Scotland: 50 shades of green and the West Highland Way

Scotland: 50 shades of green and the West Highland Way

CapitalEdinburgh
Population5,5 million
CuisineHaggis and whisky
Time visitedBegin of June 2017

Scotland had been on our bucket list for a while. We had seen pictures of beautiful green landscapes, wilderness, mountains, lochs and rivers. Besides, friends of ours were living in Edinburgh. Enough reasons to visit them and do a hike!

Edinburgh

Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland is home to the Scottish Parliament and is the seat of the monarchy. It attracts plenty of tourists, who mainly go there to see Edinburgh old town. Like other places in Scotland, you’ll find castles, cathedrals and many other old stone buildings. This gives a very Middle Age like feel.

We walked around the city with our friend Miguel, who has a huge sailor beard. Coincidentally he actually is a sailor and he will sail the world soon. We went to a little farmers market which seemed to offer all the high priced bio / eco / handmade stuff that has gotten so popular these days. We agreed on driving to Loch Lomond the next day. Miguel had to go in that direction to do some maintenance on his boat and we could spend the day together and then split up. Because Kate and I were going to walk a section of the West Highland Way!

West Highland Way

Distance155 km
StartMilgavie
EndFort William
Difficulty2/5

The West Highland Way is a 155 km long hiking route through the Scottish Highlands. The official start is in a town called Milngavie, a bit north of Glasgow,  and ends in Fort William. If you are interested in walking the complete route, it would be easiest to fly to Glasgow and take a short train ride to Milngavie. Once you reach Fort William you can take a train or bus (cheaper) back to Glasgow. If you want to walk a part of the route, you can find bus or train services back to Glasgow in most of the towns on the way.

The route takes you through a great variety of landscapes: Lochs, forests, bare highlands and a few small towns. The diversity is pleasant and you often get rewarded with beautiful views. There a few flat parts and so you are mostly climbing and descending. This includes a few steep climbs, most notably the devils’ staircase.

We did found it a little bit disappointing that about 40% of the route goes parallel to a motorway. We didn’t expect this and were hoping to be in the middle of nature without the sounds of engines and sight of asphalt! Don’t get us wrong, these parts of the route were still beautiful and the other 60% was at a fair distance from the road not to be bothered.

All in all we would definitely recommend walking the West Highland Way if you want a fairly easy going hike with some facilities along the way and see a stunning part of the Scottish Highlands.

Navigation

We found a great map of the route in the tourism office in Edinburgh. Surprisingly, others we met on the route said they couldn’t find one in Glasgow.

You can also find descriptions of the route on the web. Although most official sources say that you should not start this hike without a map and compass, the route is marked very well and we have never had a problem finding our way.

Midges

Beware of midges! These little flies (the size of a fruit fly) can make you go crazy. They come in great numbers, bite you for blood, and most people are left with itchy red bumps. They love warm and damp weather. They don’t like sun and wind.

When you’re on the move they don’t really bother you. But as soon as you stop moving and the conditions are right, which they are most of the time in summer in Scotland, they come swarming around you.

Mitigation

To reduce the annoyance you can :

  • Cover your body as much as possible and wear a bug net.
  • Try the midge repellents called “smidge” or “skin so soft“.
  • Find a place in the wind and sun for camping.

Midges season is typically from late May until September.

Facilities

There are some kind of facilities after every section / day of walking, ranging from small towns with a grocery store and accommodation (hotels, B&B’s, campsites), to just a single hotel. Depending on when you go, you might want to check if everything is open.

Food

As long as you have money with you, you can always get enough food. If you want to keep your expenses to a minimum however, you probably have to take about 2 days worth of supplies with you. You could get a main meal and a drink at a restaurant every day and that would cost about 15 pounds per person.

Accommodation

There are quite a few B&B’s, hotels, and campsites on the way. We saved most of our money on accommodation by taking our tent and wild camping almost every night. Only once, after a full day of rain, we took the cheapest hut available: 35 pounds for 1 night for 2 persons.

We found the campsites pretty expensive. Usually around between 8 to 12 pounds per person per night. A waste of money because you can find so many nice and free camping spots! One of our best nights was wild camping up the Scottish highlands. The sun was shining, nobody else around, and a breeze to keep the midges away.

Most of the B&B’s on the way were sold out! Some owners said they were fully booked during the whole high season. Some hikers said they booked half a year in advance. Prices per night vary but you can easily pay 80 pounds for a double room for 1 night.

Water

There is water everywhere on this route. A river every few hundred meters supplied with fresh rain water. We did take a water filter with us but that was unnecessary. I found it safe to drink water from a river with no cattle up the stream. But for the most part we filled up your bottles every day at some hotel or campsite along the way.

Baggage service

There are a few companies offering a “baggage service”: they bring the heaviest part of your baggage to the next point on the route so you only have to carry a day pack. We are young and healthy and didn’t want to cheat by using this service! But in case you want to, it’s good to know it’s there.

 

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