Distance: Variable - from 5 miles to 12 miles
Terrain: Mostly easy walking on flat, broad paths - but expect steep climbs up and down when you go into and out of the valley
Refreshments: The Lion Inn, Blakey Ridge, Dale Head Farm Tearoom (plus Shepherd Hut if you fancy spending a night somewhere remote), plus plenty of pubs and tea shops in Rosedale Abbey
'Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet'. That is the Shakespearian line that played on repeat in my mind as I walked along the ridge line overlooking Rosedale in the North Yorkshire Moors. There wasn't a rose in sight, just miles of heather, breathtaking in its purple splendour. I was gobsmacked that I'd never been to this part of the moors before, which incidentally isn't named after roses, but possibly after the viking word 'rhos' for moor.
As it turns out, I had actually skirted Rosedale when I did the coast to coast, but didn't realise where I was at the time (I was a little preoccupied with the blisters on my feet having just walked 25 miles in a single day).
But the best finds are often completely unexpected, so let me rewind.
A friend had called to say that she was spending a night in a shepherd's hut somewhere remote. I invited myself along. Armed with just a postcode and a couple of bottles of champagne, I drove from York, to Pickering, then across to Hutton-le-Hole. As I climbed across Spaunton Moor out of Hutton-le-Hole, I was greeted to a breathtaking sight of heather as far as the eye could see. Daft sheep kept wondering across the narrow road, which meant I had to drive slowly giving me ample time to take in the vista. I was listening to Cold Play's A Sky Full of Stars as I drove, and the combination of uplifting music and stunning scenery plastered a smile of my face while simultaneously moving me to tears. It was simply jaw dropping.
Bracing myself for a perilously steep drive down Chimney Bank (there is a carpark there where you can take in the view - post code YO18 8SE), I noticed old stone structures on the side of the hill and wondered what they were. I found out the next day....
I made my way through the ridiculously pretty town of Rosedale Abbey and still the road continued. Eventually I could drive no further as the path petered out. Stopping the car I climbed out and found my friend, wearing fluffy slippers, sitting in the sun outside the shepherd's hut, located at the aptly named Dale Head farm. It was indeed at the head of the Dale and you could travel no further by car.
We enjoyed home baked cake and tea in the pretty tea room and garden. When all the other walkers had disappeared, we were left to enjoy our champagne, a BBQ and a good long chat outside our hut, while we watched the sun set and the stars come out. After a slightly tipsy stroll that evening, we decided that a walk was in order the following day.
The full Yorkshire breakfast nearly put paid to that idea, but we huffed our way up the forest line to the old railway track that runs midway along the ridge. It used to cart trains filled with ironstone ore off to Teeside. We turned right and walked to the old calcining kiln remnants where the ore was blasted to remove impurities, making it lighter to ship. Despite being industrial relics, the ruins were beautiful and ghostly. These were like the buildings I'd seen the previous day and I learned that the entire area was dotted with old mines and kilns.
We could - from Dale Head Farm - have climbed up to the same abandoned railway line track and turned left, following a three mile path around the head of the Dale, until reaching the Lion Inn at Blakey, where you can enjoy a meal or pint, before walking another two miles back down into the valley to the farm. For a day trip, that would make a lovely 5 mile walk, very do-able with children.
However, having waved goodbye to my friend and driving back to Chimney Bank (where I'd seen the old stone kilns and mining buildings the day before), I spotted an inviting path heading north west in the direction of the Lion Inn. Carpe Diem! I ignored the fact that it was Monday and that I should be working, put my boots on and followed the path. This too was an old railway line, the tracks long since gone, but the flat path makes easy walking. Heather lined both sides of the route while sweeping views across the valley below were wonderful.
By my estimation it's roughly 5 miles from the Chimney Bank car park to the famous Lion Inn pub at Blakey Ridge, situated at the highest point in the North Yorkshire Moors. This pub is a haven for walkers, being on the Esk River Valley route, the Coast to Coast and the Samaritan Way. It is also the only place to eat and rest for miles. I decided that I'd walk to the pub, get a cold drink and then walk back again. And then I realised that I'd left my wallet in the car.....But I used the pub to refill my water bottle and luckily had a few snacks in my pack to make an impromptu lunch, which I had sitting on a stone taking in the views.
During my walk, I stopped to chat to a man who had been in the fire service for years and who had now retired. He spends every Monday walking somewhere beautiful - lucky him. He had started his walk at the Lion Inn and was walking to Chimney Bank, down into Rosedale Abbey, through the village, up the other bank and along the track I'd walked that morning, continuing all the way around the top of the dale, before returning to the Lion Inn. I have tried to map that out (see below) and I believe it will be about 11 or 12 miles - but it may be a bit more. There will be one very steep downhill and another steep uphill during the walk if walking anti clockwise.
But it got me thinking that it would make a fine one-day walk. You could stop for lunch in Rosedale Abbey. If you felt the need, you could stop again at Dale Head farm with its tea garden (although you will be adding in another climb for yourself). And then you could return to the pub for a well deserved pint! Alternatively, you could go for a weekend, and start in Rosedale, break the walk by staying at the Lion Inn and then completing it the next day.
There are many different ways to tackle this particular part of North Yorkshire Moors - but whichever way you do it, I can highly recommend you go. August is when you'll see the heather in all its glory. February is when you'll see the wild daffodils (although Farndale - the dale on the other side of Blakey Ridge - is where the best daffodils are on display). In winter, dress for extreme cold and don't attempt driving Chimney Bank in icy conditions. The walking - while on the old railway line - is mostly flat. The views - assuming you have a clear day - are spectacular.
Here's a taste of what it looks like like, although no pictures can do it justice.
Here's a rough map plotting out of the entire circular loop taking in both the east and west sides of Rosedale. But the best bet is to get an OS map (number OL26) and have fun plotting out your own route, depending on how far you want to go!
