The Great Glen Way follows a major geological fault that runs southwest-northeast across the width of Northern Scotland. The walk takes you past the famous Loch Ness, where you can scan the waters for the Loch Ness Monster. About 30,000 people use the path every year, of whom about 4,500 complete the entire route.
The Great Glen Way has some fairly strenuous sections in which you are walking into or out of the valley, but most sections can be broken into 11-mile (18-km) parts. The complete walk is typically completed in 4 to 6 days. The official end/starting point of the walk is the Castle at Inverness.
The path is also suitable for cycling: some parts can be rough, so a mountain bike is recommended. It can be cycled in 2 to 3 days.
There are several guidebooks and maps of the route for purchase, and at least one comprehensive website for the Great Glen Way, but it is possible to walk the route without a map (there are route markers at all key intervals) and without accommodation bookings.
The Great Glen Way can be walked in either direction, but it is generally recommended to start at Fort William, and end at Inverness. This direction means you have the sun and the prevailing wind at your back most of the time. This also gives the flatter southern half as a warm up, ahead of the hillier northern section.
Fort William is on the West Highland Railway, with regular trains to Glasgow, and an overnight sleeper train to London. This railway line is scenic, but it is not fast: it takes about 4 hours from Glasgow, or 5 hours from Edinburgh.
There are also regular buses to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Inverness, operated by Citylink. The buses are usually cheaper and faster than the train: about 3 hours from Glasgow.
Inverness is on the Highland Main Line, with trains to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and also a sleeper train to London. There are also regular buses, operated by Citylink, Megabus and National Express.
The walk passes through Gairlochy, Loch Lochy, Laggan, Fort Augustus, Invermoriston and Drumnadrochit. The last three are on the shores of Loch Ness. There are also diversions along the route to the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge, and several historic castles and museums.
These are suggested stages for each day, they can vary depending on how far you want to walk each day, and where you are staying.
Section 1: Fort William to Gairlochy
The official start is at the 1 Fort William old fort, in Fort William. The path passes through Inverlochy, and along the shore of Loch Linnhe to Corpach. Here it joins the Caledonian Canal, then follows the towpath up past Neptune's Staircase, an impressive flight of locks. The way continues next to the canal for 10 km, until it reaches a swing bridge at Gairlochy.
Section 2: Gairlochy to Laggan
From 2 Gairlochy the way follows minor roads and paths along the northern side of Loch Lochy, towards Clunes. Here the way joins a forest track for 12 km to Laggan.
Section 3: Laggan to Fort Augustus
From Laggan, the way follows foresty tracks alongside Loch Oich before rejoining the Caledonian Canal. Here you walk inbetween of River Oich to your left and the Caledonian Canal to your right, passing two more locks before finally reaching Fort Augustus.
Section 4: Fort Augustus to Invermoriston
From 3 Fort Augustus, the route climbs up into the forest above the NW shore of Loch Ness. There are views from the high level forest track which eventually drops into Invermoriston.
Section 5: Invermoriston to Drumnadrochit
After a steep climb out of 4 Invermoriston, a high-level forest track leads into the hamlet of Grotaig, then alongside the road until a path heads down through Clunebeg Wood to the banks of the River Coiltie and Borlum Bridge on the outskirts of Drumnadrochit.
Section 6: Drumnadrochit to Inverness
The route passes through 5 Drumnadrochit, and up a steep hill to Abriachan. The Great Glen Way ascends a forest track giving good views traversing through the forest. Leaving the road at Blackfold, the waymarking indicates forest track at Craig Leach Forest which eventually emerges at a reservoir. The route runs downhill through the suburbs of Inverness, then follows the canal and the River Ness to the city centre, finishing at 6 Inverness Castle.
In Fort William, the West Highland Museum explores regional history from earliest times through Jacobites and Victorians to the present, and Inverlochy Castle is a ruined medieval castle dated to the 13th century.
In Fort Augustus, you can stroll the grounds of the 1730s fort built to curb the Jacobites. (The building is now luxury apartments.)
Drumnadrochit is where you will find the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition, which describes the natural history of the place, and puts the monster legend in context. Nessieland presents the theme park version of the legend. Urquhart Castle is the impressive ruin of the 13th- to 16th-century castle overlooking Loch Ness.
Inverness offers a range of sites to explore: a castle, a museum and art gallery, a cathedral, and a botanic garden.
- 1 Clan Cameron Museum, Achnacarry, Spean Bridge PH34 4EJ (between Gairlochy and Laggan, signposted from a bus stop on the B8005 Gren Glen Way, distance about 1 mile). Museum of Clan Cameron.
There is a range of accommodation along the Great Glen Way, including campsites, hostels, B&Bs and hotels. There are at least some accommodation options in each of the towns and villages that the Great Glen Way passes through:
- Has a range of hotels, B&Bs and hostels. Campsites at Glen Nevis (3 km from the start) and Camaghael (1. 5km off the way).
- Gairlochy has two bed and breakfasts. There is also camping at Gairlochy Holiday Park, 1.5 km off the way.
- Hotel, B&B or hostel.
- Several hotels, B&Bs, 2 hostels, and a campsite.
- 2 B&Bs
- Several hotels, B&Bs, a hostel and a campsite.
- A wide range of hotels, B&Bs and hostels in the city centre, plus a campsite at the Bught (2 km from the finish).
Eat and drink
There are several large supermarkets in Fort William and Inverness. Apart from this, if you need to buy supplies along the way you will need to plan ahead and pick them up at the first opportunity. There are small convenience shops in Invergarry and Invermoriston, and larger grocery shops in Fort Augustus and Drumnadrochit. There are also cafes and pubs along the way.
The usual precautions of wilderness backpacking apply. Since you're likely sleeping in hostels and B&Bs along the way, you don't need to carry as many supplies and gear as when sleeping in the wild—however a sufficient supply of water and food for the day should always be carried, and you should restock on first opportunity.
You should carry a few layers of warm and waterproof clothes with you, as well as a travel guide, map, and compass.
A mobile phone is a good idea, but in remote areas there might be no coverag.
Midges are a nuisance during summer months, so use a good insect repellent and sunscreen.
If you call ahead to book accommodation for the night, remember to cancel the booking if you don't want to stay there any more. If you don't show up, they might alarm the local rescue service thinking you are lost in the wild, although in fact you are sleeping at the place across the road.
There are several other long distance paths in Scotland
- Southern Upland Way is a 212-mile walking route in the Scottish Borders from coast to coast.
- West Highland Way is a 96-mile walking route from Glasgow to Fort William.
- John Muir Way is a 120-mile walking and cycling route across the Central Belt