Back in 2017 we took on our biggest distance hiking challenge to date: the West Highland Way. Hiking has always been an important part of our lives, but up until this point we had never done a multi-day journey. The West Highland Way made numerous “best hikes in the world” lists, and seemed the perfect challenge for our first prolonged hike. The romanticism of the West Highland Way had a strong pull, but so did the idea of ending each day in a proper bed. That’s part of the charm of a civilization that developed before trains and cars - towns and villages are spaced a day’s walk apart.
We found every step of this journey to be pretty enough to paint. The scenery is varied enough to keep the mind engaged: quiet farm fields, rolling pastoral grasslands with sheep happily munching away as they watch you trudge past, lush temperate forests layered with life, steep rocky inclines with sweeping views, lakeside trails dense with wild flowers, garden-like paths hemmed in by tall hedges, and the kind of expansive moorland that gave birth to legends of monsters veiled in mist.
Whether we stayed in charming inns or adult hostels, our beds were always comfortable (well, with one exception), and the food was delicious without exception. (though vegetables are rarely encountered) We enjoyed haggis on a regular basis, the traditional Fry Up breakfast, mouth watering salmon, and some of the best gin we’ve ever had.
The people we met along the way, whether locals or fellow walkers, made the journey particularly memorable. When you’re walking The Way, you instantly have one important and unique thing in common with everyone you encounter - enough of an adventurous spirit to make walking 155km a desirable way to spend a vacation. We found ourselves "accordioning" with the same general group of walkers - sometimes we were ahead of certain people, sometimes we were behind them. At the end of a day, we could almost always find a familiar face when hydrating at a pub. We quickly noticed no one ever asked us “What do you do?”, instead they asked “Where have you been?” The more we travel, the more we encounter cultures where people do not define themselves by their career choices. It’s a refreshing and empowering change. This is a true part of the beauty of trail life. You’ll meet fascinating people, engage in long conversations and never speak of work.
While there are times we found the trail difficult, don’t get too caught up in believing you have to be of athletic fitness to complete it. Don’t get us wrong, training will make your hike far more enjoyable (more on this in a subsequent post), but we met a few elderly people walking the whole trail from beginning to end. Notably, we met an older Scottish man who was walking The Way for the fourth time, in spite of having had multiple heart surgeries. Needless to say he was something of a celebrity on The Way during our walk.
As you put one foot in front of the other, there will be days where the beauty leaves you breathless and the land feels mystical. There will also be days when you are damp, footsore and frustrated. Looking back, it’s the hard days that stayed with us in the most meaningful way. The thrill of conquering yourself, seeing the strength of your own willpower, far outweighs the satisfaction of a kilometre count.
The Way will take you on more than a journey of Scottish scenery and culture; it will be a place where you will discover yourself.