The Great Glen Cycleway - 3 Days to Cross Scotland
DAY 1 – Fort William to Invergarry
Having arrived into Fort William the previous evening with a gale blowing through me and rain lashing off my face I was delighted to see clear skies this morning for the start of my Great Glen Cycleway. Following a wee natter with May and Norrie the owners of the lovely Berkeley House B&B I picked up my mountain bike from the Nevis cycles just 10/15 mins walk away. It was good to get the legs moving before hopping on my bike. I was still feeling fairly stiff and sore after having run a 1/2 marathon for charity two days previously with 11 others from Macs Adventures ever-growing staff. Ben and co at Nevis Cycles were really helpful and made sure I had everything I needed, repair kit, helmet and lock. They set the bike up to fit me perfectly, I now had no excuses. The highlands were incredibly kind to me on my first days riding for quite a while. The temperature was perfect and the odd spots of drizzle arrived at the perfect moments to cool me down. The first 5km are along tarmac and pavement until you reach the side of the canal, where you then follow the gravel towpath until you reach Gairlochy. From here you have short sections of woodland trails but you are mostly following wide 4x4 tracks until Invergarry.
Example of the trails
The cycling was fairly easy for the first half of the day, which was exactly what I needed to gently break me into what lay ahead over the next few days. I loved whizzing along the canal path, zipping by the walkers and taking in my surroundings. It was a glorious day for being on a bike. Once past Gairlochy, the effort levels picked up but it was all still very manageable even with my stiff legs. Some of the views you are treated to for your efforts are outstanding and after the small pockets of uphill efforts, you get to enjoy zippy wee downhill tracks. I had a lovely moment where a family of red deer where stood chatting away (at least that’s what I assume they were doing) on the track just as I came round the corner. They quickly darted off into the forest when they saw me but it’s always great to see these creatures. A little bit of effort is needed before finishing for the day with a bit of a strenuous section uphill before a fun little drop into the town of Invergarry. A quick bowl of soup and a pint in the Invergarry hotel before heading back to my B&B for the night to put my feet up and prepare myself for tomorrow!
DAY 2 – Invergarry to Drumnadrochit
Stunning scenery on the GGW
After a cheery farewell to Dennis and Helen at Glen Albyn, I followed the road for a short section before following the easy to spot blue Great Glen Way post onto a little forest track. For the next 20 odd mins, you follow a fun wee single track through the pine forest. It is only the equivalent of a green line track but it is still fun and as it was quiet I could zip along enjoying the morning. You are then led back to the road which you follow until you reach the canal to follow the wide gravel towpath until you reach Fort Augustus. I hung around Fort Augustus for a while, like a big child, watching the boats rise and fall as they made their way through the locks as they meandered through this lovely little village. It is the perfect place to stop for a wander and a coffee. To reach the trail out of Fort Augustus you simply follow a short section of road before following a forest trail up a small hill. Once in the hill, you have a fun uphill small single track before coming out onto a 4x4 trail through the forest. You then follow this easy trail for around 30 mins before reaching a split in the way where you can opt for the high route or the low route. If you are on a bike then you are strongly advised to choose the low route. The high routes on the GGW are mostly the equivalent of red and black lines with steep inclines. You will spend the majority of your time pushing your bike uphill and unless you are very experienced walking your bike down steep drops. It’s not a place where you can easily be reached if you have an accident. Obviously, I chose the low route and I’m glad I did. Again it was 4x4 trails but after short up hills you are rewarded with speedy wee sections of downhill through the forests until you eventually reach the perfect lunch stop of Invermoriston.
Staying on-brand while getting some refreshments
Leaving Invermoriston you reach your first real climb. It is quite steep but a quick switch to granny gear should get you through it. It was quiet and quite drizzly so the downhill again was fun and fast. You are mostly on 4x4 trails for the first few miles but you do get to enjoy some tough wee climbs and some fast exhilarating downhills. You do reach some single track which is the equivalent of a green maybe a blue line, so really easy but as you can go really fast on it you do need to be a little aware. The trails are very up and down so your legs may start to burn, however, the last big descent is great fun and very long. For the last few miles, you will follow the road until reaching some fun and fast tracks that lead you down into Drumnadrochit.
DAY 3 – Drumnadrochit to Inverness
Coffee and cake in the middle of nowhere!
The final day is quite short so I took advantage and had a quick wander round Drum and peeking my nose into the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition! It is well worth a visit for some interesting wee facts on Loch Ness. Leaving Drumnadrochit you follow the road for a quick couple of km before the path turns left up through the fields. You slowly climb away from the road and into some forest tracks. Once you peek out from the first forest section make sure to look behind you to take in the views of Urquhart castle, jutting out on the peninsula into Loch Ness. Definitely worth a photo stop on a clear day. Shortly after the clearing, the trail leads you back through some forest and where the path starts to get steeper. I’m afraid granny gear wasn’t quite enough and I had to hop off and push for much of the climb. It wasn’t too tough though and fairly quickly the path levelled out. I had been fearing today’s climb but as it turns out it was quite easy. What goes up must come down and a quick descent down to Loch Laide quickly followed. To celebrate the end of the toughest point I stopped at the charming Abriachan campsite outdoor cafe for some strong coffee and the largest and tastiest piece of lemon cake I had ever devoured. (Cash £9) It is all plain sailing from here! After leaving the cafe you really are on easy street now. The path leads out onto the road which you follow for a couple of miles before snaking off to the left onto a single track. There is a small amount of incline but it is all pretty much downhill from here until Inverness. The trails are fun and if they are quiet you can fly down them fairly fast. The landscape changes as you cross open fields and moorland before arriving alongside a small lake, where through the trees and bushes you can see Inverness. It is now just a short downhill into the city. Once downhill on level ground, you wind your way through some side streets following the very well signed route. It is a pleasant little cycle through town crossing over the River Ness to Ness Islands and through the parks before finding your way to Inverness castle. A small little uphill and you are there!! An easy ride to finish a fun 3 days cycling. It hasn’t been as hard as I thought it would be but it has been a lot of fun and I would happily take it on again.
Made it to the end!
If you are not a regular cyclist then the Great Glen Cycleway will be a good but achievable challenge for you. For regular cyclists, there are still challenges but the highlights for myself was the fast downhills. The trails are not technical in any way and are very much green/blue trails meaning if it is quiet you can really build up some speed while getting to take in some excellent views and sites of the Great Glen Way.