The first and most famous long-distance path in Scotland
West Highland Way is probably the most famous trail in Scotland. It takes you from Milngavie on the outskirts of Glasgow all the way to Fort William, 154 km (or 96 miles) to the North. It was officially opened in 1980 and became the first officially designated long distance footpath in Scotland. Thousands of people walk the WHW each year, and for a good reason – it takes you through a wonderful variety of terrain and breath-taking views.
The path uses many ancient trails and roads, like Old Military Roads or drover’s roads and thanks to multiple educational boards you can some learn some history of the area. Thanks to its popularity it is also pretty easy to find accommodation and food on the way. And if you prefer to walk light – you can choose from one of the companies offering baggage transport.
The path is very well marked and you hardly need a map, but it’s still nice to check where you are on it. I advise to buy the laminated kind, in the Scottish weather, anything else is just a mistake.
Solo hiking the West Highland Way: in your own tempo
It is generally said that it takes about 7 -8 days to complete, some people do it in 5 or 6, but I did it in 9 (8 days walking, 1-day rest). It is very important to find your own tempo – that’s one of the best sides of hiking solo! You walk as fast or as slow as you need, you stop when you feel like it and don’t worry about slowing someone down or waiting for someone else. Also – if you are truly looking for solitude, don’t begin the walk on weekends!
When I was researching my big Scottish adventure, West Highland Way seemed a sure choice. It provides an excellent introduction to the Highlands and gives a good amount of satisfaction upon completing it. It is also considered “a must”, a classic of a kind that you just have to complete. So I didn’t even try to oppose the tradition – I decided to begin my big, month-long solo adventure in Scotland with the Queen of them all.
My own take on the West Highland Way
After reading many descriptions of the trail, I decided to skip the first stage and start from Drymen. Why? Because I prefer hills and mountains to pastoral landscapes. A few people I met on my way agreed with me that it was a good decision, but others preferred to do the whole thing in order to feel they really “did it”.
Fight the anxiety – prepare!
I have to admit, that I was pretty anxious. Which is not really a surprise, as I suffer from an anxiety disorder, but there was this wonderful mixture of excitement and “what the heck am I doing?” kind of thinking. To tame my anxiety I’ve read all I could on West Highland Way – mostly thanks to the wonderful Walking Highlands website – I highly recommend them! I got my kindle stuffed with the Cicerone guidebook, but also pdf documents with descriptions from the Walking Highlands and individual tourists’ reviews that you can find on their site and discussion forum. You may want to read my anxiety-taming 7 ingredient hiking plan post 🙂
Make sure you are properly dressed for the weather conditions in Scotland – it may be summer, but it’s not exactly a beach-in-Greece type of summer 😉 If you need a checklist and ideas – take a look at my packing list for cool weather and make sure your gear is working for you – quality over quantity! Believe it or not – it’s basically what is good for Scottish summer, maybe one layer less 😉 You can also check
If you are still worried if you would make it at the West Highland Way, take a look at this article, check out these useful tips and make sure you don’t do any of those silly mistakes, maybe that will convince you to hit the trail 🙂
No need to pretend – I was worried about hiking solo as a woman. I wasn’t sure what the Scottish men are like toward a woman on her own. My family’s and friends’ loudly voiced concerns didn’t help either. I have researched the topic – read forum discussions, articles, and reports. The conclusion was pretty clear: Scotland, along with Scandinavia, is one of the safest places for solo female hikers.
During my four weeks hiking there, often sleeping in one bothy with another man or on a wild camping with just a man or two – I never felt uneasy, threatened or uncomfortable. There was no gesture, no “joke” or movement to make me feel unsafe. On the trail, I’ve only met people who were polite, and respectful of me.
So – one day mid-July I landed in Glasgow and spent one day walking around the city… in a complete downpour. Enough to say I didn’t see much. The hostel I stayed at was dreadful and I couldn’t wait to be on my way. My backpack was way too heavy, my head full of anxiety and worries. But off I went towards the adventure that changed my life.
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West Highland Way, part I: Drymen to Inverarnan (Beinglas Farm) [3 days + 1 rest day]
If you would like to know where you can pitch your tent along the West Highland Way – click this way!
Prepare well and have a great time hiking: Packing list for women hiking & camping solo in Scotland.
Have you done the West Highland Way? What are your thoughts on it?