Known for its popularity and historic relevance to walking in Scotland, The West Highland Way stretches 96 miles from Milngavie – not pronounced as it reads, to Fort William – the steel toe to the boot of Ben Nevis. It’s a fair distance to cover, with promises of changing scenery, uncertain weather and a romanticised aura.
The route offers a variety of terrain; pastoral landscapes, paths weaving intricately through fields, expanses of rugged moorland and crushing views of empowering mountains. It’s well within the capabilities of most walkers, where the challenges hide amongst the fauna and rockery of the landscape.
To add to the test, I aimed to complete the route in under four days. This would consist of back-to-back, mileage-dense days, with a wild camp each evening.
Day One: Milngavie – Sallochy
39km – 910m Elevation Gain – 7hrs 30m
I eased in to the first day, starting from Milngavie – a small town, located to the North of Glasgow. Walking out of the centre and onto the pathways, through a unification of the urban and the natural, I soon escaped into the solitude of woodland; a cocktail of dense forestry, dog-walkers and disused buildings. As the landscape changed for the better, I foraged on blackberries and pushed hard towards the first iconic viewpoint – Conic Hill.
After summiting Conic Hill, I made my assault down towards Loch Lomond, stopping off in Balmaha for a well-deserved Chickpea Curry at The Oak Tree Inn. With a warm stomach satisfied and fuelled, I charged towards my first camp of the trip. As this stretch of Loch Lomond is within a camping exclusion zone, I made sure to book in at the Sallochy Campsite – a basic setup, with access to compost toilets and a sink to wash in.
Day Two: Sallochy – Tyndrum
40km – 1340m Elevation Gain – 9hrs 15m
Day two, was on paper, the longest day of my fluid schedule. I had planned to wild camp somewhere between Crianlarich and Tyndrum, but the exact spot was unbeknown to me. Fuelled on Turkish coffee and chia bars, I set off along the technical trails on the northern section of Loch Lomond. The winding forest paths, dense in fauna and mushroom had me traversing the shores in an undulating manner, with my hood up, and head down.
The torrential downpours would go on to last all day. I pressed on, with my sponge-like body soaking up even more rain than I could ever fathom. Following the meandering paths towards Inverarnan, I stopped to resupply on two bananas and a mars bar from a local campsite, which would fuel the fire in my body to reach a quiet, yet eerie section of forestry above Tyndrum. Here, I would spend the night sheltered from the weather in my Berghaus Peak 3.1 Tent.
Day Three: Tyndrum – Kingshouse
39.5km – 840m Elevation Gain – 8hrs
Start as you mean to go on, they say. Not in this case. The rain was equally as brutal as the day prior. I made it into Tyndrum for a short pause and to purchase some more food from the famous Green Welly Stop. By this time, the sun had awoken and pierced the clouds above, with only intermittent showers for the next couple of hours – my prayers had been answered.
Marching on, as my feet made their mark into the sodden paths under the watchful eyes of Beinn Odhar, Beinn a’Chaisteil and Beinn Dorain, I soon arrived on the long and harrowing stoned path, taking me over Rannoch Moor. There are no adjectives I can summon to describe the bleakness of this section, yet, a sense of excitement loomed as I descended into the valley of Glen Coe, whilst the sun cast down on the pyramid of Buachaille Etive Mor.
The less I say about the wild camp that evening, the better. A barrage of wind and rain all through the night, as I fought my own battle inside the tent, to not slide down into the river due to the angle in which I had foolishly - and rushed - to pitch.
Day Four: Kingshouse – Fort William
40km – 1150m Elevation Gain – 9hrs
As I awoke from my thirty-minute sleep, eyes sewn half-shut from the threads of fatigue that weaved through my face, the sun had just started to awaken. It peered over the distant mountains, lighting up the valley with a trusted warmth that would soon become cast out and replaced by the enforcer of death, the rain. The resulting rainbow arched over The Devil’s Staircase, as I followed and made my ascent to the mountains above Kinlochleven.
After descending into the town, it was another arduous ascent up onto the paths towards Fort William. The long roads tested my mental capacity, but with spirit and a determination to finish, I forced myself onwards.
As I neared the end, wandering through the cemetery of forestland that had once stood tall, I picked up the pace and got into Fort William in good time. In true West Highland Way fashion, it started to rain heavily, forcing me to retreat into the local pub for a well-deserved alcoholic beverage. This would bring an end to my time on the trail, but the start of a desire to seek new, warmer adventures.