After nine days trekking in Scotland’s wilderness, we crossed the finish line for the West Highland Way yesterday. Now, as I sit on a bus which is taking us backwards through our 100 mile journey, I still am amazed by the passing scenery (and how far we walked!). Very much under the radar, Scotland has been a hidden gem in our travels.
Scotland was never on our initial planned RTW route. In fact, we had never even heard of The West Highland Way until I was researching another long distance walk, called The Hadrian’s Wall hike. However, the more I researched Scotland, the more intrigued I became. And with Harry’s encouragement, we agreed it was time for an big adventure and together we worked to piece together our trip.
We used the official WHW website to plan our 9 day hiking adventure. Most hikers compete the hike in 5-7 days, we took it slowly and completed it in nine. The website is so comprehensive that all the information you need is there to plan your trek.
The following are some tricks and tips that will make your adventure a little easier…and of course, more budget friendly!
If you are hiking during the high season months, book your accommodations as soon as possible. There are only a certain number of beds and rooms at each stop. If you wait, you may end up staying at a non-preferred accommodation, a more expensive hotel, or there may be no availability. If you do run into that situation, you may need to walk to the next available accommodation (which may be really far), or stay two nights at the same place until availability opens up at the next stop.
Vaseline, medical tape/duct tape, Ibuprofen, and cotton pads were a lifesaver for our tired feet. Shops along the way do have these items, but at a jacked up price. Stock up in advance. You’ll need it.
If you have sensitive knees, bring hiking poles or use knee supports. On many stages, the knees take a beating. Our knee bands and Ibuprofen kept us from having any significant pain.
A great bonus for this hike is that there are companies that will transport your baggage each day to your accommodation. There are no maximum number of days as long as they are typical accomodation stops along the way. That way, you can only travel with your day pack and valuables. We used Ginger Routes as they were $5.00 cheaper than the other companies. We used our main backpacks as day packs, and stored all our luggage in ONE large backpack airport cover bag so we were only charged for one bag transfer. We definitely knew we surpassed the weight restriction, but because we could lift our bag it seemed manageable. So using the $60 USD service, were able to travel light and avoid worrying about our extra gear.
Take note that some accommodations are not directly on the trail. For example, we reached the sign for the Arduli Hotel, but were unaware that we had to take a $12.00 USD (each way) ferry to cross the lake to reach our accommodation for the night. No one ever told us that crossing the lake was the only way to get there. We also loved our stay at the SYHA Crianlarich Youth Hostel, but we had to hike another mile to reach the building and then walk another mile in the morning to resume the hike.
Oh, the midges. We almost made our way through without any encounters. Unfortunately on our last day, on one of the steepest climbs, we were attacked. That day it was classic midge weather – warm with no breeze to keep them away. The thing is, no matter how much bug spray you put on and regardless of what brand, if they’re out, you’re going to be swarmed. In fact, the only thing our thick, costly lotion did was cause us to wear a sticky coating of dead midge carcasses smashed all over our arms and face. If you’re really trying to avoid them, the only thing to do is to cover up and wear a netted face mask.
Because I am a fanatic about laundry and we were going to be hiking for 9 days, I was concerned about how I was going to get our muddy clothes washed. Many of our accommodations (surprisingly) did not offer laundry services. The Inversnaid Bunkhouse only had a smelly, damp drying room and laundry cost £5.00, the SYHA Youth Hostel told me laundry was unavailable because they had too much to do, and the B&B’s didn’t even offer it. We were lucky because after our muddiest day of hiking, I learned that the Arduli Hotel is connected to a holiday park with washers and dryers! I was able to wash and properly dry our clothes for under £5.00 in the middle of our hike.
Below is a compilation of our favorite photos taken on the West Highland Way. We highly recommend this hike, especially for non-campers, and are currently scouring the internet in search of a similar experience. If anyone has had any great hiking suggestions, we would love to hear about them! Happy trails!
“It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B. It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.”
― Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail