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The West Highland Way.. 'HOW HARD CAN IT BE?'

The West Highland Way.. 'HOW HARD CAN IT BE?'

Postby Robbiemo10 » Thu Oct 12, 2023 10:36 pm

Route description: West Highland Way

Date walked: 28/05/2022

Time taken: 5 days

Distance: 154 km

Ascent: 3155m

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I don't quite know when I first decided to walk the West Highland Way, nor what sparked my interest to do it in the first place, I've always enjoyed walking in my day to day life, always striving for that popular figure of 10,000 steps a day, feeling rubbish on the days I only do 6000 or 7000.

Maybe it was the idea of exploring some parts of Scotland I hadn't been to before, or maybe it was to see if I could challenge myself to do it, after all, 98 miles? It's not that far is it? How hard can it be?

The idea stuck in my head and I told my family members I was going to walk it, they were surprised but it's not as if its running a marathon, or climbing Mt Everest, it's a walk at the end of the day. They were supportive, as you'd expect, although maybe they just thought it was another whim, and something I would try to do and then never speak of again after I get sore feet and soaked on the first day.

I started to research for suitable dates and decided that I would walk at the end of May/beginning of June. I believed the midges wouldn't yet be out in their legions, and that the the weather would be warm enough to make it an enjoyable experience. Not too hot but not too cold.

I contacted my good friend who agreed to do it with me. I booked the travel arrangements from Edinburgh to Milngavie to begin, and from the end point at Fort William back to Edinburgh. I went to GoOutdoors and spent £293.31 on gear, including a titanium spork for £5.76 and a camping stool for £7.00, which in the end I never took because it wouldn't fit in my bag. I went online to Amazon and spent £42.37 on a torch, hiking poles and a midge net. I spent £31.99 on a pair of hiking trousers from Mountain Warehouse because I wanted people to think I looked the part. All the gear and no idea.

Saturday 28th May rolls around and I'm excited, my bus leaves Edinburgh at 0730 and gets into Glasgow at 0853, costing £4.10. The train leaves from Glasgow to Milngavie at 0938 and arrives at 1002 costing £3.90. The benefit of booking in advance, cheap fares.

I'm making the journey alone now as my friend has COVID. He wants to come, says he thinks he could do it but I tell him it's not something you want to do if you aren't 100% and I don't want to have to phone the air ambulance for him coz that would be well embarrassing. Eventually we will go on to do the West Island Way together anyway, but at the time neither of us know this.

I'm in Milngavie, and its day one. I plan to walk to Sallochy campsite, which is 26 miles away. I figure that I should do the longest day first, when I'm fresh. People run 26 miles nowadays in roughly 2 hours, How hard can it be?
Ready to go

I start to walk and instantly I'm in awe of the scenery, the sun is high in the sky and I'm on the trail. By 1610 I'm at the top of Conic Hill, my back hurts, my feet are beginning to hurt but a pint awaits me down in Balmaha, where I see Greg Hemphill from Still Game. He doesn't stop to say hi.
Well earned

I peel myself away from the bar and the nice couple I'm sharing the table with and continue on towards Sallochy. Soon the trail is more arduous and I'm in woodlands, I begin to panic a little as the sun begins to set and still no sign of the campsite. Eventually I arrive and it's busy with campers. I have my tent pitched by 2015 and walk down to the water to soothe my feet. I haven't packed any 'camp shoes' so I have to wear my hiking shoes everywhere, constantly. I have blisters already, and have 4 more days to go. How hard can it be?
Digs at Sallochy

The soothing waters of Sallochy

Day two begins at Sallochy, and I'm aiming to get to the Doune Bothy, 16 miles or so. The idea of Beinglas campsite appeals to me which is a further 2.9 miles past the bothy, but boasts a bar and restaurant and electricity. I'll decide later. My feet are agony, and squeezing them into my shoes makes me wince in pain. The first few steps are the worst, but soon I settle into the groove of the ones and twos and eat into the trail. The going is tough, it feels like I'm scrambling along the the banks of Loch Lomond forever. Sore feet, heavy bag. I eagerly head into the Inversnaid Hotel where I order a pint of lager and a double brandy neat. I drink both quickly to numb the pain. I begin to think I've gotten myself into a pickle but continue on. Eventually I reach the bothy.
Doune bothy

