The Scottish Highlands. If only we could paint, instead of write, a trip description. The name itself conjures images of rich green hills, towering peaks, stone castles, mysterious lochs, wild heather, and villages seemingly untouched by time. Travelling along two of Scotland’s best-known hiking routes, you’ll fall in love with both the Scottish terrain and the warm welcome of its people. What’s more, you’ll form strong friendships with your group mates and revel in your shared accomplishments in this deeply historic country.
The West Highland Way, Loch Lomond & the Scottish Highlands
Arriving in Edinburgh, we’ll head to the southern shore of Loch Lomond and the West Highland Way. We’ll break out our boots and strap on our packs as we set out on the Way along the “bonnie banks” of Loch Lomond. The transition into the Highlands proper is subtle and spectacular as we work our way north towards the villages of Inversnaid and Bridge of Orchy. We’ll pause for a rest day in the village of Tyndrum before making our way over Rannoch Moor, the “remotest and wildest section of the whole Way.” We’ll be awed by the wild beauty and enormous scale of the mountains around us as we pass the Kings House Hotel, an inn that has been serving kings and travelers since the 1600’s. We’ll climb up and over the “Devil’s Staircase” to make our way through the charming village of Kinlochleven and into Fort William, the “Outdoor Capital of the United Kingdom,” and the very end of the West Highland Way.
Sea-Kayaking, Ben Nevis, the Great Glen Way & Edinburgh
Camping in beautiful Glen Nevis, we’ll rest tired legs with a magical day of sea-kayaking among resident seals and nearby castles. Refreshed, we’ll next climb Ben Nevis’ rocky flanks where, high on the summit, we will stand at the very top of the United Kingdom. During the second half of the trip, we will walk from the Atlantic Ocean to the North Sea along the Great Glen Way. We’ll follow this stunning path through sunlit meadows and dark, ancient forests to mountainsides overlooking Loch Ness, home of the fabled Loch Ness Monster. Upon reaching the end of the Great Glen Way in Inverness, we’ll lend a hand with a morning of service before catching a train south for a celebratory finish in Edinburgh. Walking Edinburgh’s Royal Mile together, we’ll explore the wonders of this beautiful, storied city and reminisce about our 20-day, shared Scottish adventure.
Please see our General FAQ page for many more frequently asked questions and answers!
How physically challenging is SHX?
Given a rating of Challenge Level 8 (out of a maximum of 10), we consider SHX to be an advanced hiking trip. We do believe that any moderately fit, motivated student who trains ahead of time can successfully rise to the challenge of this trip. Compared to similar hiking trips, we believe SHX is an equivalent challenge level to our Alps Explorer due to long mileage days and some challenging terrain. The group will hike close to 20 miles on their most challenging day, while their daily mileage typically spans between 10-15 miles. Please note that all of Apogee’s Challenge Levels are not scientific and are subjectively calculated by the Apogee staff.
How much training should my child do ahead of time?
As SHX is one of our most challenging hiking trips, we have a training and preparation protocol for the trip which we share with enrolled families well ahead of the trip. Please contact the Apogee office for specifics regarding pre-trip training.
What is the difference between front-country and backcountry hiking? What will the backcountry portion of SHX be like? How much weight will my child carry during this portion?
Generally speaking, the front-country is any area that is easily accessible by vehicles and day users. Hiking in the backcountry, on the other hand, involves hiking and camping in more remote locations without running water. Hiking and camping in the backcountry requires more preparation because of the need to carry in all food and equipment, and treat drinking water prior to consumption. Very few portions of the West Highland Way or the Great Glen Way are truly backcountry, in that our groups will be passing through towns and settlements daily. That said, there are portions that will be rugged and not readily accessible to auto traffic. Your child will be carrying their personal gear (sleeping bag and pad, clothing essentials, personal toiletries), along with their allotted portion of group sleeping and cooking gear and food. For the most extended portion of hiking on our SHX trip, your child should expect to be carrying between 30 and 40 pounds in their pack.
What should my child expect in terms of weather and environmental factors on this trip?
The Highlands can be a damp place in the summertime. We encourage you to follow the packing list closely, as it will prepare you adequately for the elements. Groups can expect to encounter rainy days on this trip as well as ares of concentrated “midge flies.” We have found that these factors do not significantly impact the trip if students are properly prepared.
Aside from the trip cost, what are the additional expenses for this trip?
Apogee’s tuition costs are meant to be all-inclusive and include all meal, accommodation, and activity fees. The most significant additional expenses on our Scottish Highlands Explorer trip will include travel to and from Edinburgh, Scotland, a sleeping bag and sleeping pad, a backpacking pack, and hiking boots.
In addition to hiking boots, what other footwear should my child bring?
We highly recommend only one set of footwear in addition to hiking boots. Comfortable, lightweight camp shoes, such as Crocs, Chacos, Tevas, or flip-flops work very well. A light pair of running shoes is okay, too, but please do not bring anything bulky or heavy!
How often will my child call home?
Parents can expect a phone call home about once a week on SHX, usually corresponding with the group’s rest days. Students on international trips will also call home at some point on arrival day, depending on schedules and arrival times.
Should I send my child to Scotland with an international phone plan or a calling card?
We encourage families to send their child with a phone for pre- and post-trip communication. Because Apogee does not permit the use of cell phones by students while on trip, however, we do not recommend signing up for a European phone plan. You are welcome to send a calling card with your child, but they will also be able to use their leaders’ phone to communicate over WiFi. We’ll likely recommend parents download a free app, such as Viber, to facilitate calls home. Look for this information in the spring.
This trip starts outside of the United States. What do I need to know before traveling internationally?
In addition to needing a valid passport, we encourage you to coordinate travel with other attendees. To that end, we’re happy to put you in touch with other enrolled families from your region. To aid in international travel planning, we have a flight information table which details arrival and departure airports and times for each of our trips. We will provide enrolled families with a Travel Information document covering details specific to traveling to and from Scotland.
Is this trip van-based?
No, this trip is not van-based. When necessary to cover long distances quickly, e.g., from Inverness to Edinburgh, the group will make use of Scotland’s terrific public transportation system. Otherwise, our groups be walking everywhere they go! This means that every pound matters – sticking to the packing list is essential.