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The West Highland Way by Wonderful Wild Women

3rd – 6th December 2021


Day 1 - Milngavie to Balmaha (21 miles, 2,100 ft elevation)


A leisurely start; we catch the train from Oxenholme and onwards to Glasgow. In amongst the

catching up, laughter and snacks it was easy to forget where we were going and what was ahead

of us!


A midday arrival into Milngavie and time felt of the essence with 20 miles to cover that day and

fading light in just a few hours.


We find the official start and sheepishly ask the unlucky passer-by who makes eye contact if they

will take our picture. Formalities complete its time to get running. The terrain is flat and good

underfoot, so we find ourselves ticking off the miles comfortably, leaving the city behind and

looking ahead towards the Campsie Fells.


The weather is surprisingly mild for December. Our laden packs feel heavy and overpacked as

we find ourselves in t-shirts, but the forecast on days ahead looks uncertain and unsettled so

hopefully we will get some use out of all the extra layers.


We’re in a good flow. Energy is high and conversation a plenty then… we realise we’ve taken a

wrong turn! The route is incredibly well signposted, so we feel a bit daft but never mind, back we

go with an extra mile in our legs for the day.


Before we know it, we’re heading towards the one and only hill of the day, Conic Hill, guarded by

some gorgeous Highland Cows. Fatigue from the faster flat miles has set in. The light fades

quickly but we hold off as long as possible before getting the head torches out. Reaching the

highest point on the hill, Loch Lomond stretches out before us.


The final decent towards our lodgings for the night finds us sliding uncontrollably down the

eroded hillside, but the hard work is done for the day. We relax as the bright lights of Balmaha

appear and hunker down in a cosy pub for tea.




Day 2 - Balmaha to Crianlarich (30 miles, 3,000ft elevation)


First things first… coffee and some slow shuffles attempting to shake out the fatigue from the

day before.


The day starts with the most beautiful sunrise. A golden orange haze combined with rainbows

stretches over Loch Lomond. Its reasonably short lived as the damp mizzle settles in, but we set

us off with a spring in our step.


Aches and ailments are becoming apparent but the consistent undulation along the edge of Loch

Lomond keeps us focused and distracted on the few steps ahead.


Stops are regular as, as a group we feel pretty out of sync. Toilet stops, layer changes, snack

times… we are all on different schedules and failing at catching a rhythm. We agree to take lunch

time as a ‘factory reset’ but overall, its turning out to be a pretty relentless day. The stretch along

Loch Lomond felt never-ending and certainly zapped our energy, mentally and physically.

As it started to get dark an energy bonk spread around the group like an infectious yawn. All

thoughts were on a pub tea at the end of the days stint, but that end never felt in sight. Even

when we knew we could only be a mile or so from Crianlarich the landscape ahead was

complete darkness – turns out a woodland was in the way, blocking the warm welcoming glow of

the village.


Day 2 was the day we had been warned about, but as runners used to being in the mountains,

we assumed it wouldn’t take as long as it did. We reached Crianlarich and, second time lucky,

found a pub serving food. We melted into the booth, broken, and questioning how we were going

to get up and do it all again tomorrow.




Day 3 - Crianlarich to Kingshouse (23miles, 2,300ft elevation)


We start on an absolute winner… breakfast is included with our booking!!! The sun is shining,

and the energy of the group is back to day 1 vibes. Full bellies and nothing to think about other than

reaching our next destination.


We are back in sync and the miles are steadily being ticked off. Today's the day we will finally be

in amongst the snow-capped mountains and we might actually finish in daylight.

Food rations are low so a restock at The Green Welly Stop finds us wandering the aisles

attempting to make good strategic snack choices. Apparently, tuna sandwiches are frowned

upon!


The day is spent trying to name and pinpoint mountain tops. Sections of the route igniting a

sense of deja-vu from trips past. The same, but different. We weave through areas of civilisation,

more so than the day before, however our out of season adventure means a cosy coffee stop is

a no-go.


Day 3 flies by over well-established tracks and roads. The best stretch of the day has to be from

Inveroran, over an undulating military road, as we skirt the edges of Rannoch Moor. Todays

wildlife instalment takes the shape of a deer, casually feasting & undeterred by our presence. We

make a stop at Ba Bridge and Charlotte finally gets to offload the whisky she’s been carrying for

two and a half days as we have a moment to take in the views.


Before we know it Kingshouse is in sight, and we have one final descent to whizz down and IT'S

STILL LIGHT!




Day 4 - Kingshouse to Fort William (25miles, 3,500ft elevation)


It's an ominous start. The weather outside the window is grey and wet. The mountain tops are

shrouded in clag and the snow line is definitely lower than yesterday. We analyse the forecast

and warnings of storms, whilst making full use of the breakfast buffet.


We are prepped and ready for our usual 9am start. The hills look as majestic as ever and we feel

fortunate that the rain has subsided. It’s not long before we start climbing up towards and then

over the snow line.


The terrain is mostly large 4x4 tracks through big, long valleys and up over the famous Devil's

Staircase. We start to feel more at home as we embark on the biggest climb of the whole route,

enjoying seeing the landscape stretched out before us from a more elevated perspective, the

snowy conditions and hare prints adding to the excitement.


As we climb out of Kinlochleven a huge dark cloud makes its presence known and sleety rain

sticks around for the rest of the afternoon. The finish feels so close, yet so far and we all knuckle

down to finish before dark. There’s not much talking; just one foot in front of the other. The icy

cold settling into our cores and fatigue being hard to ignore. The last few miles along the road

into Fort William seem never ending, then there it is – The West Highland Way sign – only it’s the

old sign and no longer the ‘official’ end. What?! Are you kidding me?! We head off into the Fort

William centre soaked to the skin and dreaming of pizza, until we eventually find the actual finish.


A huge sense of relief that we had all completed the classic West Highland Way in winter.


Now it's time for pizza and beer to celebrate!


Wonderful Wild Women

Sarah Gerrish, Chloe Lumsdon, Charlotte Milligan, Janie Oates.



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