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  • Writer's pictureHiker Heather

West Highland Way: Spring 2022

Blog detailing my second thru-hike of the West Highland Way...

It had been two very long, solitary weeks since completing my winter thru-hike of the Cotswold Way, personal circumstances meant that I had not left the house since returning from the Cotswolds and needless to say, I was desperate to get back out in nature once again, the place where I feel truly happy and alive and so my mind, once again, turned to long distance trails. When considering long distance trails through the autumn, winter and now spring, the weather has very much been the determining factor in deciding which trail I would hike, indeed, I have been chasing the weather since my hike of the Great Glen Way in autumn. I had always known that I would hike the West Highland Way again after falling in love with the trail during my first hike of it and when looking at the weather, it appeared that it would be my perfect opportunity to hike the trail once again and so with just a couple of days of organisation, that is exactly what I head out to do...

Itinerary

Day 1 - Milngavie to Garadhban Forest - 14 miles

My alarm was set for 3.30am, leaving my house at around 4.30am, I drove up to Milngavie, just outside of Glasgow, which is the start of the West Highland Way. Arriving in Milngavie at around 10.30am, I eagerly set off on my second hike of this wonderful trail. Leaving the town behind me, I continued on the trail through Mugdock Country Park, I was surprised to see two hikers ahead of me who appeared to also be hiking the Way, I hadn't expected to see many people hiking the Way so early in the season but it was a welcome sight all the same. Soon after, the rain made an appearance and the waterproofs came out, I continued on the trail towards Drymen, this section of the trail has a fair bit of 'road bashing' and can at times feel like you will never arrive at Drymen... If you do intend on doing this trail, please don't let this first section deter you, it can leave you feeling a little demotivated and deflated... Eventually arriving at the junction where you can chose to turn off into Drymen itself (Drymen village not being directly on the trail), I continued on the trail, heading away from the village, soon finding myself in the Garadhban Forest, which is where I decided to set camp for the evening, there are plenty of areas here to wild camp, I had an entire section of forest to myself and it was just pure bliss...


Day 2 - Garadhban Forest to Sallochy Campsite - 11 miles

Today would be a shorter day and so I was in no rush leaving camp this morning, I took my time to enjoy the morning sun and my breakfast before eventually departing, I continued through the Garadhban Forest towards Conic Hill. You soon come to a junction in the trail where you can chose to hike up Conic Hill and down into Balmaha or you can chose to take a 'bad weather' alternative into Balmaha, I decided on this occasion to take the variant since I had done Conic Hill last time I did the West Highland Way and also due to the fact that I had a couple of existing injuries that I needed to be mindful of. The variant is just road walking down into Balmaha, I would highly recommend that you do the official route and take in Conic Hill if you are able, the views from Conic Hill are out of this world and Conic Hill itself is an iconic feature of this trail. Balmaha is a tiny village, a hamlet perhaps, with very few conveniences, however, it does have The Oak Tree Inn Pub which also has a shop and a café, I stopped at their café for an early lunch, the staff in the Oak Tree are so welcoming and lovely, I really recommend you stopping here! After lunch, I continue on the trail, after a short but steep climb out of Balmaha, you once again drop down to the shores of Loch Lomond, continuing on, until I eventually reached my planned stop for the night at Sallochy Campsite. Sallochy campsite is considered a 'wild camping' campsite, in that it does not have facilities other than a compost toilet and a water tap. I had spotted this campsite on my first hike of the West Highland Way and I just knew I had to return to camp here! The campsite opens on 1 April - 30 October and during this period, you require a permit to camp at Sallochy, since I was on the trail in early March, I wouldn't require a permit on this occasion so I simply turned up and selected by pitch at the side of Loch Lomond. I arrived early, around 2.30pm and went ahead and pitched my tent and spent a wonderful afternoon at the side of the loch, taking in spring sun and the panoramic views surrounding me, this campsite was everything that I had hoped for! Absolutely stunning...

