West Highland Way Review
Completing the West Highland Way was a rewarding experience and one I was happy that I had undertaken. It was a pleasurable walk and covered a wide range of scenery as it made its way through the highlands of Scotland.
The Way gave me a nice challenge from time to time and it was never overly difficult. It allowed me to soak in the scenery and not feel pressured to keep moving forward to make it to the next town. I had moments of sore feet from the hard packed military roads, but in general it was pretty easy walking
I booked everything myself for this trip and did not use a travel service. When I first started planning, I contacted a few companies to get prices and they were pretty expensive, even more for single traveler as they would throw on an extra $40 a day or something crazy for a single occupancy charge.
I booked my reservations in February for September and I had no problem finding places to stay. I used google to find the B&B’s in town and I either contracted them through email or booked the rooms right on their websites. I also booked rooms for the Rowardennan Youth Hostel and the Inverardran Guest House on booking.com.
It took a bit of time and research and plan, but, as you will see below, it was the best decision I made for my trip.
Should I use a travel company?
This is an important question to answer so I want to break it down in detail for you based on my own trip costs.
On average, my room plus a full Scottish breakfast was about $60 a night. As a single hiker, I was able to book 6 nights of accommodations for about $360. I had an additional $75 for baggage handling which brought the main total up to $435 for the week. This included a nights stay in Fort William at the end.
I won’t name any companies here, but here is what it would have cost for me to let a company book my hotel rooms and contact Travel Lite on my behalf (they don’t carry your bags themselves):
Base Cost – £450 – $718
Single Supplement – £25/day for 6 days – $40 day * 6 days = $240
Extra Night in Fort William ~£50 – $80
Total travel company cost – $1038
Do a quick comparison on that.
My Cost – $435
Travel Company – $1038
Total Savings by NOT using a travel company: $603!!!! And thats just for one person!!
My costs were for a single walker, and sometimes I had to pay for a double room. The extra cost was minimal, maybe $20 extra. No where even close to the extra $40 a day the companies want to charge plus the already inflated room rates.
If you were a couple walking the trail and used a travel service, you would have to pay £450 EACH. That would bring the cost up to around $1,450, NOT including a stay in Fort William. Wow…
From the people I talked to on the Way, I was surprised to hear that most people use these services. Having talked to the ones who did, the only real service that anyone mentioned was that they provided a private car to drive them back to a previous town when there were no accommodations available where they wanted to stay.
If you have a lot of extra cash laying around or really don’t want to have to think about planning, use these services. Otherwise, book the trip yourself…seriously…
As I mentioned in a previous post, I had Travel Lite carry my main bag from town to town and I just kept a small day pack along with me. Here is how I filled it:
Day Pack Gear List
1. Rain jacket
2. Rain pants
3. Rain cover for backpack
4. Trekking poles
5. First aid kit w/ blister pads
6. Plastic bags for carrying out trash and for keeping electronics dry
7. Camera – DSLR w/ 2 lenses – small lens and a zoom lens
8. Water reservoir (camelback)
9. Food for the day (lunch and snacks)
I was happy with my packing list and I would carry the same gear again. I never had to break out the rain gear as I was extremely lucky to have zero rain on my walk.
The only thing I would change would be my camera setup. I would have left my zoom lens at home as I never had a need for it. There isn’t a lot of wildlife on the trails and there wasn’t a need to zoom in for my shots. I would have the zoom lens out for a fish eye lens which would have come in handy many times.
A lot of reviews and guides suggested wearing full hiking boots for the West Highland Way. I personally think this is overkill. I wore Solomon X Ultra Gore-Tex hiking shoes that come up below the ankle and I had plenty of support and grip for the trail. They fit every need I had and I would recommend them.
The only things you need to think about when picking your shoes is that they are waterproof and comfortable. The long stretches of military road the trail follows are hard and after several miles on them they feel very hard. Make sure your shoes are comfortable. I would even suggest some nice comfortable insoles to make sure you have a pleasant experience.
