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Lottie Smart January 13 2023

The West Highland Way will always have a special place in our hearts.

It was the very first Absolute Escapes holiday we offered back in 2004, and we have been helping walkers tackle this iconic 96-mile trail ever since.

The West Highland Way is a bucket list challenge for walking enthusiasts around the world. It starts in Milngavie, 6 miles north of Glasgow. The trail then heads north, following the eastern banks of tranquil Loch Lomond. After 41 miles, the loch is swapped for spectacular Highland scenery, taking walkers through Glencoe and Rannoch Moor before ending in Fort William, the outdoor adventure capital of the UK.

In October, I became the latest Absolute Escapes team member to walk the West Highland Way. From the dramatic mountain scenery to the warm Highland hospitality, the trail completely smashed my expectations. Here are my top tips to help you plan your dream trip.

 

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Tailor your walk

The West Highland Way is a versatile walk. There’s an itinerary to suit everyone. If completed over 5 days it’s a challenge even for experienced walkers, with consecutive 20-mile days.

However, if tackled over 9 days you will be walking a much more comfortable 10.5 miles per day. This is better suited for newer walkers, or those looking to take their time and capture photos of the beautiful landscape.

Whatever objectives you have for your holiday, your Absolute Escapes Travel Specialist can help you decide on the perfect itinerary for you.

 

Book as far in advance as possible 

Around 36,000 people complete the West Highland Way each year. You may have read that it has a good supply of accommodation, but don’t be fooled into thinking this means it is easy to plan.

Several key locations along the trail (such as Rowardennan and Inverarnan) only have 1 or 2 accommodations. Particularly if you wish to travel during peak season (May to September), we need as much notice as possible to plan your trip.

I booked my accommodation 7 months in advance, which was perfect timing to secure some of our favourite B&Bs and guest houses. So if you’re already fantasising about completing the West Highland Way, don’t delay getting in touch.

 

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Choose your season carefully 

Each month on the West Highland Way is unique and can bring enormous benefits (and a couple of inevitable drawbacks). Photographers may wish to travel in April when the trail is quieter and the mountains are still snow-capped. In May, wildflowers bloom and the midges are still at bay, but don’t expect to have the trail to yourself.

The summer months will be warmer with plenty of daylight, but still busy. Don’t forget your midge repellent! Summer is also a great time for solo walkers looking to find some hiking buddies.

By October things will be quieter but cooler. You will be rewarded with neverending rich autumnal colours.

A lot of walkers want to opt for the month which has the least rain (May). However, the West Highland weather is full of surprises. No season is safe from wet weather.

My advice is to choose the month that has the most benefits for you, and not get too bogged down by monthly rainfall statistics. Good clothing will keep you safe from the downpour, which brings me to my next tip…

 

No matter when you travel, pack for ALL seasons… 

A few phrases pop up in most West Highland Way literature…

– “Inclement weather”
– “Four seasons in a day”
– “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”

My time on the trail taught me that all these cliches are true. No matter the time of year, you need to be prepared for sun, wind, rain and everything in between. Items that I could not have survived without were sturdy boots, dry bags, gaiters, sunscreen and sunglasses.

One of the best things about booking with Absolute Escapes is that you get bag transfers included, so my advice is to be a serious over-packer. Bring several pairs of socks, warm jumpers, base layers, waterproof trousers/leggings and shorts. Even bring spare walking boots/shoes and a jacket if you have one. That way, you will be warm and comfortable every day. Many accommodations on the West Highland Way have drying rooms for any wet kit, but if you have spares you won’t have to worry about drying out your clothing overnight.

Remember, the beautiful mountain scenery that you enjoy on the West Highland Way is the very reason for the unpredictable weather. We wouldn’t have one without the other. So be prepared with the appropriate gear to enjoy your walk, no matter what mother nature throws at you.

Top tip: Read our blog Hiking Kit List: 12 Items You Shouldn’t Leave Home Without to find out what the Absolute Escapes team takes on a walking holiday.

 

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Do some training

The West Highland Way is not a hugely technical walk and is suitable for most abilities. However, this challenge should not be taken lightly, and I recommend you train in advance. Ideally, you will be comfortable walking several miles on hilly terrain over consecutive days. That way, you will be able to enjoy the ever-changing landscape from Loch Lomond to the Nevis Range, without any fear that you won’t be able to complete the trail.

Training isn’t the only way to protect yourself from holiday-spoiling injuries. One of the best things about the West Highland Way is how clear the path is, mostly consisting of old drovers roads, military tracks and forest trails. However, these paths can wreak havoc on even the sturdiest of knees after a few days.

Top tip: Spend 10 minutes every evening stretching whilst you are on the trail. Your legs will thank you!

