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Great Glen Way, Fort William to Drumnadrochit

PostPosted: Fri Sep 21, 2012 12:33 pm
by LaurenAlexandra
I've wanted to have a stab at one of Scotland's long-distance routes for ages. I decided on the Great Glen Way, because it seemed like a straightforward and relatively easy one to do, that I could manage solo. So I took the train to Fort William on 13 September and began walking the next day. The journal entries will probably tell the story best:

14 September 2012
Fort William to Gairlochy
Start: 10:10am
Finish: 3:10pm
Distance: 10.5 miles
Weather: Windy with periods sun and rain, clearing at 1pm

I checked out of my hostel in Fort William this morning, had a big breakfast in town, and then made my way to the old fort and the beginning of the GGW.

The first part of today's walk took me through the outer reaches of Fort William along Loch Linnhe and the River Lochy. Fort William reminds me to Waimanalo, Hawaii for some reason, possibly the proximity of the high mountains to the shore, with the town nestled between. It was mostly cloudy, with patches of blue sky visible. Ben Nevis was hidden by low cloud, quelle surprise.

After walking through Caol and skirting around Banavie (where I took a short water break), I joined the Caledonian Canal towpath at Neptune's Staircase. From here on out it was simply a matter of following the east bank of the canal all the way to Gairlochy. Two other walking parties (a couple and a group of three) kept crossing my path, and the group of three will probably continue to do so over the coming days, since they have an itinerary similar to mine. I stopped for lunch with them about midway between the Sheangain and Loy Aqueducts, and again for water at the Moy Swing Bridge. Then I hobbled into Gairlochy (that last mile and a half was the hardest), where someone from my B&B picked me up and drove me to Spean Bridge.

I'm footsore, and my left ankle and the back of my right knee started doing some odd things during the last stretch from Moy Bridge. My pecs also hurt where the backpack straps dug into my armpits. They didn't do that this morning, so I'm not sure what the deal was with that. Maybe the weight in the pack shifted around when I put it down. Tomorrow is going to be the real test: Can I walk 12 miles in a day, having just walked 10.5 miles the previous day? I guess we'll see.

Lots of rainbows and heather today. After the weather cleared, it was most serene.


15 September 2012
Gairlochy to Laggan
Start: 9:00am
Finish: 4:00pm
Distance: 13 miles
Weather: Cloudy but dry, with patchy sunlight

I woke up this morning feeling great. I went to bed at 8pm last night and slept almost without interruption until 7:30 this morning. When I woke up, my legs were sore but not unmanageably painful, and my feet were fine, much to my surprise. My shoulders were the most sore part of me. I had a hearty breakfast at the B&B, got a ride back to Gairlochy, and set off toward Laggan.

Loch Lochy was on my right-hand side for almost the entire day. The way took me to Clunes (my first rest stop of the day), where it joined up with a Forestry Commission track. This was charming at first. Trees all around me, a loch nearby, and a well-packed gravel and dirt track underfoot. This was my kind of walking!

But then it got wearisome. Devoid of landmarks, it was difficult to tell where I was or how far I had traveled. Plus there was some kind of bicycle race on today, so I spent the better part of the day dodging cyclists. At least they were all coming toward me, so I could see them. Though, while stopping to talk to the couple I met yesterday, I swatted a bee and very narrowly missed smacking a passing cyclist!

I was extremely grateful to get out of the forest at least, near the north end of Loch Lochy. But as with yesterday, the final push (which I reckon was about 2.5 miles today) was the hardest, not least because I was bursting for the loo by the time I got to Laggan Locks and was bitterly disappointed to find the toilet locked. So I trudged the last mile along the canal towpath desperately needing to pee, and almost wept with frustration when I encountered TREES again. Seriously, whose idea was it to forest the canal towpath between Loch Lochy and Loch Oich? Because after something like a 6-7 mile walk in the woods, the last thing I wanted to see was more woods.

