So, for our summer holiday this year we waited until late September, and set off for Scotland to walk the West Highland Way, 95 miles or so from Milngavie on the outskirts of Glasgow to Fort William. Here's the notes I took while we were away, along with running mileage total from the GPS and links to the photos which are over on Facebook (NB each photo links through to a gallery for each day, which should be publicly readable, even though they're on Facebook).
Day 0 - Shelford to Milngavie
A very long train journey - and all five legs were on time. Arrived mid-afternoon and had a potter round the town centre before checking into the Best Foot Forward B&B (room 6). Giant room, friendly landlady, friendly cat, choc chip cookies: couldn't as for more. Dinner in the pub (Cross Keys - pretty good) then a little telly, prep for the morning and an early night.
Day 1 - Milngavie to Drymen (12.8 miles)
Good breakfast at BFF then off into a rainy morning - leaving our cases for Travel-Lite to collect. It's amazing how quickly and quietly you get out of town along the river and through the country park. Saw a few dog walkers and one of our breakfast companions and one jogger, but it was pretty quiet - and pretty soggy! We took a few photos but mostly passed on - the hills hidden in the clouds. We got to the pub recommended for lunch 40 minutes before it opened (though we did get a welcome cuppa in the snack bar in the car park!) After that it dried up for a long while and we made good time along the old railway - entertained by flocks of chaffinches. The final section of the day was on quiet country roads - with the sun almost out at times, and the views beginning to peek out - we got our first glimpse of Loch Lomond. Into Drymen by lunchtime we had a long relaxed lunch in the cafe while we dried off a bit and then went for a walk around the village while our room was getting ready - it turns out we actually had a little apartment (number 24) complete with kitchen - and lots of radiators for drying things on. My phone is on the bedside table in pieces, and I'm really hoping it will work in the morning. Decided to skip the pub tonight and grabbed some bits in the shop to eat in with the telly instead. Planning another early night and then breakfast will be at a nearby hotel (normally it's in the cafe run by the owners of the apartments, but they like a lie-in at the weekend). Tomorrow is a longer walk (12 miles today, 14ish tomorrow) and less thoroughly easy going - but it should be very pretty along Loch Lomond to Rowardennan. Hopefully a little drier but if not we won't let it dampen our spirits.
Day 2 - Drymen to Rowardennan (26.7 miles)
Breakfast at the Wennock Hotel was excellent - and huge. Mike went continental but I had the full Scottish including black pudding, haggis and a tattie scone. The day has been much brighter with patches of sunshine and no real sign of the promised light showers. Cool and pretty much perfect for walking. Our legs have had a bit more of a stretch too - up and over Conic Hill between Drymen and Balmaha (after some nice woodland where we saw wrens and coat tits flitting about together). At Balmaha we had our lunch by the shores of Loch Lomond and enjoyed the views. Then the afternoon was ostensibly a few miles along the shore - in practice involving lots of up and down over crags - but stunning views. Supposedly 13.5 miles today but it seems to have come out nearer 14 and felt like more, but we've made reasonably good time (though not as good as yesterday) and arrived at the rather nice Rowardennan Hotel (room 5) not long after four. Now we have time to chill out after our showers and read about tomorrow's route before we go find our dinner.
Day 3 - Rowardennan to Inverarnan (39.3 miles)
The long version is that despite the wettest day's walking I can ever remember we actually had a really good time. The first half of the walk was pretty easy going but attractive, along a good track by and above the Loch - and we had the Way to ourselves for a good couple of hours. It rained a little but nothing too oppressive. We arrived at Inversnaid (with its impressive falls) just in time for a nice long lunch break - with hot coffee and a change of shirt. It was clear that the weather wasn't going to lift though so we set back off into the heavier rain.
The second half of the walk from Inversnaid to Inverarnan has a reputation for being some of the most challenging terrain - iit's still mostly along the loch side, but the path is narrow, with some scrambling needed in places - and for us that was one of the joys of the walk. An easy but long slog in this weather would have been awful, but the terrain was such good fun it kept the rain from making us too miserable - and kept us warm to boot! It really did just seem to get wetter and wetter though. In many places the path became a stream and the streams were swelling to become hard to pass - resulting in wet feet in one spot! It did mean that the waterfalls just got better and better though - ending biggest and best with Grey Mare's Tails just by our stop for the night. We briefly chatted to a couple of women who told us they'd been walking locally today and been caught out one side of the burn unable to cross back when the river swelled, having to scramble down the far side as far as the bridge - where the water was splashing the bottom of the deck. Just over the river (also looking swollen) was our home for the night though: Rose Cottage (room 3). Where we were met with paper to stuff our boots, the offer of a tumble drier, and a bath with bubbles - bliss!
