What an appropriate way to end this Year of Adventures Great and Small, as we began it last year with a circular walk around London (The Capital Ring).
This month we did something I’ve long wanted to do – a point-to-point long distance walk. The West Highland Way.
Having decided we’d like to do a long walk together, serendipity resulted in us both coming up with the same suggestion, via different routes. My inspiration was Kate Davies’ blog.
Kate has written her blog for many years, through massive life changes – the biggest forced upon her (a stroke at a very early age), others from choice (career change, move from the city to a rural setting right next to – The West Highland Way). She is both an academic and a very talented knitter/designer/writer/now entrepreneur, married to a talented photographer. Definitely a winning combination! In particular, her many mentions and pictures of her beloved West Highland Way formed a drip drip drip in my brain, hence my immediate agreement when Malcolm suggested it for May.
A friend who did the walk recently encouraged us to do it the ‘easy’ way (ie through a company that would book all the accommodation for us and carry our bags) – such a good decision! It all worked perfectly. We stayed in a selection of very different but all fine places, and we were able to focus on just enjoying the walk.
The West Highland Way is officially 96 miles, from just north of Glasgow to Fort William. In reality we reckon we walked just over 100 miles. We chose to do it over 8 days, though with hindsight 7 days would have been just fine.
We walked through glorious countryside in (mostly) unexpectedly fine weather, surrounded variously by hills, Loch Lomond, massed bluebells, vivid gorse, wild moorland (Rannoch Moor), and forest. We had rain on the last two days, but it wouldn’t have been a Scottish walk without some rain and it certainly didn’t spoil anything (apart from on the last day my walking shoes – if I wasn’t morally opposed to such things I could offer them up for germ warfare, such is the smell).
The way was well marked, our guide book excellent (informative, accurate, easy to use), and we met many other walkers doing the same thing. We both enjoyed the mix of walking together (sometimes), walking apart (our comfortable pace is very different), and from time to time greeting others along the way. We met people from England, Scotland, Canada, various US states, Australia, Germany, Netherlands, Japan, and France. We chatted amiably, drifting in and out of each others’ lives.
At the end we celebrated with a well-earned tot of whisky from a bottle bought at the distillery we visited on the first day. And a Mars bar. Of course.
We ended the trip with a day out on the train, riding the West Highland Railway from Fort William to Mallaig. It was stunning. I’m told that Harry Potter fans among you will recognise this line from the films – particularly the viaduct and the steam train (which we didn’t take but saw the next day).
Then home via Glasgow and the rest of the West Highland Railway (also stunning), and a couple of days exploring Glasgow. A lot crammed into 11 days away from home.
We enjoyed it so much that we’re already planning another Scottish walk for next May.
Some practical details:
- Comfortable walking shoes or boots and socks were a must
- So were lightweight waterproof clothes, and an umbrella was a welcome bonus
- A comfortable day bag was essential, ideally including plenty of waterproof bags inside to protect contents from the inevitable rain (I forgot mine and had to borrow plastic bags)
- The shortest day’s walk was just 7 miles or so (not long enough, it felt). The longest was about 20 miles and tough going.
- Some of the walking was deceptively challenging – not difficult, but clambering over stones and tree roots was tough on the feet and hard. Especially when it went on for mile after mile (day 3, alongside Loch Lomond).
- Planning food for the next couple of days was essential – knowing when there would and would not be somewhere to buy lunch things and snacks enabled us to ensure we carried enough food with us when that was needed.
- Booking food for the evening early as soon as possible after we arrived also proved to be essential – there were a lot of people walking, and not many pubs/inns
- A disappointing absence of places to eat good (or any!) tea-and-scones-and-cakes. Luckily I had some of my step-father’s excellent home made fruit cake with me
- Travelling by train to Glasgow from Bath and booking well in advance with a rail card kept the cost to a reasonable level
And for the Harry Potter fans out there, a couple of photos from the train ride from Fort William to Mallaig: