If you’re looking for some hiking adventures you came to the right place! Welcome to my recap of my adventures in Scotland wild camping the West Highland Way in 5 Days!
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Stretching over 154 Km (96 miles), this is one of the most popular hikes of the Scotland’s Great Trails, because of this, it’s really well prepared to be tackled by anyone that enjoys a good hike no matter the fitness level as you can walk the West Highland Way in 5 days or more depending on your speed.
The West Highland Way route is easy to follow and a perfect introduction to some fantastic solo adventures.
Where to sleep while hiking the West Highland Way?
I stayed wild camping in the West Highland Way but if this sort of accommodation is not your style there are plenty of campsites with toilets/showers, bed and breakfasts, hotels and hostels across the entire trail so you can always find something to your liking.
Wild camping? is that legal?
Sadly in most developed countries wild camping is not legally allowed (but you can definitely do it if you behave and use common sense), but luckily in Scotland they have something called the Scottish Outdoor Access Code which pretty much allows you to wild camp almost anywhere in the country as long as you enjoy the outdoors responsibly and follow the Leave No Trace principles.
PLEASE NOTE, there’s an exception in Scotland for some areas that are too popular where wild camping is not allowed, a large chunk of the Loch Lomond is affected by this byelaw so you need to consider this when planning your first night wild camping in the West Highland Way as a permit is required, it only costs £4/night per person but when I went to look at this it was already all fully booked. You can book the permit here. Keep reading for my tips on alternatives for wild camping in the areas that are covered by the byelaw.
What to pack and where to find water
If you’re wild camping it’s always important to keep the weight you’re carrying to a minimum. I decided before going that I didn’t want to be stopping to buy provisions on the way so I carried food for everyday but if you’d like to save a Kg or so you could make some stops on the way to replenish.
One of the things that are most important when you go on a multi-day hike is where you can source water. Fortunately, the West Highland Way is also really well served – not in vain you’re in wet Scotland!
You can also save some good weight by not carrying too much water. I’d recommend just going with 2L as you can re-fill in many places, I will talk about those in the daily recaps below. To save you some time, you do not need a water filter as it’s very easy to find clean water in the West Highland Way.
As always when hiking and camping in the UK, you need to prepare for the worst and hope for the best as even during summertime you could have storms and cold days.
The rest of my packing list was:
Tent, I love my MSR Elixir 2P Tent, I’ve had so many adventures around the world with this tent already!
Rucksack, as above, my Osprey bag has been a loyal companion for many years!
Sleeping bag, on this hike I was testing for the first time a Terra Nova Down Sleeping Bag and I’m very happy with it!
Sleeping bag liner
Camping gaz canister
Swiss army knife
Book (check out my post about travel books)
Toiletries (tooth brush, tooth paste, deodorant)
A few plastic bags, this is very important! to carry your rubbish, put wet things inside, etc.
My camping essentials
Down liner jacket
Trail running shoes (no need of boots for this hike)
Base layers top and bottom
Quick dry towel
For the midges!:
Pre-cooked pouches x5 (cooked chickpeas, rice, lentils, etc)
Couscous individual pouches x3
Bag of mixed nuts
Bag of mixed seeds
Pack of 8 tortillas (to make wraps)
Block of cheddar cheese
Large pack of cured ham (serrano, prosciutto, black forest ham)
During the day:
Energy bars/snacks (3 per day)
Take a look at my post about ideas for easy camping meals for some inspiration on the food I had while hiking the West Highland Way in 5 days.
How to get to the start the West Highland Way
The West Highland Way is a linear route between Milngavie and Fort William, with most people starting at the former which is a small town some 30min away from Glasgow either by train or public bus.
When I hiked the way I was living in London so I took a night bus from there towards Glasgow as it was by far the cheapest option compared to trains and flights, but if you book in advance you may be able to find some good deals.
My night bus from London arrived to Glasgow at 7:00am and I had to kill some time as the first bus was at 8:40am, you can check on google maps when you arrive to see what’s the best way to Milngavie or ask at the info desk at Buchanan Bus Station as they were very kind offering info.
The 60A bus from Glasgow to Milngavie costs £2.65 and takes about 30 minutes. You take it about 300m away from Buchanan Bus Station.
Starting the West Highland Way in 5 days
Day 1. 29Km, Total hiking time inc. stops: 6h20min.
I started hiking at 9:10am. The bus from Glasgow leaves you just a couple of minutes away from the official start of the West Highland Way. If you need any last minute provisions or a coffee before starting the hike you will have quite a few options there to do so.
Right at the start of the way you will find the first of the official Scottish Water taps, this is the first sign to know that you will not need to worry at all during the entire hike about running out of water or needing to have a water filter system.
Leaving Milngavie behind is mostly all flat but very quickly you already get beautiful landscapes even that it doesn’t feel “wild” as traffic, etc. is never too far away.
