Rare Air and what to wear on the West Highland Way

Sir Jackie Stewart once called Scotland ‘a small remarkable country with beauty and courage and rare air’*. For me as an endurance walker I’ve found Scotland’s ‘rare air’ so to speak at its most precious and indeed most beautiful in the midst of the 97 miles stretch that leads from Milngavie all the way to Fort William on The West Highland Way. I first walked the West Highland Way alone in the summer of 2006 when the Scottish Open golf championship was played across Loch Lomond at the local golf club. I can vividly remember the glorious weather, the splendid views of the Munroe’s across the Loch as I looked into the Arrochar Alps and the swirl of the bagpipes wailing up from the closing ceremony, rare air days indeed.

 

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I love the West Highland Way and ever since then the challenge has been the same and experiences different every time I’ve stepped on it. Whether it be 3, 4, 5 or 6 days the sense of walking over old ground or stepping on the paths of others and hearing the stories and sharing the burdens, walking with someone or walking it alone thrills me anew each time. I didn’t set out to be an endurance walker but rather life, time managements and stuff dictated that route.

 

Our challenge this time was to walk the west highland way all the way in one go, 97 miles nonstop. I’d previously walked the Speyside Way (60 miles) nonstop and walked over 50 miles in 20 hrs in preparation for the way. A tough ask by anyone’s stretch of the imagination. Four of us set off on the morning of Friday 28th August with a mindset of let’s do this. We had a brilliant back up crew who met us along the way at vital times and with hot food and the chance to change our attire as the weather and circumstances saw fit! It is after all Scotland in late August!! I love football and I fully understand the whole strong spine throughout the team analogy.

 

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For years if my feet where ok so was I. I know my pressure points and treat them before and during any long walk. Listen to your feet! I also made up my mind early on in the week that regardless of the weather I’d wear my trusted Berghaus Fellmaster GTX, boots, they are lightweight, durable and protect ankles which for me is vital! Even walking the relatively flat first sections from Milngavie to the bottom of the Conic Hill these boots are ideal especially with rain and the amount of water on the ground. With lots of undulating sections and rough terrain a sturdy pair of boots like these allows flexibility and assurance. I also wore Berghaus waterproof trousers that due to the weather stayed with me for over 60 miles. With side vents and easy to zip up sections it would have been easy to take them on and off weather dependent but good old Scotland, it rained nonstop! It wasn’t cold but as with all good Goretex products the wind didn’t penetrate.

 

My jackets are old but tried and tested and despite the desire to invest in the latest technology I’ve stayed loyal to my Berghaus Trango Extrem XCR. This jacket has been on over 15 years of adventures with me. This 90s throwback is not going to win any fashion style awards (well, maybe a retro fashion award) but back in the day this jacket did what it said on the tin and for me still does today. It’s not the lightest jacket but it’s reliable and keeps you well protected on the barren Rannoch Moor. The reason I bring this up is for this point: You don’t need to constantly invest in the latest gear… you just need to invest in your gear!

 

So my spine (team) was good, trusted and reliable. I knew what I was wearing and I knew what I could get out of it. Plus a healthy amount of socks, tape, blister packs, base layers, head torches and hats! Despite the descent into Kinlochleven then the ascent out the way then leads you on a path that on a good days looks never ending, it’s my favourite spot as I’m reminded of what’s ahead but also as I reach the end of it, I reflect on the adventure that’s been.

 

On Saturday 29th August some 40 hrs after leaving Milngavie I walked into Fort William weary and drained but elated at having walked the 97 mile West Highland Way nonstop. She was kind to me and I think looked favourably on a weary teary sojourner.  We also managed to raise over £3500 for the Prince and Prince of Wales Hospice in Glasgow. The West Highland Way remains to me a place of rare air and beauty and yes a wee dollop of courage or is that sensible attire and a good pair of boots!

 

*Stewart Jackie, Winning is not Enough, (London: Headline Press Group, 2007)

 

dave-murray

Dave Murray – Everyday Adventurer.