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The West Highland Way: Official Guide

Roger Smith

A NEW EDITION OF THE OFFICIAL GUIDE to Scotland’s most famous long-distance route


The publication of the fifth edition of The West Highland Way: Official Guide coincides with the twentieth anniversary of the opening of Scotland’s first Long Distance Route. The Way quickly became popular and has remained so, with tens of thousands of walkers—everyone from secretaries to Government ministers, stockbrokers to students—tackling it every year.

No matter what their age or background, each individual walker is rewarded with the experience of some of the finest scenery of lowland and highland, mountain and loch, that is to be seen anywhere in the world. The 152 kilometres of the Way make a spectacular journey. It runs from Milngavie near Glasgow to Fort William, passing east of Loch Lomond, Scotland’s largest loch, and across Rannoch Moor, its grandest wilderness, before journey’s end at the foot of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain.

The Way is administered and maintained by Scottish Natural Heritage, who have recently undertaken a major programme of repairs and reconstruction to ensure that the path can withstand the wear and tear of thousands of passing feet. This work is now nearing completion as the new edition of the Guide is published. And as John Markland, Chairman of SNH, points out, the family of Long Distance Routes is still growing, with the Great Glen Way now under development: ‘Very soon walkers will be able to continue on from the West Highland Way, through Fort William, and on to Inverness—now there’s an even greater challenge.’

A proportion of the royalties from every copy sold of the Guide goes directly towards the costs of the upkeep of the way. It has been fully revised and updated to include recent modifications to the route and is accompanied by a full-colour map specially prepared by Harvey Map Services, Scotland’s leading cartographers. Walkers have been eagerly awaiting this new edition. The previous edition of the Guide was out of print for over a year, in the course of which publication has been transferred from the Stationery Office to Mercat Press.

The Guide covers everything the walker of the West Highland Way needs to know, from the equipment, training and preparation required before setting off, to the bunkhouses and hostels, services and supplies that are available once you have embarked. A wealth of background information is provided about the history and traditions of the places passed en route. The Guide and folding map are packed in a handy plastic wallet that will fit easily into a rucksack and is, if necessary, water-resistant!


CRIANLARICH – TYNDRUM (10.5 km; 6.5 miles)

In its progress up Strath Fillan the West Highland Way takes a pleasantly serendipitous course, first in the forest plantations on the southern slopes of the valley, then across the river and over farmland on its north side, and latterly by open moorland to Tyndrum. The strath has a particular charm in running among high mountains and moors, but retaining much of the atmosphere of a lowland valley.

From Crianlarich the best way back onto the route is to retrace your steps on one of the spur routes. For guidance there is a waymarker and sign in the small car park across the road from the station. The Forestry Commission ploughing and planting in this area took place about the same time as the creation and marking of the Way, so that the opportunity was taken to integrate the route into the planting programme. A wide variety of species was planted, and breaks left at strategic points to provide maximum interest and amenity for walkers.

From the rocky knoll above the old military road the Way trends north-northwest, climbing gradually and commanding fine views back over Crianlarich to Ben More and Stob Binnein, and across the valley to Ben Challum on its north side. Where the slopes begin to run in towards the Herive Burn, the route turns northwards and descends into the burn valley, which in spring is richly clothed in primroses. It crosses the burn by a sturdy footbridge and then weaves a mazy way through the trees, with views across to the hills on the south of the glen.

The Way drops down to the railway, passing an attractive waterfall, and then under a viaduct, and follows the south side of the A82 road for a short distance before crossing it, then sidles down a pathway below the road embankment and across a grassy meadow to the Kirkton bridge on the wide-flowing Fillan, a splendid viewpoint for the big Crianlarich hills; it then follows the farm road to Kirkton, and skirts the farm buildings on the left. The two farms on this side of the river are experimental units operated by the Scottish Agricultural College for the Department of Agriculture, so you are particularly requested not to take dogs on this part of the Way. If you do have a dog, you can skirt this section by following the main road till the Way crosses it again, about 1.25 km further west.

Among the trees by Kirkton Farm are the ruined remains of St Fillan's Chapel. An interpretive board tells something of the fascinating history of the man and his life. St Fillan was an Irish monk, the son of St Kentigerna who, as mentioned earlier, died on Inchcailloch in Loch Lomond in 734: he was active as a missionary in Breadalbane during the eighth century, and many miraculous tales of his exemplary life and work have been handed down. It is uncertain whether Fillan himself had a chapel here, but the site appears to have been a monastic establishment around the 12th century. It was raised to a priory by Robert the Bruce in 1318, and thereafter enjoyed some measure of privilege and protection from the Kings of Scotland.

The reasons for Bruce's particular beneficence can only be guessed at; he may well have received spiritual or secular assistance from the monks at the time of his defeat at nearby Dalrigh in 1306. According to one old tale, St Fillan gave a miraculous sign of his support to Bruce on the eve of the battle of Bannockburn. A relic of the saint, his arm-bone encased in silver, had been brought to the field as a talisman. As Bruce prayed before it, the case opened spontaneously to reveal the relic - to the astonishment of its priestly guardian, who (sensibly, in the circumstances) had brought only the case to Bannockburn, and had left the precious arm-bone in Strath Fillan for safety's sake.

The relics of St Fillan form perhaps the most remarkable part of the chapel's associations. Tradition relates that Fillan gave five symbols of his mission to lay brothers, who were required to act as custodians of the relics and to use them in appropriate circumstances, such as curing the sick or in the taking of oaths. These hereditary custodians, called in Gaelic deoradh, a stranger, anglicised as the surname Dewar, were given grants of land and special privileges which made them important dynasties in Glen Dochart and Strath Fillan; even the Reformation seems to have had little impact on their exalted status.


‘This guide ambles along entertainingly, noting interesting flora and unusual geographical features and pausing now and then to offer many beautiful images of lochs and hills. Best of all, it reveals there is an establishment at the end of the roughest stretch (Inversnaid to Inveraran) called the Stagger Inn.’—The Scotsman



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