I’ve written a few posts on multi-day hikes, but most of these have been booked through a tour agency such as KE Adventure Travel. It’s certainly the easiest way to book a walking holiday, as the planning is all done for you and the accommodation is included, meaning that all you need to worry about is booking your transportation, getting fit and, most importantly, deciding which snacks to take with you. However, it’s usually expensive and not always necessary to go through a tour company, especially if you’re staying in the UK. When walking the West Highland Way with my Dad, we planned and booked it ourselves – this post will tell you how we booked it and where we stayed, as well as a little about the walk itself.
A quick disclaimer: although I’d love to take the credit, it was my Dad that did most of the planning of this walk (and all of our walks), thanks Dad!
What is the West Highland Way?
The West Highland Way is a long distance walk that runs through the Scottish Highlands, from Milngavie (just north of Glasgow) to Fort William and takes just over a week. The route is 151km/ 96 miles long and offers a variety of landscapes including lakes, mountains and moors. Although long, it’s not a hugely difficult walk and there are no technical sections so its achievable for most walkers. It’s well marked out as well so perfect for when I distract my Dad from his navigation with my incessant chatter.
As well as beautiful scenery, the walk passes by the Glengoyne whisky distillery which offers tours and tastings. Despite my Dad’s efforts throughout our trip (he insisted that whisky is an acquired taste and I should therefore take every opportunity to try the stuff), I can’t stand the stuff so although I enjoyed the tour, Dad enjoyed both of our tastings and was a little giggly for the next for the next couple of miles.
Planning Your Walk
The good thing about walking a popular trail such as the West Highland Way is that there are plenty of books, maps and advice pieces out there to help you. The trail itself is well marked, so you don’t have to spend hours plotting out a route and planning how not to get lost. Therefore, your first point of call would be to purchase a book such as this one so that you can get to know the route and the towns and villages that you will pass through on your way. This is important in working out how far you want to walk each day because it will not only depend on your ability and the time that you have available, but also on finding somewhere to stay each night.
The next step is to work out when you would like to go. June and September are the best months to walk as the winter will bring snow and therefore the need for additional equipment, and the summer will bring midges and overcrowding, and therefore lack of available accommodation. April and May are often unpredictable in weather so best to avoid that unless you’re desperate to try out your new waterproofs.
On any popular trail like the West Highland Way, you need to book accommodation way in advance. There are usually a lot of walkers passing through small villages so B&Bs, campsites and hotels are often booked up a year in advance. Dad & I (well, Dad if I’m honest) usually book around 8-9 months ahead for these kinds of walking holidays.
I’ll come on to exactly where we stayed in just a minute, but if you’re doing your own research a good place to start is booking.com as you can cancel a room for free (handy for provisionally booking accommodation when you’re not sure that everything will slot into place) and it includes a lot of small, independent B&Bs as well as hotels.
There is also a fantastic company called Sherpa Van that is helpful here – they are a luggage transfer company that will take your belongings from one hotel/B&B/campsite to the next so that you can walk with just a day pack. They work across a number of walking routes including the West Highland Way, and they have a comprehensive list of accommodation on their website. Below is where we stayed each night, and the distance walked each day so that you can judge whether the distances will be appropriate for you.
Best Foot Forward @ West View – Morag
Our first night, before we started walking the West Highland Way, was spent at West View Guest House AKA Best Foot Forward. This B&B is owned by a friendly man who cooked a fantastic Scottish breakfast for us in the morning and suggested an Italian restaurant just down the road for dinner, which was also excellent. The B&B was traditional but had spacious rooms and was a short walk from both the train station and the start of the West Highland Way trail.
Day 1 walking – Milgnavie to Drymen – 19km / 11.75 miles
Shandon Guest House – Drymen
Shandon Farm House was a delightful place to stay. Although the long driveway wasn’t very much appreciated after a day of walking, it was worth it to stay in a homely, newly refurbished guest house where cows and sheep could be seen grazing right outside of the window. The beds were comfortable, the whole place was spotless and Shannon was lovely. Drymen itself was fun, with a couple of charming pubs serving good food and great beer.
