About the Author, Leah LaRocco: “Hi there, I’m a Long Islander who lives in Franklin, Tennessee. My first love was the ocean, but growing up camping and hiking around Vermont also contributed to a deep appreciation for the mountains. Public lands are some of my favorite places to hike and Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a regular weekend getaway. I work full time, but believe dreams and passions can and should be pursued outside of the everyday 9-5. As a naturalist, I hope to convey how incredibly healing the woods, water, and wildlife can be when we make the choice to step outside.” Find her via her Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Website.
West Highland Way Website
https://www.westhighlandway.org/ is the official trail website that includes maps, gear suggestions, and all kinds of links for accommodations, baggage transfers, etc. While I did refer to the site for information along the way, the social media groups and the guidebook have been the most helpful resources thus far.
Social Media Groups
As those of us in All Women All Trails know, some Facebook hiking groups provide excellent information where hikers and walkers can ask questions and get feedback from people who’ve already walked the trail. I found this very helpful and informative, and would suggest joining one or both of the West Highland Way groups on Facebook.
Maps and Navigation for the West Highland Way
If you don’t already have one, obtain a guidebook as soon as your flight is booked. There are many, many options for guidebooks on the WHW, so it’s likely you’ll be fine with several of the options available. The one I decided to go with is by Charlie Loran and can be purchased HERE. I do believe this has been updated as of 2019, so be sure to look for the seventh edition. What I liked about this book is that it includes information on places to stay in each town, camping locations, distances between each segment, time estimates, gear needed for the trip, conservation and nature info, wildflower ID photos, and detailed maps that include lots of helpful notes for every step of the way.
Download the Guthook app on your phone. For those of us used to hiking on long trails in the U.S., Guthook will be a familiar friend. You can either download the entire UK Trailblazer Guides package for $24.99, or just the WHW map for $5.99.
Download the maps.me app on your phone. If you want a backup navigation option just in case, maps.me is my go-to. Friends who are world travelers told me about this app years ago and I’ve never looked back. maps.me is an offline map resource, so you need to download all maps for the regions where you’ll be traveling beforehand. It’s primarily for driving, but trails are also visible on the map and I’ve used it countless times to double check my location or get myself back on track while hiking. Users have the ability to save locations by starring them on the map so they can easily be found later. The app does take a bit of getting used to and is not as user friendly or detailed as Guthook, so I would suggest practicing with it before taking a trip.
Accommodation Along the West Highland Way
For those hiking the WHW there are a number of options for places to stay which will fit into every budget. Hostels, bunkhouses, and campsites are an economical choice for those on a tight budget. For anyone wanting to sleep in a plush bed at night after grabbing a pint and a warm meal at the pub, there are some lovely hotels, inns, and B&Bs along the way. These will cost more, but also make this trail appealing for anyone who doesn’t want to rough it in a tent every night (this is a subtle shout out to all the significant others who reluctantly take part in the journey due to the promise of beer and a warm bed).
Since I was booking this trip less than a year out, I worried about being able to find accommodation in some of the towns we would pass through. Many of the villages are small with only a handful of places to stay. First and foremost though, I had to figure out our schedule and decide which route we’d be taking. There are many different routes and stopping points depending on how many days you plan to walk and whether you are wanting to camp or stay in B&Bs. Below is our daily planned mileage and accommodations. This does not include midday stops or side trails off the WHW.
Place – Mileage – Accommodation
Milngavie – Drymen…………………12……….The Hawthorns
Drymen – Rowardennan……………14……….Rowardennan Youth Hostel Lodge
Rowardennan – Inverarnen……….13.5…….Drover’s Inn
Inverarnen – Bridge of Orchy……..19.5…….Bridge of Orchy Hotel
Bridge of Orchy – Glencoe*…………12……….Clachaig Inn
Glencoe – Kinlochleven………………9.5……..The Bank House Bed & Breakfast
Kinlockleven – Fort William………..15………St. Andrew’s Guesthouse
*We wanted to stay near the Three Sisters in Glencoe so we opted to get a cab from the Glencoe Ski Centre to the Clachaig Inn and then back the next morning. The hotel in Kingshouse was under construction and after being renovated, the prices increased significantly.
The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 (which came into force in 2005) gives everyone rights of access over land and inland water throughout Scotland, subject to specific exclusions set out in the Act and as long as they behave responsibly. These rights are sometimes referred to as ‘freedom to roam’.
Due to the trials, finding a place to stay in Kinlochleven was nerve wracking. Every single place I looked up was fully booked the night we’d be there. I started thinking about staying in another town and getting transportation there and back, but the logistics of that would have been tricky. Finally, after a glass of wine and another panicked online search, I found a small B&B called the Bank House Bed & Breakfast. Somehow, they were literally the only place in town with a room left and I can only imagine it was due to a cancellation.
Luckily Fort William is large enough that there were still several options available in spite of the trials. The only other town on the way that was almost completely booked was Rowardennan, most likely because it’s small with few options for hotels. We will be at the Rowardennan Lodge Youth Hostel which is situated right on the banks of Loch Lomond. We were able to get a private room and I purchased the breakfast option when booking.
Baggage Transfers on the West Highland Way
Another very appealing aspect of the WHW is that you are not required to carry a heavy pack as you traipse through the highlands on the way to your next pub. You can skip this option for a more authentic backpacking and camping experience, which would drastically reduce the cost of this trip. However, many folks opt to have their bags transferred from place to place so they can enjoy the walk with nothing more than a daypack on their back. European slack packing! Baggage transfers typically run £40-50 per bag per person for the entirety of your trip. Some popular transfer companies include:
Travel-Lite – £45 per bag, but price does vary depending on the number of bags.
Ginger Routes – £40 per bag.
Baggage Freedom – £40 per bag.
-If you fly into Glasgow, you will need transportation to the start of the WHW in Milngavie. A bus, train, or taxi will take you there. I would suggest looking into each and deciding what suits your needs based on timing and cost.
-At any point on the WHW, you might decide that you’d like to stay in a different town, or be forced to if accommodations along the trail are full. We decided to skip staying in Kingshouse in favor of staying at the Clachaig Inn in Glencoe because, having visited before, we were completely in love with the scenery in that area. This meant finding either a bus or taxi from the Glencoe Ski Centre. The buses are far and few between, so I decided it would be worth it to shell out the £50 roundtrip for a taxi. I started looking in January to book a reservation for early May, and most of the taxi companies were already booked on that day. Thank goodness, I was able to find one and reserve our seats in a shared cab. Booking ahead is extremely important!
-Once you finish the WHW, there is the option of a bus or train back to Glasgow. We will be taking the train from Fort William to Glasgow Airport, which will require several changes on both buses and trains. Our hotel for the last night is a very short walk from the airport. I would suggest booking your trips on Trainline since tickets become available much earlier than they do on the Scotrail website. I paid the fee to have physical tickets mailed to us because mobile e-tickets are not available for use yet at the station we’ll be traveling from. At this point I’m not sure how long it will take us to walk the miles we’re doing each day, so in case we miss the hours of operation for the ticket counter, we’ll have the tickets in hand and be ready to go.