Hiking the West Highland Way

For nearly a year my aunt, Deb, and I have been planning an exciting adventure that will take us from the lowlands near Glasgow to the highlands of Scotland, exploring historic Edinburgh, its nearby lochs, castles and of course the Royal Mile. From this northern point we will head south to explore warmer climates along the Mediterranean while sailing on a 7 night cruise out of Barcelona, Spain. My uncle, Gerry, and cousins DJ and Karen will meet up with us in Edinburgh once we’ve finished hiking the highlands. Alan will be joining the group in Barcelona from where we will set sail on our cruise. Alan’s recent eye surgery effectively cut out his part in our Scottish adventures — no flying for two months. He will be missed, but we’ll post lots of photos.

For the hiking part of the adventure I used a travel service for the first time. Lynne at Walker’s Way was amazingly helpful. She answered dozens of questions, made all of the reservations, planning out each days’ distances, sent us a hiking guide with a great map, an information packet with important info for the journey, and even included baggage transport — which we will happily use — all at one affordable price. She even offers different ranges of packages. Those who can’t do without hotel amenities, she has a package for you too! If you’re considering taking a walk through Scotland, I highly recommend Lynne at Walker’s Way for assistance in planning a great trip.

The weather in Scotland is supposed to be best in April. It is also the time of year with the fewest pests to worry about. I’m not really even sure what a midge is, but scratching and itching my way through Scotland is not the romantic image I had in mind, so April. And this April apparently we will see a wee bit of snow . . . or so I am desperately hoping that it will be just a wee bit.

To make sure that the days are not reminiscent of the three years we lived in Fairbanks, Alaska with temperatures into the negative 100s (including the wind chill factor) I have changed up my normal hiking gear to include some warmer items for hiking in cooler temperatures.

The following list is all that I plan to bring for 27 days of travel through four countries and varying weather conditions.

CLOTHING

 

Mountain Warehouse 4 Way Womens Stretch Convertible Trousers (from catalog)

My hiking pants from Mountain Warehouse are starting to see some serious wear (this photo is from their website), but they are comfortable and offer light water resistance as well as flexibility as they also convert to shorts if a miracle happens and it’s warm. These have seen me through 2 treks on the Camino de Santiago and too many day adventures to count.

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When my sister visited in August of 2017, she brought me several pairs of LuLaRoe leggings. While they have quite wild designs, they are warm and comfortable and will be perfect as a base layer to keep my legs warm, plus they can double as pajamas.

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Since this trip is not just about hiking but doing touristy things while in Edinburgh and Barcelona plus all the ports of call while on our cruise, so I plan to toss in an old pair of jeans for casual comfort. One of these will get packed, the other will probably join me in Barcelona courtesy of the husband who has offered to bring me some non-hiking things for the cruise!

 

A new item for this hike are the Pakka Waterproof Overtrousers, also by Mountain Warehouse. I found them online at Amazon for €19 + shipping. I ordered them a size larger than I needed to make sure they would fit over my hiking pants and my hiking boots. They have taped seams and side slits that allow access to pockets. Though honestly, I didn’t care for the color options. I like my hiking stuff to be primarily grey with tops in varying colors, but navy blue was the only option in my size at this price. I could have paid three times more and purchased the grey ones, but not for something I’ll likely wear only for this trip.

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I picked up a couple of new short-sleeved hiking tops by Quechua from Decathlon (€4 each). I love this brand. Everything is affordable and there are different price structures but even their entry-level gear is a quality product that will do the job. I’ll use these as a base layer on warmer days.

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A couple of new long-sleeved hiking tops were also picked up at Decathlon. One by Quechua and the other by Kalenji. Kalenji is another brand offering quality products at affordable prices. These will work as a base layer on cold days.

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About 10 years ago I purchased a light-weight jacket by Calvin Klein. While quite old, it is still an amazingly warm for a super light-weight jacket. I plan to use it as an additional base layer if the weather gets really cold.

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Another new purchase for this trip was a new polar fleece by Quechua. The body length and sleeve length are a bit longer and will offer just a touch more coverage for keeping warm.

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Several years ago I invested in a nice rain jacket by Quechua. It is perfect for hiking as it not only keeps rain out, but also has vents for cooling off when you get too warm and has a hat stored in the collar. This will be perfect for rainy or snowy days. It also rolls up small enough to store in my day pack if I don’t need it.

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I did pick up new socks by Artengo. My older hiking socks have seen a LOT of miles and it was just time for some new ones. These are not quite as high tech as the ones I used on the Camino, but this hike is only 7 days long, not 42!

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I will also bring along a pair ski gloves. I believe these are also from Decathlon, though I honestly don’t remember as I’ve had them for years.

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My Tilley mesh hat that Alan got me years ago for our first Camino will accompany me on this trip as well as a knitted hat that I made myself. Again, not exactly sure how warm/cold the weather may get once we are underway.

