Whilst many people’s idea of a holiday is relaxing on a sun-drenched beach, chilling out and reading a book or two, our Senior Administrator, Sarah Willis’s idea of a break is typically putting on her walking boots, wild camping and taking on new challenges.
Sarah’s latest adventure took her north of the border to the West Highland Way where she “enjoyed” her wild-camping trek taking in the amazing sights of Loch Lomond and Ben Nevis along the way.
The West Highland Way: Sarah Willis
I’ve undertaken a number of backpacking adventures over the past few years, and the West Highland Way in Scotland was my first choice for this year. The trail runs from Milngavie just outside Glasgow, to Fort William.
I set out early on a grey and drizzly Sunday morning in early May, with a plan to walk at least 19 miles, which would take me past the town of Drymen and over the first tough obstacle, being the small peak of Conic Hill. By the time I’d climbed that hill in the late afternoon, the skies had cleared, the sun was out, and I found a perfect sheltered grassy camping spot on the descent, with a view of Loch Lomond in the distance. My tent was up within ten minutes, and my kettle bubbling away on my stove to make coffee and dinner.
Day 2 proved to be the toughest day of the expedition, following a path along the eastern bank of Loch Lomond for 18 miles. The last few miles were rough, craggy, muddy, and difficult, but the glorious weather and the gorgeous views of the loch beside me made up for it. It was a hot and thirsty walk, but with numerous streams trickling by, there was plenty of fresh cold water to collect for drinking and cooking later. With thirty-seven miles under my belt, I camped under a tree just feet from the edge of the loch.
The third day was easier but longer, with the route following Glen Falloch through the villages of Crianlarich and Bridge of Orchy. Parts of the path ran through wooded areas of pines, again with many streams running by, and it was another lovely sunny day. I walked twenty-one miles, with numerous short breaks to take photos, collect water, and nibble snacks to keep me going. I camped beside a river in the shelter of some gorse bushes and woke to find a herd of Highland cattle hovering nearby, but fortunately they didn’t bother me as I packed up for another day’s walking.
On day 4 the path climbed onto higher ground above Loch Tulla, and passed Glencoe Ski Centre before I tackled the famous Devil’s Staircase, which compared to the path along the side of Loch Lomond, didn’t seem very tough at all! After another twenty-mile day, I found a beautiful camping spot on the descent from the peak above the Staircase and was able to watch the sun going down from my tent. With such long days of up to eleven hours’ walking, I slept soundly every night from sunset to sunrise, and woke eager to get going on the next section of the trek.
The final full day was still fine and dry, but strong winds rose and on the high ground beyond Kinlochleven, I needed hiking poles to help me keep going in a straight line! Eventually the impressive peak of Ben Nevis came into view, and I made my way down onto flat ground at its foot where I spent my last night at Glen Nevis Campsite, just two miles from the finish in Fort William, to have a much-needed hot shower.
On Friday morning, it was just a short stroll into the town where a friend came to collect me from the finish line which is marked by a statue of a weary traveller in Gordon Square.
This was my seventh backpacking adventure complete! Who knows what will be next.
Sarah Willis, Senior Administrator