West Highland Way Walking Holidays
An Introduction to Walking The West Highland Way
A route famous in walking circles and popular with clubs and Duke of Edinburgh’s award schemes, the West Highland Way is a ‘safe’ walk and a good option for entry-level long distance hikers. You can get lost in conversation without getting too lost on the route.
The West Highland Way appears as No.14 on ITVs Britain’s 100 favourite walks and it is the most popular Scottish long-distance walking trail.
If you try to be quiet on your walk and not scare some of the Scottish wildlife away, you may be lucky to spot wild cat, pole cat, otters, foxes and badgers. You are most likely to come across surprise encounters with red deer around Rannoch Mor or the small Sitka deer in the forests. There is a population of cute feral goats at Inversnaid, which were left over from the sad times of The Clearances. You may hear the hammering of spotted woodpecker and the drumming of capercaillie. There are certain times where you may see golden eagles, ospreys and falcons. In forests watch out for long-tailed tits, crested tits, siskins and crossbills.
In late spring and early summer, cotton grass and beautiful buttercups speckle the otherwise green and brown landscape. A few orchids can also be found. Heading over the pass in Kinlochleven and in the Mamores the landscape may house tiny carnivorous plants called butterworts and sundews, which prey on the midge population (see below).
The attraction of walking the West Highland Way lies in walking out of a big city, through an undulating ploughed and cow grazed landscape, before reaching the Trossachs National Park passing the Highland Boundary Fault, then up the side of Loch Lomond and into a very different rugged landscape of big hills, farming hamlets and more lakes, which mark the start of the Scottish Highlands.
Best time of year to walk the west highland way
Although it can be walked at any time of year, the majority of walkers do the West Highland Way between Easter and late October. All the months of the year have relatively similar numbers of rain days, which means that rainfall is a regular feature of the walk. However, April and May are by far the driest months. April can be cold and still wintry, sometimes with significant snow remaining on the higher levels of the West Highland Way.
The optimal months for walking the trail are May and June, with long hours of daylight, statistically drier conditions and increasing warmth.
The summer period can be surprisingly wet – September is the wettest month of the year in general and mid-June to September marks the boom holiday period when a lot of accommodations are pretty busy. Another consideration is the propensity of the Scottish midge, a ‘no see um’ fly, which can cause a fair amount of distress from June through to September.
Here at Sherpa Expeditions we do not recommend walking the West Highland Way in winter. Conditions can be severe and you may need the use of crampons and ice axes over some sections of the route at that time.
favourite viewpoints along scotland's west highland way
In no particular order, we wanted to list below some of our favourite viewpoints along the West Highland Way.
- Conic Hill and the view over Loch Lomond, the islands and hills along the geological Highland Boundary Fault and towards the peak of Ben Lomond.
- The views across Loch Lomond from the jetty at Rowardennen.
- The panoramas on the trail of the West Highland Way from Tyndrum and beyond the farm at Auch offer dramatic vistas of the foreshortened peaks of Beinn Odhar and Beinn Dorain, especially when the cotton grass is out!
- We are big fans of views over the West Highland Way route from near the top of Mam Carragh above Inveroran, Loch Tulla and the desolate panorama across Rannoch Moor.
- Another favourite are the views of Ben Nevis, the Nevis Range and Glen Nevis from Dun Deardail. This is an ancient hill fort at 324m just off the West Highland Way route and it involves a scenic walk up on forest tracks to get there.
- Perhaps the most famous, archetypal view on the entire trail is the view to Stob Dearg and Buachaille Etive Mor, the ‘Shepherd of Glencoe’ with Blackwood Cottage in the foreground. Views like that make it all worthwhile even in the rain!
Food and Drink on your west highland way hike
If whisky is your tipple and even if it is not, the Glengoyne Distillery is halfway between Milngavie and Drymen, how about a dram along the way to set you up from the challenge of the West Highland Way? If you miss this one, don’t worry, there is another one at the end: The Ben Nevis Distillery!
In Drymen, the oldest registered licensed pub in Scotland (1734) takes great pride in offering true Scottish hospitality in its bar and restaurant with neither dirk or pistol. Near Inverarnan you may find the old cattle drover’s lodging about 500 metres off the walking route, it has some local dishes such as Loch Lomond Monster Burger (not for the faint hearted!) and Venison Casserole.
Visit the award winning Real Food Café for its fish & chips and, if available, try above Glencoe on the West highland Way tour in an 17th century inn a bottle of ‘Fraoch’ ale – brewed with heather flowers. When you get to Kinlochleven, a short taxi-ride away, but totally worth the extra effort for the seafood connoisseur, visit the Lochleven Seafood Café. The shellfish is as fresh as it gets, caught daily on their own boats and freshly plucked from live tanks – oysters on the half shell, razor clams, scallops, lobster and crab – plus a daily fish special.
Conveniently located half way along Fort William’s pedestrianized High Street, very close to the end of the West Highland Way, you’ll find a traditional alehouse with a warm and friendly atmosphere and a character all of its own. The emphasis is on traditional ales and whisky and good old Scottish cuisine – do try their salmon, fish cakes, pies and of course Haggis!
Other Reasons to go Walking the west highland way
Black Mount estate on Loch Tulla belongs to the Fleming family, of whom you may know Peter and Ian. Both were great writers, including travel, spying and of course James Bond.
The route of the West Highland Way passes over interesting history. You may for example experience the ghost of Rob Roy, who raided up and down Loch Lomond. Then, just off the trail near Inversnaid you can find Rob Roy’s Cave.
Towards Tyndrum the walk leads through Dalrigh where Robert the Bruce lost a skirmish battle. Near Kirkton in addition, there are the remains of St. Fillan’s Chapel, which has connections with the 8th century Irish monk of the same name. Just only a mile further on is the Holy Pool where people came from far and wide for a bathe to cure all their ills.
Did you know that the West Highland Way hike is mainly on an established ex-military road? Because of that, some of the challenges you may face on the walk are actually not much of an issue and so for most walkers; be it first time or experienced, it becomes a straight forward challenge. So many other places on the West Highland Way and in Scotland, such as Bridge of Orchy, Kings House and The Devil’s Staircase are connected with General Wade’s Military road, built from the 1700s to suppress the Jacobites. Luckily these days on a West Highland Way holiday, the only thing you may have to suppress are blisters.
How to Get to the west highland way
Normally it is easiest to arrive by public transport. The start point in Milngavie is well served by regular train services from Glasgow. There are also stations along the way at Ardlui, Crianlarich, Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy if you plan to complete sections rather than the full route in one journey. Otherwise you have the option to take the daily regular CityLink bus from Glasgow to Fort William, which stops along or close to the route at several points, giving more options to break up your journey into smaller sections. At the end of the walk you can either get a train or bus from Fort William back to Glasgow or Milngavie.
If you are thinking of travelling by car, bear in mind that there is no dedicated parking at either end of the West Highland Way hike. At the present time there is free parking outside Milngavie railway station or the police station.
More information on Walking the west highland way
The West Highland Way is a doable feast of Scottish walking on relatively straight-forward gravel and mud tracks. If you like to learn more about what a walking holiday on the West Highland Way in Scotland can look like, we recommend having a look at some of our blog articles. Read more about this popular Scottish walk in this overview of the 10 Best Long Distance Walks in the UK, these Best Pubs in the UK for Walkers and this Traveller Tale with Laurie who walked the West Highland Way with her husband and even climbed Ben Nevis.
Choose a west highland way Walking Holiday