The West Highland Way (WHW) is a long distance foot path which runs from Milngavie (pronounced “Mullguy”) which is about 10 miles north of Glasgow, to Fort William in the Highlands. It was concieved in the 1960’s as Scotland’s first long distance foot path following the opening of the Pennine Way in England, and the new found enthusiasm for long distance walking in the UK. These days the West Highland Way has become a sort of pilgrimage for those who love mountains – photographing and climbing them – keen to journey on foot into the heart of the Scottish Highlands.
Much of the route follows the old military roads built in the early 1700’s by George Wade, a British army general who oversaw the construction of a network of military roads, sometimes called General Wade’s Military Roads, in the Scottish Highlands during the middle part of the 18th century. This was an attempt by the British Government to bring order to a part of the country which had risen up in the Jacobite rebellion of 1715. The roads were constructed to link the Central Lowlands with a series of fortified barracks located strategically across the Highlands. There is much history on the route, as we were to discover. Stories of battles fought, won and lost and some famous figures and clans from Scottish history featured large on this trek.
Our walk began in the spring sunshine in the centre of Milngavie where the start of the walk is not so tastefully signified by a stone obelisk, a large metal arch and two metal benches, all located in the central square of the town.
The “tasteful” understated start point for the West Highland Way
L – Us at the start of the West Highland Way. R – On the trail
The first leg was to Drymen (pronounced Drimmen) a small village lying to the west of the Campsie Fells and close to the southern tip of Loch Lomond. On our previous point to point walks we have invariably started alone. Here, a steady stream of walkers were gathering at the start for photographs and as we set off across the car park behind the start and to the path that would take us north we could see several groups of walkers ahead of us. Ahead of us lay eight days of walking with around 100 miles to cover.
We walked past settlement, hamlet and village with old robust stone cottages, past loch and hill admiring the sights and scenes as we went. The progress of the seasons is later in Scotland and we saw woods stacked with bright Bluebells just in flower, the odd field of the brash yellow Oil Seed Rape and the bright green foliage of newly leafed trees.
We arrived at our first night stop in mid afternoon. Drymen is a quiet village formed mainly around a large green. It has two pubs, two hotels and a number of bed and Breakfast establishments so we would not be short of somewhere to eat tonight. Clachan lays claim to be the oldest registered pub in Scotland and where we were recommended to eat.
Top row from left: You are rarely alone on WHW; Solitude, fisherman on Craigallan Loch; A wooden cottage on the trail. Bottom row: Dumgoyne and Dumfoyn; Two views from the trail.
Left to Right: The Square in Drymen; Our B&B “Glenlaird”; Clachan, reputed to be Scotlands oldest pub.
The next two days walking would take us the length of Loch Lomond with a night stop halfway up. On a glorious sunny morning our route to the southern end of the loch took us on our first serious climb, around and up Conic Hill, a cone shaped fell dominating the local landscape. Once again we had the company of many walkers. The start of the forest path was lined with Gorse bushes with stunning yellow flowers set against the fresh green foliage of the trees and bushes behind. It was a beautiful sight. Gradually the trees thinned out and the long path to the summit revealed itself. Loch Lomond appeared as the path peaked just below the summit and the views were stunning, The descent once again into the forest and to the lochside path was steep and awkward but the effort was worth it as once again, the sunshine and shade made the walk very pleasant.
Day 2: The route up to Conic Hill
Clockwise from top left: Selfie time; Is it Brian May?; Panorama of the southern end of Loch Lomond
The southern end of Loch Lomond from Conic Hill
The path along Loch Lomond varied, from wide forest tracks to narrow, rocky scrambles, interspersed with stunning views to the mountains opposite. At one of the better viewpoints we came across, an enterprising gent who had set up a wooden kiosk at the bottom of his garden was selling drinks, cakes and sandwiches to passing walkers. For us the main attraction though was his two Border Collies, Blake and Ruby. Blake sat there and posed for photographs whilst Ruby we discovered was stick mad and encouraged us to throw a stick back into the garden for her to retrieve. We would have stayed longer but still had many miles to go.
Ruby and Blake
Clockwise from top left: Bluebell woods on the banks of Loch Lomond; Two views of the mountains; You’re never alone on WHW; Farewell Loch Lomond; looking back s we leave the loch path; Reflections.
Our destination after Loch Lomond was the Drovers Inn at Inverarnan. It lies on the main road through the glens and is hugely popular with walkers, tourists and locals alike.
Claiming to originate from 1705 (the staff wore T shirts with the logo “Scottish Pub of The Year 1705”), it gave a very old world appearance, a dour, solid dark stone building that looked like something out of a Count Dracula story. Inside, the public areas are filled with stuffed animals and the Reception area is policed by a large Brown Bear and a fox….or is it a wolf? The pictures on the walls appeared to be older than the Inn and the place is reputed to be haunted. There were no ghostly goings on whilst we were there, though I am sure the eyes of one of the characters in a portrait followed me up the stairs! A wonderful old place with a unique charm and well worth a visit if you are ever in that area.
L – R: The Drovers Inn: A well earned drink: Leaving – Ready to walk.
The next stage of our walk picked up the old military roads for which the WHW is noted. The rough, stony track led us across wild desolate moorland with a mountain backdrop and through cultivated forest and it was difficult not to feel some sympathy for those who built them over 300 years ago, or who marched on them to or from battle.
Clockwise from top left: One of many small streams flowing down the mountain; A “Military Road” across the moor; They did not have a railway to deal with in 1730!; Wood Sorrel
View from St Fillans: L-R Ben More, Stop Binnein and Cruach Ardrain
This sense of history was emphasised in two locations. Close to a farm on our route we came across a burial mound dating from the 16th century. This was the site of an old priory and part of St Fillans church which was linked to the priory, can still be seen close by.
A little further on is Dalrig, a small hamlet that was the site of a battle where the army of the Scottish King, Robert the Bruce was defeated by the clan Macdonald.
This was fought in the summer of 1306 between the army of King Robert I of Scotland against the Clan MacDougall of Argyll who were allies of Clan Comyn and the English. Bruce’s army, reeling westwards after defeat by the English at the Battle of Methven, was intercepted and all but destroyed, with Bruce himself narrowly escaping capture. The battle took place sometime between late July and early August, but the exact date is not known. Nearby is a small lochan or lake and legend has it that this is where the remains of Robert the Bruce’s army dumped their weapons, which included Bruce’s large Claymore sword. Close to the path is a large memorial stone with a carved image of the claymore as a memorial to the battle.
Left: Loch nan Arm, where Robert the Bruce’s sword was thrown; The Sword monument; US close to the battle site.
Our destination at the end of Day four was Tyndrum a small village lying at the junction of road and rail transport routes to the north of Scotland. Tyndrum is the smallest place in the UK to have two railway stations. This is partly a legacy of the history of the railways in the area, after two separate railways belonging to different railway companies were built through the village. However, the main reason is geography: splitting the line in Crianlarich allows the contours of the glen to be used to avoid very steep climbs heading north or west from Tyndrum.
As we could not get accommodation here we stayed in nearby Crianlarich, a short bus or train ride away.
Part two of the blog will cover our walk from Tyndrum into Glen Coe and onward to Fort William.