The West Highland Way, a walking route of 152 kilometers from Milngavie to Fort William, is the best way to get acquainted with the rugged Scottish Highlands. Milngavie (pronounced mill-guy) is located 10 kilometers north of Glasgow and Fort William is situated on Loch Linnhe.
The trail leads partly on ancient roads. Military roads were built in the 17th-18th century by the British to keep rebellious Scots under control. Here you walk about a relatively easy cobbled path. This also applies to the paths that were built in the same period to drive cattle from the Highlands to the Lowlands of Scotland.
There are also narrow mountain paths that are much harder to walk, because there you need to climb or descend.
From the path you can several Munros. Munros are the 284 peaks in Scotland over 3,000 feet high, according to the list that Sir Hugh Munro (1856-1919) published in 1891. The best known Munro is the Ben Nevis near Fort William, with 1344 m the highest mountain in Great Britain.
Drovers Inn Hotel
We started our hike in Inverarnan. This is no more than a hamlet, but it has one point of interest: the Drovers Inn Hotel, since 1705 a stopping place for travelers and cattlemen. It is known as a haunted house and the hall full of stuffed animals, including a brown bear, helps to confirm that picture. Nevertheless – or precisely for that reason – the building is still used as a hotel.
The section between Inverarnan and Crianlarich goes through the Glen Falloch. There is no village, only a few houses; you will find sheep, meadows and barren mountainside. The Falloch River flows through the valley along the main road, a railroad, a power line and the West Highland Way.
The center of the world
Crianlarich has only 185 inhabitants, but proudly calls itself "the gateway to the Highlands". Here the main roads from Glasgow and Edinburgh meet, and the railway north splits here in two branches. Due to this central location, there are reportedly more signs in Britain pointing to Crianlarich than to any other place in Britain, London included.
St. Fillan Priory
In Straith Fillan, between Crianlarich and Tyndrum, lies the ruins of St Fillan's Priory, named after St. Fillan, who came from Ireland in 717 to convert the Scots and Picts to Christianity. The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh preserves a relic of the saint, the bronze Bernane Bell. Not far off, the river widens into a kind of pond, the Holy Pole, that would cure insanity.
In 1740, an ore vein was discovered near Tyndrum. The traces of the lead industry are still clearly visible, despite the fact that already around 1850 the activity was stopped: at the place where the lead ore was processed, no single plant grows. The ore was transported to Inverarnan and melted there into pure lead, which was transported to Glasgow.
There are (controversial) plans to begin gold mining near Tyndrum.
Tyndrum is the smallest place in the UK (167 inhabitants) with two railway stations, one for the train to Oban and one for Fort William. This is explained by the geographic location: by dividing the railway from Glasgow already in Crianlarich, 16 km south, steep slopes are avoided.
Besides sheep you find Highland cows along (and on) the West Highland Way.
Bridge of Orchy
Bridge of Orchy is not much more than a hotel. The bridge over the Orchy was built here around 1750 by British Government troops.
Through the moorland
The most spectacular part of the West Highland Way runs through Rannoch Moor, a heathland of 130 km2, that provides no shelter for walkers. The sprawling landscape looks like the Ice Age lasted until last year, instead of thousands of years ago. Because the trail runs along the flanks of the Black Mount Hills, you have a wide view over this empty land, in the distance fringed by mountains.
Stepping stones across a mountain stream
Crossing the pass
From Kingshouse to Kinlochleven is 29 km by car, but the walk is only 15 km. The shortcut is made via the largest climb of the West Highland Way, the Devil's Staircase (550 m). From this pass the trail descends to sea level, an attack on weak knees.
In Kinlochleven, located on a very narrow fjord, the final section of the West Highland Way starts. After a climb from sea level, an old military road slowly descends through a desolate valley that opens near the Ben Nevis. Along the way there are two ruins of farms, no tree in sight, an empty country.
West Highland Line
For the return journey to Glasgow, the West Highland Line is a good option. One of the stops is Corrour. This is the highest (410 m) and most remote railway station in Great Britain. The train stops at a few buildings in the middle of the vast, barren Rannoch Moor. There are no villages in the area and there are no roads leading to Corrour. The railway was built here in the late 19th century on a layer of fagots and therefore the maximum speed is only 50 kmh.
West Highland Way
Many people walk the West Highland Way with full luggage, but the luggage transport has become here a real service, which we gratefully used. Where necessary, we also arranged transportation between the start/end point of the daily walk and our accommodation. Very decadent compared to the wild camping of brave (or rather: reckless) backpackers.
Who isn’t tired walking after the West Highland Way, can follow the Great Glen Way from Inverness to Fort William.
Question: who has walked the West Highland Way and what were your experiences?
Watch the video my daughter made about our journey in Scotland: https://vimeo.com/135977398.
A useful hiking guide is “West Highland Way: Milngavie to Fort William” (British Walking Guide), 5th edition by Charlie Loram, publisher Trailblazer.
The map “West Highland Way XT40” (scale 1 : 40.000) of Harvey Map Services is also recommended.
Hillwalk Tours organized our travel arrangements: www.hillwalktours.com. Please note that the number of accommodations, especially between Tyndrum and Fort William, is very limited.
This blog post is a repost of my (Dutch) August 17, 2015 post.
Read my May 20, 2013 blog post about the reason why of my English reposts.