Broken Road on the West Highland Way

The West Highland Way is really a walking route, so when Chris suggested that we cycle it, I was a bit skeptical. I do a bit of road biking but not much mountain biking and even then, only really in the last few months to train for this trip! I read a few blogs written by people who had ridden it and they were pretty mixed reviews; some saying it was really hard, others saying it just had hard sections. So, I agreed - it sounded like a good challenge!

So, off we went to the start in Milngavie, parked the van outside the police station and got the bikes loaded up. We packed fairly light weight, both with a Big Papa, Possum and a Fuel Pod (filled with lots of snacks!). The forecast was looking pretty good for the following few days. As we set off, this was holding true and it was very sunny. The start is pretty easy to find- there’s a big archway saying ‘West Highland Way’ and the whole route is signposted. Even so, we managed to cycle straight past the signs and had to back track!

The first day, we were heading to the youth hostel just outside of Rowardennan. This was about 27 miles so our shortest day.It started off pretty well, mainly flat, easy riding. This carried on for about 16 miles and we made good time, stopping for a few snack/wee breaks occasionally. And the sun was still shining! Then came Conic Hill which is the first big climb you come across. It was a mixture of pushing and riding but didn’t go on for too long. The views from the top were awesome and made for an excellent lunch stop.

The route then drops you straight down on to the shores of Loch Lomond; it’s a pretty steep decent and there were a lot of people around enjoying the sun. This resulted in me mainly walking and Chris waiting at the bottom. At this point it felt like we were on the home straight, with about 8 more miles to go before the hostel. The track was beautiful and there were lots of people out in the sun. We stopped and had a much-needed ice cream break. I was quite tired and very hungry by this point, the track was very up and downy which meant some pushing and some riding. We finally made it to the hostel 4ish and had some celebratory Malteasers. The hostel was lovely with a big garden going all the way down to the loch. It also had a turret!

Day 2 started well - nice and sunny again. The trail was lovely with lots of bluebells and we were right down by the shoreline. Again, it was a bit stop start. There were a quite a few steps and precarious bridges to get across. I was just pushing down some steps to a nice little bridge when I got a puncture! Not just a small puncture but a big rip which caused all the air, and quite a bit of sealant, to come out pretty sharpish.

A stuck valve, two broken pumps and an hour later, we had to give up and push all the way to the Inversnaid Hotel. We were a bit subdued: if we couldn’t get the tyre to stay up we were going to have to give up. When we reached the hotel, we accosted some workmen for their pliers and managed to get the valve off. Next, we needed a working pump! Fortunately, Chris discovered a knack to get the broken one work! Phew!

By this point it was about half one, and we hadn’t covered much ground. The next part of the trail was apparently very difficult with lots of carrying your bike over big rocks and waterfalls. But, there was an option to get the ferry across the loch and cycle up the road. As we were behind, we went for the ferry option.

We got back on the trail and cycled along a lovely river with some really nice pools. They looked very welcoming and if we had more time, we would have probably had a swim! The track was rocky but quite easy riding. I lost my flip flops along this section, they were attached to the top of my Big Papa and must have rattled loose! Luckily, they were returned to me by another cyclist the next morning. The whole trail to Bridge of Orchy is pretty rideable, with a few short pushes. After a long, but very beautiful day, we arrived at our accommodation around half seven.

This turned out to be a hostel in the old station building, on the actual platform, which was pretty cool! The platform is still in use but very quiet. It’s a brilliant idea to keep the old building in use. We had a much-needed awesome meal in the hotel down the road that was much needed.

Day 3 started with a full fry up at the hotel and again, brilliant sunshine. This was the hottest day and also the toughest! It started off with a hill (which I mostly had to push up) then a fun ride down the other side. The first half of the day was rideable, with a long stretch up on Rannoch Moor and then down into Glencoe, which as always, was stunning.

Chris had to then help rescue a car that had gotten stuck on a rock. I had a sandwich and watched. We saw some deer too! Next came the hard stuff, a big push up Devil’s Staircase - this was hard work and we got overtaken by a walker on a mission! The descent down the other side was tricksy, Chris loved it but I had to walk a couple of sections. Mostly okay, though! I did manage to fall off but on the uphill sections, I kept crashing into big rocks!

We got down into Kinlochleven and had an ice cream, I was pretty pooped at this point but we still had a rough 15 miles to go. A passing walker assured me it was an easy track all the way to Fort William. As it turns out, he was not telling the truth! I think this was the hardest bit for me. As soon as you leave Kinlochleven there is a big climb out that seemed to go on forever. I fell off again trying to ride over a big drainage ditch, adding to my collection of bruises. You get to the top and there’s a big long fire road stretching off into the distance which looks like it should be plain sailing. However, it was covered with hard core and very slippy, making it really hard to get up the hills and get any kind of speed as you would find yourself skidding over. After this eventually ended, it was some nice single track with the occasional push and a fire road down into Fort William! After some searching we managed to find the official end to the route!

It was definitely a challenge and some long days but good fun and amazing scenery, especially with the beautiful weather we had. I would definitely recommend it, but be prepared for all the bike pushing!

By Connie Ceuppens