We briefly considered staying in with just crackers and caramel wafers for our tea - but thankfully we braved the weather and found that the rain has stopped (for now) and that the Drovers Arms is a fantastic pub. Real beer, good food, a roaring fire, lovely atmosphere and good music. We were tempted to stay late! But tomorrow is another day - only 12 miles and supposedly easier going - but who knows what the weather will bring? One thing we do know though - it should be good fun.
Day 4 - Inverarnan to Tyndrum (50.8 miles)
A reasonably short and easy going day - in fact if it weren't for tired legs it would have been very much so. One small blister on my little toe isn't helping much either. Still - we had pleasant walking today and some lovely views - and mostly dry. We ate our lunch perched on a rocky outcrop, surrounded by heather, in a clearing in the woods with a fabulous view to the river valley below and the mountains over the other side . Perfect. As we approach Tyndrumwe did have a slightly prolonged heavy rain shower which somewhat obscured the views.
Now though the sun is out, we've had milkshakes in the hotel bar, scouted out where to buy our lunch in the morning, and even found a source of blister plasters the right shape for toes in the tourist/outdoor shop next door. Our room (room 5) is a bit shabby and not all the lights work, but we have a lovely view of the hillside outside and the birds flitting along the hedgerow. You can certainly believe that the chaffinch is one of the UK's commonest birds when you've just watched a flock of 35 or so fighting over the leftovers by the picnic benches.
Day 5 - Tyndrum to Inveroran (59.9 miles)
The day dawned wet - so we had a lie in and a late breakfast. The Tyndrum Lodge Hotel is definitely looking a bit tired in places (and that's putting it nicely) but they did do us some decent American style grub last night in Paddy's Rock n Roll Diner, and an excellent bacon sandwich for breakfast. We had a brief stop next door at the Green Welly Stop for waterproof pack covers and lunch and then it was time to head off for a damp day's walking along the military roads. Up the narrow valley with the railway and the road, then dropping down to cross the river, gently up the valley side again and along the side of Beinn Dorain as far as Bridge of Orchy which as a neat little station and a nice hotel bar. We could have stopped for lunch but it was only just after 12, so we pressed on for the remaining 2 miles up through the woods and over a hill with lovely views of Loch Tulla (though the mountains were all hidden in clouds) and then just a pleasant gentle drop back down to the road and the Inveroran Hotel (room 5 again!). Incidentally I'm getting much better and less nervous when walking down hills than I've been since Morocco! Mr Jackson would be proud.
We weren't supposed to be able to check in until 2:30 but they were very nice about us being an hour early. Everyone else doing the walk in 8 days will be staying here too so no doubt we'll see lots of familiar faces in the bar later. We've got another lovely room with the best view yet of the loch, the stream and the path down from the hill, so we can see other people gradually coming down to join us. And when I first looked out there was even a woodpecker on the bird feeder. We're not doing so well for unusual birds as we did on the Pennine Way - though we did spot a hooded crow or two yesterday. There are yet more chaffinches :) The forecast for tomorrow is promising, but even if it rains it should be good.
Day 6 - Inveroran to Kingshouse (69.2 miles)
Another lovely easy walk - not too far and on good surfaces and gentle slopes. Spectacular scenery all around and even more so as we reached Glen Coe and Buchaille Etive Mor (of which we've taken at least 18 photos). As a bonus there's been no rain today either and at the moment we're basking in glorious sunshine. Fab. Saw deer last night from our bedroom window before dinner - a pleasant meal and a long chat with Raylee and John - an Australian couple doing the route alongside us. Despite a lateish breakfast and a 9am start and a gentle pace we still arrived by lunchtime, so we have the afternoon ahead of us to relax and enjoy. We have another stunning view from our room (room 15). Lovely to have a drink outside in the sunshine in the early evening - before it got too cold. Several people rather amused that I brought a little black dress on a hiking holiday. Lovely dinner too - venison burger and then cranachan - and we've even managed to put some of the more unpleasant items of clothing through the washing machine - which should make our packs considerably fresher. I really do seem to have left my pyjamas in Tyndrum though! Ooops, just as well they were a bit big and faded anyway.