Distance: 10.5 miles (depending on where you start in Scarborough)
Terrain: Mostly flat walking on good paths but with several steep hills. Stretches of woodland plus cliff edges most of the way
Starting point: Scarborough train station or anywhere along the Scarborough seafront. Parking available at Scarborough train station (pay at meter)
This is the last leg of the Cleveland Way, a 108-mile national trail that crosses the North Yorkshire Moors and a long stretch of the North Yorkshire coast. I've walked most legs of the Cleveland Way as day walks or two- day stretches, but I'd yet to do the final leg that runs from Scarborough to Filey.
You can either catch a train to Scarborough station or drive there and park next to the station (making it easy to get home on your return). But you can start from any point along the Scarborough seafront. You can even have a dabble on the penny slot machines before you kick off if you like! If you start in North Bay, before the hill with Scarborough castle on it, you will be walking for about an hour before you really start the walk route.
Leaving the sandy beaches and promenade behind you, you will climb up a hill where you can admire the views as you catch your breath. Be sure to look behind you to see the bulk of Scarborough Castle looking impressive on the opposite hill. For a stretch of the path, you'll walk alongside a golf course to your right. The sea will remain on your left and in sight for most of the walk. Having waved goodbye to the golfers, you will follow a headland, then go down some steps to a ravine until eventually you have to turn right along a track that takes you past some holiday houses.
This bit of the walk isn't particularly lovely. You skirt the holiday homes before connecting with a suburban road. Turn left and follow the road until you see a National Trust sign for Cayton Bay. You follow the steep steps down through woodland then turn right onto a path that leads out of the woods and along a cliff overlooking Cayton Bay, a great spot for surfing.
After climbing a hill you reach the road that takes you down to Cayton Bay itself. Here you can pop down to the Beach Shop for snacks if you didn't pack a lunch, or simply use one of the two handily placed benches for a lunch break. Lovely views and a good chance to rest after quite a few unexpected hills.
From here you simply follow the cliff top path. Some of the edges are pretty sheer and if you're not a fan of heights (I'm not) simply walk as far from the edge as you can. I really don't like heights but I managed it fine. The views are magnificent the whole way, with thousands of nesting birds swooping and calling. The only thing that detracts from the view are the numerous caravan parks that run along your right hand side. It makes the walk feel less remote and the people traffic also increases near each of the sites.
That said, once you've left the last of the caravan sites behind you, the views continue with the white cliffs of Flamborough Head appearing in the distance. There is something about looking at the outline of the English coast that makes me feel inordinately fond of this little island country. It stands so resolute against the sea, despite the waves taking constant bites out of its cliffs.
The rooftops of Filey will come into view and eventually you'll reach the sign marking the end of the Cleveland Way. But if you still have energy left, it's worth walking to the end of Filey Brigg, a headland jutting out into the sea. Carr Naze, the landward end of the peninsula had flint tools discovered on it dating back 3 to 4000 years. The Romans also used the headland as a signal station to warn against invaders. You can see why as the headlands to the north and south of it as clearly visible.
Once you've had your fill of sea air, head back inland and follow the signs for the town centre until you reach the bus station. Catch the 120 or x20 buses back to Scarborough - they run every 15 to 20 minutes - and will drop you outside the Scarborough train station, ready to catch a train back home or a short walk to your car.
A lovely seaside walk with stunning views. Definitely one to add to your list. See the video below for a sense of what it's like.
Distance: 10.6 miles
Ascent: 597 metres
Type: Rural, farmland, moors
Terrain: Tracks (some overgrown), dirt tracks, stone slabs
On 17 June 2017, a brand new long distance UK trail opened. Called The Boundary Walk, it is 190 miles long running around the edge of the Peak District National Park. A few Glamoraks and I headed off to have a first footing of the path. We decided on the Greenfield to Marsden leg (stage 5) mainly because it had a train station at the start and end of the stage. It also looked - on paper - as though it would cover some wild moorland and had a good amount of hills in it.
Catching a train from York at 8.30, we were in Greenfield for 9.40 and were kindly picked up by the walk organiser's friend who took us to the start at Dovestone Reservoir (although you could walk from the station and simply pick up the path from Hollins Lane). Despite looking around for others who were meant to be walking the same leg, we couldn't find anyone, so at the allotted start time of 10am, we set off. We did ask around at the car park but whenever we mentioned we were walking to Marsden, we were greeted with open mouthed disbelief or teeth sucking as though we were out of our minds for walking such a long way (it really isn't that far!)
We used the newly published guide book (pic below). Almost immediately we were slightly puzzled by where we should be going. The words and the map in the book didn't quite correlate. Switching on google maps on our phones, we finally figured out where we should be heading and got started. (Top tip: if you're doing this leg, when you get to the Dovestone Reservoir carpark and you're at the public toilets, you walk away from the sailing club and out of the carpark along the road you would have driven in on, until you hit the main busy road ahead. The instructions in the book make sense from there).
Almost immediately, the 597 metres of ascent made itself felt as we began a long, hot climb to the top of a hill where an impressive obelisk awaited. We caught our breath and had a snack while we admired the expansive views from the hill top.
We set off again along the edge of Saddleworth Moor, with stunning scenery off to our right. Just as we were getting into our stride, we had to descend again down to a small village called Pobgreen. It had an inviting looking pub and we were ready for our lunch by this point, but we had to soldier on as we had a return train to catch. Just a note here: as you head down the lane to Pobgreen you will get to a point where you can keep following the lane or take a stile and footpath sign directly in front of you. Stay with the lane.
Leaving Pobgreen behind us, we climbed another hill before descending again to another little hamlet. It was here that the guidebook left us feeling a little confused once again. The book said: Follow the lane downhill and once rounding a slight bend, you should see the public footpath fingerpost on the right hand side of the lane, at the edge of a property. Continue past the property and along a narrow fenced-in path.
