This September I took a trip to Scotland and while I was there I hiked the 96 mile West Highland Way. It is the “premier” hiking trail of Scotland and runs from the small town of Milngavie (pronounced mull – guy) to Fort William and covers a wide range of environments from rolling farmland to the Scottish highlands.
Before I left, I looked around online for information about the trail and I found that a lot of the stuff out there about it that was pretty lackluster to be honest. I found it hard to plan my trip based on my personal level of fitness from other peoples reviews or guides. Some people would say things that parts of the trail were hard or easy, without giving a background of their own level of fitness or the types of environments that they typically hiked in.
That said, I want to start this guide by detailing my personal background with hiking and my fitness level prior to walking the trail. I’m a 34 year old male and I am in pretty good shape. I run regularly, about 10-15 miles a week, and I do some hiking on the weekends. I live in Colorado and I spend a good amount of time climbing around on trails that have quite a bit of elevation change, sometimes over very short distances.
To me, a “hard” hike would be one that gains about 2,000 – 3,000 feet of elevation over a distance of say, 3 or so miles. I would say an “easy” hike is one that is relatively flat and goes up and down in elevations of a couple of hundred feet each time, but only a couple of times over the course of the hike. Then, obviously, “moderate” would fall in the middle of those two.
So, where does the West Highland Way fall on the difficulty scale? I would say it is somewhere in a “low-moderate” category. It’s not hard by any stretch, but its also not a cakewalk the whole way either. Some days are easier than others and some days are harder than they should be because of the types of “trail” you are walking on. I was never completely tired and worn out on the trail but there were times when the going was a bit slower than it should have been a couple of days because of sore feet.
Here is what my itinerary looked like with links to go straight to a certain day’s review:
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
The average duration for the people I talked to seemed to be anywhere from 5-7 days to complete the hike, with some people even doing it over 8 or an unthinkable 9 days. The six days I did it in was not a breakneck pace and I had enough time to take a lot of photos and enjoy some breaks along with way to enjoy a pint. Any more than 6 days though and I would have been really bored. Really, really bored.
There isn’t a lot to see in the places you stop along the way. All the little villages with lodging are very small and since you won’t have any transport, its not easy to go out and explore around the area. Plus the surrounding landscape isn’t much different than what you just spent the day walking through.
I used the baggage carrier service Travel Lite to carry my bags on the trail and I was glad that I did. After lugging my crap around Edinburgh, Stirling and Glasgow for a week before I did the long walk, just getting rid of my big rucksack felt like a vacation in itself. These guys are like magicians.
You meet them just under the big “West Highland Way” arch that marks the start of the trail, give them your bags and you never see them again. Your bag however, seems to warp between locations and end up right where you need it. It’s the single best money that I spent on the trip and I would use these baggage wizards again any day.
Here is their website if you are interested in booking with them:
For my guide to the West Highland Way, I will be breaking the post into several parts to document each of the different segments that I did, complete with photos from the trail that I haven’t found anywhere else online. This was another problem I had with the online guides before I left. They had maps and a couple of photos, but they never really showed you what the trail actually looked like. This could be a pretty big determining factor for people with limited vacation time or funds so I wanted to give people an accurate view of what they were getting themselves into.
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