Three hundred and eighty million years ago, northwest Scotland was joined to parts of Greenland and Northern Norway. Plate tectonics has changed all that and in the process the Great Glen Fault was created. Powerful glaciers up until about 8000 years ago scoured the line of the fault, leaving a line splitting the highlands and leading to open water at either end (Loch Linnhe in the south west and the Moray Firth in the north east). Central to this is Loch Ness, 23 miles long and the second deepest Loch in Scotland –depths of up to 750 feet. During the late 1700s, ideas were floated about building a canal to run through the fault, following Lochs Lochy, Oich and Ness, after all, they would only have to create 22 miles of man made canal as nature had already done most of the work. It began finally in 1803 by two brilliant engineers: William Jessop and Thomas Telford and was opened in 1822. It is the earliest example of nationalized transport in Britain, because the government wanted to create jobs in the Highlands after all the Jacobite wars – perhaps they thought it would keep their minds off politics! Along the canal you will find plenty of examples of elegant bridges and locks which reflect the early period of the Industrial Revolution. The Great Glen Way basically follows the fault line, stretching for 73 miles and was opened on 30th April 2002 by HRH Prince Andrew. The tour starts at Fort William, near the foot of Ben Nevis (Britain's highest peak, which can be readily ascended if you choose to spend an extra day), follows the shores of the famous Loch Ness, and finishes at Inverness, Scotland’s north-most city and the “capital of the highlands”. Most of the walking is straightforward, along canal towpaths and forest tracks, but there are some more challenging sections on the last couple of days.
Easy to moderate, walking approx 8 miles/ 13 km to 18miles/ 29km. 3.5-8 hours The route starts fairly flat but gets harder over the last 3 days with short steep hills and longer hills on the last day of walking. The last day of walking can be reduced by taking optional taxi transfer (included in the price) to a point about a third along the trail, missing out the steep climb.
Make your own way to Fort William. There are only traces left of the original fort built to keep the dreaded Highlanders at bay. Today the town is the “Chamonix” of Scotland with a proliferation of outdoor shops, cafes, bookshops and bars to entertain you if you arrive early. If you have an extra night here and you are an experienced hill walker, you could go and climb Ben Nevis, or you could take a boat trip to “Seal Island” to see the grey seals loitering around.
Accommodation: We use a selection of bed & breakfast/guesthouses in Fort William all offering ensuite facilities.
Today’s walk is very easy which will give you the opportunity to do several side trips. The first one being Old Inverlochy Castle, which is one of Scotland’s earliest stone castles, built in 1260. Continue on with your walk before taking a short diversion to Corpach sea loch, with its lock-keepers’ cottages and pepper-pot lighthouse. You then head up to the tow path of the Caledonian Canal following it past “Neptune’s staircase” (a flight of 8 locks) to the small village of Gairlochy. It is likely that you will be staying at Spean Bridge, which is another 3.5 miles hilly walk. If this is the case, normally the guesthouse will be able to collect and transfer you if you prefer not to walk.
Accommodation: Stay overnight in a 4 star family run guesthouse, set in its own spacious grounds, and located on the outskirts of the picturesque Highland village of Spean Bridge.
A mainly easy walk today, but it does have some short steep ascents. You will be walking on a mixture of tarmac, forest paths and tracks, mostly shared with the Great Glen Cycle Route. Two miles after the start of your walk, you could take a side trip to Clan Cameron Museum and Cia-aig waterfall before rejoining the Way at Clunes (an extra couple of miles or so) but note that the museum is only open in the afternoons. From Clunes all the way to Kilfinnan, you walk on forest tracks, you will get splendid views of Loch Lochy with the mountains behind.
Accommodation: Stay at a 3 star guesthouse tonight which is surrounded by breathtaking scenery.
An easy walk today. The terrain is a mixture of tarmac, railway track bed, old military road, then a canal towpath. You enter the Leiterfearn nature reserve, enjoying the wonderful ash, birch, elm and hazel woodland. If you have time you could walk up Meall a’Cholumain from Fort Augustus, which is a great viewpoint. Fort Augustus was largely built in 1729 as the hub of General Wade’s military road building programme to calm the highlanders after Culloden and there are 5 locks at the centre of town on the Caledonian Canal and several museums. There are some great restaurants here, you may even have enough time for a short cruise on Loch Ness.
Accommodation: Tonight your guesthouse will be one of the many Victorian establishments.
A harder day today with steeper ascents. You will climb through a forest of birch and pine, beside a stream and uphill to a forest track. You should get some dramatic views of Loch Ness at intervals through the woods. Walk through the village of Invermoriston with its little bridge built by Thomas Telford. The Invermoriston Hotel is a great place to eat and has several types of malt whisky. They also have great beer from The Skye Brewery. There are nice leafy walks down by the river.
Accommodation: The guesthouse was purpose built in 1995 to provide a family home and bed & breakfast accommodation. Each bedroom is well-furnished and has a spacious ensuite. You can relax in the evening by the open fire in the lounge, while the breakfast room enjoys great views of Sron Na Muic.
A moderate day of walking with some steep sections. There is quite a bit of undulation today, but hopefully you’ll be used to the walking now! For strong walkers in good weather you could ascend Meall Fuar-Mhonaidh from where you may get views from Ben Nevis all the way to Inverness. You can take excursions to Urquhart Castle with commanding views over Lochness, with a stop at the café or an interpretational centre. You end up at Drumnadrochit, an attractive ‘Green Village’, which has a Loch Ness Monster visitor’s centre…or two!
Accommodation: We use a mixture of B&B's in the busy town of Drumnadrochit
Today is normally a long day: 19 mile/30.5 km, which may be too much, especially if you want to see something of Inverness. So the tour is shortened by an optional taxi transfer taking you from the town to Loch Laide, famous for its very clean water. Descend then to Blackford and the Great Glen once again meets the Caledonian Canal before reaching Inverness, a beautiful city of past and modern, although mostly Victorian. If the taxi option is taken then this is a 21 km/14 mile walk.
Accommodation: We use a number of different guesthouses in the city of Inverness.
After breakfast depart from Inverness.You may wish to spend another day visiting the Neo Gothic St. Andrew’s Cathedral and the Castle, the museum and art galleries at Scotland’s Northern Capital. We would recommend that you visit Fort George, the Clava Stones and the newly rebuilt Culloden centre, which are all nearby, and with the exception of the Clava Stones, on local bus routes.
This was our first multi-day walk so we were a little apprehensive but we had a fantastic time and will definitely be doing more in the future.
J. Taylor, Bolton, UK, 24 Apr 2017
Thank you, we had a fabulous time, and an unforgetable experience. We will definitely return.
M. Campbell & S. Purcer, Washington, USA, 26 Sep 2016
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