We had no idea whether that meant we had to take the footpath or walk past the house and take the next footpath. We walked back and forth a few times before deciding to take the very narrow path behind the house as indicated by the fingerpoint sign. And it was the right choice. We soldiered on through fields of sheep, before crossing a bridge, and heading up another hill with the sound of a shooting range echoing around us. At last we got to the Brun Clough Reservoir, where we had a brief picnic lunch and aired our hot feet. Until this point, the sun had stayed hidden behind clouds but it was super humid.
After lunch we joined the Pennine Way and made our way across the gorgeously wild and remote moorland, passing several reservoirs as we went. The sun was now blazing and the brown peaty water looked very tempting for a dip. At one of the reservoirs (Black Moss) there was even a tiny beach, which would make an idyllic wild camping spot.
We didn't have a swim but carried on as the temperature rose. The book said that we should look out for a stone platform and little mast, which we found. But - a note of caution for anyone following the book - at this point you need to turn the page and read the next set of instructions, rather than blindly following the path (as we did). As a result, we missed a steep path that ran down the side of the hill that we should have taken. Luckily, the path we took eventually reconnected with the path we should have been on, and we got to avoid a knee killing downhill plus we got to see a pretty waterfall. So I'm not sure why the route we took isn't the actual route, but there you are.
By this point the temperature was in the high twenties, not a cloud in sight. We had a choice. Continue with the route as per the book, which would have meant a longer, much steeper climb up to the ridge line. Or follow a path alongside the reservoirs and get into Marsden to catch the train on time. We chose the latter!
This last stretch was baking. I'm sure the views from the ridge line would have been more spectacular, so if you're doing the walk on a cooler day, I'd suggest you do it!
At last we got into Marsden where crowds spilled out of the Riverhead Brewery Tap, ice cold pints in hand. They looked thoroughly tempting and should you be doing this walk, this would be a good place to stop for a refreshing drink.
Sadly we had to rush on to get to the station, where we ran into a hilarious group of young men on a stag party, stopping at each station on their way to Leeds for a pint. They were only three stops in and things were starting to get messy. We bid them farewell and got back in York by 5pm having walked just under 11 miles. I'd got to see parts of the Peak District I'd never seen before that were stunning, wild and good for the soul. And we'd done a good amount of hill climbing. I got through 3 litres of water! If you go on a hot day, take a lot of water with you.
Then it was time for a quick shower and transformation into evening wear for a ball. And that's what it means to be a Glamorak! Squeeze a bit of the outdoors into the everyday.
I first wrote this blog post in May 2014 on a now defunct blog. But thanks to the wonders of the internet, I could find it. So here it is - the walk that started my love of walking:
Dont get me wrong, I like other people. But occasionally I do like to head out on a little adventure all by myself. It makes it slightly more scary, slightly more liberating and it gives me plenty of time to think. Or sing aloud with no-one listening.
As I have no children this week (I know, how did I wangle that one?) I decided to buy some hiking boots and a small backpack and attempt a bit of the Cleveland Way. If you did the Cleveland Way in its entirety, you'd have to walk 110 miles. I didn't have the time to do that and did I mention I had new boots?
So my grand plan was to catch a train from York to Scarborough (somehow going on a train always makes any trip seem that much more of an adventure), then walk from Scarborough to Boggle Hole Youth Hostel just before Robin Hoods Bay. And then after a night in the hostel, walk to Whitby, where I'd catch a bus and go home.
Except on the morning of my trip, the Met Office gave a yellow warning for rain all along the Yorkshire coast, with not insignificant winds just to add to the mix. Given the walk is a clifftop coastal walk, which does get very muddy and you walk quite close to the edge at times, I started to have second thoughts.
After much deliberation while the heavens poured down outside, I decided to drive to Whitby, walk to Boggle Hole and then retrace my steps. That would make a shorter walk and if the weather really got too vile, I could simply turn around and drive home.
The weather was pretty vile. But I wish I'd stuck with my original plan because it was manageable. And there is something utterly liberating about walking in the rain. If you have good shoes on, your feet stay dry. This is important. If you wear natty waterproof trousers as I did, your bottom half stays dry (even though you will look like a telly tubby). If you wear a really not very good supposedly waterproof jacket, you will get wet. But once you're wet, you're wet. And who bloody cares when you get to see this:
I walked for a good hour that morning before I saw a single other person. It was just me and the cows and the sheep and the seabirds and fields of buttercups dancing in the wind. And because no-one was there, I could sing out loud (Sound of Music was my preference) and talk to myself (yes, I know its the first sign of madness but it helps to talk out loud when you're trying to build a plot for a book). It didn't matter that my clothes were filthy, that my hair was in knots, that my face was make up free and rather sweaty. I could just be me. It was lovely.
When you stand on a clifftop, with the wind pelting rain at your face, looking out at the vast curving expanse of sea in front of you, you get a real sense of the earth's size, shape and beauty. While pretty huge, it makes you realise just how tiny it is in relation to the rest of the universe and how tinier still we are. And that puts any problems you might have into perspective, which is why you end up singing like a loon to a field of cows in the rain. Because why not?
If you like me sometimes yearn for head space and clean air to just revel in nature, I can highly recommend doing this walk (or one similar near you). Here's how to do it:
I found this website very useful, with lots of info on the trail depending on where you want to start and how much of it you want to do. It also has plenty of other trails to try out.
I started in Whitby. To find the start, just walk up the steps to the Abbey, walk through the gates as though you are going to the Abbey, but then follow the road to the left and you'll see a sign showing you where to go:
The path is clearly signposted. You will walk through a caravan park (less lovely) but once you're through that, it's just miles of gorgeous coastline to enjoy.
You will pass an old fog horn, which mercifully wasn't blaring out because it was foggy but the thing would deafen you! That is swiftly followed by a lighthouse.
