WHW & GGW 2008 – Final Thoughts
If you’ve reached this page and read all the previous pages then well done and more importantly, THANK YOU. I generally write these journals for my own benefit and for those people I will leave behind one day – perhaps they will be interested to read what their Grandad / Great Grandad did in his recreation time – but I know that some people like to read what I write, I get the occasional email telling me so and therefore this is also for that audience.
I’m writing this in mid-September, it’s been over three months since I finished the walk and I’ve been taking my time in the creation of this journal. It’s also much longer than previous journals I’ve written and consequently it takes longer to get the words and the pictures onto the page. I’ve also struggled with writer’s block (or writer’s “can’t be arsed” sometimes) and that’s also delayed the publication – so apologies for anyone who has been waiting for this to be released. I hope it was worth the wait. I would welcome comments, there’s a link at the bottom of the page that will take you to a comments page in My Diary.
The Best Bits
The best bit for me wasn’t a section of the walk, it was the sense of recapturing the feelings I had when I walked the Coast to Coast in 2006. I got something of a shock in 2007 when I walked Offa’s Dyke; I didn’t enjoy it at all and I began to wonder if the Long Distance Walking infatuation had finally died for me. Walking the WHW proved to me that it hasn’t – that it was Offa’s Dyke that I hated, not long distance walking.
If you insist on me selecting a favourite part of the walk then I would probably have to go for Ben Nevis. This may seem a bit obvious, it’s Britain’s highest mountain and a great achievement for a fat fellwalker like myself, but there’s more to it than that. During all the planning stages Ben Nevis was always the unknown quantity on the horizon – I’d never gained as much height in a single walk as would be required to reach the top and I had no idea if I could manage it at all. I trained hard, not for the West Highland Way, but for Ben Nevis. The WHW and GGW were never really going to be a serious challenge, not unless I chose a high alternative every day, but Ben Nevis would be.
When I actually came to climb it, I found it strenuous but not seriously challenging; I walked 24 miles the next day. The climb to the summit was long, but not particularly steep and I never felt like I was going to have to stop and turn back. This was a kind of revelation to me. I found new confidence from the experience and new hills opened themselves up to me. Hills in the Lakes that I’d looked at the previous year and thought “That’s too big, I’ll leave that”, now became quite do-able. Ben Nevis was my first summit over 3000 feet. Since then I have gone on to climb 2 Munros, Helvellyn, Scafell Pike and Snowdon – all hills that previously I would have thought beyond my capabilities. I also had another crack at the Yorkshire 3 Peaks and although my feet knew I’d finished it I wasn’t a complete wreck at the end of it.
The whole walk then was the best bit!
The Worst Bits
This is a bit easier to define, the worst bit was the whole walk! Alright I’ll be a bit more precise. The worst bit was the underfoot conditions; from leaving the station at Glasgow, to arriving at the foot of Inverness Castle I didn’t spend more than about 3 miles walking on grass and when I did it was because I’d taken a detour from the Way to bag a trig point.
I know the trail needs to support hundreds of thousands of feet walking it all year round, but the selection of path materials needs to be reviewed. This was my first time walking in Scotland, so perhaps this is how all Scottish paths are prepared, but I kind of hope not. Perhaps my choice of footwear didn’t help either; the Terrocs do not have the most protective sole, but they are designed for rough terrain.
That’s the end of the worst bits – I enjoyed the whole walk, despite the hard conditions underfoot.
Things I would change next time
Apart from avoiding certain B&Bs and hotels, there’s not much I would change if I did the walk again. There are plenty of opportunities to change the route and I selected several high level alternatives, but decided against them all. That was down to my mindset at the time, so perhaps that would change if I did the walk again, but it certainly didn’t detract from the walk I ended up doing.
I even chose the right time of year. There were almost no midgie problems and being rained on twice in 13 days was simply remarkable. I was very lucky with the weather, other folk walking in late May will have seen wind, rain and even snow I’m sure. The weather on Ben Nevis was unprecedented. It was clear the day before I went up, so I had great shots of it from the path on the way into Fort William. It was clear on the day I ascended and I had brilliant views from the summit and shirtsleeves weather on the way down. It was also clear the day after, so I was able to get cloud free pictures of it from the path to South Laggan as well. What more could you ask for?