What is The West Highland Way

The West Highland Way is the most famous long-distance footpath in Scotland, going from Milngavie to Fort William.

Opened in 1980, it begins in Milngavie, north of Glasgow, and ends in Fort William, the mountain sports capital of Scotland and the United Kingdom, covering the 154 km separating these two cities. The official guide divides it into 8 stages, about 20 kilometres each.

Days

Kilometres

Cumulative gain (m)

Its fame is due, above all, to the fact that the road crosses or borders some of Scotland’s most impressive natural sites, such as Loch Lomond, Rannoch Moor, Glencoe and Ben Nevis.

There are many valid answers to the question of What the West Highland Way is, but one of them may well be something like “the best Scottish landscapes in 7 days”. And I say 7 because the first stage is in a very civilized environment: it begins in an urban park, and it continues on a broad and pleasant path.

Milngavie is a good starting point, is very well-connected to Glasgow, and allow the hikers to notice a very interesting landscape evolution: from the kind landscapes of the lowlands, to the hardness and magnificence of the highlands.

This transition takes place mainly during the two days in which the West Highland Way runs Loch Lomond, a transition from which the lake itself is a good example.

Leaving Loch Lomond, the landscape is entirely different: the mountains begin to rise, the forests are disappearing, and the spirit of the family walk is changing into the spirit of adventure.

Few better places to permeate this spirit than in Crianlarich, which, although outside the official route, has a perfectly signalled break that allows to reach the small village, around 200 people, which is considered the gateway to the Highlands, and this has given the town a kind of spiritual centre of Scottish hiking.

From there, the route serrated between Munros, crossing idyllic landscapes, and offering wonderful views of some western Highlands, until the arrival at Fort William, where the West Highland Way ends but others begin.

Munro is a Scottish word for the mountains of a height of over 914.4 m (3000 ft). The name is due to Sir Hugh Munro, who in 1891 made a comprehensive census.

Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park

In 2005, readers of the British magazine Radio Times chose Loch Lomond as Britain’s sixth most beautiful natural location.

It is the first great landscape that we find on the route, approximately an hour and shortly after the second stage has begun.

Loch Lomond is the largest lake in Britain, with an area of 70 square kilometres. With 37 kilometres away from the north end to the south, it is one of Scotland’s longest lakes, which we will border almost entirely on the right bank. It is also one of the deepest: to the south of Inversnaid, the lake is about 190 metres deep, 182 of which is below sea level.

It is a border lake, ending the Lowlands and beginning the Highlands. It clearly reflects this: wide and full of islands to the south, narrow and deep to the north.

Less well known to visitors than Loch Ness, but preferred by the Scots, Loch Lomond appears in songs, phrases, and a long list of films or series.

The lake marks one before and one after in the West Highland Way, moving from the flat and gentle terrain of the first two stages to the most ferocious landscapes of the highlands.

Rannoch Moor

The Scots say that in Rannoch Moor hell may not be hot

For me, the stage through Rannoch Moor is the most prominent stage. And Rannoch Moor is the most impressive location on the West Highland Way. It is perhaps not the most beautiful landscape, not the most bucolic, or the most photogenic, but it is the most grandiose: a large infinite plain surrounded by the highest ridges and hills of Scotland and full of serpentine lakes and rivers.

A moor or moorland is an uninhabited, uncultivated and uncultivated area. Rannoch Moor is perhaps Scotland’s largest moor, with 130 square kilometres of extent. I say perhaps because the limits are not clear, neither the moors in general, nor the Rannoch Moor in particular.

Rannoch Moor is a vast tract of land made up of marshes, small lakes (the Scots call them lochans), rivers and rocky outcrops, and is particularly notable for the flora and fauna that can be found there: from wood grouse to roasts or deer, as well as an infinite number of insects, birds and plants such as Rannoch-rush, a plant species that in Britain only grows here.

The absence of everything is the most prominent feature for hikers when they pass: calm and absolute calm, if time goes with it. If it does not, they are about 20 kilometres fully exposed to weather inclement without any obvious shelter. We know what the Scotsmen say about Rannoch Moor.

Glencoe and Ben Nevis

Many Scots consider Glencoe to be Scotland’s most beautiful place.

Ben Nevis and Glencoe are part of a National Scenic Area. A glen is a narrow valley, and this is the great charm of Glencoe: mountains a thousand meters creating a valley so narrow as to fit into a photograph. Of volcanic origin, Glencoe is considered one of the most spectacular and beautiful areas in Scotland.

Ben Nevis, on the other hand, is the highest peak in the United Kingdom, at 1344 metres.

Located near Fort William, the peak receives about 100,000 mountaineers per year, being one of the most popular destinations in adventure sports.

The best time to hike the West Highland Way

This is a very personal thing, but from November to March, if you’re not skilled mountaineers, forget to do the Way: you can find yourself in harsh weather conditions, needing the use of snow shoes again or crampons, especially in the final stages, or having to orient yourselves through map and compass, because the path has disappeared under a snow cover.

Although during these months there may be favourable weeks to make the way, especially during the milder winter, and in late March and early spring the weather may be pleasant, it can quickly change and turn a sunny day into an unpleasant and complicated day. During this time, you must be more aware than ever of the difficulties that may arise. The people of Walking Highlands inform you of the preparation needed to enter the Highlands during the winter.

May is the month with the least rain in this part of Scotland, and the day is long. I guess that’s why it’s the most popular time for the Scots to do the road. I did it in the first week of May, and as you can see in the photographs, the landscape doesn’t look like spring. June is the second least rainy month, and everything is already green. Spring and autumn is the time when the path is most beautiful (as in all places, btw), although perhaps climatologically spring begins there later, especially past Crianlarich.

If you want to climb a Munro, which is the mountain of more than 3000 feet (914 m), you will find some of the highest along the Way, such as Ben Lomond, Ben Nevis himself, or Ben More in Crianlarich (ben means mountain), it is likely that, during May, the highest part still contains snow. If the rain can be a great obstacle, the hardest thing is the wind. The wind that he was doing, for example, rising to Conic Hill (350 meters), was so strong that he was unbalanced.

What is it

If you want to know what the West Highland Way is, here I tell you: the places where it happens, the stages, the accommodations, and the transport.

The recommended 8 stages

The most common division of the West Highland Way is the eight-stage division, but it is possible to do so with more or less days, depending on the state of fitness of each one.

Accommodation

Accommodation along the West Highland is rather scarce. Fortunately, camping is free in most stages, and there is always public transport at the start or end of every stage.

Transport

The public transport network allows us to connect the beginning and the finish of the West Highland Way with Glasgow, as well as to move between the start and the end of most stages.