Besides those two landmarks, really the route is just a series of undulating hills. There are one or two places to stop for a snack at caravan park cafes, which thankfully are off the path so you can avoid them entirely should you not need food. Large bits of the walk are flat, but you do get steep inclines and declines, with plenty of little streams to cross some by bridge, others by stepping stones.
You do occasionally have to walk through fields with cows (something I am not a fan of) but mostly you simply walk past the sheep and cows grazing on their side of the fence. In places the path does get very close to the edge of the cliff. I made sure I walked as far from the edge as possible due to the wet conditions and the erosion that is visible the entire length of the coast. It really does feel like the sea is taking big bites out of Britain and one day there will simply be no land left!
Walking into Robin Hoods Bay, you head down a very steep hill. If you've never been to Robin Hoods Bay, it is an old fishing village with houses stacked on top of each other, clinging to a steep hill as though they are afraid they might topple into the sea. I stopped for a cup of tea and scone with jam and cream at the bottom of the hill just what was needed on a very wet day.
I got to Boggle Hole (about a 1/2 mile after Robin Hoods Bay) but I felt I hadn't walked enough (I'd only done about 7 miles) so I kept going to Ravenscar. I passed the Peak Alum ruins, saw deer in fields and climbed up a steep hill through beautiful woods to get to Ravenscar. Sadly, when I got there, the fog had set in so thick that I could see nothing so had to turn around and head back to Boggle Hole.
I have stayed at Boggle Hole Youth Hostel before. This time I had to stay in a shared dorm, not something I have done since I was about 21. But it was fine the showers were hot, the beds not too uncomfy for bunkbeds and frankly all I wanted to do was sleep after eating a meal and having a small bottle of wine. After wolfing down my full English (£4.99 from YHA) this morning, I set off retracing my steps.
This was the view that greeted me this morning:
I was amazed that I had no blisters given I had new boots, but my feet were fine, if a little stiff. Like the rest of me. Who knew walking up and down hills in slippery mud could tire you out so much?
After almost reaching the end, and after stopping for a moment on a bench to admire the view and complete solitude, I begrudgingly got up and did the last slog back to Whitby. Slog, because my feet were tired by then and I had to see other people. Didn't they get the memo that the Yorkshire Coast was mine, and mine alone?
And then I rewarded myself with a proper Yorkshire lunch of chips n gravy.
And that was it. By my reckoning, about 23miles in total walked. I now have the walking bug (not to mention the boots and backpack) so will be doing a whole bunch more of it. Coast to coast perhaps?
Since I wrote this back in 2014, I have gone on to walk the Coast to Coast, the West Highland Way, climbed Snowden, walked the circumference of the Isle of Wight and have climbed Kilimanjaro - plus heaps of other walks in between. All because on that rainy weekend, I decided to put my boots on and go have an adventure. Why don't you try it? You may just find yourself in the process.
If you haven't already, please join the free Glamoraks walking group on Facebook. Join HERE.
And sign up to be on my mailing list so I can keep you informed of any news.
I have wanted to walk the West Highland Way for a long time. It's a 96-mile walk in the Scottish Highlands starting just outside Glasgow, running the length of Loch Lomond, then hitting the stunning scenery of highland hills and moors, before reaching the final destination of Fort William.
This walk was a little different for me for two reasons:
1. I was walking it with my husband (I normally walk alone or with female friends)
2. I hadn't planned it. He had. Or rather, he'd arranged a travel company to do it.
While getting to spend a full week with my husband without kids was lovely (and a rarity), I found the lack of planning on my part took away from the sense of adventure I get when going for a walk. When I walked the Coast to Coast, I spent ages plotting out our route, choosing accommodation and getting familiar with what was in store. This time, we simply paid a travel company to plan the route and accommodation for us. And while that saves time, it doesn't give you the same satisfaction you get from doing it yourself. It also means that if there are any problems en route, we could just call the travel company to solve it. But again, this makes you feel like less of an adventurer.
And apparently I like feeling like an adventurer! So the first decision you have to make when deciding to walk the West Highland Way - or indeed any walk - is what level of adventure do you feel like having? Do you like the comfort and ease of having someone to arrange it all for you, book you comfortable accommodation, ensure your bag is moved and have them on call should something go wrong? Or would you prefer the other extreme of plotting out your route, carrying all your kit on your back and wild camping your way along the route? Or something in between?
What you choose will depend on your budget and appetite for adventure and potential discomfort!
Before I describe our experience of doing the route the easy way - i.e. staying in comfy accommodation with someone moving our bags with shortish days, here are a few things to note about the walk:
Number of days
This depends on your fitness level. We did it over 7 days, some do it in 4 or 5, others take up to nine for rest days or to spend a day climbing one of the many hills en route. You can even add Ben Nevis, the UK's highest mountain, as a bonus challenge at the end.
When to do it
You can do it year round, although to do it in the winter months you need to be pretty hardy and you will find more of the accommodation options closed. Summer months mean midges. And lots of them. Spring and Autumn seem to be the preferred months, with fewer midges and milder, if unpredictable, weather.
How tough is it?
I found it very manageable and a lot easier than the coast to coast. Lots of the walking is flat, but there are plenty of hills to challenge you. The bits that sound scary - like the Devil's Staircase - actually aren't bad at all. Conic Hill is a big climb but it's the descent that is harder on the knees more than anything. And day 3, scrambling around the northern parts of Loch Lomond are more tiring that you may expect, particularly if you're carrying a big pack. People of all ages and fitness levels do it - just know your own abilities and factor in enough time to go at a pace you're comfortable with.
Where to stay
We stayed in a mix of hotels, inns and B&Bs. Of the three, B&Bs were by far our favourite with better breakfasts and much better service. But there are also plenty of low cost options like bunkhouses and camping pods on the way. And if you're into proper camping, wild camping is allowed in Scotland and there are stunning spots to do it. If you're able to carry your own kit, this is definitely a good option. That said, if the weather is against you, you may hanker for a hot shower instead of a cold tent!
