Although I’d had a great time on the 2022 TGO Challenge, I quickly settled on the Great Glen Way as the main object of my Scotland trip in 2023.

It would bring me up to 14 National Trails completed, and 15 get you a gold certificate from the Long Distance Walkers Association! No prizes then for guessing that the West Highland Way featured in 2024.

Also, the GGW ends in Inverness, so it would be a simple matter to relocate to Aviemore, the start of the three day Lairig Ghru – Glen Tilt traverse – an entirely different proposition.

At 79 miles, the Way can at a pinch be walked in four days, but pretty much everything has to go right. I played around with this possibility, but decided on five, with a relatively short day in the middle. As you will see, all was good.

Go back to my Great Glen Way page

Wednesday 10 May 2023: Fort William to Dearg Allt, 19 miles

Off the sleeper and into the town for a few provisions. Back to the station for a breakfast roll and am certain I’ve lost my gloves. Ask a couple of passengers and at the ticket office, failure, set off for the nearest outdoor shop, one more check, yup they’re in my inside pocket.

Just one of the frustrations of the older walker. Never mind. There’s a GGW waymark at the station, it leads across Morrison’s car park and eventually across a roundabout I spy the marker stone for the start. There’s a Dutch couple there – the Way is a popular walk for many nationals, with France, Germany, Norway and the US among those I encountered.

The first hour takes you first by the outflow of the River Lochy and later by the head of Loch Linnhe to the Fort William suburb of Corpach. Just off route is the Sea Lock building of the Caledonian Canal, and I popped in here for the key which promised access to loos on the route. They passed me a couple of leaflets about facilities with the warning that loos at the Glas-dhoire camp site – my target – were closed. “Not the campsite?” “Not the campsite.” That’s OK then.

The GGW then heads beside the canal for seven miles to Gairlochy. Well, it’s a gentle breaking-in, I suppose, but in the rain, which was to last a couple more hours, it’s a bit of monotony. It’s not really towpath walking, for the canal was designed in the early 1800s for sea-going ships rather than horse-drawn narrowboats, and it’s about 100ft across. Early on, there’s a 62ft rise across the seven locks of Neptune’s Staircase.

Neptune’s Staircase

The canal at Loy Sluice

From there it’s dead level until the (tongue-twisting?) lock entrance to Loch Lochy at Gairlochy. I’d been here before, back in 2011, on my cross-Scotland walk, sharing the stretch of the GGW by the loch to the Achnacarry turn. There was a bit of rise-and-fall, very welcome after all that level stuff, but the lochside stretches are an early highlight of the trail, with views across to Ben Nevis, or there would have been if it wasn’t in cloud.

Ben Nevis across Loch Lochy in 2011 …

… and 2023

At Clunes, a sign made it clear that it wan’t just the loos that were closed at Glas-dhoire, the whole site was inaccessible due to the ongoing Coire Glas hydro project. Indeed, the whole route had been diverted higher to avoid it. The authorities had also had the foresight to provide another ‘Trailblazer’ wild camping site at an unnamed location that I will call Dearg Allt, for a nearby burn. It made my day shorter, indeed evened out the first two days for me, no bad thing. The burn though, at lochside, was dry, so I had to use loch water, filtering out the vegetal matter by ingenious use of one of my anti-strain bandages.

The shoreline at the Trailblazer site …

… and the shelter cabin

Thursday 11 May 2023: Dearg Allt to Fort Augustus, 18 miles

The diversion away and up from the hydro works started in just half a mile, and in improving weather gave grand views across Loch Lochy. Soon, the Fiaclan Garbha – ‘rough teeth’ – cliffs of Sean Mheall, outlier of the Munro Sròn a’ Choire Ghairbh, gave what were to be the best close-up mountain views of the entire trail. Totally forgot to photograph them.

After Laggan Locks, it’s back beside the canal for a long mile, to the Laggan swing bridge. Here, the GGW is meant to continue beside Loch Oich, mostly on the trackbed of the old railway to Fort Augustus, but logging works put that out of bounds (into 2024). Instead, all walkers had to use the Invergarry alternative.

It’s a couple of miles longer, but does take you through the little village of that name. The only services I needed were at its hotel, for a coffee and baguette in the sun, but a chat with two less happy walkers was thrown in.

