As a Scot, I am well aware that Fort William is regularly proffered the accolade of “wettest town in Scotland”, so it should have come as no surprise that on the day we were due to start the Great Glen Way we awoke to find ourselves in the middle of a thunderously grey rain cloud, which showed no sign of relenting. Our B&B landlord cheerfully advised us that it had been sunny for over a week, and it was a shame we were starting off today. Nevertheless, we optimistically chatted about the day ahead over a fortifying cooked breakfast, then got ourselves waterproofed up and ready to set off.
Setting off across the retail parks which came between us and the official start point marker, I looked round to see my partner Ryan disappear through the doors of that well known burger chain. We had walked 150 yards. Stomping in after him and shaking off the rain, I looked accusingly at him as he stood in the queue only 30 minutes after our hearty breakfast. However, it was just a caffeine fix on order. Coffee cups in hand, we set off again, taking a hasty photograph at the sodden start point. The first few miles took us through streets and housing schemes, and I have to admit, combined with the dreary weather, and unable to see the coastal view through the gloom, the first few miles of the walk were not what we had pictured. “We could have gone to Spain you know” my partner commented. I hastily reminded him that he had suggested going camping. Thankfully in light of the weather, we had vetoed the camping idea! Walking along the canal, which the route runs alongside for the full day, was more what we had imagined. I spotted a newt sharing the path with us (above)! Low cloud cover meant sadly the views of the hills were blocked from us, however, the moody atmosphere of the turbulent clouds had its own charm. Passing by other walkers pausing for their tea breaks with a friendly hello, we charged on, commending ourselves on our “impressive” pace. Eventually ,we did stop for lunch, and the sun broke through the clouds as if to bless our feast! Packing up and moving on, we almost tripped over the end point of the day only half an hour later. With the choice of walking the 4.2 miles to our B&B, or calling for a pick-up, we decided we were on a roll and walked the extra miles. The Commando Memorial on this extra walk served as a nice point to stop and reflect before the final decent towards our B&B. Peter at Distant Hills, our B&B in Spean Bridge greeted us with Tea and Cake. Cake is the best welcome in my books!
The scenery became more varied (and the weather far more friendly) as we walked via some quiet roads and woodland paths to Loch Lochy, which we would complete the length of on day two. Again, we made good time, and arriving at Laggan Locks we stopped to watch a boat sail through the “staircase” of water. I didn’t know I was so fascinated by Canals! Dennis and Helen at Glen Albyn Lodge B&B gave us a warm welcome, and we enjoyed meeting Gordon, the 7 ft stag guarding their front garden. He didn’t say much, but he looked very noble. However, the ultimate piece-de-resistance was the outdoor hot tub. BLISS after a day on the feet!
We set off past Loch Oich, following the overgrown tracks of a forgotten Great Glen Railway which ran to Fort Augustus in the golden age of Rail. Some eerie platforms remain, ghosts of a bygone age. Stage two was back to the Canal path to Fort Augustus. Stopping to break out the thermos of tea at the next Locks, we were surprised to see an enormous boat (or ship - below) filling the full lock, and almost bursting out of each gate. I now thought of myself as a bit of a canal buff (I’d been reading up), and shook my head in a concerned manner. To my right, the lock-keeper was also shaking his head. “Gate’s stuck” he sighed, gesturing towards the rear gates, stuck around 1 meter away from closing. “Boat’s too big, dredged up rocks from the floor. Over 10 boats waiting already, gonnae be a long day. Waiting for the divers.” The boat’s crew sheepishly eyed the onlookers as we all sipped our teas. Onwards to Fort Augustus, via an angry swan, and a soaking by a sudden rainstorm, and we reached what seemed like a metropolis after the villages of the previous two nights! We selected an outdoor seat at a coffee shop by the canal, and toasted reaching Loch Ness with two fellow walkers we had become acquainted with. After a long and enjoyable coffee break we managed the final few steps to our central B&B, and on ringing the bell realized it was only 2:30 pm. Really?! We weren’t supposed to check in until 4 pm, but our landlord was very accommodating. High fives over our “impressive” pace again though. Plenty time for a wee dram at the Lock Inn pub then…
A climb from Fort Augustus into the forest above Loch Ness. A view point over Cherry Island (a crannog, and the only island on Loch Ness) was lovely, except Cherry Island was obscured by the “enthusiastic” forest. Most of the short day’s walk today were through forest, although the views of Loch Ness when they were there were absolutely spectacular. Especially considering the sun had graced us with it’s presence. Arriving early in Invermoriston, as we had time to catch Andy Murray’s game at Wimbledon from the comfort of the Glenmoriston Arms, followed by a walk to the falls, and through the Invermoriston estate to the shore of Loch Ness (although a private estate, chats with the locals let us know that walking along the shore was allowed, and a popular local dog-walking spot, with some benches to sit and enjoy the tranquil view).
Today, the views were more favorable, and we thoroughly enjoyed the walk. A cartographer gentleman we met along the way suggested that there was a pottery maker’s workshop further along our path (Loch Ness Pottery - above) which had recently opened a tea and cake shop. He had marked on the path where to find it he told us. Sure enough, we came across TEA etched by hiking pole into the path, with an arrow pointing towards a gloomy overgrown path. Had we not met the cartographer, I doubt we would have followed the spooky path on the basis of a crude TEA etching! However, we pressed on down the spooky disused road, and reached a rustic building and yard. We looked at each other with a touch of concern (we have watched too many horror films perhaps), but soon saw the sign above the door for “pottery”. Good enough for us! We ducked through the door to be met with a delightful collection of handmade pottery, and a few other crafty items. Calling to let our presence be known, and a friendly gentleman came to meet us. We ordered tea, gingerbread, and biscuits and were presented with a handmade teapot and truly delicious treats. A friendly proprietor, and thoroughly enjoyable rest in homely surroundings. Walking the paved sections into Drumnadrochit was harder on the feet, and we were relieved to arrive at our truly delightful B&B, Rowan Cottage. More tennis on TV as my crazy partner went out for a run (!), and I reclined with refreshing glass of wine.
Final Day – Into Inverness
Today the sun shone and the heat rose….which would have been great had it not been for the steep morning climb to the highest point of the walk! I almost mustered up the energy for a jig of joy on reaching the “highest point” sign. After 5 full days of walking, finishing with a 20 mile day was hard, and I must confess to becoming a little “crabbit” at points! However the elation on spotting Inverness (the view in question is pictured above) in the distance soon quashed any grumbles. The final part of the walk, over the Islands of the River Ness, was a delight and if I could have, I would have jumped for joy at the finish point! The atmosphere at Inverness Castle was great. Despite the building being a local court house, most people in the Gardens were tourists or satisfied walkers. Our Great Glen had been a great success. Andy Murray did OK in the 2013 Wimbledon final the following day too.
Great Glen Way – My Top Tips
- The paths are well maintained, so in good weather, give your feet a rest by wearing lighter walking shoes or trainers on some days, especially the shorter days.
- Wear socks appropriate for the weather! I ended up with painful heat burn on the final day, with my heavy duty winter hiking socks in 21 degrees!
- There are more forest walks than I had expected. Embrace the peace of the rustling trees – but take fly repellent in addition to midge repellent!
- Look out for Loch Ness Pottery between Invermoriston & Drumnadrochit
- Make the most of some pleasant evening walks around Invermoriston. Keep an eye out for pine-martens!
Having done sections of various other long distance paths, but never completed one until now, I challenge anyone to finish a long distance trail and not create a list of many more to be ticked off! Next on the agenda…