We’d originally planned to complete the West Highland Way in six days, but persistent drizzle and the promise of a rest day ahead of tackling Ben Nevis prompted us to push on and complete the ninety-six mile route in five days. We spent a fair amount of time scouring blogs and websites for itineraries (the official West Highland Way website was particularly useful) before we went, and since those sorts of posts were helpful to us, I thought I’d add ours to the mix. Whether you’re short on annual leave or simply fancy a challenge, the West Highland Way can be done in five days – even with a weighty rucksack.
Day 1: Milngavie to Drymen (12 miles)
The West Highland Way begins in Milngavie, a commuter town some twenty-five minutes by train outside Glasgow (£2.30 with a 16-25 railcard). After taking the obligatory photos at the starting point, we hit the trail; we’d planned for an easy first day, a warm up of sorts for the days to come. Fuelled on hot cross buns and trail mix, we took in the gently sloping hills, coniferous forests and small lochs which lined the way. The first leg of the West Highland Way is about as flat as Scottish countryside comes, and we made good time, arriving at Drymen Camping (£5pp) around half one in the afternoon. We pitched up, ate lunch at one of the picnic benches and then did what Brits do best: headed to the pub. Established in 1734, The Clachan is Scotland’s oldest licensed pub – and an ideal spot for walkers to stop off at for refreshments.
Day 2: Drymen to Rowchoish (18 miles)
We woke at cock crow (quite literally – the cockerel was in the field adjacent to the campsite) and set about making breakfast and taking down the tent. Conic Hill beckoned; Drymen faded into the distance. We spotted two red deer amongst the ferns, inadvertently startling them as we plodded past. We’d barely seen a soul for the first few kilometres, but this all changed when we approached Conic Hill, a popular choice amongst families and ramblers alike. From the top, there are unsurpassable views of Loch Lomond; the smattering of islands across the loch are part of the Highland Boundary Fault, a cross-country fault line which separates the Lowlands from the Highlands. Down in Balmaha, St. Mocha serves up delicious homemade ice cream; we stopped for a scoop of blueberry yogurt ice cream before continuing. The West Highland Way then hugs the shore of Loch Lomond, passing through beaches and woodland. Sallochy Campsite turned out to be the ideal spot for a short lunch break: there were plenty of picnic benches, alongside taps to fill up our water bottles and eco-loos. Hauling our rucksacks back on, we rejoined the trail. Just as we were beginning to go a bit potty – at the mere sight of a rocky outcrop we’d become giddy with excitement that we’d reached our goal, only to realise we weren’t yet there – I spotted a stone cabin through the pine trees. Lo and behold, it was Rowchoish Bothy, our resting place for the night. Needless to say, our first priority was to light the Trangia for a restorative cup of tea . . .
Related: The West Highland Way in 10 Photos
Day 3: Rowchoish to Tyndrum (23 miles)
Cinderella’s mice had well and truly made themselves at home in Rowchoish Bothy, and we heard a few scurrying about as we packed our things up. Fuelled up on instant oats, we bade goodbye to the bothy and rejoined the trail (at the crack of 07:15, I might add). Yesterday’s sunshine had gone; in its place was a fine drizzle and a blanket of low-lying grey cloud. We made slow but steady progress along the loch, as more often than not, the path was of the up-down-up-down variety. Fortunately, the views more than compensated for this, especially those at the top of the loch. We reached Inveraran around lunchtime, by which point the rain was lashing down – our cue to take shelter under a tree, munch our lunch and hope the weather would improve (spoiler: it didn’t). Approaching Crianlarich, the halfway point on the West Highland Way, we came across a herd of Highland cows, a firm favourite of mine. Views of lush green hills unfolded before us; a Swedish woman we met later said she couldn’t get over how green it was, as the mountains she was used to were solid rock. We pitched up at By The Way Campsite in Tyndrum (£8pp), made the most of the hot showers (what bliss!) and then headed off to the pub for tea, as a birthday treat. (I think this will probably go down as one of the most memorable birthdays on record.)
Day 4: Tyndrum to Glencoe Mountain Resort (18 miles)
We’d expected the later stages of the West Highland Way to be hillier, but the path leading out of Tyndrum was fairly flat. With the cloud enveloping the peaks and few walkers on the path, it felt a little eerie at times – à la the French series Les Revenants. Just after passing through Bridge of Orchy, Laurence found a (completely intact and perfectly edible) banana on the path, thereby redeeming himself for the two he dropped on the Fen Rivers Way two months prior to our West Highland Way adventure. We stopped off for a drink and a portion of cheesy garlic bread at the Inveroran Hotel, and got chatting to one of the locals, who told us that the Inveroran Hotel is owned by the Fleming family (not just any Fleming family, but Ian Fleming’s family). We’d considered wild camping at Bà Cottage Ruin, but having covered the ground faster than expected, we decided to plough on to Glencoe Mountain Resort (usually £6pp, but their till wasn’t working so they wouldn’t accept payment).
Day 5: Glencoe Mountain Resort to Fort William (25 miles)
Once again, we woke to a fine drizzle and thick mist; packing away a soggy tent was less than ideal, and I think it was probably at this point that Laurence began to entertain the possibility of finishing the West Highland Way that day. True to its name, Devil’s Staircase was a beast of an ascent, but fortunately the path levelled out after that and it was then a fairly gentle descent into Kinlochleven. We plonked ourselves down on a bench and took a well-deserved (and much-needed) rest before carrying on towards Fort William. En route, we passed a couple of crumbling farmhouses and outbuildings, surrounded by rusting machinery, and a hillside that had recently been logged, leaving behind a swathe of tree stumps. Approaching Glen Nevis Forest we caught our first glimpse of Ben Nevis, its summit ringed with cloud. An hour or so later, we reached the end of the West Highland Way, marking the occasion with a photo beside the aptly-named Sore Feet statue.