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  • Writer's pictureHiker Heather

East Highland Way

Blog detailing my thru-hike of the East Highland Way including trail information, cost, itinerary and wild camping spots :)

Hello, mates! I hope you are all doing well! Is it just me, or has this winter felt slightly long at times?! It still seems to be dragging its arse end into spring too (at least, it has felt that way after spending the last couple of weeks in my tent)...The winter has been hard, I guess even painful at times as I continue to try and navigate through a difficult time in my career... I often turn to adventure planning as a distraction and so I'd spent many hours during the depths of winter researching and planning for future adventures... I had eventually decided on hiking the East Highland Way as my first long-distance trail of the year, I mean, it was no surprise that I picked a Scottish trail but my other reasons for choosing this trail was that it promised solitude and decent terrain, with little ascent, which would be helpful since I had been extremely stagnant since last years adventures, the trail would also take me to the Cairngorms, a place in Scotland that I had not yet had the opportunity to become acquainted with - I was excited to say the least...


About the East Highland Way

The East Highland Way is a fairly new long-distance trail, devised in 2007 by a chap called Kevin Langan. The trail is around 82 miles/ 132km in length and connects Fort William, which is known as the outdoor capital of the UK, with the ski resort of Aviemore in the Cairngorms. The trail also connects with some of Scotland's other long distance trails such as West Highland Way, Great Glen Way and Speyside Way. The trail sees you pass through a variety of landscapes from majestic, ancient forests to unspoilt marshlands to mountain wilderness and loch-side trails...


Access to and from the Trail

Both Fort William at the start of the trail and Aviemore at the end of the trail are served by both bus and train. I chose to drive to Aviemore at the end of the trail where I parked my car (in the car park behind RBS) and then took a train and a bus to Fort William at the beginning of the trail so that my car was waiting for me at the end. My fuel calculation (see cost section below) had turned out cheaper than taking a train from my home in Yorkshire, hence my decision to drive.


Navigation

The East Highland Way has not yet been nominated as one of Scotland's Great Trails and as such does not benefit from the thistle waymarking that can be seen on the likes of the Great Glen Way or West Highland Way. In fact, the trail is rarely waymarked, I probably only came across a handful of waymarks, like the one below, for the entire duration of the trail. Needless to say, good navigation skills are a must for this trail!

I was kindly gifted the Harvey Maps East Highland Way map which was my primary source of navigation.

In addition, I used my Garmin GPS together with OS Maps app on my phone as backup, with the route downloaded for offline use. You can find the GPX route here on the East Highland Way website.


Expenses & Budgeting

I often receive questions asking how much a particular trail costs to undertake and so I thought that I would try and include a detailed breakdown in each of my trail blogs, going forward, so here is a full breakdown of my expenditure on the East Highland Way -


  • Pre-Trail food - £30.00

  • Fuel (diesel) - £95.64

  • Service station food- £5.40

  • Car Park in Aviemore for 1 week - £20.20

  • Train from Aviemore to Inverness - £14.79

  • Bus from Inverness to Fort William - £11.60

  • Cruachan Hotel in Fort William - £ 80.00

  • M & S Fort William - £14.25

  • Cafe in Laggan - £23.15

  • Cafe in Newtonmore - £13.25

  • Resupply at Coop in Newtonmore - £6.21

  • Cafe in Aviemore - £6.50

  • McDonalds - £8.44

Total Expenditure - £329.43


You could make further savings on the above by either hitting the trail immediately upon arrival in Fort William, meaning that you don't have to fork out £80.00 for a hotel, alternatively, you could camp at Glen Nevis campsite just outside of Fort William for around £14.00. In terms of budgeting, I always compare the cost of public transport vs the cost of driving myself to the trial, I do this by comparing the cost of trains or bus against the cost of diesel, using a car fuel cost calculator. I have recently found it to be cheaper to drive. I have no doubt you could also make cheaper food choices and make savings in that respect also.


Itinerary


Day 1 - Fort William to Spean Bridge (12 miles/ 19km)

I had arrived in Fort William the night prior after a long day of travelling from my home in Yorkshire. Whilst my initial plan had been to hike the trail over 5 days, I actually decided last minute to change this to 6 days (or 5.5 days which would end up being be the case), I had time and I was certainly in no rush for this adventure to be over! With time on my side, I decided to have a slow morning, eventually leaving the hotel at around 10.00am, I hit the trail, making my way out of Fort William...

