Hiking the West Highland Way, part 1

This is part of a series. For the rest of the series, click on the links below.
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Siddown, I’m going to tell you a story about the best worst time of my life.

July, 2016. After spending the summer in Germany for Austin’s internship, we wanted to do something BIG. (No, Germany wasn’t big enough. I know, I know, so entitled.) So after researching the United Kingdom and realizing how little money we had, we decided to hike the West Highland Way in Scotland.

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So hopeful, so naive

The West Highland Way is 96 miles of sheer gorgeousness. It has beautiful green hills that, depending on whether you’re going north or south, eventually turn into stunning mountains.

Scotland has reasonably liberal camping laws. Except for a few designated areas (and if you do this hike, RESEARCH WHERE YOU CAN AND CANNOT CAMP BECAUSE YOU WILL GET SLAPPED WITH A HEFTY FINE), you can camp just about anywhere as long as it’s not in somebody’s backyard.

So – being the cheapskates we were, we were more willing to splurge on a tent that would eventually pay for itself, rather than pay an average $60/night for accommodation. We also got pretty cheap backpacks – I think my backpack was like $40 and Austin’s was probably $30 but also kind of a piece of crap.

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Not the best back support and also pretty tiny but we made it work

We tried to pinch pennies where we could. Austin’s internship was paid, but that money typically went toward rent, eating the same spaghetti meal daily (and I am NOT exaggerating when I say that), a few side trips that we took to the Netherlands and Neuschwanstein and Austria, and I was working part-time teaching English to Koreans on the phone.

Anyway, we flew into Glasgow from London, went to an outdoor retail store, bought our tent and sleeping pad (Austin didn’t want one so it was just me), a water bottle with a filter in it, and some “Smidge” for those terrible awful midges we’d heard legends about. We ate at Five Guys as a “last meal” of sorts, and then took a bus to the town where the trail starts: Milngavie.

After taking a picture with the obelisk and buying ourselves some real food, we started on our way. It was pretty late in the day already – Sunday evening on the last day of July.

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The first 20 miles of the trail are semi-residential; you’re not exactly hiking through suburbia, but you haven’t escaped civilization either. We met a lot of people who were walking their dogs on the trail or who were out for a jog.

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These gates were everywhere, I’m assuming they were cattle-guards

The first night we hiked about 8 miles – it was originally intended to be shorter than that, but we were trying to find a decent camping spot while trying to outrun the midges that were starting to come out. We eventually settled on a patch that had overly long, wet grass – but the sun was setting and my feet were throbbing, so we stopped caring and threw up the tent and emotionally prepared ourselves for the rest of the trip, which I’ll be writing about for the next couple of days.

(Note: midges are awful. They are the lovechild of gnats and mosquitoes. In some areas they swarm like crazy. I will tell you more about the swarms soon.)

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Wee devils, awesome illustration property of Smidge

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