Author Topic: Trip report: West Highland Way, May 2017  (Read 3243 times)


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Trip report: West Highland Way, May 2017
« on: 21:48:03, 27/05/17 »

The West Highland Way is officially 154km (96 miles) long. I decided to walk it over eight days, meaning I would walk a leisurely 19km (12 miles) per day on average. I hoped that this would allow me to properly enjoy the Way.

Of course it is impossible to break up a long-distance walk into equal stages. The distance I walked each day varied from 29km on day 3 to 14km on day 6. Actual distance always varies from official distance, and I did 166km (103 miles) in all.

I camped every night except night 4 (Tyndrum – camping cabin) and night 8 (Fort William – hotel). I carried all my gear with me. My rucksack weighed around 14 and a half kilogrammes.

Day 1 (Friday 12 May 2017) – Milngavie to Drymen

The day started with an equipment glitch. As I was walking from my hotel in Milngavie to the official starting-point of the Way, my handheld GPS unit (a Garmin eTrex 30) refused to display its map, so I was seeing my track against a white screen. My GPS had never done this to me before. I tried switching it off and on again, but it refused to turn on. As a last resort I changed the batteries and, hey presto, suddenly my GPS was working fine again.

Not that I really needed the GPS. The West Highland Way is so well signposted that I could have walked practically the entire route without looking at my GPS or even my guidebook.

The terrain on this day was mostly urban parkland or agricultural land – pleasant but not spectacular.

I camped at Drymen Campsite, aka Easter Drumquhassle Farm. Facilities were basic but adequate for a first night.

At the starting-point in Milngavie

The trail winding beneath Dumgoyne hill

The Beech Tree Inn, right on the trail

Day 2 (Saturday 13 May) – Drymen to Sallochy

This day’s route led from Drymen to Garadhban forest, followed by a climb to Conic Hill and a long descent to Loch Lomond. Parts of Garadhban forest had been logged. The clearings looked sad although new saplings were rising among the tree-stumps.

As I approached Conic Hill it started to rain. Conic Hill itself had its head in the clouds, so I stuck to the trail over its shoulder and did not climb to the top.

I found the descent to Loch Lomond tough going. I had a bite and a rest at Balmaha before proceeding to Sallochy, where I was camping for the night.

I passed a house named Sallochy so I thought the campsite must be near. But I walked on and on and it was nowhere to be found. I thought I must have missed it, but a kind couple led me on to it. It had been only a short distance ahead. Good thing I didn’t turn back.

Sallochy campsite was basic but beautiful, even though the midges were out when it was not raining.

Leaving Drymen campsite

Heading towards Conic Hill

Loch Lomond from the shoulder of Conic Hill

Sallochy campsite

Day 3 (Sunday 14 May) – Sallochy to Inverarnan

There are two route options along the shore of Loch Lomond: a low route which stays close to the shore but is tough in places, and a higher-level route which is easier but less scenic. I followed the low-level route. In places it involved scrambling rather than walking and I had to watch my footing, but it was lovely.

The weather was highly variable, going from bright sunshine to heavy rain and back in the space of minutes at times. It seemed that every cloud drifting overhead was dumping its load of rain over the lake.

Then came a climb to Inverarnan and Beinglas campsite, where I spent the night. Beinglas was superbly well equipped – easily the best of the campsites I slept at.

This was the day on which I covered the most distance. The official distance was 22km from Rowardennan to Inverarnan. Sallochy campsite was some 4.5km short of Rowardennan. But even allowing for this, the distance was an underestimate. I walked some 29km in all.

Rainbow over Loch Lomond, as seen from Sallochy campsite


Section of trail by the shore of Loch Lomond

At the north end of the loch, looking back at the distance travelled

Day 4 (Monday 15 May) – Inverarnan to Tyndrum

The trail from Inverarnan followed a road and a railway, cutting across each on more than one occasion – including by means of the famous “sheep creep” through which you have to walk stooped. I had to remove my rucksack otherwise I’d have ended up on my hands and knees.

