The West Highland Way starts out very humbly in the small village of Milgavie. As I arrived in town around 8 AM on the train from Glasgow, I felt as if I had stepped into the little town from the movie Hot Fuzz. There isn’t a whole lot to see and I don’t really know if I would call it charming or not.
When I was there, almost all of the buildings had chains pulled over their doors and the town was pretty deserted with only a few school kids running by from time to time in what appeared to be Harry Potter costumes. There is a little square that is nice but it’s just traditional small town stuff. Nothing great, nothing bad. Also, not a place to spend a lot of time in.
The grocery store was open and a little bakery was there to get a bite to eat before I set off on the trail. This was when I first learned that bacon isn’t “bacon” in Scotland. It’s more like a piece of ham than what I think of as crispy bacon. It’s pretty boring to be honest and doesn’t have much flavor which explains why they drowned the bacon and sausage sandwich in brown sauce. The sausage was much better and I don’t have any complains about that.
After about 20 – 30 minutes I had seen it all and I was ready to be on my way. I dropped my bags off with the Travel Lite baggage wizards, adjusted my day pack and set off on the West Highland Way.
Day One – Milgavie – Drymen – 12 Miles
The first day of the West Highland Way is a piece of cake. Seriously. If the hike from Milgavie to Drymen is tough for you, reconsider even doing the hike. It will not get any easier. It is just spotted with rolling hills and a lot of flat farm land to trek through.
The beginning of the way was nice though the city park areas of Milgavie and I enjoyed the birds singing from the tree canopy that covers the trail. There is a nice stream that runs along part of the trail and in the fall, blackberry bushes were abundant for the picking (this was the same for the whole trail). It’s all very lush and green and there are ferns everywhere you look. You also get some nice dense forest to look at as the trail snakes its way through the outskirts of town.
After you pass the loch, you get to experience your first walking on the Scottish back country roads. Watch your ass and keep to the side of the road as much as you can. There isn’t a lot of room for walkers and the people drive like lunatics in Scotland. Seriously. I was almost taken out by a truck going about 60 mph on a tiny ass road around a corner. They don’t give a shit about hikers and if I had to guess, they probably get sick of them in the summer. Luckily, you don’t have to walk on roads like this after the first day so just get through the death traps as quickly as possible.
The painful memories of almost being ran over on the road left me pretty quickly as I really enjoyed the next segment of the trail through wide open spaces with the hills of the low highlands around you. The landscape stretches out in front of you and you can see a long way north into the surrounding villages. It’s the first real time you are away from traffic and you can get a small glimpse of what is yet to come on the trial. This was my favorite part of my first day and I wish I had spent a bit more time going through it.
I’m not a whiskey drinker but I do love beer so I passed on the distillery and made my way to the Beech Tree. I was the only person there and I had myself a nice pint, checked my progress and realized that the hike was already halfway done. I had gotten there in no time so I just chilled outside for a while and read my guide book. The staff at the Beech Tree were really friendly and I would recommend place for a pint. I didn’t eat there so I can’t comment on the food.
I grabbed my pack after my Bellhaven’s Best, visited with the goats on the property and got back on the trail. The trail didn’t get much more exciting as it passed by a water treatment plant and just more farm land. It was a bit more interesting when I got to a little country road with some houses and a bridge across a river. I hung out there for a bit and then made my way down the road…and made my way down the road…and down the road…and down the road…
The remainder of the day was spent wandering along a pretty uninteresting country road with nothing really special to report. It OK visually, I guess, but it isn’t nice to walk on. When I am away from my desk and on vacation, I want to be off the pavement and away from traffic, not walk on miles of roads. This was my least favorite part of the entire hike and I was ready to be done with it. It was too bad that it didn’t end until Drymen. I loved the blackberries along the sides of the road, but they weren’t enough for the day to say that yes, this is a great hike.
So I finished up the day with a little walk up a small hill up a dirt trail before finding the signs to turn into Drymen. It was a nice to be off the road and I felt happy I had reached my destination. I wasn’t tired yet and it was only about 3 or so in the afternoon, but it was nice to be there. I took a left and headed down to the city past houses with large “YES” signs posted on them supporting Scottish independence. It was pretty exciting to be in the country during the referendum and I got lucky with my planning considering I booked my stay in February.
I made it to my B&B, the oldest pub in Scotland, The Clachin Inn, and got settled in. The place was nice and clean, I took a shower, went out for a walk around town to a little lookout spot where I got my first views of Loch Lomond and then decided to settle on a nice dinner at the local grocery store. I imagined that after my first day on the trail I would be starving but it was the exact opposite. I ate a sandwich and some chips and called it good. After my fancy dinner, I headed down to the pub area of the B&B and commenced to have a few pints. It was a tiny pub and it was packed with quite a few locals. Not the best pub ever but it was fun enough.
I slept well that night in the Clachin Inn until about 2 AM when, what sounded like all the guests staying there all decided to make a bathroom run. When people are moving around in that place at night, its loud. Really loud. No joke, I sleep really heavily and I was woken up super easy in this place. It’s nice, but you hear all the doors shut, the locks click into place and toilet the toilets flushing.
Summary – Day One
So, the day was done, I felt accomplished and I was ready for day two. I enjoyed the hike for the most part, more for being in Scotland and away from work than from the actual scenery that I was wandering through. I was ready for more adventure and I hoped that day two would give me the outdoor experience I had been hoping for when I left for the hike. Time would tell…
– Finishing the first stretch of a long distance hike is very rewarding.
– The quiet walk with birds through the woods outside Milngavie were very nice.
– Free blackberries!
– The first half of the hike is very nice and scenic.
– A pub and distillery at the half way mark of the day.
– The trails are too close to civilization with a lot of traffic noise almost everywhere.
– Too many miles spent walking on roads.
– Too much pasture land and little variety on the second half of the day.
– Thin walls and people with small bladders staying at the same B&B.
West Highland Way – Photo Guide and Review by Day
Milngavie – Drymen – 12 miles
Drymen – Rowardennan – 15 miles
Rowardennan – Crainlarich – 20 miles
Crainlarich – Inveroran – 15 miles
Inveroran – Kinlochleven – 19 miles
Kinlochleven – Fort William – 16 miles