The West Highland Way was Scotland’s first long distance walking route, stretching 96 miles (155km) from Milngavie to Fort William. It has been on my to-do-list for a few years now, but I always found a reason to put it off; I even told myself it would be boring!. That all changed after I read a walk report last year by James Barlow – an Edinburgh based photographer who walked the West Highland Way in February 2016. His adventure filled me with trepidation and I promised myself that I too would do it in winter.
In February this year I had just over two weeks annual leave to use for work and thought it would be a perfect opportunity to walk the West Highland Way. My plan was to complete the trip in 5 days and wild camp the entire way. I knew it would be more of personal challenge walking and wild camping in winter; there would be far fewer people doing it and it would be bitterly cold at night, but that just made it more appealing! I was exited for vistas of snow topped mountains in Glencoe and dusted moorland in Rannoch Moor. I set about pulling all of my camping equipment together; bought a better cooking system and upgraded my tent with extra guylines. Initially I had planned the following route;
Day 1 – Milngabie – Garadhban Forrest – 15.5 miles (25km)
Day 2 Garadhban Forrest – Inversnaid – 18.6 miles (30km)
Day 3 Inversnaid – Tyndrum – 18.6 miles (30km)
Day 4 Tyndrum – Kings House 18.6 miles (30km)
Day 5 Kings House to just outside of Fort William 21.7miles (35km)
This would leave me a short walk into Fort William on the 6th day in order to get an early train home. Looking back now I was being a bit optimistic with the mileage and as you’ll find out, I didn’t stick to it!
On Tuesday 7th February 2017, I left Milngavie later than expected at 1050 hours, after I stupidly missed the earlier train to Glasgow. It was pouring with rain but my spirits were high and I was looking forward to my adventure. There had been a few nights of heavy rain leading up to my departure and the Allander Water had burst it banks, which along with the rain had flooded some sections of the path. Not long after leaving Milngavie, the rain turned to sleet and later to snow. I wasn’t wearing gloves and chose to walk the first leg of the route without them. 7 miles in and my clothes, boots and rucksack were completely saturated and my hands were numb with the cold. I stopped at The Beach Tree Inn to warm my hands and dried my jacket over the radiator. I sat with a coffee and stared out the window looking at the heavy snow being blowing by the wind, dreading having to set my tent up at the end of the day.
I knew I had some catching up to do, so I set off a short time later back into the snow, this time wearing my gloves! I eventually made it to Drymen – 12 miles in – and bypassed the town, heading for the Garadhban Forrest. I walked a few miles into the forrest and found a small patch of snow covered grass right next to the track. By this time it was pitch black and I set up my tent using the light from my head torch.
After setting up camp I collected some water and cooked my dinner within the porch. I should probably say at this point that my tent is a Wild Country Zephyrous 1 tent. It’s a small double skinned one man tent meant, with a single pole designed for three season use. Lying inside feels similar to how I imagine lying in a coffin would feel; the inner slopes steeply down both sides and is literally a few cementers away from my face and feet when lying down. Unfortunately cooking in the tent created a massive amount of moisture, which over the course of the night saturated the inner tent. This meant that every time I moved, the water dripped down onto my sleeping bag which quickly became sodden and reduced its insulating abilities. I spent the whole night shivering in my sleeping bag through the night. Lesson learned!
Unfortunately due to the weather, I didn’t take ANY photos from this day – but there are lots to come!