The Great Glen fault line bisects the Scottish highlands to create an epic backdrop for this spectacular hike, one of the best walks in Scotland.

The largely low-level Great Glen Way has beautiful and varied scenery throughout as you follow canal towpaths, pass forests, moorland and mountains on a well-marked path.

UK Scotland great glen way Fort Augustus loch ness

Fort Augustus overlooking Loch Ness on the Great Glen Way

The Great Glen Way

Distance: 78 miles (125km)

Duration: Five to seven days

Start point: Fort William

End point: Inverness

Difficulty: First half flat, then some very hilly sections

Suitable for: All levels

The loch-strewn Great Glen fault line divides northern Scotland from Fort William in the east to Inverness to the west. Steep hills rise above Loch Linnhe, Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and the famous Loch Ness, all of which lie in a ruler-straight line. The Caledonian Canal links either end via the lochs and 35km of canal.

One should start on the western end at Fort William—which markets itself as ‘the outdoor capital of the UK’—to hike north-east so that prevailing winds are behind you. This also makes for a very gentle introduction following canal towpaths.

Fort William itself is a somewhat underwhelming town but with several good hiking shops it has everything you might need for the trip. The town is well connected by train and bus services, and Inverness, at the other end of the walk, has an airport with regular flights to London Heathrow and Amsterdam.

May and September are the best months for this route when the weather is more stable and drier and there are few biting midges, unlike the summer months.

As with most of the Highlands it is essential to note that services are generally very limited away from the towns. Villages typically only have—at most—a hotel (with bar and restaurant catering for non-residents) and possibly a shop. The suggested day to day planner below ensures an overnight stop at one of the larger settlements where you can enjoy good old-fashioned Scottish hospitality in traditional hotels, comely B&Bs and, at some stops, budget options too such as hostels.

Note, however, that the endpoint on day one, at the hamlet of Gairlochy, has limited accommodation options. The nearest village, Spean Bridge, is four miles (6.5km) off the Way via a single track road and then a pavement by a main road. Be careful of traffic on the minor road: as elsewhere, walk on the right hand side of the road into oncoming traffic so that you are most visible to vehicle drivers. Other road sections are encountered further along the Way at Kilfinnan, Drumnadrochit and Abriachan.

The Great Glen Way is well served by various walking holiday companies and services. You can book your own accommodation and baggage transfer, or let a specialist organise your entire trip.

Good to know

If booking a pre-organised self-guided walk, you can take advantage of a transfer service between Gairlochy and Spean Bridge—particularly useful to rejoin the trail the following morning.

The Great Glen Way route

Those who dislike hills will be pleased to know that the route, following towpaths and forest tracks, is flat beyond Gairlochy to Laggan Locks with then small hills on the Invergarry Link section. After a night in leafy Invergarry, continue to the delightful Fort Augustus set on the Caledonian Canal, close to Loch Ness.

From Fort Augustus the path climbs and the route splits with a signed low route through a forest or the slightly longer but much steeper and challenging high route with spectacular views of the Great Glen.

Both the low and high routes give good views over deep Loch Ness; the average depth of the 23-mile loch is more than 600 feet, making it the largest (by volume) of all Britain’s freshwater lakes.

The final long, but straightforward, walk into Inverness is often broken up with an overnight stay at Abriachan, or your walking holiday company can arrange for a transfer if the 20-mile (32km) section is too daunting.

Inverness, the end destination, on the Moray Firth is the capital of the Highlands with a strong Gaelic culture and vibrant arts scene and has good galleries and museums.

If you have more steam in your legs you can extend your trip with some day hikes:

Fort William to Inverlochy Castle (3 miles/ 4.5km return) is a superb short, flat, linear walk along the Great Glen Way with a signed diversion to the dramatic 13th Century towered ruin of Inverlochy Castle. There are stunning views of Ben Nevis – Britain’s highest mountain – as you leave Fort William.

Fort Augustus to Aberchalder (10 miles/ 16km return) follows the Caledonian Canal on a high quality, but unsealed, path to pretty Loch Oich for a peaceful and easy linear walk.

The Great Glen Fault

This major geological fault line stretches right across the country, from Fort William to Inverness. It is the best example of a tear fault in the UK and operates in the same way as California’s San Andreas Fault. Still seismically active minor earth tremors are recorded regularly.

Great Glen Way day by day

Day 1: Fort William to Gairlochy (10.5 miles/ 17km) Or Spean Bridge an extra 2.5-4 miles, depending on B&B locations, off the Great Glen Way.

Day 2: Gairlochy to Invergarry (17.5 miles/ 28km) The Invergarry Link splits from the main Great Glen Way just above Laggan Locks.

Day 3: Invergarry to Fort Augustus (9 miles/ 14km) The Invergarry Link rejoins the main Great Glen Way after Loch Oich.

Day 4: Fort Augustus to Invermoriston (9 miles/ 14.8km)

Day 5: Invermoriston to Drumnadrochit (14 miles/ 23km)

Day 6: Drumnadrochit to Inverness (20 miles/ 32km)

Read more

The Highland Council website details the full ascent of the high route and has a recommended reading section on essential information for the entire way.

About the author

The Great Glen Way

Fergal MacErlean

Dublin-born Fergal fell in love with Scotland as a student, settling there to become a journalist and cycle guidebook writer. In addition to his guides covering Scotland, he has written for the BBC, New Scientist, BBC Countryfile Magazine and many travel publications. Andalusia is a second home.

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