After despairing of ever getting to my destination for the day, I finally saw the sign for the Great Glen Hostel. Getting there required me walk about 300 meters along the A82, back the way I had come, and when I got there, reception was still an hour away from being open. Grr. But the bathroom was unlocked, thank goodness.

I am checked in and showered. I have a twin room to myself (because there were no female dorm beds available when I booked), which is nice. I'm nursing a blood blister on my left big toe and a smaller blister on my left pinkie toe, both of which are causing some comical walking. Why only my left foot, I wonder?


16 September 2012
Laggan to Fort Augustus
Start: 9:20am
Finish: 3:20pm
Distance: 10 miles
Weather: Rainy in the morning, sunny in the afternoon

Today was harder than I thought it would be. I think I was thinking "Oh, today's the short day, this will be easy."

I walked back along the A82 to rejoin the GGW, which shortly crossed the A82 again to the Great Glen Waterpark. The track climbed up into the forest to join the abandoned Invergarry Railway Line along Loch Oich. Then it was more forestry tracks until I got to the north end of Loch Oich, which was the halfway point and also my first rest break of the day. There were several trees down on the railway path, which required some interesting maneuvering around.

I began seeing blue sky near the end of Loch Oich, and it was properly sunny by the time I got to the swing bridge at the beginning of the canal. The rest of the day was canal walking, similar to the first day. I find I prefer this to the forest tracks, because i can actually see where I'm going. Unfortunately I think I saw the last of that today.

I caught up with the trio from the first day (whose names I have since learned - Mim, Helen, and Phil) at Kytra Lock, and had a break there. Then I shambled onward to Fort Augustus, and was passed by a group of kayakers along the way. How embarrassing. My heels pained me quite a lot today. Maybe I was landing on them harder in an effort to spare my blistered toes. Anyway, they bloody HURT. So when I finally reached Fort Augustus, around 3pm, I was immensely happy. Then I had to walk through pretty much the whole town to get to my hostel. Rawr. But, guess who I'm sharing a hostel room with? Mim, Helen, and Phil!

I'm nervous about the next 3 days. I really am. I'm considering trying to book an extra night in Lewiston, to give myself a rest day. Four new blisters on my right(!) foot today. I guess it figures it needs to catch up!


17 September 2012
Fort Augustus to Alltsigh
Start: 9:10am
Finish: 6:30pm
Distance: 11.5 miles
Weather: Sunny with occasional drizzle in the morning, rainy in the afternoon

I started this day with good intentions. I met a man on my way into Fort Augustus yesterday, and we exchanged the usual "Where are you going? Where have you been?" details. I complained about my feet hurting. And he said "Yes, but are you having FUN?" I've definitely lost sight of that aspect of this trip. It's meant to be a journey, and it's meant to be fun. It's not meant to be a painful slog into wherever I'm spending the night.

So I made a conscious effort to enjoy this day. In the morning, it was easy. The sun was out, I had my first proper views of Loch Ness, and the forestry track was broad. I shortened my stride today - a necessary measure for my blistered feet, along with 400mg of Ibuprofen - so I made slow but steady progress. I even had a bit of a sing to myself ("No Man's Land" by Billy Joel).

I stopped for a nice, lengthy meal in Invermoriston, which was an excellent idea. It gave my feet a nice rest and gave me a second wind for the last 4.5 miles to Alltsigh. The first section of the walk after Invermoriston was a steep climb, and it was a piece of cake (although this was the first time on this walk that I had to stop and catch my breath). Interestingly, uphill climbs were the easiest part of the walk today. I adopted a sort of modified lunge while doing them, which got me weight off my heels and onto the balls of my feet, which felt much better and made for quicker progress.

After passing the Stone Cave, it started raining and my mood went to pot. I was wet. I was cold. My feet hurt. The forestry track had closed back in and there was **** to see but trees and mud. And I just wanted to get out of the rain and into my hostel, where I could put my feet up.

