With just a few essentials packed into a rucksack, take to your bike – a fun, active and addictive way to travel – and follow the West Highland Way from the Bridge of Orchy to the spires of Glen Coe. Starting with two moderate ascents, the moorland route ends with dramatic mountain scenery. It just isn’t the same on foot.
Stands of pine
Start from the car park west of the Bridge of Orchy Hotel. Pedal through pine forest along a track to the salmon-rich waters of Loch Tulla, before reaching the Inveroran Hotel. “Only four eggs in the house,” wrote Dorothy Wordsworth following a breakfast at the inn, “which they had boiled as hard as stone.” But that was in 1803.
Moor to mountain
The West Highland Way – a 96-mile footpath – joins the road at this point. Be especially courteous to hikers who have got here the hard way. Cross Victoria Bridge and follow the thistle-marked trail along an old drove route. The trail becomes cobbled, and you’ll feel every bump just as travellers did a century ago.
The way soon crosses Rannoch Moor, one of Britain’s largest and wildest landscapes. It’s a good idea to check the weather forecast beforehand – the ground ices easily and can become a slip hazard. Climb for a little under four miles – the hardest section of the route – enjoying increasingly expansive views of Clach Leathad, Loch Tulla, and the grooved flanks of Beinn Achaladair.
In the right light, the Black Mount hills to the west can appear pink, far more colourful than their name implies. A fast, stony track provides a little respite as you descend to Bá Bridge, where a tumbling river, cloaked with rowan trees, makes for a fine lunch spot. Refreshed, begin the second, easier ascent as it undulates for two miles to a flat crest.
At the top of the climb, a short track leads left to an unmarked memorial. The cairn was constructed in memory of Peter Fleming, travel writer and brother to Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond series. He owned the adjacent Black Rock Estate but suffered a fatal heart attack while out shooting in the early 1970s.
Descend to the glen
After progressing through the primeval-looking landscape of Rannoch Moor, look out for the pointed summit of Buchaille Etive Mór – this commanding mountain marks the entrance to Glen Coe, a glaciated valley of precipitous walls. Drop sharply to Blackrock Cottage before crossing the A82.
Continue to the cosy Kings House Hotel, an opportunity for a drink as you consider returning by bike or by car.
Fergal is an outdoors writer who loves exploring Scotland on foot and by bike.