EASY START TO SCOTLAND’S WEST HIGHLAND WAY

Milngavie to Drymen


The official start of the West Highland way begins at the granite obelisk in Milngavie stating West Highland Way.
From here you now follow sign posts with the White thistle in a hexagon for the next 154 kilometres.
Leaving the city centre I am soon in the beautiful woodlands of oak, beech and birch following along side a small river. The excitement and anticipation of what lays ahead of me soon diminishes and I relax as once again I find solace in the joy of a walking and in my own company. Wonderful small ponds reflecting the woodlands overhead are just beautiful to stop and pause for a while. I feel very lucky to be able to experience these moments
After a short climb I am walking along a track with wild flowers in all colors, stretching up to the sky taller than me. In front of me in the distance I have my first sighting of the Scottish Highlands. This is what I’m here to experience,  the sparse wonderful heather covers hills of Scotland. Off the main path I find a grassy narrow side path that leads me down to a lake and I am amazed at the view of the highlands, clouds and wild grasses reflecting in the lake surface. It was one of the most amazing views I had all day. I wonder, if this is what I am seeing in the first few Km’s what is there to come. It was so hard to leave this beautiful spot.
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Every now and then there are places to rest and have a moment to yourself. Small logs, tree stumps and even seats. One of these places was right next to what looks like a small holiday village. The little houses look like gingerbread cottages. One of these homes had a fabulous swing attached to a high tree. It was too much of a temptation not to have a go.

One of the highlights of the day was visiting the Glengoyne Whiskey Distillery . Having a tasting of, 15 year and then 18 year old Whisky and a bit of fun with photo opportunities with the staff in the shop, it is time to get back on the trail again even though the pace was a little slower.

The weather is hot today 27 degrees , the locals are calling it a heat wave. A one day heat wave.
I’m heading to Drymen today which is about a 22 kilometre walk and the path now has become narrower with the wildflowers leaning over as you walk through them. At times the perfume is amazing. I am loving the foxgloves waving to me in the breeze as I pass. Wild raspberries can’t be missed as they are red and ripe for the picking.

On arriving at my accommodation Kip in the Kirk which was an old church made into dormitory rooms, our lovely host provides tea and home-made scones and jam. What a lovely surprise.
It doesn’t take long to get back into what I call Camino life. Shower, wash clothes,have tea,re-pack for tomorrow and rest your weary head for a good nights sleep. I had dinner in the oldest pub in Scotland tonight. The problem is that I also saw the oldest pub in Scotland in Edinburgh. Maybe there is a franchise.

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Drymen to Balmaha

 

Having a peek out the window early this morning grey clouds and rain greet me. A roar of thunder followed. Predictions are for it to clear by lunchtime. Rain gear on and I’m off for a shorter days walk . Soon out-of-town I am walking along a hedge lined path. Plenty of puddles to jump over. Not long before my first sighting of the black-faced sheep. As a lot of where you walk on the West Highland Way is through farms you come across interlocking gates. This stops the farm animals from wandering to far.


Soon leaving the farms and heading into a pine Forrest the shades of green with the rain are beautiful. Leaving the pines and walking along a ridge is the amazing first sight of Loch Lomond.


The rain is starting to ease and way ahead you can see the challenge of the day ahead. Conic Hill. I really wanted to climb this but with the hill being in sight a few minutes ago it is now starting to be covered in mist! There is now wide open spaces and breathtaking views of the sparse landscape. Crossing a small wooden bridge with water from the storms rushing through, you reach a flight of steps and the beginning of the ascent up Conic Hill.

Clouds were descending down upon Conic hill and with my fingers crossed hoping it will disappear before I reach it as it’s a long way back to walk the lower path. The steps rising up are many and steep. But the beauty around you eases the pain. From the bracken to now heather, the mist at last has now disappeared. The landscape is also dotted with black face sheep, some sitting around in the heather while other are climbing the hills.  Nearly to the top, stunning views of Loch Lomond come back into view. Leaving the main trail you head up left onto a very steep and rocky smaller path to reach the top of Conic Hill. It only takes about 5 minutes but you do have to have your wits about you. You are rewarded at the top with one of the most amazing views I have seen. Even giving Lake Como in Italy a run for its money.

