Highland hiking in ScotlandPosted on: 22 March 2010 by Mark O'haire
One of the great joys of Scotland is the ease with which you can leave behind city life and plunge into wild open country. The West Highland Way is the perfect way to do this.
Its southern end wends its way through the genteel suburbs of Glasgow and the rolling hills near Loch Lomond before travelling on over wild heather moors and through bleak but beautiful glens to the foot of Ben Nevis at Fort William. It’s a challenging – but not too challenging – venture.
Determined long-distance hikers can aim to complete its 152-km (95-mile) length in one assault of around a week, but the route can also be broken down into a series of sections that any reasonably fit walker can complete in a day’s energetic stroll. It is well worth the effort; no other long-distance walk in Britain offers such stunning contrasts and beautiful scenery.
Most walkers set off from the quiet commuter village of Milngavie, where a granite obelisk on Douglas Street marks the southern end of the Way. There is a good reason for this: the gentle first section of the walk, skirting Loch Lomond’s tranquil shores, lets you stretch your legs and warm up your walking muscles for the more demanding northern sections of the Way. The route is studded with landmarks from history and legend.
Before leaving the shores of Loch Lomond, it passes “Rob Roy’s Cave” – a crevice in the rock that was one of the legendary outlaw’s many hideouts. Between Crianlarich and Tyndrum, the ruined shell of St Fillan’s Chapel is all that remains of a church endowed by Robert the Bruce in the 14th century.
But it is natural splendour, not man-made history that makes the West Highland Way special. On the long day’s walk across the wild peatlands of Rannoch Moor you may, with a little luck, see red deer grazing and golden eagles soaring, making it one of the few great adventures left in Britain.
This deceptively easy hike, in the last third of the journey, covers a vast expanse of heather moor and peat bog. It calls for excellent trail skills if the weather closes in, as it can do at any time. The climax of the Way, stretching over the route’s highest point – the 550-m- (1850-ft-) high, aptly named “Devil’s Staircase” – through the Lairigmor pass and on to Fort William by the sea, is breathtaking in every sense of the word.
Getting there and around
The West Highland Way is in the west of Scotland. It runs for 152 km (95 miles), from Milngavie in the south to Fort William in the north. Trains and buses travel between Glasgow and Milngavie (train journey time around 30 minutes). Fort William can be reached by coach from the north, east and south, and by train from Glasgow (journey time around 3 hours).
Britain’s highest peak is close to the northern end of the Way. The ascent of the mountain begins around 3 km (2 miles) east of Fort William. Osprey Adventures, based in Inverness, offers guided trips to the summit.
Spring weather along the trail is extremely changeable. Be prepared for anything from bright sun to gusty winds and driving rain. Average spring daytime temperatures range from 0 to 15ºC. Warm, waterproof clothing is essential.
Splashing Out: Inverlochy Castle, near Fort William, is an opulent country-house hotel in the heart of the Highlands.
On a Budget: Crianlarich Youth Hostel, in Crianlarich, is midway along the route, and has modern facilities and family rooms.
Splashing Out: Crannog, on Waterfront Town Pier in Fort William, offers superb seafood dishes including locally caught lobster, crab and scallops.
On a Budget: Ben Nevis Inn, in Achintee, just outside Fort William, is a cosy walkers’ inn serving hearty pub meals.
Price for two people
Around £120 a day for accommodation, picnic lunch and evening meal.
This is an extract from Where to Go When: Great Britain and Ireland with a foreword by Julia Bradbury, published by DK Eyewitness Travel, £19.99, out now.
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