Thinking of a sustainable, low carbon holiday? Why not catch the train to the Scottish Highlands and go hiking? At 117 km / 73 miles, with only moderate changes in elevation, the Great Glen Way makes an excellent introduction to long distance trails. The path connects Fort William, at the Southern end of Scotland’s Great Glen with Inverness to the North. It follows the usual long distance trail combinations of footpaths and quiet roads, but adds an old Drover’s road, the Caledonian Canal towpath, General Wade’s old military road and the former Invergarry Railway into the mix. You get to take in views of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain; three lochs, including Loch Ness; and of course the boats on the Caledonian Canal.
Most hikers start the Great Glen Way at the Fort William and in doing so, begin with a manageable hike along the Caledonian Canal on the first day. We decided to start at Inverness; this has the disadvantages of exposing hikers to the most challenging section on the first day, coupled with walking into the Scottish weather throughout the route. For this sacrifice, you are rewarded with better views as the mountains get more dramatic as you walk towards Fort William.
This article is only intended to give a taster for the Great Glen Way, coupled with some of the highlights we encountered and some of our learning. If you would like to know more; then just ask a question in the comments section. Our hike began at Inverness Railway Station where we disembarked from the Caledonian Sleeper from London.
Specialist companies will offer to book accommodation and ferry your bags to your accommodation each day, allowing you to hike with a day pack. We booked our own accommodation three months in advance, using the contacts sent out by the Great Glen Way in their visitor pack. Just email them for a copy. In some cases this meant telephoning and confirming the booking in writing. Our accommodation was all in family run B&B’s and Hostels. We carried all of our things in our rucksacks. I’ll add a short post on this blog in the near future, detailing the stuff we carried and how we fared with our choices. We also took a copy of ‘The Great Glen Way’ by Cicerone (£12.95) which had a description of the trail along with OS maps and distances. Be aware that the route of the trail changes over time and that you have to check the website quoted earlier before setting off.
Our overnight stops:
Day 1 – Drumnadrochit
Drumnadrochit has several B&B’s, Guest Houses, Hotels and a hostel. It is also home to two Loch Ness Monster visitor centres. Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness, is a detour from the trail, but it is possible to catch a bus from Drumnadrochit to a stop in the castle car park if you have had enough walking for the day. Bizarrely a short journey like this costs almost as much as the journey from Inverness to Fort William. The Great Glen is well served by CityLink and Stagecoach buses, but the trail itself stays away from the main A82 road for the majority of its length.
Day 2 – Invermoriston
Invermoriston has a number of B&B’s and a hotel, but only one shop / Post Office. The only restaurant open after 5 pm is at the Invermoriston Hotel, but it does serve a good choice of restaurant and bar meals.
Day 3 – Fort Augustus
Fort Augustus at the Southern end of Loch Ness has an ample supply of accommodation of all types. It also has welcome diversity of shops, supermarkets, pubs and restaurants.
Day 4 – Invergarry
To enjoy the walk along General Wade’s Military Road and the former Invergarry Railway, we had to double back up the other side of Loch Oich to get to our accommodation. It is possible to avoid this by taking the Great Glen Cycle route. For our efforts, we were rewarded with the best hostel accommodation we encountered on our hike,at the Invergarry Lodge. This independent hostel run by Matt and Jenny had everything we thought a hostel should have; a bath, a drying room that worked, free WiFi. We found then to be the kindest, most helpful hosts in the Great Glen too.
Day 5 – Gairlochy
According to our guide book, Gairlochy had the Telford Tea Rooms. While tramping through the inevitable horizontal Scottish rain on the hike alongside Loch Lochy it was thoughts of having a hot cup of tea here that cheered cheered us up. Unfortunately we arrived to find it had closed some years back. There are no tea rooms, restaurants or even shops in Gairlochy. All was not lost as it was here that we checked into the most comfortable B&B we experienced on our journey. At the Dalcomera, we had our tea with views of Aonach Mor and Ben Nevis occasionally accompanied by a rainbow. As the nearest restaurants to Gairlochy are at Spean Bridge, our hostess Heather served a very tasty evening meal for £15.
Day 6 – Fort William
While walking along the Caledonian Canal on the sixth day, we felt that the days seemed to have flown and we wanted to keep walking, perhaps onwards down the West Highland Way to Milngavie; sadly we had only booked accommodation for the Great Glen Way. Sticking to the original plan we stayed at Fort William. We had allowed one day to do something other than hiking. I was tempted to hire a mountain bike and try the course at Nevis Range. The forecast high winds meant it was possible that the gondola would not be operational, so instead we took a rail trip to Mallaig, before returning along the West Highland Line to Glasgow. I can now appreciate why it was this rail journey that won ‘World’s Best Railway Journey’ at the Wanderlust Travel Awards 2009.
John Williams can often be found undertaking sustainable travel or snowboarding; usually while toting a compact camera. You can follow him at @Eurapart and find out more at about.me/JohnWilliams. See more articles by John on the VisitBritain Super Blog. (All of the images in this article were taken by John Williams using the compact camera mentioned earlier.)