The West Highland Way was opened in 1980 and became Scotland’s very first long distance footpath. It has since established itself as the most popular walking route in Scotland and at 96 miles (151 km), remains one of the longest. It is also convenient in that it passes many towns throughout its length which offer B&B’s, hotels and camp sites to weary and hungry travellers.
Hiking in Scotland is well known for its stunning scenery and a wide range of routes which caters for all abilities. Walking the West Highland Way is relatively easy and well within the abilities of most walkers, and can be approached in different ways for those looking to add a challenge to the route.
Due to its sheer length, it is not feasible to complete this walk in one sustained march; the route is normally broken down over several days. Most people wanting to take in the entire length of the path will do so by breaking the route into a leisurely 7 or 8 days although this can be drastically reduced to around 15 hours for the super fit, or a time-scale anywhere in-between for everyone else. Of course not everyone will want to complete the whole route and will still see some stunning scenery no matter which part of the trail is visited.
West Highland Way 8 Day Plan
The path itself is usually completed from South to North. The beginning is marked by an obelisk in Milngavie town centre, which is very close to the local train station. Being only 25 minutes from Glasgow has helped keep this route popular and around 30,000 visitors will start their journey from this point every year. From here, and after leaving the hustle and bustle of city life behind, the west highland way will open out into rustic country side and sections of woodland. The path will soon deliver its travellers to the famous natural beauty of Loch Lomond before hikers will begin witnessing the truly spectacular views which mark the beginning of the highlands. Now it’s onwards and upwards towards Fort William and the equally picturesque end to this epic trail which is aptly marked by a bronze statue of a weary traveller sitting on a bench.
Although the West Highland Way trail has its fair share of slopes, it steers clear of the highest peaks to ensure most walkers, of any ability, will be able to undertake any section of the path without any undue difficulties. A good pair of hiking boots and suitable socks shouldn’t find too many problems throughout the trek.
Overall, the difficulty level is low and offers a huge payoff in some of the best views available in all of Scotland.
One of the main considerations when undertaking any long journey is the weather. At the very least, wet weather can cause some sections to become boggy underfoot. This can cause a hindrance, especially on uphill sections and traversing the highlands. Conversely, even a mildly hot day can greatly increase the need to carry and consume more water.
It is always essential to check weather reports for the expected duration of your journey and getting updates whenever possible. This is particularly important in Scotland when the weather can change from brilliant sunshine to torrential rain in a matter of minutes. That extra bit of planning can be the difference between an enjoyable and successful trek to a miserable and possibly dangerous one.
Even with updated weather information it is important to carry spare clothes and clothes suitable for warm, cold and wet weather. This is easily achieved by wearing layers. Start with suitable underwear and a thin t-shirt and build up to include a waterproof outer layer. Depending on the current weather, layers can be removed or added to suit.
Just like the rest of the UK, the West Highland Way weather can be unpredictable and it is always better to be safe than sorry.
Many people ask about walking parts of the West Highland Way with a dog. The usual rules apply in that all mess must be cleaned and taken away along with any litter. Keep dogs on a lead and ensure they are under control at all times. There are no sections of the West Highland Way which are inaccessible to dogs, except during lambing season when they will be prohibited from entering affected fields with no exceptions. As with their human counterparts, it’s a simple matter of the individual’s endurance and overall fitness as to how much is undertaken.
How long the West Highland Way takes to complete is down to each individual. Remember it is not a race (Unless you have entered the West Highland Way race which is mentioned below), and on average, the entire 96 miles from Milngavie to Fort William is done in around 7-8 days. This leaves enough time for plenty of breaks, sight-seeing and a leisurely walk through a beautiful part of the world.
The next level up is to take part in the West Highland Way 5 day challenge, which is exactly what it says; the whole route done in 5 days. This will increase the daily hike from around 12 miles a day (19 km) to 19 miles (3.5 km) a day. Giving up two days will have a dramatic impact on the stamina levels required, and anyone wanting to attempt this should be in good physical shape and ideally will have completed comparable walks.
For the even more ambitious there is the West Highland Way 3 day challenge. This requires an average of 31 miles (51 km) per day and is not for the faint hearted. If you have not previously attempted this kind of challenge it is important not to underestimate how arduous a challenge this really is.
Competitive Edge (Race)
For the Ultra Long distance, endurance event enthusiasts the West Highland Way race is a great test of physical stamina. With a course record of 15 hours 7 minutes and 29 seconds this race is not for the faint hearted. This is also not a race that anyone can enter, as the race organisers seek to ensure that only suitable competitors are present at the starting line. This is done during the entry process where prospective participants are vetted to make sure they have completed a previous ultra marathon and meet the race organiser’s high standards of fitness.
Regardless of the time scale in which the route is being covered, there is no getting away from the incredible contrast in stunning scenery, which acts as the back drop for this justifiably popular route. As long as full and proper preparations are completed, including clothing and accommodation needs, then even the infamous Scottish weather cannot stop hikers from having a rewarding and thoroughly enjoyable journey on Scotland’s oldest walking route.