The weather has been kind today , having cleared by about lunch time which has enabled me to see another amazing view of the West Highland Way looking towards Loch Lomond.

 

BALMAHA TO ROWARDENNAN

The walk today leads us out of Balmaha from The Oaktree Inn where we spent the night, past the statue of Tom Weir the naturalist and conservationist of this area . His bronze statue, with its knitted red hat, looks over Ben Lomond and the beautiful little bay at Balmaha on Loch Lomond.

Statue of Tom Weir
Statue of Tom Weir

As we walk out of the little town (ice creamery, bar, hotel) the swans are there to give us a ” honk honk” to make sure we are one our way.
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Once again the weather is kind to us. The trail follows the Loch and starts with a short sharp hill just to get the muscles awake but soon levels out and leads you through the beautiful Oak trees. There are so many photo opportunities I’ll be lucky to get in by dark

One of many splendid views
One of many splendid views

The trail itself is quite good although you do have to have your wits about you as there are lots of tree roots intertwining above the ground just to make things interesting. The landscape is quite different as well, birch,elms and oak trees. Actually the Oak Tree in Balmaha they say is 500 yrs old.


Later on the scenery changes again and we are walking through lots of ferns and bracken either side of the path.
As we were coming through one such area the path opens up and we get our first view of the towering Ben Lomond. I did meet some people who actually climbed it and it took them 5 1/2 hours. What a shame I run out of time on the day.

 

Today we’re  heading to Rowardennan and it’s been a very enjoyable and easy walk. Towards the end there is a stiff climb up some stairs and 1/2 way up there is the perfect Christmas Tree, just had to make an impromptu decoration and put it on one of the branches.

Arriving into Rowardennan which is just a Hotel with a restaurant and bar but with the most spectacular small Harbour. The Loch opens up with the mountains either side and a small ferry-boat going  around to the different ports of call.
A wonderful relaxing place to while away the time, have a Prosecco or two and rest those weary feet.
I find it hard to admit but dinner was over by 6.00 and I was tucked up in bed snug as a bug and asleep by 7.30.

The little harbour at Rowardennan
The little Harbour at Rowardennan

 

ROWARDENNAN TO INVERSNAID

The beautiful little harbour of Rowardennan
The beautiful little Harbour of Rowardennan

After a good nights sleep and a hearty breakfast we were back on ‘the way ‘ again. Today’s scenery promises to be quite beautiful as the trail follows the edge of the loch and also we will walk through Oak and Pine Forest. It had rained unknown to me last night so quite a few puddles to jump over.

After the rain the forest  was so green, also once again we are watching our step with the tree trunks on the trail. We are on the look out today for the famous prison of Rob Roy either a building or a cave. According to our map it is in this section of our walk. We do come across a very old collapsed building and it is covered in moss amongst the pine forest so we are thinking we may have found it but unfortunately it isn’t marked .

With all the rain last night there are many small waterfalls cascading down the rocks into the loch. As the water crosses the path stepping-stones are in place for us to cross so our boots don’t to get to wet. Sometimes there is just too much water and this is a chance to wash off the mud.

There are lots of small fungi as well as wildflowers which are wonderful little surprises on the path.

The walk continued on a lovely up and down trail, nothing to difficult . After stopping off at one of the little coves along the shoreline of the Loch for lunch we continue on gently climbing. One of the most lovely sites we saw as we walked past a farm house was an array of home made cakes, biscuits, fruit and lemonade. All there for the taking with an honesty box for you to put your money in. So thoughtfully put together.

The honesty system
The honesty system

Tonight we stay at the Bunk house in Inversnaid .

INVERSNAID TO INVERARNAN

No this isn’t me after a night’s stay  at the Bunk house Inverarnan I just feel how he looks. A terrific night, most times I love staying in Hostels. I love the communal areas, eating together and sharing stories, a drink or two and generally just having a great time talking about the day you have had. The Bunk House did not disappoint, simply terrific. Our friend in the photo greeted us as we walked down a hill to get back onto the trail. Today was going to be one of our toughest days and yes it was. I changed from a walker to a mountain goat. The path was once again alongside the Loch but we had to clamber over boulders, tree trunks, overflowing streams and of course glorious mud.

