• The start of the West Highland Way in Milngavie
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  • The route is well signposted
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  • In the foothills of the Campsie fells heading north on the West Highland Way
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  • I was delighted to find this ancient firestone. It's where travellers and drovers would have stopped and camped for the night. With hundreds of sheep and cattle grazing nearby. We both wished that we could have listened to the many conversations which must have taken place by this camp fire. The stone staying hot, long after the fire has gone out
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  • Lovely clear stream flowing into Loch Lomond
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  • A very hot day by Loch Lomond. The wonderful vantage point on Conic Hill
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  • Looking west to Loch Lomond from the top of Conic Hill
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  • On the West Highland Way looking over Loch Lomond into the Trossachs National Park
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  • Wooded walk along the banks of Loch Lomond
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  • We took the 'low road' and walked along the side of the Loch
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  • My love of the Bothy continues
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  • Jules outside his first Bothy
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  • Tree hugging really does work. Look what it does to you. Good for the soul, mind and body
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  • Reaching the top of Loch Lomond at Ardleish
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  • Hoist the mast and ring the bell, and the boat will come for you. And it did
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  • The marina at Ardlui, where we cross back over the Loch to continue on the West Highland Way
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  • The smallest under pass in Scotland? They don't mention this in the booklets
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  • Hiking through Glen Falloch
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  • Passing up through Glen Falloch on the way to Crianlarich
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  • Over the lovely stone bridge into Crianlarich
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  • The wonderful chance sighting of a mature stag on our trek through to Tyndrum
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  • Crossing the stone pack horse bridge on Rannoch Moor
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  • The well photographed and much loved Blackrock Cottage on Rannoch Moor, Glencoe
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  • The isolated and yet wonderful Kings House Hotel on Rannoch Moor
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  • Looking back through the valley to the fells in Glencoe
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  • Well Jules, at least we must be on the right track. Heading towards the Devil's Staircase
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  • View into Glencoe. Before we start our climb up Devil's Staircase to Kinlochleven
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  • Reaching the summit ridge brings the most stunning mountain scenery on all sides. An exhilarating climb over the tops to Kinlochleven
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  • The mountains loom large across the valley in Glencoe
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  • Whisky A-Z at the MacDonald Hotel in Kinlochleven
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  • The climb out of Kinlochleven. The Pap of Glencoe rises above Loch Leven
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  • The Pap of Glencoe with the sea loch - Loch Leven below
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  • A lovely sign - and we did see them on a couple of occassions
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  • The start of our final day on the West Highland Way. On the Old Military Road with Stob Ban and Am Bodach rising to our right
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  • A lone barn and small sheepfold stands in isolation in this huge valley
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  • Ooops. Boot first aid required. We tied it up with string and flip-flopped into Fort William
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  • Down to Fort William. These two walkers from the USA had carried the heaviest of packs all the way from Milngavie
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  • Ken and the 'Man with Sore Feet'. Photographed by 'The son with no boot sole' :)
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  • A simple view from Corpach, back into Fort William on our day of rest. Before we take on 'The Ben'
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  • Our final day. The climb of Ben Nevis - crossing the footbridge over the river Nevis
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  • Looking back down the cobbled track towards the Youth Hostel and Bidhein Bad na h-lolaire above
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  • First climb on the zig zag trail
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  • Its an easy route to follow in clear weather
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  • Looking back down into the valley
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  • The path kinks back on itself. Lochan Meall an t-Suide acts as a good guide
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  • Looking down to Fort William and The Narrows on Loch Linnhe
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  • Its a rocky climb. I wore heavier boots on Ben Nevis with a thicker and firmer sole
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  • Lochan Meall and The Narrows beyond
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  • The footpath crosses lots of streams - but none of them are too difficult to cross
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  • A steel bridge makes easy work of the stream below
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  • Reaching the cloud line
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  • Inside the small mountain shelter. It was 'lashing' it down at the summit
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  • Jules is very happy to have reached the summit on his first attempt
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  • The summit is reached. A stunning view across The Mamores, Lochaber and out to the Atlantic ocean. Photo Gareth Walker
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  • The highest point in Great Britain at 4418ft (1344m). Looking down the North face with Carn Mor Dearg rising on the right. Photo by Gareth Walker
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  • On the way down. The fell runner who passed us earlier on the top of the 'Ben'. We chatted with him later in the car park
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  • The weather in the glens is localised. The forecast can change very rapidly
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  • The descent is by the same route. A celebratory 'snifter' awaits in the Ben Nevis Inn
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  • Jules is very happy to have reached the summit. Although the picture doesn't show it, we are both absolutely soaked
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  • The Northern Trek, for Jules and me, finishes with one of the World's great train journey's. A 4hr trip from Fort William to Glasgow. Across wild open moorland and through the great glens of Scotland. We have time to think and reflect on our astonishing journey North. The Northern Trek.
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Section 6 - The Crown
Milngavie to Fort William / Ben Nevis
The West Highland Way

The West Highland Way is probably the most popular section of The Northern Trek. It is estimated that 50,000 people walk it every year. It was opened in 1980 and was Scotland's first designated long distance footpath.