Where to eat
There are places to pick up food most of the way along - whether it's stopping for a pub lunch or getting snacks from a campsite shop. So bar one or two days, you don't really even need to preorder packed lunches as you can mostly get something along the way.
We had a map but didn't need it as the path is so clearly signposted. It was useful to get an overview of where we were heading. But I am a big fan of the Trailblazer guides which have simple to follow maps, with useful info on things to see on the way. We used the West Highland Way Trailblazer guide and it served us admirably. My husband took a compass with him, mainly because he is ex-military and likes to point to maps saying things like, 'We're here and the enemy is here', but seriously, a compass wasn't needed (unless you plan to go walking off the track).
Kit (not including camping stuff)
How to get back
It's a one way walk. To return to Glasgow (or Milngavie if that's where you left your car), you can get a train to Glasgow and back out again to Milngavie, or catch the Citylink bus but be sure to book a seat in advance. Ask the driver to drop you off at the stop closest to Milngavie and then just get a taxi (Uber operates there) back to get your car or catch the bus straight to Buchanan Station in central Glasgow.
Day 1 - 12 miles: Milngavie to Drymen
On Saturday 1 April, we found ourselves in Milngavie (pronounced Mullguy). As we'd had to drive from York that morning, we'd missed the baggage moving company so had to drop our bags off at a taxi station (recommended by the travel company) who would move them to our first night's accommodation. We then parked our car at the Premier Inn, which lets you park your car for free for the week and it's pretty safe as it's next to a police station. You can also get a train from Glasgow to Milngavie if you don't have a car.
Next we had to figure out how to get to the start of the walk, which proved to be the trickiest navigational part of the entire expedition as the actual walk is very well signposted. But we found the obelisk and giant West Highland Way sign in the centre of town and were soon on our way. The first part of the walk takes you through Allander Park, which is pretty enough with a bubbling stream keeping us company. But it's still urban and not quite the highland experience I had envisaged.
We left the park behind us, passed through Mugdock Wood, passed two lochs and a bunch of quirky wood chalets that looked like something out of Hansel & Gretel. We began walking across fields, with the first glimpses of the hills in the distance. At one point we passed what we thought was a ranger station where a very friendly 'ranger' hailed us and offered us free tea, coffee or water. I happily took up the offer of water as I'd had a 'little accident' with my water pouch (i.e. I'd somehow managed to drain its contents accidentally and it was bone dry). We had the option of making a donation and he was at great pains to assure us that one was not necessary. But we made one all the same. I have since seen statements on the West Highland Way website that no donations should be made to anyone other than directly via the WHW website. So I have no idea who the chap was, but hey, he gave me water so I was happy.
The scenery began to give us a taste of what was to come. Although not rugged, it was still fairly gorgeous. We plodded on along a farm track as the skies darkened and just as we reached the sign for the Glengoyne distillery, the heavens opened. So we diverted off the path and opted for a tour learning how whisky is made. As regular consumers of single malts, we felt it was our duty to know more about where it came from. And getting a wee dram was a bonus.
After smelling the yeast infused barley and water bubbling away in giant vats, and seeing the immense effort that goes into distilling and ageing the liquor, we felt obliged to purchase two half size bottles. They were tucked into our backpacks, in case of emergency!
After a picnic in the sunshine that had returned, we headed back to the path. It paralleled the busy, noisy A81 road and was fairly uninspiring to be honest. We eventually veered away from the road and headed into countryside that looked like it could be The Shire, from the Hobbit, and indeed, several signs seemed to indicate that it was.
We finally arrived at Drymen (pronounced Drimin as in drip, not Dry as in dry - why would you have a word that sounds like it looks?) We stayed at the local Best Western hotel and despite it having a pool, spa and steam room - great for tired muscles - it just didn't feel like a hotel for walkers.
So day 1 was good but hardly the epic landscapes I'd been envisaging. That said, the glimpses of highland scenery were a tantalising taste of what was to come.
Day 2 - 15 miles: Drymen to Rowardennan via Balmaha
After the first of many, many full Scottish breakfasts, we were on our way, bright and early. We retraced our steps to where we had diverted from the path the day before and immediately climbed a steep hillock in glorious sunshine. A boggy, wet and muddy field on the other side awaited us, reinforcing the need for good boots and gaiters.
We soon entered a forest with wide, dry paths and easy walking.
We got glimpses of Loch Lomond and Conic Hill, our first proper climb of the walk. It's 170m up, but the views from the top over Loch Lomond are well worth it.
After admiring the stunning setting for a while, we headed down, while scores of day trippers were heading up, sweating profusely. The downhill was actually tougher going than the up as our knees, not yet used to it, felt the strain.
At last we popped out in Balmaha where several cafes and shops offered us a choice of lunchspots. We opted for a quick and easy sandwich from the village shop and enjoyed them in the sunny park next to the Loch. We had the statue of environmentalist Tom Weir for company.
Having done our first 7 miles for the day, we had another seven to go. We began our long walk along the banks of Loch Lomond, regularly singing:
O ye'll tak' the high road, and I'll tak' the low road,
And I'll be in Scottland a'fore ye,
But me and my true love will never meet again,
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond.
As it was a sunny Sunday, the loch was busy with many people having BBQs on the sandy beaches. We followed the undulating track, finding a number of gorgeous coves that would be perfect for a dip if the water wasn't freezing. Although it was very pretty, it still didn't feel like the wilds of Scotland that I had imagined.
We got to our hotel - the Rowardennan Hotel (or Rhodedendron as we nicknamed it) - at last. It is right on the path and had a sunny beer garden with views of the loch. So we took our boots off and enjoyed a pint - although sadly most of Glasgow seemed to have the same idea. Perhaps a less sunny, non weekend day would have made for a quieter stop. If you wished to and had a spare day, you could head off to climb Ben Lomond (974m) and Ptarmigan summit (731m) from here, which would make a great day walk.
