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The West Highland Way in three long days

The West Highland Way in three long days

Postby durham94 » Mon Aug 31, 2020 8:37 pm

Route description: West Highland Way

Date walked: 28/08/2020

Time taken: 3 days

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My annus horribilis, 2019, culminated with the third part of an awful trifecta: the destruction of my wonderful 1.2 Skoda Fabia; the munro-mobile, Corbett chariot, the A9 annihilator. Travel by train would thus be part of a happier 2020 in addition to a gradual acceptance of bothies, significant weight loss and – gasp – walking poles, which until now I had associated with Rotary club members from Hampshire.

COVID-19 came along but there were no excuses on the fitness plan – mile upon mile of Edinburgh swept past as I bounded across the seven hills, charging across the Pentlands, pushing my hamstrings towards an elusive marathon. Then, in circumstances nearly as embarrassing as the first time I suffered this injury, my left arm took leave of my torso. Search "rocks rescue Arthur's seat" to get the full picture.

With an a period of convalescence ahead of me, and a consultant who’s opinion of the need for a shoulder operation depended on what he’d had for breakfast, my mind turned away from my four remaining Munros (all scrambly Cuillin, the bastard things), and instead to long distance walks. A long Ben Alder traverse (Rannoch to Dalwhinnie) served as a shoulder readiness test for the following.


I carb loaded for two weeks, washed down with Pinot Grigio and Phish food.

Day one, 56km

The 5.30am train to Milngavie was cancelled due to flooding on the Falkirk line, so I arrived late at 8am. After a weighty Greggs breakfast, I set out from the town following the signs for the WHW. These reminded me not so much of the Highlands, but rather the direction arrows in an IKEA.

A rigid observer of the “leave no trace” standard, and unwilling to take my rucksack off so as to risk missing my target of 6km/h on the flat, I found myself bemoaning the coffee cup which I was forced to carry as far as Dumgoyach bridge, over 9km. This section was lovely, except for a bit where you are forced to walk into incoming traffic on a blind bend.

After this, I finally debuted the walking poles that I had borrowed from a friend (who had themselves stolen them from another friend). They were slightly broken and therefore too short - I considered disposing of them in the same bin as the Greggs litter. However, I soon came to appreciate them as I sped through the section to Drymen. This part reminded me of Moray’s Dava Way in that it was a dismantled railway and very boring.

I took my first break just before Conic Hill, which was lucky. This small bump, which the WHW doesn’t even bother to ascend, is a pointless exercise in knee destruction given the steep drop to Balmaha. Once down, I had a Mint Magnum and a Diet Coke and began what would be a three day blister management program.

The banks of Loch Lomond really were bonnie, the sunlight reflecting off the Loch up into the leaves of the trees above as I made progress towards Rowardennan. At the hotel I ordered a pint of vanilla milkshake before passing below the splendid Ben Lomond, surely the finest hill in this part of Scotland (despite strong candidates at Arrochar). I had a great day walking here a few years ago despite a member of my party taking a tumble on the descent to the Ptarmigan ridge.

Then followed an arduous undulating course to Inversnaid as darkness fell. Desperate to pitch, I engaged in a furious argument with other wild campers after I asked them to turn their music down at 11pm so I could get some rest. Thankfully, I managed to sleep through their nonsense – they were still up when I rose at 5am for the next day.

Day two, 61.5km

After a very large coffee, more blister management and a swim in the Loch (much warmer than expected) I set out at about 6.15am.

Very shortly afterwards I spied a lone figure stood beside a stove, silhouetted against the Loch. A sort of mountain hybrid of Paolo Nutini and James McAvoy, this slight figure looked rather like a University friend who had last year pretty much winched me up the Inaccessible Pinnacle (and earnt a bottle of Whisky for his trouble). After a cautious “Good Morning” it turned out it was him! Amazingly, this crazed man had set out to do the same as me, on the same days, with a Mountain Bike. We agreed to keep in touch over the weekend and possibly catch the same train back to Edinburgh.