The sun was shining and my spirits were high - I was over the moon to be back in my Motherland and back on a long distance trail - where some would say I belong! Today mainly consisted of forestry tracks and paths which was just the medicine I needed, it made for easy walking, which allowed me to find my stride and get into the swing of carrying the weight of everything I needed to survive on my back for the next 6 days...

The nature of today's terrain was therapeutic and relaxing, just what the doctor ordered, I hadn't seen a single soul on the trail all day, except for a few people milling around in the Ben Nevis car park, this left me with plenty of time to marvel at the beautiful Highland scenery surrounding me - it was the birch and the gorse that stole today's show!

The wild camping spots were hard to come by on this section but I eventually managed to tuck myself away at the side of the River Spean, slightly off the trail, just after Spean Bridge... I was pitched by 3pm which was a delight :) If you know me, you know I am very partial to an early pitch, I am no 'fast packer' and I certainly don't fall within the 'ultralight' category either...


Day 2 - Spean Bridge to An Dubh Lochan (11.5 miles/ 18.5km)

My trusty old friend, rain, had made an appearance last night just as I had finished setting up my tent, it continued through the night which meant packing away a sopping tent in the rain which is always an absolute delight! Unbeknownst to me, this would become one of the themes of the trail :)

Leaving Spean Bridge, I once again followed good forestry tracks for some time before reaching the first pathless section, just after Monessie, which would also include my first river crossing of the trail. There was plenty of stunning places to pitch here beside the River Spean, if you had wanted to press on further for Day 1. The rain had made the river crossing interesting, meaning that I had to wade in up to my knees, eventually over the other side, I started to make the tough ascent up into another forestry section before dropping down to Inverlair... It wasn't long before I decided to pitch beside An Dubh Lochan, just before the rain came in again for night...


Day 3 - An Dubh Lochan to Kinloch Laggan (19 miles/ 30 km)

This morning I woke up with spiders in my hair, for some this might be concerning, but for me, it was a sign that I was surely at one with Mother Nature and this thought alone brought me so much joy! (Weirdo, or what! hahaha!)

As the below sign would warn, today would see me enter more remote (but very, very beautiful) territory than the previous days...

Today would offer true Scottish scenery at its finest - picturesque lochans, the landscape the most stunning shades of burnt orange and red, layers of trees and mountains which were dusted with snow when I woke up this morning - there must have been a fresh dusting on higher ground overnight... Most of the day was spent hiking the entire length of Loch Laggan! Loch Laggan is a freshwater loch which is around 7 miles in length and has an average depth of 21 metres!!! Back in 2019 the banks of the loch were used for filming for the James Bond film, No Time To Die...

The weather had dropped down here at lower level too but was favourable to the 'boil-in-bag' situation that was yesterday, where it was simultaneously weeing it down but at the same time sunny and warm - that's my beloved Scotland for you!

Today I pitched on the beautiful white sandy beach of Kinloch Laggan which is slightly off the trail but just look!!! I had the entire place to myself! I highly recommend you taking this short detour! The beach here at Kinloch Laggan is the largest freshwater beach in Great Britain - this place was stunning, beyond belief!


Day 4 - Kinloch Laggan - Glen Banchor (15 miles/ 24 km)

I was already anticipating today's section, which would see me cross through many a river - especially considering the recent onslaught of rain and, of course, the rain battered my tent this morning, just to add to my fears! I eventually and reluctantly packed away and was on the trail for around 10am, the first part of the trail saw me continue along forestry tracks once again before hitting some agricultural land where I had a funny interaction with some cows....

Eventually arriving in the small hamlet of Laggan, I was over the flipping moon to find that Laggan Stores & Coffee Bothy was open, since Google had said that it would be closed! The café was a delight, I devoured a panini, coffee, coke and a scone with butter and jam and took away a sandwich packed away which I would have with my soup later. Belly full, I felt more confident and equipped to head up into Glen Banchor to tackle those river crossings, pathless sections and bog.... It was just a short road walk before turning off toward the mountains...

This section was just incredible, so remote! I was happy to be back in the mountains... I soon arrived at the ever so quaint Dalnashallag bothy...

Dalnashallag bothy stands on the high open and very exposed moorland of Strath an Eilich and is known locally as Carnegie's bothy, the bothy is primarily used by stalkers. This bothy is not maintained by the MBA.

The bothy is tiny, as seen in the picture below, the two sofas are for sleeping on and I guess one or two people could also sleep on the floor next to the sofas too... It had been my intention to stay at the bothy as the wind outside was fairly gusty and I'd been looking forward to being able to get dried off after the many river crossings leading up to the bothy, however, when I arrived I had met a chap who appeared to be staying there on a long term basis and so I decided to press on a little and try and find somewhere close by to pitch...