We weren't going to be doing that and had another early night instead - two days of walking in fresh air makes an 8pm bedtime a stretch goal!
Day 3 - 14 miles: Rowardennan to Inverarnan
Waking to beautiful views of the mountains, we got up bright and early as rain was forecast later in the day and we wanted to get most of the miles out of the way before it set in. After another huge artery clogging breakfast, we set out at the same time as another couple of walkers. The first two hours sped by as we chatted, barely noticing the stunning scenery to our left as we walked easily along a broad plantation track. There are two choices of paths here - the easy one which we did, and the other than runs closer to the water but was described as far more challenging and may potentially have been closed due to a landslip. Given the rock scrambling that was to come in the afternoon, I'm glad we chose the easy one.
Waterfalls cascaded down rocks to our right at regular intervals. Trees and rocks covered in bright green moss made for a ridiculously pretty backdrop. Bubbling burns every few paces gave a calming soundtrack. It was idyllic and much quieter than the busy path of the previous day.
After following the undulating path for some time, we crossed a bridge over an impressive waterfall, before arriving at Inversnaid Hotel. We had ordered packed lunches from our previous hotel, but as it turned out, we hadn't needed to as the hotel was serving food (the guide book had said it only did this from Easter). So we stopped for a quick bite to eat and a warm drink, before adding a few more layers and heading out. The bad weather was definitely approaching, with strong gusts of wind whipping up white horses on the loch.
The path seemed to match the volatility of the weather. Our smooth easy way of the morning was replaced with a path the bucked and bent every few paces. At times it was almost at the Loch edge. At others, you climbed and scrambled over rocks with sheer drops down to the water below. The wind whipped up waves that crashed relentlessly on the shores while the trees groaned and creaked above us. It was fabulous. And a little exhausting.
We saw the sign for Rob Roy's cave, but had it on good authority that it wasn't worth going to investigate. So we didn't, as we still had a fair way to go and the rain was inching closer. We also passed a lovely little snack stop for walkers, using an honesty system to refuel if necessary.
Our friends from the morning, who'd fallen behind us, came charging past in a tearing rush to catch the ferry to Ardlui, where they were spending the night. We meanwhile stopped to admire the feral goats, something the guide book had told us to look out for, so we were rather pleased we'd found them. To be fair, they looked like normal goats but on a day where the scenery involved beautiful - but repetitive - water, trees and rocks, goats made an interesting diversion.
As we reached the very top of the Loch at Ardleish, the rain set in. Our last few miles were a damp splodge along a track into Glen Falloch. At last we got to Beinglas campsite, with many miserable looking campers attempting to put up tents in the rain. We walked on to the famous Drover's Inn for our night's accommodation instead.
The Drover's is an ancient inn, which trades on its history rather than it's exceptional service, food or rooms. The plethora of stuffed animals that greet you in the entrance hall definitely add to the ambience, but we both agreed it was our least favourite stop, despite its 'must see' reputation. Nonetheless, after several glasses of wine we agreed that we'd still rather be there than sleeping in a wet tent.
Day 4 - 12 miles: Iverarnan to Tyndrum
We woke to a drizzly day, had another full fat breakfast and headed out, stopping at the Beinglas campsite shop for a sandwich for our lunch. Having done several multi-day walks, I have long since learnt that there is no need to pay for the packed lunch as they invariably include a piece of fruit (that gets squashed), a biscuit (that gets squashed), a carton of orange juice (that tastes foul) and a sandwich. My top Glamorak tip is to take your own snacks and just stick with the sandwich.
Our walk took us alongside a river, the rushing noise of which helped masked the noise of the A82 road running nearby. This was a feature of the West Highland Way that I hadn't appreciated. It basically follows the road for a good stretch of the walk. And while the surrounding scenery is gorgeous, it hadn't yet felt wild and remote, which is what I had expected.
The wet weather came and went with showers on and off throughout the morning. Using an underpass we crossed underneath the A82 and made our way up the hill on the other side before coming across what is apparently known as cow pat alley. The track runs to a farm, which is frequented by cows. At times the muddy cow pat mixture was lapping up to my ankles and my gaiters were worth their weight in gold.
We passed a cow that seemed to be in some kind of distress, possibly calving? We attempted to contact the farm but had little joy. To our relief we saw a land rover approaching the cow, so we assumed that someone had alerted the farmer to the poor cow.
Leaving the bovine drama behind us, we climbed a hill to Crianlarich crossways, the official halfway point of the West Highland Way, before climbing higher to a viewpoint spot and then on through mossy forests with pretty streams every few minutes. The path plunged down again, crossing a river in the valley before climbing again. We took our time as we only had 12 miles to go. We found a picnic spot on the crest of a hill with views out below us and had our lunch while our feet aired (at military husband's insistence!)
After lunch we followed a relentless downhill path (I felt very sorry for the few people coming up the other way), before passing underneath an old arched stone bridge. We crossed the A82 again and walked on towards St Fillan's priory, with views of Ben More in the distance. There's not much left of the priory, but interesting noticeboards give its history.
As we arrived at Wigwams, a little campsite at Strathfillan, the rain came down again so we took shelter under the shop awning and hat a restorative cup of tea. Once the rain cleared, we headed back out passing another little piece of history - the place where Robert the Bruce had the battle of Dalrigh and a little loch where it was rumoured his sword had been thrown (but never found). I wondered how many ghosts still wandered the area.
Despite our dawdling, we still got to our Tyndrum B&B before 3pm, the time it opened, so we loitered looking at pretty streams of which there are several thousand (or so it seemed) on this walk. After checking in and husband dutifully cleaning the remains of cow pat alley off our boots and gaiters, we ambled into the town centre for a pub dinner.
There is a gap in the market for someone to open a really good curry house or pizza joint along the Way as ye old Scottish pub faire - while lovely - starts to become a bit repetitive. We would play food bingo with every menu. Haggis? Tick. Black pudding? Tick. Whiskey sauce? Tick. Macaroni cheese? Tick. A highland burger? Tick. Venison of some kind? Tick. Sticky toffee pudding? Tick.
