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What weather should be expected on the West Highland Way (Scotland) in March? I suppose I don't have to prepare for snow, unless I plan to hike in the surrounding mountains?

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  • 9
    In March you can still get snow in all of the UK, but as I am not familiar with thay route I can only urge you to check it out better.
    – Willeke
    Jan 8 at 7:19
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    Indeed that is a very dangerous supposition you are making!
    – deep64blue
    Jan 8 at 19:49
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    Just to explain: we do sleeping outside (bivouac) or building igloo in mountains in the winter the Czech republic (~4000 – 5000 feet), there is a lot of snow, we have proper equipment, we have even some experience even in Alps during winter. I know Scotland from all seasons except winter, which is different from Continental climate in central Europe. It's just a question which equipment is reasonable to bring (we're flying). Surely snowshoe are not needed :).
    – pevik
    Jan 9 at 21:28
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    @pevik, that makes it a whole different question. An experienced mountain winter hiker should have indicated in their question that they will be prepared for some snow. As you asked the question we had to assume you wanted to do the hike in jeans and trainers.
    – Willeke
    Jan 10 at 11:11
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    @EricDuminil the route I've seen is far lower than the summit - between Kinlochleven and Fort William it only goes just above 300m. I've actually walked (and cycled) a little bit of in Glen Nevis, but that was in summer. Scanning the map quickly the highest point might be at the top of the Devil's Staircase, just under 600m and pretty exposed Jan 10 at 16:26

5 Answers 5

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Be prepared for any kind of weather in March.

The weather in Scotland can change very quickly, and being caught on the hills with inadequate clothing can be a recipe for disaster, especially if visibility turns bad, bringing the added danger of getting lost.

Scotland Weather - Expect The Unexpected!

Due to this little country's geography, predicting the weather in Scotland can be challenging!

Scottish weather can change abruptly, in fact sometimes you can feel as though you've experienced three (or even all four) seasons in just one day.

One thing that you can usually depend on though... is that it's going to rain at some point.

Western Scotland is generally wetter and milder than the East, in fact palm trees can grow in micro-climates in the south-west.

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    +1, excellent advice, but one quibble - I wouldn't call Plockton the SW :-)
    – Andrew
    Jan 8 at 20:27
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    Those record minimums in that 'palm trees can grow' link are telling. All but one month have a record minimum below freezing. So it can freeze any time of year, even if it mostly will not be for long periods of time so near the coast.
    – Willeke
    Jan 8 at 22:40
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    On the theme of "any kind of weather"... I did the WHW 30 years ago in the middle of summer. Of the 6 days, 1 day was hot sunshine, 2 days were showery, 2 were continuous rain, and 1 day was continuous rain and sleet with a temperature like it was February.
    – Graham
    Jan 9 at 8:49
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    Take it from someone who thought they were going to die and did the WHW during September. This is solid advice, the weather can change very quickly - not only one should be prepared - you should also be sure to check weather reports daily to check for wind-storms and heavy rain. Jan 9 at 11:42
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    Be prepared for anything, but expect plenty of rain. Jan 9 at 17:03
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https://www.hillwalktours.com/walking-hiking-blog/the-weather-on-the-west-highland-way/:

Spring on the West Highland Way: The average temperature in spring depends strongly on your exact location on the route but is normally between 7 and 13 ° C. In March and April snow can still fall and the peaks are often still covered with a white blanket.

https://outdoorscott.com/best-time-year-west-highland-way/:

enter image description here

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.

https://donsnotes.com/places/europe/west-highland-way.html (mirror):

enter image description here

enter image description here

Note from https://donsnotes.com/places/europe/west-highland-way.html that the elevation changes quite a bit too:

