Scotland – Glasgow and the West Highland Way

Please note: all our trip reports are independently written and based on our own experiences. All links and recommendations are not sponsored, unless explicitly labelled as such.


 

After our last hiking vacation was already some time ago, we planned to have another one this year. There are a lot of long distance trails all over Europe, it wasn’t easy to choose one, but as we had Scotland in mind for some time as well, we decided to combine a city trip to Glasgow with hiking four stages on the West Highland Way, Scotland’s first officially designated Long Distance Hiking Path. It starts in Milngavie, a little north of Glasgow, to Fort Williams and has a length of 154 km in total. As we only had eight days for the trip, we decided to hike four stages, from Milngavie to Crianlarich, with was a little more than the half of the West Highland Way. Another reason why we chose this trail, is that it is easily accessible by public transport, as the West Highland Line connects many villages along the trail with Glasgow, and as there regularly are accommodations along it. For preparation, we planned our route and stages with the official homepage of the West Highland Way (https://www.westhighlandway.org/) and the West Highland Way Map published by Harvey (https://www.harveymaps.co.uk/acatalog/West-Highland-Way-YHWRWH.html) which we also used to navigate while on the trail. We also booked all accommodations in advance, as we were hiking during high season in August. We can definitely recommend to do so, as many hotels, B&B’s , hostels and bunkhouses we saw had no vacancy or only had few capacity left. For sure, if you are planning to camp along the way, you won’t have any problems, as beside managed campgrounds, you also find signposted areas were everyone can pitch their tent.

The official homepage (https://www.westhighlandway.org/accommodation/) of the trail lists a lot of accommodations that we booked directly through their homepage and booking.com (sponsored/affiliated link).

We will post about the places we stayed at including some information in the section of every stage.

As we arrived in Glasgow, we’ll begin our report with it:

Glasgow

Glasgow is a very interesting city and we liked it a lot. We arrived here after a smooth [Eurowings flight] and checked-in to the easy hotel in town. Actually this hotel was a flop, even if we know what awaited us, because I stayed at an easy hotel in Sofia before, but due to the ongoing European Championships that took place in that week in Glasgow and Berlin, the prices were incredibly high, so that there was no other option for a room (slightly) below 100 GBP per night, what’s extremely overpriced for this hotel. On our second stay in the city at the end of the trip, we found it much better at the Premier Inn at Charing Cross station (Tripadvisor). To get from the airport to the city center, we used the Glasgow Airport Express Bus to Buchanan Bus Station. Buying tickets from home is easy through their website or app, but be aware, if you buy mobile tickets, every traveler should install the app himself and buy tickets, as you can only activate one ticket at a time in the app. As we didn’t know that, we had to rely on the friendly bus drivers, that trusted us in not using the second ticket for another trip. You can find all information on how to get to the city on the airport’s homepage: https://www.glasgowairport.com/to-and-from/

Glasgow is a very international city, there are a lot of students in town and that brings something we really like: good restaurants and bars at fair prices. We had really good food and drinks here in really stylish places, here are some recommendations:

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We also enjoyed the beautiful old town of Glasgow. Walking through the streets here can  set you back in time to an older Scotland. Many buildings have been restored nicely and there are many sights here. George Square, Buchanan Street and Glasgow Green are the three main sights in the old town area around Glasgow Central Station.

Nonethless, we also went to the other site of the city and explored the area around Kelvingrove Park a little. There are a lot of beautiful old houses around this and you find the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery here. Also right next to the park you’ll find the Gilmorehill campus of the University of Glasgow, which is located in a beautiful Gothic revival building from the 19th century. You can walk through the premises of the University and we can highly recommend to explore it a little, as the building really is something special for lovers of Gothic architecture with a lot of interesting details. Not far from here, you can find the Glasgow Botanical Gardens as well.

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The West Highland Way

There wasn’t much preparation we did in Glasgow before starting our hike: we got some sweet and healthy snacks (chocolate and nut bars, some fruits and carrots), filled our water bags (we always carry 2 liters of fresh water per person) and packed our backpacks. When hiking long-distance trails, we try to pack only the most important things, so that a 40l backpack offers enough space for us. In total including snacks and water our backpacks had a weight of about 9-10 kg each.  When hiking in Scotland, you should not forget rainproof clothing and protection for your backpack. Even if it was August, short showers encountered almost every day.

