Rebecca Knight gives us the inside track on Scotland’s most famous trail
The decision to walk the West Highland Way comes with one huge question – “Which end should I start at?” If you plan to make it past day one, pull your boots on at Milngavie. Resist the urge to swim against the current of other walkers, as Milngavie has two huge advantages as a starting point. Not only does it offer the easiest progression into the 96-mile walk, it also offers the perfect opportunity to stock up on delicious goodies at the daily farmer’s market.
Plan a few luxuries
The West Highland Way is a challenge, traditionally taking around seven days to complete. Break up the journey with a spa day at Cameron House on the shores of Loch Lomond. The spa has 17 treatment rooms available to ease away your walking aches. Take a dip in the stunning rooftop infinity pool – taking the weight off your feet doesn’t mean giving up a breathtaking view of the Scottish mountains.
Take in the sights
The beauty of Loch Lomond, immortalised by writers, poets and artists for centuries, deserves to be mulled over. Draw your trip out by a few days and take time to properly explore. Hop onto a luxury cruise across the loch with Sweeney’s Cruises. In a two-hour leisurely trip, you will become enthralled by the secrets of the loch’s islands. For those who need a glass of champagne to fully enjoy the serene waters, book an outing on the Celtic Warrior motor yacht. Who would have thought the Highlands could be so glamorous?
Never has fish and chips looked so appealing than at The Real Food Café in Tyndrum. This little gem is the worst kept secret among walkers. The menu is simple, wholesome and perfect for powering you through an afternoon of walking. If you find yourself craving some top-quality Scottish shellfish, swing by Onich’s LochLeven Seafood Café. Their menu of oysters, razor clams and lobster is sourced straight from the loch it overlooks. It doesn’t get much fresher than that.
A wee drink
In most parts of the world, walkers carry the standard thermos of soup and coffee to keep the chill off. In Scotland, they carry whisky. Top up your hip flask at the Glengoyne Distillery, snuggled into Dumgoyne Hill. If your travelling companion isn’t a fan of the amber liquid, give the whisky and chocolate tour a whirl. Double the chocolate for them and an extra few tots for you – a winning scenario. For those who prefer their tipple a little more rustic, head to The Grog & Gruel in Fort William. Alongside their selection of local ales, their shelves house over 100 different types of whisky. What better place to settle down and share hiking anecdotes?
Rest your head
After a long day’s walk your feet will be dying for a nice fluffy bed. The Oak Tree Inn at Balmaha is a family-run pub offering accommodation in rooms above the inn and in a series of beautiful cottages. The inn will put flowers or chocolates in your room – a lovely surprise if you’re celebrating a birthday or anniversary. As you near the halfway point of the trail, check into Argyll’s Bridge of Orchy Hotel – a miracle haven for both weary walkers and foodies. This is the place to grab those thrice-cooked chips that are sure to make your weary legs all better.
Pick up a few essentials
There will usually come a point along the journey where you’ll need to stop off for essentials. The Green Welly in Tyndrum is a name passed like gospel among walkers of the West Highland Way. If you’ve forgotten your walking poles, midge net, waterproofs or Irn-Bru, this little outdoor shop is the answer to your prayers.
The end is in sight
With a plethora of restaurants and hotels, Fort William would almost appear custom-made to celebrate conquering Scotland’s most famous trail. Reward your efforts at The Lime Tree, a restaurant that has perfected the art of ‘fiddly, posh Scottish’ cuisine. However, after a week of delving into your Scottish roots, you might be craving something a little spicier. Sugar and Spice offers authentic Thai food in a relaxed atmosphere. The restaurant is unlicensed, so be sure to bring along your own bottle to cheers to the end of your adventure.