West Highland Way
The West Highland Way is a ~95 mile footpath through the Western Highlands of Scotland. Scenically and culturally, it is unlike any other trail I had been on before. For the most part it was a gentle meander with a few climbs on the path itself. Plenty of opportunities exist to get in some honest to gawd fell running in as you pass by many hills and mountains that beckon you up their treeless banks. There is access to the trail from a few public transportation points, one of which is the Bridge of Orchy where I began on the trail, some 60 miles already into it.
Arriving at night I didn't get a sense of the terrain but the culture of the "walking" community (as opposed to hiking as we would call it) was apparent. It is incredibly common for people to do the whole trail, or large sections of it. The idyllic and archaically radiating towns the trail passes through are adorned with "Walkers Welcome" signs and offer the weary a respite.
The feeling of entering a town on foot from a distance and crashing at a bed and breakfast replete with friendly innkeeper and food was almost too much of a dungeons and dragons throwback for me. To be fair I've never been on the Appalachian Trail but it felt like I had never encountered the same level of trail traveler amenity in the US. Not that I'd want to always have a big fat breakfast made for me when completing long traverses, but it certainly makes for a great vacation run.
The morning brought towering hills, much higher and more rugged looking than the rolling green mounds I was expecting. The line between hill and mountain seemed to blur in my mind, naming conventions aside neither is a bump in the landscape but rather a towering mass of rock and grass. The lack of trees but rampant grass growth means the path up the slopes often looks smooth and begs for quick ascents. Talus fields and exposed slabs were present but non technical climbs for decent altitude gains abounded. Anyway, It was way different.
The first day's journey traveled through a few small towns and along old cobblestone roads. Uncharacteristically clear weather made the most exposed and remote section of the trip seem trivial. The trail drained incredibly well despite the numerous streams and boggy territory that it wandered through. The mountains seemed to threaten the drowning of the lower lands, tendrils of spring water left numerous scars down the jutting rock.
|Wild life! Small "towns"|
|These guys were chilling outside a hotel|
|Absurdly perfect valley|
The second day was another perfect weather one that began with a hike out of a valley and into active sheep farms. Apparently it's an everyday occurrence to hop a sheep fence or open a gate as you pass through the hills of grazing property. Past abandoned stone structures older than your Mom and through coniferous plantations the trail takes you. The trail ends just a wee bit from the tallest mountain in the British Isles, Ben Nevis (~4400 ft above sea level which is actually about its prominence too). I don't think it's often that one will find themselves in Scotland by chance but if you do, check out some of the highland walking trails. Truly awesome.
|Leaving at daybreak, which was like 9AM|
|Tree plantation giving way to sheep|
|Ben Nevis on right|