Thursday, 6 June 2013

My review of The West Highland Way.

Now very nearly in Westmorland, with a snippett of Yorkshire to follow, this would seem a good time for my own personal review of that superb long distance path in The Highlands of Scotland.

The West Highland Way.

This is actually the sign that you will see at the END of the path, or the real end anyway. It has been extended through the town of Fort William for some odd reason. But I saw no merit at all in ruining a stunning walk through the highlands with a mile through a town centre. So, doing the walk North to South, this was our starting point, with 95 miles ahead over 7 easyish days. You could comfortably do it in 5, some do it in 4, but 7 was a good idea to me.
Fort William to Kinlochleven - 15 miles.
The walk starts at the Edinburgh Woolen Mill, just behind the sign above - be sure to nip in and get a free certificate, I didn't see any at the other end! - and the first mile or so is just around a quiet lane leading to a car park on the right. A short stroll to the end of this car park, through a gate, then begins a very long, gradual climb. It gets very steep in places, and the path zig-zags about quite a bit. Most maps will show a lot of forest to walk through as you climb, though much has been cut down, so planning periodic stops for a cuppa doesn't work if you think "i'll just get the next wooded bit as it'll be shaded there!". When the high point of the route is reached, after around 5/6 miles, the route is absolutely stunning, especially on a clear, sunny day.
The path is quite wide, and takes you past majestic mountains - many with snow still on the peaks if you are lucky and not too far into Spring. Many mountain streams will be, hopefully, trickling or gushing down the hills, depending obviously on how much rain has been falling. But even when dryish, this is a truly stunning walk. You will pass a couple of old ruins along the rocky but clearly defined path to Kinlochleven, in the area known as Lairigmor. This rocky path was the old military road, and would suggest that it was quite a tough route.
As you get closer to Kinlochleven, Loch Leven itself comes into view when you are on the considerable descent down to this beautiful little village.
A superb start to a beautiful walk, or if you do it as intended - South to North - a magnificent ending.
Though, the lovely descent to Kinlochleven is a very arduous climb the other way!
Kinlochleven to Kings House - 9 miles.
Leaving Kinlochleven to climb out of the village is a bit of a wrench, so lovely is the Loch in the distance, as is the River Leven as it powers down the hillside to keep the Loch filled.

The photograph on the right is the highpoint on the
entire West Highland Way, at 1850 feet.
The top of The Devils Staircase.
An initially pleasant and not too steep mile going South out of the village through pleasant woodland, gives way to serious climbing - though still very nice indeed. The climb is again long, and quite arduous at times, but the reward is worth every tired step you take. The path is very clear, and eventually opens out after around 3 miles to reveal more absolutely stunning views. Surrounded again by breathtaking mountains, scattered hill streams, you will be regularly stopping for a break by using the "just going to take a picture" excuse. But really, no excuse is needed for this is a truly stunning area, and should not be rushed but every moment and view savoured.

Climbing down The Devils Staircase is a lot easier - in my book - than climbing up it, but many would argue, hard on the knees! Twas good for me though, and 15 minutes to get down, all the time with the A82 looming into view. 2/3 miles on the path alongside the road, and you will see this.
The wonderful Kings House Hotel in Glen Coe.
A must stop at, at least for a while to refresh and see some some of these..
One of the many Red Deer happily grazing around the hotel.

 Another splendid walk.
Kings House to Tyndrum - 20 miles.
The walk from Kings House to Tyndrum is also lovely. With Rannoch Moor opening out to the East, and The Black Mounts in front of you to the South, the scenery is again breathtaking. Even on a bleak and grey morning, this is truly beautiful. A fairly easy path, well marked, takes an even route to Ba Bridge, where the only real shelter from either cold and windy weather, or hot and sunny weather, can be found, alongside the lovely River Ba. The path continues, dropping quite a bit from the 1000 feet you started at, to Inveroran.
Inveroran is lovely.

An hotel is pretty much the only building at Ianveroran - all you need really - and it is flanked by the majestic Black Mounts and lovely little Loch Tulla.
A steep, though relatively short climb out of Inveroran, leads down again to Bridge of Orchy. Then the route crosses the A82 and the Highland Railway to follow a very pleasant path on virtually level ground to Tndrum. A very fine walk.
Tyndrum to Inverarnan - 12 miles.
Leaving Tyndrum on a low and flat path through woodland, alongside the River Coninish for 3 miles, then begins another steepish climb to 1000 feet, where you will look down down on Crianlarich as the path opens up on the higher ground. Slowly but surely descending through Glen Falloch you will be alongside the River Falloch. Quite an attraction for the many mountain streams, as they flow to the river at many points along the route.
A powewful river after the rain!
The walk finishes with a few pleasant miles through woodland, until you cross the bridge into Inverarnan. Another lovely walk!
Inverarnan to Rowardennan - 14 miles.
The route begins with a pleasant couple of miles through woodland, until you catch your first sight of this...
one of the most beautiful, famous, talked about, and written and sung about bodies of water on the planet. This is the very bonny Loch Lomond. On this entire day of walking you will have the honour of plodding alongside this most majestic of Scottish lochs. Pay it the utmost respect, as you gaze at the beauty of the loch and it's surroundings. Feel the tranquil calmess of it's waters, and thank your lucky stars you are here and nowhere else, for Loch Lomond is beautiful.

There is a little clambering over rocks to be done before you reach Rowardennan, but most of the walk is flat, and easy going. A very splendid walk indeed!
Rowardennan to Drymen - 13 miles.
Leaving Rowardennan along more woodland paths, pretty much where you left off - still alongside Loch Lomond - you will begin to say goodbye to this grandest of lochs, but not just yet, for there are more treats to come. After 6 miles or so, you come to Balmaha. You leave the loch for a steep climb through the woods, until it opens up magnificently to reveal the relatively small, but still quite majestic Conic Hill. This is a very steep climb coming from North to South, and must be treated with respect. But when the climb is three quarters done, stop and look behind you. You will like what you see, very much!

The views looking back as you climb Conic Hill are stunning. Mountains surround you, with Loch Lomond below. Standing at 1175 feet, it's not a big hill, but lovely anyway, and your last on this route. Savour it, stop for a while and soak up the views.
Coming down Conic Hill the path is very clear, and takes you up a bit, down a bit, through much forrested area - some cut down - to emerge in the pretty little town of Drymen.
A marvellous walk!
Drymen to Milngavie - 12 miles.
I didn't personally find that much to rave about on this final leg of the route, though doing it North to South meant that the climbs - up and down - and stunning mountains were done. The gushing rivers and tranquil lochs were behind, but it was still a pleasant walk, and heading South to North I'm sure it would be a good appetiser for smashing treats to come.
The route does follow a lot of fairly flat farmland, with just the odd little climb to liven things up.
Dumgoyne is a nice little hamlet, with the Glengoyne distillery closeby. Eventually you will come to Craigallan Loch, which is very nice, as you come to Mugdock Country Park on the outskirts of Milngavie. A pleasant walk, much better apreciated going South to North!
Craigallan Loch.
All in all, a cracking walk of 95 miles.
The West Highland Way.
Alec Hawkes

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