When I told family and friends that I was planning on taking my eight and five year olds on Scotland’s most famous long distance walk – the challenging 96-mile long West Highland Way – the most polite of their reactions was astonishment. Undeterred I set off on what very quickly became of the most enjoyable, thrilling and utterly memorable things we have ever done as a family on our travels in a dozen countries.
Let’s start at the beginning. All good trips start with proper planning. I had already walked the West Highland Way myself, so was under no illusion about the challenge ahead. Rather than try to scrabble together a plan, I turned to acclaimed West Highland Way specialist Macs Adventure. They tailored their Rail & Hike for us, which meant they sorted accommodation for us each night and arranged for our bags to be moved. They also arranged for us to do some sections by train and planned in some taxi opts out, which proved invaluable.
Not for nothing do my walking buddies call me ‘the granny’. I always like to play it safe and make sure I’ve got all the bases covered with safety and gear. Taking a young family along through some of Scotland’s most remote landscapes, this becomes more important than ever. Help was at hand courtesy of Scottish outdoor gear specialist Tiso. They kitted the girls – my eldest Tara and her wee sister Emma – out with proper waterproof jackets, outdoor trousers, waterproof overtrousers, fleeces, gloves and hats. They took real time to make sure it was all the right gear for them, especially the all-important walking boots. The staff were brilliant and made it fun for the girls rather than a chore.
A Perfect Start
Armed with our new gear we poured over the maps and our walking guidebook as Macs Adventure helped us cheat a little with our start. Our train dropped us off at Ardlui. Our bags were spirited off, as we boarded the ferry across Loch Lomond to tackle our first section of the West Highland Way – a relatively easy stretch to Inveraran. Our gear came into its own against a heavy drizzle that fluctuated with battering rain. We arrived at the Drover’s Inn safe, warm and dry underneath our waterproofs. And in high spirits too. It was a perfect start!
The next day saw us tackle the six mile stretch to Crianlarich. This was easily the longest walk Emma had ever done. She rose to the challenge, only twice asking ‘if we were nearly there yet’. What I hadn’t appreciated was how much the girls would get from the walk in addition to the scenery and exercise. They really loved the flora and fauna. We looked out for big hitters like red deer and golden eagles, but also paid attention to the things I often bash past. We talked about little plants, including two carnivorous species, butterwort and sundew. The girls loved these ‘meat eating plants’!
Pushing On Into the Highlands
Day three saw us eke further north still to Tyndrum, right on the edge of the Highlands proper. Emma and Mummy jumped on the train to Bridge of Orchy here. Tara and I pushed on into the Highlands, just Daddy and daughter and the open trail ahead. We chatted about nothing and everything, bonding, holding hands and laughing more together in one walk than we do normally in a week. The miles flew by.
After a hearty dinner and breakfast all four of us skipped up over the wee hill to Inveroran. I say ‘skipped’ as Tara and Emma were really into their stride now. We swept up through a forest to a viewpoint, where we stared at the vast Highland mountain landscape opening out ahead. My girls were impressed. They were impressed too by the scones at the cosy and welcoming Inveroran Hotel. The girls and their mum jumped in a taxi. The pick up was meant to be Bridge of Orchy, but the ever helpful Kenny, owner of Glencoe Taxis, just picked them up here a few miles away.
Traversing the Largest Inhabited Wilderness in Scotland
As the girls disappeared I stared down the barrel of a ten mile hike over Rannoch Moor. In rain and wind this – the largest inhabited wilderness in Scotland – can be horrendous. I was fortunate easing across its peaty wasteland in sunshine. Huge Highland massifs and rugged corries veered up all around in this vast natural amphitheatre. I now felt totally alone, a pleasant change for a while, before I started to miss the patter of little mountain boots rambling alongside me.
We were reunited in Glencoe, our overnight stop. From here Emma and Mummy nipped off in a taxi to Kinlochleven. Tara insisted I broke with my original plans. I had decided in advance that the notorious Devil’s Staircase and nine mile scramble over a rugged mountain pass would be too much for her. She had other ideas and had already proved herself. We set off with determination and soon conquered the dreaded zigzag ascent before enjoying a chocolate break at the top – there were a lot of those in our week!
Our penultimate night was spent in Kinlochleven. Here I tested how much of the mountain bug the girls had been bitten by, taking them to the superb Ice Factor. Hardened climbers know it mainly as boasting the largest ice-climbing wall in Europe, but it is also brilliantly family friendly. My girls enjoyed a thrilling hour-long introductory session and climbed to the top of the walls they were challenged with. We swapped climbing stories and tales of walking the Way as we enjoyed dinner there too, washed down for Daddy with a beer from the neighbouring microbrewery.
A Glorious Finish
My last day was tackled alone on the 16 mile stretch to Fort William. I missed the girls, but we were reunited on the main street of this Highland town to enjoy a glorious finish together. Then it was straight off to Crannog Restaurant for a slap up seafood dinner with a view of the loch, something we always enjoy when we’re in Fort William at our favourite restaurant. The trip ended with a wee cruise from their pier. Ben Nevis loomed up above. The girls gazed up in awe and asked if they could climb it one day. The trip had clearly been a success!
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