Thinking about hiking the West Highland Way multi-day trek in Scotland? I did this hike a few weeks ago and a lot of things turned out to be different from what I had expected. Here are eight things that I had to find out on my own during the West Highland Way.
The West Highland Way is a 154 km (96 miles) long distance hike in Scotland that starts in Milngavie and finishes in the highland town of Fort William.
The trail was officially opened in 1980 and it's currently hiked in its entirety by around 36,000 people each year. It takes 5–8 days to finish the hike, depending on your fitness and ability.
Most people walk the West Highland Way from south to north. In that way, you get to enjoy the lowland scenery while gradually moving towards the highlands.
I walked the West Highland Way in June 2019. I had read in so many blogs that this was a breathtaking route and some bloggers even stated that it was amongst the most beautiful hikes in Europe. So when I finally put on my hiking boots in Milngavie this summer, I certainly had high hopes.
To make a long story short, I was a bit underwhelmed by the whole thing. The fact that I come from Iceland might have something to do with it because I kept comparing the Scottish landscapes to what I’m familiar with at home.
Anyways, I thought I might share with you some tips that might help you make up your mind on whether you should do the WHW or not, and perhaps be of help for those who have already planned their trip.
I have to warn you that in my list of things that bloggers do not tell you about the WHW I basically only talk about what’s negative about the trail. I have to stress that the WHW isn’t all that bad, I just feel like many bloggers are over-glorifying it. So here it goes:
Boats sailing on Loch Lomond. Travelade/Nína.
The name “West Highland Way” definitely implies that the hike takes place in the wilderness so I assumed that that was what I was signing up for. To my surprise, the vibe during the hike didn’t become “wild” until we reached Kingshouse on our 5th day.
During the first days, we passed many farms and small towns. The trail is also close to the road so you would hear vague traffic noise during almost the entire hike. While we walked along Loch Lomond you were distracted by loud motor boats on your left side and car traffic on your right side.
One of the things I love the most about hiking is the complete silence and the sense of being far away from populated areas. Unfortunately I didn’t get to experience that during the West Highland Way.
A cloudy day on the West Highland Way. Travelade/Nína.
Most bloggers actually talk about how unpredictable the weather can be in the Scottish Highlands. But sometimes they fail to mention that the weather can get truly horrible up there. We’re talking heavy rain, wind and temperatures around 10°C in the summer.
During the whole trip, we had one relatively sunny day. Otherwise it was mostly raining.
Therefore, it's extremely important to bring the right gear and wear 100% waterproof apparel during the hike.
Haggis: The pride of Scottish cuisine. Canva/Andrew1Norton.
I’ve spent a good amount of time in the UK and I can’t say that I’m a fan of the British cuisine. However, the food we got in Scotland was even worse than I expected. The key principles of the cuisine seemed to be “minimum freshness, maximum greasiness” and even the hamburgers were over-cooked and bland.
During the route there was only one restaurant where I actually got decent food and that was at the Kingshouse Hotel. Make sure you indulge while you’re there, but at the other stops it might be better to get your meals at the grocery store.
Gentle slopes on the second day of the hike. Travelade/Nína.
The West Highland Way might not be the ideal route for you If you prefer a demanding hike with lots of hills and slopes. The highest point of the whole trail is only 500 m above sea level and the steepest hill is the Conic Hill, which you encounter on the second day of your hike. There are in fact no mountains that you have to climb en route.
Overall, the hike is not very strenuous and thus it is a good option for untrained hikers.
The harbour of Oban. Travelade/Nína.
Delightful seafood in Oban. Travelade/Nína.
Due to a mistake I made when I was booking the accommodation, we were forced to stay in Tyndrum for two nights instead of one. This meant that we had a day off from walking.
It was raining cats and dogs that day and although it was tempting to stay inside our little cabin for the whole day, we decided to put on our raincoats and take the next train to the coastal town of Oban.
Oban is a very pretty town with great seafood, island excursions, seal watching tours and a whiskey distillery worth visiting. We had a great time there and felt really energized after having spent the day strolling lazily around this charming little town.
This is how the scenery looked in the Highlands. Travelade/Nína.
Ok, this is actually pretty scenic 👆🏼Travelade/Nína.
Days 3–5 of the hike are characterized by woodlands. Travelade/Nína.
I had read about how scenic the WHW was and that the landscapes are dramatic and diverse. For the first two or three days I kept waiting for that scenery to appear and thought to myself that maybe the first few days would be a little bland and everything would change once we were in the actual Highlands.
However, the trail remained rather uninteresting for the whole time (woodlands, a lake, some hills and no dramatic ridges, cliffs or mountains) and only a few times was I tempted to bring my camera into play.
As I have already mentioned, Scotland resembles my home country Iceland a little bit and therefore I kept on comparing the landscapes to the ones I know from home. And it was just SO disappointing! My boyfriend and I joked that the highland-part of the West Highland looked exactly like Nesjavellir in Iceland (a very boring area in Iceland, pictured below).
Nesjavellir in Iceland is not a popular spot for hiking. Travelade/Nína.
We all know that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder and by no means am I trying to influence your opinion on what classifies as beautiful nature and what doesn’t. If you prefer serene lakes and woods to dramatic mountains and geological phenomena, you should definitely rather opt for Scotland than Iceland.
According the the official West Highland Way Website, the hike is done in 8 days. On days 5 and 6 you just hike around 15 kilometres each day. I recommend that you skip the overnight stop at Inveroran on day 5 and head straight to Kingshouse from Tyndrum. If you start early in the morning, you’ll get to Kingshouse before dinner (even if you walk at a relatively slow pace).
The charming Rowardennan Lodge Youthostel by the Loch. Travelade/Nína.
If you’re not camping during your hike you should make sure that all your accommodation is booked a couple of months in advance. The options for accommodation are limited and sell out quickly.
Would you recommend luggage transfer on the West Highland Way?
We carried all our stuff with us but it was certainly tempting to pay somebody to do it. If you’re carrying heavy backpacks, tents and camping gear, I would definitely look into it. It’s not that pricey either.
Are there other hikes in Scotland that are more interesting than the WHW?
The West Highland Way is the only one I’ve done so far so frankly I don’t know whether there are better trails. Check out this comprehensive map of long distance trails in Scotland for inspiration.
Is the West Highland Way a guided walking tour?
No, it’s usually done without a guide. The trail is so well marked that it’s well nigh impossible to lose track of it. You can either hike alone or with your friends or partner – good company is key when hiking for many days in a row!
Nina, are you always so horribly arrogant?
Naah, not always. I'm sorry if you thought my article was a complete rant but at least I tried to be honest!
The best travel recommendations come from locals. Check out these Wanderguides from England by locals sharing their travel tips and hidden gems.