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Self-Guided West Highland Way

Scotland’s classic long distance route from Glasgow to Ben Nevis

West Highland Way

Trip Details

  • Location: West Scotland
  • Length: 12 days
  • Grade: Strenuous and moderate
  • Accommodations: Inns, small hotels and B&B’s
  • Dates: Early May to September
  • Land Cost: Not offing the self-guided option in 2018

Hiking Trip Summary

The West Highland Way (also referred to as just the “Way”) took nearly 20 years to build and was finally competed in 1980. Beginning near Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, and following along side Britain’s largest body of inland water, Loch Lomond, and ending in Fort William at the foot of Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis. The Scottish Highlands and Lowlands are separated by the Highland Boundary Fault which runs through the middle of Loch Lomond, creating both a contrast in geology as well as human history of the two areas. Along this 95 mile walk through Scotland you will hike through a variety of landscapes, moorland and heath, river valleys and farmland, mountains and woodland.

Traveling on foot is a wonderful way to experience Western Scotland. You’ll stay at old inns, small hotels, and B&B’s. After a hearty Scottish breakfast each day, you set off to your next destination, either picnicking along the way or enjoying the hospitality of local pubs and restaurants. From village to village, from the central lowlands to the heart of the Highlands, you will explore this route while at the same time enjoying the changing landscapes. You will spend two nights in Rowardennan on the shore of Loch Lomond allowing a day to climb Ben Lomond (3195 ft), one of Scotland’s “Munros”, a mountain over 3000 feet. The trip will end in Fort Williams at the foot of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain.

Itinerary

Day 1: Independent travel to Milngavie located about 12 miles from Glasgow. Milngavie is easy to reach by bus and train.

Day 2: You begin your journey through Scotland at the official start of the West Highland Way located the center of Milnegavie. It begins as a gentle valley walk along the Blane and Endrick Rivers with views of the distant hills to come. Following old jeep tracks, country lanes, and abandoned railway lines you cross the plains of East Dumbartonshire and southern Stirlingshire through woodlands and pastoral countryside.

Passing Craigallian Loch you’ll have views of the rugged Campsie Fells, a range of hills in Central Scotland. If you choose, you may visit the Glengoyne Distillery for a tour and a lesson about Scotch. Your day ends at your B & B in the pleasant village of Dryman, with its village green and one of the oldest registered pubs in Scotland, established in 1734.

Day 3: Leaving Dryman you rejoin the “Way” just outside of the village. Walking on a wide track you ascend gradually through the Garadhban Forest, as you approach the first major climb of the route, Conic Hill (1184’). From the top there are great views of Loch Lomond and the mountainous Scottish countryside. After a steep descent you arrive in the small village of Balmaha on the shore of Loch Lomond. Britain’s largest body of water, 23 miles long, Loch Lomond was formed by a glacier about 10,000 years ago.

Day 4: A shorter day today leads from Balmaha to Rowardennan. You follow along the “bonnie banks” of Loch Lomand, with its native woodlands, rocky coves and small beaches, arriving in Rowardennan and your night’s accommodation.

Day 5: Hike to Ben Lomond. In 1891, Sir Hugo Munro published the first list of all Scotland’s peaks over 3,000’. Until that time there had been much debate as to exactly how many 3,000’peaks there actually were in Scotland. Since then these peaks have been referred to as “The Munros”. Ben Lomond, (3,195’) is the most southerly of Scotland’s Munro’s. It stands high above Loch Lomond and is the first real mountain you pass on the West Highland Way. Weather permitting, and if you are so inclined, you will spend this day hiking up Ben Lomond. From the summit, you have superb views of both the Highlands and the Lowlands. Overnight in Rowardennan.

Day 6: Leaving the Rowardennan, you begin the hike along Loch Lomond. Considered by many to be the most arduous section of the “Way”, the trail hugs the shore crossing sections encumbered by boulders and tree roots. The scenery, however, is spectacular as you hike among an oak forests with views across the Loch, including the landmark of the “Cobbler”, a rugged mountain rising on the opposite side of the Loch. Continuing alongside the lake you pass by Rob Roy’s Cave, the hideaway of the Scottish hero Rob Roy MacGregor, known as the Robin Hood of the Highlands. Reaching the end of the Loch, you take a short ferry ride to our hotel in Ardlui.

Day 7: Heading back to Ardlui on the ferry you will continue to Invararnan. Here you have an opportunity to stop at the historic and “world famous” Drover’s Inn, which claims (also) to be the oldest pub in Scotland. Leaving Invararnan and hiking through Glen Falloch the route follows an old military road and the River Falloch. You will have views of gorges, mountains, rapids and falls, Grey Mares’ Tail Falls and the Falls of Falloch. On leaving Loch Lomond you now enter the Highlands proper. Today is the halfway point of the “Way”. Overnight in Crianlarich.

