Category: Trip Report

West Highland Way Trip Report

We completed Scotland’s iconic West Highland Way with a couple of friends in July of 2018.  The trail is 96 miles (154 km) long and took us eight days to…

We completed Scotland’s iconic West Highland Way with a couple of friends in July of 2018.  The trail is 96 miles (154 km) long and took us eight days to complete. The West Highland Way is an ideal trek for campers, as there’s a wealth of lovely places to pitch a tent along the route. Be sure to check out our Camping Guide for detailed maps, facility descriptions, booking information and more. In the meantime, we wrote this post to share about the less technical and more personal aspects of our journey in hopes that it will get you excited to embark your own WHW adventure. Read on for inspiration, advice, photos, and insider’s tips.

Day One: Milngavie to Drymen (5 hours)

As mentioned above, we hiked the West Highland Way with another couple.  Since we were each traveling separately prior to starting the hike, we had made a plan in advance to meet at the official WHW starting point on the morning of Day One.  Seeing our friends (who we hadn’t seen in nearly a year) in another country at the trailhead was about as good as it gets. Feeling totally jazzed, we set off on the flat and shady path towards Drymen.  We enjoyed warm, sunny weather the entire day as we walked through rolling hills and bucolic farmland.

Easy walking from Milngavie to Drymen.

Having read our Trailblazer guidebook (highly recommended, by the way), we knew to look for the Glengoyne Distillery as we neared Drymen. Without hesitation, we took the slight detour from the trail to check it out. We were expecting a quaint, hiker-friendly tasting room in which we could unload our dusty packs for a wee dram before continuing on our way.  Instead, we found ourselves in something that felt a little more Disneyland than Scotland.  The woman at the visitor’s center informed us that there was in fact no tasting room, and we would have to pay royally for an hour-long tour if we wanted to taste their whiskey.  Perhaps she saw the disappointment on our sweaty faces or maybe she just wanted to find a way to keep us from going on the tour, because she then proceeded to offer another option.  She suggested that we buy some shooter bottles in the gift shop as an alternative.

Glengoyne Distillery is just off The Way.

So a few minutes later we found ourselves back along the trail, picnicking in the sunshine while sipping on some fine whiskey.  Not a bad lunch break! The final hours of the day were challenging due to the long, hot stretches of road walking and the newness of having a heavy pack on our backs. We arrived at Drymen Camping early enough to secure a nice pitch, grab a hot shower, and savor some slow hours spent looking out across the green hills.

Day Two: Drymen to Sallochy (7 hours)

We awoke to gray skies, but the rain was kind enough to hold off until we’d packed up camp. After a relaxed breakfast of coffee and muesli, we hit the road.  Knowing that we needed to stock up on provisions, we made an early detour into the town of Drymen.  As we were picking up the customary instant noodles and granola bars, we made an important discovery in the bakery aisle: fresh, warm chocolate croissants! If there’s something better than a hot pastry on a damp and chilly morning, we haven’t found it yet.

Back on the trail, we headed towards Conic Hill, the first real ascent of the trek. As we climbed upwards, the rain grew steadier and the landscape became more rugged.  The steely weather made the scenery even more beautiful.  After cresting Conic Hill, we descended steeply towards Balmaha and caught our first glimpses of Loch Lomond.

Approaching the top of Conic Hill.

Shoreline walking on Day Two.

We made a quick, impulsive stop in Balmaha to pick up a bottle of wine for the evening (it was vacation after all), and then continued along the shores of the loch towards our campsite. Arriving at Sallochy, we had our pick of gorgeous lochside campsites, each with private beach access. We quickly made camp as the rain picked up again. Once it let up, we enjoyed a damp but fabulous dinner while watching the evening light play across the expansive loch.

A lovely lochside pitch at Sallochy Campground.

Day Three: Sallochy to Beinglas Farm (9 hours)

We’re still scratching our heads as to how this happened, but on Day Three we didn’t start walking until about 10:00am.  Knowing this was our longest and most difficult day, this was especially idiotic. The first part of the hike started innocently enough, ambling along gentle dirt roads.  A few hours in, we stopped at the adorable Cherry Tree Cafe for a slice of lemon cake and some fresh fruit, patting ourselves on the back for making it to the “halfway point.” Little did we know, we really had another five hours of hiking ahead of us!

