The West Highland Way: A Short History

Looking back on Loch Lomond towards and the protected woodland

The West Highland Way is now 40 years old and famous around the world. As Scotland’s first official long-distance walking route it has grown and grown in popularity since its inception in 1980. Over the last 40 years thousands have hiked the 96 mile (154km) route, and it continues to attract visitors from far flung places as well as locals returning to walk the route again and again.

Our association with the WHW began in 2011 (in a previous guise) and we run guided West Highland Way treks 6+ times every year. We still love the route and even more so with the fresh perspective provided by a new group as they see the beautiful landscape unfold for the first time.

Approaching Buachaille Etive Mor

Humble Beginnings

Tom Hunter, ex-RAF serviceman and keen hillwalker, from Glasgow came up with the route, partly as a means to protect the eastern shore of Loch Lomond from development. The section of the WHW along Loch Lomond’s shore continues in the ancient woodland that Tom sought to protect. It is a habitat well worth protecting! In the 1970s the route was extensively surveyed on foot by a woman called Fiona Rose (who is said to have worn out a number of hiking boots in the process). In 1974 permission was granted for construction to begin and it was officially opened on 6th October 1980.

The Route

The route has changed slightly over the years; more path has been added to avoid road sections to Rowardennan for example, and it has in fact grown in length. However, the essence of the journey to the highlands has always been the same. 10 years ago the final mile through Fort William was added to the route. Now, instead of ending at a roundabout on the outskirts of town there is an official finish line, complete with an appropriately sore-footed statue. It is also perfectly situated for easy access to a celebratory pint!

The route has many highlights. From the lush green banks of Loch Lomond to the majestic beauty of Buachaille Etive Mor, greeting walkers as they come off Rannoch Moor, there isn’t a bad view between them. Atop the Devil’s Staircase the finish seems close. There you are afforded fine views of the Glencoe and the Mamores mountains, and a glimpse of the Ben to give scale to the achievement.

The finish line!

Endurance and Records

We like to take our time and complete the way in a sensible 7-days. This is achievable for all of reasonable fitness. However, as is the human way people have used the West Highland Way to test their limits of endurance. It only took 5 years before Duncan Watson challenged accomplished hill runner Bob Shields to a race along the route. So was born the West Highland Way Race, which was opened to others in 1986 and continues to this day.

In an incredible time of 13 hours 41 minutes and 8 seconds, Rob Sinclair holds the overall record for running the WHW. The female record stands at 17 hours, 16 minutes and 20 seconds. It belongs to Lucy Colquhoun and has stood for 13 years.

The Future

This year has been a difficult one for many of the business that are built around the West Highland Way. The route however has stood the test of time and its enduring popularity will no doubt help pubs, B&Bs and baggage transfer companies alike to bounce back. We look forward to being back on trail in 2021 and hope that you can join us!