Wild Walking UK

West Highland Way: A 19 year old’s perspective. His first long distance path walking on his own.

In the build up to walking the West Highland Way I found blogs and walk reports to be of great use to me, so I decided to write one of my own. (Read my Dads West Highland Way blog Here).

Overall, I found the West Highland Way to be a fantastic introduction to long distance walking on my own. Whilst I have done both the Coast to Coast and Pennine Way, these were completed with my dad and so the challenges of walking a long-distance route on my own were new to me.
I had no limits to how long I wanted this walk to be, but was aiming for around a week.
I decided before I left that I would be camping each night (either wild or on campsites), and not using B&Bs or hotels.

The first challenge of my walk was getting all the way from the rural nothingness of Norfolk to Scotland’s biggest city, via coach. All in all this was a 13 hour journey, but the fact the walk starts just a few miles out of Glasgow in Milngavie make this a very accessible walk for students like myself and other young adults.

10th July 2019

Day 1: Milngavie to Drymen Campsite 11 miles

After my long journey to Glasgow the first thing on my agenda when I arrived in Milngavie at 9:40 was breakfast. I’d heard good things about Café Alba and my cooked breakfast was certainly not a disappointment, both fantastic food and great service, this certainly seemed like a promising start to my walk.

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Delicious breakfast in Café Alba

Finally set off on the West Highland Way at around 10:30, but as you do, was quickly stopping to adjust the rucksack and ensure everything was comfortable. The first few miles of the Way were a constant stream of chatting and saying good morning; the hospitality of the Scottish was really showing this morning. Finally left behind the trees after Milngavie and around past Craigallian Loch, which was somewhat of a highlight for today.

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This was a very encouraging sign to see early on my first day…

There was a small road section after this, and then the views opened up down the valley. The weather was somewhat overcast today, but this made the view of the Strathblane Hills quite dramatic, with cloud hanging around the valley and hilltop.

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Cloud around Strathblane Hills

The next section of the walk I found fairly unmemorable, however the Beech Tree was a nice place to stop and had some interesting animals. To end the day I had a road section to do, as I was planning on camping somewhere in the Garadhban Forest, however as I got approximately halfway along the road section it started to drizzle and so I camped at the Drymen campsite. I was also uncertain whether I would be able to find a spot to camp in the forest, but as I walked through the following day I discovered there were plenty of opportunities to wild camp here. Overall, compared to the rest of the walk this day was fairly average, however as a first day it broke me in nicely.

Day 2: Drymen Campsite to wild camp near Ptarmigan Lodge 15 miles

The second day started by finishing the section of road walk I had left from the day before. This walk tedious, but I was grateful to have split it up by the camp last night. As I entered into the Garadhban Forest I was encountering the classic coat on coat off routine, though in the forest through the trees and cloud I was being treated to the occasional nice view into the valley below.

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Views were hindered by cloud but still good

Popped out of the forest below Conic Hill and was shown the climb that faced me. Before I started to climb the hill however I walked past two beautiful wild camping spots by two rivers that I would certainly be aiming to use if I were to do the West Highland Way again. The climb up Conic Hill was fairly busy and I encountered a strange man who was walking without any footwear on, which thoroughly distracted me for the rest of the climb to the top. I know people aim for the lightest kit possible but no shoes seems a bit over the top! I went into the cloud at the top of the hill, however as I descended I was rewarded with some absolutely stunning views down over Loch Lomond.

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Exceptional views from Conic Hill

The descent into Balmaha was my personal highlight for the day, and I stopped for some lunch at the village shop in the town. Straight out of Balmaha there was a short sharp climb to a viewpoint on a small hill, which had some more fantastic views over the loch.

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Immediate climb from Balmaha but lovely views as a reward

The walk to Sallochy was certainly nice through the trees and by the loch, and fairly straightforward. I was originally planning on camping on the site at Sallochy to avoid having to worry about the wild camping management zone that stretches from just before Balmaha to around Ptarmigan lodge, but as I arrived at Sallochy at around 3:00 pm I didn’t feel like stopping, and decided to carry on. I immediately regretted this decision a mile on when I had a sharp climb, but this levelled off and I got to enjoy the best part of the day weather wise when the sun came out.

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Spent the afternoon walking on good little paths like this by the loch

 The next place I got to was Rowardennan where I stopped in the Rowardennan Hotel for a pint of well-earned beer, however I didn’t stay here for long as I had a weird vibe from the staff and felt somewhat unwelcome. A couple of miles after Rowardennan I passed the end of the camping management zone and was immediately looking for somewhere to camp; luckily there were a few spots and I set up camp.

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Someone has a sense of humour…That is the end of the camping management zone sign, and just before it is a lovely little wild camping spot. By this point in the day I was very tempted to use this spot but decided to continue on.

