Life Wanderlust

The Magnetic Draw of the West Highland Way

Back towards the end of 2018, I was reading an article about traveling to Scotland or something along those lines. During this research, I stumbled upon the mention of the West Highland Way. Little did I know this would be the seed that led to one of my favorite adventures so far.

What is the West Highland Way?

The West Highland Way is a long-distance walking trail that spans 96 miles from the lowlands of Scotland into the Highlands. It was designed back in 1980 and was Scotland’s first officially dedicated Long Distance Route.

The trail begins at Milngavie (pronounced “mill-guy” —yeah, I butchered that one in my head for months), a suburb of Glasgow. The trail ends in Fort William, home to Scotland’s highest mountain: Ben Nevis.

Off the train and heading into Milngavie for the first night before starting the West Highland Way.

The Seed of an Idea

Immediately after I read more about the West Highland way, I felt a little spark inside me and I thought to myself, “I have to do this”. I thought it was one of my passing fancies that would never become a reality, yet the idea continued nagging at me over the next several months. I knew from the persistence of these thoughts that it was something I needed to do.

However, the thought of an overseas trip to do a long hike as a non-avid hiker when I didn’t know anyone who would be keen to do it with me was a daunting one. It also felt like an adventure. The nagging feeling stuck around.

Following Through

Now, if there’s one thing you should know about me, and my husband can attest to this, is that I get a lot of big ideas that I don’t exactly follow through on. At work, I’m a very much get-it-done type of person, but in my personal life, my hobbies and goals are a bit whiplash-inducing. It’s not because I don’t want to accomplish these things, but often because I get distracted by another idea that comes into my path and I end up bouncing around like a pinball machine.

As a result, I have a lot of partially finished projects and lingering dreams—the start of a couple of book ideas from years ago, learning how to draw in 30 days, a half-organized closet, a nice camera that mostly only gets used when I travel, fanfictions, rarely used workout equipment, this blog as of late…you catch my drift.

So I’m sure when I mentioned this to Chris, he thought it was just another passing fancy of mine that he didn’t take very seriously. I can’t say that I blame him. Especially when I wasn’t sure that I took myself seriously either—I always felt I walked a mediocre line where I never did what I set out to.

(By the way, I still want to do all those unfinished projects. The desire never leaves for all the things.)

Making Plans

I’m unsure when I decided with conviction that I would make this hike happen. It was five years into my first job out of college and I desperately needed a change of scenery. I was indifferent to the work, hated the environment, the long commute, and life in an office more than I expected. I felt stuck and needed to shake things up somehow.

No one knew of my plans at first except two of my coworkers who had also become great friends. There was no doubt they’d be encouraging. Others, I didn’t tell right away and wouldn’t until I was committed to the plan. I keep a lot of my plans to myself in life, because I don’t want to be talked out of them. It takes a lot for me to take a leap and words of dissent from anyone can easily shatter my resolve.

But, near the end of 2019, I reached out to a long-distance walking company called Mickledore. On January 1st, 2020 I officially booked for less than a year away in May. I figured the sooner the better and felt thrilled to make solid plans.

I saved this image that first week of January 2020. It encapsulated all the things I was feeling after taking the leap.

A Wrench in the Plans

Then, the Pandemic happened. I waited it out for as long as I could hoping that I’d still be able to go as planned but inevitably had to reschedule. I was, at first, optimistic–only pushing it back to September and holding onto my flight voucher to wait it out.

When it was clear that things were going to last longer than a few months, I sadly rescheduled for almost two years later. At this stage, I worried if I would ever actually go.

The Waiting Game

Two years felt like a lifetime. In that period of time, I got a new pup, got engaged, lost my job, and eventually found a new one, but my desire to do the West Highland Way never wavered.

Not even once I told people and many didn’t seem to understand or pestered me endlessly about being a solo female traveler in a different country. I didn’t expect anyone to understand. At this point in my life, I’m quite used to not being understood. I realized as time passed, this was still something I very much wanted to do.

The delay ended up working out for the best. Now, not only would I embark on my first solo adventure to do the West Highland Way, but I’d be meeting up with Chris afterward and getting married in Scotland! (More on that later…)

The Adventure Begins (Finally!)

Airport hangs. The choice to use this day to break in my wedding boots would later come back to haunt me. You’ll hear all about it in a later post 😉

On May 14th, 2022, I landed in Glasgow with two days to spare before my hike began. I already had plenty of challenges thrown my way for my first solo trip, but that’s all part of the adventure, right?

I spread the hike out over seven days to allow myself plenty of time since I did not go on hikes more than a few miles at home very often.

Each day I wrote in my journal about my daily experiences on the Way. This “intro” post is already quite long, so I’ll share those daily entries as individual posts. It’s too bad Sam Heughan beat me to the punch with the release of his new book, “Waypoints” this year, but life has been chaotic and I didn’t end up sharing my journal entries as soon as I hoped. (A great read so far, and certainly making me nostalgic for my time on the trail)

Here was the walking route along the Way:

(Follow the links for an individual post detailing each day along the Way)

Day One: Milngavie to Drymen – 12 miles

Day Two: Drymen to Rowardennan – 15 miles

Day Three: Rowardennan to Inverarnan – 14 miles

Day Four: Inverarnan to Tyndrum – 12 miles

Day Five: Tyndrum to Kingshouse – 19 miles

Day Six: Kingshouse to Kinlochleven – 9 miles

Day Seven: Kinlochleven to Fort William – 15 miles

Some people choose to do it in 5-6 days, but I found this route challenging without being too challenging to the point where I wanted to give up. I stayed at some great places along the way that I can’t wait to share with you.

Stay Tuned to Hear About My Journey on the West Highland Way

Tune in soon to hear more! It’s now November and I’m missing Scotland and the West Highland Way more than ever. There was something to waking up and hitting that trail each morning with nothing but my backpack, my thoughts, and some stunning scenery. I can’t wait to share the rest with you all.

And remember, if you dream it, you can do it.

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