Together, my partner and I ventured into the very heart of the Scottish highlands, embraced harsh conditions, became transfixed by an endless horizon of mountain peaks and tested out our new Trespass gear, to hike the west highland way.
On the first day of travel we braved a nine hour coach journey from London Victoria Station to Glasgow, with a further three hours to reach our final destination, Fort William, Scotland. The coach journey to Fort William via Citylink travel, blessed us both with incredible views along the way, of the Loch Lomond National Park, Rannoch Moor and the Glencoe Three Sister peaks in the Lost valley. Once we had arrived in Fort William, we took the path along via Cow Hill (very steep ascent!) to where the west highland way begins, in Cow Hill car park, on the outskirts of the village of Glen Nevis. We were faced with a diversion sign, as tree felling is taking place until April 2017 (if you are thinking of hiking the WHW anytime soon then please be aware of the diversion) and after an hours walking with our very heavy backpacks, ventured back into the village and up a single track road.
Our aim was to wild camp that night on route to Kinlocleven, but conditions were harsh and worsened as the evening set in. Most patches were boggy, open and exposed. We found a spot sheltered by trees, pitched up and tested out our new sleeping bags. As the night drew to a close, we experienced high winds, a dramatic drop in temperature and spent most of the night worried our tent would fly away. But, it does give you a rush when you are up against the elements and gives you time to appreciate it when conditions improve out in the wilderness.
Our trek to the village of Kinlocleven took several hours, following the WHW path with its twists and turns through marshy land, with mountains soaring above us either side, and a final decent through the forest to finish off, getting into Kinlocleven mid-afternoon. We made the rational decision to rest up and stayed in a trekker hut at the Macdonald hotel and campsite, which gave us views across the loch. We prepared ourselves for a very intense seven mile hike to Kingshouse the next day – the Devil’s Staircase being the most fierce of challenges to await us!
Day three was the most difficult of day’s during our expedition. We faced the very worst of conditions, ice, snow and rainfall, boggy pits and harsh temperatures. The weather was unsettling and tested us mentally and physically – continuous ascents and descents along this part of the trail proving most difficult and the equivalent of climbing Snowdon if you are walking in the opposite direction, from Fort William rather than starting the trail in Glasgow. The trail was lost at one point due to snowfall; we managed to stay on track by following the footsteps of others who had also braved the trail that day. By the time we reached the top of the mountain peak, we were motivated to tackle the Devil’s staircase (very steep, rocky terrain with views over Glencoe) in the hope we could find somewhere warm to stay that evening. The Kingshouse Hotel has closed for renovation but has opened up bunkhouse accommodation for walkers, hikers and travellers alike wanting somewhere warm, desolate and peaceful to stay! The staff are incredibly friendly, welcomed us and sorted us with a room for the night. Very highly recommend to you if you are thinking of hiking the WHW, as not only are the conditions of the bunkhouse to a very high standard, but also very lucky to have views across Rannoch moor, and the mountains of Glencoe near the ski centre.
Any traveller is encouraged to make the right choices, to ensure that you are safe and well. With time and weather conditions against us, we made the conscious decision to avoid hiking the next section of the WHW passing through Rannoch Moor, an area which is desolate, exposed to all the elements, and dangerous in winter when you are inexperienced. We took in views of the moor from the coach, which took us into the village of Tyndrum, a very picturesque village, with local amenities and plenty of walks to keep you occupied.
Blessed with the very best of conditions on day five, as we took up the challenge of hiking from Tyndrum to Crianlarch, on the WHW. We had picturesque views of the Tyndrum mountain peaks, as we passed through Ewich forest, beautifully eerie, with pine trees soaring above you, unravelling incredible views across the horizon. We were even fortunate enough to see a rainbow! It is easy to be inspired by the dramatic Scottish landscape, especially on a clear day when the mountain peaks reveal themselves to you. Crianlarch is a very small village; the perfect place to stop for a pint after a solid seven miles of hiking.
Our final day in Scotland – we took advantage of the fact that we could take the train from Tyndrum back to the Bridge of Orchy, somewhere we would have passed if we had of hiked the Rannoch moor section of the WHW. We stopped off for a coffee in the Bridge of Orchy hotel, again very friendly staff who welcome walkers! If we have learned anything from this trip it is that things don’t always go to plan, but sometimes when you veer off on a course you never imagined, things work out for the better in the end.
Some of our toughest days on the west highland way taught us to appreciate the best of days, with the best of conditions. If you are thinking of hiking the trail, I would strongly recommend that you do, but prepare, research and decide the best time of year for you.