not recommended – West Highland Way, Scotland

Trip report by site editor Rick McCharles

I flew into Scotland on a Thursday.

Friday I hopped the train directly to what most consider the best multi-day hike in Scotland, the West Highland Way.

… The West Highland Way, from Milngavie to Fort William, a distance of 95 miles … Hills, dense woodland and wildlife make it one of the favourites with hikers from all over the world. …

Scotland Welcomes You

This kind of hyperbole is typical of the WHW.

I was quickly disgruntled.

Swan

Unless you are a Glasweigan bent on bragging rights for walking out the pub door all the way to the top of Ben Nevis, I can’t see any reason to spend a week of your life doing this hike.

Problems:

  • midges (Spring and Summer)
  • • bad weather
  • • many sections walking on roadways
  • • litter
  • • inconsistent signage
  • • inconsistent trail maintenance
  • • too few highlights / km
  • You won’t get lost. The trail is blazed.

    But why spend a week on this route when there are so many better hikes in Scotland? And the world.

    As many guidebooks recommend, I skipped the first two days and started at Balmaha. On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

    Loch-Lomond

    That section alongside the lake was OK, especially between Rowardennan and Beinglass Farm. Not one of the great walks of the world, but OK.

    From there to King’s House Hotel was disappointing in many ways.

    But I must admit, the torrential rain from King’s House over Devil’s Staircase was the quintessential Scottish Hill Walking Experience. Even the Scots called it a “heavy rain”. High praise. My most lasting memory.

    old-boot

    Next day the forecast was for clear skies. I hopped a bus at Kinlochleven, giving up on the WHW for good. I wanted good weather to climb Ben Nevis.

    Over the 3 days on the West Highland Way I have only 22 photos worthy of posting. That’s sad.

    I love Scotland. But why is the hiking so unimproved there?

    Why was the first National Park not established until 2002?

    That famed son of Scotland, John Muir, must be rolling in his grave. Authorities are trying to promote a John Muir Way, a 73km coastal walk.

    As Lonely Planet Walking in Scotland says:

    … you can’t help but wonder what Muir would think of a path through two power stations, one of them nuclear …

    He would not be amused.

    Walk the John Muir Trail in California. Not the one in Scotland.

    And don’t make a special trip to hike the West Highland Way. Instead, go to … Spain.

    32 Replies to “not recommended – West Highland Way, Scotland”

    1. Thanks for this advice, I was thinking that a week is a long time if you don’t like it. I am hoping to get to Scotland next year, but it will have to be in July when the midges are around. It looks like a better option might be to tour around, do some day walks, see the castles etc. Then I have the whole of the rest of Europe to choose from. Italy definitely looks good.

    2. highly recommended, the west highland way is magic . thousand do it every year, bot book up early as b & bs pubs and hotels fill up quickly, give it a try ,you wont regret it
      tom from kilmarnock

    3. Think you’ve missed the point a bit! The best bit about this trail is all the people you meet along the way, it’s very sociable. Go over Easter – before the midges – It’s a sort of welcome to spring ritual – loads of people walk it on a regular basis, and they’re great company. And if you really want a bit of exercise you can follow the high level route 🙂

    4. Sorry you had a disappointing time on the WHW Rick. I did it in 2006 and found it excellent, if not exactly a wilderness experience. I was fortunate that I did the section over Rannoch Moor from Inveroran to Kinlochleven on a beautifully sunny day that made up for the cold and rain of the rest of the trip. Scottish highland scenery at its best.:)

    5. I did the West Highland Way a few years ago. It was teriiffic. Yes, it rained, but never in the pubs.
      Most Americans do not realize how mountainous Scotland is. And the scope of the countryside.
      At times it was Alaska-like.
      Ric in Wyoming

    6. Sorry to hear about the WHW disappointment! I didn’t fancy it for some of the reasons you mentioned, but instead did the (unofficial) high-level version ‘the Highland High Way’ described in a book by Heather Connon and Paul Roper. It uses the same overnight stops as the WHW (so you still get the benefit of being sociable!), but instead of sticking to the valley bottoms it takes in some superb high level traverses (and even includes 23 munros enroute). A more exciting affair altogether. Highly recommended. Drop me a note or post a follow up here if you want further info.

      Of course you still have to put up with the weather and the midges!

    7. Yes sorry you didnt enjoy your bit part whw walk, I cant see why you would come back to walk it again, as you said, why dont you try all the better places in the world to walk as you clearly didnt rate the whw.