The weather was overcast and rainy, but it was a fairly constant gentle rain – the sort of rain I enjoy walking in.

I spent the night at Tyndrum By the Way campsite, where I had booked a cabin. The cabin had two bunk beds. There were no bedsheets – you had to use your sleeping bag – but even so it felt like luxury to sleep on a proper mattress.

The walking during these four days had been good but, with the exception of Loch Lomond, not spectacular. There were always reminders of civilisation, in the form of traffic noise if nothing else. The Way seemed to be tantalising me with promises of what was to come, but it had yet to show me its best.

Departing from Inverarnan

Honesty box in the middle of nowhere

Mid-point of the Way

Approaching Tyndrum

Day 5 (Tuesday 16 May) – Tyndrum to Inveroran

This day the Way finally began to deliver on its promises.

At first the route followed a road and railway up a narrow valley, but then the valley opened up and offered splendid views. The trail carried on to Bridge of Orchy, where I stopped for lunch, then to Inveroran, and remained excellent throughout.

The weather was good for much of the walk. But as I climbed the ridge between Bridge of Orchy and Inveroran a storm blew up. The wind drove the rain into my face like a hail of needles. It was as though the Way was exacting a price for having finally shown me some of its riches. But I enjoyed the challenge of walking in such weather.

Camping was a different matter, however. This night I was camping at the unofficial camping spot by the bridge beyond the Inveroran Hotel. It was my first time wild-camping in the UK. Mercifully the rain had stopped by the time I pitched camp, but the clouds continued to threaten and the wind remained strong. I wondered if I was in my right mind camping in such weather in the middle of nowhere.

Gradually, however, other campers turned up. I told myself that if I was not in my right mind, at least I was in plenty of company. As if to reassure me further, the sun came out and treated us all to a splendid evening.

View of the valley as it opened up

Beinn Dorain and Beinn Odhar looming over the trail as another walker went by

Approaching Bridge of Orchy

Solitary windswept tree, shot by solitary windswept photographer

Camping spot at Inveroran

Day 6 (Wednesday 17 May) – Inveroran to Glen Coe

Today was West Highland Way gold. The route crossed Rannoch Moor, a place of austere beauty. Coming within sight of Buachaille Etive Mor, the great hill that looks like an alien implant on the landscape, was the cherry on the cake.

My guidebook warned that Rannoch Moor was exposed and walkers should be wary of bad weather on this stretch. I felt that after the weather I had encountered on the way to Inveroran, I could cope with anything Rannoch Moor threw at me. But as it happened the weather was excellent.

I camped at Glen Coe Mountain Resort, two kilometres short of King’s House Hotel.

Rannoch Moor

Crossing Rannoch Moor

Glen Coe

Day 7 (Thursday 18 May) – Glen Coe to Kinlochleven

This was another spectacular day. The Way took me through the mouth of Glen Coe where, once again, the trail came into close proximity to a road. But after a while the trail turned away from the road and went uphill to the famous Devil’s Staircase – really just a switchback path up the hillside. The top of the hill is the highest point on the whole Way.

The trail traversed more excellent terrain as it turned into Leven valley, until it began a long, knee-jarring descent to Kinlochleven.

I camped at the MacDonald Hotel on the north side of Kinlochleven. The hotel campsite offered fantastic views of Loch Leven.

Buachaille Etive Mor

Climbing the Devil's Staircase

Contemplating the hills

Approaching Leven valley

Descent to Kinlochleven

Day 8 (Friday 19 May) – Kinlochleven to Fort William

The last stage of the Way started with a climb to the heights north of Kinlochleven and joined the Lairig Mor, a high pass through some spectacular terrain. Later on the trail went through forest. It gave me a grand view of Ben Nevis before descending to Glen Nevis and Fort William.

As I reached the forested area I was surprised to find that large areas had been cleared of trees. Logging was still going on as I walked. But I’ve dealt with this issue in a separate post so I’ll say no more about it here.

