I walked the 79-mile trail over five days in May 2023, as a prelude to the three days of the far wilder 43 miles of the Lairig Ghru and Glen Tilt through the Cairngorms.
See how I walked the Great Glen Way
Is it strange, that for me a longer route can be the junior partner to a shorter?
On the Great Glen Way, you’re not often far from the busy A82 road through the Glen. For me, the eight miles from Clunes to Laggan was the only significant roadless gap, though the five miles by Loch Oich, closed for logging when I was walking, would have been quite significant too. Near the end, the Abriachan plateau boasts only a few crofts and a mountain bike centre. In contrast Ghru / Tilt passes neither road nor habitation for very nearly 40 miles.
But that does mean the GGW can welcome many varieties of walker, from those trying out a trail walk for maybe the first time, taking a week with the benefit of luggage transfer and pre-booked hotels every night, to those like me who don’t mind longer days and the opportunity for a wild camp.
It’s worth noting that the GGW has a number of alternative routes. One goes through Invergarry rather than beside Loch Oich. Another, the High Route, takes a more interesting line than the main route from Fort Augustus to Invermoriston and again for a few miles afterwards. I also used a semi-official link path between High and Low routes in the vicinity of Alltsigh.
Be prepared too for occasional temporary diversions. In 2023, the Coire Glas hydro scheme forced a higher route at the north end of Loch Lochy, and as mentioned logging closed the Loch Oich stretch, requiring use of the Invergarry alternative. Both were very well signposted, but many walkers – even me, for the first of them – didn’t know about them till they got there.
Towns and villages
Long a major route across the Highlands, the Great Glen is perhaps its most consistently-populated ribbon. Its start and end points, Fort William and Inverness, are respectively town and city, though not large examples of either at populations of 10,000 and 50,000. Both are packed with outdoor shops and everything else the walker could need.
Two decent-sized villages, Fort Augustus and Drumnadrochit, are about half and two-thirds the way along. Two smaller settlements either side of Fort Augustus that nevertheless have a good range of services are Invergarry and Invermoriston. Otherwise, just because it looks important on the map, don’t assume there will be much of use there, except maybe a B&B or loo. The likes of Gairlochy and Laggan fall into this category.
Fort William and Inverness both have rail stations, and coach links to the rest of Scotland. Indeed they are both termini of the wonderful Caledonian Sleeper, which leaves London Euston six nights a week and wakes you up trundling through the Highlands. I used it to make my way to Fort William. Banavie station, first stop out of Fort William on the Mallaig, is directly on the Way too.
There’s a perfectly good coach service through the Great Glen, stopping at anything like a settlement, about five times a day in the tourist season. I used it to give me a day-pack day in the middle of the walk. Less frequent services from both end points to Skye diverge from the A82 at Invergarry and Invermoriston.
Apart from that, there’s almost nothing, not that you are likely to need it. I did meet one couple who were using the once-daily bus at Gairlochy to get to their off-route accommodation at Spean Bridge.
As hinted above, there is a good range in all the settlements and no doubt a search on the likes of AirBnB or booking.com will find much more.
There are hostels or bunkhouses at Fort William, Invergarry, Fort Augustus, Alltsigh, Drumnadrochit and Inverness. I used Morag’s in Fort Augustus for my two-night stay in the middle of the walk; it’s the third time I’ve been there, and can heartily recommend it.
There are several Trailblazer campsites in the first half of the Way; these are unserviced, apart from a toilet (get a key from Corpach Sea Lock!), and provide just a few pitches for wild campers. I used one at Dearg Allt on my first night; it was a temporary replacement for that at Glas-Dhoire, then out of bounds. At the end of the walk, I used the ‘eco-campsite’ at Abriachan, which is just as off-grid as the Trailblazers but has friendly humans to help as well.
Responsible wild camping is legal of course in Scotland but there are relatively few places where it’s practical on the Way, especially in the many forested sections. There are a few commercial sites too, but not many considering the popularity of the area.