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30. June 2019 Lukáš Knápek

Two hundred and two thousand, ninety nine steps

Scotland features, among other things, beautiful and wild nature. One of the most famous examples is the Scottish Highlands, basically the kind of nature one probably imagines when someone brings up Scotland. Not making the time to get to know this part of the country in my three years that I have lived in here was a great shame of mine. And that is why, in April, I decided to correct this injustice and do so with style. Me and my friend decided to walk the entire West Highland Way.

The West Highland way is an official walking trail which has a little over 154 km and leads through a large part of Scottish wilderness as well as through a handful of towns and villages with subsequently less pronounceable and more interchangeable names (Inveroran... Inverarnan... Inversnaid??). The trail is usually taken from south to north, the reasoning being that the terrain in the southern part is significantly less demanding and gets more difficult the further north you go. Officially, the path is split into eight segments, but it can be really travelled in any number of days (or ran – there is an ultra-trail West Highland Way race with cut-off time of 35 hours!). We decided to walk the entire Way in 6 days, mostly due to my friend‘s planned flights. This decision turned out to be optimistic later on.

Our adventure began in the first, fairly lovely town – Milngavie. The beginning of the Way is just 20 minutes by train from Glasgow and our first segment consisted of 19 kilometres worth of walking. This was meant to prepare us for the more difficult future segments. The entire Way is fairly well way-marked and the starting gate can be found in Milngavie. We took off at quite steady pace and arrived at our stop for the day, the Drymen village, just a couple hours later.. We were accommodated in a surprisingly luxurious hotel slash spa slash sports and leisure centre. In other words, the first day left us quite spoiled.

The second segment gave us the first chance to marvel at the beauty of Scottish nature. In particular, we hiked up the Conic Hill from which you can see wide pastures and a large part of Loch Lemond – the largest lake in the UK. It is a perfect place for taking pictures and selfies alike. Thanks to the unpredictable weather, we also saw a couple of rainbows.
But the beautiful sight did not distract us from the fact that we had started to feel the first symptoms of exhaustion. Even though we only walked 24 kilometres that day, the terrain started to  get more difficult and our journey for the day concluded at more touristy place – a hostel where 6 people stayed in one room.

The third day was the most difficult one by far. Due to the lack of accommodation, we had to change our plans and that meant walking about 35 kilometres. A huge chunk of the path traced the edge of Loch Lemond which consisted of terrain that was especially difficult (but also fun) to negotiate. We started to feel everything inherent to long-distance trails. Knees and ankles started to properly ache. New blisters seemed to form by every kilometre. The weather kept changing from burning sun to  cold rain. It was a long journey and we walked from morning till nightfall and finally arrived at our destination – a B&B located in a town called Crianlarich. We knew that we probably stand no chance of walking the planned 42 kilometres the next day.

We had to improvise. Not taking the chance of ending the journey prematurely due to medical reasons, we decided shorten that day‘s segment by taking a train from Crianlarich to the Bridge of Orchy. There was still 19 kilometres left to go but that was something we could handle. The mischievous Scottish weather stroke once again, frying us with sun rays the first half of the way and then sending a snow storm our way during the second half. Fortunately it was over fairly quickly. Our efforts were not in vain, however, as we reached the point from which we could see one of the most iconic sights of the Way – Glencoe. Our morale was also raised by our next accommodation – a luxury hotel. We were meant to be staying in its tourist hostel part, but due to technical reasons, our booking was upgraded and we stayed in one of the extremely nice (and pricey) rooms.

With most of the Way behind us, the next day consisted of mere 14 relaxing kilometres. Almost. Unfortunately, the trail led us to the Devil‘s Staircase, an ascend with an appropriate name. However, once we got to the top, we were rewarded by a magnificent view of Glencoe. The rest of that day‘s trail went downwards to our next goal – the town Kinlochleven. This picturesque place has an interesting feature – its own brewery. We simply could not resist the chance to go to the pub next door and have some local beer brewed just couple dozen meters from us. Our accommodation is also worth mentioning, it was the first time any one of us spent their night in a giant barrel.

The last day. With our final goal in mind and determined, we travelled the last 24 kilometres through varying terrain, enjoying the last of the Way‘s freedom and peace. Passing Ben Nevis, the majestic highest mountain of the UK on our way, we were unfortunately too tired to add an additional challenging ascend to our itinerary. Just a few more kilometres later and we arrived at Fort William, the official end of the Way as well as of our adventure. Our last night was spent in a hotel built in place of a former prison – it definitely looked the part!

This journey has been an amazing experience overall and I was really glad to get the chance to relax for a bit before my exam period started as well as to explore the country I live in some more. The most expensive part of the journey was of course accommodation. However, with a little bit more courage and time, it is possible to camp throughout the way – Scotland happens to have very lax laws regarding that type of thing. 
I certainly hope it was not my last such trip, for example, I still haven‘t seen Loch Ness!

 

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