The Great Glen Way is about 80 miles (128km) long, and runs between Fort William and Inverness. The original route kept to lower levels but since 2014 there has also been a higher level option between Fort Augustus and Drumnadrochit. This option offers more dramatic views.
I walked the Great Glen Way as part of my 1,200 mile Lands End to John O’Groats and 3 peaks walk. I had low expectations because, whilst walking the West Highland Way, I had met a couple who had walked the Great Glen Way a few years previously. They thought it was dull with too much time in trees and no views. I’m guessing they walked the low route.
I was lucky with the weather when I walked the Great Glen Way. This meant I was able to take the two alternative high level routes. These gave me amazing views over Loch Ness and the mountains. These alternative high level routes do have some stiff climbs and descents on them, but are well worth it. This walk far exceeded my expectations.
The route follows the major natural fault line of the Great Glen which divides Scotland from coast to coast.
The Great Glen Way runs along the complete lengths of Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and Loch Ness. It also follows the towpath of the Caledonian Canal which links these lochs and creates a through-route from the western seaboard to the Moray Firth.
Day 1 of the Great Glen Way: Tuesday 9th April 2019 (Day 53 of my LEJOG)
I left Fort William at about 3pm in the sunshine, having climbed Ben Nevis in a T-shirt this morning. The Great Glen Way begins and passes behind the bus and train station, following a newly laid path. It then has a short section of minor road, to Neptune’s Staircase.
The route then follows the tow path beside the Caledonian Canal. After the climb up beside the loch gates, it’s an easy, level walk all the way to Loch Lochy. I didn’t make it that far today as I ran out of daylight, so I camped beside the tow path.
Day 2 (54): Wednesday 10th April 2019
So yesterday I was on top of Ben Nevis in a T-shirt, and this morning I woke at 5.30am to the inside of my fly sheet sparkling with frost. I made one of my dehydrated breakfast meals (Adventure Foods – Knusper Muesli) and a coffee, and watched the sun rise. It was gorgeous. I was a bit cold so watched it laid in my sleeping bag. At least it was clear why I had woken up cold in the night.
I was packed up and away by about 6.45am along an OK walk following the canal track. There were amazing early-morning views with snow-capped mountains and mist hanging over the water. It was then a stunning walk around the southern edge of Loch Lochy, which I had walked before on the TGO Challenge. It felt funny to be back!
From here, it was an uninteresting walk along the loch on a forestry track, just far enough away to block out the view of the water for most of the time. At the end of the loch, it was back to the canal and a lovely walk through old woodland past Laggan. The route returned to forest track again, but worse this time as it followed an old railway line, making it dead straight. However, I did get much better views of Loch Oich all the way to Bridge of Oich.
I did pass two camping spots today, both in lovely spots by the lochs. They each had composting toilets, and I passed one of them 10 minutes after digging my own hole. It was a bit annoying as I didn’t know they were there – perhaps I should have read up on this walk!
I followed the canal side path all the way into Fort Augustus. My legs were really aching by this point – the high mileage was starting to bite now. There also had been no reason to stop before Fort Augustus. The Barge Inn was closed (being painted) and I just couldn’t be bothered to walk 400m down the road to check out a hotel signposted off the path.
I was happily following the canal when I got to a sign that said path closed – we will bus you around the work on the canal. This sent be into a blind panic. I couldn’t believe it, having walked all this way up the country! I then found a hand-written sign stating that the path was open. What a relief.
At Kytra Loch, I found some very heavy machinery working and serious fencing. The workmen happily waved me through though, all saying hello. The canal from here to Fort Augustus was completely empty. It was quite an impressive job and a strange sight.
I couldn’t believe that I made it to Fort Augustus, and by 5.30pm too. I could hardly walk though! The town was very quiet and everything was shut, so I worried that the pub would be too. The Bothy was open, though, and so I got a meal and two pints. I was working in the principle that it would save me needing a food shop, as I had enough in my pack to get me to Inverness (just). The news was on the TV, and it was amusing to realise that nothing had changed with Brexit since I left home in February.
High route or low route?
