Adventure of the Week: West Highland Line - Rail & Hike
The West Highland Way is one of the classic walks in the UK. It has all the scenery, gravitas, good company and excellent accommodation that you could wish for. However, there is another side to the West Highland Way that walkers only come into contact with briefly on their walk. There is a rail line that mirrors the route, one that shows off the glorious Highland scenery in abundance. We have combined the best walking from the West Highland Way, with the best sections of this rail line to form the West Highland Line: Rail & Hike.
Typical Scenery on the West Highland Way
In a nutshell
Take an unconventional trip along the West Highland Way, exploring the best sections of walking and seeing a side that many walkers don't see, from hidden glens to jaw-dropping Highland expanses. We also add a little sample of the lesser known East Highland Way and a bit of glorious rail to the end, just to finish the trip off in style.
Distance: All together, there are 42 miles of walking on this trip. The trip is broken up into relaxing sections of sitting on the train and a few optional walks if you prefer to experience other facets of Highland life.
Grade: We have graded this trip Easy to Moderate. While there are a few ups and downs on the sections you walk, there is nothing too challenging and the most extended days walking is just over 13 miles.
The trip starts in Glasgow, and from there you are whisked off to Ardlui on the banks of Loch Lomond. After a couple of days walking the West Highland Way, you then take the train a couple of miles to the east of Fort William, before walking there on the East Highland Way. The trip finishes with a train journey on the Jacobite steam train, most famously known as the Hogwarts Express from the Harry Potter films. The rail line takes you up past the silver sands of Arisaig, to finish in Mallaig.
Why Walk Here?
The West Highland Way is a classic and if you are not sure about walking it, or you just want a taster of the best of it, then this is the way to do it. The trip also allows you a little time walking the East Highland Way as well as a chance to climb Ben Nevis, should that be on your list of things to do.
This trip gets you right into the heart of the Highlands, experiencing some of the best hotels and hospitality on the route. It showcases the dramatic scenery and immerses you in the whole Highland experience. You get to see parts of the Highlands that walkers on the path don't get to see, like the outstanding open wilderness at Corrour and the banks of the stunning Loch Treig.
The 'Silver Sands' of Arisaig
Then, of course, there is the chance to experience the start of the East Highland Way, tempting you in to try another side of the highlands for future trips. This ties into the free day in Fort William, which most people use to summit Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK. The path up Ben Nevis can be challenging at points, and all together we would estimate a 7 hour up and down, but it is a gratifying day's walking.
The final part of the journey sees you stepping on board the Jacobite steam train for a trip up the stunning west coast, to arrive in Mallaig, the gateway to the Isle of Skye. Scotland is tempting in this way, that the next place to see is just around the corner and this trip definitely allows you a taster of reasons to return.
Many people describe The Jacobite as the 'greatest railway journey in the world'. A bold claim, but it is certainly up there. The old steam train is delightful in every way, harking back to days gone by as you chug past some of the most rugged, iconic scenery in Scotland. The train journey also takes you over the Glenfinnan viaduct, which spans 1000ft and is incredibly photogenic.
Planning and preparation
The West Highland Line is available to book from the end of April, though there are some limitations for start dates at the start and end of the season.
Getting to Glasgow is pretty straightforward, with an international airport and great rail and road connections, you should have no difficulty in getting to the start. Coming back from Mallaig, you just need to take the train that you came on, and with a quick change in Fort William, you will experience your whole trip in reverse. However, seeing the scenery again from a different angle is every bit as rewarding.