Day One on the West Highland Way: Milngavie to Drymen

If you want to follow me along my whole adventure on the West Highland Way, my introduction post will be the best place to keep track of new posts! If you haven’t checked that out already, you can read it here.

When I arrived in Milngavie the night before I was due to begin my journey on the West Highland Way, the excitement (and a few nerves) were setting in. It was a long walk from the train station with all my luggage to my first night’s stay at the Premier Inn. I’ll admit that it left me feeling somewhat frazzled by the time I arrived.

I didn’t only have luggage for my week-long hike in Scottish weather. I also had my wedding attire, everyday clothes for another week’s worth of travel in Scotland, AND clothes for warmer weather for our honeymoon in Greece. Needless to say, the other hikers I encountered heading to the hotel probably thought I was severely overpacked for the West Highland Way. I couldn’t wait to minimize and send the rest with the luggage company for the week before beginning my walk.

I checked in behind a couple whom I would later run into often during my stretch of the West Highland Way. My room was spacious, with a lounger by the window. The lounger was perfect for transferring everything I may need into my smaller overnight bag and my backpack.

(Filling the backpack for my hiking days proved to be an art form that I’m still not sure I mastered, but more on that later.)

I finished off the evening with dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, Beefeater. For dinner I had a burger and strawberry lime cider. I learned early on in my pre-hike days in Glasgow that the dinner culture in Scotland feels different than in the United States. Instead of rushing, it feels more leisurely. You ask for your check when you’re ready, rather than expecting it to be brought to you. Back home I feel like most people view a server who doesn’t bring the check quickly as poor service. I was enjoying this slowed-down pace.

I was so antsy to kick of the West Highland Way, that I barely slept that night.

Up and At ‘Em

I was up and at ’em early the next morning to drop off my luggage with the luggage transfer service. They would be storing my precious wedding cargo for the week. They would also be delivering my overnight bag to my accommodation each afternoon of my hike. Fingers crossed everything made it back to me…

Breakfast was at the Beefeater again. It was exciting watching all the other walkers starting their day, about to embark on the same adventure as me. Most were in pairs or groups—the solo hikers seemed few and far between, though I’d come to meet plenty. I couldn’t help but look around feeling like everyone looked less amateur than I felt in my current attire of leggings, hiking boots, and a sweatshirt. My other gear was in my pack up in my room waiting for its debut.

I was a little worried about my blisters I’d received at the airport. Rushing around for my next flight after a late arrival wearing brand new boots is not recommended. I took out my first aid kit and wrapped them up the best I could.

What a great way to kick off a 96 mile walk? Lesson Learned: Always wear broken in shoes to the airport.

And So It Begins…

Now with a full (but not too full) belly and some coffee in my system, I was ready to tackle the day. My first day on the West Highland Way! I was a bit apprehensive about getting lost, arriving late, my heavy backpack, and being unprepared. Mostly, I felt excited and ready to go.

I popped on my Google walking maps to find my way to the official start of the trail. I knew it was in the town center and not too far from me. Still, I found myself worrying I wouldn’t be able to find it, even with the maps. I looked around for fellow hikers leaving the same time as me, but it appeared there were none. Was I truly the last one to get going? Surely not.

I was prepared for fickle Scottish weather, but the morning was beautiful. Clear skies and high 50’s. I’d even find myself getting a little warm later on as the temperatures rose.

After feeling like I was walking towards neighborhoods rather than the town center, Google did me right and brought me exactly where I needed to be. Milngavie town square is relatively small and I felt like I was entering from the back end of it, rather than the intended area.

The West Highland Way Obelisk in Milgnavie Town Center

I was looking for the obelisk marking the start of the West Highland Way. When I found it, I was put to the true solo-traveler test: asking a stranger to take my picture. As a naturally quiet introvert, these moments were the ones I dreaded most about traveling on my own, but I knew I’d regret not capturing these memories.

I found a friendly passerby who happily took my photo, before offering to take another one in front of the entrance of the trail marked with big signage reading “The West Highland Way”. He did a pretty good job too! You never know what you’re going to get with strangers taking on the role of photographer.

Off I go!

The Official Start

I set off with some pep in my step. The first stretch of the West Highland Way weaves through a park, and I got my first glimpses of the West Highland Way markers I would come to appreciate on my adventure. The trail here was relatively flat, well-maintained, and dare I say it, easy-going. I enjoyed watching all of the well behaved dogs having a good time off-leash in the park. (If only my dog Olive could learn a thing or two from these Scottish pups.)

Early on in the trail, there was the option to take a detour to Mugdock Country Park. It was earlier on than I expected and I didn’t want to take a detour so short after starting. As the park land started fading, I heard a “Hello Hufflepuff,” from behind (I had a Hufflepuff patch on my backpack).