The Cherry Tree Cafe makes for a great lunch break along Loch Lomond.

As we continued along the trail, it grew more and more challenging.  Hugging the shoreline, the path afforded some spectacular views of the lake, but also presented us with steep, undulating hills, technical rocky sections, and lots of ducking over and around tree branches. It was slow going, especially with heavy packs on.  Bearing in mind that we had to get past the end of the loch, it was a bit torturous to keep looking out at the long lake and viewing just how far we still had to go.

Leaving Inversnaid, the trail continues to follow Loch Lomond for a few more miles.

The steep ascent away from Loch Lomond.

When we finally reached the end of Loch Lomond, we still had a long climb and another hour or so of walking before we reached Beinglas Farm campground.  Learn from our mistake and don’t underestimate this stage of the hike! We finally arrived at Beinglas weary but very happy.  After a hot shower in the luxurious facilities, we opted to forgo stove cooking and treat ourselves to curry and beer in the restaurant. It was a splurge, but totally worth it. As we wandered back to our tent rather delirious from the exhaustion and a few pints, we didn’t realize that the campsite had transformed into a full blown midge-fest once the sun had set. Before we knew it, we were absolutely covered in the little buggers.  Up until this point, we’d experienced a few midges, but we now understood what all the hype was about. Luckily, we escaped into the shelter of our tent and immediately fell into a deep sleep.

Beinglas Farm camping.

Day Four: Beinglas Farm to Strathfillan (6 hours)

Day Four brought a much easier day of walking, and we didn’t mind at all. About halfway into the day, we took the twenty-minute detour into Crianlarich.  There, we stopped at the supermarket for a lunchtime feast of cheese sandwiches, bananas, and cookies- a real upgrade to our typical backpacking lunch which consists of handfuls of peanuts and not much else. Throughout the day, we did a lot of gentle climbing and passed several sheep farms.

Gentle walking through beautiful scenery.

Highland cattle grazing at Strathfillan.

Our day ended in a gorgeous valley, surrounded by green hills in every direction.  We arrived at the quirky Strathfillan Wigwams just as the sun began to peek through the clouds.  Although the place was a little strange (think Native American motifs and a slightly sad petting zoo), the actual campsite was downright stunning.  The valley offered peaceful, wide open views punctuated only by the occasional sound of sheep bleating. We forked over the extra fees for hot showers and laundry, and then we enjoyed a fabulous (midge-free) dinner at a picnic table near our tents. It was one of those perfect evenings: great weather, good times with friends, and a totally relaxed atmosphere.

Beautiful sunset at the Strathfillan Wigwams.

 

Day Five: Strathfillan to Bridge of Orchy (4 hours)

Due to the great conversation, easy walking, and gorgeous weather, this day flew by and we were at Bridge of Orchy before we knew it! The path followed the highway for quite a long stretch which didn’t make for the most ideal walking conditions, but the scenery was still pretty fabulous. Upon reaching Bridge of Orchy, we set up camp, soaked our feet in the river, and then headed up to the hotel for some afternoon beers. Expert tip: the stout at the hotel bar is really excellent.  The evening proved to be relatively midge-free, so we were able to enjoy our time outside long into the evening.

Beinn Dorain dominates the walk to Bridge of Orchy.

Lovely camping at Bridge of Orchy.

Bridge of Orchy frames the Highlands beyond.

Day Six: Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe Mountain Resort (4 3/4 hours)

We awoke  at Bridge of Orchy to another spectacularly sunny day. This stage of the trail was the most remote of the entire trek, winding through wide open moors and breathtaking highlands scenery. As we skirted past Rannoch Moor, fifty square miles of uninhabited wilderness, we remarked on the goodness of such wild land in an increasingly developed world.

Rannoch Moor, 50 square miles of uninhabited wilderness.

We tackled a few good climbs on this section, which was a nice change of pace from the mostly flat walking of the previous few days. After another short day, we arrived at the campground at Glencoe Mountain Resort. We’d heard that there was free camping further along the trail at Kingshouse Hotel, but since it was under construction we didn’t know what the conditions would be like.  Deciding to play it safe, we opted to stop at Glencoe instead.  Embracing the developed, ski-resorty vibe, we enjoyed a few pints in the lodge.

Buachaille Etive Mòr comes into view approaching Glencoe Moutain Resort.

