The West Highland Way is Scotland's foremost long distance walking route. It links Milngavie to Fort William, a distance of 96 miles (154km), using ancient paths, cattle drovers' roads, military roads and old coaching roads. It usually takes around a week to walk the route but more experienced walkers can do it in less.
From its start in Milngavie, the West Highland Way soon enters open countryside and proceeds by way of country roads, an abandoned railway line and forest and other paths to reach the village of Balmaha on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond. From there, the route follows the loch shore to Rowardennan and onwards to Inversnaid and Inverarnan. Crianlarich is reached via Glen Falloch before the path proceeds through Strathfillan to Tyndrum. Thereafter, the Way enters Glen Orchy before crossing Rannoch Moor and descending into Glen Coe. The route then climbs the Devil’s Staircase before descending to sea level at Kinlochleven. The final part of the Way skirts the Mamore Mountains on an old military road and descends into Glen Nevis before finishing in Fort William.
Milngavie to Drymen (12 miles/19km – 8 hours)
The official start of the West Highland Way is the granite obelisk in the centre of Milngavie. The route passes through Mugdock Country Park before emerging into open countryside from where views can be enjoyed of the Kilpatrick Hills, the Campsie Fells and the extinct volcano of Dumgoyne. Passing the Dumgoyach standing stones and walking on the route of an old railway line, walkers soon arrive in the hamlet of Gartness, with its beautiful old bridge. From there, a short detour to the lovely village of Drymen is highly recommended, even although it’s not on the official route of the Way.
Drymen to Balmaha (8 miles/13km – 5 hours)
After leaving Drymen, the path enters Garadhban Forest before reaching Conic Hill, a site of special scientific interest which is situated on the Highland Boundary Fault that divides the Highlands from Lowland Scotland. Although the route does not require you to climb to the summit, the breathtaking views more than reward the effort. The Way then drops down into the village of Balmaha on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond.
Balmaha to Rowardennan (7 miles/11km – 4 hours)
With the route passing through Rowardennan Forest on the loch side, this section of the Way offers goods views towards the island of Inchlonaig, famous for its yew trees planted by Robert the Bruce to ensure an adequate supply of longbows for Scottish archers. Also visible are the Loch Lomond crannogs, man-made loch dwellings dating from the Iron Age. For those with time and surplus stamina, the slopes of Ben Lomond can be accessed from beside the Rowardennan Hotel.
Rowardennan to Inversnaid (7 miles/11km – 5 hours)
The path leaves Rowardennan and continues to follow the eastern shore of Loch Lomond. This section of the Way is probably the most challenging of all as it involves traversing many crags along the shoreline, before arriving at a wooden footbridge above a waterfall known as the Arklet Falls. Beyond the Falls is the the Inversnaid Hotel, built in 1790 as a hunting lodge for the Duke of Montrose.
Inversnaid to Inverarnan (7 miles/11km – 5 hours)
From Inversnaid, the route continues to twist and weave near the loch side, passing a cavern known as Rob Roy’s cave, before arriving at Ardleish (from where a ferry service to Ardlui operates). From there, it’s over the hill into the small settlement of Inverarnan.
Inverarnan to Crianlarich (6 miles/10km – 4 hours)
From Beinglas Farm in Inverarnan, the path continues on to Glen Falloch and remaining sections of the ancient Caledonian Forest which, at its peak around 5,000BC, covered much of the north of Scotland. Crossing to the other side of the main road and climbing the hill opposite, the Way then joins an old military road leading on to the picturesque village of Crianlarich and its shops, railway station and youth hostel.
Crianlarich to Tyndrum (6 miles/ 10km – 4 hours)
On leaving Crianlarich, the route re-joins the old military road and heads towards the ruins of St Fillan’s chapel, Auchtertyre and the Holy Pool. Beyond is the King’s Field, the scene of historic skirmishes between Robert the Bruce and the McDougalls of Lorne. The village of Tyndrum lies two miles further on.
Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy (7 miles/11km – 4 hours)
The Way resumes with a steep upwards climb to re-join the old military road. Once there, though, the walking is relatively easy all the way to Bridge of Orchy.
Bridge of Orchy to Inveroran (2 miles/3km – 2 hours)
Leaving Bridge of Orchy over a bridge built by the army in the 1750s (following the Jacobean Uprising under Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745), the route climbs to a vantage point giving spectacular views towards Loch Tulla, Rannoch Moor and the Black Mount. It then sweeps down into Inveroran, a historic resting place for cattle drovers on their way to the markets in the south.
Inveroran to Kingshouse (10 miles/16km – 5 hours)
Following the old military road, the Way now leads to Victoria Bridge and onwards towards Rannoch Moor, one of the largest moors in the UK. Crossing Rannoch Moor leads to Glen Coe, perhaps the most hauntingly beautiful place in Scotland and scene of the famous “Massacre of Glencoe” in 1692. The entrance to the glen is marked by the magnificent mountain of Buachaille Etive Mor
("the great herdsman of Etive").
Kingshouse to Kinlochleven (9 miles/14km – 5 hours)
Passing the three mountains known as “The Three Sisters of Glen Coe”, the glen is left by a section of the route known as the Devil’s Staircase. This leads on to spectacular views of the Marmore Mountains (which are dominated by Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest peak) and a long descent into Kinlochleven, past the Blackwater Dam.
Kinlochleven to Fort William (16 miles/24km – 8 hours)
Starting with a steep climb out of Kinlochleven and, in part, following the old military road, the route passes Lairigmor (meaning “the Great Pass”) and the Iron Age Fort at Dun Deardail before descending into Glen Nevis. The Way continues on forestry tracks towards Fort William and the official finish line in the town’s Gordon Square.