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Stage 1 Milngavie – Drymen

Day one on the WHW lead us from the very beginning of the trail to Drymen. The stage is a little less than 21 km long and mostly flat. Getting to Milngavie is easy, there are trains running from Glasgow Central Station on regular basis. From the train stations there are signs to the obelisk marking the start of the trail. As soon as you left Milngavie, you walk through wide grassland with only small ups and downs, there are many sheep grazing along the way, unfortunately we only saw few Highland Cattle but some deer. The stage was a good start to the four days of walking ahead of us, as it wasn’t starting on a very challenging level but letting us get a feeling for hiking with a big backpack on again. As you can see we had a good pace on day one:

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Drymen was a good place to stay at overnight, as besides accommodations and restaurants you also find a small supermarket here, where you can get some fresh food and water supplies. Also this stage seemed to be very popular as we met a lot of fellow hikers hiking in both directions. Stage two was almost the same, but on stages three and four the amount of other hikers we met sunk to only a few with not meeting anybody for hours. We also had hikers obviously divided their hikes into the same stages as we did, as we met them during dinner in the evening. Usually there’s not a big choice of restaurants and pubs in the small villages along the way. We stayed at the Buchanan Arms Hotel & Leisure Club (Tripadvisor) which also had a spa area, where we enjoyed the pool and Jacuzzi to relax a little.

Stage 2 Drymen – Balmaha

Day two on the trail was a short one only. As the Oak Tree Inn in Balmaha is long established and well-reputed by hikers, we wanted to stay here for a night. That meant an only 12 km long hike, but this time it wasn’t as flat as the first day. We passed Conic Hill at a height of almost 360m shortly before reaching Balmaha. The way up is not too steep but leading you along some small staircases and you can also walk up to the very peak of Conic Hill at the point where the WHW leads down to Loch Lomond on which’s southern banks Balmaha is located. There also is a small Visitors Center in Balmaha, offering interesting information on the region.

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Balmaha is quite small. Besides the Oak Tree Inn offering a restaurant, a café and a small and not inexpensive store offering hiking supplies and snacks, there only is a bunkhouse offering some cheap snacks and drinks and a lodge located here. If you like you can also do some watersports here, rent kayaks and canoes, or take the ferry to Inchcailloch, a National Nature Reserve on an island in Loch Lomond. We enjoyed our comfortable room and the good food at the Oak Tree Inn for the rest of the day (Tripadvisor).

Stage 3 Balmaha – Inversnaid

Day three on the trail actually demanded a lot from us. After leaving Balmaha, the WHW leads along the shore of Loch Lomond, over hill and dale, mostly on a narrow path that even makes it hard to pass other hikers. Additionally the map we used made us think we had a hike of about 22 km in front of us, our GPS in the end said we did a walk of more than 26 km. Due to the challenging severity of the terrain in comparison with the first two stages, this stage took us really long and we took several breaks on lonely beaches at the lake. The nature in this part of the trail is beautiful, you are mainly walking up and down through forest, over bridges, passing many beaches that invite to take a break. We enjoyed it, but we have to say, that this was the most challenging stage of our trip.

As we stayed at the Inversnaid Bunkhouse (Tripadvisor), which offers both, rooms and place to put up a tent, plus a really good restaurant, we also had to walk up the steep hill to reach the bunkhouse in the end of that long day of hiking. Just as a tip, they offer a transfer service from Inversnaid Peer. Just call them, the number is posted on a sign after you crossed the bridge and walk down to the peer.

After that day we were exhausted and happy to have a surprisingly good restaurant in house. But for those of you staying here, mind that there is no supermarket or such here.

