West Highland Way Day 1: Crianlarich to Bridge of Orchy

Hilleberg Soulo wild camp on West Highland Way

The astute amongst you will note that the title of this post says ‘Day 1’ but does not start in Milngavie, which is where the West Highland Way traditionally starts if you are doing it south to north. This is because I had only 4 days available to me, and as that wasn’t enough to walk the entire route, I decided to walk what I perceive as the best part of the West Highland Way.

I took the sleeper train up from London Euston on Sunday night, arriving early in the morning in Crianlarich. The last time I had taken the sleeper to Crianlarich it was to packraft to Perth, but this time I had no packraft. I still had a reasonably heavy pack, however. I was determined to carry all of my own equipment, and both wild camp and camp in recognised sites along the way. The weather forecast wasn’t ideal on a couple of days, leading me to leave my planned shelter (the Hilleberg Enan) at home and bring my heaviest shelter, the Hilleberg Soulo. Whilst this resulted in a heavy pack to carry the 50 miles or so to Fort William, it meant I was prepared for just about anything. This did turn out to be a good decision.

Crianlarich is not directly on the West Highland Way, you need to take a steep path up through the trees opposite the station (signposted West Highland Way) for about 1km before you reach a finger post that directs you onto the way proper. This path is quite a shock to the system when you’ve just stepped off a warm sleeper train and I was soon puffing my way to the top. Being October, it was also still pretty dark, which meant it wasn’t that easy to see within the woods. However eventually the path emerges from the trees and there were pleasant views to the surrounding hills.

The path continues to wind through the trees, eventually reaching a bridge over a small burn, turning right back down towards the A82. The crossing is just north of Ewich House B&B. This was a bit odd for me, as I had stayed there just two weeks previously on my return from my packrafting trip to Assynt. As an aside here, the B&B is really very good. It’s run by a friendly Swiss couple who have a dog called Ellie. They were very happy for me to dry my tent and gear in their garden, the rooms were very clean and the breakfast was delicious. I have no relationship with them, but I do recommend them!

After crossing the A82 the path winds briefly away from the road through farmland towards Auchtertyre, a tiny hamlet that also has acommodation (camping in your own tent or they also have pods that you can stay in). There is also a shop there, which advertises hot and cold drinks, bacon rolls, etc. I had no reason to go in, but it looked nice from the outside.

After passing through Auchtertyre, the path once again crosses the A82, which does require some caution. It then follows the River Fillian. The path is easy to follow as it very well waymarked.

The path eventually climbs up through a wooded area and emerges in the small town of Tyndrum. Tyndrum has plenty of cafes and a shop, and is a good place to stop for breakfast. I stopped at the Real Food Cafe for some breakfast, enjoying a bacon roll and a coffee, before heading back out into the rain. The path now heads uphill for several kilometres, the A82 and the railway line never far away, which to be honest does spoil this section a bit. As you climb, Beinn Odhar and Beinn Dorain will come into view. On the day I chose, they were shrouded in cloud and the rain continued to fall as I plodded my way torwards Bridge of Orchy.

The path continues ahead for some time, and as I continued my feet were starting to ache and I was experiencing some unpleasant chafing, which I will spare you the details of. I was therefore grateful to see the first buildings appear as I neared Bridge of Orchy. Soon I was passing under the railway and down the street towards the Bridge of Orchy Hotel. My plan tonight was to wild camp, and although I had bought one freeze dried meal for emergencies, I was hoping not to need it on this trip. I enjoyed fish and chips and a couple of drinks in their very nice dining room, unfortunately leaving a puddle around my table where my pack, coat, me and everything else I owned had dripped onto the floor. The staff were excellent though and I recommend the place. There are also rooms available and there is a fresh water tap by the main entrance.

I planned to camp near a small hill around 2km north of Bridge of Orchy known as Mam Carraigh. It was a good job that it wasn’t much further as my body was telling me it was time to stop. I crossed the river where some kayakers were preparing for some white water fun, and headed up through the trees. When I reached the area, the grass was quite high and it took a while to find a place that might be suitable. As I pitched my Hilleberg Soulo, grateful that I had taken the time to replace the worn out pole elastics after my last trip, I felt I would have a wonky pitch and an uncomfortable night. Once I got in I was surprised to find the pitch was almost perfectly level. The weather was a bit moody though, with clouds passing by almost level with me, which considering I wasn’t pitched that high gave me a clue the weather was not going to be great over the next few hours. Indeed it wasn’t. Although not at all windy, the rain got harder and soon I was in my dry clothes huddled under my quilt reading my kindle. In old money I think I walked around 15 miles on this first day and my body was feeling it.

I fell asleep easily and slept until around 2am, when I heard the unmistakable bellow of a red deer that was so close I was startled awake. I could hear the animal walking through the grass, making the bellows and gruffs to other deer that sounded much further away. In October, the animals are rutting and full of testosterone. They are unpredictable wild animals at any time, but at this time of the year more so. I felt that in my tent, where I was at least not identifiable as a human being I was probably safe, but I was relieved when the deer finally moved away almost an hour later. I fell back asleep and was surprised to wake as it was getting light at almost 8am.

Of the four stages I walked, I will be honest and say I found this one a bit underwhelming. There is a lot of walking near roads or railway lines, and a lot of time is spent in woodland or farmland. It was still a nice walk, but I think if I did this again I would probably do three days and start at Bridge of Orchy, as the walk really does get much better after this.

My plan for Day 2 was to walk from here to the Glencoe Mountain Resort, where I had booked a pitch for the night. This turned out to be quite a night! If you’d like to read about Day 2 please click here.

I used the excellent Harvey Maps West Highland Way strip map for this walk.

There is also an excellent Cicerone guide to the West Highland Way, which you can purchase at the below link. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. This costs you no more and helps me to maintain the site. Thank you.

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