The West Highland Way, the oldest and most popular long-distance walk in Scotland, appeals to serious walkers, strolling day trippers and even runners who race the 96 miles in under 35 hours!

I would advise a more leisurely pace, around a week to complete the full walk. You'll hike from the outskirts of Glasgow, past Loch Lomond’s wooded banks, via Tyndrum and across the wilds of Rannoch Moor before a final stretch to finish in the Highland town of Fort William.

Scotland West Highland Way 2

West Highland Way, Scotland

West Highland Way

Distance: 96 miles (154km)

Duration: Eight days

Start point: Milngavie

End point: Fort William

Difficulty: Moderate with harder northern sections – well-marked route; some remote and hilly parts

Suitable for: Any reasonably fit walker, family-friendly sections highlighted below

The full undertaking is a long and fairly challenging trail but the majority of those who hike it only have an average level of fitness. As with all long-distance walks, I'd recommend you get some multi-day training in first if you can to harden up your legs and feet.

Then, all going well, you can relish in the experience as you trek ever northwards. Wildlife that may be seen includes hardy feral goats, red deer and golden eagles, but it's the Highland scenery that offers stunning views year-round. Filmmakers have long been drawn to sights you will see en route.

Sections of Braveheart with Mel Gibson as the Scottish legend, William Wallace, were shot around Loch Leven, Glencoe and in the Mamores mountains near Fort William, all of which are along the West Highland Way trail.

The West Highland Way route

For me, a really satisfying aspect of this long-distance walk is the sense of progression. The change in landscape from the lowlands of the start to the finish near the foot of Britain´s highest mountain Ben Nevis (1,345m) is memorable.

The West Highland Way begins as you step off the high street in Milngavie (pronounced Mullguy!). You’ll be following in good company: around 85,000 people walk parts of the Way every year. Indeed the West Highland Way has been well tramped over the centuries as much of it follows ancient drove roads, military roads from Jacobean times, old coaching roads and disused railway lines.

You enter Mugdock Country Park, pass the Carbeth Huts built by Glaswegians during the thirties, cross a stile and suddenly the scenery becomes wilder. Straight ahead stands wooded Dumgoyach Hill, to the right an ancient volcano – Dumgoyne and, in the distance, bigger hills, including Ben Lomond can be seen. In the foreground, a rocky path can be seen weaving its way across this more open landscape.

The first night, spent in Drymen, will give an inkling of the camaraderie that walkers of this epic route share. You´ll probably recognise fellow hikers the following day as you edge up the stunning eastern shore of Loch Lomond, part of a national park, passing oak-wooded islands that drip with natural beauty. Families will love the sections north of Rowardennan and by Inversnaid which give unrivalled views of the loch.

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Glencoe, Scotland

By day five you will be in the shadow of Beinn Dorain, a magnificent mountain that rises from the foot of the trail to a pleasing conical top. Then, after Bridge of Orchy, the route bursts through trees onto the open hillside. Below is Loch Tulla and beyond the vast expanse of Rannoch Moor. On a sunny day, its many lochans glisten like a jewelled rug. Lochan na h-Achlaise, beyond Loch Tulla, is backed by the Black Mount to your left. They include Stob Coir an Albannaich – the Highlandman's peak.

Descend to the Inveroran Hotel, one of Scotland’s oldest inns which retains a charm of yesteryear. Wake the next morning to the fresh Highland air and set off to join a Thomas Telford designed cobbled road which was in use until 1933.

Further on, Bá Bridge over the tumbling river makes a good half-way spot for a break. As you progress the views over the expanse of Rannoch Moor open out and you’ll realise this is no place to be in bad weather.

Round a corner to see the track drop ahead with Buachaille Etive Mór – Glencoe’s guardian – on your left and the Kingshouse Hotel below. The Kingshouse has a famous climbers’ bar complete with classic photos and you can camp by the river for free.

The final two days are the hardest. First, you ascend the Devil’s Staircase to reach the highest point of the West Highland Way at 550m, with breathtaking views back to The Buachaille and north to the Mamores mountain range before dropping down to overnight in Kinlochleven.

After a good night´s rest, another big climb is tackled to gain superb views down tidal Loch Leven. Then the Way takes the Lairigmor (the great pass) for easier walking between towering mountains and then views of might Ben Nevis.

The last leg follows Glen Nevis into the heart of the seagull filled town of Fort William where you can eat to your heart´s content.

West Highland Way day by day

Given the popularity of this trail, there’s a great range of accommodation and support services available. Choose from a mix of accommodation, combining camping experiences with a night in a comfortable B&B or well-appointed hostel.

There are plenty of character-filled old inns to stay in too. These will always be filled with other tired but contented walkers where the smell of malt whiskey hangs pungent in the air. The vast majority of hikers, excepting perhaps day-walkers, go south to north which helps build your strength for the harder hillier sections near Fort William.

Around East Loch Lomond, be aware that camping restrictions are in place between 1 March and 31 October.

Day 1: Milngavie to Drymen (12 miles)

Day 2: Drymen to Rowardennan (15 miles)

Day 3: Rowardennan to Inverarnan (14 miles)

Day 4: Inverarnan to Tyndrum (12 miles)

Day 5: Tyndrum to Inveroran (9 miles)

Day 6: Inveroran to Kingshouse (10 miles)

Day 7: Kingshouse to Kinlochleven (9 miles)

Day 8: Kinlochleven to Fort William (15 miles)

About the author

The West Highland Way

Fergal MacErlean

Dublin-born Fergal fell in love with Scotland as a student, settling there to become a journalist and cycle guidebook writer. In addition to his guides covering Scotland, he has written for the BBC, New Scientist, BBC Countryfile Magazine and many travel publications. Andalusia is a second home.

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