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The trail today

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In some stages of the trail it was a case of climbing up and down boulders trying to find the easiest route. All a lot of fun though. The Oak trees were beautiful as they stretched their branches out over the Loch.

My walking companion on the WHW nearly every day made up a Poem for me. Some very good and others hmmmm!  Here is Susan’s tribute to today’s walk.

Majestic Oak

Bowing Down

The waters of Loch Lomond

Wrapping round

by Susan Schneider

As you were trying to clamber over the rocks you would grab hold of a branch or a knot in the trunk for support only to find that hundreds of walkers had done so before you and the wood was so smooth and polished , simply amazing.

The scenery changes again to bracken and as we walk into an open space on top of a hill we come across a field with an old farm-house which probably has had one of the best views of the hills and the Loch.
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Passing the old house we have a peek into a Bothy, a similar hut to what we have in the Australian High Country. They are somewhere to be safe for the night if the weather draws in. This one has a table and chairs, fireplace and wooden beds to roll out your sleeping bag or mat. Soon we are starting to climb up a steep rocky incline and at the top you look back and have the last glimpse of Loch Lomond and its majestic waters.

The feet are starting to get a bit wearily but we probably still have a few kilometers to go and at last we see the dark grey colored bricks of the Drovers Inn down in the valley. Our small B & B is only a few meters up from there.

Off to dinner at the Drovers Inn and tonight is the night I am going to try Haggis. Hmmm not bad, served with a mash of potato, parsnips and gravy. They say you should try things at least once!
The Drovers Inn has a great atmosphere, patrons were from everywhere, locals, walkers, day trippers and campers. Great conversations were taking place around every table. Also what could be wrong sitting around watching big burly men wearing kilts and serving you an ale. Not much I’m thinking!

Making friends at The Drovers Inn
My new friend at The Drovers

 

INVERARAN TO TYNDRUM


Even though today  was one of our longest walking days it was quite easy. The path was clear and wide. The trail meanders through hills and valleys and the weather although the sky looked a bit threatening it was pleasant walking.

Mid morning and the mist had finally caught up with us, and it was like walking through a cloud. We passed a few farms with farm animals scattered around the slopes. The hills were shrouded with cloud and they looked like they had a halo floating above them.

Once again from nowhere we are in oak and pine forest and there are fallen trees and branches which are covered in moss, just to add a prehistoric feel to the area.

Of course the mist didn’t last to long before the gentle rain started. It was really lovely walking in it. Not to heavy but just enough to make all the colors of the fields have a fresh lime green glow about them. Climbing down into a valley, under a viaduct and then over the Fillan River the trail takes you through an agricultural college. It has been wonderfully set out with pictures on signs explaining the history of the area.

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We were actually walking through the area of St Fillan the missionary and the relics of his domain. There is also a cemetery on the property dated in the 800’s
Through the farm we come across a holiday village with a small shop, a welcome coffee and chocolate bar was very much enjoyed.

Just before we come to the end of the day and find our B & B we discover ( so a sign says ) we have reached half way on our hike of the West Highland Way.

Yahoo! Half way
Yahoo! Half way, on the WHW

 

TYNDRUM TO INVERORANimage

Today after setting out from our B &B Glengarry House in Tyndrum, our discussions lead to what makes a good B & B.  Right from the start our welcome there had been tremendous. The meals we had for dinner warm and hearty. The decor of the house so tastefully decorated but the best part was our host Ellen & Andy. They were extremely welcoming and could not do enough for us. Rescued chickens are allowed to live their life out here roaming in the beautiful gardens. Local hand crafts for sale as well as jams and marmalade’s  which Ellen makes herself, and after a very restful sleep we were revived, although reluctant to leave. Soon as we left the front door with rain came tumbling down, wet weather gear on and we were off. The hard part of the West Highland Way is over and now it is said to be enjoyment all the way from now on, or is it so!


