How To Create A Successful Hiking Route


A couple of years ago, I spent six enjoyable days hiking the East Highland Way and wrote a series about it for all you fine folks. Back then this trail through Scotland had only just been established by devoted hiker Kevin Langan.

I felt like a real pioneer when I did this route. The 82-mile journey from Ft. William to Aviemore was unmarked and there was no guidebook yet. Kevin was kind enough to email me PDFs of the page proofs. I never saw anyone else doing the trail and only heard of one other hiker, a German who was a day ahead of me.

Now the East Highland Way is fully established. The guidebook is not only in print now, it’s on its third edition. Kevin’s website is getting tons of hits, and his publisher has added some stuff for the techies in the form of a free Android mobile phone app for the route, which is now available on the Google Play store. GPS (.GPX) and Google Earth (.KMZ) route files are available to download from the website free of charge, as is a new amenities brochure, which includes maps of each location and places of interest.

The trail has also received markers. When I did it I had to rely on generally trustworthy Ordnance Survey maps. It’s nice to have confirmation with trail makers, though.

I caught up with Kevin and asked him how he went about building this new trail and what’s new after two years.

%Gallery-163506%What made you decide to establish a new route in the highlands and what made you pick the Ft. William-Aviemore line?

After walking the world-famous West Highland Way, I noticed that hikers can engage with a whole other network of interconnected trails such as the Great Glen Way, the Rob Roy Way, the Kintyre Way, and the Cowal Way. It was by exploring these routes that I then became aware of a satellite group further east. The Speyside Way, Dava Way and the Moray Coastal Trail seemed to be cut-off and isolated by a series of lesser-walked glens. It occurred to me that strategically, a new connection at this point could theoretically fuse together the various national trails and create a much larger path network to explore. The missing link in question ran between Fort William and Aviemore, two towns already drenched in outdoor culture and heritage. This was entirely theoretical at first and was never anticipated to become a mainstream long distance trail.

How did you go about researching and establishing the route?

In the years to follow I explored the area many times both physically and virtually, trial-blazed various routes and took more notes than I knew how to compile. It was through detailed analysis of the terrain and distances that I finally settled on the East Highland Way route as it stands today. Three websites and three guidebooks later, the route is becoming more popular with each day.

How did you get markers for the route? Were those put up by the government?

The waymarking has been done by building up relationships with various landowners. There are also various existing sections that use locally waymarked trails already, which is great – mainly the Badenoch way and the newly waymarked Loch Gynack trail. The EHW waymarking so far has been done very organically from the ground up. The new orange East Highland Way markers have been distributed to land owners and strategically placed at their discretion. These will include the forests of Inverlair and Corrour and also the full length of Loch Laggan past Ardverikie.

How has the route changed since I walked it (when the first edition was still in production)?

Since you walked it the route has changed immensely. Almost 10 miles of reduced road walking:

1: The route now leaves Fort William via the old Ben Nevis access path past the Alcan smelter, rather than the tarred cycle path to Torlundy.

2: The route uses a new Forest trail approaching Spean Bridge, which bypasses the road section.

3: A new forest route through the Ardverikie estate, which reduces the road walking along the Ardverikie driveway by a few miles.

3: The road walking through Laggan village has been chopped in half with a shortcut over the moor to Glen Banchor.

4: A new high-level route has been introduced between Newtonmore and Kingussie, which replaces the old tarred cycle path.

5: A new route waymarked through Invereshie House estate towards the Frank Burce sculpture park.

What’s next for the EHW?

I think the East Highland Way is growing steadily and I would be happy for people just to continue walking and enjoying the route and that over the years further waymarking is introduced and further road walking eliminated. It’s quite a simple project with a simple agenda. The most important thing for me is the quality of the product. I need to stay focused on finding the best quality paths and attractions along the route and everything else will sort itself out.

Are you planning to establish more routes?

I’ve got various projects, which are ongoing and take up lots of my time. There will hopefully be other long distance routes in the future although this isn’t something I’m actively pursuing at the moment. They are extraordinarily time consuming and need a lot of effort and hard work not to mention free time to be produced properly and with a high quality output in mind.

[Full disclosure: I contributed several photos to the original edition. I didn’t ask for payment, and I don’t receive any royalties. I gave Kevin free photos because I believe in promoting this trail. I don’t know if they’re in the third edition.]

Five great hikes in Scotland

hikes in Scotland, Great Glen Way

Scotland is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. With a varied landscape of lush glens, steep mountains, and rugged coastline, there are plenty of great hikes in Scotland to satisfy any hiker. Here are five of the best.

West Highland Way
One of Scotland’s most popular hikes runs 96 miles from Milngavie to Ft. William. The trail offers a good sampling of many of Scotland’s ecozones including lochs, moors, forests, hills, and mountains. One highlight is the Devil’s Staircase, a rough ridge north of Glen Coe that offers challenging walking, and, if you go off the path, the toughest scrambling in Scotland. Check out the West Highland Way website for more information.