Despite its location next to a large car park, our campsite had spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. Upon retiring to our tents after hanging out at the lodge, we discovered that the campground was being used by some enterprising kids as a mountain biking course.  We watched as they repeatedly caught air, landing within a foot or two of the surrounding tents.  It was pretty impressive and rather funny, but didn’t lend itself well to an early bedtime.  Eventually, as the sun set and the rain began, the kids packed it up for the evening and we did the same.

Great views from our campsite at Glencoe Mountain Resort.

Day Seven: Glencoe Mountain Resort to Kinlochleven (5 hours)

We started Day Seven in very wet, cold conditions.  After cooking breakfast under the covered porch of the lodge building, we forced ourselves to step out into the rain.  As is typical of these types of things, the rain wasn’t as bad as it looked.  Even better, it soon eased up into a more gentle mist.  As we walked towards the infamous “Devil’s Staircase,” we spotted several red deer set amidst the breathtaking valley views.

The walk towards the Devil’s Staircase.

Hiking into the clouds on the Devil’s Staircase.

Views from the top.

As for the dreaded staircase, it was a steep ascent, but nothing too terrible.  Plus, the views just kept getting better as we climbed! After a lunch break at the top, we began the winding descent to Kinlochleven.  If your knees are anything like mine, you’ll agree that the downhill portion of this day is way harder than the climb up Devil’s Staircase! In any case, we eventually made it down to our final campground of the trip. The Trailblazer guide describes Kinlochleven as “an ugly, modern village,” but we found it to be quite charming. It has an industrial vibe, but one that’s balanced out by friendly people, quaint pubs, and a beautiful natural setting.

Picnicking at the MacDonald Hotel.

We camped at the MacDonald Hotel, which was situated in a quiet location right on the edge of Loch Leven. Since the rain had cleared up, we decided to have one final picnic in this lovely setting.  After picking up wine, cheese, olives, and an assortment of other goodies in town, we enjoyed a leisurely dinner on the banks of the loch.

Day Eight: Kinlochleven to Fort William (7 hours)

Knowing we had another long day ahead, we applied the lessons learned on Day Three and made sure we were up and out a bit earlier this time. The day began with a fairly steep climb out of Kinlochleven, then passed through the wild expanse of the Lairigmor. We took our time on this final day, savoring our last hours of fresh air, simpler routines, and great companionship.

The winding path through the Larigmor.

As we neared Fort William, Ben Nevis came into view. This massive mountain is completely captivating, and we made frequent stops to admire it and snap more photos than were probably necessary. For the final stretch into Fort William, we took an alternate route in order to avoid another long stretch of road walking.  We followed the Cow Hill trail, which involved one last climb up to some great views of the town below.  Upon arriving in Fort William, walkers are required to traverse the entire length of the main commercial district before arriving at the official end of the Way. While it was a bit of a shock to the system to be back in the hustle and bustle of the town, the final stretch was fun and festive.

Catching a glimpse of Ben Nevis on our final day of walking!

We celebrated our achievement with  a delicious pub dinner at the Grog and Gruel, followed by an ice cream cone and a stroll through town. In the morning, we rode the train back to Glasgow.  As we sipped coffee, we gazed out at the green wilderness, recounting stories from the previous week, and soaking in the lifelong memories we had made on this amazing experience.

What’s Next?

Enjoyed reading our trip report and ready to get to work planning your own West Highland Way adventure? Be sure to read our entire series on the West Highland Way to learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for your trip!

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Milford Track Trip Report

For many, walking the four-day Milford Track is a once in a lifetime experience. Known as the ‘finest walk in the world’ the Milford Track traverses a remote section of…

For many, walking the four-day Milford Track is a once in a lifetime experience. Known as the ‘finest walk in the world’ the Milford Track traverses a remote section of New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park and includes such incredible sights as Sutherland Falls, Mackinnon Pass, Mackay Falls and the stunning beauty of Milford Sound. I walked the Milford Track in late October, at the very beginning of the tramping season in Fiordland. This Milford Track trip report will help prepare those interested in walking this incredible route for this 53.5 km hike.

Arthur River

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Tour du Mont Blanc- Our Trip Report

We hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc in July 2017 over 11 days, including one rest day. We camped the majority of the nights (see our guide to camping the…

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If you’re wondering what we packed for this adventure be sure to check out our packing list here!

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