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  • Writer's pictureHiker Heather

West Highland Way: My first ever thru-hike!

Updated: Feb 21, 2022

Blog detailing my first ever thru-hike and the start of an addiction!

It is the morning of 25 September 2020, my sister, Kim, and I are making our way up on the train from Leeds to Milngavie which is just outside of Glasgow in Scotland and the official start of the West Highland Way and our first ever thru-hike!


Whilst both my sister and I have both been into the outdoors since we were very young children, having being brought up in the Peak District and having spent a lot of time in the hills from a young age, neither of us owned a tent, nor had done much camping in our adult lives so we decided to undertake our first-thru hike on a more relaxed basis in that we stayed in pubs / glamping pods the whole Way and we also used a luggage transfer service each day so that we only had to carry our day-packs. I would highly recommend you trying these services if you wanted to get a feel for thru-hiking before going ahead and purchasing all of the kit, I am pleased that we chose to do our first ever thru-hike this way as it meant that we both got to fully enjoy the trail without the burden of a heavy pack, that neither my sister or I were used to carrying. I will include full details of the facilities we used below.

About the West Highland Way

The West Highland Way is an extremely popular long distance hiking trail in Scotland and I can certainly see why, it certainly captured my heart, in so many ways and I would love to do the trail again! It is a 96 mile trail running from Milngavie, just outside of Glasgow to Fort William in the north. The trail passes you by the beautiful shores of Loch Lomond, the wild Rannoch Moor, the iconic Glencoe and then finally takes you into Fort William.


The West Highland Way is one of Scotland's Great Trails. The trail has now been an established route for 35 years. It is listed by National Geographic as one of the world's top 10 best trails.

Access to and from the Trail

Both Milngavie at the beginning of the trail and Fort William at the end of the trail are serviced by major train and bus services.

Itinerary

Day 1 - Milngavie to Drymen (12.5 miles)

We arrived in Milngavie around lunchtime and arranged for our bags to be collected by the luggage collection service upon our arrival at the train station in Milngavie. We then set off on the trail, walking out of the town of Milngavie, through some woodland until you reach agricultural land and then into Drymen itself. We stayed at The Drymen Inn during our stay but another popular place to stay is the Clachan Inn, those camping not wishing to wild camp will generally camp at the Drymen campsite. There is a shop in Drymen itself also, should you need anything.


Day 2 - Drymen to Rowardennan (15 miles)

Leaving Drymen, you quickly find yourself approaching the Garadhban Forest (this is a popular wild camping spot) which you pass through before soon reaching Conic Hill with panoramic views of the stunning Loch Lomond ahead, once you have reached Conic Hill you then drop down into Balmaha, which has a pub and small shop and then from leaving Balmaha you steadily make your way alongside the shores of Loch Lomond before reaching Rowardennan some time later. We stayed at Rowardennan Hotel, there is very little else in Rowardennan in terms of accommodation of conveniences.


Day 3 - Rowardennan to Inverarnan (14 miles)

Once again you follow the shore of Loch Lomond, which can at some times become undulating, you then pass Inversnaid which has the Inversnaid Hotel although the Hotel was closed when we passed. You continue on the Way passed Doune bothy and then making your way to Inverarnan. We stayed in one of the pods at Beinglas campsite. Many people will camp at Beinglas campsite and others will stay at the Drovers Inn whilst doing this section.


Day 4 - Inverarnan to Tyndrum (12 miles)

Having left the shores of Loch Lomond the day prior, you continue from Inverarnan through Glen Falloch, you then reach the junction in the trail where you can chose to turn off to Crainlarich, should you have decided to stop here whilst planning your itinerary, we had not planned to stop at Crainlarich and so continued through woodland until we approached Tyndrum which would be our stop for the night. We stayed in the pods at the By The Way Hostel and Campsite in Tyndrum.


Day 5 - Tyndrum to Kingshouse (20 miles)

This was my favourite day of the hike, my sister and I left our pod in Tyndrum early with our headtorches since we had a long day, my sisters feet were also causing her a lot of pain so we headed to the iconic Green Welly Stop in Tyndrum to find some more blister plasters and Ibuprofen before tackling the 20 miles in front of us, wondering how on earth my sister would make the long hike across the wild and notorious Rannoch Moor with her poor feet... alas she was an absolute hero and smashed the 20 miles, sore feet and all! Walking from Tyndrum you carry on the Way to the Bridge of Orchy, there is a pub here and we stopped and had a second breakfast which was becoming a common occurrence on this trail. From the Bridge of Orchy, there is a short uphill section that then descends to the start of Rannoch Moor which can be a very exposed section on the Way, however, we were luckily, blessed with good weather on this section. The Way then continues down into the beautiful Glencoe and the mysterious Buachaille Etive Mor and surrounding mountains come into view!!! What a sight to behold, indeed! We had treat ourselves to a night in the Kingshouse Hotel on this night and we didn't regret a moment, it was so worth it! There is also a bunkhouse at the Kingshouse Hotel that you could use instead, or you can wild camp beside the river at the side of Kingshouse Hotel. Alternatively, some people opt to camp at the Glencoe Mountain Resort.


Day 6 - Kingshouse to Kinlochleven (9 miles)

We woke up to rain and it continued for the entire day, however, we didn't feel deterred with only a 9 mile day ahead of us, although this section would include the notorious Devil's Staircase which you arrive at the foot of a little while after leaving the Kingshouse Hotel. Neither my sister or I found the Devil's Staircase to be too challenging, although we are both used to hillwalking. Once you have arrived at the top of Devil's Staircase you then make the long descent down into Kinlochleven which is a fair sized village with a couple of pubs, B&B's and a shop. We stayed at one of the camping pods at the Blackwater Hostel. You can also camp at the Hostel or stay in one of their rooms.


Day 7 - Kinlochleven to Fort William (16 miles)

The final leg - this takes you on a steep climb out of Kinlochleven which then leads into the hidden valley of Lairig Mor, you then follow a track into Nevis Forest, once through Nevis Forest you then begin your long descent down into Glen Nevis and then a final road walk takes you into Fort William and the official end of the West Highland Way...

Facilities / Accommodation

The facilities on the West Highland Way are excellent, with the trail passing through many villages, pubs and conveniences. I have listed the accommodation we stayed in my itinerary above, together with some alternative options. It may not be possible to get lunch every day whilst you are on trail as you do pass some remote sections, so always take into account when planning your own itinerary where exactly you will get your food and water from, this is always an essential step of planning a successful thru-hike of any long distance trail.


Wild camping is permitted in Scotland, however, you must ensure that you are following the Scottish Outdoor Access Code at all times should you wish to wild camp.


The luggage transfer service that we used was Ginger Routes and I would highly recommend them - absolutely excellent, faultless service.


You will also find honesty boxes along the Way which have been left by kind locals, in these honesty boxes you might find chocolate bars, cans of soft drinks, homemade cake, homemade sandwiches which you can take in exchange for leaving a donation or set amount.


Navigation

I used the Cicerone Guidebook and Map which you can purchase here. I find these Guidebook absolutely excellent and I always use one when planning a trail. I would highly recommend using a Guidebook when planning and undertaking any thru-hike.


In addition, I used GPS using the old Viewranger App, this App is no longer in existence and my search continues for an alternative App. I will update you should I find anything suitable.


You can download a GPX route of the West Highland Way here.

If you have any questions about the West Highland Way or anything else then please do use the contact form to drop me a line, I will get back to you as soon as possible.


You can follow my adventures live over on my Instagram @hiker_heather



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kim.mackins1989
Feb 18, 2022

The WHW was the one 💖🙏

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