After an excellent trip on the West Highland Way in April 2017, I was keen to organise another long distance trail. Since my dad and I had walked the West Highland Way and the Speyside Way, the East Highland Way would join the two and mean that we would have walked from Glasgow to Buckie (not in one go, of course!). The 80 mile route connects Fort William and Aviemore and is a quieter, more remote and in some places a more challenging alternative to the West Highland Way. Contrary to our relatively luxurious week on the WHW, this trip would see us sleeping wild every night rather than making use of Youth Hostels or hobbit huts. It would certainly be one of the biggest challenges for us yet…
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Our journey began with a train journey from Ayrshire to Fort William the previous day, followed by an enjoyable stay in the Premier Inn in the town, where we made the most of the buffet breakfast to set us up for what would be a reasonably long first day. Sufficiently stuffed, we headed off at 0900 and began our East Highland Way adventure.
We set off north – on what was a very pleasant morning – through the town along the A82 for a mile or so before turning off to walk past the Smelting plant just outside Fort William. The going was nice and easy, with occasional views up Glen Nevis between the trees and buildings.
We were soon on a forestry track above Fort William golf club, where we headed back downhill to pass the North Face car park, where we passed a couple of climbers who were headed for Ben Nevis.
After passing the car park, we were now heading parallel to the A82, where we would stay until shortly before Spean Bridge. The mountains of the Nevis range were mostly covered in cloud, but occasionally presented themselves to us and looked absolutely stunning on what was a lovely April morning.
It was easy to make steady progress along the track, which was level and dry other than a few muddy sections where forestry equipment had made a mess of the track.
As well as great views south to the Nevis range, we could also see north towards the Commando memorial (just outside Spean Bridge) and the Loch Lochy Munros, which looked particularly stunning.
Around a mile outside Spean Bridge, the trail makes a small diversion through some forestry to skirt around a golf course and stay away from the main road, but it is also possible to walk alongside the A82 and stay off the road for the majority of the distance to Spean Bridge.
We arrived in Spean Bridge after about 12 miles of walking in 4.5 hours and had a quick toilet stop and a trip to the small shop in the village. We set off again after about 20 minutes, conscious of the fact we still had a few miles to cover today to find a good spot for the evening and stay on schedule.
The first couple of miles after leaving Spean Bridge were on tarmac, which wasn’t hugely enjoyable after having already walked 12 miles, but it allowed us to make good progress. The tarmac continued as far as Coire Choille farm, where road became track once more.
We were making decent progress and the weather was being kind to us. Gaps in the trees gave us views towards the Grey Corries, which looked particularly magnificent covered in snow!
It wasn’t until about 15 miles into our journey until we saw the first EHW marker, but this was handily placed on a fence where there were a few gates to pick, so I suppose this spot was chosen to stop walkers from annoying the farmer too much by walking through the wrong gates.
Once we were east of Roybridge we began to climb steadily, still on a forestry track, out of the trees and into the lovely afternoon sunshine where we had great views of the surrounding hills and trees. The track allowed us to make good progress until Monessie farm, where track becomes total bog for a short distance, but the track thankfully recovered on the other side of the farm buildings.
We headed downhill again and after a short diversion to the suspension bridge over the river Spean at Achluachrach, we were now only around a kilometre from our stopping point for the evening.
After passing through a gate shortly after the suspension bridge, there are plenty of opportunities for wild camping. We were aiming for the ruined settlement of Achnacochine, where we set up camp just after 1800 below the farmhouse ruins in a great spot among some gorse, which would provide some shelter if the wind decided to pick up during the night.
Tired from a long first day, we got cracking with dinner, replenished our water supplies and headed off to bed early in preparation for the next leg of our journey, one of the longest and toughest days we would experience.
After a fantastic night’s sleep with no troubling weather to worry about, we woke up and got ourselves sorted just before a small shower arrived, thankfully seconds after we had our kit packed. We set off around 0915 in the morning drizzle – enough to warrant a jacket, but clammy and warm enough to mean that this wasn’t the most comfortable of garments to be wearing.
A few hundred metres from our campsite was the first obstacle of the day in the form of a small river to cross. This was simple enough as the river was fairly low, but after some wet weather and without walking poles for extra balance this might be a little trickier.
After the river crossing, we followed a rough path uphill to join a forestry track that would take us as fair as Inverlair.