They had paid a fair whack for a baggage transfer company that had not known about the diversions. “We can cope with the miles,” they said (it was about an extra three, all told), “but imagine if you were an old person in their 70s.” Touch of ageism there, just maybe, says old person in their 70s.

The diversion rejoins the main route at Oich Bridge. From here to Fort Augustus there are five loch-free miles, the second-longest stretch of the glen, and thus the canal is a neighbour once more.

Oich Bridge

Sail on the Caledonian Canal

The first half is very pleasant, gaining a bit of height and running on a good path through trees; the second half, from Kytra, less so. Here, you’re on what is basically the access road to Kytra Lock, so it’s too firm for comfort, and my feet hurt; it was late in the day; and the wind had swung round, for the only day of the five, to the north-east, and it was heading straight for me.

The most miserable part of the walk. But I knew three things. I had booked in to Morag’s Lodge at Fort Augustus, a good place where I had stayed twice before; I would have fish and chips from the Monster Chippy; and I would find a pub to show West Ham’s European semi versus AZ Alkmaar, which we were to win 2-1.

Friday 12 May 2023: Fort Augustus to Alltsigh, 12 miles

Given that nearly every GGW walker stays over at Fort Augustus, either two or three days in, the next question is where to go afterwards. On a four day schedule, it’s easy: keep on the 20 miles to Drumnadrochit. But even on the low route, there’s around 3000ft of climbing, so that’s a long day by any stretch.

There are three other possibilities. Invermoriston is surely too close, at seven miles. Grotaig is a possible, a useful 15ish mile stage, but as a small settlement I wasn’t sure there would be viable wild camping. (There probably would have been, as it turns out.) In between, at 12 miles, was Alltsigh. It has a bus stop on the A82, at the Lochside Hostel, so there were two options, either to stay there, or to use the bus and have two nights at Morag’s, which is what I chose.

There’s another decision to be made, for after Fort Augustus the GGW splits into high level and low level routes. With not many miles to cover, the high level to Invermoriston was a no-brainer, though thereafter I expected to use the low level so as to reach Alltsigh.

On this beautiful day, I soon caught up with many other GGW walkers enjoying the open views from high above the tree line. To get there, there’s a lovely little zig-zag path by the Allt na Criche. As it topped out, there was quite a little congregation of walkers; I got to speaking to Ranald, who was over the years working out a Land’s End to John o’Groats, going to the places he wanted to go, in the same spirit as my own cross-England and cross-Scotland walks.

The views down Loch Ness from the high level are stunning, but my eye kept being drawn to what I thought must be the Corrieyairack Pass, which I’d traversed twice, on my Strathcarron-to-Newtonmore route and then on my first TGO Challenge.

Eventually the route dropped down to Invermoriston, rejoining the low level version. There’s a pub here, but I chose to sit in the sun outside the village shop with my first-ever macaroni pie for lunch. Picked up some sun cream too, just in case.

The path by the Allt na Criche

Looking over Loch Ness to the Corrieyairack Hills

The two routes stay together for a sharp few hundred yards and then diverge. As mentioned, I’d thought I would have to stay low to get to Alltsigh, but an information board clearly showed an ‘Alltsigh path’ that linked the high route to the low in just the right place. That’s good enough for me, I thought, after a bit of rapid maths that showed I would still have good time before my bus, even though I was adding some height and distance.

And it was absolutely the right choice, with more northerly hills coming into view, and primroses lining the narrow, twisting path.

The Viewcatcher artwork above Invermoriston

Primroses by the path

In truth it’s only a mile and a bit up high till the Alltsigh path is signed off. And for a forestry track, very good it is too, mellowed into the scenery now, and just a nice gentle gradient right for striding. I had 20 minutes to spare at the bus stop, plus an extra ten for the coach’s lateness, all to think about what an excellent day it had been.

Saturday 13 May 2023: Alltsigh to Abriachan, 18 miles

A bit of a late start; given the choice of an 0830 or 1030 bus, there’s really only one choice.

Though I’m off from Alltsigh on the low level path, it’s not long before it reunites with the high level, and indeed it’s pretty much at 1000ft when it gets there. The presence of wind farms on the other side of Loch Ness indicates the Monadhliath, the Highlands’ forgotten hill range, and memories of last year’s walk through it on my 2022 TGO Challenge.

