The End Is In Sight…
Taking about a week to complete, Scotland’s West Highland Way is short compared to England’s toughest long distance hike ‘The Pennine Way’ (about 3 weeks) and England’s most popular walk, ‘The Coast to Coast Path’ (2 weeks). For the most part, the terrain itself is also easier, particularly on the first few days heading south to north. That’s not to say that the trail doesn’t have its fair share of spectacular scenery. With each passing step, we found the views just get better, so for those wanting to embark on a first ‘long distance walk’, the West Highland Way is a good place to start.
After setting foot on the trail at Milngavie and heading north into the highlands, you will be treated to the serene view from Rowardennan down a long stretch of Loch Lomond, the sight of the conical mountain Beinn Dorain after leaving Tyndrum, walking under the never-ending gaze of Buachaille Etive Mor as you leave Rannoch Moor near Kingshouse, and after completing the challenge of the Devil’s Staircase, the satisfaction of finally spying Ben Nevis, Britain’s tallest peak, lying beyond the Mamore mountains. It makes for a wonderful week, particularly if you time it right with the weather and manage to avoid the midges!
Completing the West Highland Way – our first hike in Scotland!
Friday 10th April 2015 – 16 miles – ‘To Ceilidh Or Not To Ceilidh’
We actually set the alarm for 6am today as we wanted an early start. The thought of a ‘Premier Inn’ and a comfy bed awaiting us at the end of 16 miles was an excellent motivator!
It was double porridge for our last breakfast on the trail to prepare us for quite a strenuous climb leaving Kinlochleven. From sea level, you are faced with a steep ascent out of town through a wild mountain pass. Away from the road, it can feel rather bleak, windswept and remote. Especially because of the large scale felling of trees throughout the managed plantations on this last section, where the scenery, to put it simply, is very much spoilt. It just feels like the area has been completely destroyed by some terrible natural disaster, and is nothing like what we expected of walking the West Highland Way. Rather than immersing yourself in an enchanted forest of evergreen, it’s more like walking through complete desolation. What a shame!
Leaving the Blackwater Hostel Campsite at first light, eager to put in some mileage to complete our last day on the trail!
Heading out of town and en route to Fort William!
It was a strenuous start to the day as we faced a steep ascent out of Kinlochleven.
Photo bombing is taken to a new level by way of a sneaky tripod getting in on the action!
We had a nice, easy track to follow after our initial exertions.
Thankfully the weather was being kind to us and it was another pleasant day in the highlands.
A good visual aid reminding us of how far we’d already walked!
What we really liked about this trail were several well placed information boards that really added to the whole experience.
A welcome ‘trail angel’ from the West Highland Way Trust offering refreshments along the route for a minimal donation!
A section of the trail that felt like walking through the midst of a natural disaster.
In ancient times, these hills would have been covered in thick forest as is seen in the background of the photo.
The big beinn we had both been waiting for…
On this final stretch of the West Highland Way, the ‘wow’ factor only happens when you round the bend and the mighty Ben Nevis comes into view on the right-hand side. This is the southwest aspect of the mountain on which you can see the zig zags of the ‘Tourist Track’ snaking its way up to Britain’s highest summit. We were hoping to hike up the great ‘Beinn’ the following day, however the weather underwent a dramatic change from the mild and pleasant spring-like climes we had experienced for most of the week. With blizzard conditions on the summit and a weather warning now in place, we opted for plan B – a day exploring the many hiking shops of Fort William high street! (With hangovers from our ‘Scottish knees up’ this was decidedly the more sensible option anyway! More of that later…)
Standing at 1,344 metres above sea level, the peaks of Ben Nevis were still covered in snow.
The West Highland Way affords you grand views of the southwest aspect of Ben Nevis.
