|OS Route Map →||GPX Route file →|
Date: 24 Jan 2006
Start: Milngavie. Large layby on Main Street opposite the police station (NS 55374 73778).
Finish: Fort William rail station.
Maps: We produced our mapping for the route from Memory Map Navigator (MM) to minimise weight. We plotted the route in MM and output high-resolution images of the map sections as bitmap files, then used Photoshop to resize them and arrange them on the minimum number of A4 sheets. The scale was reduced to fit more area per page and printed on both sides of good quality 180gsm paper, and we had the route mapped at 1:25000 on 5 sheets: total weight after a little trimming - 50g.
|Day 1||Milngavie to Garadhban Forest||14.2 miles (22.9km)|
|Day 2||Conic Hill & Loch Lomond / Rowardennan||15.2 miles (24.5km)|
|Day 3||Cnap Mor & Glen Falloch||16.7 miles (26.9km)|
|Day 4||Tyndrum & Bridge of Orchy||14.4 miles (23.2km)|
|Day 5||Black Mount & Devil's Staircase||14.7 miles (23.7km)|
|Day 6||Kinlochleven & Allt Nathrach glen||13.2 miles (21.2km)|
|Day 7||An Dun & Fort William||7.1 miles (11.5km)|
A winter trek of this very popular low to mid-level route through the western highlands of Scotland. Weather-wise, this was an astonishing trip for a Scottish January, with only one five-minute very light sleet shower and hardly a breath of wind all week. In the enclosed valleys and forests it felt really warm and we were walking in base layers.
There are great advantages to walking this route in winter given a good spell of weather, despite the short daylight hours which made our 6½ day schedule surprisingly hard. Although extremely popular, as indicated by the multilingual information board near the start, we saw less than a dozen people in the whole week and none at all on four of the days. There are no midges in January either!. The high mountain tops usually have picturesque snow caps, though just a light dusting on our trip, while the walking is almost all on easy tracks and paths with clear waymarks. On the Loch Lomond sections where the trees are deciduous, the winter absence of leaves at least allowed us to see the mountain view through the bare branches - how much better this would be if the uppermost trees were felled on the Loch side of the track.
We heaved on our packs laden with supplies to last as far as Tyndrum and followed Main Street N to the shopping precinct, where there is an obelisk marking the start of the WHW. The first thing to get right is the pronunciation of Milngavie (Mill-guy), important when returning on the train and listening for announcements!. In the couple of minutes it took to walk through the precinct, several locals spotted our backpacks and looked quite surprised to see us in January, wishing us good luck and confidently predicting awful weather before we reached Fort William - how nice.
The track leaves the precinct and passes the multilingual board to follow Allander water, and the bustle of the town was quickly left behind as we walked through Mugdock Wood. The first section is sometimes regarded as merely a link path to join Glasgow with Loch Lomond, but the walking is very pleasant along Craigallian Loch and around the wooded craggy cone of Dumgoyach, where the Strathblane hills give the first sight of higher tops, in particular the striking outlier of Dumgoyne. At Dumgoyach Bridge, 4 miles of the old railway trackbed and 2½ miles of lane walking (which do go on a bit) brought us to the outskirts of Drymen. Drumquhassle farm proclaims itself as the only campsite in the Drymen area, the first of various notices to attract the attention of WHW walkers to campsites, B&Bs etc..
Entering Garadhban Forest, we started looking for a pitch but it was soon clear that it would be a lot harder than usual, a trend that would be repeated on most days. Favourable pitching spots are few and far between, but we walked on until we spotted a rare patch of good grass in a woodland glade off to one side. This was a very good pitch and we were watched from a distance by a couple of deer.
The easy walking on the forest track enabled us to set off in the half light well before sunrise to ease the pressure on the schedule, and it is always a pleasure to see the landscape wake up at dawn. The western end of the forest is felled and the view opens out to Conic Hill and the southern end of Loch Lomond. Crossing the Burn of Mar and climbing over the shoulder, there is a grand prospect ahead to the loch and the hills on the western side. Descending to Balmaha, the Visitor Centre is closed in winter but the public toilets opposite are open and there is a drinking water tap on the outside wall.
The lochside from here to Rowardennan climbs over several wooded headlands, and although the ascents are short, they seem to mount up when carrying winter backpacking gear. The first of these is Craigie Fort, which affords a great view up the loch towards the Arrochar Alps while Ben Lomond and Ptarmigan dominate the eastern side.
After Rowardennan and Ptarmigan Lodge, we took the higher of the two routes shown on the map, an easy forest track that climbs steadily towards Toll a' Bhruic passing numerous streamlets that yielded excellent water. A grassy clearing near the highest point made another good pitch, and as the lights of Tarbet came on below, Beinn Narnain and the unmistakable shape of The Cobbler were silhouetted against the evening sky.
Setting off again well before dawn on the easy track with good intermittent views towards Ben Vane and Ben Vorlich, we arrived at the falls of Inversnaid to find the public toilets closed and locked. The WHW follows a signed RSPB path northwards to Rob Roy's cave and beyond, which undulates amid rocks and tree roots much like some other lakeside paths we have seen: easy and enjoyable but time consuming.
