In Memory of Tom Hunter creator of The West Highland Way path

Tom Hunter - creator of the West Highland Way has passed away.
Tom Hunter - creator of the West Highland Way has passed away.

Tom Hunter (1926 - 2016) was a modest man whose achievements were far from ordinary.

A keen walker Tom also dedicated much of his free time in the voluntary sector.

He was a visionary who saw the potential of long distance walking paths, to protect the environment and prevent over development of the countryside. His was the idea to create a route from Glasgow to Fort William - later named the West Highland Way, with the southern point of the path in Milngavie.

Tom recounted how whilst walking on the slopes of Ben Lomond after the 2nd World War, he had seen the hydro and building developments on the western shores of Loch Lomond, which made him think of ways to limit the same thing happening on the eastern shores.

He said to himself: “There’s enough walking country for our lifetime but if we don’t do something now there will be none for future generations.”

Thus the seed was sown, and after talking with his wife Margaret and their walking club companions, they decided to design a route from Glasgow to Fort William.

I first met Tom when he kindly agreed to cut the ribbon at the opening of the Tourist Information Office in Milngavie in 2010. Tom and Margaret were both surprised by how the WHW had, in the 30 years since its opening, become a magnet for walkers from all over the world.

On that occasion, and several after, he and Margaret recounted their love of the Scottish outdoors, spoke of their epic west coast walking adventures, and were kind enough to share the story of the creation of the West Highland Way.

What emerged was a picture of dogged determination and tenacity for seeing to completion a good idea. Tom wasn’t adverse to a bit of publicity hunting to promote his idea.

At the opening ceremony of the Kelvin Way in Glasgow, Tom and a group of walkers arrived having walked from Fort William to deliver a letter from the Provost calling for the recognition of the WHW route.

Not many folk knew that he had walked the 100 miles in less than three days!

Nowadays, the West Highland Way is a boon to Scotland in more ways than one. Recently voted one of the top ten outdoor attractions in the world by the National Geographic, the route proves year after year to be a top tourist attraction, bringing much needed income to the businesses and folk who help provide much needed services to an international group of visitors.

However, the idea of a long distance, signposted route met with opposition from landowners, the Countryside Commission, and even some well-known public figures of the outdoors world!

Called up to the RAF towards the end of WWII, he served in Algiers, Italy and Yugoslavia before crossing at Udine into Germany. Upon demob he entered British Railway where he spent his entire working career.

He met Margaret at a dance for railway employees and after a long courtship they married in 1956. They enjoyed a long and supportive relationship, and though they had no children, they shared a love of the outdoors. Tom’s spare time was given generously; he served as President of the Holiday Fellowship, was an Area Board member for the National Trust, and also founded the Scottish Railway Outdoor Club.