Our trail follows an old army road for quite some time, nice and wide but with one of the things I hate walking on the most, rubble and stones. The hills surrounding us are so green and ripples of small waterfalls cascade down the slopes. The mist has well and truly settled on top of them.

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It was a good walk today and even though it was only about 16 K’s we are taking our time looking around  all the time to enjoy the beautiful scenery. Sheep are scattered all over the slopes.


The rain was stopping and starting during the day and just as we were feeling very happy with the weather a big black cloud would come across and settle above us and down came the rain

Sheep creep
Sheep creep

The  only cover we came to was an old sheep creep and so stayed for a moment before moving on. The scenery is stunning and our path waves around the base of the hills. It was so funny watching a few sheep walking on the trail in front of us. They had quite a pace on and we were hurrying to catch them. Their long tails swishing back and forward as they passed all their mates in the paddocks. It was like they were all heading somewhere on a mission.

Our lunch stop today was on a rock in the valley of the hills, we sat and watched more dark clouds coming our way, so not too much time to sit and admire the view.
Down came the rain again, we both don’t mind walking in the rain so that’s a good thing, several kilometers later we come to a very small town, the Bridge of Orchy and once again towards the end of our day a very welcome coffee in the Pub.

Bridge o Orchy Hotel A welcome coffee stop
Bridge of Orchy Hotel
A welcome coffee stop

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Not long to go now and we’re not at all that pleased to see that we were heading up again and on a very rocky path through a pine forest. Climbing and climbing we eventually come to the top which overlooks a beautiful valley with a large Loch . Cairn enthusiast had built one at the top and other walkers as they pass had added to it.
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The wind and rain had decided to have a bit of fun with us at the end of the day. The wind was nearly blowing us off our feet and the rain slashing against us. It was so bad all we could do was laugh as we pulled our coats closer to us, heads down and off we went.

Down in the valley we could see our destination the Invoranan Hotel and when we arrived we were so wet that we took our coats and boots off under the veranda before even getting in the door. It is a very quaint hotel, the likes of Dickens, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Darwin, Princess Helena from France and now Princes Helena from Australia have all stayed here. The Hotel was first established in 1708.
We had a terrific time in the bar with fellow walkers discussing how wet we all got today. One of our missions today was searching for deer, but with no luck!  Then, I glanced out the window of the bar and I saw some stroll past. I was so excited, I jumped up, went outside and video them . After going back into the bar to show my walking companion the video I discovered that I hadn’t  pressed record.

Finding deer before the end of the day.
Finding deer before the end of the day.

INVERORAN TO KINGSHOUSE

Etive Mor
Etive Mor

As I am sitting by a fire with a glass of Prosecco in the lounge of the Kingshouse Glencoe. I am thinking of my day and how I can do it justice in describing it . I even wish perhaps I could walk it again as I fear perhaps I haven’t taken it in as much  as I should have, but Wow what a day. I can honestly say today will go down as one of the most spectacular days walking I have ever done in all of my walks. Leaving the Inveroran Hotel we head up towards Rannoch Moor today. The mountains are cloaked in mist and the weather forecast is for showers in the morning and rain in the afternoon. Overall we have been so lucky with the weather and our thoughts are if it rains it rains

Leaving Inveroran
Leaving Inveroran
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Buttercup star on top

For quite some time we are back on the rocky military road walking alongside a pine forest with glimpses of the Loch through the branches. I nearly missed it but another perfect little Christmas tree appears. A buttercup star went to the top of it. As we arrived at the top of a hill,  what we see in front of us is the expansion of flat, green and wet Moor, with mountains in the background reaching to the clouds. We are now entering Rannoch Moor.

Entering into Rannoch Moor
Entering into Rannoch Moor

Crossing over Victoria Bridge we pass a section where you can do wild camping and I might add its wild. The only facility you would have and that you would have plenty of would be is fresh air. Brrrrrrr!