The next section to the end of the Loch was hard - endless scrambles, steps, and fallen trees slowed me to a crawl. For my friend, I cannot imagine him suffering anything other than an existential crisis what with his panniers and all. Thankfully, after that, the trail is much improved. I took great pleasure in overtaking five distinct groups setting out from Beinglas campsite on the way to Crianlarich.

The views diminish on the route to Tyndrum and the forestry here had me pining for the glorious natural woodlands in Glen Feshie and other parts of the Cairngorms. I stopped for food at the Green Welly (which is inappropriate footwear for the WHW, btw), hugely disappointed by their lack of both chips and milkshake. I settled for Cullen Skink.

Walking from Tyndrum to Loch Tulla was lovely, with walking memories rushing back. Beinn Dorain and Beinn an Dothaidh had been the scene of simply the most outstanding winter day ever, sun burn aplenty as we floated across the crisp icy snow. At Inveroran Hotel I was again denied a milkshake, resorting to three glasses of milk.

The final push to Kingshouse was by the far the worst part of the whole trip. The track here is, I presume, the original military grade surface. That the drovers of Scotland (and the poor cows!) were subjected to such horrific walking conditions is a crime on par with the Clearances. I, at least, had the pleasure of listening to Arsenal win the Community Shield on the radio; a much needed distraction.

I set up my tent just short of the newly refurbished hotel, aligned so that the morning sun on Buachaille Etive Mor would be my breakfast view.

Day three, 41.2km

The anticipated glorious sunrise did not occur.

After passing around 60 tents pitched at Kingshouse, I made my over to the Devil’s staircase. I don’t understand the name – it’s a rather easy ascent. I had further motivation as I had passed my friend here at his camp and was determined not to be overtaken by someone pushing a bike. He sped past me on the descent, looking smug. The views through this whole section are outstanding, a panorama of Rannoch Moor, Creise, Glencoe, the back of the Aonach Eagach, Loch Leven, the Grey Corries peaking through and across to the rest of the central highlands.

I then wasted half an hour looking for a coffee in Kinlochleven. Disappointed, I headed up the steep wooded section below the Mamores. This had been the setting for my favourite ever walk, an eight Munro epic in glorious weather that ended with a trudge back along this section of the WHW in the dark. Nostalgia for University overtook me here a little. I miss it.

Like the writing in this report, something fundamental in my body had grown tired by this stage. Efforts to eat just led to me feeling sick and the blister on my heel had burst in quite spectacular fashion. I had a sharp pain in my left Achilles and my forearms were cramping, probably from an over reliance on the poles. I drank as much as I could and ploughed on towards Glen Nevis, the great whale back of the Ben marking the finish.

The final section through Forestry and the road into Fort William were a disappointing conclusion to the WHW, which, in general, had exceeded the expectations of this Peak-bagging snob. I grabbed a fish supper, picked up my tickets for the 5.30pm train - finding my friend aboard - and watched Scotland pass by the window.
Posts: 17
Munros:282   Corbetts:75
Fionas:13   Donalds:3
Sub 2000:5   Hewitts:22
Wainwrights:25   Islands:36
Joined: Jun 21, 2012

Re: The West Highland Way in three long days

Postby gooner_gaz » Wed Oct 14, 2020 11:23 am

Loved this report, and its has useful info for my next stroll on the way.
Posts: 7
Munros:184   Corbetts:3
Wainwrights:25   Islands:5
Joined: May 9, 2009

Re: The West Highland Way in three long days

Postby Gordie12 » Wed Oct 14, 2020 1:01 pm

Heel blisters can be a killer on long distance walks so congrats on getting through this challenge in 3 days. Not sure I could do this, I've done the John Muir Way in 5 days (135 miles so 27 miles a day) and found that pretty tough on the last day.
User avatar
Posts: 2130
Munros:114   Corbetts:65
Fionas:30   Donalds:38+0
Sub 2000:35   Hewitts:37
Joined: Sep 6, 2012
Location: Nr Forfar

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