Despite walking many miles every day, this is not a walk you do to lose weight!
Day 5 - 19 miles: Tyndrum to Kings house
This was the day I had been waiting for. While the scenery had been getting steadily more wild and more beautiful, this was the day that promised really spectacular and wild Scotland. It didn't disappoint. After an excellent breakfast by our hosts at Glengarry House B&B, we headed off, for once with a packed lunch that sounded worth getting. Beef and horseradish and ham and pickle sandwiches, two chocolate bars and a cereal bar. Now that's more like it.
It was a gorgeous start along a lengthy military road, which initially ran parallel to the A82 but soon separated from it. The views were simply breathtaking. When the clouds cleared we could see the munros of Ben Dorain (1076m) and Beinn an Dothaidh (1004m), which are options for anyone wanting an additional hill climb while on their trip.
Thanks to the relatively flat path, the walking was easy and we made the seven miles to the Bridge of Orchy in just two and a half hours. As it was still early, we stopped at the Bridge of Orchy hotel for a coffee. It was the best coffee and friendliest service of the entire route. Keen to get on though, we headed out again and climbed up and up and up through a plantation until we reach a cairn at 320m with views over Loch Tulla and Rannoch Moor. We descended to Inveroran, not to be confused with the recently visited Inverarnan. Here you will find a hotel and had we not had our exciting packed lunches, this would have made a good lunch stop to break up the day.
But we soldiered on, past a very pretty spot ideal for wild camping next to a little river. We headed up towards Rannoch Moor, stopping for our picnic lunch next to a little burn. Obviously a sock rotation was required....Then it was time to tackle the moor.
We were crossing ten miles of exposed moorland - the largest uninhabited stretch of land in the UK - with exceptional views of Coire Ba, the largest mountain amphiteatre in Scotland. It was spectacular and exactly how I'd (naively) imagined most of the Highland Way to be. The path we walked along was the old cobbled drovers road, still in use until the 1930s. It also really hurt your feet to walk on it due to the cobbles. You are warned to take plenty of kit to protect you from the elements for this stretch, but we were lucky and had just the odd spot of rain and chilly gusts of wind coming off the snow topped mountains to contend with.
A bigger issue was trying to find somewhere to have a pee privately. The flat expanse of land didn't offer up much privacy to the walkers stretched out along the route.
At last we saw the Glencoe Ski Centre's chairlifts and knew we were getting close to our destination of Kingshouse. Despite the 19 miles, we both felt strong and filled with the contentment you can only get after a long walk in a beautiful, remote place.
We made our way to Kingshouse, which has a hotel (closed for refurbishment at the moment) and a bunkhouse, with handy cafe. It's here we passed some time while waiting for a taxi to pick us up and take us to our accommodation in Ballachulish for the night. There are plenty of day walks from here if you want to break up your trek.
Day 6 - 9 miles: Kingshouse to Kinglochleven
This short day seemed a doddle after the 19 miler of the day before, but it featured something called The Devil's Staircase, which sounded terrifying. Particularly when you'd drunk a little too much red wine the night before....
We returned by taxi to Kingshouse and set off along a path running alongside the noisy A82. If you can block out the road, the mountain views are spectacular. We soon veered away from the road and headed up the dreaded Devil's Staircase, which as it turned out was far less daunting than it sounded. Yes it was a fairly steep climb with quite a few zig zags to reduce the gradient, but we'd had tougher hills on the walk and this one made up for it with stunning views at the top.
A West Highland Way ambassador I'd met the day before while waiting for our taxi had said that the climb up wasn't the problem. It was the descent that killed you. And so we began the descent, which was long and slow. My husband said he didn't see what the problem was. But several hours later, he'd changed his mind. As had I. The way down never ended. You see Kinglochleven away in the distance and think it won't be long before you get there.
But down the stony path goes, threatening to twist ankles with every step taken. Each step jars the knees and challenges the toes. We took note of the Blackwater Reservoir we were passing, but frankly, our concentration was purely on how to stop the pain in our knees.
It may only have been 9 miles, but they were nine exhausting miles and we were VERY happy to stumble into the Ice Factor, an indoor ice climbing centre, for a sit down and a spot of lunch. My husband who had said at the start of the day that he was keen to have a go at the ice climbing funnily wasn't feeling quite as keen anymore.
So we just chilled out, headed to our B&B - Allt-na-Leven (the best place we'd stayed all trip) and spent the afternoon having a lazy nap. A very casual dinner was grabbed from the pub next door and we happily spent the evening with our feet up, doing not very much at all!
Day 7 - 15 miles: Kinlochleven to Fort William
And so the final day dawned. After an exceptionally good breakfast at our B&B, and a quick stop at the co-op across the road for a lunchtime sandwich, we headed out of town. Almost immediately we had a hill, which gave the Devil's Staircase a run for its money. As always, our way was dotted with bridges, burns, little waterfalls and mossy trees. Quintessential highland terrain.
At the top of the hill, we followed an old military road that continued into the descending mist along a valley between two high hills on either side. The mist gradually turned to rain and wet weather gear was called for once again. While blue skies would have made an incredible backdrop, there was something very atmospheric about the rain and swirling clouds. Old stone ruins would emerge spookily and the sense of old tales lingered over them. It was easy to imagine highlanders from hundreds of years before galloping horses along the track swathed in faded tartan.
That image almost became reality when, having stopped for a short break, a young man came strolling along the path. He wore a button down shirt, tartan tie, full kilt with sporran, a Harris tweed waistcoat and blazer, long woollen socks, an old fashioned haversack on his back and a shepherd's crook as a walking pole. The only nod to modernity was his hiking boots, but even they looked the part.
