Walking 96 Miles – The West Highland Way of Scotland

DSCF6663As a family, we really like to walk.  We have trekked in Colca Canyon and the Inca Trail in Peru, Torres del Paine in Chile, the Mustang and Annapurna Regions of Nepal and the Routeburn of New Zealand.  Each trek was a physical challenge as well as a mental one.  Colca Canyon had a knee-crushing continuous 3,000 foot descent on day one and similar oxygen-sapping ascent on day three.  The Inca Trail taught us to be wary of steps, especially wet “gringo killer” steep and narrow ones.

DSCF6570In the Torres, we had to deal with 100km/h winds on at least two nights, learning the value of keeping it positive despite challenges.  Mustang taught us how to keep walking even when you are quite ill. On the Routeburn, we learned the value of adjusting your plans to the weather.  Each trek has a plethora of stories attached to it which have become part of the fabric of our family lore.  We love trekking.


DSCF6510When we arranged for our time in Scotland, including a long distance walk seemed like a reasonable thing to do.  Although not as remote or adventurous as many of the other locations, the benefits of trekking are found simply by slowing down and walking at a good pace.  When on foot, one has the opportunity to see more detail in the landscape, becoming part of it, not simply viewing it through a window at 60 miles an hour.  Walking provides the chance to feel and smell the soil underfoot and be cooled the dampness of the dark forest floor or breezy sunlight of an arid pass.  Being outside all day allows you to feel the cool morning air, the heat of the day and the return to coolness of the early evening.  The rhythms are more obvious, the pace more staid.

DSCF6678After much research, Colburn planned for seven days to cover the 96 miles of the West Highland Way (WHW).  Although not an “easy” walk, it does cover a fair number of miles (roughly 14 miles per day on the seven day schedule) and climbs 19,000 feet in total as it traverses several highland environments, making it a “moderate” but comfortable walk.  The comfort comes from the fact that each night can be spent in a town or village thus avoiding the need to carry a heavy pack with gear.  As the number of Way-fairers has increased on the WHW, so have the services provided to support them.  DSCF6531

There are now several luggage-forwarding companies which will deliver your bags any of the dizzying number of hostels, B&Bs, bunk houses, small hotels, and campgrounds in which you can stay.  Pubs, restaurants, and grocery stores are plentiful and well stocked with trekking necessities so there is little concern for food or supplies along the route.  Each of the main towns is serviced by inter-city buses so there is always an emergency exit plan in case of treacherous weather or injury.  The route is heavily traveled so you’ll quickly find help should the need arise.  The route mostly follows old drover’s paths and military roads and is clearly sign posted, making difficult to get lost along the Way.  All of this makes it pretty much the perfect place to trek on your own yet with a sense of accomplishment when it is completed.

DSCF6592The kids are awesome walkers and capable of hiking many miles with smiles on their faces and a lightness in their steps, so there was  no concern that they would be able to complete the route.  Colburn is a strong and capable in all things outdoors so is an exemplary leader for us all.  The only real concern we had going in to this trek was whether my foot would hold up to 100 miles of uneven terrain and long-term stress.  I have spent the past 18 months trying to fix an injury that started with a simple stubbed toe and ended up needing two major surgeries, more than four months in a knee-high surgical boot, and 18 months of inactivity trying to get a bone to heal properly.  While it had begun to shown signs of healing this spring, the bone was still far from being considered completely healed nine months after my last surgery.  Not willing to undergo another doubtful surgery, I decided to simply move on with my life until either the hardware fails or the bone completely heals.  Because the WHW is well-served by public transport, should there be any issues, I would simply hop a bus between locations and let the others walk.


IMG_1847I am happy to report that I was able to complete the walk along with the rest of the family with only moderate issues.  We skipped a short undulating section to reduce our mileage one day and took an alternative route for the end of the final day, but we completed the route together with smiles on our faces and a sense of accomplishment for all.  We love walking.

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2 responses to Walking 96 Miles – The West Highland Way of Scotland

  1. jay solton says:

    I love getting your Emails! I thought Scotland would look different from what I see in your recent photos…May have it confused with green Ireland…Or the time of year…What a miraculous gift you are giving to your children!
    Donna’s is my dear ol’ friend from Milwaukee…..It is Donna’s gift to me to have lived in Los Angeles since 1960 due to her encouragement! Safe and precious journey to you all. Jay ~

    • dshindell says:

      Thanks for following us Jay! We spent nearly all of our time in the Highlands which are a different environment. The terrain is varied – from lush green forest to open heather moors. It is, however, all fantastically beautiful.

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