West Highland Way

Introduction - Mark & Rachel's West Highland Way walk

A dedication

Our walk, and this journal, is dedicated to Rachel's father, William, who passed away on 4th December 2013.

He loved walking and the great outdoors, but he never progressed to the hills, mountains and long distance paths that we have. He would have loved to, expressing this wish to us on many occasions, but, for one reason or another it never happened. He always took a keen interest in all of our endeavours and did join us just once, for the last couple of miles, of the South Downs Way. He knew that we were planning to do this walk and we had discussed the route and the logistics with him. So, having completed it, it is with a sad and heavy heart that we have not been able to sit down and tell him all about it, and, that he will never read of our experiences - we really miss him.

The West Highland Way

After our experience on The Dales Way in 2012 we decided to take a break from long distance paths and used our 'walking holiday' quota of days to visit Italy instead. This was, in part, the fault of Julie and Andrew who run the Yew Tree House B&B in Grassington. When walking the Dales Way, we lodged at their wonderful B&B for a couple of nights and noticed that they had a house in the Tuscan hills for rent. We had always wanted to visit Tuscany, so we thought it was an ideal opportunity. We also hoped to get some overseas hill walking in at the same time.

I must admit, that about a couple of months after completing The Dales Way, and realising that we wouldn't be doing a long walk in 2013, I had a real sinking feeling. This thing of long distance paths, getting under your skin, is so true. But, a booking had been made and we were off to Italy.

We had already earmarked the WHW as our next walk, and so, even before the end of 2012, I was already making plans and researching the route and accommodation.

The major issue for us, being southern softies, was getting there. It would take a day each way just to travel from our home in Sussex. Consequently, we were almost looking at a two week holiday from work, just to walk 95 miles, assuming we were to use the recognised stops on the route. However, I discovered that there was a sleeper train that departed from Euston, and so a plan started to evolve in my little brain.

Easter was towards the end of April so we chose to utilise the bank holidays again, as we had done on previous walks. Although the weather might be cold, the snow would be gone and we would start before the crowds in May. However, being Easter, it was likely that it was still going to be quite busy. To minimise this, the plan was for me to work in London all day, on the Wednesday before Easter, go home (nearly 2 hours south!), eat, change, pick up my pack and then jump on a train back up to London. Oh, and pick up Rachel. We would then cross London and get on the overnight sleeper to Glasgow. From there, get the local train to Milngavie and then walk the 12 miles to Drymen. Easy!

By travelling overnight it meant less time off work, and by going overnight on a Wednesday, we would be at least a day ahead of all those starting on Good Friday or Easter Saturday.

The final days walk would see us finishing in Fort William late on the following Thursday afternoon. We would then jump on the sleeper that evening, all the way back to London Euston, to arrive on the Friday morning.

So, all we had to do, was to make it work!

It was June 2013 when we booked our accommodation and ultimately managed to get all our preferred choices. The Kingshouse Hotel wouldn't give us a rate, whereas everyone else didn't seem to have a problem. When we did get the Kingshouse rate it was a bit of a shock, being £100 for a double en-suite including breakfast - by far the most expensive of the whole trip and significantly more than their 2013 rate. In fact it was the most expensive overnight stop on any of our previous long distance walks. Initially, our first choice at Rowardennan was the Shepherd's House but they were thinking of doing away with lifts to and from the Rowardennan Hotel and charging for evening meals instead. On the food front this was fine, to a degree, but it was going to mess up our mileages as it would make the next day (which is the hardest day) the best part of 2 miles longer. Personally I'm not sure this change in tactic of theirs was a great idea, as we, as a consequence, decided to book elsewhere. But, it is their business, literally. Therefore, we decided to go to Coille Mhor who were prepared to meet us, after having eaten at the hotel, and then drop us back in the morning, all free of charge. In addition, Coille Mhor was only a mile south of the hotel so if we wanted to dispense with the lifts it was a much better option.

We re-confirmed the accommodation in early January, as we had done on previous walks and everything appeared to be in order. We had also managed to get all the train tickets we needed to get (which had been a major concern), for all our connections. I had logged on the moment the Caledonian Sleeper fares were released, which was a good thing, as by the end of the day they had doubled in price and all advance tickets had been sold.

We would be carrying all our own kit again. Although we are just into our fifties, we still like the idea of carrying everything and all the time we are able, we will continue to do so. Clothing wise, we updated our walking trousers, with Rachel going for the more flattering, stretchy trouser this time. On the equipment front, everything was fine but it was rather strange to contemplate not taking maps, as everyone seemed to suggest they weren't necessary. Old habits die hard and I felt naked without the reassurance that a map gives, so a token gesture saw me take the Harvey's strip map. We used the Trailblazer guide book which had been so good on the Coast to Coast but sadly unavailable for the Dales Way, and once again it didn't let us down.

Health wise, my knee problems that had dogged me for about the last 5 years continued. After seeing a specialist, and having an MRI scan, it showed that I had 3 issues. None of them were going to go away and I was going to have to live with the problem. Rachel, not to be outdone, had problems with her collarbone and sternum. Again something that wasn't going to go away, so not ideal when carrying a heavy pack. But, we designed our training around these issues and by the time our departure date arrived, we were as ready as we could be.

Again, like the Dales Way, we felt that the terrain wasn't going to be as challenging as the Coast to Coast, (isn't it strange how everyone uses the C2C as a benchmark) but we had picked up on the fact that the military roads could be hard on the feet. We were doing an 8 day itinerary, which wasn't exactly pushing us. But, after our Dales Way experience, and the fact that Gary and Sam, who we met on the C2C, had to bale out from the WHW due to atrocious weather, we thought we would play it safe - I just hope we're not going soft!

We were really looking forward to getting back to Scotland and seeing the Highlands again. We had visited many times and bagged quite a few Munros over the years. However, the stretch from Milngavie to Crianlarich was unknown to us, although we had previously driven up the A82, the other side of Loch Lomond, en route to Fort William.

So feeling excited and ready for our next adventure, our final day at work arrived. That evening would see us winging our way to Scotland and the West Highland Way.

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