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East Highland Way, Sept 2019

East Highland Way, Sept 2019

Postby Pete Marsh » Thu Sep 26, 2019 11:08 am

Date walked: 14/09/2019

Time taken: 6 days

Distance: 134 km

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Me and my mate Phil were looking to do a trek of about week in mid September, and while we'd both been to Ft Willliam and the West highlands over half a dozen times we'd never been to the Cairngorms, so we chose the EHW from Ft William to Aviemore, over 6 or 7 days. We planned to wild camp on the Tulloch to Newtonmore section (where there's no accomodation), so had posted tents and cooking stuff to Tulloch Hostel for the use on night 3. We also planned to go up Ben Macdui when we got to Aviemore (reviewed elsewhere) and had posted a couple of sets of clean clothes to the hotel in Aviemore we'd end up (the High Range). So here's an outline of our experience. I won't go into too much details about the route as its well covered at https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/east-highland-way.shtml

We had Kevin Langan's guide book, the East Highland Way XT40 strip map, and the OS App for GPS spot locations if we needed them. There are the odd 'official' plastic disk waymarkers, but a lot more orange splodges sprayed to show the way, so thanks to whoever did that!

Distances and times are approximate:

Day 1 - Ft William to Spean Bridge. 12 miles in 4.5 hours

We stayed at the busy Ft W Backpackers Hostel in a 3 bunk bedded room before we were to set off. Three of the other guys in it had just completed the WHW and were swapping war stories about it. They'd never heard of the EHW though!

We knew it was a relatively short walking day, so we headed down to the Ft W Morrison's for a massive fry up breakfast (I couldn't finish it), and set off at 11am into driving rain. We trudged out of Ft W with heavy Saturday traffic splashing though the standing water. About about mile of pavement pounding into the trek we found that where the guide book said 'a triangular junction signposted to the Alcan smelter, it is now a roundabout signposted to the smelter. After a brief discussion we figured that the road layout had changed and squelched past the smelter and up the valley.

Occasionally, orange splodges sprayed onto posts and tree trunks helpfully marked the route in places.

The going was ok considering the vile weather, with no impassible bogs or heavy ascents/descents. It mostly shadows the A82? and railway line.

Spean bridge is has plenty of B&Bs and a well stocked Spar that seems to be open at all hours. We ate at the converted Railway Station restaurant/bar.

Day 2 - Spean Bridge to Tulloch Hostel. 12 miles in 5 hours

Another damp short walk day. We set off from the B&B at 10:30 by heading back onto the trail behind the railway station. It's only about 10 miles to Inverlair but we'd booked the hostel at Tulloch to stay (not many other options on this stage), so that would push it out to about 12 miles.
There were some slow going boggy sections next to the river and steep climbs through forest tracks after some ruined crofts. So a nice mixture of forest walks and fields.

We didn't see a single person once we were a mile away from Spean Bridge. We did see a couple of plastic EHW disks and plenty of orange blobs though.

When we got to the big white Inverlair House, instead of heading up the trail we turned left and trudged up the road for nearly 2 miles to Tulloch hostel by about 3pm. The red phone where you turn off to the railway is slated to be de-activated in Sept '19, so whether the box stays as a landmark is moot. The hostel next to the railway line (another converted station) was closed at 3pm, but eventually the guy who runs it (hime and his wife live in a bungalow nearby) showed up to let us in. We were the only occupants this Monday night until a woman with a Staffie who was bagging Munro's turned up. They do a good evening meal, breakfast, and packed lunch. They also allowed us to post the tents and cooking gear to them - we'd need them the next night.

Day 3 - Tulloch to wild camp on the beach at the end of Loch Laggan About 20 miles in 8 hours

Note that this is often walked as the Laggan to Feagor/Pattack Falls section, but we camped on the Loch Laggan beach, a couple of miles short of those.

This was a long day, which started at 9:15ish (after an excellant breakfast) with a 40 min road slog back to Inverlair House. If you look at the OS map there's a direct shortcut over the railway line crossing at the station and across fields and over the river, but you'll cut a small bit of the trail out as it intersects the trail a bit after Inverlair. If I did it again I'd take that off piste route to Tulloch and back, just to eliminate a couple of miles of A road grass verge with cars and coaches zapping past at 50+ mph, etc. As it was we looped the 2 miles back to Inverlair to rejoin the trail, and after we'd been going for another 2 miles I looked over to the left to see Tulloch Hostel behind us but still only a mile or two away though the trees!