Wild free camping
Wild, free camping

The trail just meanders for sometime and the wildness of it all is quite astounding, hauntingly so. The clouds drift along in and out of the valleys and up and over the mountains.
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The trails starts heading upwards, a long straight line extending up to the clouds. It does remind me of the Maesta on the Camino Frances. Long and straight and up hill we go.
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It is probably fitting now I start to discuss the Midges on the WHW. Now, I don’t want to brag but, daily we have been smothering ourselves with Avon Skin so Soft and also having the Smidge the Midge in the backpack , we have not even been bothered at all. I hate to admit it but we have actually been boasting that we have not had a problem, not one bite. I stop to take a photo and hey! what is that on my face a little black midge, no a few little black midges aah! so this is what people are talking about. They didn’t like my blood and I didn’t get bitten but Susan had a couple . Where is the breeze that has been keeping them away. I have been itching to try out my new fashion accessory so, here goes on with the midge net. I don’t want to brag again but it was on for about 2 minutes.  The breeze gets up again and their gone.

The latest fashion accessory .
The latest fashion accessory .

It is lunch time, we are higher up and the breeze is blowing, no midges. My friend Kevin who has walked many trails has told me horrific stories of the midges. I think I have got off very lightly so far. Over the last few days we have seen people whose legs are covered in red spots, also those that have dug out ticks with their pocket knives from their backs and legs. I feel they are walking on a different trail then I am.
As I round a bend I have been given a view that is indescribable, the mountains, mist, moor, lakes and heather. The valleys that give way to the mountains climbing up into the clouds. Indescribable. I am so touched that I have experienced the wonder of Rannoch Moor.
I turn and see what they call Black Mountain and it is breath-taking. Photos do not do it justice.


Way down in the valley we can see the white building Kingshouse that is out destination for the night.
The rain is threatening and we hurry along arriving just in time. As we arrive near to the entrance we have a lovely welcome by the local deer.
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Also a fantastic welcome from the proprietor and we are shown a lovely corner room with views back towards the moor, black mountain and Etive Moor in front of us. We sat and watched from the windows as down come the rain. So happy we have missed it.
We sit by the fire, and see many other walkers arriving very wet, some staying the night and other just stopping for a meal and drink before they head out in the rain again for another 15 kilometers.

A stunning end to a wonderful day.

KINGSHOUSE TO KINLOCHLEVEN

What a view to wake up to?
What a view to wake up to?

After seeing this view from my window as I woke this morning, I was thinking how could the day get any better . Well, I can tell you it did. Today I experienced a day that every walker walking through Scotland should experience. The low moodiness of the clouds, the mist whipping around the tops of the mountains, the rain coming at you horizontal and a chill in the air. The mountains letting you know that you are only visiting and they will deliver you a day whichever they please.


The trail started off pretty flat then gradually made its way to a high hill. Looking either side to the mountains stood proud and tall, the scenery was magnificent. There was a real calmness in the surrounds even in the wildness of the weather. Waterfalls again made little roads in the crevices from the top and then streams as they reach the bottom. The path was full of puddles and again my favourite rocks and rubble to walk on. Not!


Looming up in front of us was an area called the Devils staircase, it seemed to be a point of conversation so we were a bit apprehensive of the climb and as we came around a bend there it was. At this moment the heavens opened and the rain came down with such force we could hardly see where we were going.  A path winding steeply up to the clouds. Rocks and boulders were our path. One step after the other the wind and rain  challenging us but one foot after the other we eventually made it to the top. Phew!

Once over it was an up and down rocky path for about another 10 kilometers till we eventually made our way down into the valley for our nights rest in Kinlochleven.

KINLOCHLEVEN TO FORT WILLIAM

View as we leave the village

Last night after we settled into our B &B we went down into the village for dinner. It is only a small village but I feel there is a sadness about it. The buildings are nearly all the same, and as I passed a house in the front garden there were two plastic standard white rose bushes. I thought how awful, but after sleeping on it I thought how sad. Some of this town stays in the shadows of the mountains the whole year and the homeowner probably loves roses and wants to look out her window every day and see roses, in fact now I realize perhaps that is why we did see so many plastic flowering hanging baskets in other villages. Although on other occasions we saw the most amazing real flowering hanging baskets. Not just one plant in them but they would have several giving a fantastic showing of flowers.

