Walking the West Highland Way
The West Highland Way is a beautiful hiking trail in the Scottish highlands, starting in Milngavie and ending in Fort William. It's just under 100 miles and is quite remote in places, particularly during the second half. We decided to give it a go and carry all of our equipment. It was our second multi-day hiking trip, our first was in March 2017 through Snowdonia for 4 days. We wanted to have a cheap holiday for two weeks, so allowed ourselves 8 days to complete the hiking with a rest day in the middle and then a few nights near Fort William in the hopes that we could climb Ben Nevis at the end. We finished the trip with a couple of nights in Glasgow; interesting place...
Although there are campsites along the way it is legal to wild camp in Scotland as long as you're not on someone's private land. We wild camped for half of it, pitched in a couple of campsites and stayed in a wigwam for one night in the middle as a nice break from our roll mats. Wild camping was really fun, especially near Loch Lomond where you can find some beautiful spots just off the path with your own private beach. There weren't too many midges around Loch Lomond either, but be warned! The midges come out in force as soon as you're away from the Loch. Opening the tent in the morning only to have thousands of midges swarm in is horrible. Trying to eat porridge and finding loads of midges drowning in it is also gross. We had midge nets, but these don't allow for easy consumption of breakfast and each time we lifted the net to eat we'd find another midge stuck on the inside of the net flying round our faces.
Midges aside, hiking the West Highland Way was great. The scenery is beautifuI, there are some great, friendly pubs along the route and we met some really nice people. The route was busy at times, but due to different walking speeds and the ability to camp wherever you like, people tend to drift apart along the way and you can find yourself completely alone for hours. The solitude was amazingly relaxing after years of living and working in central London. Seeing as this was a practice run for us to see whether we could hike the entire Appalachian Trail in 2018, we were feeling pretty confident and excited.
This confidence didn't last very long though. After about 4 days of hiking we were starting to feel it. Chris's knee was hurting from a previous injury and both our feet and ankles were aching from the pressure of all the weight we were carrying. As soon as we'd pitch the tent and sit down we would struggle to get back up. Walking to the toilet or pub was a challenge in itself.
Getting to Fort William felt amazing. Not only did we feel a great sense of achievement, but it was also a relief. A relief that it was over, but also that we hadn't died or broken anything. Surely we can do that another 22 times to complete the Appalachian Trail in 2018?! Watch this space...
Despite our good intentions we did not make it up Ben Nevis. We had a few days to relax instead and went for a nice walk along the glen. It rained alot and we were worried that Chris's knee would give up on him if we started climbing a mountain. It was so cloudy at the top of Ben Nevis that we wouldn't have been able to see anything anyway. Next time...
Things we learnt:
Do not take a standard tent for a multi-day hiking trip; they are too heavy. Buy yourself an ultralight one. Your body will appreciate it.
It rains alot in Scotland, but it's also occasionally sunny. Take sun cream. We got very burnt on the first day and putting backpacks onto burnt skin is horrible!
Midges are horrible, disgusting creatures that will bite you all over. They will hide in the porch of your tent until you wake up then all come in for a feast when you open the inner door. Put your midge net on before you open the door, otherwise you will end up with midges in the net biting your face.
Some people are lovely and leave food and drinks in little boxes along the route. It's polite to give £1 for any item you take, so always carry change.
Keep your food and nibbles in plastic animal-proof packaging so mice can't nibble their way into your bags in the night. Charlie's backpack now has a hole in it and hungry mice are noisy in the night time.
Solar chargers are useless in Scotland. You can't guarantee there's going to be enough sun for them to charge anything. Take an extra battery pack if you want to keep your devices charged.
Don't give up however tired and achy you are! We met a couple of American girls who camped at most of the same spots as us towards the second half. They gave up with only two days of hiking to go and got the bus into Fort William. You don't want to have to tell people you gave up right at the end. Don't go home regretting not having finished.