I originally walked this section in October with my eldest son Jules. There are many organised walking tours, with several companies, so it was relatively easy to arrange. We chose Macs Adventures after a friend had given them the thumbs up. We were not disappointed.

The West Highland Way has a very international feel which we both really enjoyed, with many Americans, Canadians, Australians and Europeans - particularly Dutch keen to share and compare their stories. For us, October was a carefully chosen month - the midges can be notorious in the Scottish summer months.

My Midge Tip

We lathered up daily, in sun cream and Avon Skin So Soft - a magical formulae which works brilliantly and neither of us got a single bite. Alternatively, use Jungle Formula maximum protection which is also excellent. However, my son said that, once I’d lathered up ‘I looked like I had just walked out of Madame Tussauds’.

The start of The West Highland Way is  just off the high street in Milngavie (pronounced Mulguy). Excitement is in the air as you walk past the steel posters with images of what lies ahead - posters of Ben Lomond, Rob Roy's Cave, nesting Osprey, Etive Moor, Kingshouse and the wilderness of Rannoch Moor.

The first couple of days are easy walking through open countryside and past the Glengoyne distillery. Good walking days for getting into a rhythm. Through the fields and lowland forest to Drymen, before the climb up to the top of Conic Hill 1798ft (548m), which is the highest point on the entire West Highland Way.

It has one of the most beautiful vantage points anywhere on the entire Northern Trek, with views north to the Highlands, west to Loch Lomond and beyond to the Atlantic Ocean and then south into the official Lowlands of Scotland. A terrific summit and on a sunny day. It was certainly worth spending some time here, and we lingered for a good hour.

As with many sections of the walk, the paths were originally used as military footpaths and through the centuries for driving sheep and cattle on the road south. The path runs alongside Loch Lomond for several miles and through to the Trossachs National Park. 

Near the end of the Loch, Jules and I share some of our thoughts on ‘Bothy's' and 'tree hugging'. I have always been fascinated by the Scottish Bothy - a place of rest fairly unique to Scotland. There are even books now published which feature over 100 Scottish Bothies. They are small buildings or shelters where the weary traveller can sleep, free of charge for the night. In Rowchoish Bothy which we visited, there were a couple of mattresses, a fire a stove and some tea and coffee. Bothy’s are remarkable places and always worth a visit. They have a wonderful atmosphere of travellers passing through.

Just outside the Bothy my son decided to reciprocate our new experiences, and introduce me to 'tree hugging'. On the first tree I didn't experience anything at all, so Jules suggested that "I try another one". On the second tree, I placed my arms around the trunk, and felt something immediately, as though the tree was talking to me - passing messages to me. A feel good factor for sure. It really was a wonderful experience which is hard to describe. Try it and see for yourself.

Our day ended wonderfully. On arrival at the loch side we were ‘told’ by our guidebook to hoist the metal ball and 'call the ferry'. There seemed to be no one around at all, but then across the loch there was some movement and a small boat appeared from nowhere crossing the loch to collect us, and take us back to The Ardlui Hotel for our night's rest. A lovely experience.

The following day, it was back in the boat after breakfast and back on the trail. We continued through Inverarnan, to Bridge of Orchy and over the wild and remote Scottish moorland to our next hotel. The old military road passes the beautiful and well photographed Blackrock Cottage - an iconic symbol of Scotland, surrounded beyond by the wilds of Rannoch Moor.

We stayed at the recently refurbished Kingshouse Hotel, which had been described to us, as probably the best hotel on the entire walk. If you get a chance to stay here, then please do. It didn't disappoint. This hotel was my favourite place to stay on the entire Northern Trek. Luxury for our aching limbs for the night. 

The mountains here, on both sides rise up to well over 3000ft. A magnificent and awesome place of near vertical black rock. Both daunting and wonderful at the same time.

The road trip through Glencoe to Fort William is equally stunning.

With wonderful Scottish names like Stob Dearg, Am Bodach, Stob Coire Leath and Sgorr nam Fiannaidh rising above. Try to pronounce them to a local, and I'm sure that you will be quickly corrected on your pronunciation!

But do not worry by the size of these mountains rising above you, The Northern Trek follows the valley through this range and the path ahead is well walked and easy to follow. From Kingshouse, the footpath climbs the Devil’s Staircase, which in truth is a relatively easy climb, with views back over the tops and down to Kinlochleven. We stayed at the side of the loch for the night, at the MacDonald Hotel. 

