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!