    8. My god, have you actually read your blog back and realised what a moaning brat you sound like? It rained, there was litter, the signs were inconsistent…. you only walked about a 5th of the route for a start! Maybe if you focused on some positives and stopped acting like a 10 year old who’s been taken away from his Playstation you’d have enjoyed it more? It’s an incredibly historic and beautiful route, on which many thousands of people are proud and excited to have completed (from the beginning and with no bus rides).

      1. Indeed!! If you don’t walk the entire route (especially the north part) you will never know what’s it like! So, don’t write an article about it than!! Damn!!!! The way, the weather, the people, the pubs… and yes, even the midges, are total magic and part of the perfect Scotland experience. Your right about the John Muir Trail in California, but I’m glad I did the WHW last year instead of goiing to Spain!

    9. this guy has got to be joking…..next time you go walking bud stay off the magic mushrooms,do the walk from start to finish,with the rough path,bad signage,midges ,oh and the bad weather.after all that is the point….. to challenge yourself.you seem not to be keen on people either ( no surprise there then ) so next time you go walking,why not try st.kilda, i here thats very good for people who want to find themselves…..charlie kav

    10. Haven’t done the West Highland Way but would love to – have heard so many wonderful things about it!
      For anyone interested in doing it I can recommend getting in touch with a company called Travel-Lite. Gilbert is an absolute fountain of knowledge and advice about the route, accommodation etc. And what’s more, his company Travel-Lite is a baggage delivery service so whether you are B&Bing or camping it, his guys will pick up and drop off your baggage along the way! Rumble has just produced them a professional web video, which is well worth a look if you have a couple of minutes. This link will take you to the video and a direct link to the Travel-Lite website.

      http://www.rumblelimited.tv/travel_lite

    11. Ok. I can understand some negitive remarks about the WHW. I am doing it again tis year ( my forth year in a row) . If You pick the right time of year this can be the most amazing adventure. You will not only see some of Scotlands Bonniest Landscapes, But you mill no doubt meet a lot of new found friends. I usually do it on the last Saturday of May. May seems to be the driest months and USUALLY the MIdgees are not that Bad. You can get information on this site http://www.west-highland-way.co.uk. or on my site above.
      I must also point out that too many people try do to it in as less time as possible. I feel to really apreciate the walk to do it no less that 6 days. In an ideal world you could do it shorter but accomodation is scarce. ANYONE THINKING ABOUT DOING THE WHW BOOK YOUR ACOOMODATION EARLY. and Dont think you could wild camp anywhere. there are designated spots to wild camp and a few camp sites. If I were you I would use the baggage handling services, £40 to tramsfer your baggage . so that all your left with is yolur small day sack. I have seen too many people with HUGE blisters trying to carry there heavy load!!.
      If you need any other info email me.!

      Jim

    12. Did the WHW last september, didn’t regret any second of it 😉 Maybe you should try it again and just enjoy the nature and the people you meet, in stead of trying to look for downsides.

      Jasper

    13. Wow. My experience was the opposite. While it may not be THE perfect hike, I found it to be wonderful. Mr. McCharles seems the type who can find the worst in everything, while missing the good at every turn. Please don’t let his post dissuade you from this wonderful hike.

    14. La verdad es que me entristece mucho leer el artículo. Llevo 20 años haciendo trekkings por toda Europa………. Montblanc, Irlanda, Dolomitas, Eslovenia…….. y ninguna experiencia fue tan pura como la WHW. La hicimos dos amigos en Junio del 2008. Nos llovió todos los dias a excepción de los dos primeros e incluso nos nevó en el último tramo del Ben Nevis, pero que esperabas de Escocia?, destacar que dormiamos en tienda e ibamos en autosuficiencia. Si buscas sol vente a Andalucía a hacer trekking en verano y ya me cuentas.

      Un problema muy comun en la WHW son los mosquitos, se acentua sobre todo los primeros dias, ya que se recorren zonas de granja. Nosotros encontramos una solución muy sencilla y era dormir en zonas expuestas al viento. Son tan pequeños que a poco que haya algo de viento, este se los lleva. Por ejemplo la primera noche dormimos en la cima de Conic Hill.

      No podrás negarme la magia de los bosques, la belleza del verde por todas partes para lo cual obviamente hace falta lluvia. FUE EN ESCOCÍA DONDE APRENDÍ QUE LA LLUVÍA ES SOLO AGUA Y QUE TIENE LA IMPORTANCIA QUE UNO QUIERA DARLE, maxime en una ruta repleta de drying rooms donde puedes secar todo en unas horas.

