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Has the West Highland Way Stood the Test of Time

Has the West Highland Way Stood the Test of Time

Postby 3peaker » Sat Sep 19, 2020 12:06 pm

Route description: West Highland Way

Date walked: 19/09/2020

Time taken: 7 days

Distance: 154 km

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Has the West Highland Way Stood the Test of Time – I have just returned from Scotland having completed the WHW in September 2020 on the 40th anniversary of the route and wanted to note how the trek compared to the first time I walked along the bonny banks of Loch Lomond back in the 1980`s just after the inception of the WHW.

There are many differences not only the fact that the covid pandemic has altered life in many ways, now before you leave home you need to stock up on face masks and sanitiser and take account of the local rules that affect different parts of the UK. I was pleased to see that social distancing in Scotland is being taken very seriously something we could learn from in England. No reason for any alarm in Scotland providing you are sensible and common sense prevails maintaining social distancing along the route and at the various campsites and accommodation that has sprung up along the WHW.
Enough of that we divided the 96 mile route into 7 manageable days the first of which took us from Milngavie to Drymen, then onto Rowandennan, Invernanan, then onto Tyndrum, a long day to Glencoe ski resort, a shorter day to Kinlochleven and finally Fort William.
The major difference I noticed was the vast quantity of marker posts and signs indicating the way along the entire route of the WHW. My memory is becoming a bit vague in my 60`s, however I donot remember these marker posts and signs back in the 1980`s and we had to use old fashion maps and a compass. Navigation is fairly simple (south to north in our case) but canbe a bit vague in a number of dense forests that are encountered along the route and changes to forest tracks over more recent years.

Now in 2020 everyone has a smart phone and electronic navigation aid so getting lost is virtually impossible, also a long line of hikers clad in all manner of brightly coloured gortex and carrying large rucksacks is a good indication of the correct route.
The WHW has been a life-line to many old businesses along the route and has also created a number of new businesses, sweet-shops and café and several campsites that did not exist back in the 1980`s. Special mention goes to the takeaway next to the Oak Tree Inn in Balmaha and the Beinglas Campsite in Invernanan – we had the luxury of a chalet at Beinglas and thoroughly enjoyed all the lovely comforts provided (hot chocolate among other treats) and the super food at dinner and breakfast provided in the bar on the site.
Sadly a number of businesses were closed including the large hotel at Inversnaid and various campsites and hostels along Loch Lomond, plus a large hotel in Tyndrum etc all likely down to the covid pandemic and the lack of visitors to this lovely part of the world.
Back in the 1980`s we stayed at the Kingshouse Hotel in Glencoe but this time opted for a micro pod at Glencoe Ski Resort, the micro pod was fine and the Glencoe Ski Resort is making a good fist of it following a disastrous fire that burnt down the main building in December 2019. Hopefully the construction of the new building will be completed in 2021/22 and the temporary portacabins removed from the site. We walked passed the Kingshouse Hotel early one morning in pouring rain and I must say I was pleasantly surprised how the newly refurbished hotel and new bunkhouse accommodation blended into the scenery and was not the eyesore that many reports had suggested.

The route along the WHW now boost many man-made paths and tracks that are all managed, together with a small number of short sections along tarmac roads making the trek into more of a stroll – gone are the deep bogs and tangled heather experienced in the 1980`s. However the section after the Inversnaid Hotel to the Beinglas campsite was an absolute nightmare in heavy rain and needed great care to avoid any trips/slips or falls. The path went up and down continuously for 4/5 miles and provided a great challenge to everyone from seasoned mountaineers to social day walkers and all abilities and levels of fitness. Fortunately, we spotted a pine martin close to the water’s edge of Loch Lomond which raised spirits tremendously that afternoon.
The only real difficulties along the route were the above section to Loch Lomond, the steep section which is the devils staircase in Glencoe and the strenuous pull up from Kinlochleven – the rest of the route is relatively easy but you still need a great deal of will-power to complete the WHW.
Walking into Fort William was a strange experience after so long in the Scottish countryside with many fast moving vehicles, traffic and lots of people, shops etc, sadly it was still pouring with rain so there was no fanfare at the end of the West Highland Way and only a few people to witness our photos with the statue of the old man resting his feet at the end of the High Street.

My conclusion is that the West Highland Way was a great deal of fun and has stood the test of time very well and is a brilliant introduction into the countryside and superb landscape of Scotland plus the friendliness of the local people, back in the 1980`s it gave me the desire to explore the mountains of Scotland and in doing so I completed my round of the munro`s last year after a 35 year quest.
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Re: Has the West Highland Way Stood the Test of Time

Postby gooner_gaz » Wed Oct 14, 2020 11:21 am

This and other recent reports are full of valuable information for planning my next (and 6th) stroll along this path next week. My first time was only about 16 years ago, but I see changes every time. Small businesses along the way unfortunately come and go, so its important to support the ones that are supporting the walkers.

Thanks to the reports I have tweaked my plans and know I will have another enjoyable walk!
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Re: Has the West Highland Way Stood the Test of Time

Postby omar_beggs » Thu Jan 07, 2021 5:10 pm

Good to get this feedback on the route. Like you my last walk along the WHW was in the early 80's before the described useful signage. At the time I skipped the final stage from Kinlochleven to Fortwilliam due to blisters. My next planned return for May 2021 I intend to correct this failure.
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Re: Has the West Highland Way Stood the Test of Time

Postby Marty_JG » Thu Jan 07, 2021 11:24 pm

If anyone wants to experience the 'rough-edged vibe' of early WHW then instead of starting in Milngavie start in ... Portavadie and do the Cowal Way to Loch Lomond. You can rejoin by walking up the west shore of Lomond or taking the ferry over to the east shore if it's running.
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Re: Has the West Highland Way Stood the Test of Time

Postby EmmaMichelle » Sat Jan 09, 2021 3:01 am

Really nice to read about your experience of the WHW and how it's changed over time. I'm really eager to do it this year when it gets a bit warmer. I had the great experience of hiking from Glencoe to Fort William and onwards to Inverness with a friend who was hiking all the way from Land's End to John O Groats. Before that hike I had mainly just gone up hills, and wasn't sure about a multi-day hike. I can't wait to do it from the start next time, as it felt a bit underwhelming getting photos at the sign with my friend after hiking less than 40km of the route!
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