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Hike through Scotland’s remote, mountainous heart — East Highland Way

Rab Lawrence (CC BY 2.0)

Hike through Scotland’s remote, mountainous heart — East Highland Way

Hiking Collection by Alex Foxfield

6-13

days

3-6 h

/ day

93.0 mi

6,750 ft

6,100 ft

A spectacular, adventurous and wilder alternative to the famous West Highland Way, the East Highland Way is an 82-mile (132 km) hike through Scotland’s remote, mountainous heart. Linking Fort William to Aviemore, two of Britain’s outdoor capitals, it is a long-distance trek containing spellbinding scenery, rich history and superb wildlife.

The mountain, loch and forest scenery is of the finest vintage. You start beneath the giants of the West Highlands — including Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis — and the splendour of Glen Spean. After this, you pass beneath the formidable Craig Meagaidh and walk alongside beautiful Loch Laggan. The Way finally brings you to the River Spey, which you follow to the glorious Rothiemurchus Forest in the lee of the huge sub-Arctic Plateau of the Cairngorms.

Highlights along the Way include: Spean Bridge, a classic Highland village and home to the dramatically situated Commando Memorial; Monessie Gorge, where the rushing River Spean tumbles through a rocky ravine; Loch Laggan, a remote loch over which golden eagles soar; Fort Dun da Lamh, an impressive Pictish ruin high on a hillside; Newtonmore, a village boasting wildcat trails and an excellent museum; Kingussie, a lively town watched over by the impressive ruins of Ruthven Barracks; Loch an Eillein Castle, ancient remains set against forest and high mountain plateau — a quintessential vision of Highland magnificence.

Wildlife is abundant in the sprawling pine plantations, sparkling lochs, serene glens and vast areas of natural woodland. Golden eagles, ospreys and capercaillies are just some of the birdlife you can hope to see from the trails, while pine martens, wildcats and red squirrels are among the rare mammals that inhabit this unique landscape.

Launched in 2007 by Kevin Langan, the Way is steadily growing in popularity, though accommodation is not as plentiful as on some other long-distance walks and the route is only waymarked through Ardverikie, Gynack and Badenoch. There is also a particularly remote stretch to contend with (more on this to follow). However, you mostly follow solid forestry trails, footpaths and minor roads and, despite being in the heart of the Highlands, the walking does not entail substantial elevation changes. The level of challenge is therefore suitable for all reasonably fit walkers.

In this Collection, I have split the Way into seven stages of between 9 and 16 miles (14.5 and 25.7 km) in length. Each ends at accommodation, which I specifically name in the stage descriptions if options are limited. This is apart from stage 3, between Tulloch Station and Kinloch Laggan, which is a remote stretch of 21.3 miles (34.3 km) alongside the Moy Reservoir and Loch Laggan and, even then, does not end at accommodation.

To solve this problem, I recommend getting in touch with the Rumblie Guest House in Laggan, where arrangements can be made for a pick-up and drop-off service. You could choose to tackle the Way with a tent and backpack, finding campsites or wild camping, which gives you the flexibility to split stages as you see fit. There’s also no reason you couldn’t do the whole thing in reverse, starting in Aviemore.

The best times of year to complete the Way are late spring and early autumn. During winter, the weather will be harsher, daylight hours short and many of the amenities en route may be closed, adding to the logistical challenge. In the height of summer, the midges are likely to be an irritation, though not enough to detract too much from the experience.

Essential items for your checklist are sturdy hiking boots, warm layers, waterproofs, sunglasses, sun cream and insect repellent. Unfortunately, ticks are an issue in the Highlands. A tick twister and the knowledge of how to safely remove the little blighters is also essential, as being bitten by an infected tick can lead to Lyme’s disease, particularly if it’s not removed swiftly. Meals should be planned and arranged (often with accommodation providers rather than at pubs and restaurants) in advance of setting out and you will need to carry spare provisions with you. A water purifier would also be a boon, enabling you to fill up at mountain streams.

The Way can be accessed by train and road. The start point of Fort William is on the West Highland Line, taking between three and four hours from Glasgow. You can also get the Caledonian Sleeper all the way from London. From Aviemore station you can get to both Glasgow and Edinburgh in just under three hours. It is only about 40 minutes to Inverness, which has an airport with links to other major cities in Britain.

It is conceivable to link the East Highland Way at either end with the West Highland Way at Fort William and the Speyside Way at Aviemore. This makes walking from Glasgow all the way to the Moray Coast a realistic possibility as one, epic hiking journey.

For a Collection following the West Highland Way, see: komoot.com/collection/887377

For a Collection following the Speyside Way, see: komoot.com/collection/896972

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East Highland Way

82.7 mi

5,400 ft

4,750 ft

Last updated: November 15, 2021

Plan your own version of this adventure in the multi-day planner based on the stages suggested in this Collection.

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Tours & Highlights

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors

    Stage 1: Fort William to Spean Bridge — East Highland Way

    Difficult
    05:36
    13.0 mi
    2.3 mph
    875 ft
    700 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The main attraction during the first stage are the views towards the mighty North Face of the Ben and the other giants that rise above the Leanachan Forest between Fort William and Spean Bridge. The hiking is straightforward, on well-established forest tracks and there are a number of possible detours

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Difficult
    05:54
    13.4 mi
    2.3 mph
    1,350 ft
    900 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This stage gradually ascends up scenic Glen Spean on forest trails and through open fields, ending at one of Britain’s most remote mainline train stations. En route is a dramatic gorge crossing on a creaking suspension bridge and a worthy detour to a wonderfully situated church.

    To leave Spean Bridge

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Difficult
    09:11
    21.3 mi
    2.3 mph
    1,425 ft
    1,225 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This stage is a monstrous 21.3-mile (34.3 km) trek through Laggan Wood and alongside spectacular Loch Laggan. Although long, the hiking is not particularly difficult, undulating along established forest trails for the most part. You will need to carry all your provisions, but this is a small price to

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Intermediate
    04:22
    9.35 mi
    2.1 mph
    1,175 ft
    1,200 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This is the first stage within the Cairngorms National Park, as you venture from the eastern end of Loch Laggan to the village of Laggan on the River Spey.

    There are two route options, one that makes for the summit of Black Craig above Black Wood, before continuing to Dun da Lamh, the impressive ruins

    by Alex Foxfield

    View
  • Difficult
    06:55
    16.0 mi
    2.3 mph
    1,000 ft
    1,050 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    During this stage you cross the wild moorland of Strath an Eilich to the Dalnashallag Bothy, before following the River Calder to Newtonmore. You then ascend to Loch Gynack, skirting Creag Bheag’s flanks to arrive in the lively town of Newtonmore. Magnificent Cairngorm scenery is a constant and, if you

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Intermediate
    04:10
    9.69 mi
    2.3 mph
    550 ft
    600 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The penultimate stage visits the historic Ruthven Barracks, before joining the Badenoch Way and following it through the vibrant Insh Marshes, one of Europe’s most important wetland sites. The stage ends just beyond Loch Insh at the popular village of Kincraig. There are stirring views east, towards

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Intermediate
    04:20
    10.3 mi
    2.4 mph
    375 ft
    400 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The final stage explores the vast Rothiemurchus Forest via some wonderful sights en route to the Way’s end at Aviemore. Chief among them are the beautiful Loch Gamha and Loch an Eilein, the latter boasting superb island castle ruins. It is a gentle end to your journey, with 10.3 miles (16.6 km) to cover

    by Alex Foxfield

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    7
  • Distance
    93.0 mi
  • Duration
    40:28 h
  • Elevation
    6,750 ft6,100 ft

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