I hiked the West Highland Way in 6 days In my first post, I mentioned that I am in my mid 30’s and in pretty decent shape. If you haven’t seen my earlier posts, this was my itinerary:
Day 1: Milngavie – Drymen – 12 miles
Day 2: Drymen – Rowardennan – 15 miles
Day 3: Rowardennan – Crainlarich – 20 miles
Day 4: Crainlarich – Inveroran – 15 miles
Day 5: Inveroran – Kinlochleven – 19 miles
Day 6: Kinlochleven – Fort William – 16 miles
Overall, I feel like this schedule was super manageable and I could do this again easily. The only day that felt a little too short was the first from Mingavie to Drymen. I could have easily stretched this out to Balmaha and it would have been very manageable.
The only day that felt a little long was from Rowardennan to Crainlarich. The trail along Loch Lomond is slow walking and it takes quite a while to reach the end of the loch. Because of that, I didn’t have a whole lot of time to sit around and enjoy the scenery as much as I would have liked.
If I were to hike the Way again I would probably keep this itinerary or just make a couple adjustments on the two sections I mentioned above. All the other days were perfect lengths and made for an enjoyable trek.
As for recommendations, if you hike regularly or are in good general shape, I would plan on no more than 6 days. Any longer than this and you will probably be a bit disappointed. The towns are small and there isn’t a lot to do once you arrive.
If you want to go a bit faster, 5 days would be manageable and give you a good workout without pushing you too hard. Any less than that and you would have to keep a pretty steady pace and you wouldn’t have a lot of time for sight seeing or photography.
Eating and Drinking
If you plan on eating all of your meals at restaurants on the way, keep in mind that it is not cheap. Meals for lunch and dinner will set you back anywhere from £9 – £15. When you are paying in US dollars, like I was, that adds up really quick.
I tended to want to eat out for dinner, so I packed my lunches each day on the West Highland Way to save a few dollars. Plus, the big Scottish breakfasts held me over really well so I never wanted a big lunch.
I took advantage of grocery stores or convenience shops along the way to stock up on my food. They had pre-made sandwiches, fruit, crisps, etc. which I could just throw in my bag and get on the trail.
The only day I payed for a lunch was leaving Rowardennan. I bought a packed lunch from the hostel as there weren’t any shops until you reached the Beinglas Farm in Inverarnan or the Cranlarich Store in Crainlarich.
I also stocked up for a few days when I was in Tyndrum. This is the last town with a grocery store you will stop at before you reach Kinlochleven. I bought about two days worth of lunches and snacks here.
As for drinks on the West Highland Way, there are plenty of places to stop and enjoy a pint or some Scottish whiskey. Almost everyday, there seemed to be a pub at about the half way point where I could stop and take a nice break. Each town I stayed in also had a pub where you can unwind at night and enjoy some good conversation.
The pubs don’t always have real ale on draft, which I preferred, but they have a decent selection. They tended to always have the standards such as Belhaven’s Best or Tenants on draft and one or two others. Some pubs had more real ales than others and there are some local selections at a few places as well. I felt obliged to sample the local offerings and I was never disappointed.
If you are a whiskey fan, the selections seemed to be pretty good. I don’t drink it myself, but others on the Way said they had found some good varieties to try.
The End of the Way
There is something very rewarding in the through hike experience. Waking up each morning, throwing your pack on, breathing in the crisp morning air and heading off for a new destination is one of the best feelings in the world.
I had a great experience on and off the trail. One of the best parts of the trail is all of the people that you get to meet. The locals are super friendly and the camaraderie that builds between hikers is great. I made a lot of great friends on the trail and I won’t forget my experience.
Overall, I would recommend the West Highland Way to anyone who is interested in really seeing Scotland and enjoys hiking. The landscapes are varied and beautiful, even if they get a bit too close to civilization at times. Getting outdoors and away from modern society for a week is an amazing and refreshing experience, something most of us could all stand to do more often.
West Highland Way – Photo Guide and Review by Day
Have you hiked the West Highland Way? Leave your impressions of the trail in the comments!