Midges were exceptionally annoying and I was grateful for my little midge net. Day 2 was pleasant and I very much enjoyed the views from Conic Hill, half expecting these to be some of the best views of the walk, little did I know how spectacular it would get…

Day 3: Wild camp near Ptarmigan Lodge to Beinglas Campsite 14 miles

Day 3 started with a frustrating pack up of the tent as the midges were out in force, so I skipped breakfast and immediately headed down the path towards the loch. Here there are options for the walker, as you can either spend the next few miles on a track slightly higher or on a path right beside the loch. I took the scenic route by the loch and whilst I’m certain this was more difficult than following the track, with lots of up and down, it had views that made it worthwhile and I very much enjoyed the start to my day.

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Path by the loch was challenging but worth the effort

After a couple of hours walking I made a stop for the breakfast I’d missed earlier as the sun came over the hill, and I spent the next hour or so sat looking out over the loch eating my food very satisfied with the walk so far.

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Favourite breakfast stop of the walk here, the sun came out shortly after this picture was taken

The rest of the morning walking along the loch until I reached some beautiful waterfalls at Inversnaid, where I stopped in the hotel for lunch. I felt moderately out of place in this pristine hotel with my dirty boots, but the service was great and they certainly provided for the West Highland Way walker with a whole room you could stop and charge your phone and eat your own packed lunch. Whilst I had decided to sit in the sun outside, I can imagine this would be a very welcome refuge for people who were less lucky with the weather than me.

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Waterfalls by Inversnaid Hotel

Walking right by the shoreline in the afternoon was beautiful, with views getting better and better, but there was a price to be paid as the path was quite treacherous and difficult. Around one corner I found myself on one of the many very pretty small beaches and stumbled upon a brave couple swimming naked in the loch. I was not expecting that!

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I was very lucky with the weather and was enjoying the views after walking the length of Loch Lomond over the past couple of days

The day ended by leaving Loch Lomond and a climb up behind Cnap Mor, leading to good views of the valley ahead and behind. I was originally going to head to the Drovers inn for dinner this evening after reading various good things about it, but when I arrived at the Beinglas campsite I wandered into the onsite pub that was extremely welcoming. The food was delicious and the service was friendly, I would certainly recommend stopping here. Day 3 was beautiful and I had definitely enjoyed walking by the loch, this was my favourite day thus far.

Day 4: Beinglas Campsite to wild camp before Bridge of Orchy 15 miles

First thing on my agenda this morning was to resupply with food from the supposedly well stocked Beinglas campsite shop. Whilst there were many items there, the freshly baked bread was delicious and the sandwiches they had made were great, the shop did not have much in the way of useful walking food. Once I left the site to start todays walk I was immediately climbing unexpectedly and was wishing I had studied the map more closely last night so I could at least have mentally prepared myself. The walk flattened out after this climb however and I enjoyed following the river up.

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An enjoyable morning by the river

As the day progressed however, I did begin to really notice the road noise from across the river and this was quite annoying. The old military road that I had been walking on helped make good progress and once I had made my way towards the woods near Crianlarich the road noise lessened so I started to enjoy the walking again. I decided to skip Crianlarich as I knew later in the day I would be able to stock up on food, and was pleasantly surprised by how pretty the walk through the forest was.

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Pleasurable walk through the forest with a good path

I got to Strathfillan farm at around lunchtime and decided to stop for and ice cream and some lunch, but I wished I had waited until Tyndrum as I was disappointed by the price charged in the farm shop. The walk towards Tyndrum was pleasant, but I started to really enjoy the day as I was leaving Tyndrum. The walk started to feel more remote again, perhaps because I had somehow lost the crowds of walkers on the Way, and I was enjoying looking over the surrounding hills.

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Evening walk with good weather and few people

Tonight was always supposed to be a wild camp and was aiming for a spot by the river just after Auch farm. However I was clearly not the only one with this idea as there were a few people already here and I decided to move on. The track that followed had some great views of Beinn Dorain and the hills around this valley, and once again with sunshine I enjoyed this evening walking. I finally stopped about 2 miles shy of Bridge of Orchy where I wild camped.

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Questionable camping spot but I enjoyed the views from my tent

Laying in the sun was a good way to finish this enjoyable day, and I was feeling optimistic for the rest of the walk as so far the views and the walk had been getting better and better each day.

Day 5: Wild camp before Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe Mountain Resort 12 miles

The day began by finishing walking along the military road to Bridge of Orchy, which with the relatively easy walking and good views went by very quickly. However I was immediately slowed down by the climb out of Bridge of Orchy, but then rewarded by some great views over Loch Tulla and the mountains I’d passed by yesterday.

