West Highland Way - the Best Trail for Female Solo Hikers!
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 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. It is also possible that in very bad weather conditions with fog, you might run into some troubles. But it's pretty unlikely.
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.
Hiking in Scotland means you can legally wild camp in most of the places (learn the rules of Leave No Trace as well as be mindful of special protection areas, human habitation or animal enclosures). That means, that you can cut your walk shorter if you realize you just can't walk on or skip the campsite and walk for another few miles if you are up for the challenge.
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.
This is also the perfect choice for beginners - either to hiking in general or to multi-day hiking. Because it's so popular (without feeling crowded at all) and rarely far from villages or towns, it's pretty safe. If you feel you overstretched yourself - you can opt to finish earlier in one of the towns along the way. If you are anxious about getting injured - you are close to help at all times.
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 before the trip.
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 article on how to plan your hiking trip :)
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 women hiking & camping solo in Scotland and make sure your gear is working for you - quality over quantity!
Make sure you read all you need to know about hiking the West Highland Way!
If you are still worried if you would make it at the West Highland Way, take a look at the top 10 tips for female solo hikers at this article, check how to conquer your fear and love solo camping and make sure you don't do any of those silly mistakes, maybe that will convince you to hit the trail :)
Make sure you are well prepared for your hike: Take a look below what kind of clothing and gear you might need in Scotland:
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No need to pretend - I was worried about hiking solo as a woman.
I wasn't sure what the Scottish men were 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 wild camping next to 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 a 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.