 

Book some attractions and activities 

The West Highland Way is famous for its tranquil lochs, lofty Munros and alpine forests. It’s also home to many of Scotland’s innovative attractions. Your Absolute Escapes information pack will be full of information about what you can see and how to book it.

My advice is that you purchase tickets in advance where possible, so as not to be disappointed. Below are just a few of my favourites:

  • Glengoyne Distillery (between Milngavie and Drymen). In operation since 1833, Glengoyne prides itself on traditional, slow and sustainable distilling techniques. There is a huge variety of tours and tastings to book, which will certainly put a spring in your step all the way to Drymen.
  • Ice Factor (Kinlochleven). In Kinlochleven, you’ll find the world’s biggest indoor ice climbing wall. They have many activities for all abilities, including ice climbing taster courses, indoor rock climbing and aerial adventure courses. For those (like me) wishing to relax, their cafe is a great place to watch the action over a hot drink and delicious cakes. After all… you’ve already walked 80 miles this week!
  • Loch Linnhe Cruises (Fort William). Trade your aching legs for sea legs on a Loch Linnhe boat trip. You’ll visit shipwrecks, fish farms and see some of Scotland’s abundant wildlife, including seals, porpoises, otters, red deer and eagles
  • The Nevis Range (Fort William). Take a ride in the UK’s only mountain gondola to Aonach Mòr, the 8th highest mountain in Britain. The views of Great Glen and Ben Nevis are spectacular.

 

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Book your transport in advance 

The West Highland Way is surprisingly easy to get to, given how vast and wild the trail can feel at times. As long as you can get to Glasgow, you won’t find the journey difficult. Save money by booking your train in advance. Trains leave Glasgow Queen Street for Milngavie 4 times per hour. For your return journey, there are 3 trains per day from Fort William back to Glasgow.

You might notice that the bus from Fort William to Glasgow is quicker than the train. My advice is to stick with the rail. The journey from Fort William to Milngavie on the West Highland Line is one of the most beautiful journeys in the world. Grab a seat on the right-hand side if you can, sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery. You’ll travel through the wild and haunting Rannoch Moor, visiting Corrour, the highest and most isolated railway station in the UK.

You’ll also get to see many of your West Highland Way stops again, including Bridge of Orchy and Tyndrum. I loved spotting the hikers tracing my exact steps from just a few days before.

 

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Familiarise yourself with the route 

Each day is unique, and it’s helpful to know what to expect. My Absolute Escapes information pack was invaluable in highlighting anything I needed to be aware of. For example, there was an 8-mile stretch over Rannoch Moor without any waymarking. This might have caused a panic had I not known it was coming.

It’s also important to note which places are best to stock up on provisions. I knew before setting off that Drymen, Tyndrum and Kinlochleven were going to be the best places to stock up on snacks or anything else I needed (i.e. blister plasters).

By familiarising myself with the route in advance, I was also able to plan some enjoyable rest stops along the trail. Who doesn’t love a frothy hot chocolate to break up a long day of walking? Make sure you schedule time for some of your favourite activities. Not every day will have cafes or pubs to stop in, so always make sure you have adequate provisions.

 

Treat yourself! 

Walking the West Highland Way is a huge challenge, and you may wish to reward yourself after some of those hard-earned miles. Luckily, there are plenty of opportunities to do so. My advice is to schedule some indulgence during the latter half of your walk, when reserves may be running low.

What better place to splurge than the Kingshouse Hotel? My 19-mile walk from Tyndrum was made a lot easier knowing I had a night here to look forward to. Kingshouse is a luxury boutique lodge in the heart of the Glencoe valley, right on the West Highland Way. It has a bath in every room, ridiculously comfy beds, a cosy bar with a log fire, and a restaurant serving hearty Highland classics.

Fort William also has a wide range of upmarket accommodations for those interested in post-walk indulgence. Nevis Bank Inn and Crolinnhe Guest House are just two of our favourites.

There are also several gourmet restaurants close to the trail for those who fancy a decadent evening. On your second to last night in Kinlochleven, why not take a short taxi ride to the Lochleven Seafood Café in Onich? Their shellfish platter is as fresh as it comes and will power you through to Fort William the following day.

In Fort William, I recommend toasting your achievement with dinner at The Crannog, an intimate restaurant with unbeatable views over Loch Linnhe.

 

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Enjoy It!

The West Highland Way is home to some of the UK’s most spectacular scenery, and I often had to pinch myself at what I was seeing. Make sure you take plenty of time to savour the sights and the atmosphere.

The best way to enjoy your holiday hassle-free is to book with Absolute Escapes. We’ll take care of everything, from booking the best available accommodation to arranging your bag transfers. We even provide maps and recommendations about where to pick up lunch supplies and evening meals. Get in touch with us today to start planning your perfect West Highland Way walking holiday.

Lottie Smart

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