In the Scottish Highlands, on Loch Shiel, sits Glenfinnan, a small village with an amazing view. Darby Sawchuck took this incredibly lit photo of the loch, really evoking the lush green of the landscape and the beautifully wide valley. Despite it being clear that this region sees plenty of rain, it would be worth weathering through just to see this sight when you wake up in the morning.
A new survey by the Scottish Wildcat Association of the endangered Scottish wildcat has revealed only about 35 purebred individuals, prompting the group to announce the cat may go extinct within months, the BBC reports.
It was previously thought that their population numbered about 400. Another survey, funded by Scottish Natural Heritage and published last month, estimated about 150 breeding pairs. The Scottish Wildcat Association believes this figure is unrealistically optimistic and calls the cat “Britain’s most endangered mammal.”
Whatever the real figure, it’s obvious the Scottish wildcat is on its way out. Inbreeding, disease, and breeding with feral domestic cats threatens to eliminate the purebred species.
The Scottish wildcat (Felis silvestris grampia) is found only in the Scottish highlands but once roved all over Britain. A few can be found in captivity, such as these two in the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey, photographed by Peter Trimming.
Scotland is one of Europe’s wildest and most beautiful hiking destinations. If these figures prove correct, it looks like it will soon be a little less beautiful and a little less wild.
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.]
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.
Happy 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!