The Great Glen Way was officially opened in 2002 and is one of Scotland’s Great Trails. It stretches over 117 km (79 miles) from coast to coast across the ruggedly wild Scottish Highlands, linking Fort William with the regional capital Inverness on the east coast. Kicking off at the end of the West Highland Way, the Great Glen Way offers a natural extension for those who want to venture on a slightly longer adventure through the Highlands.
If you are not used to hiking long distances or are new to the harsh highlandish terrain, Great Glen Way with its low-level paths makes for the perfect introduction to hiking in the Scottish Highlands.
Overview of Route
The Great Glen Way kicks off at the edge of Loch Linne in Fort William, a magnificent sea loch that connects with the Atlantic Ocean. It takes you along the Caledonian Canal, an engineering jewel designed by Thomas Telford that links the Loch Linnhe, Loch Oich and Loch Ness and thus, creates a pass from the western shore to the Moray Firth.
The Caledonian Canal opens into Loch Lochy north-east of Fort William, at Gairlochy. You will continue through the village of Laggan, onto Loch Oich and then again along the canal to Fort Augustus at the southwest peak of Loch Ness. Next, the route leads you along the northern shore of this legendary lake to Invermoriston, Drumnadrochit, through moor and farmland onto the crossing of the Caledonian Canal and the River Ness before entering the city of Inverness. From there it’s just a very short distance before the canal and the river become one with the sea at the Moray Firth.
The 117 km can be walked within a period of 4 to 7 days, depending on your stamina, rhythm and personal preference. The official finish/starting point of the trek is the Castle of Inverness, as the Great Glen Way can be hiked from either direction. However, going from Fort William to Inverness will keep the wind at your back, the sun behind you and allow you to start with the easier section of the way.
For the most part, the trail is low-level as it mainly follows well-maintained towpaths and woodland tracks by the Caledonian Canal. Thus, it makes for a perfect introduction into long-distance hiking in the Scottish Highlands.
However, since 2014, a higher level option has been officialized between Fort Augustus and Drumnadrochit which offers a more challenging and rugged hiking experience as well as dramatic views for the worthy cost of a slightly more effort. Also, experienced hikers are welcome to tackle some of the Munros and Corbetts by taking a few diversions along the road.
The waymark is a generic, simplified thistle on a pale blue background usually attached to a wooden pole. The route is well-marked in both directions and follows very clear trails which make the hiking quite straightforward throughout.
When To Go
As it’s true for the rest of the highlands, the best time to hike is between April and September, so you don’t have to fight with the harsh winter weather. However, if you equally want to avoid the notorious midges that love hanging out by the lochs in summer, refrain from hiking in July and August.
There are at least a few accommodation options in every town the trail passes through Fort William, Laggan, Invergarry, Fort Augustus, Invermoriston, Drumnadrochit, and Inverness. Usually, you can choose among B&B or a hotel. If you are traveling during a busy period or in a larger group, you might want to book your accommodation in advance.
In case you are in for a more authentic hiking adventure, there are official camping sites at Fort William, Gairlochy, Fort Augustus, Drumnadrochit, Wester Laide by Abriachan, Inverness.
There are Tesco stores in Fort William, Drumnadrochit as well as Inverness. So, if you need to buy supplies as you hike, you need to plan a bit ahead to not miss your chance. Invermoriston has a small convenience store, and Fort Augustus also offers a few smaller supermarkets as well as cozy and reasonably-priced cafes.
Best Guide Books
There are several reliable guides available including the Walking the Great Glen Way written by Paddy Dillon and published by Cicerone Press. Alternatively, Highland Council provides a free accommodation and service guide to Great Glen Way in PDF version. This guide will be just fine (even if it doesn’t include a map) if you don’t plan on deviating from the route as the way is so well-maintained and waymarked.
Travel Along The Route
There is a number of ScotRail trains each day that take you from Glasgow (Queen Street) to Fort William. Also, if coming from afar, A night sleeper train (the Caledonian Sleeper), takes you directly from London Euston to Fort William via the West Highland Railway. Alternatively, you can take advantage of Citylink coaches running from Glasgow to Fort William and vice-versa.
What to See?
Besides the stunning views watch out for the Neptune’s Staircase just outside of Fort William. Named after the Roman god of water, this staircase lock comprises of eight locks making it the longest staircase lock in the UK. Also, don’t miss Urquhart Castle which is one of the most popular stops on the route. It offers excellent views and great photo opportunities. The rumors have it that it’s the best place to spot the Loch Ness monster.
Why Great Glen Way?
If you are new to long-distance walks in the rugged conditions of Scottish Highlands, Great Glen way is a great place to start. Not too challenging yet absolutely lovely, it offers all you can ask for from a hike across highlands.