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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.
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.]