East Highland Way
Scotland’s newest long-distance trail starts at Ft. William and ends 78 miles later at Aviemore. In between, the trail passes three beautiful castles, prehistoric sites, several fine lochs, and a wonderfully remote and abandoned stretch of wilderness. For more information, check out my Gadling series on hiking the East Highland Way. Also check out the East Highland Way website.

Great Glen Way
Another popular hike, the Great Glen Way crosses Scotland from Ft. William to Inverness, a 79 mile route that takes you through a broad stretch of forest, as seen in this photo courtesy Karsten Berlin, and along the length of Lochs Locky, Oich, and Ness. Loch Ness is 23 miles long and the second largest loch in Scotland. Most walkers take nearly two days to walk its length, providing a chance to admire its beautiful scenery and mistake every ripple on its surface for a monster. I’ll probably be doing this hike in September. Stay tuned for a special Gadling series!

%Gallery-150536%North to Cape Wrath
Despite this being an unmarked and unofficial trail, there are two guidebooks dedicated to hiking to the Scottish mainland’s northernmost point — the lighthouse at Cape Wrath. One route starts at Ft. William and is 202 miles; the other starts at Banavie and covers much the same ground, clocking in at 205 miles. Parts of the route are unmarked and even uninhabited, meaning you’ll have to bring a lot of gear. This is not a hike for the inexperienced. On the other hand, you’ll be seeing some of Scotland’s most remote spots. The hardy souls who have done this have told me it was one of the toughest challenges they’ve ever faced, and the most rewarding.

The Clyde Coast Way
If hiking to Cape Wrath is a bit more than you want to tackle, the Clyde Coast Way is a lot shorter and more forgiving. At only 50 miles, it can easily be done in four days and provides plenty of stunning views of Scotland’s southwest coast. As you walk from Ayr to Greenock, you’ll have mountains on one side and distant islands on the other. You’ll pass through several coastal towns, each with their own attractions such as historic churches and, more importantly, pubs. There’s easy access to roads, railway stations, and accommodation throughout, making this a good choice for the beginning hiker who wants plenty of beautiful scenery.

Another great hike worth considering isn’t actually in Scotland, although you can see Scotland from the trail. The Hadrian’s Wall Path follows the length of Hadrian’s Wall from Wallsend 84 miles to Solway Estuary. You’re just on the English side of the border for much of the time and you can visit several Roman forts along the way. You also get bragging rights for having walked across England. Just don’t mention you did it at its narrowest part!

Travel Read: The East Highland Way hiking guide

hiking, Scotland, East Highland Way
Last year for my annual “Oh crap another birthday I need to prove my youth” long-distance hiking adventure, I chose Scotland’s East Highland Way. It runs 78 miles from Ft. William through some beautiful countryside to Aviemore. The route had just been created by hiker Kevin Langan, and was so new there wasn’t a guidebook. Kevin was kind enough to send me maps and a summary preprint of his book and I set off. Check out the link above to follow my adventures.

Now Kevin’s book has been published by independent Scottish publisher Luath Press, Ltd. The East Highland Way is a detailed guide to the route with lots of information on wildlife and history. It’s also richly illustrated with clear maps and photos of Scotland’s beautiful countryside. Full disclosure: I contributed several photos. I didn’t ask for payment, and I don’t receive any royalties. I gave Kevin free photos because I believe in promoting this trail.

I’ve never read a guidebook after going somewhere, yet this strange experience didn’t diminish my enjoyment. Kevin gives lots of detail about side trips I missed and information about Scotland’s nature I wished I’d known before I headed out. I highly recommend the book. Of course, if you’re planning on hiking this route there’s no other book about it, so my recommendation is unnecessary, but it’s nice to know the only game in town has been well played.

The East Highland Way starts at the junction of the West Highland Way and Great Glen Way, both very popular (some would say too popular) routes. It ends at the start of Speyside Way, another popular route. If you want an enjoyable hike that isn’t overrun by walkers, consider the East Highland Way. When I went last year I hardly bumped into anyone. The only other person I heard was doing the hike was a German guy walking a day ahead of me. I never caught up with him and that’s just fine. I loved having the Highlands to myself.

My year in adventure travel: a look back and a look forward

adventure, adventure travel, Axum, EthiopiaHappy Boxing Day everybody! As I sit here stuffed with my mother-in-law’s cooking after a traditional Spanish Christmas, I’m thinking back on all my travels in 2010 and looking forward to 2011. One of the best parts about my travel year has been sharing it all with you. I love the comments you’ve sent suggesting sites to see and trails to take, and was especially amazed by the outpouring of support I got from Ethiopians and Somalis for my series on their countries.