Just a couple of hours after starting you will find the Beechtree Inn which also has a tap outside, most hotels and camping sites you will find along the way have signs mentioning that the water is safe for human consumption so don’t even be afraid of thinking you’re “stealing” their water as the signs are clearly an invitation to refill your bottles.
Two hours later, the town of Drymen makes an appearance, this is suggested as the end of the day if you’re hiking the West Highland Way in 6 days, as a reference it took me 4 hours from the start so if you’re a fast hiker you can already get an idea that it’s not impossibly hard to complete the hike in 5 days.
In Drymen you find yet another official Scottish Water tap, plenty of restaurants and a Spar supermarket if you need to buy any food/snacks, I bought there a hot Scottish pie for a quick rest stop and “lunch”. On the way to Drymen you also find “honesty boxes” where the locals leave baked goodies (brownies, cakes, energy bars) with listed prices for you to pay for them.
Leaving Drymen behind in the direction of Loch Lomond you go through a trail with beautiful views and the Conic Hill which has been visible for many Kms already gets closer and closer. That will be the camping spot for the night as this will be the best place just before the camping management zone starts, so you don’t need a permit to camp in Conic Hill.
After almost 7 hours of hiking I made it to the bottom of the Conic Hill, here you will find a stream that you can use to refresh yourself as at the top of the hill there are no water sources. The climb will take just about half an hour going slowly.
Once at the top is just a matter your ideal camping spot. I was looking for a combination of being secluded, with good views of Loch Lomond and a vantage point for both sunset and sunrise. I can happily say that I found it!
This was the shortest day in hiked time but I felt pretty tired after a sleepless night on the bus from London.
Day 2. 27Km. Total hiking time inc. stops: 8h30min.
Starting with a really peaceful morning, right after slowly enjoying breakfast at the top of Conic Hill, I had to speed up a bit as for the first time (and luckily for me, last one) I had to put on the face net as the midges made an appearance while I was packing my tent.
Going downhill first thing in the morning felt really tough on my tired legs, on the previous day I started having blisters on my feet and this was not a great start for what would be the toughest day I had while hiking the West Highland Way in 5 days.
After making it down the hill you arrive to the village of Balmaha, where you will find yet another Scottish Water tap. There are also toilets along the way in case you didn’t manage to do your business while camping.
This second day had more ups and downs compared to the previous day but nothing strenuous, I did “suffer” mostly because the blisters were getting more and more painful which made my pace really slow. As listed above, I hiked for 8h30min but in normal circumstances this day should have taken me at least one hour less.
All this meant that I fell behind on the “official” suggested itinerary, as they recommend staying in Inverarnan for the second night and I thought for the first time that maybe I wouldn’t be able to finish in 5 days after all as I was in pain and already 9Km behind.
However, I mention this to shine some light as during the rest of the hike I realised that the suggested itinerary is based mostly on places where you find hotels, but not necessarily nice places for wild camping so don’t torment yourself if you ignore the itinerary that is suggested on the WHW website if you’re planning on wild camping along the way.
I camped for my second night just about 2Km after Inversnaid, right by the Loch Lomond and a stream but a bit secluded from the trail. I absolutely loved this spot! obviously I had a bit of a bath in the lake, not really a swim as it was quite shallow for several meters and my blistery feet were in pain walking on the rocky lakebed.
This area is already out of the camping management zone so you don’t need a permit to camp.
Just like in the first day, you will find water taps every two hours or so. The last one before my camping spot was in Inversnaid.
During the day it rained a couple of times so always be prepared to have your waterproofs within easy reach.
The only thing I didn’t like so much was that on the other side of the lake there’s a busy road so I could hear the cars from my tent which is a constant reminder that you’re not really on a wild adventure. A stunning adventure for sure though!
Thankfully the elements were still on my side and the mighty midges didn’t bother me at all on this day, I did however put on one of the repellent coils to prevent them from even thinking of coming nearby!
This was a tough day for me, combining the blisters with the normal physical tiredness I really thought more than once that I may had to quit! but the best feelings were just a day away!
Day 3. 33Km. Total hiking time inc. stops: 8h40min.
If the previous day was mentally tough and physically difficult because of the blisters on my feet, by the start of the third day I grew accustomed to the pain and felt stronger than ever!
The first hour of the day was rocky ups and downs along the Loch, not steep at all but not terrain to go super fast either. After this, still by the Loch, there were many flat sections were I recovered a bit on my usual pace.
Just leaving the Loch behind you will have quite a few steady climbs but nothing really steep.
About 8Km from my camping spot the previous night I found the first water tap at the Beinglas Farm campsite. There’s also a small shop there if you want to buy some food. The next water tap I found was 16Km later at another campsite, the Strathfillan Wigwams where yet again there’s a small shop and toilets. This is located 3.5 Km before Tyndrum which is a larger village that would be better for restocking supplies if you need.