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Looking back at the path snaking through the valley and the hills I’d passed by the previous day

The following few miles were relatively unmemorable, with a drop into Inveroran and a gradual climb to Black Mount, however once the views opened up it was possible to see some of the best scenery of the whole walk. The section around Black Mount and then over into the Glencoe valley were some of my personal favourites of the entire walk; the paths were good, weather sunny and the views spectacular.

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Views into the Black Mount area were fantastic
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Then heading over into the Glencoe valley the scenery somehow improved even further

I covered mileage quickly on this day and as I hadn’t religiously planned my walk beforehand, I decided to turn this day into a welcome half day as I was at the Glencoe Mountain Resort by lunchtime.

Day 6: Glencoe Mountain Resort to the Lairigmor Valley 17 miles

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Not a bad view to wake up to from my tent…

I awoke with blue skies again for my penultimate day of the West Highland Way and was looking forward to the walk. The path down the valley was fairly easy walking to begin the day, but I knew I had a steep climb at the end to negotiate. The first section of the climb up devil’s staircase was okay, and my only problem was the number of people who were also climbing. The climb did however get more challenging, and I was certainly regretting pushing so hard at the beginning by the time I reached the top. It was definitely worth the tiresome mile or so up the hill however, when I turned around at the top and looked back up the spectacular Glencoe valley.

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The climb up Devil’s Staircase felt a lot steeper than it looks in this photo

A little further over the top and there was a new vista to observe, with the Mamores in the distance and the river Leven in the valley below. The following long slow descent into Kinlochleven was on good tracks and I made good time, but after seeing such a view it was a shame when I was entered the trees.

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View out over to The Mamores

Kinlochleven had everything you could need, with a post office, ATM, pubs and a coop, coming just at the right time for me to top up on food for the final days of the walk. The West Highland Way leaves Kinlochleven on the road, but I think its fully worth the short detour to have a look at the Grey Mares waterfall as you leave the town, as it was quite beautiful.

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Waterfall that was definitely worth the short detour away from the official WHW route

My second harsh climb of the day was just out of Kinlochleven, and this took longer than I expected as after seeing it on the map I thought it would be over after 10 or 15 minutes; in reality it took me upwards of an hour. Once this path joined the old military road the going became much easier and I very much enjoyed this walk up the valley in the evening with the sun setting and fewer people around. Walking along the valley I could see some paths snaking up the Mamores beside me, and will definitely be coming back to this part of Scotland again to do some more walking around here.

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The military road was nice to walk on, and was pleasantly flat after the climbs of today

It was getting towards time to camp and there were various nice wild camping spots along this military road, it was just about finding the one I wanted to use. Today was probably my favourite of the walk, had somewhat of a challenge and beautiful scenery that was ever changing.

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My favourite wild camping spot of the walk

Day 7: Lairigmor Valley to Fort William 12 miles

The final day of the walk began with promise, the sun was poking through overcast clouds and I had the rest of the military road I’d been enjoying. The low hanging cloud never improved however, and the sun refused to show itself again, with the odd bit of drizzle making this classic British summer weather. This mixed with some fairly average sections of walk meant I didn’t enjoy this day as much as some of the others, and found the paths quite unmemorable.

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There were numerous signs like these along the WHW and they really added context to the locations I was in

Looking back, the day certainly wasn’t as bad as I felt at the time, I’d simply been spoilt by the brilliance of previous days. I did decide to extend the day slightly when I climbed up to Dun Deardail, and iron-age fort whose outline can still be seen. From up here it was possible to see the finale of my walk for the first time, with Fort William in the distance.

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From Dun Deardail fort it was possible to see my destination for the first time

On a clearer day I can imagine this view would have been spectacular, but Ben Nevis was shrouded in mist and the surrounding hills were also hidden from sight, so I had to settle for the views along the valley floor. I decided to stop at the Glen Nevis campsite a couple miles short of Fort William, where I put up my tent and left my stuff whilst I completed the final few miles of my walk. Unfortunately, the last 2 miles of the West Highland Way are spent walking by a busy road, but this was quickly forgotten when I arrived at the sign marking the end of the Way and found a nice pub to celebrate completing the walk.

Overall Thoughts

As the first long distance walk for me to complete on my own, I found the West Highland Way to be perfect. I would highly recommend this walk to both new walkers and experienced walkers who have yet to complete it. The scenery got better and better as the walk went on, and so this is certainly the sort of walk you would want to do the official way around. It was just challenging enough to feel like you accomplished something, but I never felt as though I was too exhausted to continue. It was a busy walk, but I walked it at a fairly peak time so I would assume you could avoid the crowd if you so desired. I enjoyed the social aspect of it however and enjoyed talking to people. In conclusion, I loved completing this walk and am already looking at another long distance walk to attempt.

Dads 11 wild camping rules.

Dads West Highland Way April 2019.

Dads Gear List for LEJOG.

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