The last time I tried writing this report, it turned into a “10 tips for walking the West Highland Way” kind of article. I still think it is a fun summary of important points to consider as you plan your own WHW trip, and you can read it here. This walk was its own little adventure: mostly easy walking through beautiful, green landscapes and along the ever lovely Loch Lomond. I did it after completing the Great Glen Way, another long-distance classic, and was lucky enough to have the company of my younger daughter, Simone (Sim for short) who joined me the previous year on the Skye Trail.
Day 1 – We departed early, taking the train from Glasgow to Milngavie. From the train station, it was a short walk to the parking lot near the centre of the town to drop our bags. From there, off we went to find the beginning of this famous trail – a marker in Milngavie’s commercial centre vis a vis a stairway to a lovely green path leading away from the town. My daughter found it; I had worked on honing her trail sign ID the previous walk. We were great walking companions, alternating between chatter and silence, and easily managing the rest of trip mechanics like meals, travel, lodgings, and sight seeing.
The walking was easy and clearly marked as we passed through woods and along streams, lochen and farm fields. There is one landmark that stands out: Dumgoyne, a small but beautiful peak in an area called the Campsie Fells, a range of volcanic hills.
A distillery, Glengoyne, is also visible from a section of the trail along a raised path which was an old rail line. As I am always interested in whiskey, it was cause for some speculation, but that activity was not for this part of the trip. Throughout the day we had a few friendly meetings with domestic animals, horses big and small and well-behaved doggies. For my furry-friend-loving child, these were no small highlights.
Later in the day, while walking along a farm lane, we noticed a red stone wall, belonging to an estate of some kind. Arriving at the gate, we were stunned to discover that we had arrived at our accommodations, the lovely Mulberry Lodge. Safe to say this was one of the treats of the entire trip. A beautiful large room, our own private terrace, and views onto a sweet rising field, complete with requisite lambs and sheep. It was also a stone’s throw from both the village and the continuation of the walk. After dropping our day packs, I walked into the village. I had some BnB owners to meet, and Sim met me later (after having a cuddle with the bike shop spaniels) to have a pint in Scotland’s oldest pub, the Clachen Inn (1734). We picked up supplies for the next day’s walk and dined on our terrace: delicious curry left-overs from the previous night’s supper in Glasgow (you can ship practically ANYTHING with a baggage transfer service).
Day 2 –We started as early as possible, after the BnB’s amazing breakfast. One cannot eat like that every day, but what a treat: full Scottish, served in a beautiful but cozy dining room. Finally on our way, the trail traversed the farm field we had seen from our room; did I say convenient? After crossing and following the road, and then a field, you briefly enter a forestry. Upon leaving, you get the first views of Loch Lomond, our companion for the next two days, as well as Conic Hill, our climb. As a follower of Scottish hill-related web pages, this was a satisfying moment: I was finally going to climb this well loved standard. I knew it wasn’t a huge challenge, but it was a name that has bounced around the periphery of my brain for years. Simone and I skipped off the path to climb the grassy slope to the first of the four plus summits. We felt silly and proud and were treated to the amazing views down onto Loch Lomond earlier than the other walkers who stayed on track. It is a very popular hill, which is why we could get a decent mother and daughter photo, and why we kept moving.
Truth be told, we were energised, not tired, after the climb. This is probably because coming from the east (as we did), there is 100 m less of a climb than coming from the official entrance. Once down through the visitors’ centre and by the little pub, the route continued along the loch for the rest of the day.
This was a lot of up and down, very clearly marked and nothing overly taxing, although it was certainly not Simone’s favorite. Perhaps it paled in comparaison to the top of Conic, she still grumbles at the thought of it. Later that afternoon, we arrived at the Rowardennan Lodge, a large, clean hostel with tons of amenities, including a meal service. Our favorite was the great lawn that ran from the Lodge down to the shore, and the small pier where we could soak our feet and celebrate the end of that day’s walk.
Day 3 – This was our last day on the WHW and it could have been a chore. We had a hard deadline: catching a bus to take us to Glencoe for the night. As well, the leg between Rowardennan and Inverarnan is considered the most difficult day of walking of the whole route. Add to that, Simone starts having pain in her hip right at the onset of the walk which did not bode well. In fact, we worried for nothing.
The walking is often along narrow tracks, up and down over stones and tree roots, but it is nothing out of the ordinary for folks like us from Quebec and the North-Eastern U.S. In our region, hiking mostly consists of keeping your eyes on the rocky, root-infested path, until you finally get to a view point and get some perspective. At the risk of repeating myself, that is why I walk in Scotland: easier tracks, fewer trees, and excellent views throughout the journey, particularly in the Highlands. For us, the conditions were ‘normal’, and seeing as there was little sustained climbing, we literally gamboled along.
We lunched on the terrace of the walker-friendly Inversnaid Hotel, where we chatted with a couple who was doing the whole WHW, and who complimented us on our pace. I reassured them that it would get easier: I was on my 12th day of walking, and Sim was all of 21 years old. You do build up strength as you go along, and although the challenge on the WHW does increase in terms of distance, so does your stamina.
This was also the day we saw the most amazing bluebell covered hillsides, a definite bonus of a May walk. There were often lovely white-flowering trees with them, as well as scattered through the sparsely wooded paths. FYI those trees do not smell good; a feast only for the eyes. Smellier still are the feral goats that we saw hanging out in some of the trees along the pathway, one of the stranger phenomena along the trail.
The walk continued across varied terrain, with amazing views across Loch Lomond and to hills beyond. Eventually, we passed the turn-off for the ferry crossing to Ardlui, described briefly in my other WHW walk report here. The path then climbs one last time just before leaving the loch. I paused to take it in, knowing we were about to enter the final stretch.
We arrived at Ben Glass Farms, favorite of campers, BnB-ers, or folks looking for a drink or snack, and made our way off the route and back to the bus stop. It is conveniently located just across from the Drovers Inn, another one of the mythical, ageless travellers’ lodges along the main route northwards, established in 1705. A perfect location for our end of day pint, we managed to extend our time outside despite slightly yuck weather. The bus was on time, and we had our tickets ready. This was my completion day and having the whole, varied, West Highland Way experience under my belt made it all the better.