For those who are passionate about hiking, scenic nature walks are almost a form of meditation. You put one foot in front of the other, breathe in deeply, and let all the worries melt away as you take in the sights around you. Finding beautiful trails and walking the whole length of them is almost a thing of pride, and if there’s one trail that’s difficult to top, it’s the West Highland Way.
Delightfully Scottish in so many ways, this route is full of emerald greenery, old military roads, and lochs that look like they came straight out of an epic fantasy novel. It presents a nice physical challenge without being exhausting because it’s 96 miles long, so even inexperienced walkers can fully enjoy it.
If you’re interested in walking one of the most gorgeous trails in Great Britain, the West Highland Way should be your top pick. Here are a few tips on how you can prepare for your trip, and some advice on what you can find there.
What can I expect?
Long roads, drover tracks, lochs, hills, forests – basically you’ll see pristine nature and breathe in fresh air as you go. Expects steep inclines along tall hills, but don’t worry too much. Most of the road is well-trod and you shouldn’t have any trouble crossing it as long as you take frequent rests. It’s recommended that you start a fitness regimen before your trip, so something like running or some simple home workouts to raise your stamina could benefit you.
You will start in the south, in a bustling little town called Milngavie. It’s right near Glasgow and it’s usually very busy, but you won’t stay in it for a long time. Very soon you’ll be setting out and walking into the countryside where there’s a lot more peace. Still, don’t expect a quiet walk, especially not during the summer months. The West Highland Way is popular and well-loved, so while there will be moments of privacy, you’re likely to meet other people along the way.
The west end of the trail ends in a remote town called Fort William, right next to the Ben Navis Mountain. There are many places to rest or camp out along the way, so you can have as much or as little comfort as you want to.
Figuring out where to start
As with any trip, you’ll need to make an itinerary, and it’s important to choose the direction in which you’ll walk. Most people take the south to north route from Milngavie to Fort William, and it’s usually easier to cross it because the sun won’t be shining in your eyes. If you walk around 15 miles each day you should be able to finish the West Highland Way in about 7-8 days, and you’ll make stops in Drymen, Rowardennan, Inverarnan, Tyndrum, King’s House, and Kinlochleven. Once you finally stop in Fort William, you can easily take the train back to Glasgow and enjoy the sense of accomplishment.
Most of these towns have nice accommodation options where you can rest for the evening, and you’ll come upon various hostels, hotels, and bed & breakfast facilities.
How long will it take?
As we’ve said, it takes seven or eight days if you plan to walk every day, but you can extend your vacation and stay in some of the towns a little longer. If it’s your first time in Scotland, it’s definitely worth it to stay and explore the culture and enjoy the company of friendly locals. For example, if you take a short detour at the beginning of your trip and go to the Glengoyne Distillery, you can learn everything about how whiskey is made and sample some of it as you enjoy the scenery.
You can also climb Ben Lomond, one of Scotland’s highest mountains, on your way to Rowardeannan, and if you’re ready for some 4-5 hours of effort, you’ll be granted one of the most spectacular sights when you reach the summit. Loch Lomond National Park Memorial Sculpture is also beautiful to see, so if you’re already close by take a look at this war memorial that was built to commemorate men who died in the First and Second World War
Craigrostan Woods, Falls of Falloch, Gray Mare’s Tail – there’s plenty to see, and some places are worth exploring for longer than just a few hours. You can also extend your trip by taking a bus from Fort William to Inverness or Aviemore. They are both beautiful cities, with Inverness being particularly interesting to see as it’s practically the cultural capital of the Highlands. From castles and cathedrals to art galleries and museums – you definitely won’t be bored if you decide to explore it.
The best months for your trip
Given the location and Scotland’s cool weather, it’s best to walk the West Highland Way during spring or summer. If you actually enjoy the colder weather and don’t want to deal with the sun, then early autumn is also a viable choice. Bear in mind that a lot of insects are in the air during summer time, so if you don’t want to deal with those tiny annoying highland midges, book your trip for a different season.
Finding a map
A good map is essential for this trip, and luckily there are plenty of options to choose from. The West Highland Way: The Official Guide comes with a map of the whole route and it’s pretty up to date, and another great recommendation is the West Highland Way by Anthony Burton, which is a great, well-written guide with pretty handy maps. You can get your maps online before the trip itself and spend some time studying them and marking the places you definitely want to visit.
Getting to West Highland Way
Trains and city buses will be your best options to get to Milngavie because you can easily catch either of those from Glasgow. Most of them also make stops along the way at places like Ardlui, Crianlarich, Tyndrum, and Bridge of Orchy, so if you planned to only complete a section of the way you can go about it that way.
If you plan to arrive by car you can take the A81 that goes directly from Glasgow to Milngavie, but there won’t be a dedicated car park when you arrive. You can park for free in front of the railway station and you’ll have CCTV coverage to keep your car safe.
Bear in mind that buses and trains are a little more infrequent when traveling from Fort William, but you can take the Caledonian Sleeper, a train line that connects Fort William with Crewe, Preston, and London. It’s a pretty luxurious option to take at the end of your trip as it rides straight through stunning countryside and the cars are pretty comfortable.
There are plenty of hostels and bunkhouses along the way if you’re on a budget. Kip in the Kirk is a lovely B&B in Drymen that has eight-room people, and Hostelling Scotland Rowardennan Lodge is a hostel is in Rowardennan, right next to the trail. Inverarnan, Tyndrum, and Kinlochleven all have similar facilities close by, and the only real issue you might have is in King’s House. King’s House Hotel will be closed for refurbishment until February 2019, but Glencoe Mountain Resort and a bunkhouse are nearby options where you can book a room. If both options are full, you’ll need to take a coach (you can wait for it at the entrance to King’s House) and go to Glencoe village, where there are plenty of B&Bs and hotels.
Once you reach Fort William you’ll definitely have enough options. For example, the Fort William Backpackers is a lovely little hostel where you can rest before heading back. You could also find a hotel if you plan to stick around for a few days.
Can I camp out?
Yes! You can absolutely camp out if you want to because there are several campsites along the way. Some pubs and hotels also offer their own camping sites and you can also try wild camping if you find convenient spots. Bear in mind that this will require you to follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and that you might not be able to camp out along the eastern side of Loch Lomond.
Pack lightly and get ready for a fun journey – the West Highland Way will offer you some of the most beautiful sights in all of Britain, so make sure to enjoy every step of it.
I love hiking. From the Camino de Santiago to the West Highland Way in Scotland or simply a great day hike on the weekend. Hiking refreshes me, my mind, and keeps my body reasonably fit. So far I have walked three Camino routes and many other long distance hikes in the UK, Canada, and around the rest of Europe. One of the best was my hike up Ben Nevis.