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Cherry picking the West Highland Way

Cherry picking the West Highland Way

Postby SnoopyG » Mon Sep 18, 2017 5:06 pm

Route description: West Highland Way

Date walked: 25/07/2017

Time taken: 5 days

Distance: 70 km

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I decided I wanted to walk the west highland way because I wanted to see the beautiful scenery, hopefully end with a walk up Ben Nevis and test out my ability to carry my equipment and camp. I have previously walked the dales way staying in pubs and half of the Pennine way using a mixture of backpacking, day walks and staying in pubs. Although I liked the idea of trying something out a bit more "hardcore" I wasn't completely convinced I could manage the full thing backpacking, and to be honest I wasn't sure I would enjoy it! I decided on a compromise- I would cherry pick the best bits, walk some on my own, some with a friend, carry my own equipment and not get too hung up on "doing it properly"!
Day 1: train from Glasgow to Ardlui, ferry to WHW, walk to beinglas farm
I chose this as my starting point as I love the Loch Lomond area but had heard how difficult the section is along the shores of Loch Lomond. I also really wanted to get the little ferry across Loch Lomond. This proved a good decision- I felt super excited as I set off in the ferry (£4) and it felt a great way to get to the start of my walk.
Ferry across Loch Lomond

Entering beinglas campsite

At the shore I set off with a spring in my step only to end in disaster 10 minutes later! My large rucksack had unbalanced me and I went flying over my own feet landing on my side covered in blood. After laying like a turtle on its back I eventually managed to get up, dust myself off and survey the damage. Cut knees, a bit bruised, a nasty graze on my arm and my pride a bit dented I decided the best thing to do would be to push on to the campsite and the showers to clean myself up! The rest of the walk (about 3 miles) was really beautiful and despite my injuries I really enjoyed it. The weather was warm and sunny. I turned up at the campsite (beinglas farm) feeling a little bit like a fraud but paid up and set up my little tent.

The showers were great, really clean with plenty of hot water. I had a drink in the bar and enjoyed catching up with other walkers. After cooking my dinner and ringing home I checked the weather forecast- not good news: heavy rain was predicted from 7am the following morning! I decided on an early night and a early start to try and avoid putting a wet tent away.
Lovely river at campsite

Day 2: walk beinglas farm to tyndrum
I got up at 6am, packed up my camping gear and had breakfast of tinned beans and sausage- this was the only tinned food I had brought with me as I didn't have to carry it far. I set off walking about 7am, just as it started raining, and it didn't stop all day ( or for the rest of the holiday!). Despite the weather I really enjoyed the walk to tyndrum. I didn't see anyone else for the first few hours and it felt very peaceful to be walking on my own.
Through the woods on the way to tyndrum

Following the river
The first section of the walk passed a beautiful river with interestingly eroded rock formations. It was getting really wet and I took shelter in an underpass under the main road to have some water and eat some oatcakes and primula cheese. I walked through some pretty wooded sections and dropped down to the valley. I took shelter in a field barn just on the path where I brewed a cofffee and ate some more oatcakes. This raised my spirits somewhat and I enjoyed having a chat to other people walking by.
Coffee break

After crossing a very full river on a large bridge I approached st fillans old priory where a rather depressing notice board informed me that this was in fact one of the wettest parts of the uk! Although there wasn't much to see, St. fillans and Kirkton burial ground were interesting places to look at. As it was still quite early I decided to stop at another campsite just past st fillans for a drink, and also a bit of a nosy in case I came back another time. It looked like a nice place to stay and I had a cup of tea before heading off towards tyndrum.
Old graveyard

The last section was very beautiful, lots of wild raspberries at the side of the path and the Lochan of the lost sword had an interesting tale for the toursists. I arrived at tyndrum really early. As it had rained all day I hadn't stopped much and even though I was carrying a full pack the walk hadn't felt too arduous. The campground at by the way campsite looked quite wet and as I was waiting for them to open up at 2pm started thinking about options other than camping. Although I had had a good day I was wet, my clothes were wet, my rucksack was wet and the ground looked really wet! Also it was only early and didn't fancy a long wet evening in a wet tent with my wet belongings! I was lucky, there was a room in the hostel (£25) which proved a good choice. the rooms were really nice and the facilities were great. I had a shower and did some washing (blood stained clothes is not a good look). I also dried everything in the tumble drier. I cooked tea ( couscous, olives, tuna) and went for a drink with a lovely lady from Canada who I ended up sharing a room with and bought some lunch supplies for the next day. There are good facilities in tyndrum.

