The West High­land Way

It’s Coun­try Walk­ers’ dream project – and now’s the per­fect time to take it on. Here’s ev­ery­thing you didn’t know about a mag­nif­i­cent walk.

Country Walking Magazine (UK) - - Contents -

SOME 30 YEARS ago or there­abouts, a man stood on a hill­side above Loch Lomond. He was look­ing down at a hy­dro-elec­tric plant be­ing built at the top of the loch. Sud­denly he was wor­ried. Tech­nol­ogy was on the march. In his mind’s eye, he saw the great land­scapes of the High­lands be­ing chewed up by roads, tur­bines, py­lons and fac­to­ries.

“I know,” he said to his wife, who stood be­side him.

“What we need is a walk. Some­thing that brings peo­ple here and makes them in­ter­ested in the land­scape. Some­thing that stops the dig­gers be­fore they get here.”

The man was Tom Hunter. And his idea suc­ceeded in ways he could never have imag­ined that af­ter­noon on Ben Lomond. It be­came Scot­land’s most pop­u­lar walk. The dream date of Coun­try Walk­ing read­ers. The West High­land Way.

In 95 never-for­get miles, this high­est of high roads takes you from Mil­ngavie on the doorstep of Glas­gow, past the banks of Loch Lomond and up through the High­lands to the foot of Ben Ne­vis, weav­ing to­gether an­cient drove roads, blood-soaked bat­tle sites and mil­i­tary high­ways as it goes.

And al­though it passes among some of the most per­fectly sculpted moun­tains in the na­tion, it doesn’t re­quire you to climb them. It’s a way to see Scot­land’s big­ness with­out be­ing ter­rorised by it.

That may have been one of the rea­sons it thrashed the com­pe­ti­tion in a re­cent sur­vey of CW read­ers’ ul­ti­mate as­pi­ra­tions.

Or maybe it was the land­marks: Loch Lomond, the largest lake in Bri­tain; the great moun­tain­fringed empti­ness of Ran­noch Moor; the sub­lime fast­ness of Glen Coe; the Mor­do­rian wend of the Devil’s Stair­case.

Or maybe it was the ex­pe­ri­ence of walk­ing it: the friend­ships, the wel­comes, the fine ho­tels and the cheery camp­sites. The dis­til­leries and the chip­pies. The tan­gled roots of the shore­line path up Lomond and the tri­umphal re­veal of Buachaille Etive Mòr.

Or maybe it’s be­cause the West High­land Way is the per­fect late sum­mer project: busy enough that you don’t feel alone in big coun­try, but tran­quil enough to find your own space. The midges are min­imised, the tem­per­a­tures are mostly tol­er­a­ble, and rain­fall is at its low­est.

So here’s the Coun­try Walk­ing guide to the West High­land Way. We’ve rounded up the peo­ple who know it, love it and in some cases walk bits of it ev­ery day. We’ve also spo­ken to CW read­ers who’ve walked it, and who know all the things you want to know about it. The good, the bad, the quirky, the un­miss­able. The big wins and the hard les­sons.

So if the West High­land Way has ever been on your wish-list, read on. With a bit of luck we can push you just over the edge, to that lovely point where you reach for your boots. To see what that man on the hill­side cre­ated. The back story Tom Hunter worked tire­lessly for a dozen years to bring the West High­land Way to life. To­gether with his wife Mar­garet and their friends from the HF Out­door Club in Glas­gow, they con­ceived a route that would stitch to­gether the lat­tice of old drove roads and mil­i­tary roads lead­ing from the Cen­tral Belt to the Great Glen.

Ini­tially their plans were smaller; Tom called it The High­land Way and it was to run from Glas­gow to Loch Fal­loch, at the top end of Loch Lomond. Over time the plan be­came more am­bi­tious, ex­tend­ing ever fur­ther north, even­tu­ally reach­ing right up to Fort Wil­liam.

Through­out the process of deal­ing with politi­cians and govern­ment agen­cies, Tom was un­fail­ingly po­lite – but ab­so­lutely tena­cious. It was a pas­sion born of des­per­a­tion.

“There’s just enough walk­ing coun­try for our life­time,” Tom warned.

“But if we don’t do some­thing now there will be none for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.”

The Way was fi­nally ap­proved for de­vel­op­ment in

1974 and of­fif­fi­cially opened on Oc­to­ber 6th 1980, be­com­ing the fi­first ever Scot­tish long-dis­tance path. Tom him­self wrote the fi­first guide­book to the Way, not­ing in the fore­word: “I wish to thank my wife for as­sis­tance in the fi­field, for check­ing the man­u­script, and for her con­stant crit­i­cism which, al­though an­noy­ing, was very nec­es­sary.”

Tom re­mained a keen walker through his life; to­gether he and Mar­garet climbed 287 Scot­tish moun­tains – not to ‘ bag Mun­ros’, but sim­ply be­cause they liked do­ing it.

He made only a few pub­lic ap­pear­ances, in­clud­ing cut­ting the rib­bon on a new vis­i­tor cen­tre at Mil­ngavie (the start of the Way) in 2010. He passed away last year at the age of 90, af­ter say­ing he felt “be­wil­dered but de­lighted” at the suc­cess of the path he helped to forge.

From all of us, Tom: thank you.

WORDS : JONATHAN MAN­NING & N ICK H A L L I S S E Y

LOCH LOMOND Look­ing down the loch from In­veru­glas. The Way fol­lows the far shore­line, pass­ing be­neath dis­tant Ben Lomond.

GEOGRAPHY AND HIS­TORY Left to right: the re­mote Black­rock Cot­tage is a fine place to stay on Ran­noch Moor; the view down Gleann Achadh In­nis Chailein near Bridge of Orchy; and the

late Tom Hunter, orig­i­na­tor of the West High­land Way.

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