Following along the trail, the route down into Glen Nevis is a much more scenic one, albeit a little longer on the West Highland Way track than taking the more direct route to the valley bottom along the road. There is plenty of road walking though as you head into Fort William where you pass numerous ‘Bed and Breakfast’ establishments that all look extremely well kept and welcoming. The old finish point used to be at the main roundabout before you turn left into Fort William’s town centre. To add a little extra burden to the legs, it is now a mile further on! (I did feel slightly self-conscious hammering the pavement with my walking poles as we made our way to the new finish point at the end of the high street, but after a long 16 miles I needed them to prop me up!)
Our proposed hike to the top of Ben Nevis on Saturday never came to fruition.
A perfect excuse to re-visit Scotland in the future – we have yet to summit Britain’s highest mountain.
Picking up the pace as we head through Glen Nevis making our way to town.
I spy civilisation…
Almost there… Except the finish point has now been moved to the end of the high street!
Perfectly situated next to a Wetherspoons and Travelodge (we questioned why we had picked the Premier Inn at the other end of town), the official end of the West Highland Way is now at Gordon Square, marked by a statue of a weary hiker sat on a bench rubbing his feet. Believe me, that’s exactly what we felt like doing on reaching that exact spot! However, despite a few aching muscles, thanks to our trusted Salomon trail shoes we had avoided any blisters over the 8 days.
After our customary photos at the ‘finish’ courtesy of a passer-by, we quietly made our way to our accommodation, calling at the Morrisons supermarket en route to pick up snacks and generous supplies of alcohol, our reward for completing Scotland’s original long distance walk.
It felt a little bit of an anti-climax however as there weren’t any big crowds of hikers at the finish offering claps and congratulations like we had become accustomed to on other thru-hikes. (There wasn’t really anyone at all!) I had even thought that there might be an obligatory ‘bag piper’ stationed at that point for the sole purpose of welcoming West Highland Way walkers to Fort William in true Scottish style for all of their efforts. But alas, there was no such bagpiper as my Hollywood head had envisioned, much to Wayne’s amusement and relief!
Sitting with the ‘weary hiker’ at Gordon Square marking the end of our West Highland Way journey.
Of course a picture with the sign just made it official!
After taking a few ‘selfies’ and looking around just in case my ‘imaginary’ bagpiper was taking a break, we did see a couple of hikers along the high street who had camped near us at our first wild camp spot near Loch Tulla, so we stopped for a quick chat and congratulated each other. But having had a longer itinerary to complete the trail than is the ‘norm’, quite literally meant that other hikers we had chatted to along the route had already passed through Fort William and completed the West Highland way a couple of days previous to us.
The High Street in Fort William is not very long and is home to several outdoor gear shops as well as several bars, which we took note of for later. For now we just wanted to get our trail shoes off, sit back with a glass of wine and relax for a while. Well I won’t bore you with the details, but after some rest and recuperation in the room, albeit brief, we were off out on the town! (It did seem quite surreal to be dancing to Bruno Mars looking like we’d stepped off the trail. Thankfully not smelling like it though after a good shower in the Premier Inn!)I don’t think the hiker look will catch on, but it was a great Friday night out in Fort William, and a brilliant end to the week!
Seeking out some traditional Scottish goodies on the high street…
Cheers! Enjoying a well deserved pint in Wetherspoons.
The fact that the weather had taken a turn for the worse on Saturday didn’t matter, as we were feeling a little under the weather ourselves and in no fit state for hiking up Ben Nevis. We’ll have to save that adventure for another time!
Well that’s it – 8 days of hiking in Scotland complete. If you are hoping for an isolated experience, in a world of silence with only deer and mountain goats for company, then the West Highland Way may not be a hike for you. Alternatively you could follow the route of the West Highland Way and take respite from the busy lower glens by taking a few detours along the way. This is a good option for experienced walkers as you could take in some of the most distinctive summits in Scotland and take advantage of the rich variety of landscapes that the West Highland Way passes through, whilst avoiding becoming part of the great caravan of walkers that set off on this week long journey each year. It’s always good to look for new perspectives and take yourself away from the crowds.
Having already picked up a walking book detailing the trails on the Isle of Skye, and with Wayne adding the Cape Wrath trail to his list of future hikes – this will certainly not be the last we see of Scotland!