Mention a long-distance path nowadays and you are likely to see it described as both a long-distance challenge and something that you can enjoy in bite-size chunks. Yet, perhaps the West Highland Way, of all our long-distance paths, is the one that cries out to be completed end-to-end.
The West Highland Way was our first long-distance path. Opened in 1980, it drew together a mix of old drove roads, abandoned railway lines, and former military roads. It had huge appeal as it ran from the edge of Glasgow to the foot of our highest mountain – the mighty Ben Nevis.
At 96-miles long the West Highland Way is one of our longest trails. It takes the walker through some superb Scottish scenery. The eastern edge of Loch Lomond is an early thrill, as is the first sight of the Highland Boundary fault and the ever-popular Conic Hill, whilst a glimpse of the Arrochar Alps from Inversnaid can take the breath away. Some visitors weave in time to visit the NNR at Inchcailloch from Balmaha, others can’t resist tackling Ben Lomond. The vast open-ness of Rannoch Moor follows soon afterwards before the walker is sucked into the majestic Glencoe.
Around 50,000 people walk all of the way and over 105,000 walk part of the way each year. That’s hardly surprising given the easy access and splendid route. Mention elements like the Devil’s Staircase, Buachaille Etive Mor and Glen Nevis and it is easy to understand the enduring popularity the West Highland Way enjoys.
Not only does it offer a chance to enjoy great outdoor exercise, it allows you get closer to Scotland’s wildlife and landscapes. Given that it passes through a range of habitats including woodland, moor, loch shores, and mountains the route offers up all sorts of sights, sounds and smells.
Animals that you could encounter include both roe and red deer, mountain hare, red squirrel and fox. Although not as easy to see, there is no doubt that the walk also passes through the haunts of more elusive and secretive animals, including pine marten and otter.
At any time of year the West Highland Way is a draw for those who like to see birds. Buzzards and kestrel are common sights, as are many members of the crow family including jay and jackdaw. The woodlands are a haven for all sorts of finches, tits and song birds whereas the moorland sections give a chance to catch a glimpse of curlew, plover and lapwing and a range of other waders in spring and summer.
If birds and mammals require occasional stealth to see, the same can’t be said for the trees and plants that are a constant ‘companion’ on the way. Silver birch, the much-loved rowan and the majestic Scots pine will vye for your attention alongside juniper, pearlwort, alder and elder. Inevitably the different seasons, habitats and heights of the walk at various points will dictate what you can expect to see – but bluebell, primrose, wild garlic, gorse, heather and marsh marigold will all add a splash of background colour.
Maybe we use phrases such as awe-inspiring too readily, but The West Highland Way merits superlatives. The range of scenery, habitats and wildlife make this a stand-out long-distance trail. And as the marketing gurus would say ’50,000 people can’t be wrong’!
The West Highland Way is managed by the West Highland Way Management group which is a partnership between, East Dunbartonshire, Stirling, Argyll & Bute, Highland Councils and the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park were the office is based in Balloch. You can find out more @ http://www.west-highland-way.co.uk/home.asp
Scotland’s Great Trails are nationally promoted trails for people-powered journeys. Each is distinctively waymarked, largely off-road and has a range of visitor services. At least 25 miles in length, they are suitable for multi-day outings as well as day trips. Collectively the 26 different routes provide over 1700 miles of well managed paths from the Borders to the Highlands, offering great opportunities to explore the best of Scotland’s nature and landscapes and to experience our amazing history and culture.
Find out more about Scotland’s Great Trails @ http://www.scotlandsgreattrails.org.uk/