Day 2 walking – Drymen to Rowardennan – 23km / 14.25 miles
Rowardennan Hotel – Rowardennan
We were blessed with sunshine on arrival at the Rowardennan Hotel, meaning that we could enjoy a well-deserved pint in their beer garden, which backed directly onto a beautiful lake. Our room was on the small side but it was comfortable, clean and the food was great!
Day 3 walking – Rowardennan to Inverarnan – 22.5km / 14 miles
Drovers Inn & Lodge – Inverarnan
This was by far my favourite accommodation on the West Highland Way! The Drovers Inn is over 300 years old and you really do step back in time – I’m going to steal the description from their website here because I wouldn’t be able to say it better myself – “To an era where folk sang songs and drank their whisky neat by candlelight. Where the fire’s always lit, the food’s always good and the people are always smiling.” It was a little different to modern hotels in it’s standards: the floor boards creaked, the bathroom was shared amongst several rooms and had a bath but no shower, leading to a long wait to get clean. But the huge stuffed bear in the lobby, the creepy pictures on the stairs, the tales of ghosts and the cosiest pub I’ve ever set foot in more than made up for that.
Day 4 walking – Inverarnan to Tyndrum – 19km / 11.75 miles
Tigh-na-Fraoch – Tyndrum
The breakfast here was incredible, worth staying for that alone! You can have the usual bits if you want, but I opted for the rainbow trout and was served a HUGE plate of fish so fresh that it tasted as if our host, Heather, had caught it that very morning with her own bare hands. The rooms were bright, modern and clean and the apartment style accommodation meant that we had plenty of space and amenities.
Day 5 walking – Tyndrum to Kings House – 29.5km/ 18.5 miles
Glencoe Mountain Resort – Kings House
The benefit of this accommodation is the views and the feeling of remoteness, the downside is that camping (even if it’s classed as glamping) isn’t ideal after the longest day of walking on the West Highland Way. You can split the long day into two, but if you work full time and have limited annual leave then you’ll need to double up like we did. We stayed in ‘hobbit houses’ which had benches with plastic mattresses on and therefore required a sleeping bag. They were actually surprisingly comfortable, and although the bathroom was a little walk away, there were hot showers and clean toilets.
Day 6 walking – Kings House to Kinlochleven – 14km / 8.75 miles
Allengrange – Kinlochleven
I loved Allengrange B&B, it was small and cosy but the bedrooms were luxurious! Our room was pink and floral (much to my Dad’s distaste but very much to my taste), the beds were like sleeping on a cloud and the bathroom was modern. The town itself is lovely and we had a fantastic meal at a local pub.
Day 7 walking – Kinlochleven to Fort William – 24.5km / 15.25 miles
The Brevins – Fort William
We stayed here for two nights because we decided to add on a climb of Ben Nevis to the end of our trip. The Brevins Guest House served another fantastic breakfast (if I remember correctly I had waffles), and it’s also perfectly situated if you’re wanting to climb Ben Nevis if it’s on the right side of Fort William.
Some Final Tips For Walking the West Highland Way
So you’ve booked your accommodation and booked your train to Scotland. Here are some final tips to consider before you begin walking the West Highland Way:
- Wear long trousers – as much as you might want to hike in shorts if the weather is good, there is a risk of ticks (and therefore Lyme disease) in the highlands. As well as long trousers, stay in the middle of paths, wear insect repellant and check skin and clothes for ticks.
- Pack waterproofs – you do not want to get stuck in Scottish rain! In fact, pack for all weathers: in the space of a week we experienced every season!
- Buy a packed lunch from the B&Bs – they’ll probably cost you £5-6 but they are always excellent, with door stop sandwiches and a few snacks thrown in.
- Use a luggage transfer service such as Sherpa Van to take your bags from one place to the next. The walk is much more enjoyable when you’re not carrying a heavy rucksack, and it means you can pack your luxury items without having to carry them.
- If you have time, end your trip with a climb up Ben Nevis. You’ve made it all this way, might as well end on a high (literally)!
If you’re walking the West Highland Way and have any questions please feel free to get in touch. I’d love to hear your experiences too!
P.S. if you’re stuck packing don’t forget to read my slightly girlie guide to hiking essentials here (it’s suitable for men too!).
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