Thoughts on the West Highland Way Part 1: A Route AppraisalSeptember 10th, 2007
Over the last few weeks, I have been writing up my thoughts on the West Highland Way now that I have all of its length. Initially, I was putting them all into a single post but it got so long that it derailed any other blogging that I would have been doing (there is a Rob Roy Way trip report from the end of August to appear here yet). So, I’m breaking the WHW review up to make it more digestible and easier to complete; proof reading a lengthy essay is asking for typos to slip out. This first instalment will go over the route as it should be walked rather than the way in which I did it. What I learnt from the way that I walked it will be the subject of the next instalment of these musings. Ideas for possible deviations that take you away from the madding crowd, busy noisy roads and electricity pylons are also planned.
Milngavie to Drymen
The choice of Milngavie as a starting point is certainly an interesting one. Access by public transport is a facile affair and progress from the main street is initially through woodland before you make your way out into more open country, crossing some fields on the way. Beyond Dumgoyach Farm, I felt that the walking was not as appealing as it could be. First, progress is by the disused Strath Blane railway with a stretch of road walking thereafter, never an exciting proposition. That said, you do cross a field on the way towards the A811; Drymen is a short jaunt west along the same road. As well as unexciting walking, pylons intrude on the views as does road traffic noise on the peace from time to time. Nevertheless, it is a stroll largely on the level with good views of the Campsie Fells with a first glimpse of Loch Lomond. The latter is over a gravel pit, not of great foreground interest in photographs.
Drymen to Rowardennan
After Drymen, the quality of the walking is on the ascendant with some progress along forest tracks and, if Conic Hill is open to walkers, a sharp shock to the legs: a taste of what is to come further north. From Balmaha, the WHW keeps rather too close to the Rowardennan road for my liking but it is not a busy affair. Even so, you lose it more and more, the further north you go and there are plenty of short sharp ascents to test those legs.
Rowardennan to Inverarnan
Rowardennan is a peach of a location and I certain enjoyed my overnight stay there. Views to the north are enticing and Ben Lomond is a possible excursion for the more adventurous; this is quality walking country. The way between Rowardennan and Inverarnan does seem to have garnered itself a reputation for being tough but I take the view that this is more like the WHW that I would have expected. Those of a more daring disposition can stay close to the shore while bound for Rowchoish; others may prefer the forestry track route. The latter certainly avoids a shoreline crux that nearly bested me; giving myself a chance to regain my composure got me beyond it. Beyond Rowchoish, good tracks and paths get you to Inversnaid. The section from Inversnaid to Ardleish can be adjudged tricky in places but I felt it to be a satisfyingly testing stretch without any serious difficulties. Good paths going over more predictable ground return on the approach to Inverarnan with some of the Crianlarich hills filling the view.
Inverarnan to Crianlarich
Beyond Inversnaid, humanity intrudes again, in the form of a very noisy A82. As if that were not enough, the pervasiveness of the pylons in Glen Falloch certainly detract from its visual appeal. Things do get better once the A82 is crossed and a quieter few miles along good tracks and paths do their bit to compensate for the earlier lack of pleasure until Strath Fillan is reached and another encounter with the A82 greets you. you could stop off in Crianlarich for a shorter day but getting to Tyndrum is no bad thing. Views of the Crianlarich hills are behind you, a pity in my opinion since they look grander than their Tyndrum counterparts; I was walking south and got the full benefit of the grandness. The views are good here and the A82 is not too intrusive either.
Crianlarich to Bridge of Orchy
The noisy A82 has it last hurrah as you make your way north from Tyndrum; hurrah is the last thing that I would have been saying until I made it off the slopes of Beinn an Dothaidh. A good military track takes you past tantalising glimpses along Glen Coralan and Gleann Ach’-inis Chailein do attempt to erase earlier memories. Along Beinn Dorainn, road noise is far away until Bridge of Orchy is reached and the A82 crossed yet again. Should the WHW be called the A82 Way or the W82?
Bridge of Orchy to Glen Coe
Leaving Bridge of Orchy takes you into wilder country. First up is progress along an old military road to Inveroran, where the legs will get a good workout from the ascent and descent. Views of Loch Tulla and the ever nearer Black Mount vie for your attention. From Inveroran, it is the forbear of the A82 that will be taking you forth. This is good walking with road noise by now a distant memory and the ever present Black Mount for company while you continue through wild country and gaze over Rannoch Moor when at last it presents itself. All of this is enjoyable stuff.
Glen Coe to Kinlochleven
The A82 is crossed for the last time near the Kingshouse Hotel at the head of Glen Coe. Unencumbered views along the glen pervade and the rocky buttress of Buachaille Etive Mor is unmissable. I don’t seem to recall road noise blighting my memory of the way to the foot of the Devil’s Staircase; maybe I had other things on my mind… The ascent of the Devil’s Staircase is a shock to the system and could make you wonder why you are heading north. I descended it and it looked foreboding enough so an ascent is a definite test. The rewards are there, though. From here to Kinlochleven, you are undeniably immersed in wild country; it is hard to believe that workers on the construction passed through here on their way back from the Kingshouse Hotel at nighttime. That some perished while on the excursion should come as no surprise to you when you see what surrounds you. The Mamores come steadily into view as you head towards Kinlochleven, an undeservedly lesser frequented spot.
Kinlochleven to Fort William
Getting to Kinlochleven on the WHW involves a steep descent whichever way you are going and the same description applies to the ascent from from the village. The rewards are very much in evidence, though. For instance, heading north takes you through the magnificent Lairig Mor on the way to the pretty Glen Nevis. The final northbound section is undeniably a high point of the whole trip and may even be considered its zenith. I have walked it twice and it’s not that often that I do that: my first visit was on a day that remain steadfastly cloud so I returned when the sun very much in evidence and I’ll never forget that day and for all the right reasons too.