I open the door and enter, and quickly realise there's no room at the inn. The kind inhabitants offer me some risotto but I politely decline and decide to head to Beinglas campsite. This part of the day is torturous, the campsite just doesn't seem to ever appear in front of me. I'm moaning loudly when I eventually arrive. It's dark by the time I get there and the midges are out in force. I find a small spot and pitch my tent, in the dark. I don't have a headtorch so I have to hold my torch in my mouth to sort all my gear out. I have a shower and gingerly limp back to my tent with my feet now agony. My knee is sore also, but I finally manage to get settled in my tent. There is a rowdy group of lads smoking and drinking into the wee hours of the night alongside somebody snoring. I have a rubbish sleep but the cooked breakfast in the morning washed down with coffee and ibuprofen sets me up for the day.
Beinglas breakfast

Day three. I can't remember much about this day except that it rained on and off and the scenery was nice. Tyndrum is a nice wee place and I restocked on food and visited the famous Green Welly Stop whilst having a rest. I made it to Bridge of Orchy, by the time I arrived there were limited pitches left and I was thoroughly soaked. Without having a stove in my kit I had to eat cold food for most of the trail aside from when I could stop at a cafe or restaurant. Thankfully the Bridge of Orchy Hotel was still serving food which was a godsend. I think this journey was 21 miles or so.
Limited space at Bridge of Orchy

Day four. Here I made a decision, which wasn't easy. I decided to have my luggage transferred to the next stop. My feet and knees were just too sore and for the first time I began to doubt if I could manage to finish the entire trail. How hard can it be?

I had my luggage collected at the Bridge of Orchy hotel and transferred to Blackwater campsite in Kinlochleven. I had to phone ahead and book a pitch as originally I had planned to wild camp at Kinlochleven, however, the baggage company needed somewhere to drop my kit off at. This meant that my fourth day would be 20 miles or so, but without carrying my gear. Thankfully a lovely lady at the hotel provided me with a small bag I could take water, food, waterproofs to see me through the day. It rained a lot here, and this day was really hard even without my full kit. I arrived at Kings House absolutely soaked to the bone, so much the staff didn't really want me inside the restaurant. A nice meal helped motivate me to continue.
Kingshouse Hotel, lovely scran!

This day is the most beautiful in terms of scenery, even in the p*ssing rain it was magic. Glencoe, wow. Incredible. What a beautiful wee country I live in! I'll not get into detail about the Devil's Staircase, but a lot of expletives were used on this section.

When I finally make it to the campsite it's dark and I'm again soaking. A warm shower awaits as does a drying room, both of which are essential. The rain is coming down so hard that I don't even pitch my tent, instead spending the night inside the little hut where the baggage company left my gear. I sleep with my midge net over my face due to the big spiders all over the windows and ceiling, but at least it's dry! In the morning a German tourist pops his head in and tells me he wishes he had thought of that.

Day five. My toes are in a state and I've 17 miles to go. My bus home is at 1600 so I crack on, head down, one foot in front of the other.
The climb out of Kinlochleven

Walking towards the finish line

The motivation that the end is in sight powers me on. I'm limping badly and the descent into Glen Nevis is agony, I'm swearing and hollering like a mad man. My knee is swollen and the road walk into Fort William seems never ending. The highlights of this stage are Ben Nevis, and the Weary Walker signifying the end! I even felt emotional!

To answer my original question how hard can it be? the answer? VERY!!

Over the following days I was limping everywhere, over the following weeks I lost 3 toenails. I also had this horrific blister on my pinky toe..

What a truly fantastic experience, even if it did hurt like hell. I had to dig deep in stages, but I'll call it 'character building'.. Here's to many more! :clap:

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Joined: Oct 2, 2023
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Re: The West Highland Way.. 'HOW HARD CAN IT BE?'

Postby gmayle82 » Wed Nov 01, 2023 3:49 pm

Well done! I did the WHW in September, at a more leisurely pace (7 days, plus an extra day for Ben Lomond). Beinglas was definitely my favourite of the managed campsites that I used.
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Re: The West Highland Way.. 'HOW HARD CAN IT BE?'

Postby Sunset tripper » Fri Nov 03, 2023 7:31 pm

Ouch!... well done. :D
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Re: The West Highland Way.. 'HOW HARD CAN IT BE?'

Postby Sgurr » Sun Nov 05, 2023 9:18 pm

Congratulations on Runner Up prize. I did it in 10 days in wonderful weather except for the last afternoon. Couldn't even have contemplated walking with that blister. I am still trying to find a long distance way that I would enjoy half as much...but I guess that wouldn't be a problem with you.
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Re: The West Highland Way.. 'HOW HARD CAN IT BE?'

Postby sakura1989 » Tue Nov 14, 2023 10:42 pm

Well done for completing it! I found out the hard way just how hard long distance routes are after failing miserably on the Affric Kintail way!
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