It had one of the simplest of all whisky displays behind the bar. An A-Z of all its Scottish whiskies. Top left to bottom right. 5 prices only - based on age. That will do nicely. I’ll have a double Lagavulin.

I've walked the last section from Kinlochleven to Fort William a couple of times - it's a very popular day walk and it's easy to see why. The view back across the loch, was later to become my inspiration for The Northern Trek logo. The walk then follows a lovely valley trail, an old military road, with the peaks of Stob Ban, and Sgurr a Mhaim rising above. And then, up through a small forest and the mighty Ben Nevis can be seen for the first time. 

Rising majestically above the valley and topped with snow. The highest mountain in the UK at 4418ft (1344m). That feeling that the finish is close at hand, is now with you.

But first it's down into Fort William (the unofficial capital of the Highlands) to the finish of The West Highland Way, for the obligatory photograph on the bench with the now famous statue 'The Man with Sore Feet'!. It has to be done.

And then it's off to celebrate with the many revellers who have now completed the West Highland Way. Let the noise and jubilation of these walkers and backpackers be your guide for the evening ahead. My son and I still have further business to complete - to summit Ben Nevis.

Just a personal point of view

Ok it may be just me. But the official definition of a mountain is anything above 2000ft. For me this is just too low. 3000ft is a mountain. 2000ft is a fell.

This leads me to the last part of this section...

Final Day

The Glory - Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in Britain at 4418ft (1344m). Lovingly known by locals as ‘The Ben’.

In summer it can be a relatively easy climb. 

Up and down in the day on the zig zag path known as the Pony Track. From the summit the views across Scotland's great mountains are truly stunning. However in Winter, it is best avoided, unless you are a seasoned walker, accustomed to snow, ice and low visibility. My own tip is to climb Ben Nevis in the Spring or Summer for calmer conditions.

The summit is cloudy on nine days out of ten. It can snow on any day of the year and the average mean temperature on top is just below freezing. So please pick your day carefully.

The Pony Track is the easiest route to the top. Start from either of the two car parks at the Visitor Centre or from Achintee House. There is also  parking on the road slightly higher up near the Youth Hostel. The path is easy to follow and clearly marked. It zig zags gently upwards. There are small cairns which help navigation both up and down the mountain.

Within a couple of hours the terrain flattens for a short while and then it's 1000ft (300m) of scree before the route reaches the summit. My tip here is to clearly study your route to the top. This is the same route you must return down. A safety tip would be to take a compass reading at this point. In bad weather it’s very easy to lose your bearings. In winter there can be large snow overhangs at the edges which can be difficult to detect. There will be snow in the Northern facing gullies all year round.

There is no mistaking the summit. There is a trig point and a tiny emergency shelter on the top, which I have personally used in a wild Autumn snow storm. It's an exhilarating place to be. Enjoy your time as the highest person in Great Britain!

I have climbed Ben Nevis on three occasions. My first attempt was with my youngest son Nicholas, the wind speed was so incredible at the halfway point, that we ‘abandoned ship’ and retreated to Fort William. It was just simply too dangerous. The weather calmed and we did the summit a few days later.

On our return to the car that day, we met a chap who had been out fell running - and he was phoning his wife to say he was safely back at base. We started to chat with him. Both of us were stunned to find out that he had actually run up and down Ben Nevis three times already that day. It was still only lunchtime. He was in training for a European Mountain Ultra, a few weeks later. 

'Think big, and then think bigger' I smiled and thought to myself.

When the walk is nearing its end - give yourself a moment to reflect back over your wonderful journey. Those incredible memories you have made and the people you have met on The Northern Trek.

Now go to The Ben Nevis Inn and have a very large, well-earned double Scotch. The Ben Nevis whisky has to be your chosen beverage. Have some great food and enjoy the fun and laughter which characterises this most wonderful of pubs.

I think it may be my favourite place.

95 / 10 miles
13,707 / 4,650 feet of ascent

Section Videos

95 mile 'fly through' the stunning West Highland Way. From Milngavie to Fort William

Stunning view from the top of Conic Hill overlooking Loch Lomond

After climbing the 'Devil's Staircase' the views are some of the best on the West Highland Way. Jules is happy :)

Section 7 - The Crown. A video 'fly through' of the climb to the summit of Ben Nevis

Map ref

OS Explorer: 348, OL38, OL39, 377,384
Ben Nevis: OS Explorer 392

time to complete

6-8 Days

Route Downloads

Downloadable route files in .gpx format for use on your GPS device or to use in your digital mapping software

Elevation profile: Milngavie to Fort William / Ben Nevis