As the sun came out, we left the barren scenery behind us and instead were faced with what looked like a scorched earth policy put into practice. Warning signs earlier in the path had said that the way was closed and that a diversion had been put in place. The path was now reopened but it was easy to see why it had been closed. Forestry operations had felled hundreds and hundreds of trees, which lay strewn across the path. In places we had to scramble over the fallen logs. While the smell of pine was lovely, the site was horrible and a far cry from the pretty plantation we might have been walking through. It wasn't quite the ending we'd hoped for.
We stopped for a picnic on two of the tree stumps, before heading up a final hill. We could have diverted off to see an ancient iron age fort, but we'd reached the stage where we just wanted to take our boots off. With views of Ben Nevis ahead of us, we began our final descent down to Fort William on a wide forest path. Here at least the trees were still standing.
The West Highland Way ends rather drably with a walk along a busy road into town, so we opted for an alternate route that the book suggested. We stayed on the forest path, skirting around cow hill and only dropped down into the town at the last minute. Our final short stretch was along the bustling high street until we found the West Highland Way end sign. We saw many of our fellow walkers there, all getting their pictures taken. We chatted to a few, although I found that we'd met fewer people on this walk than I had on the coast to coast. I'm not sure why, but there just didn't seem to be the same bonhomie as I'd experienced before.
But we settled down for a pint at the Ben Nevis arms with a couple of them and toasted our achievement. The bar kindly (and with a hint of clever marketing) gave us free certificates acknowledging our success. And that was it. A final walk to find our accommodation for the night. A final menu featuring haggis, black pudding and sticky toffee pudding. A final bottle of wine and a final single malt. Our Scottish adventure had ended.
So would I recommend it?
It's a great trail with some incredible scenery. You get a mix of lochs, moors and mountains. It's relatively easy and there is accommodation, wild camping and plenty of food stops on the way. I just wish it didn't follow the road for as much of it as it does. It didn't feel as wild and as remote as I had hoped. That said, it's still worth doing. And if you're short on time, I'd recommend starting at Tyndrum and heading north as those are the best bits scenery wise. I'd also make sure you go when the midges aren't out as EVERYONE mentioned them.
Distance: 11.8 miles (although I missed the last 0.8 as a friend picked me up for a coffee...)
Type: Urban to rural
Terrain: Riverside path, fields, some roads and some muddy bits
I am lucky enough to live just outside the York City Walls. The downside about living in the city though, is that I typically have to get in my car to drive to some countryside for my walks. But I recently discovered that the Centenary Way starts right outside the York Minster, a mere five minutes walk from my house.
The Centenary Way was created to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the York County Council and was opened in 1989. It runs from York to Filey on the North Yorkshire coast, spanning 83 miles. Besides the Minster and Sheriff Hutton Castle, both of which are in this first part of the walk, it also includes the Howardian Hills and Yorkshire Wolds, letting you see Castle Howard and the abandoned medieval village of Wharram Percy. It links up the Foss Way, Yorkshire Wolds Way and Cleveland Way.
I confess that I was unsure of what to expect. Some of York's residential areas aren't exactly uplifting for the soul. I didn't really fancy an urban walk, but I headed out from the Minster after being pelted by a snow storm. The forecast was strong winds and they weren't wrong. The walk around the Minster is one I know well, starting from the Southern transept, heading down Chapter House Street and the haunted Treasurers House, before going along Ogleforth (so named as Vikings found owls living along a river there - I've been told - ogle meaning owl.) You pass beneath Monk Bar, one of the ancient city gates, cross busy Lord Mayor's Walk and then head down a little lane past a not very attractive car park. This is what I feared.
But that experience was short lived. I quickly found myself walking through the Groves, a residential area with a pretty snickelway running through it. Before long I popped out on Huntingdon road and got to walk along the Foss River.
I am amazed at how quickly you felt as though you weren't in a city anymore. Yes there were houses lining each side of the path, the Foss can be a bit grotty in places and the Nestle Factory is hardly a rural idyll (although the chocolate fragrance wafting overhead was lovely), but it was a peaceful, tree-lined river walk.
All the way from New Earswick to the outer ring road, the river was lined with houses that were lucky enough to have gardens with water frontage. Again, I wasn't aware that all these properties existed. There was so much green space and I was still in the city!
After walking along the river for a good distance, I finally ducked under the outer ring road where it immediately felt more rural despite walking past Earswick, another suburban village. The wild weather kept coming - intense sun one minute, rain, sleet and bitter winds the next. I eventually diverted from the river briefly to head through Haxby and along Towthorpe Road. This was probably the least fun bit as it meant walking on the grass verge alongside the road, with cars rushing by.
But it didn't last long and I headed off across fields once again in the direction of Strensall. I picked up the river again until at last I reached Strensall bridge. This would be a good place to stop if you didn't want too long a walk (about 8 or 9 miles). And there is a pub - The Ship Inn - in Strensall should you need some lunch. And there is a bus that runs back into York right past the pub.
However, I kept on going, following the river for another good long stretch. It's here you can tell that it used to be a canal and according to the guide, also has some Roman remains somewhere along the way. I was too busy dodging the mud to notice, as the path had suddenly turned into a bog.
As I reached an old metal footbridge, I had to veer away from the river, through a wood, across and field and past a farm. By now my feet were starting to hurt. I headed into the pretty village of West Illing and saw that there was just 3/4 of a mile left to Sheriff Hutton. However, I'd arranged for a friend to meet me for a coffee so she scooped me up and we drove that last bit. When a latte and chocolate brownie call, walks end abruptly!
There is a lovely coffee shop in Sheriff Hutton, so it's worth walking there for a spot of lunch or afternoon tea. There is a bus that runs from the village back to York, but it's infrequent so you may need to get a friend to pick you up or call a taxi.
All in all it was a lovely, a very surprising walk that took me from a busy city centre to peaceful, rural countryside, right from my doorstep. If you haven't explored it yet, give it a try.
You can download the entire Centenary Way route for free here