nomadic life guide

Sunburn and Snow on the West Highland Way

The West Highland Way runs for 95 miles from Milngavie near Glasgow to Fort William. We recently made an attempt at completing it, here is our trip report.

Method

Eat, walk, eat, sleep, repeat.

Direction?

We, as almost everyone whom attempts it, walked from South to North. This is out of tradition rather than for any practical purpose, except maybe for if you walk the other way you are walking ‘against the flow of traffic.’

The Route

The route begins in the quiet satellite town of Milngavie, it has a quiet sleepy feel to it but has all the amenities you may want before starting such a journey. Out of the town, it does not take long to reach some nice countryside as the trail meanders along beside a pretty brook before heading out into the Scottish countryside. Most of which initially, is quite unspectacular to be fair, nothing of note is seen until one crosses Conic hill. From this vantage point you gaze out over Loch Lomond with its islands. The Trossachs and the Arrochar Alps were snow capped when we were there and the view was wonderful.

The next section will see you walking along the bonnie banks for a couple of days, and it is the hardest section of the walk. The terrain is difficult and undulating with a few slightly vertigo inducing moments, but the views are good. Indeed, we were treated with perfect blue sky’s, and our friend Jasmin acquired some minor sunburn on this section. The next part to Crianlarich is quite unspectacular.

From Crianlarich the path weaves through pine forests and what a wonderland they were for us, covered as they were in snow. An ancient battlefield and abbey are passed, as is the tourist wallet milking machine that is the town of Tyndrum. From here the route is rather dull and follows the side of a valley paralleling the road and railway track. Maybe in good weather it is beautiful, but when is the weather good in Scotland? Bridge of Orchy is reached with its nice hotel and train station – the last escape route for many miles.

After here we are not best placed to comment on the route (see failure below).

Accommodation

The trail meets various places where accommodation can be sought but this does get booked up rather quickly, this is Britain’s busiest long distance route after all. It would be quite costly to do the trip this way as some places don’t exactly have many, or indeed any, budget friendly options.

Camping in some form will be, in our opinion, all but compulsory to complete this route, and it should be too. To walk this route and not camp at all would be to not experience the place fully. If you have an aversion to camping we think you should look elsewhere for a route. We used a mixture of wild camping, camp site camping, bothies and when we were ill, we spent the night in a Youth Hostel.

Wild camping is the purists way to do it and this was the way we intended to do it, but things didn’t exactly go our way on this trip. One thing that needs mentioning is that decent wild camp spots are not always available, in some places just finding a spot flat enough is an impossibility. With perseverance however you should be fine, you just may find yourself walking further on an individual day than you planned.

The Camping Ban Loch Lomond park authority have seen fit to make wild camping illegal in sections of the park. We are understanding of the need to protect our wild places but this heavy handed approach is both clumsy and ineffective. The only people it inconveniences is the genuine people who have knowledge of, and respect for these sacred places. We stayed in the designated ‘permit zone’ but saw many people ignoring the rules. To be honest we would do the same next time, as we believe that the only way to deal with an unjust, ridiculous rule that defies all common sense is to ignore it. They threaten fines but how are they going to know who you are if you don’t tell them? They going to call the police? You think that they would come? What they going to do, send a helicopter? If you get caught, LIE TO THEM.

Where we stayed

Night one – Less than ideal wild camp spot in the Garadhban forest.

Night two – ‘Camping permit zone’ Loch Lomond

Night three – Rowchoish Bothie

Night four – Beinglas farm campsite, icy reception from an indifferent     miserable Scot, probably because two thirds of our group have English accents.

Night Five – Crianlarich Youth Hostel, a warm welcome from two chaps who did all they could to accommodate us. Thank you.

Night six – Wild camp in a pine forest, Bridge of Orchy

Maps and Guides

We used the HARVEY MAP for our trip. We find them to be the best for such trips as they contain all sorts of useful information that others don’t. They can be bought here

Failure

We did not manage to complete our walk. It wasn’t the blizzards that stopped us, or the fact that our tent was the worst designed piece of junk ever created. We got sick, very sick. For four days and nights we suffered with a terrible stomach bug, we could not eat anything, were severely dehydrated and could not pass a tree without having to use it for cover. Our trowel worked overtime, we nearly wore it out. It was not safe to continue, Sarah was weaker everyday, so at Bridge of Orchy we made the decision to pack in. We were ill for over a week afterwards.

Our Journey in numbers

Miles completed   70

Wild camps           3

Campsites            1

Youth hostels        1

New friends met    1 (Hi Jasmin)

Times Vomited      ??????

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