Posts Tagged With: Loch Lomond

Ah, what a journey is the West Highland Way!

Scotland, 2014: Thirteen days afoot, more than 150 miles. It is time to write the journalist's “30” on this journey. We are jumping on a bus tomorrow and heading to Inverness for a couple days before driving to Fife to see our dear friends there. A week in a Crail seaside cottage sounds amazing just now.

The West Highland Way lives beyond expectations, both in beauty and degree of difficulty. What a trek, indeed!

Here are some notes from our tour:

The West Highland Way

Day 1: Glasgow to Milngavie. 11 miles. This is not part of the official trail, but it is a beautiful, flat walk along the River Kelvin. A good warmup.


An old man at an even older pub, the Clachan Inn.

Day 2: Milngavie to Drymen, 12 miles. The official start of the walk and an easy trek. The Landers Bed and Breakfast in Drymen was a good choice; the hosts were so welcoming. Drymen's Clachan Inn is supposedly Scotland's oldest bar. We had drinks in the tiny, charming pub and dinner next door in the restaurant.

A rock was a perfect picnic spot on Conic Hill.


Day 3: Drymen to Balmaha, 8 miles. The climb up and down Conic Hill was a highlight. Fabulous views of Loch Lomond and our first glimpse of the Highlands. The Balmaha House bunkhouse worked out well. We had drinks and dinner in the pub at Balmaha's Oak Tree Inn, a place filled with character and Scottish charm.

We had a wet picnic on Loch Lomond on Day 4.


Day 4: Balmaha to Inversnaid, 14 miles. A walk along Loch Lomond with views of Ben Lomond. We stayed at the bunkhouse up the hill from Inversnaid (they picked us up and returned us to town the next morning). Tiny bunkrooms, but a bar/restaurant in the old church is filled with personality, good fun, and superb food. This place was a highlight of the trip for us!

A stile was one of many ways to get over a rancher's fence.


Day 5: Inversnaid to Crianlarich, 13 miles. The five miles out of Inversnaid was quite difficult, taking us along the banks of Loch Lomond over large rocks, massive tree roots and mud. One minute, up the hill, next minute, down. This was by far the hardest day of the entire trek. We stayed at the Youth Hostel in Crianlarich, a nice facility.

Remote, but refined, the Bridge of Orchy Hotel.


Day 6: Crianlarich to Bridge of Orchy, 13 miles. You are in the Highlands now and the scenery gets better with each step. For the rest of the West Highland Way, you are mostly traveling where cars can't go. There are so many times we stopped in awe of the landscape. The Bridge of Orchy Hotel is in a remote area and is pricey, but wonderful.

The King's House Hotel was our favorite spot on the way.


Day 7: Bridge of Orchy to King's House, 13 miles. Just when you think the scenery can't get more stunning, it does, and in a big way. The approach to Glen Coe at the end of the day redefines magical. The King's House Hotel, like the Bridge of Orchy Hotel, is about 300 years old, expensive, but worth it, considering the location.

So many pubs, so many beers, and some whiskey.


Day 8: King's House to Kinlochleven, 9 miles. You walk up a place called Devil's Staircase, but the scenery is heavenly. The ascent is not as difficult as the name implies, but the descent into Kinlochleven is quite a test for the knees.

Lunch was usually a picnic along the trail.


Day 9: Kinlochleven to Fort William, 16 miles. A steep climb out of town into more incredible Highlands views toward Ben Nevis, Britain's highest peak. Unfortunately, we finally got a day of real Scottish weather, which hid the mountaintops. We stayed at the Bank Street Lodge, a Fort Williams hostel with lots of private, en suite rooms. Nice place, very friendly.


The Great Glen Way

Day 10: Fort William to Gairlochy, 11 miles. A flat walk, with a look at some locks on the Caledonian Canal. A second day of rain.


A ruined castle and boat marked the Great Glen Way.

Day 11: Gairlochy to South Laggan, 13.5 miles. Another mostly flat trek, with spectacular views back toward Ben Nevis. We stayed at the very nice Great Glen Hostel. No restaurants there, but the hostel has a small store and a great kitchen.


Our Loch Ness view at dinner In Fort Augustus.

Day 12: South Laggan to Fort Augustus, 9 miles. This was the best day of four we walked on the Great Glen Way. Warm, sunny day, with nice views of Loch Oich, the mountains, and the Caledonian Canal. Had a very good dinner at the Boathouse, next to the shores of Loch Ness.


Our outstanding B&B in Invermoriston.

Day 13: Fort Augustus to Invermoriston, 8 miles. A few views of Loch Ness, mostly a forest walk. Kirkfield B&B in Invermoriston is a superb choice. If you watch Mad Men, the proprietor here is Betty Draper.