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As the weather is so changeable I borrowed a fleece scarf from Alan. The lighter weight “pretty” ones that I use here in France are great for mild weather, but this trip is about staying warm and comfortable. Apparently I’ll be bringing a bit of our dog, Lou, along with me. He laid on top of the scarf before I took the photo and now there is dog hair all over the scarf!

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My boots for this trip are a replacement for the Quechua hiking boots I used on three trips along the Camino de Santiago. I literally wore them out. These were purchased in 2017 and have some miles on them, but they are well broke in and will work well for this hike, especially if we run into anything wet.

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I used to have a great pair of hiking sandals that I bought on our first Camino in Spain. These Teva’s are an acceptable replacement. Our dog, Lou, ate the other ones. He’s worked on these a bit as well until he got in trouble and I sprayed with with the bottle of water that I keep on hand for his naughtiness. He HATES being wet!

GEAR

Forclaz 500 Light Soft Blue/White by Quechua
Forclaz 500 Light Soft Blue/White by Quechua

These hiking poles by Quechua have a lot of miles on them, but with the addition of the nordic tips they barely have any wear. Since we don’t know what weather conditions we’ll face until we arrive, I’ll just tuck these into my pack and plan to use them for whatever conditions we encounter.

QUECHUA FORCLAZ EASYFIT 50 WOMEN'S HIKING RUCKSACK

Another Quechua product, this one is the Forclaz 50-litre with comfort fit straps with more than enough space to toss in my smaller day pack. I can honestly say this is the most comfortable pack I have ever owned. While it was in the high-end price range of all the available options at Decathlon, it was still very affordable at €89. My favorite feature is the adjustment straps that allow me to carry the weight at either the waist or hips. For long distance hikes the flexibility is perfect.

Black Diamond "Bullet" day pack
Black Diamond “Bullet” Day Pack

In 2014 while hiking the Camino with my aunt, I came across a small Black Diamond Bullet daypack on the donation table, I’ve used it ever since as an everyday carry bag. (Many people over pack and end up leaving behind things that they don’t truly need to carry with them, we’ve seen a copy of War and Peace, and motorcycle boots among the discarded items!)

15° Light Hiking Sleeping Bag, Blue by Quechua
15° Light Hiking Sleeping Bag, Blue by Quechua

My sleeping bag, originally purchased for our 2013 trek to Santiago, lightweight and warm. It packs super small comes with a stuff sack that allows lots of compression so it can pack into a really small space. Another great Quechua product!

 

Platypus Hoser 2 liter water bladder
Platypus Hoser 2 liter water bladder (Decathlon Catalog)

Water is a must and 2 litres is just about the right size for all day hiking for me. I prefer to use a bladder rather than a bottle for hiking and this one should work quite well. My older one had a few features I liked better (such as the very large filling spot at the top of the unit) but it has apparently been discontinued. 😦 This one is also from Decathlon.

TOILETRIES

 

Nabaiji Microfiber Towel (from Decathlon  catalog)

While absolutely nothing dries as well as a standard bath towel. My lightweight, microfiber towel by Nabaiji (Decathlon), is quick-drying and folds up nice and small.

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A favorite since our first hike, the shampoo bars by Lush are a staple in my hiking gear. I can use them as a body soap and in a pinch they can be used for laundry as well. My favorite plus with these is that they also have a great orange scent that makes the clothes in my pack smell good.

IMPORTANT STUFF

 

I plan to bring along my iPod for both audio and the camera, my Kindle Fire, and iPhone, notebook, pen, wallet, passport and French “Carte de Sejour” ID in case there are any questions about how long I’ve been in Europe*. It isn’t usually necessary, but I have been asked about it while flying before, so better safe than sorry. *The EU allows tourists 90 days of travel before requiring a visa. Since Alan and I live in France full-time, our passports do not have recent entry dates in them which calls into question our length of stay, hence the reason for traveling with our visa card ID.

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By using Walker’s Way for the planning of the hike I also received a great “go” package with a list of the places we’re staying, directions to each of those locations, distances for each days hike already planned out, an information package with emergency and other important numbers, brochures for Ben Nevis and the Isle of Skye which has transit info, and a guide book. Alan had already purchased a guide book for us to peruse while waiting for the big day. What normally happens with multiple guidebooks is that it is too difficult to choose just one, so if there is space, I will bring both. If not, I will go with the one provided by Lynne since it is smaller but has a more detailed map section.

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As this particular trip is made up of three distinctly different parts, I also have a file folder with tickets, boarding passes, luggage tags, maps, confirmations, reservations and the like. As well as an itinerary for each part, the hike, exploring Edinburgh, and the cruise. Whoever first said, “Go big or go home” had my family in mind! This is definitely a “Go Big” vacation!

These items should easily cover all my needs for an extended vacation, and everything fits neatly into my 50 litre pack, however it weighs in at 23.7 lbs. (10.75 kilo), nearly double my preferred hiking pack. Thanks again to Lynne at Walker’s Way for the foresight to include baggage transfer in our package!

Featured photo by Paul Lucas from Leicestershire, UK – The Cuillins on a Still Morning, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30789425

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