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West Highland Way September 2018

West Highland Way September 2018

Postby Kerkeslin » Sun Sep 23, 2018 8:53 pm

Route description: West Highland Way

Date walked: 11/09/2018

Time taken: 6 days

Distance: 115 km

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Edited to add more comments about trail conditions and some overall impressions.

I found other people's walk reports super helpful in the planning of my first long distance walk, so I figured I'd make up a report of my experience in hopes others might find it useful in the future! This was my first long distance hike, my first time in Scotland, and my first time hiking in a wet climate (I'm used to the dry eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies, where you can often rely on sunny weather for days and days at a time). It was a learning experience (my boots aren't waterproof) but an amazing time.

Day 1: Milngavie to Drymen

I travelled to Glasgow the morning of September 11th and arrived in Milngavie around 1:30, so day 1 was mostly focused on getting to Drymen in decent time for supper. The day was largely unmemorable and straightforward, and only slowed down by the rain-gear-on-rain-gear-off dance that the weather required. The last three-ish miles of this segment are on the road, and at this point it feels very long and tedious and I was happy to finally see the turnoff into Drymen. Stayed at Kip-in-the-Kirk and really enjoyed the hospitality provided by the two women who run the hostel. They were fabulous sources of information about the region and the rest of the trail. I had a quick supper at the Drymen Inn and fell asleep exhausted from doing more walking than I'd done in quite some time.

Day 2: Drymen to Rowardennan

Woke up with Day 2 muscle soreness, along with bruising from my pack's hip and shoulder straps. But the sun was shining and that definitely perked up my spirits. The climb up to Conic Hill was glorious (though windy) and I thoroughly enjoyed the views from the top. The climb down was surprisingly difficult: I'd been prepared for the ascent, but not for the shaky legs and endless stairs on the way down to Balmaha. Stopped in at Cafe St. Mocha for a coffee and an absolutely delicious coconut square, then carried on. The rest of the day was fairly anti-climactic compared to the splendor of Conic Hill: the trail goes on and off the road, in and out of the woods, and through campsites, and makes for fairly tedious walking. But I made it to Rowardennan in decent time, had a good meal at the inn, then backtracked half a kilometer to Lochan Maol Dhuinne camping area where I stayed the night. Aside from some poor toilet etiquette from previous visitors, it was a pleasant and quiet place to spend the night.

First sight of Loch Lomond.

Stunning morning for stunning views.


Beautiful finale to the descent from Conic Hill.

Day 3: Rowardennan to Inverarnan

The Dread Day 3. I had a quick breakfast (at the inn again) and got an early start out of Rowardennan. I'd heard enough about Day 3 to know to not expect quick progress on the trail this day. The rain came and went throughout the day, but only in short showers. The trail was as people said it would be, and it was slow and hard on the knees, but otherwise not overly difficult. I really enjoyed the beautiful rainforests and the abundance of streams and waterfalls, and as a botanist, I was delighted to meet the tiny, delicate filmy fern, which we don't have in my part of the world. After finally getting to the north end of the loch, I ascended to a point where I could see across to Ardlui, where I could hear someone playing the bagpipes (no kidding), then descended to Inveraran in a final rainshower. I stayed at the Drover's Inn, which was 1) neat! (so old!), 2) about as soundproof as a cardboard box (see number 1), and 3) full of a tourbus load of tourists. At that point, more than any other point on the trail, I felt like I was in a tourist trap, in spite of the inn being an authentically old, cool place.



Here comes the rain again.

Filmy fern!

Day 4: Inverarnan to Tyndrum

Ah, Day 4. It was nice to have the lakeside sections behind me, and to start climbing into more typical highland scenery. The weather started out fairly decently with partly sunny skies, and stayed that way all morning as the trail climbed higher and higher into open terrain with spectacular views. Once I hit the "summit" of that day's section the rain came in and stayed for about 2.5 hours while I descended into Tyndrum, breaking near the edge of town and giving me a view back to the mountains I had passed in the rain. I had a delicious meal at the Real Food Cafe - first decent serving of veggies in days - and spent a cozy night in a hobbit hut at By the Way. Honestly, if I could have stayed in a hobbit hut every night I would have been thrilled. Cozy, warm, quiet and private: couldn't ask for better.



Day 5: Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy

Because the Inveroran Hotel was booked full that night, I found a place to stay at Bridge of Orchy, not realising at the time how short it made my day (7 miles!). So I lingered in my hobbit hut as long as I could that morning and had a relaxed breakfast at Real Food before heading out (where I tried black pudding for the first time - pretty tasty!). Once again the morning was pleasant and partly sunny, and the scenery was my favourite so far. After lunch the clouds moved in, and with it the drizzle mist. But I arrived at Bridge of Orchy soon after, awkwardly early in fact, with hours to kill before bedtime and no end to the drizzle mist. I ended up holing up at the hotel for hours reading and drinking whisky, had supper and then retired to my hostel (the West Highland Way Sleeper) for the night. Drizzle mist continued.

The landscape opens up north of Tyndrum.


