West Highland Way; A Magical Hiking Trail

If you’re anything like me, hitting a hiking trail to enjoy what nature has to offer is like no other experience. West Highland Way has a well established reputation for not letting anyone down in this department.

As a teenager I hiked the 109 miles of the Cleveland Way in North Yorkshire which was a blissful week of rambling from village to village through the countryside. This was much closer to home as I was living in Malton at the time.

With my Scottish heritage I found that I was always drawn to adventure further north. Walks taking in scenery that is quite unlike any other part of the world called out to me. The main one being the West Highland Way.

Interestingly, I came across a video guide on YouTube that covered more of the walk than I’ve seen online before. This has proven to be extremely helpful in supporting the planning stages for the hike. It also gets the inspiration fire burning particularly bright!

West Highland Way Hiking Trail

Most Adventurers and Ramblers will take about five days to complete the hike along the West Highland Way track.

If you want to keep things as close to Nature as possible, this is easy enough to do by spending as little time as possible wandering deeper into the hamlets along the way.

However, if you are after a little bit of that village life vibe, then straying off the path a little will provide you with quite a reward as you take in the beautiful architecture and taste the local fare.

Some of the attractions that are a must see along the way as you start in Milngavie and walk north along The Way towards Fort William are:

Glengoyne Distillery

This is a beautiful little place to stop in and have a timely reminder that the experience of the West Highland Way is one that is best taken unhurried.

For over 200 years the distillation process has been ever so carefully perfected here. I found it quite amazing that the care that goes into making the casks here sees them take as long as six years to prepare! Now that’s surely a fine art in my opinion.

As a man who appreciates a good drop from time to time, The Teapot Dram is one that I have been fortunate enough to enjoy. As an homage to days gone by, this is a rare experience that any whisky connoisseur will appreciate.

But a word of warning here, you’re pretty much only 10% of the way into the adventure, so sip lightly if you want to keep to the path for the next ten or so miles. There are some decent hills to come to say the least.

Keep in mind that there is about a 270 meter increase in altitude as you hike out of Drymen within about the first eight miles towards Rowardennan.

After that it’s a bit of a quick descent from a local high of around 310 meters back to a range between 30 meters and 100 meters. The altitude along The Way is relatively consistent for the next 20 miles before your next significant jump up in altitude.

Loch Lomond

There is plenty to take in on your way before you make it to Loch Lomond, but this is a big ticket item that many Hikers on The Way are looking forward to seeing.

The geography of the area where the Highlands meet the lowlands of Central Scotland provide for the type of scenery that any Artist would find it hard to put out of mind.

My passion for photography could very well see me perched on a hill for hours just watching the light change. With the coming of the dusk, the contrast between the lighter and darker tones in this area can be truly breathtaking.

If you’re fortunate enough to catch a clear night to watch the stars in this part of the world you may be forgiven for feeling like you’ve slipped into Fairyland. Being a ways out from town some believe that it may still be worth considering the possibility of encountering a brownie or a selkie (if you’re so inclined).

History runs deep and rich in this part of the world, with records of human history understood to stretch back some 5,000 years. Loch Lomond has played a key part in many people’s lives for many years, and it is easy to understand why when you are before its magnificence.

Rannoch Moor

As you wander north another 27 odd miles you’ll find yourself at Rannoch Moor. Home to the last significant icefield in the country, this place for me has a feel like it is somewhere between Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain with the fragility of the ecology, and the other-worldly feel of Karakol Glacier in Tibet.

Taking some time to consider when a solar storm may hit planet Earth and planning to be at Rannoch Moor to witness the magic of the Northern Lights provides for a visual treat like no other.

Some of the parts of Rannoch Moor that are worth taking the time to experience include Cauldron Falls, Fleming Cairn, Lone Tree, and the view from Leathad Mor.

Rannoch Moor has about a dozen surveyed walks of varying difficulties. all of which take in the spectacular scenery that this part of Scotland has to offer.

Preparing to Hike the West Highland Way

Other places that rank high on the list for many also include (in no particular order):

  • Ballachulish Slate Quarry
  • Buachaille Etive Mor
  • Falls of Falloch
  • Steall Waterfall
  • Bridge of Orchy
  • Devil’s Staircase

The best bit of advice I can offer here is to dig as deep into your research and planning as you can so you are best equipped and free to immerse in the beauty while you are out on the trail.

No doubt you’ll also find plenty of blogs with lists of top things to see and do packed with tips.

Although the West Highland Way is not what I would call an extremely challenging hike (particularly after spending time hiking parts of the Himalaya), it does need suitable preparation.

Depending on the time of year, you will need to make sure you have suitable gear with you for the climate. Winters up here get rather cold, and you’ll need to be experienced with winter hiking and navigation.

From a safety perspective, as much as you may want to have some time ‘offline’ on The Way, it is worth making sure you have a phone with a good charge and back up power supply for emergencies. Coverage on the trail is spotty according to most reports depending upon who your carrier is.

Some extremely useful resources I found provided by the West Highland Way Management Group through their official website include the:

Additional resources that are very helpful also are:

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