm. Although a little rustic, there are clean toilets and hot showers, the latter being all we wanted at the end of a particularly brutal day getting used to our backpacks again!
Tent pitched… Now time for a cuppa… And relax!
Completely shattered, it didn’t take us long to fall asleep!
A Stressful But Successful Day 1!
Running along the shores of atmospheric Loch Lomond, the West Highland Way takes you through Scotland’s first national park as well as several wild moors and glens. At 96, miles long, we thought it would be a breeze compared to our previous hikes. Well with 11 miles ticked off today, we were positively dreading the 18 miles we had planned for the day after next. We were just hoping with a bit of ‘true grit’ attitude and a tube of ‘Deep Freeze’, we’d make it through. After all, we told ourselves, they’d be no elevation changes such as the mighty Forester Pass on the JMT!
Most people hike the West Highland Way over 6 or 7 days. Thankfully we had given ourselves a generous 8 day itinerary, allowing us some flexibility with daily mileage and campsites. Today certainly felt like we were in training once more, with a day getting back to basics having done no hiking or camping at all over the winter. But it was great to return to our second home – the tent, and be out on the trail once more!
Find out how we fared on Day 2 hiking the West Highland Way in our next installment coming soon…