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.
Day 1, Milngavie to Drymen, 12 miles
Had I known how tired we’d be after our flight, I probably would have opted to just stay in a B&B this first day to rest up and prepare ourselves for walking. The terrain the first day was very easy though, and 12 miles didn’t seem like it would be too hard on flat-ish ground. After getting some pictures at the start of the West Highland Way in Milngavie we walked through a lovely park where the woods were filled with bluebells and lots of birdsong.
We passed through several pastures of sheep, the first of many on the WHW. It was quite common to arrive at gates where you’d have to unlatch the door, walk through, and make sure it was securely latched before heading on. The walking on this first day was taking us out of the populated areas, so it included some road walking, pasture walking, paths that skirted behind homes and through the woods beside roads.
Unfortunately, we arrived at the Glengoyne Distillery a bit too late to get a tour, but the folks in the shop gave us some samples of their whisky. It looked like a nice place, but we headed on to the Beech Tree for a cuppa tea and the best scone I’ve ever tasted. The owners there were so nice and even took time to sit down and talk with me because I had all kinds of questions about the birds we’d been seeing and hearing along the way. There is a small petting zoo of sorts with ponies and animals. It’s an interesting little place to sit a spell and revive oneself before the final push to our destination for the night.
We felt like it took forever to get to Drymen, because the road just kept going on and on, and our jet lagged bodies were so ready to plop down on a bed. The town is adorable and we stayed at The Hawthorns, a lovely B&B just off the center of town. Dinner at the Clachan was the best way to end the night, and arguably had the best sticky toffee pudding we tried along the entire trail. Yes, we ate it every night and had a rating scale because it’s maybe the most perfect dessert every made.
Be sure to book ahead for dinner at every place you can. We learned this on our last trip to Scotland and saw walkers being turned away at the Clachan because they didn’t have a reservation. The town has an ATM and Spar market. We packed out some meat and cheese for snacks during the day, along with Cadbury bars because the chocolate really tastes better on the other side of the pond.
Day 2, Drymen to Rowardennan, 16 milesWe headed out of Drymen, and as soon as we stepped back onto the WHW, it felt like we were finally getting away from civilization.
The trail goes through several forests, and we started to get view of Loch Lomond and Conic Hill. We went through several sheep pastures on the way to Conic Hill and made the long climb around to the top. The view became more dynamic with every turn until we could see Loch Lomond before us in all her glory.
We climbed the remaining 361 feet to the top of Conic Hill and it was absolutely worth it. Such incredible views of the loch. As we headed down, there were lots of steps, and the terrain became very rocky.
The trail takes you straight into Balmaha where there is a visitor center across the street from the Oak Tree Inn. The Oak Tree had a lovely outdoor patio to sit on and eat a delicious lunch while drinking a beer and pondering how lucky you are to be at that very place at that very moment in time. The village shop next door has snacks.
We headed on after lunch and began the climb out of Balmaha. Our B&B owner warned us this second half of the day was harder. There is still quite a lot of flat walking, plus a few roads, but much more of a roller coaster skirting the edge of Loch Lomond. The climbs in this section are steep, some containing stairs. Our muscles were tired and we still hadn’t caught up on sleep, so every hill felt harder than it was. I’m convinced that had we been rested, this wouldn’t have felt so arduous.
The WHW is really a gravel pathway. It’s so unlike trails that I’m used to in the US. Because the path is very hard and gravelly, it seems to be tougher on the muscles too. We enjoyed the views of the loch when we had them, and passed through quite a gorgeous forest along the way.
Tonight’s stay is at the Rowardennan Lodge Youth Hostel and we have a million dollar view from our room. This building is quite impressive for a hostel and there is a hefty supply of beer and snacks behind the front desk. We opted for the meal vouchers and honestly, the food wasn’t that good. We had chili for dinner and a sad breakfast the next morning. Meals were pricey, consisting of straight up cafeteria food. Our room was nice though and we never had any difficulty with sharing bathrooms or showers. If I stayed here again, I’d bring my own food. The Rowardennan Hotel was already booked up when I’d made reservations for this trip. It was quite the sad occasion walking past a hotel on our way to the hostel.
Tomorrow is said to be the hardest day on the trail, so we’ll see!
Day 3: Rowardennan to Inverarnan, 15 milesToday was my favorite so far. The walk along Loch Lomond was challenging and breathtaking with views of the loch the entire way. We took the lower trail, which is harder than the upper trail, but so much more rewarding in terms of beauty. We saw lots of birds and wild goats too!
The forest was mossy and green as could be, emerald in fact. Pictures will never do it justice! Tons of up and down over tree roots, down rocky steps, with the trail constantly changing. I enjoyed it so much more than the flat stretches we’ve had. We passed a couple of people who seemed to think it was the pits, but it reminded me of the Appalachian Trail. Highlights were seeing some of the old estates, visiting a bothy (Scotland’s version of a shelter), seeing wild goats, and finally feeling like we entered the wilderness of the highlands.
The birds here are so beautiful. We’ve seen European robins, a blue tit, chaffinches, great tits, some kind of plover, European goldfinches, heard a cuckoo, and saw so many more that I couldn’t identify. It’s killing me not knowing what they are and no one around here seems to know either. We also heard some frogs trilling today. The black slugs have been so interesting. They are huge and deep velvety black. If you’re into nature, this trail definitely has its fill!
We stopped at the Inversnaid Hotel which was SUCH a cool place. There is a rushing waterfall right before you arrive, which felt like a good omen. The hotel requires you leave packs and boots in a little warming room at the hikers entrance. Walking through a nice hotel in socks seemed wrong somehow, but everyone else was too, and now I want to walk through fancy hotels in socks all the time. The bar was out of half the food on the menu, but we liked the sandwiches we had. The pot of tea seriously saw me through the rest of the day after a dreadful breakfast at the hostel. Inversnaid was a really pleasant stop in the middle of the day. The luxury of the WHW is all the food stops dotted along the way. We carried minimal snacks with us because it’s not hard to stop for a full midday meal while walking.
As we passed the little cabins at Beinglas Farm, I was sad we weren’t staying there instead, but you need to have your own sleeping bag if you stay in the little cabins, or have camping equipment. They did have a nice store though and seemed to be a great place for a stop if you decide to carry gear.
The Drovers Inn is a bit off the WHW, and definitely did not meet our expecations. When we checked in, they put us in the lodge across the street, which has no wifi, and feels more like a trailer. The bathroom is shoddy and looks dreadfully cheap, like it was put together in a hurry. Dinner in the bar was great though and is definitely worth the visit. There is taxidermy all over the place, which adds to the lodge-like feel, but if I were going to do this again, I’d stay at Beinglas and then visit the Drovers bar.
I’m still not crazy about the fact that the WHW feels like a road through the woods. I guess this makes sense because many of the paths are old drovers roads, but I miss rugged terrain. Today was such a relief from the last two days of hard gravel. I loved that the trail went a bit wild with roots and rocks. This is supposedly the most challenging part of the trail, and I’m sad to say goodbye to it.
There are some solo walkers on the trail, but not many. I think this could be a lonely endeavor as a solo walker except for those really longing for solitude. Unless you’re willing to butt in with the groups on trail, it seems like there’s not a ton of social interaction that isn’t very intentional. Many people are walking in pairs or in groups. I don’t feel like safety would be an issue at all if going solo. It’s more the social aspect that could be hard.
Tomorrow we have 20 miles to walk. It’s also supposed to rain, so I’m hoping that it holds off, or is just misty like it was today.