The 154 km West Highland Way walking trail starts in Milngavie (just north of Glasgow). We had taken a flight from Gatwick London to Glasgow, followed by a 20 minute taxi ride to the Milngavie Premier Inn hotel.
Flying to Glasgow was sadly cheaper than taking a train. Not to mention quicker (a couple of hours by air versus five by rail).
The taxi from Glasgow airport cost £29. Having spoken to the taxi driver, it was clear that he had been out of business for a year and a half, and this was his first day back at work. During COVID 19, a lack of flights meant there were no tourists needing lifts from the airport – and his cab was only licensed to pick up from the airport. So it had been a rough year for his business.
Part of me feels guilty about taking flights and taxis due to the carbon emissions and negative impact on the environment. Yet, part of me thinks we need to support local jobs and businesses. Plus, turning down adventures is no easy feat. Hopefully, electric taxi grants will be given to small businesses soon making the switch affordable. I have hope that the travel industry will become more sustainable in time.
We slept well in the Premier Inn and enjoyed their unlimited hot and continental breakfast, before heading to the start of the West Highland Way trail (a 10 minute walk from the hotel).
Day one from Milngavie to Drymen was easy – fairly flat through parks, farmland and woodland. We conquered 20 km in roughly 4 hours.
That evening we stayed in The Winnock Hotel costing £80 for two. Dinner-wise we booked the Clachan Inn and enjoyed a hearty pie and chips. (I had a veggie one and Pat plumped for the steak option). Dessert was out of this world – melt-in-your-mouth strawberry cheesecake and a rich chocolate brownie.
We slept like babies before our alarm woke us at 7.30am for day two.
Day two Drymen to Rowardennan (25.6km) 6 hours of walking
Breakfast in the hotel was another full English or vegetarian full English. Service was slightly slow which we weren’t too concerned about as it was raining outside.
At 9ish it was time to put our waterproofs on and brave the elements. To get back onto the trail we walked up a tarmac road across a massive hill. We were following a hiker with his small dog in front. He turned around to ask us if he was going the right way.
‘We’re following you, so I hope so,’ I replied.
Powering on through the rain we sparked up a conversation with the young man and his dog Oscar. He was very friendly and Oscar was well behaved despite the cold rain. Oscar had been on a fair few walking adventures and seemed like a very fit dog. Probably fitter than me!
After a good 20 minutes of walking there was a path on the left with a yellow acorn symbol, not quite the West Highland Way thistle symbol we were looking for. An eccentric group behind us comprising one lady, her two brothers and two male cousins galloped up. ‘This way,’ the older brother barked.
‘No it’s not.’ Another argued as he thrust a soggy map into the other’s face. We continued up the hilly road to avoid any sibling quarrels. Before long there was another path on the left that was signposted the ‘West Highland Way.’ This lead us along a woodland path, which opened onto moorland.
We came to a junction where we could choose a longer route via Conic Hill or a shorter one along the road. We followed online recommendations and went for the longer route. The slog up Conic hill (which I would rename Conic mountain) was worth it.
Reaching the top, we could see the loch we were to walk along for the next day and a half. On the way up we bumped into the loud family we had left arguing earlier. Turns out they had found a shortcut from the acorn path we left them at.
While descending down the so-called hill, the clouds parted and the rain eased. And you could just discern the sun trying to peer through the clouds.
Woodland sheltered us for a short while before we found ourselves walking along that majestic stretch of looking-glass water – Loch Lomand.
Here we thought optimistically that the rest of the walk would be fairly flat. How wrong we were. The path actually ascends and descends along the lake without a care in the world – willy nilly.
We saw the eccentric family once more and overtook them for the third time. They must have found another shortcut as our pace was fairly brisk compared to them. Plus, we hadn’t taken many breaks.
6 hours and 25km later we reached our home for the night: Rowardennan hostel overlooking the loch. There were not many options left and due to COVID we ended up having to book a dorm room to ourselves. So in total we spent £123 for a night, including three-course dinner and breakfast. The dinner was delicious but the room cost was not worth it. I would recommend booking the hotel in Rowardennan well in advance instead. We missed the chance as it was fully booked a few weeks before our trip.
On day 3 Rowardennan to Inversnan 23km, we enjoyed our breakfast on the loch in the company of a robin and thousands of midges. The hostel packed us some goodies to fuel us for the day.
In our heads, day three was to be an easy steady walk along the loch. Turns out it was more physically challenging than expected.
Towards the end of the day, the loch felt eternal. Much of the walk involved scrambling up and down boulder-littered paths.
We had a couple of breaks; sat on the loch’s beaches, which were very peaceful; and our legs, particularly our sore hamstrings, thanked us.
We spent the night in Benglais farm in one of their camping pods costing £54. It was warm and cosy but extremely basic. The bed mattresses were covered with a hard plastic material, and the restaurant/ bar was fairly standard. We were so hungry we would have eaten anything. Looking back, the food was pretty average. Spicy soup and a salad/ burger. And while there were good vibes amongst the hikers, the staff seemed a bit grumpy.
Day 4 Inverarnan to Tyndrum 19.7 km was beautifully sunny and comparatively easy walking.
We enjoyed a scenic walk through woodland and across mountains. The change in scenery from the loch was greatly appreciated.
Along the path we were overtaken by a man who had been hiking for over 60 days. He started in Cornwall and was raising money for Alzheimer’s research charity. His speed was impressive.
That evening we stayed in a lovely B and B called Tigh-na-fraoch costing £80, the host brought us cakes on arrival and made us a delicious full English breakfast the next day. COVID had been a struggle for her business and she was having to juggle cooking for guests at separate times due to distancing rules. We would highly recommend this B and B.
Stay tuned for part 2!