Day 3 bridge of orchy to glencoe ski centre
Ok so this is where I started cheating again. Looking at the maps beforehand I had decided that the section between tyndrum and bridge of orchy looked pretty boring as it just followed the main road. I had already decided to catch a bus to skip a section. (To any other cheaters this is easy to do, there are lots of good bus and train links and you won't be the only one doing it!). Feeling good in my dry clothes I set off in the rain, got the bus to bridge of orchy which took about 10 minutes. I stopped for a coffee at the bridge of orchy hotel which looked very nice. I regretted my earlier porridge as the breakfasts here looked pretty awesome. I was meeting a friend here who was getting a bus from the other direction so while I was waiting went to have a look at the wild camping spot for possible future reference. It looked like a good site but quite wet and a bit smelly.
River and wild camp spot bridge of orchy

The bridge at bridge of orchy

I was glad to see my friend, Ali when she arrived and after another coffee in the hotel decided we ought to get on with walking!
Just after the wooded section from bridge of orchy


There were some good views across the valley in the first section and we soon arrived at a pub which looked a bit deserted but there were deer with babies which was a special thing to see. We set off along the drove road to glencoe. The path is easy to follow and no chance of getting lost even in bad weather. The sun made a brief appearance so we had lunch quickly before the midges came out to annoy us. The walk across Rannoch moor is stunning. Bleak but beautiful. The mountains are really impressive especially as you get nearer to glencoe.

Getting near to glencoe

Rannoch moor

Lovely views on rannoch moor
We felt pretty tired as we approached glencoe ski centre where we had planned to camp but the rain had stopped and we were looking forward to drying off and cooking dinner. As we approached the main building to check in we looked at the campsite in dismay- it was a quagmire and I started to dread putting the tent up. Checking in we found out they had a camping lodge available (£70!) but decided to share with 3 Italians so the price was ok between the 5 of us. It was really cramped but was warm and dry. I had a look in one of the hobbit huts they have after talking to another a walker and they looked much better. Anyway we showered, cooked tea (more pasta, sauce and tuna, plus instant custard with chocolate brownie) and went up to the cafe for a drink. I also managed to see a first aider as the wound on my arm was starting to fester. The staff were lovely and the views superb but we didn't get a very good nights sleep.
View from our hut at glencoe ski centre

Day 4: glencoe to kinlochleven
The Italians got up early but me and Ali stayed in bed late to allow them space to pack up. We were tired and had a slow breakfast ( coffee and porridge) before setting off in the rain. We arrived soon after at the kings house pub. They seemed to be doing a lot of work building huts for camping. We stopped for a second breakfast (Ali says never pass a cafe and that seems to be good advice when you are walking).

Near kingshouse

We then walked along the trail near to the road, views were amazing but it wasn't nice when the path got too near the road just before it turned off for the devils staircase. This wasn't so bad and was a slow slog but over quite quickly. There were signs advertising a shop which seemed a bit unlikely but there was an honesty shop at the summit. The weather got really nasty from this point and we thought we better get going before we got exposure! Walking down the other side of the devils staircase there was a stream to cross. Under normal conditions this probably isn't even something to mention but this day the stepping stones were under about a foot of water! There was nothing to do apart from take boots, socks and trousers off and carefully ford the mountain torrent! It felt nice and cosy to put our boots back on the other side.
River crossing

We then walked in the heavy rain along the side of the hills down off the tops. We hadn't seen anyone all day and started wondering if anyone else was crazy enough to be out in such nasty weather. As we got further down towards kinlochleven the path got quite steep making it feel like hard work and we were glad to reach the town.
Long walk down to kinlochleven

We hadn't really thought about accommodation so stopped at the first campsite. They were full. They recommended a pub that didn't do online bookings so was likely to have rooms free. We decided to go for it and thoroughly enjoyed the luxury of a large room with en suite bathroom and no porridge for breakfast. In the morning we had a rethink, could we be bothered with another day of trudging along in heavy rain? We were on holiday after all! If I had started the way from the start I would have felt obliged to continue but as we were cheating anyway it didn't seem to matter!
Posing in kinlochleven

Days 5-7
Ok so we gave up with the west highland way. We got a bus to glencoe, looked around a museum and art gallery, ate cake and walked along the valley to glencoe syha. We then had a fab night out at the clachaig pub.