Finally, I saw the sign for the hostel. Now, this hostel (the Loch Ness SYHA hostel) advertises itself as being directly on the GGW. I'm pretty sure the profile says something to the effect of, "The GGW passes by our front door." LIES. You have to go through a gate, pass a couple of B&Bs, cross the ****** A82, and walk a short way up said bloody dangerous highway to get to the hostel. Cue me stalking up to the reception desk, dripping from head to toe, with an absolutely thunderous expression on my face.

They gave me a single room. :mrgreen:

Was passed by 3 parties relatively early in the day - 2 going my way and 1 going the other way - but didn't see a soul after Invermoriston.


18 September 2012
Alltsigh to Lewiston
Start: 9:45am
Finish: 4:55pm
Distance: 10 miles
Weather: Mostly sunny, with rain at the very end

Oy. Where to begin? I trudged out of the hostel and back onto the GGW at 9:45 this morning, and the GGW quickly climbed up into the forest via a couple of switchbacks. The morning light hit Loch Ness very prettily, and I stopped to admire the view more than once.

But then, as ever, the trees closed in and the walking just got dull. Thankfully, the trail eventually climbed out of the trees and gave way to a significant portion of road-walking. This was okay, and actually slipped back into my modified lunge and made good time, until one my blisters burst. Ow.

Then it was off the road and onto a pony track which took its sweet time wending its way down to Lewiston. This means I had a tantalizing view of the place, ages before I got there. Plus, I suppose whatever mechanism it was that made uphill walking the easiest part of the day for my feet, made downhill walking the hardest part. I was in absolute agony by the time I got to the hostel.

I have made a decision: Tomorrow, I am going to walk into Drumnadrochit and take a bus to Inverness. I've had enough. And I'm physically not going to be able to handle this last day. 19 miles is a long way to walk in a day, and it's a REALLY long way to walk on feet as abused as mine. 55 miles in 5 days is an accomplishment, and I'm going to take it and go.


I must interject that my mood improved significantly after that last journal entry, when a mate from Edinburgh unexpectedly turned up at the hostel and took me out for a curry. :D

So, I walked all but the last stage from Drumnadrochit to Inverness. When I have a free weekend, I would kind of like to go back and do those last 18 miles, so I can say I've done the entire GGW, but I don't really regret concluding the journey at Drumnadrochit. As I said, I figure 55 miles for my first long-distance walk isn't too shabby. :)

For reference, I did this walk carrying a backpack with all my supplies (no baggage transfer service, in other words), which did not feel overly heavy or cause me any discomfort at any point, other than toward the end of the first day when it felt like the straps were digging into my armpits. No walking poles. Merrell boots with Vibram soles, purchased in the US almost two years ago, over thick wool socks. I think my issues probably lay in my footwear. I've suspected for a while that the soles are beginning to wear out, and this trip seemed to confirm that suspicion. Unfortunately I don't really have the money to spare for a new pair of boots right now. :(

In conclusion, my advice to anyone who hasn't done a long-distance route before would be, make sure you've got good footwear! They're your tyres for this trip, after all!

Re: Great Glen Way, Fort William to Drumnadrochit

PostPosted: Fri Sep 21, 2012 6:41 pm
by westcoasthiker
Well done! We also walked the GGW carrying all our gear and in hindsight I wish we had used a baggage service. By the time we started on that walk we had also finished Hadrians Wall and the West Highland Way so we were now in complete walking shape. I have mixed feelings about the GGW. After reading the guidebooks I figured it would be a piece of cake to meander along canals and through forestry tracks but we had chosen to complete the distance in 4 days so the distances were long. Seeing cyclists zooming off into the distance on a canal path was disheartening and walking through the clear cut sections of the forest was sad. All in all I'm glad we did the walk. We met great people and stayed in some great B&B's but the GGW is not on my list to repeat. I hope you get the last section done, parts of it are really lovely.

Re: Great Glen Way, Fort William to Drumnadrochit

PostPosted: Sat Sep 22, 2012 10:11 am
by nigheandonn
Trees do have the one advantage of being very go-behind-able if you're bursting for the loo ;)

My first long distance walk was St Cuthbert's Way - days 2 and 3 weren't as bad as I thought they might be, but I sat down and cried on the way into Jedburgh at the end of day 4! Didn't stop me doing a longer one (Hadrian's Wall) a few months later, though :)

55 miles isn't bad at all!