I tackled the river crossings directly outside the bothy which didn't prove overly difficult, apparently these rivers can be impassable when in spate - it is basically 3 streams converging into one so I found it easier to cross the 3 streams separately... The terrain from here was pathless and boggy but I quickly found a stunning pitch in the glen... A couple of hours after pitching, however, the gusts suddenly started to pick up, things began to feel very sketchy, very quickly and so I started to get everything packed and ready for an emergency escape back to the bothy, I quickly messaged my mum off my Garmin to let her know that the weather had become a little spicy and of my plans, I told her that I would in frequent contact (each message from my Garmin to my mum also provides her with my exact location)... At around 11pm the wind eventually ceased, I messaged my mum to update her, to let her know that I was safe and that I would be in touch first thing in the morning (I know, I know, my poor mum (and sister too!) - I realise how much stress I must cause them with my 'adventures', they suffer me extremely well - I will never be able to thank them enough!)... I was truly grateful for not having to make an emergency dash, whilst those river crossings and bog had been okay to deal with in the day time, I knew all too well that they would be a different beast completely in the dark...


Day 5 - Glen Banchor to Uath Lochan (16 miles/ 26km)

I woke up grateful this morning, grateful for my trusty little sidekick of a tent who kept me safe during more questionable weather in the depths of the Scottish Highlands.... The thought didn't last long before I realised I had lots more river crossings and bog this morning, I guess if anything, it would wake me up proper! I hadn't had signal in the glen but texts eventually started arriving, one text from a number that I didn't recognise read 'Please call me, it is about your car'.... ahhh crap, what could have happened? Had my car been stolen? Had someone crashed into it? Crap, crap, crap, there was little I could do as I waded through bog and river crossings, trying to get enough signal to call the unknown number... Each time I tried to call, the phone would ring and then the call would terminate, probably due to my patchy signal... I gave up and continued through the bog and river crossings for another couple of hours before eventually dropping down into the village of Newtonmore...

I quickly tucked myself away in a café in Newtonmore, quickly consumed 2 egg and tattie scone rolls, an Irn Bru and a coffee before heading to the Co-op for a little resupply. I still hadn't been successful in getting through to the person who had tried making contact about my car and so I decided not to take the section in the trail up to Loch Gynack as I was fearing losing signal again and so I took the cycle track out of Newtonmore to Kingussie where I picked up the official trail once more....

Soon passing Ruthven barracks, I continued along the trail through the stunning ancient birchwood forest of Glen Tromie - this place was a fairytale and the fairytale theme would continue for the rest of the day as I headed into the diverse nature reserve of Inshriach forest, before once again coming slightly off the trail so that I could pitch at the otherworldly Uath Lochan for my final night on the trail....


Day 6 - Uath Lochan to Aviemore (10 miles/ 16km)

The fairytale theme of yesterday continued today as I left my pitch beside Uath Lochan...

I continued through Inshriach Forest before eventually arriving at the equally as magical Glen Feshie! I cant tell you how long I have dreamed about visiting these incredible places in the Cairngorms and they were just as spectacular as I had imagined them to be! Glen Feshie is a wild, jungle like glen with so much biodiversity - eagles, wildcats, red squirrels, pine martens, ospreys and otters all call this place their home!

I popped by for a quick peep at the private estate bothy in the glen - what a delight this place was! There was a camping area too directly outside the bothy, this place is a dream! I would have been tempted to stay here for the night if it wasn't for the small issue of my car...

Continuing along the trail, I soon arrived at the ethereal Loch Gamhna and Loch an Eilein.... Loch an Eilein was unsurprisingly bustling with tourists which took me back a little, large groups of people are always a surprise when you've spent days alone on the trail barely seeing a soul... Just on que the rain started to pour so I quickly continued onward to Aviemore and the end of the trail!!!!!!!!!!! What a journey this had been!!!!!!! Pure magic!

I had managed to get in touch with the lady about my car and I met her when I arrived in Aviemore, she had been a local who worked in the town and she was concerned about the fact that my car had been parked for so long, she was understandably concerned that I had been involved in an accident up in the mountains, I reassured her that I was okay, apologised for the concern and thanked her profusely!


If you have any questions then please do use the contact form to drop me a line, I will get back to you as soon as possible. You can follow my adventures live over on my Instagram @hiker_heather


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