After reaching Inverlair, we had a small section of road walking to take us to Fersit. Just before the village was a lovely lochan, so we stopped here for a quick bite to eat around 1100 before setting off once more for Fersit.
We passed through Fersit and pressed on, back on forestry tracks once again. It was still drizzling, but thankfully the rain hadn’t come to anything more than that all morning. It did mean, unfortunately, that during what should be a very picturesque section of the walk we spent most of the day looking at clouds and the bottom halves of mountains. Still, we hadn’t met a single person walking the East Highland Way yet, so it was brilliant to have the trail to ourselves.
The track from Fersit to Luiblea was certainly very scenic and openings in the trees gave us great views over the river Spean reservoir towards Creag Meagaidh and its neighbours.
We reached Luiblea at around 1430, really starting to feel the miles we had walked so far. By now we’d covered around 13 miles and still had another 10 to go. A bit alarmed by the distance in front of us, we pushed on for another mile or so to reach the western end of Loch Laggan, where we had a 20 minute break and made some hot food to give us a last burst of energy to get us to our overnight stop at the opposite end of the Loch.
The walk was becoming a bit of a slog with many ups and downs and directional changes through the maze of forestry tracks above the loch. We were also slowly losing light and the drizzle wasn’t easing up so the views consisted of trees and clouds, something that wasn’t exactly motivating to look at.
Knowing that our intended camp spot for the evening would be worth the effort, we pressed on end eventually reached a nice grassy area at the eastern end of Loch Laggan just after 2000. We found a lovely spot overlooking the loch, pitched our tents and scoffed the evening’s food before falling into our tents utterly exhausted from the 11 hour day we’d endured.
We decided to have a little bit of a lie in on our third morning as we knew that there wasn’t quite the same distance to cover, so we woke around 0830 and were in no rush to pack up. There was a reasonably stiff breeze blowing so we took the opportunity to air our sleeping kit and tents, dry off some clothes and towels and organise our packs again. By this point, we had also covered almost exactly half the distance of the trail, so we wanted to make sure the second half was as enjoyable and organised as possible.
After a couple of hours of camping admin, we set off a little before 1100 for Feagour.
Once again the trail was good, mostly consisting of forestry track with a few rougher sections around the edge of wooded areas. We made good progress and reached the A86 at Feagour around 90mins after leaving our campsite.
Carefully crossing the road, we set off once again into an area of forestry for a couple of miles before meeting a minor road that would take us to the small village of Laggan.
As we approached the village, we were spurred on by the thought of 3 things – a bin, a toilet and a shop!
We reached Laggan shortly before 1500 and immediately headed for the small shop and cafe in the village, managing to order some hot food minutes before they were due to stop serving. I opted for a bacon and egg roll and my dad a toastie. Both were absolutely fantastic! The service in the shop was great too and there was a brilliant Parrot named Kara who had some very interesting things to say!
Feeling replenished, we set off once more, carefully heading along the A86 towards Balgowan, where we left the main road and headed for more remote country for the next stage of our walk.
The walk through Strath an Eilich was very barren and wild feeling after spending almost all of the trip so far in the cover of forestry, but it made a welcome change of scenery. Thankfully it had also stayed dry all day so far, so we were in good spirits as we headed up the valley towards our destination for the evening.
We approached Dalnashallag bothy around 1900 – our intended stopping point for the evening – and were getting more and more excited about the idea of not having to put our tents up as the wind was now starting to pick up. Although, to our surprise and having not seen a single person on the trail so far, we could see smoke from the chimney of the bothy!
Concerned that there might not be space for us (photos online showed the bothy was very small inside), we opened the door to be greeted by 2 tired looking young Danish guys, who had been walking the Scottish National Trail. By this point, they’d covered a couple of hundred miles, so we were very impressed by their efforts so far! They were using the 2 couches in the bothy (which with hindsight probably wouldn’t have been the best place to sleep anyway) and there was little floorspace, but since they’d been there for a couple of hours, they told us that there was a store area to the side of the bothy with access to a loft area that we could probably sleep on. Although a little dirty, it was between that and putting tents up in the wind, so it wasn’t a tough decision! We spent a little bit of time cleaning our sleeping area before making dinner and heading off to bed with a crackling fire below us for heat and comfort.
