Walking the West Highland Way

Joanne Cowdery on 18 June 2021
If you’re thinking about doing a long-distance walk in the UK, look no further than the West Highland Way. It’s 96.5 miles of stunning scenery and varied landscapes, with breath-taking views around every corner.

We did the walk with friends over eight days, starting from Milngavie on the outskirts of Glasgow and heading north to finish in Fort William. We all enjoyed the variety the Highland Way offered and it was a truly wonderful break.

Two things to think about before you leave are midges and ticks. We were lucky not to have too many problems with either of these but it’s best to be prepared. Generally, the midge season runs from May to September but it depends on the weather and the area in which you are walking. Use insect repellent that contains DEET, and you might also consider investing in some midge head nets, which we found worked well.

To protect yourself from both midges and ticks, wear long trousers and long-sleeved tops/shirts. Some ticks can carry Lyme Disease, so at the end of each day it’s a good idea to check yourself thoroughly for ticks. The safest way to remove one is with a pair of fine-tipped tweezers, or a tick removal tool. Make sure you carry this in your day pack, just in case!

The first stage of our walk took us across the Central Lowlands of Scotland. This predominantly gentle landscape of woodland and farmland was a nice way to get into our stride before tackling the tougher terrains ahead. Once we reached Loch Lomond the landscape changed fairly dramatically to the familiar Highlands scenery of mountains and glens, which is absolutely spectacular. Fortunately the route offers walkers lots of places to pause and enjoy the view.

I had two favourite sections of the West Highland Way. This section, which runs from Rowardennan to Inverarnan, more or less follows the shores of Loch Lomond. It’s perhaps the hardest section in terms of walking because you have to watch your step in the forest as you negotiate rocks and roots, but goodness it’s worthwhile.

My other favourite section was from Inveroran to Glencoe, following ancient drove roads and old military roads which were built to help control Jacobite clansmen. This section is a relatively short distance and easy walking, but there’s something about the landscape that causes you to catch your breath. At times it felt as if we were in the middle of the mountain range on our own.

The West Highland Way might sound a bit of a challenge but it’s neither easy nor outrageously demanding. Of course, inclement weather could raise the stakes a few notches but fit, healthy and experienced walkers accustomed to long days on the hills will encounter no difficulties. We thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and I definitely recommend it. I wonder what my next walking challenge will be?!

Top tips

• You want to be able to enjoy the walk and the scenery, so don’t take on too much distance each day.

• Try and book accommodation with an ensuite bathroom – preferably with a bath. A long soak at the end of the day is wonderful!

• Book your evening meals in advance, so you aren’t trying to find somewhere to eat each evening.

• Don’t forget you’ll need lunch. Make sure there’s somewhere to get lunch every day. Depending on where you stay, you might even need to buy lunch for two days and carry it.

• If you want to avoid crowds, start your walk mid-week.

• The best and most settled weather is likely to be in May, June, September and October, although foul weather is of course possible at any time of year.

• Do make use of the excellent baggage transfer services, which are hugely efficient. Using a transfer service means you can enjoy your walk with only your day pack to carry. Only the stoical will ignore!