After an initial section through forest and across open moorland and field it was mostly forest walks on hard tracks, so heavy on the feet. Before heading into the wilderness you see this warning:

The 7+ mile section along the banks of Loch Laggan was my personal favourite bit, foot ache notwithstanding.
Interesting geology on Loch Laggan.

At the end of Loch Laggan was the huge beach maybe a quarter of a mile off the trail, and we chose to make camp in the sandy wooded bit on its edge. We got a good fire of driftwood going but jeez, it was cold and windy there! With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight I would walk and extra mile or so to the wild camp site at Pattack falls, just to get out of the vicious mid September wind off the huge waters of the loch. At least it eliminated midges...

Day 4 - Loch Laggan to Newtonmore. 15 miles in 7 hours
After rehydrating a breakfast we broke camp and slogged back to the trail for the 6ish mile leg to Laggan, mostly along pleasant tracks to the Spey Dam, then a slog up 'General Wade's Miltary Road' of maybe 2 miles to Laggan Stores for lunch.
Laggan Stores is now a cafe, so don't expect much more that crisps, cans and choc bars to take away, but we did have lunch there.
At this point we had to decide whether to go the 9 miles or so to Newtonmore via Strath an Eilich, or the road based alternative. It had been very wet a couple of days before, and we didn't fancy getting our boots filled with water when bog trotting and rock hopping across water courses (the river can be impassible if too full). So we decided to go via road.

This was probably a big mistake as it was a horrible 4 hour trudge that gave us both blisters. If I pass this way again I'll take my chances with the burns and rivers unless it's really been belting down with rain all week...

In Newtonmore we stayed at the very nice Newtonmore Hostel which is directly on the trail. It has a sink to hand wash a change of clothes and a good drying room, where we managed to hand wash a couple of sets of pants/socks/t-shirts. The Glen Hotel pub over the road does good meals too. Newtonmore has a post office where we mailed the tents back home! We were not going to wild camp again, and wanted to lighten our rucksacks (the night before we'd booked a bunk room at Loch Insh).

Day 5 - Newtonmore to Loch Insh Watersports Centre. 15 miles in 6 hours.
A great first stage to Kingussie over soft peat moorland, and lunch in a cafe there. The walk from Kingussie to Loch Insh started with a 1.5 mile road trudge, but soon became a pleasant walk through a wooded nature reserve. The path to Truim Bridge through the woods was being re-routed by blokes in a little tracked digger, so we had to work out a minor detour. Once over the bridge it was a climb up into more pine forests and open trails, for a nice walk to Loch Insh Watersports Centre which is directly on the trail. If you book accomodation in Kincraig it's only a 10 min walk off the trail though.

Day 6 - Loch Insh to Aviemore 10 miles in 4 hours
After a good breakfast we set off at 10am. Navigation of the first mile was a bit fiddly, but it soon turned into a great forest walk and a stretch through the wooded marshes that house Drake's Bothy. This place should be dismantled and put into a EHW museum - it has graffiti on it's wooden walls going back to the 1980s (if the dates are true)!

The final 3 or 4 miles were a pleasant stroll in the warmth and sunshine along a couple of lochs, encountering more and more people on day walks from Aviemore.

We walked into Aviemore over the converted railway bridge and checked into the clean modern hostel there. Walk completed.

It's pretty isolated in the middle stretches - and in the entire 6 days we only met 1 other person doing the EHW (in the other direction, on the banks of Loch Laggan). By the sounds of it the connected WHW is a much more 'sociable' walk. There's a lot of forest tracks which can be hard on the feet, I'd definitely recommend getting some soft insoles for your boots before you set off.

It's a great way to see the central highlands, and when you get to Aviemore to explore the impressive Cairngorm plateau.

We did allow 7 days in case of illness or very bad weather, so provisionally booked the Aviemore Hostel for night 6 if we did it in 6 days, which we did.

In mid September you will be treated to an amazing display of mushrooms on the forested bits!


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Pete Marsh
Munro compleatist
Posts: 12
Joined: Feb 2, 2018

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