The West Highland Way: Pt. I

The story of our 96mi walk across the Scottish Highlands, part one.

The West Highland Way: Pt. I

Note: This post originally appeared on our Patreon.

Last month, we disappeared into the wilds of Scotland and spent a week walking the 96mi West Highland Way. It was maybe the hardest and best thing we've done yet—though making a game comes close.

Most of this is adapted from my Instagram version, but consider it the special edition: uncropped and with bonus photos, including some from David—which means you get to see both of our backpacks against incredible landscapes.

Day 1: Milngavie to Drymen (12mi)

We set out on an appropriately drizzly morning in Milngavie. Day one was an easy 12mi through farmland, scattered with sheep and a single, distant herd of Highland cows (the only ones we ever saw). Most walkers were traveling north with us, except for a wonderful old man in a kilt and his wife, who walk south along the Way every weekend.

Just outside Drymen, where we'd camp that evening, we discovered the beautiful thing that is an "honesty box": leave some cash, grab desired food/drink—in this case, a hearty slice of homemade chocolate cake.

Day 2: Drymen to Rowardennan (14mi)

Day two was a harder one, though only a few miles longer than the first day, with a long climb in the middle.

A little rain in the morning, and we, the unitiated, were eager to outfit our rain gear. Learned our lesson in sweat that day, on the long climb up windy Conic Hill among the blackface sheep. Down over the hill, glutes burning, we rested on a giant stump in the dense green wood over Balmaha.

And on, skirting beautiful Loch Lomond, at times through ferns, or birch, and always mushrooms. Tired and beginning to drag, we met again the kilted old man and his wife, who brightened the walk once more.

Finally, finally, we finished the day's walk and, exhausted, set up for a wild camp on the loch shore outside Rowardennan. And we slept, long and hard, no matter the windstorm that threatened to carry off our tent in the night.

Day 3: Rowardennan to Inverarnan (15mi)

We awoke stiff and sore on day three, seen off by park rangers who'd come to check for toppled trees from the overnight storm. (We'd thought of that when the wind began, then decided not to think.)

We walked slowly that day, steadily. I finally managed to fit my pack properly, a relief to my poor destroyed shoulders. Dropped our lunch crumbs over the falls at Inversnaid, treated ourselves to fresh scones at the hotel.

We'd been told the terrain past Inversnaid worsened, but we weren't worried then: only after. The steep, rocky climb along the loch was slow and tedious, and the sun began to drop behind the mountains long before we'd reached our campground. Worse, the land beyond was boggy, wild and empty, and we'd seen only one other walker for miles.

It was beautiful, though, passing through that wild land at the edge of day. We were nearly running now, but we couldn't help pausing to wonder at it from time to time.

Our map showed a town just before the campground, and we rushed on and on: no town, no town, and we knew now we'd never get there before dark. No town—and then we broke from the trees to a field of tents and the blessed smell of the farm's restaurant. You had to enter into that smell to check in, so it was inevitable we stay for a meal. We'd have plenty of our own cooking ahead.

Our appetites seemed bottomless, but at last sated and sleepy, we slept huddled against the wet cold of night.

Day 4: Inverarnan to Tyndrum (14mi)

Day four: halfway sore, halfway rainy, halfway Way. A little of every sort of terrain, and never less breathtaking.

It was a quieter day, less of note. A few washed-away bridges set us on detours. Signs warned of diabetic ponies. (We laughed at the first, puzzled over the more official-looking second.)

Later, our sore, unaccountably wet feet brought us into Tyndrum for a final supply restock. I waited in the café while David shopped: unshowered, boots off, munching a sausage roll, and eyed interminably by both the man behind the counter and the parade of tourists.

Backtracked out of town, so as not to skip any step of the Way, then on. North of town, we found a lonely spot to wild camp and fell asleep to the sounds of sheep and rushing water.

(Continued in Pt. II.)