The West Highland Way: Adventure into Fantasy

A view from the long descent down the Devil's Staircase
A way marker pointing out the direction of the West Highland Way. The adventure continues.

Two weeks ago I completed a 96 mile hike. Starting in Milngavie, Scotland, I continued north. It was rough (ancient) military roads, mountain ascents and unpredictable weather all the way. My legs dragged the rest of me to the finish at Fort William eight days later.

Entering the moors, a region often referred to by the locals as being part of the "true" Highlands.

Rugged? Yes. But it was the adventure that mattered. And without some trials, it would be a boring story to tell.

The trailhead leading to Devil's Staircase. Be prepared to huff and puff. Is this how adventures work?

Footing was always a concern. The early southern part of the trail sometimes diverted. From Rowardennan to Inveraran, nearly twenty miles of rock climbing and a narrow trail impeded my progress. (The guide book promised only 14 miles.) And in the northern highlands, scree and slick rock could trip up the unwary.

Adventure Doesn’t Come Easy

Afternoon on the West Highland Trail. Looks like rain soon.

The trail always delivered new surprises. In just one day, I could walk in warm sunshine, freezing rain and pelting hail. On the route to Kingshouse, I had overlooked the need for gloves in May. I arrived at the hotel with swollen hands and chattering teeth.

A beautiful forest path leaving Crianlarich.

But would I have given up at any time? Not a chance. Because to have done so would give up the opportunity for amazing views and a sense of accomplishment.

Hidden Surprises

A view overlooking Loch Lomond.

To look down and over the shoreline of Loch Lomond was breathtaking. Rob Roy’s hideout teased me nearby. Further on, I passed the small lochan where Robert the Bruce’s sword supposedly lies submerged in its dark waters. And I dared the walk up the Devil’s Staircase. You could never experience this if you had driven a car to Glen Coe.

Making a new friend. A highland cow greets me on the trail.

The adventure grounded me in a way that daily routines cannot. As a result, I forgot about computers and gadgets that are so far removed from reality. Technology can disconnect us as humans. But on the trail, new friends were made, a camaraderie formed by similar trials of endurance. And a warm meal never tasted better than after a long hike in cold rain.

All That is Gold…

The woods along the eastern shore of the loch. Not too far north from Balmaha.

So how does a fantasy story play into my hike? When I was a teenager, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was one of my favorite reads. As I walked the West Highland Way, I imagined meeting elves in the dark forests on the moors. Dwarves guarded their precious mines on top of Ben Lomond. And Shelob’s Lair waited somewhere north of Balmaha.

A bottle of aged Scotch. The perfect way to finish an adventure on the West Highland Way.

Hiking the trail was an adventure with hardships and many rewards–personal satisfaction, new friendships made and introspection. Only a quarter of those who begin actually finish. When I completed the West Highland Way, I treated myself to some Scotch. It’s a drink that has to be appreciated like the trail itself. At first, it can be daunting. But remember, “All that is gold does not glitter… .”


Michael Duda

Michael Duda is the author of several collections of short stories and weird science fiction. His works can be found on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and more.

You can find a list of his books here.

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