Re: Great Glen Way, Fort William to Drumnadrochit

PostPosted: Sat Sep 22, 2012 11:09 am
by LaurenAlexandra
nigheandonn wrote:Trees do have the one advantage of being very go-behind-able if you're bursting for the loo ;)

Oh, it was close, believe me!

Re: Great Glen Way, Fort William to Drumnadrochit

PostPosted: Mon Feb 04, 2013 7:24 pm
by Circles
2 years old isn't too bad for a decent set of may find that replacing the inner soles will get them feeling snug and comfortable again as well as improving the cushioning...blisters generally mean too much movement in the boot...I also find my shoes stretch a bit on a long walk (or my feet swell then are back to normal the next morning) causing movement if not fully adjusted again
Otherwise I find a thin sock inside a thick sock also helps avoid blisters
I've been planning to do this trip but interestingly it sound slike there are others that may be more enjoyable...

Re: Great Glen Way, Fort William to Drumnadrochit

PostPosted: Thu Feb 07, 2013 4:59 pm
by Jide
Thanks for that report which fire up old memories :)
I walked the Great Glen Way in 2002, as a resting walk after the West Highland Way. Yeah, I know, I'm a crazy backpacker loving long routes :D
I did the West Highland Way in 6 days and then the Great Glen way in 4 days, with everything in my backpack, no transfert service, alone. (I already told you, I'm a crazy backpacker loving long routes :wink: )
It's sad you had to stopp at Drumnadrochit. My best memories are in that last stage from Drumnadrochit to Inverness with a gorgeous view over a foggy Loch Ness.

Re: Great Glen Way, Fort William to Drumnadrochit

PostPosted: Thu Feb 07, 2013 10:31 pm
by Gordie12
I'm doing the West Highland Way/Great Glen Way in May so appreciated the report.

Long distance walks and blisters seem to go hand in hand, I just prey that they are in areas which don't cause a problem (toes I can cope with, heels can be a bloomin nightmare!!).

I hope you get the last section done some day.

Re: Great Glen Way, Fort William to Drumnadrochit

PostPosted: Thu Feb 14, 2013 4:57 pm
by Circles
Saw a great tip from a fellow WH'r who suggested taking trainers or similar of the long tarmac stretches while using boot soff road to avoid blisters

Re: Great Glen Way, Fort William to Drumnadrochit

PostPosted: Wed Mar 13, 2013 5:57 am
by LaurenAlexandra
I'm definitely going to try the "thin socks inside thick socks" idea next time. Also, taking along a set of trainers. A spare, lighter set of footwear was the only thing I regretted not taking on this hike, because it meant that if I wanted to walk somewhere in the evening after getting to my hostel (into Drum for a curry, for example), I had to put my boots back on, which was the last thing I wanted to do after a day of walking. How I yearned for my flip-flops!

I have relocated to my native North Carolina since writing this report, so getting the Drumnadrochit - Inverness stretch done remains on the long-term to-do list, along with Ben Lomond. Someday! *shakes fist*

Re: Great Glen Way, Fort William to Drumnadrochit

PostPosted: Wed Mar 13, 2013 11:34 am
by Buggiba
I enjoyed reading your report. 3 of us walked the GGW in April 2012 over 4 days. Best lessons we have learned are 1) Use a bag-carrying service, 2) Use walking poles, 3) Take a pair of trainers and, 4) Prepare your feet properly.

When we walked the 18-mile last day to Inverness we were on a time limit with a bus to catch so there was no hanging around. The highest point of the walk is not far out of Drumnadrochit and a good climb it is too. The walk thereafter isn't bad until you arrive outside Inverness to be greeted by a sign announcing that Inverness Castle is still 4 ******** miles away. You can almost see it but it's still close to 2 hours walk to the finish, and steeply downhill. Nevertheless, well worth doing.