Category Archives: Great Glen Way

On Hiking

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*This post is part of a series on walking the Great Glen Way with my Husband – Check out the post / blogs on the route!

Let’s get this straight before we start. I am not sporty. It’s only my love for nature that makes me even vaguely ‘outdoorsy’. Luckily, long distance walking has far less than you’d think to do with fitness and stamina than it does with grit and stubbornness (which thanks to my Dad’s side of the family I have in ample supply!)

I’m 40 years old at the time of writing this. And I’m 68 kilos (150lb) and 5’4, which makes me about half a stone outside ‘normal’ BMI range, and a good stone over my ideal weight.* I also have an auto immune condition called Sarcoidosis, which causes pain, inflammation and fatigue, and growths in my lungs.

I’m hardly your ideal candidate for a long distance hiker.

To make things even more awkward, I have had lifelong spinal problems (disc degeneration in my back and a herniated cervical disc with ossification) so I have some issues with sleeping comfortably in a tent. I’m also intolerant of gluten, which makes camping food a bit of a nightmare. Or at least it used to be.  I’m a dab hand these days at gluten free camping food – and my hubby ate entirely gluten free on our last trip too, with no complaints!

If I want to do something, I will find a way. Some of this is accomplished through good doctors, diet, medication, lifestyle changes, and the aforementioned grit. But a LOT of what makes Long Distance Hiking possible is the right kit. You will have to spend some money if you want to be comfortable and dry.

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My 5-point basic kit is this:

  1. Backpack / Rucksack – Get one that fits your torso – YES! They come in different torso sizes! And some are adjustable. You can get women’s packs that also have s-shaped straps to accommodate the chest (rather than squishing it). I can’t recommend Osprey Arial 65 enough – it’s pretty much the industry standard, tested by many awesome ladies.
  2. Sleeping Mat – I have (count ’em) three of these. I have a thick Therm-a-Rest which I use for ‘normal’ camping, and a lighter, slightly less warm (but still pretty warm) Therm-a-Rest for hiking. They make women’s versions that are warmer/thicker around the hips and feet! And yes, I’ve turned into one of those people who cut the end of their toothbrush and weigh it. I also have a solar ridge rest – super cheap, light (if bulky) and keeps you crucially OFF THE GROUND, reflecting your body heat back to you.
  3. Inflatable Pillow – Again, I have two of these – the ‘comfort’ kind for ‘normal’ camping and a lighter kind for trekking. BOTH have a curved design which mimics the tempur contour pillow I have at home.
  4. Sleeping Bag – Girls get cold. I have a super warm sleeping bag, a down one. Pricey but worth every penny.
  5. Treking Poles – Only just bought these but OHMYGOD they may have just saved my life – you know how when you’re dying on the cross trainer, and you can take the heat of your legs by pulling a bit more with your arms? This, essentially is the gist of these – they also give you awesome stability and improve your control and confidence, especially going downhill. Women’s poles are shorter with a slightly smaller handle – almost imperceptible to the eye but you can really feel the difference with your hands.

Clothes are pretty simple and lots will depend on your personal preference, as different brands have different fits, but I tend to wear lots of Rab stuff, but my favourite base layer is by Montane. I always buy Salomon shoes, which come in half sizes! (Yes, I pretty much exclusively buy British Stuff – not least because they know how to make kit for our wet climate!) You will need socks, trousers, base layers, mid layers, waterproofs, hat, gloves and spares of most of those.  (Check out Gear for Girls – lovely people and awesome clothes!)

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Most important are awesome shoes. You’ll need to balance weight with durability, and also decide if you need no, mid, or full ankle support. I remove my insoles and replace them with Superfeet – there are loads of different kinds and you need to go check them out rather than just buy one, to make sure you get the right support.

With most clothes, you’ll be wanting lightweight stuff, so it’s a matter of weighing up weight/benefit in your head. My sleeping bag is pretty heavy compared to my hubby’s, but I’d never trade it. I carry trekking poles because they reduce the impact on me, which more than offsets their weight.  You’ll need to make this decision about everything you buy/pack. Do I really need super warm tent socks?  Yeah, I kind of do. Do I really need to carry a 400g fire bowl? Absolutely. The morale you get from having a fire is a priceless benefit, and I’m all about the leave-no-trace thing, so I won’t have one on the ground.

So it’s all about managing my conditions, knowing (and occasionally pushing) my limits, and planning, planning, planning. I’m really excited to be back into the swing of things, and determined to keep it up, and keep my health under my control. So watch this space!

*Yeah, I know I throw pounds, kilos and stones around like it’s Kibbles ‘n Bits – I grew up in the US and live in the UK so my metric/imperial system is on the fritz.

Great Glen Way, Day 6

Waking up and crossing the Lewiston Bridge into Drumnadrochit was a bit surreal. The town is very pretty, and I was relieved to be able to stock up on Nurofen Plus and Compeed (My feet were in tatters by this point!). A quick cup of tea in Nessieland (yeah, it really is that bad, but I needed somewhere to sit and re-compeed my toes!) and then we were off. Inverness or bust.

p.s. …a word of warning about KEDS

Great Glen Way Day 6 Route

Though many people do this 20 mile walk in one day, I suspect that it is because there is nowhere for B&B / Hostel hikers to stay between Drum and Inverness. There is, as the video says, a campsite half way, but we were sure we could make it. (And I soooo needed a shower!) The main problem with doing the day is the ascent!  It is the largest ascent of the entire Great Glen Way, with 1669 feet of ascent, most of it between mile 3 and mile 6. It’s a killer on your last day.

