West Highland Way & Great Glen Way 2008 – Introduction

The planning for this walk actually started at the end of 2006, with a view to walking it in late summer of 2007, but with one thing and another I shelved the idea and walked Offa’s Dyke instead. The shambles that that turned into can be read elsewhere on this site.

During my previous planning, I’d booked most of the accommodation, although thankfully I hadn’t sent any deposit cheques. So when I started planning the walk again in late 2007, after I returned from Wales, I already knew one or two places that I wanted to include on my itinerary.

Travel Logistics

One of the reasons for switching from the WHW to Offa’s Dyke last year was the time it takes to get to and from Scotland for me. I had limited days holiday last year and I would have spent too many days travelling and not enough days walking. This year (2008) I have an extra five days holiday to play with, thanks to my company changing its rather Dickensian policy on annual leave. I now have 25 days annual leave instead of the 20 I’ve had for the last two years since joining the company.

This allows me the luxury of a day’s travel to and from the start and end of the walk. I looked at various alternatives in terms of transport. Unlike the Coast to Coast in 2006 and Offa’s Dyke last year it would be unreasonable to ask anyone to give me a lift to the start of the walk. It’s 240 miles from my house to the start of the walk in Milngavie and it’s just shy of 400 miles from the end of the walk in Inverness.

My first thought of course was the train, but that would have cost almost as much as the rest of the walk put together once I’d got myself to Milngavie and back again from Inverness. I decided I would have to use the car as much as possible and rely on the train network when all else failed. Which left me with the dilemma of where to leave my car – at the start of the walk or the end?

Several journals on the web and the Trailblazer guidebook mention that it is possible to leave your car parked outside or nearby the police station in Milngavie, leaving your details with the police. Although this doesn’t guarantee you returning to a car in the same state in which you left it, it certainly increases the odds. Some B&B’s will also look after your car for the period of your walk, depending heavily on where they are located and how much parking they have.

Ruthven Barracks
Ruthven Barracks

My feeling generally was to leave the car at the end of the walk, get the train back to the start, walk to the end and then drive home. I’m very lucky, in that I have a friend who lives in Inverness and he agreed to let me park the car outside his house for two weeks. So the plan is now to drive most of the way to Inverness on Saturday 17th May, stop overnight, perhaps a wild camp somewhere outside Inverness and then drive to Mike’s house early Sunday morning, get the train to Glasgow and then either walk to Milngavie or get the train, depending on how much of the day I have left after the train arrives in Glasgow.

There is a link path from the centre of Glasgow to Milngavie, called the Kelvin Walkway. It’s about 11 miles, along river banks and residential areas and could be a nice warm up for the walk. It really all depends on the train timetable. So I searched on-line for the train timetable from Inverness to Glasgow for the 18th May 2008. Scotrail run that service and ironically enough their current timetable ends on the 17th May 2008 and their new timetable is not released until the middle of April. At this point then all I can do is wait and see what the train times will be.

I’ve picked out a likely looking spot for a camp on way up to Inverness, it has a trig point at the top of the hill and somewhere nearby to park the car, there’s also a Little Chef not far away for breakfast before I arrive at Mike’s house to deposit my car and beg a lift to the station.

Walk Planning

The three days I walked along the Offa’s Dyke had left me with the determination not to bite off too much in the first few days of a walk again, and my planning for the West Highland Way in 2008 kept this in mind. In my original planning for the walk proposed for 2007, I planned to walk to Balmaha on the first day, allowing me to climb Ben Lomond on Day 2. This plan was scrapped, in favour of two short(ish) days to start with, 13 miles from Milngavie to Drymen and 14 miles the next day to Rowardennan. The first day has a total climb of just less than 1000 feet and Day 2 has a total ascent of approx 2400 feet. Like I said, breaking myself in easily.

Ben Lomond is now quite difficult, which I’m not too disappointed about. It would mean a 17 mile day with over 5000 feet of ascent – not something I think I could manage – at least not if I wanted to do anything for two or three days following.

High Level Alternatives

The “Highland High Way” book makes it possible to replace almost all the traditional low level routes of the West Highland Way with high level alternatives. This isn’t what I’m planning on doing, although there are a couple of interesting high routes that I’m considering. The two main days I’m looking at replacing are the last two before I arrive in Fort William; the day from Kingshouse to Kinlochleven, where I have three different options and the day from Kinlochleven to Fort William, where I have two.

The usual route from Kingshouse to Kinlochleven is under 9 miles with an ascent of approx 1400 feet. This is a walk of no more than 3.5 hours, even taking into account the notorious Devil’s Staircase, a climb of 850 feet over about 1 mile. This is the highest point of the walk at a less than impressive 1800 feet.

There is an opportunity at the top of the Devil’s Staircase to turn left along the ridge and meet up with the formidable Aonach Eagach ridge, culminating in the two Munro’s of Meall Dearg and Sgor Nam Fiannaidh (which also has a trig point). The whole ridge route may be a little beyond my capabilities, but by using an escape route off Meall Dearg I could create a walk of about 13 miles with an ascent of 3800 feet, which is much more realistic. This will give me one of the Munro’s and a much more challenging walk.

If the weather is bad I have the option of walking along old military roads that run through Glen Coe, along the foot of the ridge I have just mentioned. Although this route hugs the busy A82 for most of the way through the Glen, it does present the walker with some of the most spectacular scenery in Scotland. This is then an 18 mile walk with a total ascent of approx 1900 feet. This makes for a much fuller days walking with a lunch break in Glen Coe or at the Clachaig Inn.

The following day from Kinlochleven to Fort William is probably the most difficult day of the walk if you are following the traditional route, comprises a walk of 15 miles and 2400 feet. But that doesn’t really prepare you for the next day, an ascent of Ben Nevis. So again I looked for alternatives. The High Way book offers a variation through the Mamores collecting two Munro’s; Stob Ban and Mullach nan Coirean. The mileage for the day is about the same, but the ascent rockets to 5500 feet, more than I think I can manage in a day’s walking.

With the use of an accepted escape route I found an alternative that climbs the side of Am Bodach, goes over Sgurr an Iubhair and then drops quickly down to Glen Nevis, where a forest path returns me to the WHW in Nevis Forest. The resulting day is somewhat shorter at 12 miles and the climb of 3700 feet is well within my capabilities.

I finish the WHW, as many people do, with an ascent of Ben Nevis. I don’t plan on doing anything adventurous like the Carn Mor Dearg Arete, I think the “tourist path” will be challenge enough for me. The 13 mile round trip from my B&B in Fort William and the 4600 feet of ascent will be the biggest walk I have ever done. If the weather is foul and unsuitable for an attempt on Britain’s highest peak, I will be bagging a nearby trig point and spending much time in the pub!

Trig Points

As usual I have a number of short diversions planned to bag trig points along the way. Some of these are very unlikely to be bagged, like Sgor Nam Fiannaidh and some are right on the path, but the majority require a short diversion.

Baggage Transfer

Fortunately, unlike the Offa’s Dyke Path, there are a number of people offering baggage transfer services along both the trails. Unlike Offa’s Dyke, the road infrastructure near the paths makes this quite easy. There isn’t a single company that does them both though.

I booked the WHW with AMS Scotland and they charged a very reasonable £33 for the whole route. This is equivalent to about one leg for the Offa’s Dyke Path, where the local B&B’s employ taxi companies to move the bags from one B&B to the next.

I booked the GGW with Great Glen Baggage Transfer and they charged £45 for the four drops I needed. 2010 Update: They no longer seem to be in business, so check for service providers at Great Glen Way.

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