Please note that the majority of the area around Loch Lomond has wild camping restrictions in place during March-October, you will therefore need to plan your trip either around these restricted areas or you will need to apply for a permit at one of the campsites, such as Sallochy. The following map shows the areas that are subject to said restrictions and also shows the locations of the official campsites -

Day 3 - Sallochy to Doune Byre Bothy - 14 miles

My initial plan would have taken me to Crainlarich on this day, however, the weather had different plans for me. I woke with my tent completely frosted over, it had been a cold night indeed, I would later learn that the temperature had dipped to -4 degrees in the night. Leaving Sallochy in the morning sun, I continue along the side of Loch Lomond, soon descending down into Rowardennan, I had left camp without breakfast as I had planned at stopping at the Rowardennan Hotel for breakfast and to warm up indoors as it should have been open... alas, it was not open when I arrived, despite the opening times on the internet.... I slowly made my way to the Rowardennan Hostel in a hope that they may be serving breakfast, once again, I got turned away - no breakfast here for me either! As if on que, the rain started to pour, just to add to my woes, I scurried under a tree and quickly made a hot coffee and a snack before plodding on in the rain. Arriving at Inversnaid, the rain continued as I tried to navigate the side of Loch Lomond, over rocks, under rocks, between rocks, over tree roots....This section is tough going, made even more tough by the rain which was causing the rocks to be dangerously slippery, at some points you do come very close to the loch here, you need to be sure footed and very careful, especially with the weight of a heavy pack! Progress was of course slow, snails pace in fact, I soon realised that there was no way I would make it to Crainlarich and so I quickly started to think about my alternative options, I could see on my map that there was a bothy that I would be soon approaching, this would be my perfect opportunity to escape the weather and so I continued onto Doune Byre Bothy. I arrived at the bothy resembling a drowned rat, needless to say, I was pleased to find that the bothy was empty when I arrived. I wasn't sure of my intentions when I arrived at the bothy, I had never stayed in a bothy before, always preferring the sanctuary of my little tent, I mean - would I even survive in a bothy? What was the potential of me being murdered? Eaten by rats? Taken hostage? What if some weirdo things turned up in the night? What if a huge group of people turned up in the night and destroyed my peace? There really was only one way to find out....

And so it was that I would spent my first night in a bothy, I changed into my dry clothes, hung my tent up to dry, made myself some food, tried and failed to make a fire, chatted to the mountain goats who were loitering outside the bothy and settled in for the evening. I must have fallen asleep for around 7pm, at around 9pm, there was noise and fractured light, I had thought that I was dreaming but it wasn't a dream - who was here? why had they arrived so late? was something wrong? I peered out of my sleeping bag and asked, to whoever or whatever it was that had just joined me, since it was impossible to see in the dark of the bothy - 'Hello, is everything okay? Do you need anything? Are you safe and well?', a man responded to say that everything was fine and that they were just sorry to have bothered me, and then another voice - from a female.... 'oh, is there more of you?'... there was just two of them, a couple in fact, I am pleased to report that they were not here to ruin my peace, or to murder me, they too were also on the West Highland Way, looking for some respite from the weather, knowing this, I soon fell back into my slumber...


Note - If you do wish to use a bothy, please ensure that you are following the Bothy Code at all times, this is extremely important.

Day 4 - Doune Byre Bothy to Tyndrum - 14 miles

I woke as I always do, at around 6am, I was conscious of the couple who had arrived late and I did not want to disturb them and so I stayed in the warmth of my sleeping bag and hoped that they too would wake up soon so that I could get moving, luckily, the couple's alarm went off at 6.30am so I didn't have long to wait. As we all got ready for the day, I asked where the couple were planning on heading to, they hoped to reach Bridge of Orchy today which would be a 20 mile hike as they had limited time and were trying to finish the trail in 5 days, hence their late arrival at the bothy the previous evening, ideally, today would take me to Bridge of Orchy also but I was aware that the onslaught of rain was due to continue and so I just set myself the target of reaching Tyndrum instead and then from there, I would see how I felt. The couple soon left the bothy and I left shortly after, continuing on from the bothy, some parts of the path were entirely under water at the side of the loch and so it was a scramble at parts along the banks of the loch, all whilst the rain continued to pour. Eventually you leave the side of the loch and continue through the magnificent Glen Falloch for quite some time, from the Glen, you continue onto the Crainlarich junction where you can chose to turn off to Crainlarich (again, the village is not directly on the trail), if this is a stop that you have planned or wish to use the conveniences. I did not turn off at Crainlarich and instead continued on through the rain along the forestry track towards Tyndrum. I arrived in Tyndrum, sopping wet, at around 3pm and headed to TJ's Diner for the hot, calorie laden meal that I had been craving since Rowardennan, whilst eating, I made the decision to book into a B&B, I was cold to the bone and everything was sodden, my face was pretty raw due to the exposure to the continued cold and my feet were painful due to them being continuously wet and cold for a couple of days and whilst it was early enough in the day that I could have carried on to the Bridge of Orchy, I didn't see it wise to spend another night in my tent with me being so cold and wet and so I took the opportunity of a B&B at the rate of £49.00 including breakfast, which was just too good to turn down.


