Last week I closed my computer, packed my backpack, and headed off for my first long distance walking holiday along the West Highland Way in Scotland. The West Highland Way is a 96 mile (152 km) walk starting in Milngavie, a short train ride from my home in Glasgow, heading through the Highlands of Scotland, and finishing in Fort William. The Way passes through rolling hills, meadows of bluebells, spectacular mountainous scenery, along the shore of Loch Lomond (the largest freshwater loch in Scotland), and through several small villages.
The walk is usually done in anything from five to ten days (I did it in seven) unless you are one of the super fit people taking part in the annual West Highland Way Race and running the whole distance in anything from 15 – 35 hours! As it finishes next to Ben Nevis it’s also very easy to add on a trip to the top of the UK’s highest mountain at the end.
One of the best things about the West Highland Way is its accessibility and how easy it is to do it in your own way. You can wild camp (except for a section next to Loch Lomond), camp in designated campsites, stay in hostels, or stay in bed and breakfasts or hotels. You can do it as slowly or as quickly as you wish and (particularly useful if you’re coming from abroad) a luggage transfer company can be hired to transport your bags each day so you only need to carry a small day pack. Thanks to some handy public transport, it’s also not necessary (although highly recommended) to walk the whole way; you can easily walk as little as a few hours. When I walked it there was a mix of young and old, couples, people walking alone, and a wide variety of nationalities. And everyone was walking it as they saw fit. So to everyone who has said to me that they wish they could do it, well with a reasonable level of fitness and good walking shoes, you can. Just do it in whatever way suits you.
The Highlands of Scotland is easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited and I was fortunate enough on this trip to have a week mainly filled with sunshine. Even in bad weather the West Highland Way is a phenomenally beautiful place to be which is fortunate as Scottish weather is not exactly renowned for its excellence. Packing wet weather gear is highly recommended! I was asked by someone I met who was walking the last couple of days for my impression of the days he had missed, and what my favourite part had been. I found it impossible to answer as every single day was special and different.
The idea of walking the Way was planted in my head by a female Canadian friend of mine who walked it by herself a few years ago and most of the walkers I met last week were visiting Scotland from abroad. The people I met were a huge part of such a lovely experience and I am grateful to have met such diverse, interesting people, many who had also chosen to travel alone.
This was one of the most inspiring, calming trips I’ve ever taken. There’s something truly amazing about being in the middle of a wide open space with no sign of civilisation or any other people within sight and simply walking and letting the amazing views sink in. There was one particularly special moment near Loch Lomond when I ended up walking with a herd of feral goats on the path with me and not a single person around. In my busy, technology filled life, I really appreciated the time, the space, and the scenery which this walk afforded me. I came home more tired than I realised but utterly satisfied and with a great sense of peace and satisfaction. So much so, that I’m already thinking about when I will find the time to do it again.