Bridge of Orchy
West Highland Way travelled during September 1992
The West Highland Way is the first and one of the longer of the long
distance trails in Scotland. It was opened in 1980 and stretches for 152
kilometres (95 miles) from the Glasgow suburb of Milngavie to the town of Fort
William at the foot of Ben Nevis. The West
Highland Way features include:
A urban beginning in the outskirts of Scotland's largest city - Glasgow.
Trails through lowland forest and farmland.
Skirting the bonnie shores of Loch Lomond (Scotland's largest loch) along the flanks of the southern-most Munro, Ben Lomond.
Walking through grand glens to the pretty Loch Tulla.
A walk through isolated and wild country as Rannoch Moor is traversed to Kingshouse.
The arrival at the foot of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain.
The West Highland Way is suitable for walkers of all types from the weekend stroller to the fanatic Munro bagger. Along most of it's route there is a nearby railway line or road with the exceptions being sections along Loch Lomond, crossing Rannoch Moor, going over the Devil's Staircase and the final day from Kinlochleven. The Devil's Staircase also provides the steepest climb of the route - along a zigzaging path climbing up to 550 metres (1850 feet) but only ascending 250 metres over a distance of 1.25 kilometres. Luckily the descent is gentler (but long).
It is possible to plan the route to end up each night in a hotel or B&B. I used a variety of accommodation: camping sites (Ardlui, Tyndrum, Kinlochleven and in Glen Nevis), bunkhouses (Bridge of Orchy), Youth Hostels (Crianlarich and Rowardennan), B&B (Balmaha) and hotels (Kingshouse). There are also two open bothies on the Loch Lomond section. The bothy at Rowchoish (William Ferris Memorial Shelter) is very basic but the roof is watertight. The Doune bothy at the head of the loch is more solid. I have some links to accommodation on my pages but I suggest you look at The West Highland Way for a more comprehensive guide.
The best direction to walk the West Highland Way is from south to north as this tends to put the sun at your back as you go. More importantly, wind and rain will be behind you or coming from your left-hand side rather than in your face. This also allows the easier southern sections to prepare you for the tougher northern sections. I definitely recommend ending up with Glen Nevis as the highlight of your trip.
The table below shows the points for and against the choice of when to walk the West Highland Way. The best months are May and June. I choose September (1992) for the autumn splendour but had a run of cloudy weather with only one clear morning and another clear afternoon. On the other hand, there was only one day of rain.
|April, May and June||Months of lowest rainfall.
Up to 18 hours of daylight.
Spring flowers, birds nesting.
There may be some patches of snow to enhance the scenery.
|Busiest time on the West Highland Way.|
|July and August (high summer)||Warm||Accommodation may be booked out.
Not especially dry.
Lots of haze to hide views.
|September and October||Autumn colours.
|Higher chances of wind and rain|
|November to March (winter)||Brilliant when fine.
A grand sense of achievement.
Terrible when not fine.
For Munro baggers, the West Highland Way offers a multitude of Munros to climb. There are at least 20 Munros that are easily accessible from stops on the West Highland Way with another 20 available just off the route (e.g. by camping in Glen Nevis). The highlights are Ben Nevis, the western, central and eastern Mamore Ridge across the glen from the Ben, Ben Lomond and the Ben Lui group.
The best guidebook for the West Highland Way is The West Highland Way Official Guide by Rodger Smith and Bob Aiken. This book comes with a strip map showing the route and surrounding areas. The guidebook has tons of colour pictures, a comprehensive description of the route, plenty of planning and preparation hints and lots of information about Scottish history. While the strip map has been cunningly skewed to allow the highest possible coverage of the landscape either side of the Way, you may want to also purchase the appropriate Ordnance Survey maps since they are useful for identifying far off features. The OS maps also provide inspiration for future trips in the vicinity of the West Highland Way. The Ordnance Survey maps for the route (in order from Glasgow to Fort William) are from the Landranger Series :
The Footprint pamphlet - West Highland Way - is good if you want to keep your guidebook and maps pristine for after the trip. Also have a look at the Rucksack Reader The West Highland Way by Jacquetta Megarry which covers much of the same material as the official guide but is more robust and better yet waterproof (a boon in a Scottish mist). A couple of other books in the series may be of interest: The Great Glen Way (a trail opened in 2002 which continues 73 miles from Fort William to Inverness passing Loch Ness along the way) and The Speyside Way which starts at the fishing port of Buckie (50 miles east of Inverness) to follow the scenic River Spey to the foothills of the Cairngorm mountains, up to 84 miles from the start. I have also seen good reviews of Trailblazer's West Highland Way.
|Links to the West Highland Way|
|The West Highland Way|
|Lots of information from the Loch Lomond Park Authority. Good, colourful presentation.|
|The West Highland Way|
|This is part of John A Butler's End-to-End Walk (Land's End to John O'Groats). A good introduction with promises of growing into a comprehensive guide.|
|The West Highland Way|
|Thomas Keijzer is a Dutchman with a strong interest in Britain. His site has a good introduction, three pages describing the route and some nice photos.|
|West Highland Way (spring 1997)|
|Alexander Thorsten Blumenau has a map and lots of nice photos.|
|Walks N' Talks (summer of 2000)|
|A good set of diaries on various long distance walks.|
|West Highland Way (2005)|
|A good account of a couple who camped all along the WHW. They also camped the night on Ben Nevis!|
|West Highland Way (2006)|
|An account of a trip alng the WHW done in April 2006.|
|Some commercial links|
A selection of walks along the West Highland Way offered by Transcotland. They book your accommodation, carry your baggage from stop to stop (only day-packs needed) and provide information packages including maps and trail guides.
Way Accommodation Booking Service
This is the place to go if you want to book your accommodation along the West Highland Way.
|Travel-Lite for the West Highland Way
These folks will take your baggage along the West Highland Way.