Making the most of your National 3 Peaks challenge
Adventurer, navigation workshop leader & GetOutside Champion, Jason Rawles talks us through how you can safely and successfully complete the 3 Peaks Challenge.
With around 85,000 visitors every year, the West Highland Way is one of Scotland's premier walking routes. Stretching from Milngavie right up to the heart of the Highlands in Fort William, situated at the foot of Ben Nevis, the 96-mile route never ceases to provide breathtaking scenery and beautiful wildlife along the way.
Keen walkers will want to tackle the entire path, which could take anywhere from five to nine days in total, while more casual strollers can easily pick and choose the stretches they fancy the most from various stages of the route. If you've got your hiking gear at the ready but you're not sure where to start, here's a breakdown of the stunning West Highland Way.
Heading north, the first days walk of the Way is from Milngavie to Carbeth (five miles). The walk from Milngavie, in the northern suburbs of Glasgow, will see you pass through some rolling farmland and takes about three to four hours. From Carbeth, the path leads you along the seven-mile stretch towards Drymen in the Lowlands (another three to four hours), heading past the Duntreath Castle. The Glengoyne Distillery is just a few minutes off the West Highland Way during this part of the walk, so why not round off day one with a stop at one of the Scotch whisky industry's most informative and entertaining visits?
On day two you'll set off on your way towards Rowardennan. If you wanted to stop along the eight-mile stretch to Balmaha (four to five hours), there are boat trips available to Inchailloch in the Loch Lomond National Nature Reserve - an island with a rich history, considered one of Scotland's most beautiful. The route gets rather twisty as you close in on Rowardennan (a further three to four hours), but when you're there you can relax and appreciate the view of 974m-high Ben Lomond. We know what you're like, though - you'll probably want to go hill-walking up it.
Day three of this epic walk will see you moving along the ascent towards Inverarnan. After seven miles you'll reach Inversnaid, a small village with fantastic views of the Arrochar Alps across Loch Lomond. It really is the perfect place to stop and refresh yourselves with a bite to eat and a drink.
From there you'll trek on to Ardlui, located in the ancient heart of Scotland. The awe-inspiring views of the surrounding water and hills that you'll encounter on the way are almost overwhelming. But while the scenery is delightful, the route isn't always. Inversnaid to Ardlui and on to Inverarnan (seven miles - four to five hours) is considered one of the roughest sections on the West Highland Way; the path along Loch Lomond sends walkers up and down, reaching a high of 252 metres. When in Inverarnan, you might like to stay at the wonderful Drovers Inn; established in 1705, the inn provides a place to sleep, wonderful food and drink, and as it's said to be haunted, a bit of excitement for paranormal enthusiasts.
You'll begin day four with a brisk six-mile walk along old military road before reaching a path which leads you into Crianlarich village. The self-proclaimed "gateway to the Highlands", this small village has been a stopping point for travellers since mediaeval times and is well worth a visit. If you want to push on, however, be assured that this part of the walk is far from the most challenging. It's a relatively straightforward trek, and after a further six miles or so you'll have descended into the village of Tyndrum. It's the smallest settlement in the UK, according to undiscoveredscotland.co.uk, and is served by just two railway stations and two railway lines. We recommend a stay at the Glengarry House B&B - just have a look at those reviews.
Hopefully you'll feel refreshed when you wake up, because day five is set to be the longest on your trip. From Tyndrum, you'll walk the seven miles along decent tracks to the Bridge of Orchy village in the central Highlands. The bridge itself crosses the River Orchy which is considered one of the best and most challenging white water rafting spots in Scotland - give it a go if you have the time (and the guts!)
When you've dried off, you'll walk the shorter two-mile stretch to Inveronan, which will be your first introduction to the vast wilderness that is the 50-square-mile Rannoch Moor. This part of the way leaves you completely exposed to the elements; there's no shelter for miles, so while the ground surface should be fine, be prepared. At the maximum height you'll reach 446 metres.
The Rannoch Moor is beautiful, but also a little dangerous. Weather conditions can lead to sludgy terrain, so straying from the paths could result in sinking into a peat bog. You'll truly find yourself in the middle of nowhere, with only the wildlife (roe and red deer, red squirrels, and maybe even the extremely elusive Scottish wildcat) and mountain views as company. It's a ten-mile stretch that should take you around four to five hours - so when you arrive at Kingshouse you'll be gasping for a sit down, a place to stay, a bite to eat and a hearty beverage. For all of these things, the Kings House Hotel comes highly recommended.
On day six, the route will wind along the old military road until you find yourself at the bottom of the infamous Devil's Staircase. The path got its name from the soldiers who were building roads for Field Marshal George Wade in the 18th Century, as it was so difficult to carry building materials up the stretch. Later, when the Blackwater Reservoir was under construction in the early 1900s, many workers headed to the Kings House Hotel pub instead of walking down to Kinlochleven. After a few drinks, the devil often "claimed his own".
Legends aside, the Devil's Staircase offers hikers exceptional views of the reservoir and mountain ranges of Glencoe from its 547m maximum height. Eventually you'll descend into Kinlochleven, and after four to five hours of physically challenging walking, we wouldn't blame you for wanting to call it a night.
Your last day will take your from Kinlochleven to Fort William. The path leads you through the stunning hillside before you descend into Glen Nevis. There's plenty to see here; it boasts three of Scotland's highest waterfalls, several impressive gorges, and most awesome of all are the jaw-dropping views of the highest mountains in the British Isles - most notably Ben Nevis. You'll have time to soak it all in as you stroll alongside the River Ness before coming to Gordon Square in the centre of Fort William. It's here that the journey ends.
Fancy climbing Ben Nevis? Riding the Jacobite? Getting home to rest as quickly as possible? Whatever it is you decide to do once you've finished walking the West Highland Way, you'll have had an exhilarating experience that you'll never forget.