Before we start, I must tell you that before this trip I had never been on a walking tour before or walked 60 km in three days…so I was kind of scared and very excited at the same time when I found out that I was going on a trip to the Highlands…, I mean… to the Scottish Highlands! I was going to walk a bit of the West Highland Way, the West Highland Escape.
Lots of my favourite childhood movies took place in this part of the world, and I was so keen to see it.
After carefully reading other blogs about this bit of the West Highland Way and having long discussions with more experienced trekkers, I decided to buy some awesome trekking socks – which, at the time, they seemed ridiculously expensive…it’s just a pair of socks, I thought! This was, however, one of the best things I could have bought for this adventure! I will tell you why later on!
After buying every possible item of outdoor gear (walking boots, socks, jumpers, jackets, etc.) the day to go finally arrived, and I was on the train, watching the higher, and higher mountains, the pack of sheep, the highland cows, and the green fields.
The train journey was so stunning and dramatic that it felt that the journey only lasted like 20 minutes instead of three hours! And there I was, at the middle of the Highlands, at Bridge of Orchy with the bag in my back, a big smile on my face and scared to death feeling in my heart. Luckily I was not on my own, my husband came with me (he was also a total beginner!).
The town or Bridge of Orchy was really, really small…there were just a few houses, and the Bridge of Orchy Hotel itself, and of course, the famous old stone bridge.
After checking in, we went for a short walk to see the starting point for the following day and we also wanted to get a feeling of the place we were at.
The morning came sooner than I expected, and surprisingly for me, the start of the walk wasn’t hard at all, my body quickly got into walking, keeping up with the others in a standard pace.
From time to time I had to change my clothes, pull up a jumper, or the opposite, get rid of it, because of the heat or the wind or of course, the rain. The weather is very changeable up in the Highlands and very unpredictable; so, from my experience, breathable clothes are the best to bring.
At Inveroran, we stopped for a 15-minute tea break, where I had a chance to speak a wee bit with the locals, who were really friendly and helpful.
The walk from Inveroran to Glencoe through Rannoch Moor is quite flat which is a very good start for a beginner. The 20 km between Bridge Of Orchy and Glencoe is just a perfect mixture of the different types of roads and paths, so a beginner can get an idea of what to expect on the other days.
Before we started the journey, I was a bit worried because we had to make sure we were walking at the right pace so we could catch the shuttle, but the miles just flew away!
The walk is in such a beautiful environment that you don’t realise how far you’ve walked! By 1pm we had more than half of the day’s route done. We had time for small breaks and even a longer lunch break as well. The last 3 miles were tough, I am not going to lie. It was tough because of the rain, the wind and the sun changing in seconds, but I was immensely proud of myself when we reached where the shuttle bus was.
There’s nothing better than arriving at the village you’re staying in that night, stretch your legs, go to the nearest local pub, eat awesome food, drink the finest whisky with brown ale, and warm yourself in front of the fireplace. Just perfect!
Every morning I had a full Scottish breakfast, the black pudding and the sausage are truly needed for the walks, it basically keeps you moving.
Walking up the Devil’s Staircase is really a test of willpower and endurance. The hike looks much worse than it is though, it takes more or less 30-45 minutes to reach the top, where you get
rewarded with an amazing view.
From the top, it is basically a slow and long descent with some ascending bits here and there. Also, due to the weather and time of the year, there are several streams that cut the path.
In advance, I can only suggest being prepared for every kind of weather, four seasons in one day. From warm sunlight to freezing hail storm (yes, I experienced it on the third day, it was remarkable).
Back to the descent, it is slow, but when you start seeing Kinlochleven, it only means that you are about 10 miles away from it… 3 or 4 hours from the point of the first sight to actually reach it.
Kinlochleven is a really small village, and by saying small I mean there are two pubs, which are also a restaurant. It lies between enormous mountains, so the dawns and sunsets are quite chilly and misty…but if you like Lord Of the Rings, you will love it.
The third day is the toughest, the beginning looks nice and easy because you go through a forest, but… (and here is the big but!) as I said, the village lies between really huge mountains, in a deep valley, which means you have to climb out from it. The gently rising slopes become toughly rising slopes very quickly, and after the first few hundred meters, it became quite hard for me when the trail started becoming steep. The viewpoints are extraordinary, so you will have plenty of chances to take fantastic photos of your family and friends. The springs, which cut through the path can be nasty, and deep like the boots of an Ogre, so a good footwear is essential along with good socks (They can save your life, trust me!).
After you climb out from the valley then comes the stunning, good part, walking along the old military road, between two ridges which were constantly foggy. Again, if you like Lord of the Rings, you will love it.
Did you know that Scotland is the land of sheep? Almost 4 million live in this country, and I have a hard guess that most of them are directly concentrated on the West Highland Way.
For me, the finish stage was, again, a tough one. The loops of the Ben Nevis can be tricky, and you can be really exposed to bad weather. But it is really worth it for the views.
Arriving to Fort William was one of the best moments of my life, I have never been so proud and satisfied with myself than in the exact moment when I first saw the harbour and the small houses in the distance.
I can tell you, from first-hand experience, the West Highland Escape is a good starting trip for beginners. It is not easy, but it can be done with a basic fitness level. And first and foremost, it is worth to walk it through.