Day 4 – Dalnashallag to Drumguish – 17 Miles
We woke early after a good night’s sleep and got ourselves packed away reasonably sharply as nothing had been wet or covered in condensation after a night in a tent. The 2 Danish lads set off around 15 minutes before us and after closing up the bothy and checking that we hadn’t left anything, we were soon on our way just after 0900, heading for the Allt Madagain to find a suitable crossing point.
We managed to do so with reasonably dry feet and continued down the wild and picturesque Glen Banchor towards Newtonmore, the biggest place we’d been since leaving Fort William. The going was boggy and pathless for the most part, but we were in good spirits knowing that we could make use of a shop and a toilet in a matter of hours!
As we reached the start of the tarmac road that would take us to Newtonmore, we stopped for a wee rest to soak in the terrific views around us before heading off to the town for lunch.
We arrived in the lovely town of Newtonmore shortly before midday and headed for the supermarket to buy something for lunch, before duly scoffing it in the car park! Feeling refreshed, we headed back out of the town to follow the trail towards Loch Gynack.
The surroundings were especially picturesque as we headed alongside a river with a series of waterfalls before crossing a sheep farm and then making our way alongside some forestry with superb panoramic views of the distant Cairngorms.
We reached Kingussie around 1500 and stopped only at the public toilets (the first I’d been to that accepted contactless card payments to pay the 50p charge!) before heading for our campsite for the evening via Ruthven barracks, which were well worth the short hop off the path to visit.
Exhausted after another long day, we reached our intended campsite by the river Tromie around 1730 and set up our tents for the evening. Dinner was once again scoffed and we sat and enjoyed the lovely sunset on what was the last night of what had been a fantastic trip so far. It was then time for bed ready for an early rise for the last push to Aviemore in the morning.
We woke around 0700 on our final morning to give us plenty of time to reach Aviemore. Thankfully it had been another dry night and packing our rucksacks was becoming a quick and efficient process after a number of days of practice. We were both sad to be finishing another great adventure, but happy to be so close to a shower and a chip shop! We set off shortly after 0830 through a lovely section of woodland to reach Drumguish, after which we were on a forestry track until nearing Loch Insh.
After leaving the trees behind, the views back towards the Monadhliath were superb.
We arrived at Loch Insh just before 1100, where we had a quick snack and took in the view whilst being attacked by a host of various flying insects. I think I’d have preferred midges to whatever these things were! We didn’t last long before we decided to get on the move once more and try and get rid of our new flying enemies, but the section of the trail through the trees along the loch wasn’t ideal for getting free of them!
We were soon back on tarmac for a little under a mile to Feshiebridge, before turning off onto forestry track again through Inshriach forest.
The views through breaks in the trees towards the Cairngorms were absolutely fantastic and the going was pretty easy – what a perfect way to end 5 days of hard work!
The final stop on our journey was Loch an Eilein, where we stopped around 1350 for a final rest – in what was now becoming rather hot weather for April – to enjoy the view before our final push through Coylumbridge and on to Aviemore.
Pretty exhausted and far too warm, we reached Aviemore at 1530. We had booked ourselves into the Youth Hostel in the town (highly recommended if requiring indoor accommodation in Aviemore) where we could enjoy such mod cons as a shower, a tap and a proper bed!
As much as we were pleased to be back in civilisation, we were sad to have finished what was a picturesque, challenging, remote, tough and generally epic adventure!
We enjoyed a great night’s sleep in the Youth Hostel. Packed up and glad to not have any distance to cover today, we headed to Subway in the town for our breakfast (a must – the friendliest Subway in the country!) and enjoyed a quick look around the array of outdoor shops before catching the train home to Ayrshire.
- Although shorter than the West Highland Way, this trail is very much a worthy alternative to the much busier route if after a quieter and more remote backpacking adventure.
- We were very lucky to have only had one day of rain and no rain in the morning whilst striking camp, so having to camp for multiple nights with no stops indoors to dry out our kit wasn’t too much of a hardship. This would have been a very different story if conditions hadn’t been in our favour and there aren’t a huge amount of overnight options besides B&Bs and hotels along the trail. If you’re up for some wild camping, the possibilities are pretty endless along the entire trail!
- Once again we had no issues with our kit and had become pretty used to carrying everything by the end of our journey, so here’s hoping there are plenty more chances to use everything this summer!