West Highland Way
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West Highland Way
Scotland, UK

The West Highland Way is a long distance trail in Scotland running from Milngavie, North of Glasgow, to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands and includes an element of hill walking.

The trail opened in 1980 and was Scotland’s first officially designated Long Distance Route and has now been designated by Scottish Natural Heritage as one of Scotland’s Great Trails.

Whilst the route is primarily intended trekking, there are also sections suited to mountain biking and horse riding; though some obstacles require riders to dismount.

The walk covers 154 kilometres in length and roughly 120,000 people use the trail each year, with 36,000 of these completing the entire walk.

Usually, it is walked from South to North, from the Lowlands to the Highlands taking an average of seven to eight days. Even though the walk can be completed in considerably less time than this, the majority of people choose to take this slower approach to fully allow for appreciation of the countryside.

Typically the walk is broken into stages with these individual stages being completed in one day.

Highlights
  • One of most famous and scenic walks in the UK.
  • Features ever-changing and breathtaking landscape and the chance to see the much loved highland cows.
  • Route passes through the Lowlands, Highland Boundary Fault, and Scottish Highlands.
  • Traverses ancient and historic routes including 18th century military roads and abandoned railway tracks.
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About the route
  • Travel

The route typically starts in Milngavie which is well served by regular train services from Glasgow.

Trains also run frequently from Edinburgh to Glasgow, with both having flight paths connected to London.

Buses run from Glasgow to Milngavie and the CityLink bus service from Glasgow also stops at individual sections along the trail.

This same bus goes direct to Fort William for those wishing to walk North to South.

  • Length

The length of the trail stretches 154km from Milngavie to Fort William (South to North) and, depending on your fitness/preferred pace, can vary on how long it takes to complete.

Those wishing to make more frequent stops might opt for an eight or nine day hike, whilst people wishing to make a faster (and more challenging) trip can do so in roughly five days.

For those not wishing to complete the full length it is important to note that the trail can be split into eight sub-sections with the shortest of these being 20 kilometres, and the longest being 30 kilometres.

Buses/trains can also be caught from Glasgow to the start of any of these sub-sections for those wishing to tackle one or two sections only.

  • Grade and difficulty of the walk

The walk starts off in the Lowlands with the highest elevation you’ll reach being just over 300 metres, with the idea being that people start off on the easier terrain with the aim to progress to the more challenging Highlands in the North.

Having said this, the highest elevation in the Highlands is just over 500 metres and will be achievable by anyone who has a reasonable level of fitness.

Being in Scotland, it should be taken into account that the weather can go from good to poor in a very short amount of time, and muddy paths might slow your progress, but despite this the trail is not considered particularly demanding.

Those looking for an added challenge may want to consider climbing nearby Ben Nevis, which is only a short distance from the trail end.

  • Experience

The West Highland Way may seem daunting due to its length and the terrain it is passing through, but in reality it requires neither extensive hiking experience nor navigational skills.

As long as the individual possesses a reasonable level of fitness and the mental determination to get their head around walking 154 kilometres, then the walk is very much achievable.

Keen beginners and experienced hikers alike are drawn to the track as the path is clearly way marked and the trail is always recognisable.

For hikers not wishing to be weighed down with carrying luggage, various companies offer the service of delivering your bags to the intended destination for a fee.

The trail also requires no experience with equipment such as walking poles but walkers will benefit from a comfortable pair of walking boots.

  • Permits

No permits are required to walk the West Highland Way, meaning anyone can experience the beauty it has to offer.

  • Guided or self-guided

This trail comes with three options.

The first is a guided walk, which consists of a guide being with you to bring to life your surroundings with a deeper level of knowledge.

The second is self-guided, meaning you and your party physically walk the track unguided but have paid for a company to transport your luggage and locate the best accommodation for you.

Finally, the last option gives you total free reign on how you plan your experience and is ideal if you are wanting to camp.

The latter of these options is also the cheapest so best for those on a tight budget and means you can choose which sections to take on.

best time to walk

The West Highland Way can be hiked throughout most of the year, though the best time is thought to be the spring or fall, therefore avoiding the busier summer months.

Avoiding summer means less tourists and midges (small bugs that bite), which can make a substantial difference to levels of enjoyment on the trail, particularly if you opt to camp.

Although it is possible to physically walk the trail in winter, it is not advised due to colder and wetter weather.

Itineraries vary, depending on how many days you want to take to complete the walk. A seven-day itinerary is as follows:

Day 1:
Milngavie – Drymen (19km)

Day 2:
Drymen – Rowardennan (24km)

Day 3:
Rowardennan – Inverarnan (22km)

Day 4:
Inverarnan – Tyndrum (19km)

Day 5:
Tyndrum – Kingshouse (30km)

Day 6:
Kingshouse – Kinlochleven (14km)

Day 7:
Kinlochleven – Fort William (24km)

The suggested starting point is Milngavie (South) with the finishing point being Fort William (North).

Transport from Glasgow also makes any of the sub-sections accessible though it is still recommended travellers walk from South to North.

Accommodation

A particularly favourable feature of this walk is the fact there are camping options on almost every section of the trail, with some of these even being free.

Camping is by far the cheapest accommodation option with the average cost per person being £8 per night at a campsite including amenities such as hot showers and WiFi.

If camping is not your style bunkhouses offer accommodation for roughly £20 per night and AirBnBs range from anywhere between £70-£100 per night.

Plenty of different options for accommodation are available, and providing you book/plan early enough, there is something to suit every budget. Accommodation ranges from campsites to AirBnBs  and a range are accessible throughout the walk.

Wild camping is permitted along the route however it is recommended this only be done for a couple of days at a time and in small groups, keeping in mind nearby farms, animals and land owners.

What to do

With Milngavie being rather small, most trekkers would opt to do their sightseeing/cultural activities in Glasgow, which is the largest city in Scotland.

However, should you wish to stay in Milngavie for a day or two be sure to visit nearby Mugdock Country Park for some scenic woodland walks and take a stroll through the old town itself, with parts of its pre-nineteenth century beginnings still being evident.

Fort William, where the trails ends, will appeal more to the adventurous type. Often deemed as the gateway to Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest peak, Fort William is a centre for hiking and trekking should you wish to continue your journey after the West Highland Way with nearby Glen Nevis offering beautiful views of the Steall Falls.

For a more relaxed cultural approach, one could visit the Old Inverlochy Castle or stop by the West Highland Museum to top up historic knowledge about the scenic town.

Published: October 13, 2019 Modified: April 24, 2020
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Mickledore
Mickledore
Mickledore specialises in self-guided walking holidays in the UK for the independent traveller.
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At a glance
Skills RequiredHiking, Walking
Difficulty 2/5
Starts at Milngavie, Glasgow, Scotland, UK
Finishes at Fort William, Scotland, UK
Length of route 154 Km
Average time to complete 6 - 8 Days
Possible to complete sub-sectionsYes
Highest point 300 metres
Permit requiredNo
Equipment neededPoles if preferred, Trekking gear, walking boots
Countries visited Scotland, UK

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