      TOTALMENTE RECOMENDABLE

      SALUDOS

    15. How can you say the WHW was dull when you didn’t even complete it from start to finish, you are bound to know Scotland especially to the west is very well know for it’s typical Scottish weather which consists of Rain and Midgies – if you didn’t know this then how much reseach did you actually do on the walk before you arrived to try it…and also i would be interested in knowing the title of the guide book that “recommend, I skipped the first two days and started at Balmaha” I have never read anything like it… but then maybe is it the same guide book that forgot to inform you about the “Scottish Midgie” lol

    16. Although your review is a few years old now, I think I would agree with you – to a certain extent. The WHW certainly isn’t awful – it certainly isn’t the best either. I think its reputation has been gained through its name and popularity – something I find strange as there are trails that are far superior throughout the UK (the best trail I have walked by far is the South Downs Way!)

      I’ve walked it twice, once in two seperate sections, and then in a blizzard last year – the snow was far more entertaining 🙂

      The trouble with the route is it flatters to deceive, only ever hinting at what Scotland has to offer walking wise – there are some fantastic sections spattered in amongst the tedium of walking along what was essentially the old Glasgow/Fort William road!

      As for the hiking being unimproved – I think the Scottish Trails are a victim of our access laws and a generic right to roam. We have very few established rights of way in comparison to England and Wales, meaning any new trail has to be negotiated carefully with landowners. As a result they waymarked routes end up on old roads or railways and, well, aren’t very interesting. It would be nice to see an Alpine route like one of the GR’s opened, but I think there would be mutiny from the general hill walking community who tend to loath following marked trails. There would also be the small issue of the Scottish weather to contend with!

      Yes the WHW isn’t a good indicator for the standard of walking in Scotland – but:

      It’s an easy walk
      It’s a social event
      Good if you only have a week to walk
      Lots of services
      Essentially a 100 mile pub crawl 🙂

    17. This is the first negative review I’ve read about WHW. I’m heading off tomorrow to walk it in 5 days with my three friends (bit nieve, shold have taken 7 days but all booked so cant change now)…anyway, we’ve only heard wonderful things from all our friends who have walked this (apart from some storeids about feet which I’m trying to ignore)…..the weather I think plays a big part, would love glorious sunshine, but I’m Scottish, so used to all weather in one day on occasions, so I’ll just get on with it…..we’re looking forward to meeting some wonderful peaople from all over the world and hope our old bodies cope with the daily 20 miles walking…………I’m going to bed now with a positive attitude and really looking forward to my WHW adventure starting tomorrow…..

      1. I’m sorry to disagree with almost everyone here but the WHW is not a demanding or adventurous walk. It is an amble with lots of company – you genuinely do not need a map. What I do agree with is that he should have done the complete walk and that the WHW does not epitomise real Scottish hillwalking. If Mr McCharles wants a multiday trek which is demanding, sometimes dangerous, asking for solid navigational skills, plenty of solitude and a psycological challenge then I suggests he tries the Cape Wrath Trail. This sits at the top of the pile in terms of Multiday walks in Scotland. There are many many other walks which would change his current perspective but the CWT is a world class walk.
        It suprises me that the site editor of the king of site has such a touristic approach.

    18. If you go walking in Scotland you should be prepared for midges and bad weather. It’s a poor reason for criticism I think. I think it’s a good hike for people who haven’t hiked a lot.

    19. Unfortunately the author’s comments are correct. As I discovered two weeks ago. Decent days with good weather were offset by rainstorms and very poor trail maintenance. Although my waterproof boots proved mostly up to the task, the vibram soles had serious grip problems on the loose and wet trail surfaces. Hiking poles saved me from more than one mishap. The trail proved so rough that I altered my socks in order to fit an additional insole in my boots; to better protect my feet from the continuous beating of the unusually-rough trails. Which,by the way, were often nothing more than gullies caused by runoff. In moderate to heavy rain expect to be walking through two to three inches of water. Sometimes all day. Waterproof boots and waterproof gaiters are a must. One of my companion had a softer sole boot, which proved a better grip on the trail surface, although he also complained about sore feet due to the roughness of the never-maintained trail system. My suggestion is to go somewhere else if you want to hike in the UK.

    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

    WordPress.com Logo

    You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

    Google photo

    You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

    Connecting to %s

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.