What better way to celebrate the end of exams than walking the epic West Highland Way? The West Highland Way is an infamous 96 mile trek in Scotland. It starts from Glasgow and ends in Fort William, with the optional Ben Nevis hike. At the end of May, after an arduous month of spending 12+ hours in the library every day, my exams had finally ended. I was rewarded with a visit from one of my best friends, Deshae. And, as our usual tradition and reason why we are best friends, we went on an adventure. With only four days, we couldn’t do the entire 96 mile hike, so opted for the next best thing: doing half of it.
Day 1: Ardlui->Tyndrum (15 miles)
We took the train from Glasgow Central Station to Ardlui. After a beautiful train ride past Loch Lomond, we stopped at Ardlui to find a way across the loch. Luckily, the town is small enough so all we had to do was ask around. We found a man who was in charge of the ferry that dropped us right in front of the West Highland way path.
We got off the ferry, thanked the guy, and we were off! The first two miles were beautifully green, beautifully sunny and beautifully pleasant. But that was just the beginning. Shortly after those two miles, it began to rain. And rain. And rain. Hour after hour, we were hit by a series of torrential downpours and light drizzles. Whatever kind of rain it was, it would not stop. With our heads down and our packs wet and heavy, we trudged through the path, trying to keep our spirits up.
After a full day’s of hiking, we finally reached Tyndrum. Wild camping in Scotland (camping anywhere you want) is common, so instead of paying for a camp space, we set up tent a few meters beside the path, and opened my stove set. As luck would have it, our stove was broken. Badly. We were out of a stove, and no way to cook our dinner in the midst of the pouring rain. We opted for a flapjack dinner instead. We had started late, and so by the time we finished “dinner” it was time to get some sleep. As we laid in the warmth of our REI Igneo sleeping bags, we contemplated our weather situation, and decided we would trudge through. Besides, it was all a part of character building, right?
Day 2: Tyndrum->Kings House (18 miles)
We spent the first part stuffing our mouths with bacon rolls and attempting to finish the bottle of wine we bought the night before. As other walkers looked at us slightly judgingly for drinking wine at this hour of the day, we sat there, happily sipping on our red fuel. Then we were off, with the first hour being relatively nice, and the rest of the day with on and off showers.
This time, we were much more mentally prepared. We were growing accustomed to the rain, although we welcomed any signs of sunlight with warm embrace. We spent the rest of the day walking, enjoying the beautiful sights and scenes of Scotland, passing through Bridge of Orchy on our 7th mile and through Inveronan on our 9th.
By the end of the day, we had reached the Glencoe Ski Resort center, just two miles before Kings House. We decided to do some wild camping once again with another flapjack dinner, and spent some time searching for a place that wasn’t filled with heather and brushes. We had a bit of help from a kind woman named Gilliane, who we ended up running into several times. Then we found it. The perfect spot. Situated right by the river and along the path towards Kings House, we slept like queens in a five-star resort with the perfect view of the infamous Buchaille Etive Mor.
Day 3: Kings House->Kinlochleven (10+5 Miles)
Over the past few days, we met a countless amount of people, all from different areas of the world and from different backgrounds. However, one type/group of people we met that I thought was most inspirational were the older folk. Many of them were doing the full 96 mile trek without a sweat on their foreheads, as if this were another day. Casual. As Deshae and I stopped by Kings House for a light breakfast and coffee, I watched admiringly as a woman and her mother gazed outside at the cloudy sky, commenting on the bleak weather and how amazing their coffee was. They’ve already done over 70 miles of the full West Highland Way.
We hiked 9 miles from Kings House to Kinlochleven, a larger of a town than Inveronan, Bridge of Orchy and Kings House combined. Not that that says much, as all those “towns” were a mere few houses and maybe a bed & breakfast. As we walked into Kinlochleven, there was only one thing on our mind: getting a stove. Oh, and a beer of course. We went to the nearest outdoor shop and I bought myself a Vango mini-stove for £15, and I couldn’t be happier. Now we can finally eat our spaghetti! No more flapjack dinners! It’s felt like ages since our last hot dinner.
Wild camping, our new favourite thing
Since we were fine with wild camping the other nights, we decided to be too cheap to pay for a campsite now. Plus, we wanted to be farther on the trail and closer to Fort William for tomorrow morning. So instead of stopping at Kinlochleven, as most people do for the night, we kept going on the West Highland Way trail for another 5 miles until we found an abandoned sheep barn to wild camp in. As soon as we whipped out our tent, though, it started pouring rain, much more than our usual drizzle. We set up as quickly as possible and jumped into our tent, shaking off the rain droplets like dogs. But everything was okay, because we finally had a STOVE! We made our spaghetti and tea, and I swear it was one of the best spaghetti dishes I’ve ever had.
Day 4: Crianlarich to Fort William (10 Miles)
Our last day! With only 10 miles left of our half West Highland Way trip, we sped off with a force. We were tracking at about 17 minutes a mile, quicker than we most people with large packs on their back! A mixture of light rain, heavy rain and sunshine hit us at different times, which we really can’t complain about.
When we finally reached Fort William, we of course celebrated with some beers. We hung out in the crowded Wetherspoons, nursing our beers and waiting for Angus and Elliott to make their way to meet us for tomorrow’s adventure. While waiting, we once again ran into Gilliane, her husbands and friends, and decided to invite them to our table. We spent the next hour laughing and listening to crazy stories about snakes and poisonous animals and the UK. It’s so easy to bond with such kind people!
Day 5: Fort William to Ben Nevis
60 miles of the West Highland Way must not have been enough for it, because the next day we hiked up Ben Nevis. Ben Nevis is a 1345 metre mountain right off Fort William, and is the highest mountain in Britain. It’s a 10.75 mile hike up to the summit if you take the tourist path, longer if you take the ridge way. The weather forecast had looked pretty grim last time we had checked, so we prepared for the worst. And we got the worst. The higher we climbed, the windier, the rainier and the colder it got. We almost gave up solely because hail and wind was hitting us from every angle, and we were afraid to fly off the summit. However, our stubborn heads kept on going until we finally reached the top. And boy, although we couldn’t see a thing up there, it was sure rewarding!
Overall, hiking the West Highland Way and Ben Nevis was by far one of the biggest character-building experiences I have had. It was not only physically challenging, but also mentally challenging. Deshae and I have never done a long-distance backpacking trip before. The amount of rain we encountered tested our mental state and also tested how waterproof our gear actually was. Despite the weather, I wouldn’t have changed the experience for the world. Rain is nothing to me now (although I still complain about it), and am also down to go on an adventure on a rainy day. Next week, Angus and I will be heading back up to Ben Nevis. Hopefully the weather won’t let us down this time!