Hiking on the West Highland Way in Scotland

Categories:Travel
Jessica Peterson
West Highland Way, Scotland

Photo via Flickr

Around 30,000 people from across the world come to Scotland every year to walk the West Highland Way, which takes walkers on a fabulous journey. If you’ve ever seen the 1996 movie Braveheart or the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, you’ve seen glimpses of this gorgeous landscape on the silver screen.

If you plan accordingly, you can put yourself in the middle of the Highlands by hiking along the West Highland Way in Scotland. Here’s what you need to know for successful, safe, and satisfying hike.

Getting There

West Highland Way, Scotland

Photo via Flickr

The West Highland Way is typically hiked from south to north. The closest large city to the southern end in Milngavie is Glasgow, Scotland. This is great for international travelers because you can fly into Glasgow Airport.

From Glasgow, there is a train line that runs directly to Milngavie. You can opt for travel by car or bus if you choose. Train and other public transportation routes run from Milngavie to the northern end of the West Highland Way in Fort William and back daily.

If you choose to drive yourself to either end with a personal vehicle, you’ll want to make parking accommodations ahead of time. There is limited free parking and some available for a fee. If you’re staying at a hotel or B&B, ask what their policy is on leaving your vehicle while you’re out.

Traveline Scotland has a trip planner for you to use if you will be taking public transportation. The average time it takes on public transit between the two ends of the West Highland Way is roughly 3-4 hours.

Be Prepared

The first step to being prepared is sitting down ahead of time and making a plan. Do research on the different trail options and make any preparation so your time will go smoothly.

Things to consider when planning your trip is total trail length, average walking speed, changes in elevation, and times for transportation. The West Highland Way trails reach over 90 miles, so check out the individual trails to make a plan that suits your fitness level and abilities.

Before you set out on your West Highland Way hike, there are some essentials you should keep with you or invest in to make sure you’re best prepared. If you’re going for the day, you’ll likely be able to carry everything in a backpack and on your person.

Hiking Boots

The more comfortable you are, the more you’ll be able to enjoy the beauty surrounding you and less on body aches. Quality footwear is essential to having a good experience while hiking, and there are lots of options to choose from. Seasoned hikers probably already have quality hiking boots, but if this is going to be your first trek, it’s best to know what the best hiking boots are before making your purchase.

It’s important to take multiple factors into account, like how well they fit you, rather than which ones are the most attractive. For example, if you’re venturing out for some long distances and carrying a heavy pack, you’ll want to look for hiking boots that offer plenty of support.

A generous portion of the trails are cleared, marked, and hard surfaced. Changes in elevation are slow in most areas, but some have more rapid inclines and declines.

Also, good hiking boots don’t only protect you from foot pain. If you’ve hiked previously and experience back pain or other muscle fatigue, you might consider a new pair. Proper footwear can also help prevent any ankle injuries that could immobilize you.

Navigation Equipment

Even though you’ve already planned out your hiking trip, it’s imperative to bring navigation equipment with you. Satellite GPS systems and your mobile device are great for helping you stay aware of where you are on your hike.

However, don’t underestimate the importance of having a good ‘ole map and compass. Electronics have been known to lose battery quicker than expected at times, and you won’t want to be left stranded if you aren’t able to pick up a signal during a portion of your hike.

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It’s a good idea to use a physical map while planning your route so that you know which portion of the map matches up with your trek. The compass will help to orient the map with your current location, so you can point yourself in the right direction. One tip is to use the Satellite view on Google Maps to mark some recognizable landmarks on your map to reference.

Water

You’ve got two essential items for you hike covered: quality hiking boots and navigation. You’re already preventing injury and fatigue, and you have the tools to get yourself back on track if you stray a bit. If you bring nothing else with you, you need to bring water and a water source.

The temperature may not be particularly warm, but it’s not always apparent when we sweat, even on leisurely hikes. It’s crucial to stay hydrated and pack enough water to last the length of your hike.

To be on the safe side, if you’re trekking through areas that run close to water, purchase a device that will purify water for you. These are great if you want to avoid carrying extra weight, even on short hikes, or if you’ll be hiking multiple days.

Food

As with water, it’s a good idea to bring some snacks for your hike. This will help keep endurance levels up and from feeling faint. It’s not a bad idea to bring items for lunch if you’ll be out during the afternoon. Enjoying a quick picnic to rest and relax.

There are convenience areas along the way but are spread out over several miles. It’s best to pack what you need for sustenance to last you between two stops.

Pests and First Aid

The West Highland Way is home to a few pests that are annoying but manageable. Midges and ticks are the most common foes you’ll find in this area. To ward off these small insects, bug repellent that has DEET will be most effective.

In case you are bit, having a first aid kit on hand is a good idea. You’ll be able to disinfect and cover the area, especially if you experience a tick bite, to avoid any infection. Bandages are wonderful to have on hand in case you have any chaffing from your hiking boots or have a small injury while you’re hiking.

Sun Protection

The weather may be pleasant, but the threat of sun damage still lingers. Regardless of what season you’re hiking in and the temperature, exposed skin is at risk of being sunburned. A sunscreen with at least SPF 30 is recommended and should be reapplied to any exposed skin every few hours.

Wearing a hat, long sleeves, and pants will help prevent sunburn too. Wearing long sleeves and pants will also help keep those small pests from getting to your skin.

Whether you’re going for one day or multiple days, by yourself or with others, the West Highland Way is a piece of Scottish landscape that will take your breath away. To keep those memories intact, don’t forget to bring a camera so you can share the beauty with friends and family back home. For more information on the West Highland Way, check out the official website.

For more information on the West Highland Way, check out the official website. Or for self-guided options, try operators such as Mickledore or Explore.

Have you been to Scotland?

Jessica Peterson
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Jessica Peterson

Jessica Peterson is a travel filmmaker, photographer, and journalist. She released her first documentary film about indigenous culture on Guam in 2016, after having lived nearly 7 years on the Pacific island.
Jessica Peterson
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