I think it must have been the end of first year university, during the summer holiday, when mindlessly browsing the inter space I came across an article describing the “top 10 hikes to do in Europe”. I had just come back from 4 weeks in Cyprus volunteering at a turtle research program and my wanderlust was at full speed. Opening the article I automatically scrolled down scanning only the location names and the pictures, but my word was my attention grabbed. I saved the link onto my phone, opening it several times a week to gawk at the possibility of one day grabbing ye old hiking bag with my girl and just trekking out for a couple of weeks. With in this top 10 was the West Highland Way in Scotland. It was the perfect location to try out this new adventurous ambition.
West Highland Way
Distance: 96 miles/ 154 km
Duration: 7 days maybe less. Some nutters run it in 3-4 days, but umm yeah that’s not me.
Where to where?: Milngavie to Fort William
Track type: Well walked and sign posted. Easy-moderate in terms of navigation.
Wild camp?: Yes Ma’am, although there are plenty of hotels and camp sites along the way.
Wildlife?: Deer, Goats, Cattle, Scottish locals. If you’re lucky you may catch a glimpse at some grouse and at the right time of year there are many a cuckoo to be heard. We went late spring and were convinced the same cuckoo was following us from day one.
I wont bore you with the travel details. We flew in a plane in the air above land and landed in Glasgow. Our packs were absolutely loaded with kit. Much of the equipment was decent but not new, old stuff used over the years for little camp trips on Dartmoore. We were just going for it and the amateur nature of it all made it even more exciting. To be honest I had no idea what it would be like. Fitness levels on point? Nah probably not In fact the day before whilst playing football I had rolled over on my knee making it swollen and sore, but that wasn’t going to get in the way of months of planning. So bright eyed and with half the party hobbling already we stumbled out the airport into the back of a taxi. Taxi drivers accent was strong. Smile and wave was employed for the most confusing parts of the conversation but he was truly a lovely man, really setting us off on good stead with advice for the way and all.
He takes us to Milngavie. A quiet little town with a bustling high street lined with camping stores for obvious reasons. We pop in to a few to grab some gas canisters and fill up our water bladders. Molly made a complete scene in one shop by standing on her drinking tube whilst organising her bag, unknowingly spraying the shops carpet with water. Fool. All was forgiven though and we proceeded to the marker of the WHW start where a cheeky selfie entailed.
Lets face it the first mile or two of the walk isn’t the prettiest. Taking small walkways, we passed through the back of the town eventually reaching a large park and woodland. These well walked paths swiftly turned into over grown trails beyond the sight of town and finally it felt as if the West Highland Way had begun. I wasn’t expecting my pack to feel so bloody heavy! The hills we had encountered going through the park felt twice the size they were under its weight. After a short while however, our legs grew used the pace and we trudged along through the ever expanding countryside.
Woods opened to small Lochs and the occasional cluster of cottages. Molly and I stopped at the side of Craigallian Loch to chow down on some sugary goodness to restore what little energy we had already expended. I say “what little energy” because even though at the time we felt tired and in need of a rest, it would only be another day or two before the same fatigue felt like nothing and not worthy of a break. It was during this rest that the call of a cuckoo was heard form a tree nearby. As usually is the case, we couldn’t see the bird itself but its call alone was beautiful, certainly one of my favourite woodland sounds. Time was ticking on though, so we moved on beginning to look for suitable places for our first nights camp. It was only another mile or so before we crossed a road into an even more open landscape stretching before us dotted with small woodlands and hills. The path of the way curved around between two hills, one completely covered in woods. It was between these hills alongside a small stream that we set up our tent, cooked some tinned beans and waited for the sun to go down.
It was such a good spot. Not far from the path but hidden amongst the trees, enough to make it feel private and secluded. Midges weren’t an issue, not yet anyway, so the first evening was comfortable and sleep came easy. Given the time we had due to travel (arriving in Milngavie at 16:00) we figured that within this first day we had covered more ground than expected. Although looking at it now its really nothing but I suppose the bags would have made a difference and it definitely felt longer than 2 hours.
Day 1 took us 5.3 miles along the way with beautiful weather, developing countryside and endless excitement for the days to come. It was certainly the most comfortable day of the whole trip but I’m thankful for that as it set us up nicely for the challenges to come. We ended it strong and therefore started the next day with high moral, something we definitely needed for what nature was about to throw at us.