Custom Search

Friday, September 28, 2018

Walking the West Highland Way

To celebrate my sister's 40th birthday, I took her on a trip to Scotland. Walking the West Highland Way was a bucket list item for her, and a wonderful way for us to spend much-needed time together. I'll post our amazing photos separately, but for now, an outline of the trip and some logistics:

The walk: It's a 96-mile walk through the highlands, and you can complete it a variety of ways:

  1. Backpack and camp the whole way
  2. Backpack, but arrange to stay in B&Bs or "wigwams" or other shelter
  3. Arrange for luggage transfer, and simply walk to and from each B&B with a day pack.

We did option #3, but in retrospect, option #2 would have been cheaper and simpler. You just don't need to pack that much, and if I'd had time to make my own B&B reservations, we could have saved a ton of money. As it was, we went with a tour company. We paid a set fee for them to transfer our luggage and provide accommodations. The upside was that we didn't need to worry about where to stay, because these tiny towns fill up very quickly. But otherwise, it was a waste of money. We used Hillwalk Tours, and they were basically useless. They provided no assistance or support other than the very basics included in the package. For example, when you book, they tell you that you can easily get from the airport in Glasgow to the starting and stopping points by train. But then when I went to buy tickets, I discovered that the train doesn't run on weekends. I contacted the tour company for suggestions, and they were like, shrug, sorry. So if your tour starts or ends on a weekend, you might end up like we did - taking a taxi the whole way (it's a two-hour drive). The only other thing the tour provided were "walk notes" which were not only full of errors, but pointless. The trail is clearly marked. I would have much preferred notes that included historical or geographical info to enhance the walk. The notes they provided had maybe one or two mentions per day, nothing really educational. So anyway, if you do a West Highland Way walk, by all means skip the tour company. Throw some waterproof layers in a backpack and just carry it around with you!
Ready for a cold day

We ended up doing most of the walk - we started at Drymen, so a bit after the traditional starting point - in five days. It's not a strenuous walk: there are ups, down, and rocks, and you are walking in water most of the time, but I think anyone could do it. I wouldn't call it hiking - it's definitely just walking. Our days varied from as few as 14 miles to as many as 22.

On a warm day: just my base layers, all rolled up! 
As far as packing goes, we way overpacked! All the B&Bs have drying rooms, and since you're going to get wet anyway, you might as well just rinse your clothes, toss them in the drying room, and re-wear the next day. I bought some merino-wool blend base layers that were awesome - they washed clean in seconds and dried completely in about an hour. Then I would wear leggings and a long-sleeved tech race T over that, plus a ball cap and a raincoat. On warmer days, I'd shed some layers, and when it was cold, I put a winter hat over my ball cap. I wore the same pair of hiking shoes the whole time. We went to dinner every night, so I brought one pair of non-hiking shoes, a pair of jeans, and some tops. That plus the scarf/shawl I brought on the plane was plenty.

I did get rained on almost constantly, so if I did it again, I'd get a waterproof backpack and even a backpack cover. But in general, it's an easy and low-stress trip and such a fun bonding experience for family!

1 comment:

  1. That sucks that the tour company was so unhelpful and not worth the extra money spent. But what a cool bonding experience for you and your sister!!!