I ended the day pitching my tent some 5.5Km after Tyndrum, at a gorgeous spot next to a stream. There were lots of sheep here and the ground was full of s**t but I found a nice grassy spot, moved the dry s**t around and enjoyed the stunningly sunny day with a river bath. I didn’t find a better spot any sooner. As with pretty much all of the WHW, beware of ticks as I found three on my legs right after I came inside my tent coming from the stream.
Little did I know that just 5 minutes after enjoying the bath and the warm sun the weather drastically changed and in no time a massive storm came. For 90 minutes I was a prisoner of the elements inside my tent and quickly I realised that I should have inspected my tent better before coming for a good waterproofness maintenance. I spent all the time the storm lasted improvising with the few clothes I was carrying and my towel to absorb all of the leaking rain water!
Luckily for me, after that hour and a half it never rained again during the night and I was able to have a good sleep.
Day 4. 34Km. Total hiking time inc. stops: 8h25min.
I started a little bit late in the morning of the 4th day as I left my tent drying in the sun, again I woke up feeling really strong regardless of the blisters and powered-through for the first 5Km towards Bridge of Orchy over a pretty flat terrain.
In Bridge of Orchy you will find a water tap outside the Bridge of Orchy Hotel and a hundred meters or so after the hotel there’s a dedicated spot for wild camping with portable toilets.
After this there’s a nice steady climb which soon will bring some fantastic views of the region. Soon after you will arrive to Inveroran which has a pub and coffee place and it’s a good spot to rest.
Just a Kilometer after Inveroran a rocky road starts which is tough on the feet but at least you go away from the highways and for the first time since the hike started I actually felt I was properly in the Scottish Highlands.
Some 19Km after Bridge of Orchy you’ll find the Kingshouse Hotel which has a water tap and even free showers available. If you feel like you’re craving a proper pub meal this can be your place! There’s a wild camping spot just a couple of minutes away from the hotel so depending on your schedule this could be a good place to spend the night, but if you’re looking to finish the West Highland Way in 5 days you will have to continue for a few more Kms.
Leaving the Kingshouse Hotel it’s about 5Km of flattish terrain with a small climb but then comes the first ever proper climb on the WHW, although it’s only 1.6km long and 260m elevation.
You will get rewarded with stunning views from the summit. From that point I was already with +30km on my legs so started to look for places to camp. From the summit you will find 2 streams within 2.5km, I set camp on the second one and loved it. It was a fantastic spot! I only had to browse for a few minutes for a good patch of land as in most places it was muddy or soaked.
This was my favourite day of the week!
Day 5. 31Km. Total hiking time inc. stops: 7h30min.
The final day of my wild camping adventures hiking the West Highland Way in 5 days was not an easy one because I didn’t want it to end!
Starting the day it was all downhill towards Kinlochleven. This will be the last village you see before Fort William and the last place to find a water tap. I refilled my Camelback at the tap outside the Blackwater Hostel and just leaving the village behind you find a climb that takes some 25 minutes to summit. Once you get to the top of this climb it will be mostly flat for many Kms ahead on a rocky terrain with beautiful views.
The West highland Way can be hiked normally between 5-8 days, but no matter what length you do, every single hiker has this section after Kinlochleven as the final stage of the journey so that means that the crowds will be much bigger than in all of the previous days. For this reason I didn’t enjoy so much this final day as it was common to come across large groups of people hiking with loud music (why would someone do this!?)
The day includes more climbs than on the previous ones and about 10Km or so before Fort William you get the first views of Ben Nevis which is the highest mountain the UK. Fun fact: Ben Nevis was once a massive volcano!
The last 8Km however are not scenic at all, going downhill on a wide gravel road and then the final 2-3Km alongside a busy paved road means that the shock of coming back to civilization makes you want to want to reach Fort William quickly and finish the hike.
Finishing the hike and what to do afterwards
As with all multi-day hikes, making it to Fort William feels like an achievement, as in a movie, you start thinking of all the beautiful landscapes, the amazing camping spots, the people you met along the way, and the difficulties you encountered. That’s one of the beauties of hiking, that when you consider all these things you cannot wait to find the next adventure and repeat!
Being one of the most popular hikes in the UK, I consider this one a fantastic route for anyone no matter the level of experience, and if you’re looking for your first multi-day hike in the UK this is perfectly prepared for everyone, in a way this reminded me of my days hiking in Nepal as over there it was also extremely well prepared for hikers of all abilities.
After this hike you could find a hostel and stay in the area and visit the famous Loch Ness, continue hiking along the Great Glen Way or make your way back to Glasgow by bus (£28 one way). I stayed one night at the Safestay Glasgow Hostel before going back to London as it was the cheapest option in town with a good central location.
I hope you enjoyed reading this long recap but if you still have any questions or want to share your experiences hiking the West highland Way in 5 days just drop a comment below! and if you’re looking for more long hiking routes in Scotland check out my post about solo hiking the Skye Trail!