Every year walkers trudge from the outskirts of Glasgow and along the bonnie but interminable and boulder-strewn banks of Loch Lomond, for the sake of two glorious days in the mountains of Glen Coe. Then it’s a frustrating last day into Fort William, with trees obscuring the views, just so you can say you’ve walked the entire 95 miles of the West Highland Way.
Why bother? Leave the full eight days to the completists and do the best sections of the WHW in a long weekend. It’ll earn you bragging rights in the pub on your return, but here’s the secret: the going is moderate, along old drovers’ tracks and military roads, and there are superb B&Bs en route.
Bridge of Orchy to Kingshouse
12 miles/19.3km Crossing the raging Orchy, the path ascends through forest until the trees clear for a sudden, exhilarating first view of the Highlands, looking over Loch Tulla and Rannoch Moor to the ring of distant mountains. Rannoch Moor is the largest uninhabited wilderness in the UK, but on the stone track you won’t get lost or sink into the bog. The purple-heathered moor is stunning in sun, cloud, wind or rain, and you’re likely to experience all four as you cross it. The trail ends at the old Kingshouse Hotel (www.kingy.com, doubles/twins £65), a cosy refuge below the angular peak of Buchaille Etive Mor, guarding the wide valley of Glen Coe, where you’re headed tomorrow.
Kingshouse to Kinlochleven
8.86 miles/14.3km Entering the glen, you’re enclosed by mountains as you ascend the not-as-bad-as-it-sounds Devil’s Staircase to a ridge offering majestic views of the ten Munros of the Mamores and distant Ben Nevis, before a slow descent to Kinlochleven.
The Tailrace Inn (www.tailraceinn.co.uk, rooms from £35 per person) is a fully functioning village pub, where you’ll be eating your dinner under an SPL game on the big screen. But everyone rubs along well, the jukebox selections of German walkers in their technical gear (Jethro Tull, Rolling Stones) mixing happily with those of the local lads playing pool (Jamie T, Kasabian). Nearby Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall is worth a quick visit if you’ve got time the next morning before your bus back to Glasgow.
For the time-pressed two days in Glen Coe is a perfect blast of attitude adjustment: minimum time, maximum decompression. As I dozed on the Northern Line into work the next morning, I was smiling, dreaming not of deadlines but of cloud-capped peaks and the firm embrace of the mountains.
The West Highland Way OS Recreational Path Guide by Anthony Burton is the only one you need (Aurum, £12.99).
Where to stay
The Bridge of Orchy Hotel (www.bridgeoforchy.co.uk), at the start of the trail, has both comfortable accommodation and spartan £15 per person bunkhouse rooms, but it’s more fun to stay at the Drovers Inn (www.thedroversinn.co.uk, twins from £68) a few miles south at Inverarnan and get a (regular and frequent) bus up in the morning. This eighteenth-century drovers’ rest is a lively and ramshackle establishment with folk sessions every weekend and dinner served by waiters in twirling kilts.
From Glasgow it's a further two hours by coach to the Highlands. See www.travelinescotland.com for times of Scottish Citylink coach 914 (Glasgow-Fort William).
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