Walking the West Highland Way poses different challenges at different times of the year, however, it is a great walking holiday route and as a result of this, it is very popular.
This is not for the novice, faint-hearted or inexperienced walker. People die in the mountains during the winter. It is easy to get lost in fog or snow – during the snow it can be impossible to see the way-markings. This warning aside it can also be a beautiful time of the year to walk. If you are lucky you may find yourself walking on chilly but bright days with a clear blue sky overhead. It is best if you do not walk on your own unless you are a very experienced hiker, go with friends or join a group.
The main advantage of walking in the winter is the peace and quiet, the main disadvantage is that you will likely have to carry more in your backpack. It will be easier to find accommodation as long as you are not walking over Christmas, just check that where you plan to stop is not closed for any holidays.
April – May – June
During April it can be very changeable, feeling like summer one day and winter the next. The rainfall charts illustrate April as the second lowest rainfall month in Scotland, however, in Fort William it is the 4th lowest during the year. It should be noted that Fort William has one of the highest amounts of yearly rain in the UK, great for snow in the winter, but not so good for walking.
May is the lowest rainfall month in Scotland and perfect for walking – so it can feel like half the world has decided to walk the West Highland Way. Generally, May is the busiest month for walking, making accommodation very hard to find. This does not lend itself to flexibility. It means booking well in advance and following a strict timetable for each day walk. Camping is a good option at this time of the year, however, it can still be cold during the night.
June has the same benefits as May, but normally without the crowds. There is a little more rain, but not much. The midges start to be annoying, but far from their worst. So June is a great time to be on the West Highland Way.
July – Aug
If you can possibly go at any other time of the year don’t choose these two months. The highlands of Scotland turn into a traffic jam. This is full blown tourist season. It is normally warm and damp, weather that the midges love. A midge bite is not sore, but hundreds of them make you itch constantly and sometimes they seem to have the ability to drive a sane person nuts. This may sound crazy, but the only great way to keep them away is to use either a crown of ferns or rub the ferns between your hands and rub the juice onto the exposed parts of your body.
Sep – Oct
All things considered, September is my favourite month for walking in Scotland. Kids are back at school, fewer tourists, still warm, though there can still be a fair amount of midges especially during the first half of the way. Peace seems to returns to the mountains at this time of the year. I can walk without hearing someone’s mobile phone going off in the distance somewhere, and some days I can feel like I have the mountains to myself. The colours on the hills are magnificent, autumn has arrived, some of my best photos have been taken at this time of the year.
It feels great to complete a long distance walk like this and get away from the world for a week whenever you go. See my post on the food on the West Highland Way as well.