I left Fort Augustus on the Great Glen Way with a stiff climb, but a lovely path through the woods. However, I really struggled to find a place to camp and I was totally worn out. It was about 8pm when I got to a sign that said high route or low route. The high route had views but was longer and harder – what a decision to have to make right now! I phoned my wife, but she was no help (sorry! Emma) so I took the high route. Remember I had had two pints in the Bothy…
Luckily I found a spot to camp by the path fairly quickly, so I felt good about my decision to take the high level route. I was worried I would regret it in the morning, though.
I’d got the tent up, coffee on and in my sleeping bag by 9pm just as it was getting dark. The longer days were so helpful. I was pretty sure no one else would walk past me so I undressed and had a proper wash. Luckily I was decent again when a chap on a bike with a child on his back whizzed past! It was worth it though – my feet feel much better in clean socks. The Teko socks were a bit thin and bobbly inside, so I decided to throw them out to save the weight.
Day 3 (55): Thursday 11th April 2019
It had been a cold night with no wind, meaning I woke up to a wet tent again.
The high level route was good but hard work. The views were amazing, and the cloud first thing in the morning was really interesting. There was a part inversion at one end of the loch, and overcast at the other end, creating all sorts of views and images with the mist and sun.
A moment of trail magic happened today. The cafe in Invermoriston was a surprise, as I didn’t know about, nor the shop in the village. This was a lovely, family-run cafe and the value for money was brilliant. It was great to support such friendly, hard-working locals. It felt very strange to post all my A4 maps home here. I’ve just got 3 left in my map case to take me all the way to John O’Groats. Maybe I am truly getting close now…
I climbed straight away after Invermoriston and on to another Great Glen Way high route . This one was slightly shorter but harder, with more ascent. I met a lady walking with her son, and one of the first questions she asked me was, ‘Do you mind me asking what your base weight is?’ I told her that was the perfect question if you’re a keen walker! Weight is everything on a walk like this – I was impressed. At 12 noon I stopped by the bridge to dry my tent and gear in the sunshine, to swap my socks and wash the others.
Earlier in the day I had met a chap coming the other way with a big pack. It turned out he (Tom) was walking from John O’Groats to Land’s End, and it was nice to be able to advise him on the Pennine Way which he would be using. He told me about the John O’Groats Trail, which he’d just done. I got worried as it sounded a lot tougher than I was expecting, and he advised me to missed some sections out. This was a concern as I was now on a time schedule to meet my wife at John O’Groats by 21st April at the latest. This meant doing 20+ miles per day, which I would struggle to do on the terrain he described.
I had a lovely afternoon’s walk from here to Drumnadrochit, where I passed a Fish and Chip shop and bought chips covered with garlic sauce, very nice. Then I climbed into the woods again to camp by the river, with a view of Loch Ness through a gap in the trees.
Day 4 (56): Friday 12th April 2019
I woke to a cloudy but warm morning (8 degrees or so). I passed a few shops yesterday but didn’t pick any food up, and I was now looking despondently into my food bag. 6 coffees – just OK – one pack of Tuc biscuits, one breakfast meal that I was then eating, one curry meal, (which I knew I wouldn’t have time to stop and re hydrate during the day), two pieces of fruit bread and a few chocolate bars to get all the way to Inverness. I knew I would be looking for a three course meal in the city, if I didn’t starve getting there. What an idiot – buy food!!
Initially, today’s walk was a nice path through the woods with an occasional glimpse of the loch, then the path left the water to follow tracks and quiet roads to Inverness. I passed about 8 people and a few tents camped in the woods – they had lit a fire last night to sit around, and were also heading to Inverness on the Great Glen Way. I also met a Slovenian lady over on holiday for 10 days walking the Great Glen Way in the opposite direction; she had an interesting book on all the plants in Scotland.
The path suddenly gave me views over Inverness.
Having lived off Tuc biscuits all morning, I stopped at 1.45pm at a lovely old pub for lunch – The Castle Tavern. It was a relief not to have to pay tourist-hiked prices. While eating my delicious haddock and chips which went down very well. I heard the bar man telling a chap who had just walked in, the risotto was off and the chap say that’s not a problem as I don’t know what that is.
The walk into Inverness along the river through Ness Islands was a great way to arrive in the city.
The people were lovely and friendly right from the start, and the city had a nice, open feel. It was a great ending to a thoroughly enjoyable walk.
Read my Land’s End to John O’Groats walk (short story)
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