Day 8: Crianlarich to Inveroran. After a short transfer you begin the walk in Tyndrum. Today’s route will include moderate ascents and descents and of course fine mountain views, as you follow some of the old drove roads. These drove roads were created during the 17th and 18th century in order to get the cattle to market in the Lowlands. Some villages along the “Way” saw almost 100,000 sheep and 10,000 cattle pass through each year. The hike continues along the foot of the picturesque cone of Beinn Odhar, and then the more imposing Beinn Dorian before reaching Bridge of Orchy. From here, one last climb and descent leads to the hotel in Inveroran.

Day 9: Today’s hike leads through some of the most exposed and isolated section of the “Way”. Though a challenging day, you are rewarded with the beautiful landscape of the Highlands. Crossing the Black Mount, a high moorland plateau, you climb gradually to the summit at 1,500’ and then begin a long descent into Kingshouse and your stop for the night.

Day 10: Though a shorter day it is still demanding as you cross over the highest point of the “Way” at 1,850 feet. The climb begins with the “Devil’s Staircase”. Not as bad as the name may suggest, the route follows an old military road built in 1750 by about 450 soldiers. The nickname comes from the switchback section near the summit. As the long descent to Kinlochleven begins and the views of the Glen Coe Mountains are behind you, you will enjoy the new scenery that lies ahead: the ridges of the Mamores with the massif of Ben Nevis rising behind it.

Day 11: The last day on the “Way” begins with a climb of 900′ arriving at the Lairigmor, the “great pass”, situated between high hills on the left and the even higher Mamores to our right. There are 11 Munros in this section of the West Highland Way. As you descend to Fort Williams, your stop for the night, the route travels through the Nevis Forest with distant views of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain. One of Scotland’s main attractions at 4,406′, “The Ben”, with its rocky summit and 2,000′ cliffs on the North Face, often has snow on its peak even in summer. With a great sense of accomplishment you arrive in Fort Williams and end of this great journey.

Day 12: After a final hearty Scottish breakfast you depart for Glasgow by train. There are two trains per day from Fort Williams to the Glasgow train station: 8:00 and 12:00 noon. Travel time is 4 hours. (Please note on Sundays only the 12:00 train runs.)

Additional Information

Included

This may change depending on final itinerary: travel information and suggestions, maps – 6 Ordnance Survey Maps covering the route; Cicerone Guide – A West Highland Way: Milngavie to Fort William – 2009 Edition, trail notes, which include additional information covering various aspects of your trip (i.e.lunches, laundry, water, hotel routines, alternate transportation, etc.), all breakfasts – full Scottish, two dinners – Crianlarich and Inveroran, luggage transport each day, all accommodations with private baths when available.

Not Included

This may vary depending on your final confirmed itinerary: air fare, lunches, transportation to the starting point and from the ending point of the trip, transfers between inns or individual excursions, 9 dinners, items not on set dinner menus, beverages, insurance, extra charges due to changes in itinerary, items of personal nature (phone calls, laundry, medical expenses, evacuation costs, excess baggage charge, passport fees, etc.). Allow roughly $400 – $500 in additional costs.

Luggage

This hike has luggage transfer each day. You will need to carry a small day pack with only the clothing and accessories you will need for the day. Details about luggage transfer will be in the final information.

While this trip includes luggage transfer, it is not vehicle supported. Participants should be in physical condition appropriate to the strenuousness of this hike. It is, however, possible to skip a day of hiking and take a taxi to the next hotel. This extra cost is not included in the price of the trip.

Accommodations and Facilities

Most evenings will be spent in small towns or villages. For the most part these are not typical tourist destinations and therefore have limited choices of accommodations. The accommodations on this route are comfortable though not fancy and will run the gamut from small, simple bed and breakfasts to comfortable country inns and hotels. All reflect the local character and offer a friendly welcome. Please note: Most nights include rooms with private baths, however there are two or three nights with shared bathrooms. Breakfasts and dinners are served at the hotels or a nearby restaurant or pub. Lunches are picnic style along the trail with the occasional stop at a pub or tea room.

Travel

It is easiest to fly to Glasgow, Scotland, from where you easily travel to Milngavie by train or taxi. However, there are frequent trains from Edinburgh and Manchester as well, just be sure to allow for extra travel time.

Who would like this trip?

This hike is perfect for strong hikers and strong walkers used to fairly long distances on varied terrain; for hikers looking to explore Scotland on foot and up close; for those who enjoy a variety of accommodations, from simple B&B’s to nicer hotels. We are happy to send you a list of past participants who will give you honest insight to their experiences.

For a more detailed itinerary that includes elevation gain, loss and distance, or to register please call.

Any hiking trip in the mountains requires a certain amount of effort and proper fitness training will enhance your enjoyment. In the mountains, time and elevation gain or loss as opposed to distance, tend to be the determining factors when defining hiking grades or level of difficulty. We have done our best to grade our trips consistently, please contact us for further clarification. We are happy to offer names of past participants.