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Stage 4 Inversnaid – Crianlarich

After that challenging third day on the WHW, day four was a little easier. For sure in the beginning, after leaving Inversnaid, the challenging way along the shore was continuing, but this time it was only a little less than half of the way. Even if it took us more than half of the time, we enjoyed it, as we knew that we’d leave the beautiful Loch Lomond now. In the north of the lake the trail takes you up into the real highlands. In Invernan you are passing a camping site with a pub and a small shop. We did a lunch break at the pub and had some delicious baked potatoes during a short rainy period and continued our hike strengthened. It still was a long way to Crianlarich, but the nature changes here. It gets more mountainous with a lot of grassland and sheep again. In some places the sheep are grazing on the path, but they are moving aside as soon as humans approach. We enjoyed walking through this kind of countryside and the path also lets you relax a little more, as it is broad and easy to walk on, letting you enjoy your surrounding and the views as you have to concentrate less. That day, we only met three other hikers during that long stage.

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After arrival in Crianlarich, we got our rooms at the beautiful Craigbank Guest House (Tripadvisor), whose owners are so friendly and welcoming and made our stay here very comfortable. This was the best private accommodation we have ever been to! When getting back to the WHW to finish it one day, we’ll definitely stay here again.

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We had dinner at the Rod and Reel Pub nearby our accommodation (Tripadvisor).

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We chose Crianlarich to be our final stop along the trail, as after four stages it is the first village with a railway station. The West Highland Line railway has a stop here, so you can easily get back to Glasgow from here or north to Fort William. If you continue walking here, there also is a small shop offering food and drinks right next to the train station.

A little melancholy we enjoyed the great views the train ride along Loch Lomond back to Glasgow offered us, but we are definitely planning to come back to the West Highland way to finish it in another four stages one day.

It was a really interesting and well-signposted long distance path that takes you through nice and diverse nature. For hikers that don’t like to camp, this path offers good possibilities to make stops in the villages along the way, all offering several options of accommodation.

We stayed at:

Also good to know, if you missed to refill water or to stop at a supermarket: there are honesty boxes along the trail, offering you water, sometimes soft drinks and chocolate bars as well, for a cheap prices.

Equipment

As the temperatures were not too low during August, even if it was raining, we were usually good with walking in a functional-shirt and long trekking trousers. For sure we were wearing a rainproof outdoor jacket when it was windy or raining, to avoid getting too cold. We both were carrying a 40l backpack with about 9-10 kg each, including luggage, water and some snacks. Sturdy shoes with good tread are recommendable, as the trail can get a little slippery when it raining in some places.

How to get to Glasgow?

Glasgow is well connected to the train and coach network in the UK, you can easily get there. If you come from farther away, there are also many airlines flying to Glasgow. The city has two airports. Glasgow Airport (IATA Code: GLA) is the most frequently used one, offering most connections, here are some airlines flying to Glasgow Airport: Aer Lingus (via Dublin), Air Canada Rouge and Air Transat (both via Toronto), British Airways (via London), Delta (via New York JFK), Emirates (via Dubai), Eurowings (via Düsseldorf), Flybe (via several British Airports), Icelandair (via Reykjavik), KLM (via Amsterdam), Lufthansa (via Frankfurt or Munich) and United Airlines (via Newark). Glasgow Prestwick Airport (IATA Code: PIK) is only served by Ryanair from a few European cities.

 

Thank you for reading, we hope we were able to give you some interesting tips and inspiration for your own trip to Glasgow and the West Highland Way.

You can contact us by commenting below or just dropping an e-mail to thealterlookout@freenet.de in case you have any questions or suggestions. Also don’t forget to follow our Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/thealterlookout) and Instagram (http://www.instagram.com/thealterlookout) to be always up to date about our blog posts and to see some pictures even while we are travelling.

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2 thoughts on “Scotland – Glasgow and the West Highland Way

  1. Ah, very useful; especially to see the trail itself and to know more about places to stay. Me and a friend are likely to be walking this way on our trek from East to West in May-July 2019, so it’s great to see where you stayed etc. Thank you 🙂

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  2. Thank you, we hopes it’s useful for you 🙂 if you have any questions while planning, just drop an email or comment here 🙂 it definitely is a nice trail and we will finish it some time in the next years

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