Week Four of my walk across Scotland three years ago was different from weeks 1-3; not the weather (still mostly either a dry or a wet gray), and not the scenery (still varied and spectacular). But this week I did not have to plot my own course; it was laid out for me by the West Highland Way – the popular, 95-mile marked trail from Fort William to Glasgow.
Most of the 30,000 people who walk the WHW each year do so south to north, and for many it is their first (and last!) long-distance hike. If it had been my first long-distance Highland hike too, I know it would have felt like a big adventure. But after my three weeks in the northwest, it felt undemanding at times; not easy, just laid on. This does not mean I did not enjoy it. I did, immensely.
I have said that the southern end of the WHW is in Glasgow. That is not quite true. The trail ends (or, more usually, begins) in Milngavie, a town on the outskirts of the city (and pronounced Mull-GUY, by the way). My week’s journey ended on a train from Milngavie to Glasgow Central. But, in the interests of completeness, I walked the city and suburban streets back to the town a few days later. Week Four:
START: Fort William, Saturday September 24th.
FINISH: Glasgow, Friday 30th.
DISTANCE: 95 miles.
TERRAIN: Since this was the West Highland Way, much improved over my first three weeks. There was no trackless moor, but some trail – notably at the north end of Loch Lomond – was still rough enough.
BEST WEATHER: The sun came out as I skirted Rannoch Moor. If it had to choose to shine on only one section, this was the best choice (Kings House to Bridge of Orchy).
WORST WEATHER: The next day – torrents of rain around Tyndrum and into Strath Fillan.
WILDLIFE HIGHLIGHT: Coming face to face with a huge, horned, wild billy-goat beside Loch Lomond.
MOST IMPRESSIVE HILL: It has to be The Beuckle (Buachaille Etive Mòr) at the head of Glen Coe; storm-enveloped on Sunday afternoon, pointing into a blue sky on Monday morning.
BEST COMPANY: Although I only spoke to one other patron, the Climbers’ Bar at the Kings House Hotel on Sunday lunchtime. It held a steady procession of cheerful, soaked hikers.
BEST “CRAIC”: Not craic exactly, but rambunctious Partick Thistle football ground in Glasgow on Friday night. Come on the Jags!
BEST LODGING: Hmm. All the bunkhouses, hotels and hostels were special for something; Kings House and the Rowardennan SYHA for location; Bridge of Orchy Hotel and The Clachan Inn (Drymen) for food; and the Drovers Inn (Inverarnan) for sheer Disney-ness. The Blackwater Hostel in Kinlochleven was probably my best overall experience – friendly, simple, and an easy walk from the village.
HIGHEST HIGH: The view past the Pap of Glencoe to the mountains of Appin from high above Kinlochleven.
LOWEST LOW: A strange, short melancholy for no apparent reason at the southern edge of Rannoch Moor. Maybe it was as simple as a sudden shower in the woods after a morning of sunshine and open views.
HISTORY NOTE: The murder of Colin Campbell of Glenure in the woods of Lettermore in 1752 (the “Appin Murder”) was both a historical event and an episode in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped. Campbell was the crown representative on forfeited Jacobite estates in Appin, responsible for evicting disloyal tenants and collecting rents. One James of the Glens – almost certainly innocent – was hanged for the murder. Before mounting the scaffold he recited the 35th Psalm, still known in the Highlands as “The Psalm of James of the Glens”.