Day 6: Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe

Woke up to ongoing rain, and a wind that had picked up overnight. After a quick breakfast at the hotel I headed out and started the climb to Inveroran. Once out of the trees the wind was so strong that I was knocked off balance a couple of times, and would have lost my pack's rain cover if it had not been strapped to my pack. Things calmed down somewhat on the descent into Inveroran. I stopped at the hotel for a quick cup of tea, having been chilled by the wind, then headed up towards Rannoch Moor. Then, after about a half hour of walking, realised I'd left my hiking poles at the hotel, so, back to Inveroran, and back up again, adding 3-4 km to my day. But it wasn't a terribly long one, so no harm done. Rannoch Moor is a place that I've been keen to see for years, so it was exciting the finally be up there in the open, beautifully bleak landscape! The trail was as others have said it is: uncomfortable underfoot as a result of the hard, knobby, fist sized cobbles. When I put my foot down I was never sure if it would stay put, or wobble and roll in one direction or another. It made for tedious walking. Thankfully, that ends partway up the hill and trail conditions return to a more normal surface. The weather cooperated to an extent, with occasional showers and wind but with calm breaks as well. The skies stayed mostly overcast, adding to the bleak mood of the land. The wind picked back up on the descent towards Glencoe and I arrived at the ski resort a bit chilly. The rain really came in then, and I spent most of the evening in the cafe wondering if I would stay dry in my tent that night.

Inveroran Hotel.

Rannoch Moor.


Day 7: Glencoe to London

That night was an exciting one, the wind really picked up around 11 pm and I spent half the night awake and wondering if my tent was going to tear or break. Eventually the wind died down and I got some sleep. I woke up the next morning to a socked in landscape, a poor forecast (wind and heavy rain) and waning enthusiasm for the day ahead. But I had a b&b booked in Kinlochleven that I was keen to get to, even if I wasn't able to see the beautiful scenery en route because of the rain. Then, while packing my tent up, I pulled a muscle in my back, which I've injured in the past and which had been getting sore over the past few days. Having had this injury before, I knew that carrying on would be a bad idea (which was borne out that evening and the following day), so that was that. I finished packing up, headed down the hill, and caught the bus to back down towards Glasgow.

I'm disappointed that I didn't get to complete the walk, but on the other hand, I left satisfied with the experience and didn't feel like I'd missed out on anything big. Also, the following day (which would have been my last on the trail) was when Storm Ali came through, and having read reports about the weather that day I'm not terribly sad about not having been on a high, exposed landscape at the time. Perhaps another time I can come back and finish those last two days, but if not, I really feel like I got what I wanted from this trip already - aside from the satisfaction of being able to say I hiked 150 km. Another time though.

Overall impressions:

I didn't fully appreciate the extent to which this region, and this particular route, are touristy. As a result I sort of felt like I was in a bubble of "not Scotland", and didn't get the sense of place I would have hoped to get, especially on my first trip to the country. But it's popular for a reason, and the scenery only gets better as you move along. I'm super glad I did it, but would choose a lower profile route next time.

The walk was not as strenuous as I expected. I paced myself pretty generously because I didn't want to be rushed after travelling halfway across the world to be there, but in the end I could have increased daily mileage in some areas without being rushed at all. The days get long when you finish your only task for the day at 2 pm!
Last edited by Kerkeslin on Sun Oct 07, 2018 2:14 am, edited 1 time in total.
Posts: 5
Joined: Feb 19, 2018

Re: West Highland Way September 2018

Postby nick70 » Mon Sep 24, 2018 9:43 am

Many congratulations on completing. That'a a shame about your final day problems, but with hindsight perhaps the correct decision with storm Ali.

I'm always amazed at how well know the WHW is now. It truly is an international phenomenon. The times I have done it now I have met so many different nationalities, which I always find pleasing and satisfying.

You certainly came a long way, I'm so glad you enjoyed our country and our whisky.

Haste ye back :) :)

Re: West Highland Way September 2018

Postby Kerkeslin » Mon Sep 24, 2018 7:47 pm

Thanks Nick! I did very much enjoy your country and its whiskies and hospitality. And you folks are really spoiled for beautiful scenery there, wow!

As much as I was disappointed to finish, in my heart of hearts I'm not too sad to have missed out on walking in a tropical storm. It would have been a satisfying accomplishment after the fact but the experience would have ... sucked.
Posts: 5
Joined: Feb 19, 2018

Re: West Highland Way September 2018

Postby Jamboman » Fri Nov 16, 2018 11:28 pm

Hi that was unlucky - I’ve done the WHW loads of times and find its best to do it in March/April before the hordes arrive. You beat the midges too!!!
The sections you’ve missed are quite strenuous if you don’t like going DOWNHILL!!! Though the uphill stretches are magnificent I find the descent into Kinlochleven and Fort William are never ending and to be honest dull and would love to see an alternative route into the Fort rather than end with 3 miles tarmac walking. You’ve done the best bits alongside Loch Lomond and Rannoch Moor - unfortunately now the WHW is becoming a victim of its own success.
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Posts: 9
Joined: Nov 27, 2016

Re: West Highland Way September 2018

Postby Scottk » Sat Nov 17, 2018 7:40 pm

A pity you missed a great section but the best decision in light of your back and the forecast. As Jamboman says, the decent into Kinlochleven is tough on the knees and the final stretch of Tarmac into Fort William is horrible. Finishing at the Ben Nevis car park would be better but wouldn't go down well with the town!
Posts: 378
Joined: Aug 22, 2017

Re: West Highland Way September 2018

Postby FromDownSouth » Mon Nov 19, 2018 3:19 pm

Superb report and stunning photo's! Sorry to read that you did not complete the last stages but WHW isn't going anywhere and there is always another time :) Inspiring for someone else who has not walked it to get planning for 2019
Posts: 42
Joined: May 3, 2016

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