Tales from the Big Trails, in print on 2nd September 2021, available now for pre-order from Vertebrate Publishing. Featuring all 15 National Trails in England and Wales, and the 4 designated long-distance Scotland’s Great Trails. This is the story of the people I meet, the landscapes and coastal scenery and the sheer joy of walking these iconic long-distance routes in the UK. Click on a link below for a copy.
Follow the British Isles most spectacular geological fault, the separates the Grampian Mountains from the North West Highlands of Scotland. Mostly a cycle track with an excursion into the mountains to sample the view of Loch Ness. Much of the route follows the Caledonian Canal which interconnects the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.
Time of year
Any time of year would perhaps be possible given the well-formed cycle/land rover tracks. Usual rules about midge season apply as this area suffers more than most.
Length of walk
This is the shortest National Trail at 73 miles since the Speyside Way has been extended. It can be completed in 3-4 days with ease as the going is generally good underfoot if a not a bit monotonous.
There is good accommodation at intervals along the trail, including some Forestry Commission wild camping sites used for Kayakers and Canoeists travelling the canal. These are very basic. The usual rules apply for wild camping in Scotland, but these sites have the basic facilities and are very pleasant. Fort William and Inverness have plenty of options and good rail connections into the national network, including a wonderful sleeper service to London.
Having just completed 300 miles of the Southern Upland Way and West Highland Way, the Great Glen was going to be a rest before going on to the Speyside Way. In the end, I completed the route in 4 days, taking it easy.
The first day departs Fort William and then follows the Caledonian Canal along easy going cycle tracks, past locks and bridges towards Invergarry. At Glas Dhoire I stumbled upon a wild campsite provided by the Forestry Commission for Kayakers which had an open fire and 3 sided shelter, which saved putting up the tent. I wisely avoid another rancid freeze dried meal (must write to complain) but had sufficient backup to feel satiated. A short-eared owl kept me company that evening, dropping down to the fireplace area to snuffle up wee rodents that were interested in picking up crumbs I had left. That day I meet a lovely Canadian couple you had eloped to get married on the Isle of Skye, after fat bike packing around a number of single malt distilleries. Nice one.
The following day continued with the monotony of a cycle track into Fort Augustus where I collided with the great outdoors (TGO) coast to coast race. The campsite was like a lightweight single man tent show (all middle-aged men) who were perplexed to find someone similar not doing the same, but having spent 16 days walking. Fort Augustus emptied after the tourist “Rabbie” buses departed.
Up earlier than most of the TGO adventurers and into town to grab lunch at the petrol station opened. The route then took to a high level to stunning views down the great glen in either direction. An ideal place to look out for the Loch Ness Monster, which seemed to be the theme of Drumnadrochit town, my stop for the day. A good cafe filled a gap until I could check in to the hostel and be first in the queue for the Fiddlers pub and a superb meal and pint, the best in Scotland, not to mention their incredible collection of single malts, perhaps all of them produced in Scotland.
The hostel is geared up for wind farm workers, as is the post office next door, which serves a fine bacon butty. Now only 18 miles into Inverness. The previous nights’ research of the Speyside Way reveals that they have extended it! So this throws my plans into chaos, as I have to be back home in time for a family commitment 😦 So the last section is taken easy to catch the sleeper home, with time to fully explore Inverness, with a notable bookshop kept warm with a wood burning stove.
It is a pity not to have completed all the Scottish trails in one journey, but I’ll take 3 weeks and 400 odd miles without mishap or injury as success.
- Day 1 – 19m – Glas Dhoire – Shed
- Day 2 – 14m – Fort Augustus – Tent
- Day 3 – 22m – Drumnadrochit – Hostel
- Day 4 – 18m – Inverness – Sleeper train to London Kings Cross
Sleeper train is a great way to combine travel with accommodation