At the northern tip of the loch the WHW ascends to Cnap Mor, giving good views back along the loch, and down to Inverarnan (camp site), where a notice prohibits tent pitching for the next 5 miles. This is effectively the length of the Glen Falloch section, most of which is wild land despite being fairly near a road, and we wonder whether this notice is compatible with the legal right to wild camp in Scotland. The track passes the falls of the River Falloch and crosses the A82 via a Sheep Creep, a low tunnel under the road, and onto Bogle Glen where we made a pitch. There were good late views across to the snow sprinkled peaks of Stob Binnein and Cruach Ardrain.
The WHW climbs through the forest above Crianlarich but the top of Ben More was shrouded in mist. It descends to the valley to recross the A82 to Kirton Farm, where an information board shows details of the site of St. Fillan's church. Crossing the A82 again, the route follows the River Cononish and passes the Lochan of the Lost Sword, site of the battle of Dalrigh, and is marked by an inscribed stone.
Restocking supplies at the Tyndrum grocery store (open 7 - 6 every day), the owner was not surprised to learn that we had seen nobody on the route. He remarked that the weather was unbelievable for this time of year and better than we could have expected in summer, it was often difficult hereabouts to walk at all in the winds and rain of winter. The Tyndrum public toilets were open.
Climbing out of Tyndrum, the view is dominated by the shapely Beinn Dorain as the route follows the old military road to Bridge of Orchy. A warm climb through the forest brought us to the cairn atop Mam Carraigh, a minor rise on the northern ridge of Ben Inverveigh and a pleasing viewpoint overlooking Loch Tulla. The rough lumpy grass nearby yielded to some persuasion to make a very comfortable pitch. We were fortunate to see a long bright fireball as night fell.
On the northern side of Loch Tulla, the WHW follows the well preserved old road of Thomas Telford into the splendid wilderness of Black Mount, the western edge of Rannoch Moor, where the vast expanse of wild moor and lochans to the E attracted our attention as much as the nearby towering peaks to the West. Ba Bridge is a lovely spot where the river flows through a picturesque little gorge.
Climbing around the NE lower slopes of Meall a'Bhuiridh, the dramatic appearance of Stob Dearg was an arresting sight, which along with the Creise group, would dominate the view for the rest of the day. A brief sleet shower fell as we arrived at the A82 and the peaks of Glencoe were engulfed in mist, but it all cleared amazingly quickly. Passing the Kings House hotel, the old military road roughly parallels the A82 and reveals the changing aspect of the Buachaille Etive Mor peaks, while the Buachaille Etive Beag tops are added to the view. The WHW then zigzags up the Devil's Staircase to a bealach, which furnished an excellent pitch with superb mountain views that now included the Mamores to the N.
The high tops of the Mamores were in mist early the next morning as we followed the track down, but the mountain scene was nevertheless a great one as we rounded the end of a ridge and Blackwater reservoir came into view. The descent into Kinlochleven seems to get a bad press, but we found it pleasant enough walking on the woodland track and we wondered what people found so objectionable. In the town the public toilets were open and we restocked supplies at the Co-op (open 8 - 8 Mon-Sat, 9 - 7 Sun).
Climbing out of the town, Beinn na Caillich fills the view ahead as the path reaches a bealach and crosses into the Allt Nachrach valley, while the famous serrated ridge of Aonach Eagach and neighbouring peaks are well seen to the S. The valley is flanked on the N by two of the few Munros we have climbed, Stob Ban and Mullach nan Coirean. The aggressive rugged face of Stob Ban is hidden from here but it presented a shapely and colourful aspect we had not seen before. The track eventually turns N and passes through a forest, and beyond is a low ridge of open grassy hillocks where Ben Nevis came into view and we made our final pitch. It was much colder than previous nights and the setting sun bathed the Ben in a frosty orange light, and later we had a superbly clear sky.
A very hard frost heralded a clear sunny morning. The forest on the route surrounding the Allt Coire a' Mhuilinn has been felled, and the trees reappear at the next forest. The woodland path undulates at some length before climbing to the edge of the trees and a signboard indicating the path to the hill fort and viewpoint of An Dun, a very worthwhile diversion of 400m to view the W face of Ben Nevis and the northern Mamores. Returning to the signboard, an easy descent on the forest track leads to the road and a march into Fort William and the official congratulatory sign indicating the end of the WHW.
The trip did not really end there though, mention should also be made of the return train journey which presented stunning vistas and colours in the clear sunshine on the circuitous line back to Bridge of Orchy. South of Loch Lomond the grey mist had set in and we returned to bitterly cold freezing fog in Milngavie.
An excellent walk, and already bound to be one of the most memorable trips of 2006.
We caught the 12:04 from Fort William which gave 2 choices:- change trains twice for the shortest journey time of 4 hrs 3 mins, or change once at Glasgow for a time of 4 hrs 33mins. We chose the former:-
12:04 Fort William to Dalmuir (15:23)
15:31 Dalmuir to Westerton (15:40)
15:59 Westerton to Milngavie (16:07)