The West Highland Way (WHW) is a walking path that starts in Glasgow, Scotland and ends 96 miles later in Fort William, Scotland. It was the adventure of a lifetime, and I highly recommend this route as an option for families seeking an international destination that centers around hiking. My kids were 13, 11, and 10 when we hiked it.
One of the most family friendly aspects of this trail is that it naturally meanders through or very close to small Scottish towns along its route. It opens the door to many more lodging opportunities than simply camping. All it took was looking at the average rainfall in the Scottish Highlands to convince ourselves that lodging each night in a different town was the way we wanted to tackle this thru hike! Because our kids were well rested each morning from sleeping in a bed versus a tent, they were able to hike the trail in 8 days without trouble. This certainly isn’t a trip for kids who have never set foot on a trail, but it is definitely doable for those who have some hiking experience.
We hiked the WHW with some dear family friends, and since they are incredibly busy business owners of Hazelwood Soap Company, the most wonderful soap shop in all the land, they hired a guide service to book their accommodations and luggage transfers. I, on the other hand, had a bit more time to research the same information (and if the truth be known, I enjoy it!), so my family went the DIY route with bookings.
It was interesting exercise, comparing the value of each option. My takeaway is this: If you are self disciplined enough to plan ahead, have a little extra time to devote to the project, and want to save some money, the DIY route is absolutely feasible. If, however, you would like to hire a service to do the work for you, Wilderness Scotland is who our friends used and they were pleased with the service they received. Here is a listing of many other companies doing the same thing.
How much money do you save by doing it yourself? By my calculations and estimations, I believe we saved anywhere between 40-50% by doing it ourselves, when you look at the cost per person breakdown. Now there is a caveat to this: The booking service our friends used was very generous with room bookings and gave the parents of this family their own room each night, and the kids had two rooms to spread out in. Our family of five usually had two rooms to spread out in, but a couple of places allowed us to bring in roll away beds so we could all squeeze in one room. While this approach certainly saved us money, it didn’t always save our sanity at the end of a long day of hiking together! Regardless, the DIY method certainly saved us a nice chunk of change to put towards our next adventure!
Resources for Planning Your West Highland Way Thru Hike
Below are the various resources I used for planning our hike, along with the specific accommodations we used in each town. Many of these towns are small and have limited lodging options, and many of them book up early (especially the well rated ones), so I highly recommend doing your research several months in advance of your hike.
This book was an invaluable resource both with planning and walking the WHW. It listed lodging and dining options in each town and was small enough to easily carry with us on our hike. The maps are hand drawn and so they won’t help you much if you’re lost, but they are sufficient for a broad overview of the trail sections and the towns you’ll walk through along the way.
In addition to this book, The West Highland Way’s official website lists towns the Way passes through and a few select accommodations in each. Their list is by no means exhaustive though, and I actually used this website’s accommodation listings a bit more to research our options.
Of course, websites like Trip Advisor are also a great resource too, and I usually checked each place I was considering in their forums before I booked.
One last resource I used to research quality of the accommodations is The Scottish Tourist Board’s website. While it was not overly intuitive to use as a starting point, I would check the star rating of any inn I was booking, if it was included in their listings.
When you are booking accommodations, pay attention to the location. After a long day of walking, the last thing you want to do is tack another couple of miles to your journey if the inn is on the outskirts of town. Some of these towns are tiny, and taxis may not always be easy to find!
The specific inns we stayed in are as follows:
Premier Inn (Milgavnie) This is a chain hotel, but I was most impressed with the customer service, comfort of the accommodations, and the price. We were treated to a free breakfast, and if I had one criticism, it’s that the quality isn’t as good as some of the independent B&Bs where we stayed. But overall we were very pleased.
The Hawthorne Inn (Drymen) The owners of this inn are especially kind and accommodating. They even provide free use of the washer and dryer (most places charge for this, if they even offer it). The breakfast was wonderful and the accommodations were cozy. While Drymen is about a 10-minute walk off the WHW, the inn is located in the center of this small town, providing easy access to restaurants.
Hotel Rowardennan (Loch Lomond) This hotel sits directly on Loch Lomond and is the only game in town for lodging and eating, at least for several more miles. The rooms felt newly renovated and were quite comfortable. The food was pretty good too.
Drover’s Inn (Inverarnan) This hotel was built in 1705 and I’m pretty sure they haven’t renovated it since then! It was also quite expensive for the lackluster accommodations it offered. It’s certainly a legendary place to have a beer and eat, but I’d highly recommend booking across the street at the Beinglas Farm.
Best Western (Crianlarich) Obviously a chain hotel option, so it lacked the charm of an inn, but it was fine for the short time we spent in it. There are many B&B/inn options in this town, but I was too late to book them and this what was left!
Inveroran Inn (Bridge of Orchy) We loved the charm and coziness of this inn, and the dinner and breakfast were both outstanding. Our friends stayed in the Bridge of Orchy Hotel, which is the only other lodging option in this area, and it was quite posh!
Clachaig Inn (Glencoe Village) This is a fairly famous inn for mountaineers and it’s also where Hagrid’s Hut was located in the Harry Potter movies! They also have an extensive bar menu which was sooo much fun choosing from that night!