Dy Section Dist.
(mi)
Ascent
(ft)
1 Milngavie to Drymen  17x23 12 500
2 Drymen to Balmaha  20x15 8 1,200
3 Balmaha to Rowardennan  20x15 7 1,200
4 Rowardennan to Ardlui Boat dock
row-invrsn  12.2x15.6   invrsn - invern  12x13.5
12 1,785
5 Ardlui to Tyndrum  15.5x21 14 1,270
6 Tyndrum to Inveroran Hotel  14x16.5 9 1,225
7 Inveroran Hotel to Kingshouse Hotel  12x21 10 1,700
8 Kingshouse to Kinlochleven  12.2x11 8 1,388
9 Kinlochleven to Fort William  14x16.5 15 2,400
Total 95 12,668

enter image description here

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    Sunshine is "N/A" (on the first chart)? Everything you need to know about Scottish weather right there.
    – Dragonel
    Jan 10 at 12:54
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    It's worth clicking on the height profile chart (last picture). The ascent in the table isn't all that helpful as many rolling low hills can add up to as much climbing as one mountain, but have very different weather (stage 8 in the table peaks at nearly 600m, stage 7 at nearly 500m, several stages get to about 400m) Jan 14 at 9:40
7

Here's the weather data for Bridge of Orchy. This is the highest altitude major town on the route, but as Franck's answer points out the route does go quite a bit higher. Here's the key quote:

In Bridge of Orchy, during March, snow falls for 11.8 days and regularly aggregates up to 281mm (11.06") of snow.

Also note that the average low at night in March is 0.2 celsius.

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  • Bridge of Orchy is hardly a major town (it has a hotel/restaurant and a station but not a lot else); it's not even highest altitude populated place (pop. 152). Tyndrum (a little to the south) is only marginally bigger (pop. 167) but has far more facilities - a couple of shops selling useful provisions and several places to eat. It's also a little higher at 232m instead of 179m for Bridge of Orchy. Jan 14 at 9:35
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    ... Kingshouse is considerably higher than either village but has even less - just a hotel and a few houses. I didn't detour to it when I cycled from Fort William via Bridge of Orchy and Tyndrum to Loch Lomon in summer. BTW StreetView of Kingshouse has snow on the mountains in May 2021. At a rough estimate comparing the photos to a map it extends down to about 600m, the same as the highest pass on the WHW - but 2 months later Jan 14 at 9:47
  • The key point is that it’s big enough to have data at weather-atlas, which Kingshouse does not. It’s the last place with data as you head into the worst section for snow. Tyndrum does has data, and it’s a little less cold and less snowy than Bridge of Orchy: weather-atlas.com/en/united-kingdom/… Jan 14 at 14:12
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    Interesting. I wonder why Tyndrum is warmer and drier. But it's a pity there are no closer datapoints because Bridge of Orchy is a day's hike and a few hundred meters net ascent from the high point on the pass near Stob Mhic Mhartuin (Devil's Staircase) Jan 14 at 15:21
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    I agree, it’s far from perfect, I wanted to find data for Kingshouse. But at least it’s really good data for one place. I have no idea what causes the difference with Tyndrum, could be physical geography (narrower valley?) or could be something weird like where the weather instruments are relative to the town. Jan 14 at 18:47
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From personal experience, I have encountered snow on West Highland Way in first half of March - around Crianlarich area. There wasn't much, but it was definitely snow. Albeit that was some 15 or so years ago. I was told that wasn't common - but happened occasionally.

As others have said, be ready for anything.

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I would highly recommend Yr.no for their weather forecasts. They have good short and long range tools and are invariably accurate in that area of Scotland.

That being said, you could get anything. Rain, wind, sleet, snow, sun. Most likely the first 4.

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  • I wonder how relevant data Yr.no has for Scotland. Or is there a better provider? Even some official measurements with graphs? (e.g. graphs for Czech Republic chmi.cz/files/portal/docs/poboc/PR/grafy/krkonose-lnk.html?l=en)
    – pevik
    Jan 13 at 19:59
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    They usually have highly relevant data. They use the same base information that is provided by the UKMO, but their forecasts are more detailed and are optimised for the far north - which tend to better reflect the NW Scotland weather .
    – user126048
    Jan 13 at 20:33

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