Sue sets out from King's House at Glen Coe. This is Scotland!


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Coast-to-coast on the Great Glen Way

We are in South Laggan tonight (Monday).

The Eagle Barge Inn, where we stopped for a drink this afternoon.

The Great Glen Hostel, our home tonight.

After our second day on the 73-mile Great Glen Way, we are staying in a great hostel in South Laggan. We scored a private en suite room. It helps to be one of the first to arrive!

We have trekked about 130 miles from Glasgow and we are sore and tired. When we planned the trip in January, we did not know the West Highland Way would be as tough as it turned out to be. The middle day along Loch Lomond was quite a test. Last winter, we had debated a rest day in Fort William and decided we wouldn't need it. It turned out we would have welcomed it.

Nonetheless, we loved the West Highland Way. We have never seen more stunning scenery.

As we began the Great Glen Way, we thought about taking a bus out of Fort William when it was raining, but our pride won. (And we would have had to endure our friend Malcolm's ribbing!) Honestly, the busses weren't running because it was Sunday.

A highlight of these treks is the people we meet along the way.

  • Two college guys from Niagara Falls are walking the Great Glen Way, then plan to stay at a monastery in Elgin, Scotland for four days. Why? To experience it, they told us. One said his dad had considered the priesthood and the other said his grandfather had done the same. They are probably glad neither followed through.
  • We stopped today to have drinks and scones on a barge that doubled as a pub on the Caledonian Canal. There, we chatted with a Swiss man who had walked the Camino de Santiago, but he started in Switzerland! About 1,200 miles. He has also walked from Switzerland to Rome.
  • In the Highlands, we talked to a 30-something Englishman who was walking to the north coast of Scotland to work for the summer. Everything he owned was on his back.
  • Another Englishman was walking from the southern tip of England to the northern tip of Scotland.
  • Most walkers on the West Highland Way had their packs/luggage picked up and transported to their next accommodation each day. So far, it seems most on the Great Glen Way are carrying their belongings.


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A treacherous trek along Loch Lomond

An idyllic view masked the challenge of walking the banks of Loch Lomond.

Sue was determined to conquer the banks of Loch Lomond!

We scored a private room at the youth hostel.

The banks of bonny Loch Lomond on the West Highland Way welcomed us Tuesday morning in Inversnaid, but when we rolled into our youth hostel in Crianlarich nine hours and 13 miles later, we felt like we had passed an enormous test. Over bulging roots, rocks, mud, steep stairs and bridges, we trudged. For the first five miles, virtually every step had to be measured. Neither of us has done such a trek. Our photos, I am afraid, do not capture the challenge.

It was a beautiful day, though, and a great pub meal, punctuated by some McEwens and merlot, made it seem worthwhile. The memory will improve with time.

After all, this is Scotland!


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At the end of the day, memories are made

The Inversnaid Bunkhouse, with hosts Nick and Luna.

Our room for four.

After a long day walking along Loch Lomond, we arrived in Inversnaid, a tiny village on the banks of the lake. I looked up our booking and saw that the Inversnaid Bunkhouse was our destination. “Call for pickup,” said my notes. Minutes later, Nick arrived and drove us up the mountain to a remote building, which was once a church. A Scottish native, he was most welcoming as he showed us to our closet-sized room for four.

After showers, we met our roommate Heather, a young woman from Toronto who is walking the West Highland Way to kick off a several-month European tour. Sue and I went upstairs and shared a bottle of wine while we soaked up the magic of the bar/restaurant, the Top Bunk Bistro, with church-window decor.

Our server was Luna, Nick’s wife, from the Dominican Republic. We spent the evening there, enjoying one of the finest restaurant meals we have ever had in Scotland.

I must say, when I first saw our room, my thoughts were “uh-oh.” So much for first impressions. This will go down as a most memorable stay!

This building held surprises that we will never forget.


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Heading for the magic of Scotland’s highlands

The 97-mile West Highland Way is the most popular of Britain’s 19 national walks. It begins in Milngavie and ends in Fort William, which sits in the shadow of the United Kingdom’s tallest mountain, Ben Nevis.

The forecast called for showers for Day One, but a bright, mostly dry day awaited. Sue met a piper and his Scottish terrier along the way to Drymen.

Conic Hill presented the first climb of the trek and our first views of the highlands ahead.

Lunch atop Conic Hill provides a view of Loch Lomond and a glimpse of the highlands. We are staying in a comfy bunkhouse in Balmaha tonight and head for the highlands tomorrow, traveling north along the loch, or to the right in this photo. Except for a brief shower, the weather was great.


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