Mountains, Lochs, and Glens: The West Highland Way, Scotland

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 15610A, International

Highlights

  • Walk Scotland's world-renowned West Highland Way
  • Discover the beauties of Scotland
  • Explore Armadale Castle on the Isle of Skye

Includes

  • Lodging, most meals, and all gratuities
  • All on-trip transportation
  • Luggage transport each day 

Details

DatesMay 18–27, 2015
Price$3,195
Deposit$200
Capacity13
StaffIan Schill

Trip Overview

The Trip

Rich in history, culture, and natural beauty, Scotland is known for its heather moors, mist-shrouded mountain peaks, romantic lochs, pine forests, and meadows. The national dress, bagpipe music, whisky, folk songs, and Gaelic language have shaped an identity for Scotland that is recognizable all over the world. Our route, the West Highland Way, offers a splendid trek and great introduction to the majesty and variety of the Scottish Highlands. The first long-distance footpath to be opened in Scotland, the trail is 95 miles long and wends its way from Milngavie to Fort William, through areas with outstanding views of the famous Loch Lomond, Rannoch Moor, and Glencoe. We will walk the full 95 miles, from south to north, with the prevailing wind at our backs and the marvelous scenery becoming wilder as the days go by. On the last day, we'll visit the Isle of Skye, just off the western coast of Scotland.

Plan to spend the night before our trip in the Glasgow suburb of Milngavie, the official starting point of the West Highland Way. We'll meet for an hour or so before dinner to talk about our trip and daily schedule, and then adjourn to a local pub for a no-host dinner and a chance to get acquainted.

Itinerary

Day 1: Milngavie to Drymen (12 miles; total ascent 500 feet). The trip officially starts today. We'll meet after breakfast at the trailhead in town to hand over our luggage to the carrier who will shuttle the luggage each day. From here until Loch Lomond, we will be walking in the ancient land of Lennox, created in 1153 by King Malcolm IV and passed down to the House of Montrose several hundred years later. We'll finish at the pretty village of Drymen.

Day 2: Drymen to Balmaha (8 miles; total ascent 1,200 feet). From Drymen, we will enter Garadhban Forest, and then climb Conic Hill to see the stunning views of Loch Lomond and the Isle of Arran. Here we'll truly pass into the Highlands -- we will be walking on the line of the Great Highland Fault, which marks the geological transition between the Lowlands and the Highlands. From here we'll walk downhill to Balmaha.

Day 3: Balmaha to Rowardennan (7 miles; total ascent 1,200 feet). Today, we will walk along the edge of Loch Lomond. This body of water and its islands are spectacular, mirroring the mountains. Our path winds in and out of attractive woods and bays, then into the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park and the oak woods of Sallochy. From here it is just a few miles to Rowardennan. In the afternoon, if weather and time permit, there will be an option to hike to the top of Ben Lomond for some terrific views of Loch Lomond and the surrounding countryside.

Day 4: Rowardennan to North Loch Lomond (14 miles; total ascent 1,785 feet). From Rowardennan, we will walk a glorious traverse through oak woods. Looking across the loch, we'll have views of the Arrochar Alps, the crags of the Cobbler, and the Tarbet Pass, through which the Viking King Haakon dragged his boats in 1263 to mount a surprise attack on the Lennox Earldom. The last six miles bring us to North Loch Lomond for our night's stay.

Day 5: North Loch Lomond to Tyndrum (12 miles; total ascent 1,270 feet). Today we will climb and descend the Dubh Lochan hill and enter Inverarnan. We'll then travel up Glen Falloch and along the east bank of the River Falloch, passing many cascades and small falls on the way to Derrydaroch. Near here is the Clachna-Briton, said to be the ancient boundary between the prehistoric Scots and Picts territories. We'll take the old military road, built in 1752 by the English after the Jacobite Risings, through Bogle Glen (Scottish for ghost) and past the historic ruins of St. Fillans to the old mining village of Tyndrum.

Day 6: Tyndrum to Inveroran (9 miles; total ascent 1,225 feet). The track out of Tyndrum is clear, broad, and easy, taking us on a gentle walk to Bridge of Orchy. We will walk by Ben Dorrain, then past the viaduct to Auch Glen with a wonderful view of Ben Mhanach. Finally, we'll cross the River Orchy and head to our home for the night.

Day 7: Inveroran to Kingshouse (10 miles; total ascent 1,700 feet). Today, we will leave Inveroran and walk down the hill to Victoria Bridge and the lovely Loch Tulla. From here we'll enter Rannoch Moor, a wonderful, remote, and rugged place. This is truly wild Scotland, untamed and unchanged by time.

Day 8: Kingshouse to Kinlochleven (8 miles; total ascent 1,388 feet). A wonderful climb up the Devil's Staircase this morning takes us through the area known as Glencoe, renowned for its awesome scenery and savage history (the Glencoe Massacre of 1692). Charles Dickens called Glencoe "a burial ground of a race of giants." We'll descend to the village of Kinlochleven, on the sea loch of Loch Leven, with its magnificent views of the mountains.