The buildings don’t reflect the personality of the people here. Happy, smiley and welcoming. Maybe it is just the dark, dreary day that spreads a grim feeling around the village . Also it could be  just me, seeing it is my last day of walking on the WHW. Today we set off for Forth William, and as we leave the village we can see the mountains in front of us and we head towards them. Up and up we go, we are still not appreciating Mr Telford and his Military roads that he built and my feet and ankles are not liking it either by the end of each day


After rising up and above the forest we come to a ridge which will take us for many kilometers before reaching Ben Nevis in Fort William. The path seems to go on forever. The view of the beautiful mountains are stunning. The occasional baa of the highland sheep can be heard in a distance and sometimes you get a glimpse of them on the slopes. No eagles or stags were seen today even though we were wishing there was. We came across an old ruin, probably a shepherd’s house or very remote farm that had long seen better days. It was in the most remote area.

The weather is being kind to us today for our walk into Fort William
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Our lunch stop today.
Our lunch stop today.
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The Heather, moss and undergrowth.

Today we have seen the wild mountains, some covered in grass, others rocky cliffs, cascading waterfalls, ruins, rivers, Lochs, heather, ferns and trees covered in moss. What a treat all in one day.
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Climbing up again through the pine forest we get our first view of Ben Nevis.

First sight of Ben Nevis.
First sight of Ben Nevis.

Our path has now widen into a gravel road and we eventually see Fort William through the trees and down in the valley
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As it seems always to be the case when we finish the day up high it takes about 6 or so kilometers to get down to the valley and into the village. The looming Ben Nevis is in our view all the way as we travel downwards and we can see the windy trail going upwards on it too which we are hoping to be walking tomorrow to reach the top.
Alas! not everything goes to plan! As we pass the Ben Nevis tourist information office we call in and check on tomorrow’s weather and the suitability of the climb ☹️ apparently the Ben has its own weather and sheeting rain, high winds and snow don’t appeal to us and seeing we don’t have our snow goggles Ben Nevis will be left for another day and I’m sure my legs, ankles and feet will be glad of this.
We reach town and take the photo at the original End of the West Highland Way .

Another tick to the bucket list.
Another tick to the bucket list.
Susan and I at the now offical end to the WHW.
Susan and I at the official end to the West Highland Way.

The new modern version of the end of the Way just happens to be right at the other end of town and of course we trudge on through the village for another photo. We pass a lovely German family who we have seen off and on, we congratulate each other and they then head off to get a tick removed from their sons leg. Susan and I just looked at each other aghast!
As we stand at the end my walking companion Susan and I give each other a hug in the middle of the street full of tourists, locals and walkers. The walkers give us a smile as they too know what is has been like to walk The West Highland Way.

This is a fabulous walk , take your time if time allows. As with any walk, walk in a manner to enjoy.

My guide for this walk was Official Guide The West Highland Way by Bob Aitken and Roger Smith.

FORT WILLIAM

A few photos of our rest day in Fort William. A very charming village, not to touristy. We took a lovely ferry trip up the River Lynne looking at the mountains and the cloud covered Ben Nevis. I had my first taste of Langoustines for dinner last night. You can see that I didn’t really like them. Best meal we have had in Scotland, and a great way to finish our wonderful time here in Scotland .

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View back to Fort William with Ben Nevis in the background covered in cloud
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My delicious evening meal.
View back to Fort William with Ben Nevis in the background covered in cloud
View up the River Lynne

 

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The little Harbour in Fort William

 

A HIGHLY RECOMENDED WALK – THE WEST HIGHLAND WAY

 

4 thoughts on “West Highland Way

  1. Hi Helen – thank you for sharing your incredible experiences. I can’t believe that Loch Lomond is comparable to Lake Como ( you traitor ) The photos are magnificent and your descriptive prose is poetry to read.
    I loved the photo of you in the midst of the pine trees – all the photos are worth framing. We look forward to seeing them all on your return.
    We are so pleased you are having a wonderful time and being able to share it with Susan is a bonus. Continue to enjoy – have a few more glasses of whisky and check out the guys and their kilts. Look after yourself. Roger and Rhonda

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