Edencoille Inn (Kinlochleven) This was a cozy inn but the owners didn’t match the setting! They were a bit aloof and we didn’t feel overly welcome staying there, but it was a good night’s sleep before the last day of the hike!
Craiglinnhe Court Apartment (Fort William) This was the deal of the century! This is not an apartment, but an incredibly well-appointed house which sits behind the Myrtle Bank Guest House. It includes breakfast in the inn, and we shook our heads in disbelief at how nice this house was in comparison to the rate we paid, which was one of the lowest for the entire week! Definitely check it out if it’s still this affordable and available (we paid $200) as it’s the perfect place to end your journey!
Baggage Transfer Services
One of the best ideas ever invented for the West Highland Way is the baggage transfer industry. These companies shuttle your luggage for a very reasonable fee to each place you’re lodging as you hike the WHW. Your bags are tagged and left in a specific area of the place you’re lodging (and all these inns know the drill since most people use these services), picked up each morning by the company you hire, and then are waiting for you at your next stop. Think of them like a sherpa on wheels! Since we traveled to London before our hike started, which required different clothing and such, this was an invaluable resource. If we had camped along the way, this wouldn’t have been quite as appealing to us, but if you plan to lodge in towns, it’s money well spent.
Now as a side note, just because you have the luxury of shuttling your luggage, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hike each day without a sufficiently equipped day pack. Read this post for what you should always have in your backpack when you go on a hike, and the West Highland Way is no exception!
We used AMS Scotland and were very pleased with their customer service before the hike as well as their accountability during it. Our bags were always waiting on us and in good condition. There are many other companies that do the same thing and the West Highland Way’s official website lists some of them.
If you plan to stay in Glencoe Village, breaking up one of the longest stretches of the WHW, you’ll need to hire a taxi service to take you from the Kingshouse Hotel, unless you plan to lodge in their newly built bunkhouse.
The Kingshouse Hotel (which is closed for renovations as of 2017-2018, and your only option for lodging here in the bunkhouse) has a wonderful cafe called the Way Inn that is a welcome respite from the elements, if you’re suffering from them like we were as we passed through. It’s also the perfect place to enjoy a brew or coffee while waiting for you taxi.
It is recommended to book your taxi service early, if you’re hiking in the high season, since there are many walkers needing their services. We used Alistair’s Taxi Services, and while he was affordably priced, he was very grumpy and even condescending to us. The next morning, he was a bit more pleasant, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he was just having a rough day. He apparently has the most competitive rates.
The Way Inn employees told us that they keep a list of taxi services they can call on, so it’s possible that you could wait until you arrive to book one. The benefit to booking in advance is knowing you have a guaranteed ride (it’s about a 20 minute drive to Glencoe). The downside to reserving a ride is having to guess at when you’ll need them to show up, since they like to prebook the pickup time.
Of course, now that the bunkhouse is open for business while the Kingshouse hotel is being renovated, you could always just make life simple and stay there instead of setting up a taxi!
Getting to Scotland
One of my favorite aspects of planning a trip is booking the airline tickets! Before you deem me insane for enjoying what is often the most expensive of traveling, take note that my family never pays for airline tickets, other than taxes and fuel surcharges. We travel exclusively on airline points that we earn from various credit card sign up bonuses and the everyday spending we put on them afterward (but we always pay them in full each month!).
So what’s the best way to get to Scotland on points, based on our experience? United Airline miles we earned on our Chase Sapphire credit card. We were able to book 2 one-way tickets at the lowest tier of points bookings, in the high tourist season.
We flew from Asheville to London, played tourist in England for a few days, and then took a train to Glasgow. When we finished hiking the WHW, we took a train back to Glasgow and flew from Glasgow to Asheville to return home.
If we had bought these tickets, it would have cost us $9000 (which means we never could have taken this trip). Instead, we paid about $750 in taxes (international point tickets typically ding you with taxes) and were treated to flying out of a more expensive regional airport with 2 one-way tickets so we could extend the geographical reach of our big trip.
Go to this page on my website to learn more about the Chase Sapphire card, if you’re interested in signing up and getting the bonus as well as the ongoing points from everyday spending (and when I say “everyday spending,” I mean everything from a pack of gum to a piece of furniture–we put anything we can on a credit card to earn those points, and then make sure we always pay it off at the end of the month to avoid interest charges). The Chase Sapphire card is ideal for spending on a trip to Europe as well, since international transaction fees are waived (this can be a huge savings).
I can’t say enough good things about earning points on credit cards to travel for nearly free, and I’m honored to help folks on an individual basis for as long as I can, if you need some pointers based on your own trip to Scotland. Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to bounce your ideas or questions off of me.
Miscellaneous Planning Tips
This is a great website to help figure out where the dreaded midges may attack (they are small biting insects that can be incredibly annoying if they are in large numbers where you’re hiking). The product this website promotes, Smidge, is worth its weight in gold if you run into these little buggers! It was very effective in preventing them from biting and it smelled nice too! It needed to be reapplied often, so take that into consideration. One bottle lasted my family of five the entire hike.