The GPS has got full and started discarding the logs from earlier days - it did the same on the Pennine Way. There's a PC downstairs for guest use, but it's sensibly locked down to completely ignore random USB devices plugged into it. We may have to get it an extra memory card - or possibly invest in a tough netbook to take on long trips for the future.
Day 7 - Kingshouse to Kinlochleven (78.7 miles)
Our loveliest room yet (and nicest bathroom by far!) (room 1). And yet another lovely view from the window seat in the bay window looking out over the other side of Loch Leven - where we're still playing "Spot the mountain" as a second peak just peeked out behind the one across the way. It's actually quite a nice afternoon with patches of sunshine - rather belying our soggy morning's walk. When we woke you could see the tops of the mountains despite the rain - but they soon hid away. We waited out a particularly heavy shower before setting out along Glen Coe in rather impressively different conditions compared to the previous day. The walk along the Glen wasn't so close to the road as we'd been led to believe and was mostly pleasant - the but the turn off way from it was still a nice change - and before long we were passing other people on the steep but straightforward Devil's Staircase. Despite our best efforts we definitely couldn't spot Ben Nevis from the top - nor did we get a view of Blackwater Reservoir to the East - despite having unknowingly stopped briefly for a caramel water break just as the point at which is can (sometimes) be seen. The weather did brighten more and more as we dropped though and we did get some nice photos of the views - and the water pipes - on the approach to Kinlochleven. Hot chocolate and flapjacks at the Ice Factor kiled the necessary hour before we could check into our guest house and enjoy a lovely hot bubble barg. My boots are drying in the bag store - with both heater and dehumidifier! Poor Mike still needs his in order to pop back into the village for dinner later - though we've been warned twice to watch out as the pubs stop doing food at 9 sharp!
Tomorrow is the last day of the Way - and the longest at around 15 miles - hopefully we'll be not too wet and able to enjoy some views as well as the walk. The MWIS forecast looks good at least for the morning. In the meantime we're happy to sit here and enjoy the birdsong and the view.
Day 9 - Kinlochleven to Fort William (93.6 miles)
The forecast was for a mostly dry morning but with rain from some time in the early afternoon, so after a fantastic breakfast (porridge, meats and cheeses and bread, yogurt and lots of lovely fresh fruit) we got a reasonably early start just after 8:30am. The weather gods did indeed shine on us, and we took several photos looking back of Kinlochleven glinting in the sunshine. The climb up from Loch Leven itself was quite steep - but actually most of the day was pretty easy going in terms of gradient and footing (though we passed one cyclist who swore he wished he hadn't come out up the hill - I'm sure he cheered up on the way back down). It was pretty hot and for the first time in 8 days we actually drank all the water/juice we'd brought with us.
The section through the "woods" was quite odd - as large areas have recently been cleared. This leaves rather a blot on the landscape in the short term but does really open out the views. Having missed it entirely the previous day we were keep to finally see Ben Nevis, and after a few false starts (is that it? No, it's too small) it finally and unmistakeably came into sight - looking lovely - if forbidding - in the sunshine. Not long after, having finally passed through some woods which still had trees, we finally spotted our first glimpse of Fort William - still far off and a surprisingly long way down. Just after that it started to rain, so the rest of the way was damp - but downhill pretty much all the way. We exchanged high-fives at the original end of the Way and then continued on through the town for a photocall at the new official finish around 3pm - 15 miles in a little over 6 hours - which is quite good really. A cake and an Irn Bru later we retraced our steps back for our lodgings for the next couple of nights - to be offered tea and biscuits in the lounge - I think I'll like it here (room 2). Tomorrow we may go up Ben Nevis - but we may not - it depends how we feel - perhaps we'll go find somewhere to watch the Rugby instead and have a nice quiet day off instead before our long train ride home on Sunday. For now we shall rest!
Fort William, the train home, and our route
We did indeed decide that the weather wasn't good enough for tired legs to tackle Ben Nevis, and stayed in and watched the rugby on Saturday, before going for a potter around town. We had a wander along the loch side, a look at the fought, a nice cuppa and cake instead of lunch, a bit of shopping (a jumper and a lovely book of photos of the West Highland Way) and a quiet afternoon reading and writing postcards. Sunday morning we had time for more rugby before the train home too, which was full of more lovely views at first, and then nice and comfy on the long leg between Glasgow and Euston in first class. We even spoiled ourselves with a taxi ride the last leg home from Royston rather than a substitute bus.
And last but not least by a combination of hand drawing and GPS logs here's a map of our route: