Prepare for the first of many posts about my epic adventure walking the West Highland Way!
So a bit of background …..
The West Highland Way is a 96 mile route that runs from Milngavie just outside Glasgow, to Fort William. It runs through some of Scotland’s most stunning and iconic scenery – Loch Lomond, Rannoch Moor, Glen Coe, Buachaille Etive Mòr. Last year after being inspired by reading Wild, I decided that I wanted to walk this trail and I wanted to do it solo. I love walking with Dave, and I love walking with my friends, but there is something magical about being alone in nature and I regularly go off hill walking on my own at home – it recharges my batteries! I also loved the idea of the physical and mental challenge of doing this alone – how would I cope when it got tough? Would I manage to go the distance?
Once I’d started reading up about the Trail and planning my route, Dave decided he liked the look of it too! So we hatched a plan which would allow us to both walk the Way – Dave would drop me at the start, drive to Fort William and leave the car there, get the bus back to Milngavie and start walking the day after me. We thought he would probably catch me up at some point and we would probably walk bits of it together, but he was totally awesome and supportive, and understood that it was important to me to do it alone. Also he wanted to camp, whereas I most definitely wanted to enjoy the walk free of heavy packs! I booked B&Bs along the way and also used Travel Lite to transport my luggage so all I had to carry each day was a relatively light day pack with food, water, clothing and emergency supplies.
So – after months of planning, training, and buying all the gear I would need, on Tuesday 3rd May it was time to set off! I had expected to be super-excited, but actually I felt a wee bit flat at the start – it was almost like I couldn’t quite believe it was actually happening after thinking about it for so long! We got up at the crack of dawn and drove to Milngavie where I deposited my luggage with Travel Lite, and Dave & I grabbed a coffee together before he set off for Fort William leaving me to start my walk. Straight away I realised that this was not going to be the communing-with-nature, no-human-contact trip I had originally had in mind – I knew a lot of people walked the WHW, but I hadn’t really grasped *exactly* how many people there would be! I had also kind of assumed that you would only see people once as they would either be faster or slower than you – but actually you ended up seeing the same people quite a lot, as you would stop for breathers at different points, so keep overlapping. This was the first of many bits of the trip where things turned out completely different from what I had expected, but I surprised myself by liking it! I ended up really enjoying the camaraderie amongst all the walkers. Every single person I met and chatted to was lovely. After a few days I got to know the various groups of people by sight if not by name. We would stop for a wee chat when we crossed paths and then go off on our separate ways until the next time. It was a really good balance of being alone, but also meeting new people and making new friends. Anyway, more of that later!
The down side of there being so many people on the trail, when you are someone like me who needs to wee a lot, is that it is quite hard to find discreet spots to go! I made it until about 10.30 on the very first day before someone caught me with my pants round my ankles – ha ha! And I reckon I added on at least an extra 5 miles with all the times I went off the path to find a tree to crouch behind!
Anyway, enough waffling, let’s get to the actual trail on Day 1. Here’s the traditional photo of me at the obelisk start point – I grabbed a couple of Canadians who were there and got them to take this – happily we continued to cross paths throughout the walk and saw each other at the pub in Fort William at the end. I never got their names but I will remember them fondly as trail buddies!
The walk starts off gently enough, meandering through Mugdock country park as you leave the suburbs and head for the proper countryside. I’d read that day 1 was a bit boring and drab, just getting you out to the wilder areas, so I was surprised how much I enjoyed it – even this early on there was some lovely scenery, if not as dramatic as the later stages.
A good reminder 🙂
After about 4 miles I’d left the suburbs behind, the crowds had thinned out a bit as people found their varying paces and I was settling in to my walking and enjoying myself. The trail opens up and gets more rural and you get some lovely views over to Dumgoyne.
I love my new camera, but I hadn’t realised I had the “panorama” setting on “old style” so all my panoramas for the first couple of days have this browny sepia tinge! Oops 🙂
Already I was feeling glad that I had planned my walk for 8 days at a relaxed pace. I had wanted to not feel rushed, so that I could drink in the whole experience, and that was exactly how it did turn out. This panorama was taken off the trail – I hopped off for a 10 minute walk up to the top of a mound to get to this viewpoint. I was really glad that I was able to do stuff like this throughout – and some of the best parts of the whole trip ended up being the bits where I went off the trail – rather than feeling like I couldn’t stop or add on miles because I was pressed for time.
7 miles in and the Beech Tree Inn was a welcome sight – LUNCH!
The Inn provided this handy map of the WHW – there’s a long way to go!
The walking after lunch was not quite as nice – a large chunk was on roads and the views were not as scenic. However there were still some lovely moments to enjoy. I hopped off the trail again and sat by this beautiful river at about the 10 mile mark to rest my feet and have a snack.
Honesty shops were quite a common sight along the Way – I loved this!
There seemed to be a Lord of the Rings theme going on here …. happily I passed through without being set upon by any trolls or orcs 🙂
The last couple of miles into Drymen were walking on tarmac which was a bit wearing, and the feet were getting tired by this point, but I revived a bit when I reached the top of a hill to get my very first views of Loch Lomond in the distance – I’d be walking alongside that tomorrow!
At about 3.30 I rolled into my first B&B feeling tired but exhilarated. I crashed out on my bed for a rest before walking (another half mile! too cruel at the end of the first day!) into Drymen to get some dinner at the Clachan Inn. I splurged on fillet steak and profiteroles – I was very glad I had not gone for the camping option! It was fabulous to have food put in front of me, followed by crashing into a nice comfy bed!
Day one, done!
Click here for the Day 2 blog.