The next day we went for a boat trip to see seals then got the bus to fort William. As the only accommodation we had actually booked in advance was glen Nevis Syha we shopped for food in fort William and then walked the scenic route back up the valley to glen Nevis. If you are walking from glen Nevis to fort William at the end of your trek be aware there are much nicer routes than along the main road if you are not too fussy about exactly sticking to the official WHW route.
Wired path through the woods near glen Nevis

Beautiful views on walk from fort William to glen nevis

We cooked a nice meal in the hostel and shared food with a few other walkers. We walked to the path for Ben Nevis. I felt a slight twinge of regret that I wouldn't be making it up there this time, but the weather still looked awful and it isn't going anywhere!
Fort William

The next morning I got the bus back to fort William had a quick look at the loch and the old fort and then got the train home. This proved more complicated than expected as we had a breakdown and were stuck at bridge of orchy for several hours. Not the worst place to be stranded. There were good views, coffee and cake at the station and I got my train fare refunded!
Back at bridge of orchy

I'm old enough and wise enough to say when the weather has defeated me and make other plans.
I'm glad I have enough money to be flexible on accommodation options instead of being forced to tough it out in a wet tent.
I'm a fair weather camper (although the weather was pretty extreme and I wouldn't have minded camping in "normal" rain).
The midges aren't as bad as you read (but still take a head net and spray) but the weather can be much worse (this was July!)
There are plenty of places to buy food so not really necessary to carry it all like I did.
I was pretty happy with my choices of equipment.
Camping is good for flexibility but if you are doing this "properly" and want to not camp I would book accommodation in advance.
There was good camaderie along the way. I felt fine walking on my own the first couple of days.
Carrying my pack was ok but I really kept the weight down and didn't walk huge distances.
I would love to do something like this again, maybe more days and would be nice somewhere with better weather!

For those of you interested
Breakfast was sachets of porridge made with water with instant milk spooned in after to save burning the pan, apart from tinned beans and sausage the first morning.
Lunches were oatcakes and squirty primula cheese, plus various snacks, nuts etc. I bought bread and cheese in tyndrum for sandwiches as well.
Dinners: quick cook pasta, olives in a pouch (Sainsbury's), tuna in a pouch, pasta sauce (stir in in a small foil lidded container), Mediterranean couscous packet, took chilli flavour olive oil to liven things up. Also took hot chocolate, instant milk and coffee. I found this food better than any "camping food" you can buy. It saved money and stress taking food but wasn't entirely necessary. Most campsites sell food and there are plenty of cafes etc. We had a pub dinner in kinlochleven. Lots of places have meals available.

Jetboil stove, alpkit Ordos 2 tent (really light), down sleeping bag from go outdoors, airo 180 sleeping mat, camping towel, very limited clothes and wash stuff, bin bags (really useful) Harvey WHW map, I also had OS maps on my phone but really just to check distances as unlikely to get lost. I had a really old rucksack so had things in dry bags but should have taken a rucksack cover as my bag got heavier by absorbing rain water! Make sure you take boots and full waterproofs. I noticed a lot of Europeans wearing ponchos which probably keep you quite dry without you getting as hot. We saw some people with huge rucksacks, we kept our weight down as much as possible and I didn't regret it.
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Joined: Sep 5, 2017

Re: Cherry picking the West Highland Way

Postby Scottk » Mon Sep 18, 2017 8:48 pm

Nice report. I think for those of us who live here, it's good to change plans but you do feel for some of the foreigners who have come to do the route and the weather is awful. I did it last week and walked in a t shirt almost the whole way-albeit over 3 days.
Bridge if Orchy was the only hotel I stopped at and I agree it looks really nice. I only had time for a drink and a packet of crisps but the meals looked good! They also have a water tap outside for the walkers. I camped at Glencoe and the campsite was a bit drier!! The Ice Factor at Kinlochleven has good food too.
The last bit of the walk at Fort William could well be purgatory-truly horrible just when you think it's over.
Some of the guys I saw last week had huge rucksacks and one guy also had a rucksack on his front but he didn't look happy.
Posts: 378
Joined: Aug 22, 2017

Re: Cherry picking the West Highland Way

Postby WanderBert » Thu Nov 16, 2017 4:31 pm

Nice report and thanks for the hints. Will help many people i think.

Hill Bagger
Posts: 6
Joined: Nov 15, 2017

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