Early in the year I took my wife on a road trip in Ethiopia for our tenth anniversary. I have always wanted to go there and it didn’t disappoint. A combination of nice people, good food, awesome coffee, and tons of historical and archaeological sites shot it right to the top of my list of favorite destinations. So much so, in fact, that we’re going back in 2011! We haven’t finalized our plans, but we’ll be doing another road trip to a different part of the country and then I’ll spend a month or so in Harar, a fascinating city I want to learn more about. So expect a series about Ethiopia in 2011, including at least one trek to a certain remote castle in the rugged Ethiopian highlands.

Harar is the gateway to Somaliland, an emerging nation that has broken away from the chaos in the rest of Somalia. My two weeks there shattered every preconception I had about the region. Somalilanders are working hard to build a peaceful nation in a region notorious for war and corruption. Since they aren’t recognized as a country, they’re receiving very little assistance from the outside world. I’m proud that my series of articles helped in a small way to publicize their efforts.

As regular readers will know, I always celebrate my birthday with a long-distance hike. When I turned forty I hiked the Hadrian’s Wall National Trail. This year for my 41st I hiked the East Highland Way, Scotland’s newest trail. For my 42nd (moan) I plan to return to Scotland. I’m not sure where I’ll go, so I’m hoping one of you can help me decide. I want a hike of about a hundred miles over beautiful but rough terrain, with a steady diet of historical and archaeological attractions. Any ideas?

All these wanderings really filled up my hard drive. The gallery features some photos that didn’t make it into the original series. I hope you like them.

There were some less-adventurous trips in 2010, such as exploring the tombs of Rome, the sights of Yorkshire, and the legend of Jesse James. I’ve also had plenty of wonderful armchair adventure travel courtesy of my fellow Gadlingers. Two of my favorite series have been Andrew Evans’ amazing trip around Greenland that left me green with envy, and Catherine Bodry’s exploration of Yunnan, China, graced with her beautiful photos.

It’s been a wonderful year with a great team and great readers. I’m looking forward to 2011!

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Hiking the East Highland Way–the practicalities


Hiking a brand-new trail has both advantages and challenges. The main plus to hiking the East Highland Way was that I had the trail all to myself. I never did meet that mysterious German who was a day ahead of me, and I met nobody else doing the trail. Hotel owners along the route do report a steady trickle of hikers, and that trickle will only increase. In the short term, however, you will get some peace and quiet on this hike. Another advantage is that you get to feel like a trailblazer, helping out with a work in progress.

Some challenges are apparent from the beginning. While the route already has a website and a Facebook page, there’s no guidebook. The East Highland Way guidebook is due out in a month or so and in the meantime author Kevin Langan can offer helpful advice. Check the website for contact information.

Accommodation requires some planning. If you want a roof over your head at night instead of a tent, your options are limited. Most villages only have one or two places to stay so you need to book well in advance to ensure you have a room. Do not simply walk into a tiny Scottish village in the hopes of getting a room that night. Chances are you won’t, and you might have a long walk before getting to your next chance for a bed. Luckily all of the places I stayed on the route were friendly, helpful, and good value for money. Some, like Tulloch Station, require you to reserve meals ahead of time. All are accustomed to serving hikers as a major part of their business and have useful amenities like drying rooms for soggy gear and information about local trails. Many sell hearty packed lunches, which again need to be reserved in advance.As I commented in a couple of previous posts, the trail is having a bit of a teething problem in that a few short stretches have no trail at all and one is forced to walk along rural roads with no shoulder. This situation is be potentially hazardous and will hopefully be solved in due course. I tended to walk along the grassy side of the road, an awkward way to move but at least it kept me safe from the cars.

While there are some pitfalls to this new route, I don’t hesitate to recommend it. The East Highland Way passes through some beautiful and remote countryside and isn’t crowded like some of the more popular routes like the West Highland Way.

Like with all Scottish hikes it is essential to pack clothes for all conditions. The weather can change from hot and sunny to freezing rain, and everything in between, in the course of a single day. Sturdy, waterproof boots are also a must. A couple of days I needed sunscreen! Getting sunburned and soaked in the same afternoon is a very real possibility in the Highlands. Other essentials are the Ordnance Survey maps numbers 41, 42, and 35. In addition to covering the entire route, these finely detailed maps enrich any hike by pointing out spots of historical importance. Don’t rely on them too closely, however. As I discovered on my final day, the OS maps can be a bit out of date. The guidebook will include sections of these maps with the route clearly marked. Also, a good compass and a sound knowledge of orienteering is essential for any long-distance hiker. Forget the GPS. That’s for wimps!

So if you’re looking for some solitude and scenery in the Highlands, give the East Highland Way a try. With sufficient preparation, you’ll have a great time.

Check out the rest of my series on the East Highland Way!