Walking the West Highland Way (well some of it) was incredible. However, it’s been a sore spot since I didn’t get to complete it. There were so much anticipation and excitement beforehand. It was an anti-climax when I had to come back early and take one long ol’ train journey home! Still, I’m a reflective soul and so now that some months have passed, I tend to feel more positive about the overall experience.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing!
I’ll always remember that dramatic mountain scenery, misty hills, clear blue skies, the highland cows, the hellos along the way, the stories we exchanged with friends and that long arse ‘scramble’ around the edges of Loch Lomond on day 2.
Since I’m not one for glossing over outdoor experiences, I thought I’d put a post together on some of the things I’ve learned along the way.
Oh, and I will be back to finish the West Highland Way.
1. Only go in well walked in hiking boots.
It’s probably an obvious one but I completely overlooked it. My hiking boots had fallen to bits (bad care on my part) and I bought some new ones 2 weeks before I was meant to go… Although I’d walked about 50 miles in them, it just wasn’t enough. Queue blisters – not fun.
2. Apply plasters as soon as feet begin to rub.
It’s that whole prevention rather than cure method. I’m stubborn. I’ll insist on fixing my feet when they get really painful in which case, it’s too late because all I thought of, even with plasters on, was how painful my blisters were.
3. Take more socks than you’ll think you’ll need.
My biggest mistake was not taking enough of them. I wish I’d taken a fresh pair for every day. When feet perspire, bacteria hangs around and if you don’t clean them (antiseptic gel is best) nor change your socks then infections happen. It took me a few weeks to get rid of mine! Not the socks, they walked out of the door on their own. 😉 My second mistake was choosing ones that have polyester in them as they are more likely to rub (which they did). Since then I’ve discovered Bridegale socks.
3. It’s probably best to get a luggage transfer.
I don’t know why I decided that I wanted to carry a 60L sack of stuff when there was a luggage transfer option. Maybe I was trying to prove a point? Again I’m stubborn. Even though I packed light compared to everyone else, I spent more time thinking about my load than the amazing scenery around me.
4. Don’t wander around in bare feet in the dark.
I’m all for grounding / earthing but actually in the dark, on the edge of a loch, whilst having another 70ish mile to go is not clever. I picked up glass in my foot whilst soaking my already sore and blistered feet. It meant after another 15 miles or so the next day without knowing about the glass, I had to take a long and shameful journey home. Let flipflops be your friend.
5. Don’t compare yourself to others.
My friends Jenni and Zoe were amazing. I was mega impressed since they had heavier packs and could walk much faster than me. Early on I found myself wondering why I wasn’t able to do the same and it only got worse. I discovered those dreaded mind monkeys! I’m not one for comparing myself (usually) but it was interesting to see how my mind and body when in a state of stress reverted back to type. It’s something I’m aware of and will need to work on. My friends were supportive and encouraging but you’ve to walk your own path.
6. The West Highland Way shouldn’t be your first long-distance hike.
This is my personal preference. I’d say that if you’re going to get the best out of the 100 miles then you’re able to walk more than 15 miles a day for more than a weekend, with hills comfortably. I wasn’t. I was exhausted after 3 days and Conic Hill made me cry.
7. Being unprepared can cost you your life.
I’m not at all organised. I think I started packing 2 days before the West Highland Way and actually, it should have been done months before or at least, involved lists. Out of everything, I forgot a head torch! It wasn’t fun being among the Highlands with light fading fast (because I was walking too slow with really painful and a glassy foot) and relying on the other two to guide me with their torches. To think if I’d been on my own, I would have been in trouble!
8. You’ll eat more than you think but eating light is much better in the long run.
I soon realised that eating heavy made me lethargic. Even though I was burning off the carbs, there is such a thing as too many carbs. My mistake was panicking that I’d be hungry of an evening, and so went over the top at lunch stops. I should have brought many more snacks and learned the art of snacking on the go.
9. Water pouches rock!
Ok I looked like I had udders but actually, the one good thing I can say about walking some of the West Highland Way is that I was always hydrated. Having bottles in your rucksack is a good backup but you’re less inclined to stop and get them, so you end up thirsty which leads to tiredness and mistakes.
10. October is really the best time for hardly no midges.
I don’t think I could have contended with bad feet and being bitten! There was one section of the loch that we had midges, albeit lazy. I don’t think I would like the West Highland Way in the height of summer – I don’t like walking in the heat. Autumn was scenic and mild.
11. Dried Food is your friend.
I wish I’d taken more outdoor food. I have gifted some vegan camp specials from Firepot and they were delicious. I especially liked them as you add water to the pack and there’s no washing up. Don’t scrimp on the camp food.
12. I was right to splash out on a good lightweight tent.
I spent months researching tents and went for a F10 Helium 2. It was waterproof, easy to put up (although I should have spent a little longer practicing beforehand) and pack away. The only downside was it wasn’t that quick drying.
13. I took enough clothes (bar the socks).
I packed two pairs of trousers (one waterproof), 3 tops, a base layer top and bottoms, and my luxury item was a pair of fluffy night socks as my feet get extra cold.
14. My Jetboil was the best thing I’d ever bought.
Honestly, no faff, light to carry, food is ready in a few minutes and I find the Jetboil gas lasts really well!
15. It was a wise decision to put my phone in flight mode.
They say it helps your battery to last longer and it worked for me. Although I’d packed a power pack, I had ample amount of battery life to take lots of pictures and the odd check-in text.
So there you have it, some of my reflections. I always feel comforted when I’ve learned from the experience. If you’d like to read a more slow and scenic encounter of walking the West Highland Way, you’ll enjoy this.
I’d love to know if you’ve walked the WHW or indeed any other trail which you’ve learned about yourself during.