Tips for walking the West Highland Way

Where is this on the West Highland Way?

I’VE written previously about my love of the West Highland Way which is completed by 30,000 people each year; although I don’t think this statistic says or proves very much, I’d like to know more.

There’s a signing on point at the tourist information office in Milngavie, but after that there’s no contact with anyone associated with the walk although I think you can fill a form out online afterwards detailing your experiences.

I’d like to know how people split the West Highland and how many abandon and at which points.

I think it’s pretty obvious why people throw in the towel; their feet come apart which is a common problem, even for the hardiest of walkers; and if you search Flickr for ‘West Highland Way feet’ you’ll see plenty of photographs of taped up tootsies, and worse.

For most people the walk should take about six or seven days to complete and even though, say, 15-miles in a day may seem daunting it’s only seven and a bit before lunch and if you set off at 10 in the morning at the latest then you should be eating by 1 o’clock.

Set off again at 2, maybe at a slightly more leisurely pace and it’s not unreasonable to finish by six.

Remember, you’re on holiday; you’re not constrained by the nine to five, you don’t have to get back for the six o’clock news.

Each time I’ve done the West Highland I’ve used a bag carrying service, which isn’t someone lugging a bag behind you like you’re a Victorian explorer in Africa.

Everything I need for the week such as spare clothing, toiletries and camping stuff, goes in my 60 litre rucksack which each morning is left in a specific place for the bag carrying company to collect in a van sometime during the morning for it to then be driven to my overnight stop.

Meanwhile, I’m out walking with my 25 litre day bag which has my food and drink, waterproofs and extra layers.

60 litres sounds a lot, but when you have to fit in, say, six changes of underwear and T-shirts, spare clothes such as an extra of pair of trousers and a fleece or two and footwear for the evening, plus sleeping bag and mat, it soon fills up which means you have to keep things to a minimum; bear in mind it’s not a fashion show!

And keeping things to a minimum means wearing certain items of clothing more than once, and that means you’ll smell, particularly towards the end of the walk. I pity the residents of Fort William. Body spray, that’s all I can suggest.

Bag carrying isn’t cheap though; in summer 2013 it was £45 per bag, but it is money well spent. I have done walks with my 60 litre bag, although not with a week’s worth of essentials in it; and it’s been okay. (Notice the lack of enthusiasm in that last comment!)

I’ve seen many people on the West Highland with large bags going at a snail’s pace, and the heavier the rucksack the more the body will suffer so take my advice and invest in bag carrying.

My other piece of advice is, don’t underestimate how much food you’ll eat. During a 15-mile walk you’re likely to burn somewhere in the region of 1,100 calories.

For me that means I’ll have a full breakfast, lunch and evening meal, plus snacks during the day.

The West Highland does get remote but you’re never too far from a food shop or ATM, but you will need to plan ahead on a couple of occasions such as for the stretch between Tyndrum and Kinlochleven; not that you’ll be walking that in one go.

Something you’re never remote from are the midges. And just as you shouldn’t underestimate how much food you’ll eat on the WHW, don’t misjudge the impact of culicoides impunctatus, they will bite you.

You can buy insect repellent, citronella bangles for around your wrist or neck, you can take anti-histamine tablets in the week beforehand, wear a midge net on your head and you can coat yourself in Avon’s Skin So Soft – which is by far and away the best solution -but the midges will get you at some point. You have been warned!

By Richard Hamer.

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