Monday, May 4, 2015

WEST HIGHLAND WAY -- Things to Know Before You Go


The West Highland Way traditionally begins in the Glasgow suburb of Milngavie and winds its way north for 96 miles (154 km) through an abundance of sheep farms, along the coast of Loch Lamond, through lowland moors, into dense woodlands, up and down over rolling hills and then high up into the mountainous regions of the Highlands.

WHEN TO GO:

According to the many locals I have met along the way, the month of May is their favourite time to go for several reasons.

1.     It is not too cold, and not too hot. I can tell you from experience that it is a bit chilly and when you get rained on (and you will get rained on) it can feel even colder. Even still, none of this felt unbearable, even when I was completely soaked by rain or when I had fallen over and was saturated with wet mud.
2.     Not so crowded. In May you have not yet reached peak summer vacation time, so the pathways are not as populated, and you get to spend a little more time feeling alone in the peaceful, beautiful surroundings.
3.     No 'midgies'. Summer brings out flying swarms of gnat sized insects that Scots call 'midgies'. They bite you all over wherever you have exposed skin and the number of bites in even a small area can end up looking like a severe rash. In May, these pests haven't woken up from their winter nap yet.

WHERE TO START:

Since you will more than likely be arriving in Glasgow to start your journey, use that as your base before you head off to start your epic trek. Glasgow is not only one of the most charming cities with some of the most friendly people on the planet, but it also has some great places to sleep, some amazing restaurants, a vibrant arts scene and most importantly, it has a military surplus store that is your last chance to stock up on clothing and supplies you might nedd for your adventure.

When you are ready to start on your trek, the village you travel to, Milngavie, is a suburb of Glasgow and only two stops away from Central Station on their subway line.

WHAT TO TAKE:

For those of you that need to make last minute purchases for your epic trek, there is an amazing military outlet that has everything you need, at decent prices. Jackets, tents, stoves, boots, mosquito netting, military backpacks - absolutely everything. This is your last chance to get quality supplies, so don't leave Glasgow without visiting this shop!

Adventure 1
Survival and Military Supplies
38 Dundas Street, Glasgow G1 2AQ
www.adventure1.co.uk

There are a couple of supply stores in Milngavie, near the WHW entrance, so you can stock up on trail mix at the health food store and you can stock up on WHW maps and souvenirs at the information office and the staff that run this store are charming, but the tents and sleeping bags they sell there are crap.. so make sure you have quality gear before you get to this point.

TO BEGIN THE WEST HIGHLAND WAY:

The starting point of the West Highland Way is in Milngavie.
This is pronounced very different from the way it looks "məl-GUY". However, if you try to purchase a bus or train ticket and ask them for the fare to "mill-n-gav-ee" the locals will just smile and give you the correct transport ticket. They are quite used to this.

Take the train to Milngavie from Glasgow. It is faster and cheaper than the bus and the train stops just steps away from the entrance to The West Highland Way.

The latest you should leave Milngavie and begin the trek is 2pm. You should reach the first village, Drymen, by 7pm to 9pm depending on the speed of walking. In the summer months, you will have sunlight until at least 9pm, which means you will be able to walk a little further on the first day.

WHERE TO STAY WHILE ON YOUR TREK:

If you plan on camping, it is absolutely a must that you insure that your tent is waterproof. You will encounter rain. If you wake up wet, if you have to start the day wearing wet clothing, and if you have the extra burden of carrying a backpack full of heavy, water-soaked clothes.. this can kind of ruin your happy vibe. With a completely waterproof tent you can wait out the storm no matter how long it lasts.

"Wild camping" is permitted throughout Scotland, which means anyone can pitch their tent anywhere, even on private property, for one or two nights, as long as they are not bothering anyone. PLEASE NOT THOUGH: That wild camping is not permitted on a 15 mile stretch between Dryman and Rowardennen, which is mostly along your second day of the trek.

TO BOOK HOSTELS AND HOTELS:

If you book all of your stays in guest houses and hotels along the way, you will be able to travel without a tent and sleeping bag, making your backpack much lighter. My advice to you is to not rely completely on sending them an email to make your booking. Some of these locations, especially the bunkhouses and hostels, do not have dedicated front desk or reception staff. They may get to your email after finishing a full day of chores. Try booking online through their website first. If you can't do that call them and place your reservation over the phone.

Your best bet is to visit the West Highland Way website: www.west-highland-way.co.uk

I can highly recommend a few places along the way:

Inversnaid Bunkhouse
T: 01877 386 249
E: hostel@inversnaid.com
W: www.inversnaid.com
Bunks starting at £17.50

Great hostel with extremely generous and kind staff in a converted village church. Extremely helpful in helping plan your further journeys. A great, fun pub upstairs with surprisingly good food. Here you can have the Haggis appetizer and the Black Pudding salad, to complete your Scottish dining experience.

SYHA Crianlarich Youth Hostel
T: 01838 300 260
E: crianlarich@syha.org.uk
W: www.hotelingscotland.com
Bunks starting at £16

A no-frills youth hostel, but exceptionally well-maintained and immaculately clean. I sound a bit redundant here, but once again, the staff are extremely kind and upbeat. There is no food service on site, but you can buy a frozen meal from the front desk and use their well-equipped kitchen to cook. As an option there is a well-stocked convenience store down the road. Here you can find pre-made sandwiches and snacks, for those of you who don't like to cook.

BAG CARRYING SERVICES:

If you want to forget about carrying any gear on your back so that you only have to carry your snacks and water there are several companies that can assist you with that. Average fee, from start to finish of the trek is about £80.

A1 – AMS Scotland Limited – www.amsscotland.co.uk
A2B Travel-Lite – www.travel-lite-uk.com

Ginger Routes – www.gingerroutes.com

WEST HIGHLAND WAY BLOG LINKS:

Things to Know Before You Go
Day 1 – London > Glasgow > Milngavie > Drymen
Day 2 – Drymen > Balmaha > Rowardennan
Day 3 – Rowardennan > Inversnaid
Day 4 – Inversnaid > Crianlarich
Day 5 – Crianlarich > Bridge of Orchy
Day 6 – Bridge of Orchy > Kingshouse (Glencoe)
Day 7 – Kingshouse > Kinlochleven
Day 8 – Kinlochleven > Ft William

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