I finished my walk at Nevis Bridge, the original end-point of the West Highland Way. The current end-point, with David Annand’s famous statue of the walker with sore feet, was on the other side of Fort William. But my own legs were sore after walking 166km, and my hotel was in the opposite direction. Besides, there seemed no logic behind the location of the current end-point except that of channelling walkers through Fort William’s commercial centre.

However, I did visit the official end-point the following morning. Its location might be illogical, but the statue is excellent. The walker’s expression – looking into the distance with a half-smile, as if thinking of the hills where he has just been – could not appear more human if it were on a real person’s face. It mirrors my own feelings when I think of the West Highland Way. The Way has its bland bits, but the good bits are superb. Walking the Way is one of the life-experiences that will stand out in my memory in the years to come.

Loch Leven

The most photographed building on the West Highland Way

Ben Nevis

Ben's brother Glen

Mr Sore Feet

Make the most of the available light


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Re: Trip report: West Highland Way, May 2017
« Reply #1 on: 22:39:49, 27/05/17 »
Enjoyed reading this and the photos. Have done the WHW 4 times and never tire of it although I enjoy it more once I leave Loch Lomond and head towards the hills.

I can agree with you about the descent into Kinlochleven, long and steep  ;)
LDWs done - 28 in total including 13 National Trails and 3 C2C

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Re: Trip report: West Highland Way, May 2017
« Reply #2 on: 23:03:54, 27/05/17 »
Really good report and pictures, thanks for taking the time to share them.
Over hill, over dale. Thorough brush, thorough brier....
I do wander every where


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Re: Trip report: West Highland Way, May 2017
« Reply #3 on: 08:39:56, 28/05/17 »
Great trip report and photos, thanks for sharing.

Makes me want to go and walk it now.


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Re: Trip report: West Highland Way, May 2017
« Reply #4 on: 09:09:10, 28/05/17 »
Twenty years since I walked it - my first LDW! Brought back lots of memories - mostly good.

Love the statue of the walker with sore feet. The original finish on a busy roundabout by the Edinburgh Woollen Mill shop  (with coach loads of OAPS heading urgently for the loos) was rather an anticlimax.

Most walks start by finding the way out of the car park


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Re: Trip report: West Highland Way, May 2017
« Reply #5 on: 12:08:34, 28/05/17 »
Great TR, Kukkudrill... I've never done a LDW and someone recommended the West Highland Way as a good one to start with. It certainly looks it from your write up and pictures. Really enjoyed that, thanks for sharing your experience.  O0


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Re: Trip report: West Highland Way, May 2017
« Reply #6 on: 17:25:18, 28/05/17 »
Thanks all for the comments. Glad you liked it  :)
Make the most of the available light


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Re: Trip report: West Highland Way, May 2017
« Reply #7 on: 19:54:46, 29/05/17 »
Great report! While reading that I was with you nearly every step of the way! Thanks for sharing.


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Re: Trip report: West Highland Way, May 2017
« Reply #8 on: 21:47:36, 30/05/17 »
Thanks fernman  :)
Make the most of the available light


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Re: Trip report: West Highland Way, May 2017
« Reply #9 on: 21:59:20, 30/05/17 »
Excellent!  Really enjoyed the report and photos Kukkudrill O0
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Re: Trip report: West Highland Way, May 2017
« Reply #10 on: 08:38:26, 31/05/17 »
Fantastic report and photographs. Thank you.


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Re: Trip report: West Highland Way, May 2017
« Reply #11 on: 15:18:31, 03/06/17 »
Glad you liked it. Thanks for the feedback  :)
Make the most of the available light


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Re: Trip report: West Highland Way, May 2017
« Reply #12 on: 11:06:07, 05/06/17 »
Tremendous pics  O0
Keep them coming  8)


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Re: Trip report: West Highland Way, May 2017
« Reply #13 on: 11:13:33, 05/06/17 »
Fab photos and read Kukkudrill  O0
"Who would've thought...... you are light and darkness coming through" words by Tim Armstrong


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Re: Trip report: West Highland Way, May 2017
« Reply #14 on: 21:23:23, 05/06/17 »
Thanks both  :)
Make the most of the available light