West Highland Way Companions

It was then I met some of my first West Highland Way Companions—people I would see several times at different intervals throughout the journey. You develop a bit of an odd kinship with these people, even if you only chat for small bits of time in passing.

Now if you know me at all, the idea of me just chatting with strangers might sound odd. Most of the time I don’t talk much simply because I don’t have anything to say or can’t relate to the conversation. I’ve often felt like the outcast in school and in groups of people because. It’s rare that I feel like I have much in common with the people around me or get excited about the same things others do. Here, on the West Highland Way, we clearly already had some common ground to work with.

These companions were a couple, fellow Americans, from the New England area. I want to say New Hampshire, but I honestly can’t remember which state. They were regular backpackers who were alternating the evenings of their hike with wild camping and accommodations.

They were the first of many familiar faces I would come to know in the 96 miles that followed.

Step By Step

Around mile 5 the path passes through Carbeth Loch, a small cluster of wooden huts clearly decorated to entertain us hikers. Gnomes, signs for The Shire, and even a skeleton sporting a kilt and a cold one livened up the scenery.

It was also around this time that I found myself needing to use the restroom. I spent the next mile or so looking for a good spot. Unfortunately we walked along the roadway before making our way through wide open farmlands. There were a couple of groups scattered closely ahead of me and behind. I let them get a good distance away before climbing up into a heathered area for my first, “wild wee”, as another West Highland Way Companion would come to call it later on.

I trekked on, enjoying my first glimpses of more rugged scenery and my very first highland coo sighting in Scotland! My calves, however, were on fire. I decided to try out my hiking poles and then wondered how I ever got this far without them.

Running Out of Gas

Around mile 8 or 9, shortly after passing Glengoyne Distillery (a popular stopping point for walkers, though I opted out), I was beginning to run out of steam. My calves were on fire at this point and the mental endurance was more than I anticipated. I’d walked this long before, but not with a heavy pack or on ever changing terrain. Still, I loved that my mind was occupied with the task at hand. On a normal day, I’d be overthinking about every stressor under the sun.

My normal stress relieving activities weren’t nearly as successful as this!

I came across a popular rest area for hikers. Here, I stopped on a bench for a time and had my snack. My previous accommodation was the only one who doesn’t provide lunch on my journey, so I hoped this measley protein bar and bag of chips could tide me over.

A rest break selfie!

Once I’d had sufficient rest, I willed my aching muscles to continue on. I was chugging along for a time, but eventually reached a stage that tested my resolve. It was nothing but walking along a paved road toward Drymen, where I would be stopping for the night. It wasn’t as interesting as other spots throughout my day and I wondered if those with companions passed the time better.

The last 1-2 miles were HARD. All I wanted to do was rest. On this paved road, it felt like forever even after reaching the home stretch. When I passed where the hike eventually forks off (and where my hike would begin tomorrow), there was still quite a bit of a walk to get into town.

One thing you quickly learn on hikes like this, your destination is farther away than it appears. It wouldn’t be the last time I’d be tricked by a town on the horizon!

In the last 15 minutes of my hike, I started talking with a group of Americans I’d encountered several times walking along the road. One was a professor from Boston. This group of friends met up each year to tackle long distance hiking trails together. Walking with the group helped make the last stretch more bearable.

Ending the Day in Drymen

In Drymen, I stayed at Bolzicco’s Bed and Breakfast. I was delighted to discover that I would be staying in a little detached garden studio for the evening. Tom, the host, was delightful and promptly served me coffee and biscuits in the common area. He was a personable guy who seemed to love meeting new people. Often times, he’d get excited about chatting, talking so fast that his Scots accent seemed to thicken and I’d have a hard time understanding.

Tom chatted about everything. From my time in Glasgow, his family, places he’s traveled, his visits to America, old homes, fellow hikers he’s met, and my upcoming wedding, I felt like we covered it all. He was even kind of enough to call the local pub and secure me a reservation for dinner. This was something I’d decided to wing each day, and would have paid the price for without this connection.

It was here that I also met some new West Highland Way Companions. An couple from England also staying in the B&B. They joined us for coffee and conversation. Later, they’d become a great support system for me throughout the first several days of my hike, though my overall time with them was minimal.

Dinner was just down the road at a local pup called the Clachan. I sat in a cozy corner booth where I could easily people watch while sipping my cider and eating my scampi. I’m normally not a huge drinker, especially on my own, but the pint of cider was a refreshing indulgence after a long day of walking. It was one I’d continue for the remainder of my hike.

I finished the evening off with a hot shower. Then, I tried repacking my backpack to be more efficient (losing space in my overnight bag in the process). I was so sore and honestly worried about tomorrow, but also felt satisfied and empowered. The bed was cozy and the rainfall that night made for peaceful sleep.

Day One on the West Highland Way was behind me, but much more lies ahead.

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