Day 5 - Tyndrum to Kingshouse - 20 miles

I left the B&B bright and early and in good spirits, not only is this section of the trail my favourite section but my sister would also be joining me later that evening at Kingshouse! I was excited to say the least! This section of the trail would take me to the beautiful Bridge of Orchy which is a popular wild camping spot (just by the side of the river) and then over the wild expanse of Rannoch Moor. Rannoch Moor is quite simply spectacular and perhaps even one of my favourite places on earth! Rannoch Moor is considered to be one of the last wildernesses in Europe and is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest. I mean, look at it - Alaska vibes or what?!? This place is so incredibly special, my soul felt so alive during this section, I felt so incredibly free but also humbled by the fact that I was the only human around for miles, no buildings, no roads, just me and the trail.... I took this section of the trail very slowly, stopping often to take in my surroundings, to relish in the feeling of freedom given by this wild and remote section of the trial...

Rannoch Moor should, however, be treat with the respect that it demands. This is an extremely exposed and wild section of the trail. If you are unlucky enough to hit bad weather on this section then you must pass through with caution, there is no shelter (at all!) from the weather during this section and I can imagine that it can be incredibly harsh to pass in bad weather. Please therefore be mindful of this when planning your trip. Please only ever undertake hikes that are within your capabilities and always ensure that you have the appropriate equipment and supplies to facilitate the same. Leaving Rannoch Moor, you then drop down into the magnificent Glencoe - what a site to behold! Again, this place is just pure magic! If you've never spent anytime in Glencoe then I urge you to do so! After sitting with the views for some time, I would then make my way over to the Kingshouse Hotel where my sister and I had booked beds in the bunkhouse since my sister does not own a tent. I proceeded to dump my tent and anything else that I wouldn't need for the remainder of the trial in my sisters car before we tucked into a hearty meal in the Kingshouse Hotel, the rest of the evening would be spent catching up with my sister.

Day 6 - Kingshouse to Kinlochleven - 9 miles

Today would only be a 9 mile hike so we took our time enjoying breakfast at the Kingshouse before setting out on our little hike over to Kinlochleven. Leaving the Kingshouse in the morning sun, we slowly made our way on the trail whilst taking in the panoramic mountain views surrounding us. We soon arrive at the foot of the Devil's staircase and begin the ascent, again, we are treated to the most spectacular views of Glencoe and Rannoch during this section. Once you reach the top of Devil's Staircase, it is a very long descent down into Kinlochleven. We had booked into the Blackwater Hostel to stay in one of their pods (you can also camp here) so we checked in on arrival and then headed over to the Co-op for a resupply. We then headed over to the Bothy Bar at the MacDonald Hotel for some food before making our way back to the pod for an early night.

Day 7 - Kinlochleven to Fort William - 15 miles

My sister and I woke bright and early on this morning, we needed to get back to Fort William for around 1pm to catch the bus back to Kingshouse to collect my sisters car who would then drive me to Milngavie to collect my car at which point we would then both drive home to Yorkshire.... this would be a very long day, indeed! Leaving Kinlochleven behind us, you make a steep ascent up and out of Kinlochleven through woodland before then once again joining the old military road, following the old military road for some time, you then join forestry tracks right down into Glen Nevis, a short road walk then takes you into Fort William and to the finishing line of the West Highland Way!!! I had done it - again!! Wooohooo!!! I cannot explain exactly how much I love this trail - this wont be the last time that I do this trail, that much is certain! I am in love!

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.


I chose to drive to Milngavie on this occasion, leaving my car at the train station car park which is free of charge, this was at my own risk, of course. You can also leave your car outside the police station in Milngavie, if you do intend to do this then you must let the police know your intentions. I had then intended to get the train back from Fort William at the end of the trail to Milngavie to collect my car, however, my sister decided to join me part way through the trail and she would leave her car at Kingshouse so we would get the bus from Fort William to Kingshouse and then my sister would take me to Milngavie to collect my car on the way home.

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 places I camped/ stayed in my itinerary above, you may also wish to look at my previous itinerary used which you can find here. 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.


If you chose to hike this trail out of season, like I did, then please do not rely on shops/ pubs etc being open - please ensure that you have enough of your own supplies when hiking any trail out of season.


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.


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 Guidebooks 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 OS Maps App.


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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Jason Pollard
Jason Pollard
09 Mar 2022

What an amazing hike!!! I’ll be following for great tips. Thank you for being here.

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