Day 9: Kinlochleven to Fort William (15 miles; total ascent 2,400 feet). This final stage of the Way takes us into Lochaber -- like Lennox, another ancient province -- and through the spectacular valley known as the Lairigmor (Big Pass). From here we'll enter forestry land, passing the Iron Age fort of Dun Deardail, then walk down the Glen Nevis road and into Fort William. This will be our home for the last two nights.

Day 10: Day trip to the Isle of Skye, weather permitting. We'll take a short train ride west to the small fishing village of Mallaig. From Mallaig we'll go by ferry to the Isle of Skye. A short walk brings us to Armadale Castle, the historic seat of Clan Donald. After touring the museum, strolling through the garden paths, and stopping for lunch, we will catch the ferry back to the mainland and return to Fort William for our last evening together.

Day 11: Fort William. After breakfast, we will pack our bags and say our farewells. The trip ends here -- you may stay and become more familiar with Fort William or board a train or bus back to Glasgow to catch your flight.

Photos

Details

Getting There

Transportation to the starting point in Milngavie and return from Fort William is the responsibility of each trip member. Milngavie is a suburb of Glasgow. Flights into Glasgow are frequent, and you can take a bus, train, or taxi to Milngavie from Glasgow City Center. Other airports and train options are available and can be discussed with the trip leader. Please talk with the leader before securing any flights. The bus to Glasgow takes approximately three hours and the train takes about four hours.

Accommodations and Food

Our shared accommodations will be at B&Bs, country inns, and guesthouses (with private bath), each offering a hearty Scottish welcome. Same-gender roommates will be assigned to those traveling alone. Our luggage will be transported to our new accommodations daily by a carrier service. The trip price includes all breakfasts, one lunch, and all dinners. Lunch supplies can be purchased at local markets or packed lunches can be purchased from accommodations on our route. 

Trip Difficulty

We will be walking 7-15 miles each day, with elevation changes ranging from a few hundred feet to 2,400 feet. This trip is for experienced hikers -- not because it is an excessively arduous or difficult walk, but because we will be hiking 4-7 hours every day. The terrain is varied and includes wide, smooth tracks in forests, twisting paths over moorland, hillside paths, undulating paths beneath trees, and field paths. Additionally, there are some sections of steep and rocky ground that are not suitable for hikers that lack experience in such terrain. Adverse weather will tend to increase the difficulty of the walk, especially in steep or rocky areas. In the event a trip member needs a day off, transportation to the next accommodation is not included in the trip price. Taxi or bus fare is the responsibility of the trip member.

Equipment and Clothing

On Sierra Club outings, participants furnish their own personal equipment, including items such as boots, clothing, a day pack, a basic first-aid kit, and toiletries. You will not need a sleeping bag or tent. Participants also furnish their own specialized equipment like binoculars, walking sticks, or photographic equipment. The Sierra Club furnishes all shared group gear, including a group first-aid kit, route-finding materials, field guides, maps, and most meals, as already noted. A detailed equipment list will be provided after your trip approval.

References

Maps:

Ordinance Survey (OS) maps are easily available in Scotland and show the area in great detail. The following OS maps cover the West Highland Way route: 342, 364, 377, 384 and 392.

Books:

  • The Rough Guide to Scottish Highlands & Islands. 2011. A fine and recent guidebook to the area of Scotland we will be traveling in.
  • West Highland Way by Charlie Loram, 2010 or The West highland Way by Terry Marsh, 2003. Both are excellent small guides to our journey, but you only need one of them.
  • Watson, Fiona, Scotland: From Prehistory to the Present. 2003. This accessible introduction will familiarize you with the history of Scotland.
  • Hostile Habitats: Scotland’s Mountain Environment. 2006. This excellent guide is an introduction to the ecology and geology of the region where we are hiking.
  • Scott, Michael, Scottish Wildflowers. 2011. A lovely moderate-sized guide to the common flowers of Scotland.
  • Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott and Kidnapped and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Classic books of fiction written by Scotsmen.

Conservation

In land area, Scotland is almost equal to England, but has about an eighth of the population, mostly south of the Highlands. For this reason there has been no need to create national parks, and consequently there have been no access problems due to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. More recently, recreational pressures have raised the issue of creating national parks to prevent fragile areas -- such as the moors around Loch Lomond -- from damage or destruction. We will discuss the impacts that tourism brings to all countries and the methods available to offset these impacts for individuals and social organizations.

Staff

Leader:

Ian Schill is an avid hiker and outdoors enthusiast. He loves cycling and rides over 6,000 miles each year. He has hiked in the Sierras every year for the last six years. He has also enjoyed hiking in Ireland, England, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, New Zealand, and Scotland. He has cycled in many areas in the United States and many foreign countries. He leads local outings in the Cumberland chapter in Kentucky. He is a retired aircraft mechanic who volunteers with various civic organizations. In addition to his other activities, he is a docent at the Louisville Zoo.

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