Scotland is famous for its lush and tranquil nature, and one of the best ways to explore it is on foot! Today we welcome Josef, who has been to Scotland this spring and has agreed tell us how to undertake a hike of West Highland Way. With about 80,000 people using the path every year, it is one of the most famous trails in the world crossing Scotland from South to North.
Hi, Josef, and welcome! Would you like to start with telling us how you decided to hike this particular trail?
Hi! I’m a big fan of hiking. I started 2 years ago when I finished my first job and got some spare money. My first big experience was hiking in Georgia, and I absolutely loved it! I wanted to do something similar this spring and decided on Scotland because it looked like a great way to improve my English. This trail is also much more populated than any in Georgia, and I was excited to meet people on the way, as I was traveling alone. Besides, I have a friend in London, and visiting him served as a good starting point for my adventure.
So how do you get from London to the trail?
The cheapest way I’ve found is to take a bus from London to Glasgow and then a local train from Glasgow to Milngavie where West Highland Way starts.
Can you tell us more about the route?
Sure! West Highland Way stretches some 150 km from Milngavie in the south to Fort William in the north. The hike can be done in 7 days, or even in 6 if you skip some of the picturesque detours, but don’t do it unless you are really short of time! For example, a climb to Ben Lomond mountain is a 6-hour round trip, but it’s worth it! Tip: leave your backpack behind at the crossroads to make this detour easier.
The southern half of West Highland Way is rather flat and goes along the beautiful Loch Lomond, while the northern is hilly and more challenging for a hiker. The route is very well marked, and there are info stands and navigational signs everywhere. In case you need more info, it can be found online. Note that if you go hiking with a dog, you may sometimes have to take alternate routes, as they are not allowed everywhere.
When is the best season to go on West Highland Way?
Most people come in summer, that’s why I can’t recommend it – it’s crowded and the hotels will be full months in advance. I think that spring is a perfect time, as it’s the driest season. But get some good gear, as it’s not particularly warm outside, and windy too!
How to prepare for such a serious hike, what to pack?
As I’ve said, the weather might be tough, so invest in some quality hiking gear. I was camping, and +5° comfort sleeping bag was freezing in April, as it was 2° outside. So it’s better to have 0° or even -5° comfort sleeping bag. It can be windy or rainy often, so make sure that your overalls are wind- and water-proof. Thermoclothes might be a good idea too. Don’t forget gloves, a hat, and some good quality hiking boots. There are some steep regions in the north part of the trail, so good traction is a must. You don’t need sunglasses, as you will be heading north. It’s always a good idea to have a GPS tracker, although you probably won’t get lost without it unless you’re especially talented.
Any tips about camping?
You can wild camp everywhere in Scotland except in the region between Balmaha and Inverarnan. In this area, you have to find designated camping grounds. Some of them are just flat grounds with a sign that you can camp here, and some have conveniences, like showers. They cost about £7 per night and are mostly located along the bank of Loch Lomond. There are no designated camping grounds in the mountains.
Didn’t you feel afraid or lonely hiking and camping on your own?
The best thing about West Highland Way is that you’re never alone! You meet fellow hikers from all over the world: Israel, Switzerland, Australia even – everywhere! You meet local people too, and they are friendly. One guy even invited me to stay at his house!
What are your favorite places on West Highland Way?
Well, I’ve only done the flat southern half of the route, as my sleeping bag was inadequate for the highlands, but I’ve seen a lot of beautiful spots! Two of my favorite viewing points are Ben Lomond and Conic Hill near Balmaha. The views might have been even better if not for the mist, but I enjoyed them anyway!
Another highlight of the route was the Fish and Chips restaurant in Rowerdenan that was voted the best in Great Britain. The food was indeed perfect!
For more inspiration, check out Josef’s video about his hiking experience in Scotland!
Photo courtesy: Josef