The first settlement is at Grotaig, five miles along, and with it there’s an end to forestry walking for a while. An off-route café is tempting, but has to be resisted, for with 3500ft of climbing alongside the distance, it’s easily the biggest day of the walk; the weather, thankfully, still holds. It looks like there will be an hour of road walking from there, but there’s a road-adjacent path much of the way.

Through forestry approaching Grotaig

Roadside path beyond Grotaig

Eventually the Way takes a big dogleg down to Drumnadrochit. ‘Drum’ is second only to Fort Augustus as settlements within the Glen, and too tempting to miss. I head straight for the Ness Deli, which I remember reaching, very wet, a year before.

Today though it’s a day for outside. I meet up for the third time with Jackie from Sunderland, this time with her friend Jan from Adelaide. Their plan to walk the GGW seems to have turned into a bit of light walking with a lot of sightseeing in replacement – they’d started today with an exploration of Urquhart Castle, and ambled in from there. Jan tells me at length that she can’t see much point in pushing yourself too hard.

I have to keep going though. There’s an unavoidable road mile to Temple Pier, where last year I’d joined others in taking the Challenger-only ferry across Loch Ness, then it’s another 1000ft climb up to what is termed the Abriachan plateau (stress, I have been told, on the second syllable: ah-BREE-a-can).

My task is to find the Abriachan eco-campsite. I’d checked its Facebook page, and it seems like a laid-back, off-grid sort of place, a bit coy about its location. I’d assumed it was somewhere near the mountain bike centre, but a map at the entrance to the forest trails shows it a mile further on. Ah well, one less tomorrow. It had better be there though, not a chimera.

And lo and behold, crossing over a minor road onto a narrow path, I pass a host of ageing painted wooden signs. REAL TEA, says one. GRANDMA JULIA’S LEMON CAKE, says another. That sort of thing, until finally there’s a right turn with a bright yellow BUSINESS AS USUAL metal sign, quite out of kilter. There’s no-one around, until I surprise Sandra, who runs the site with her heavily-bearded partner whose name I never thought to ask.

I say I’ve come from Alltsigh and she’s well impressed. “You must have some tea and cake,” she says. It feels very much like an offer you can’t refuse. “Did you bring water from the tap?” It was a mile back, apparently. They are off-grid in the sense that they subscribe to no grid, whether electricity, water or gas.

Sensing that a further two miles on the day wasn’t an option, she kindly brings me one of their big five-litre bottles, and adds a bowl of fresh fruit to my (real, leaf) tea and hefty piece of cake. Later, partner shows me the composting toilet – “it’s what we use” – the straw bale which it is easier for gentlemen to pee in, and the best pitch in the trees, for I am their only visitor tonight. Not for everyone, this site, but for me it did just fine.

Loch Ness from above Temple Pier

On the eco-campsite

Sunday 14 May 2023: Abriachan to Inverness, 11 miles

There’s two miles of road across the plateau, just one or two lonely cottages for company, but views are starting to unravel northwards, Ben Wyvis certainly, the Fannich Munros probably, the Inverlael Beinn Dearg possibly. If I’d climbed any of them I would have known for sure. A little tinge of sadness that that’s unlikely to happen now.

Into forestry, a little rain starts to fall, but it’s only for an hour and considering I only had a half-day of it way back on day one that’s not bad going. At length the downhill starts. At the Craig Dunain Upper Reservoir, numbered posts start to appear – a hint that there are people nearby who head out for recreation. I am in, I later find, the Dunain Community Woodland, run by a community group on the edge of Inverness.

And the city is not long coming. Indeed, it comes rather sooner than it would have done a few years ago, for there’s a path diversion around new house building. What’s already there looks quite trim, and the developers have pulled off a bit of a coup in securing the relocation here of both Scotland’s nature agency, NatureScot, and the Crofting Commission, both of which I pass.

A slightly older estate soon follows, then a golf course, a gaily-painted subway under a main road and – surprise, I’d almost forgotten it – you’re back on the Caledonian Canal. Just for a couple of hundred yards though. Soon I recognise the leisure complex Barbara and I had walked to when in the city last September. Indeed, from the crazy golf course (she won), we’d exactly walked the remaining mile of the Way, beside the River Ness, across the Ness Islands, and up (slightly) to Inverness Castle and the finishing stone. So I could have given up at the crazy golf and called a cab. But I didn’t.

Into Inverness

River Ness, on the last mile