The West Highland Way only came onto my radar earlier this year, and when we began plotting a budget break for the summer, it sprang to mind as a suitable option. Scotland’s first long-distance footpath traverses through some seriously scenic countryside, and if you’re planning on walking it, these top tips should come in handy!
#1 Smidge is your friend . . .
. . . your best friend, in fact, if you’re travelling in the summer months when the midge scene is akin to the Biblical plague of locusts. Don’t think that the midges won’t go for you, because they will – with a vengeance. They’re not picky customers either, so any un-Smidged skin is theirs for the taking – including your derrière if you’re caught short on the trail. (Someone I know learnt this the hard way.) Avon’s Skin so Soft is also supposed to be a decent midge-deterrent, but I can’t vouch for the stuff as I haven’t tried it myself.
#2 Prepare for all seasons . . .
. . . not just a balmy summer’s day. Scottish weather is such that you can experience all four seasons in a single day: bone-chilling winds, light showers, scorching sunshine, heavy downpours, overcast skies . . . and, well, you get the picture. Check the weather forecast before you set off, but do be prepared for the weather to turn. A decent waterproof and waterproof trousers are essential, and a buff comes in handy when it’s windy (and can double up as a hat if you get a chilly head at night or a hair-tie during the day).
#3 Be aware of camping byelaws . . .
. . . or risk a hefty fine. Wild camping can be done year-round in Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, but restrictions are in place from March to September. Visit www.lochlomond-trossachs.org for more information, so you don’t fall foul of the byelaws.
Related: The West Highland Way in 10 Photos
#4 Sign up for a free trial of OS Maps . . .
. . . to access all the maps you need for the West Highland Way (and many more). We downloaded the relevant maps, marked on our route and printed off two copies of the full route (this way you can afford to get one copy wet in the rain as you’ve got a spare). If you want to travel light, this’ll save you carting around six full-size OS Maps (and a fair amount of dosh).
#5 Pack light . . .
. . . and thank me later. It’s easier said than done for some, but the less you pack, the lighter your load. Pack the essentials first: your tent, sleeping bag (roll mat optional, but advisable if you plan to stay in a bothy), waterproofs, food, stove and fuel. Then, pack your clothes: lightweight, breathable items are your best bet. I packed three t-shirts (two for walking in, one for sleeping in), a pair of convertible trousers, a pair of leggings, two lightweight fleeces and enough socks and undies for the duration of my trip. I always had a dry change of clothes in my bag, but was never carrying more than I needed (win-win). When it comes to toiletries, hotel miniatures come into their own: if used sparingly, a tiny bottle of shampoo and shower gel can just about last you a week. Needless to say, don’t forget your toothbrush, toothpaste (those free tester tubes from the dentist are made for this!) and deodorant.
#6 Keep your options open . . .
. . . by not booking campsites in advance. (Obviously, this doesn’t apply to B&Bs, as they do fill up.) We deviated from the plan towards the end, and not being tied to a particular campsite was really helpful. There are far more campsites on the route than are shown on the OS Map, and wild camping is also an option. If you fancy the full experience, spend a night in a bothy (just remember to follow the Bothy Code and clear up after yourself). The Scottish Bothy Bible by Geoff Allan is a brilliant guide to Scotland’s many bothies.
#7 Spare bin bags are always a good idea . . .
. . . and they have a multitude of uses. Need to stuff a soggy tent into your bag? Wrap it in a bin bag. Don’t want to bring your muddy boots inside the tent? Take them off inside a bin bag. Have stuff on the outside of your bag that you don’t want to get wet (e.g. a roll mat)? A bin bag is just what you need.
Related: 5 Days on the West Highland Way
#8 Carry plenty of water . . .
. . . so you don’t become dehydrated. My rule of thumb is 2 litres per person, plus another 500ml – 1l if I won’t have access to running water overnight. There are plenty of places along the West Highland Way where you can top up your water bottles, but don’t count on this. If needs must, you can drink water from Loch Lomond – just be sure to boil it first.
#9 Double-layer your socks . . .
. . . to prevent blisters (or at least reduce the number of them). I always wear a pair of thin socks with a thick pair on top, and although I ended up with one very uncomfortable blister under my toe on the last day, I suspect that was down to the mileage on that day more than anything else. Make sure you’ve got some plasters to hand, ideally in various sizes.
#10 Cash is king . . .
. . . especially when it comes to campsites or food boxes with honesty policies. On some of the more remote sections of the route, we came across coolers filled with drinks and snacks – and having some coins in our pockets came in handy on such occasions. Withdraw some cash before you set off, and don’t rely entirely on plastic.
If you’ve walked the West Highland Way yourself, I’d love to hear your top tips in the comments below!