Haggis, Hazards, & Harry Potter While Hiking The West Highland Way

by Mark on September 30, 2010

The West Highland Way is a trail that begins north of Glasgow and climbs 95 miles into the Scottish Highlands. In 2007 a close friend, Harry Potter, and I overcame haggis and hazards, to complete the hike.

The West Highland Way is one of the twenty best hikes on the globe. We planned the trip for months, especially buying rain gear in anticipated of a wet walk. Not a drop fell on us during our week on the trail. About 7 miles out of Glasgow we faced our first hazard, the Glengoyne Distillery. If Rob Roy could sip their whiskey, so could we. An hour or so later, we were stepping lively back on the trail.

It was an inn-to-inn hike where each day a van transported our luggage to the next stop. In the evenings by the fire I read the new ‘Harry Potter & the Deathly Hollows’. As a huge Hogwarts fan, my imagination put the magical castle at the end of picturesque Loch Lomand. The trail ‘undulated’ for 24 miles along the lake’s banks. ‘Undulating’ is Scottish for continuously climbing up and down along the shore. Our feet were raw that night. Another hiker suggested we rub Vaseline Petroleum Jelly on them before putting on socks and shoes. When we stopped at a store to buy two jars, the clerk misunderstood our application for the lubricant and asked why we needed more than one jar. Regardless of his theory, the jelly worked and we made it to the top of the loch.

The West Highway began climbing up the Highlands and dissecting sheep pastures. As the trail narrowed, a monster blocked our path. A long red-haired bull with huge sharp horns glared forcing a long detour as we crept around him, hoping he did not charge.

During the hike we celebrated the birthday of my friend – another Mark – with a Scottish feast. I ordered haggis – a ground sausage of sheep’s heart, liver and lungs plus oatmeal and onions, cooked and served in the sheep’s intestine. Imagine tasteless Sloppy Joe’s with a few bones crunching as you chew. It took a lot of ale to get it down.

The biggest climb is the ‘Devils Stairway’, a steep 1,000’ ascent up a mountain. The vista at the top is spectacular with purple slopes, green pastures, and blue pools of lochs in the distance. We hiked along the mountain crest for a day before beginning the decent into Fort Williams. What a surprise to find the city was the home of the Hogwarts Express, the red train in all of the Harry Potter movies.

The Vaseline jars were empty and the haggis still kicked at my stomach as we stretched our aching muscles. Only then did we question the sanity of hiking up and down mountains for 95 miles. It is the same question we ask after a 100 mile bike ride. Perhaps we baby boomers still must prove our hearts and legs are still up to physical challenges. Maybe it is the comrade and laughs of chatting with a friend as we trekked through a natural paradise. Regardless, that evening we began planning our next adventure at our last Scottish feast – an Indian Restaurant along the bay in Glasgow.

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