Having said that, there are no multiple ascents, so once you’re up, you’re up, and then it’s a nice rolling descent to Inverness Castle. After the climb up through woodlands, it’s pretty much a straight shot through forest tracks, and over peaty moorland, with some nice views.  You’ll see the last of Loch Ness at the top of the climb, as you turn inland.

At what is roughly the half way point, there is a ‘proper’ water source, which is a tap by a fence – on the left hand side. Also at this point you’ll start to see hand-painted signs saying things like:

“Beans on Toast” and “Bovril”

Seriously. These continue until you reach a cafe and campsite, which I can only imagine is run by elves, or at least hippies. We pushed on, eventually coming out on a road, which led us like a a ribbon over the landscape towards our last woodland.

I have to confess I felt a bit like Bilbo at Mirkwood. No way around. Just gotta go through it.  THREE. MILES. The scenery didn’t change, just trees on one side, drystone wall on the other, and I’ve no doubt that if I’d been in less pain I’d have enjoyed this part more, as it was really beautiful. But the lack of change in the landscape (and the Keds) really dragged the morale down as we had no idea what progress (if any) we were making. It was like being on a really mossy treadmill.

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But eventually we came out from under Mirkwood and there was a small pool to our left, and Inverness in the valley to our right.  We thought ‘We are almost there!’ until we came across a very helpful sign letting us know that Inverness Castle was still four miles hence. Ho hum, the end was in sight, and we pushed on, digging deep and popping nurofen every 4 hours like clockwork. Over the fairy-lit islands and up towards the castle, glowing on the hill. Our penultimate half mile was accompanied by a friendly guy and his dog who came up and said “Hey have you guys just finished the Great Glen Way?”. We replied and his subsequent praise and admiration was a much-needed final boost to push us up the hill to the castle! Naturally, the photos were a bit rubbish at night, so we climbed back up again in the morning to take our End-Of-Walk-Selfie!

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Click here to go back to the main Great Glen Way page!

Great Glen Way, Day 5

A day of three landscapes.  Endlessly climbing (and endlessly beautiful) wide forest track, followed by rolling, sweeping open moorland interspersed with diverse woodland, followed by rich, verdant oak and beech woodland older than old. Hobbits live here, I swear.

Great Glen Way Day 5 Route

By far the lushness of the rich old oak and birch woodland was my favourite bit of the day, and made up for saying goodbye to Loch Ness and leaving behind our perfect camping spot.

Filling our water up from streams as we went, we wandered through what felt like the most diverse landscape we’d yet seen, and were happy to be making our way down to ‘civilisation’ at Lewiston, where we ate dinner in the pub! We also spent our only night in a ‘proper’ campsite and met someone doing something even crazier that we were – cycling from John-O-Groats to Land’s End! Spread out my tarp to dry and watched for more aurora, but our magical night was not to be repeated, and with the clear, cold night, the tent was soaked with condensation the next morning and we determined to make it to Inverness the next day for a shower and the chance to dry off our gear!

Click here to read about Day 6!

Great Glen Way, Day 4 (High Route)

“Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”
-Albus Dumbledore

Keep this in mind when you have to decide between the ‘Low Route’ and the ‘High Route’.  The High Route quite simply knocks your socks off. Amazing landscape, breathtaking views, a sense of discovery (sadly missing in days 1 and 2, glimpsed during day 3 and now seemingly in full swing!).

Great Glen Way Day 4 Route

I’m surprised looking at the elevation profile that the descent isn’t as steep as the ascent – I was cursing all the way down the hill! However my curses rang out through totally spooky Twin-Peaks-y kind of woodlands, and after having lunch in the amazing little bench (below) on the high moor, I was really buzzing with a sense of accomplishment. The walk down into invermoriston was, as I said, painful, and down in the village, though the little shop owners were lovely, the staff in the pub were (let’s give them the benefit of the doubt) probably not having a good day as they were a bit offish.

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Stopping for lunch on the High Route

Still, nothing like two pints of Guinness and two packets of crisps (each!) to give us a second wind, and we trotted on out of Invermoriston with our eyes on the prize… Loch Ness.

I should take a minute to mention the FABULOUS Thomas Telford bridge (below) – I thought he only made stuff out of iron!  Who knew?!

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Thomas Telford’s Bridge

Anyway, we walked parallel to the GGW route so that we could get down to the banks of the Loch, and found the most amazing spot to wild camp!  Clear skies and still water brought us our first ever glimpse of the Aurora Borealis and a visit from a curious otter!  Two bucket list items ticked off in one night!

Click here to read about Day 5!

Great Glen Way, Day 3

This section of the walk is really interesting – a different landscape from the forest track of the day before – the walk is first through some beautiful coniferous woodland along the canal, then (after Invergary) crosses to the south side of Loch Oich, following a disused railway northward. Loch Oich has its own character, with views across to the ruins of Invergarry castle, then islands with shallow water and long grasses growing out of it. We also saw several Red Squirrels in this section! There is another canoe stop here near the path, and at the tip of the Loch there is a beach that makes a fantastic spot for a rest/meal. You’ll go through an old railway tunnel to get there, which has clearly been repaired inside so the walls are smooth, with bat boxes placed at both ends to mitigate the loss of roosting opportunities that the filling of gaps in the tunnel represented. A very cool morning.

Great Glen Way Day 3 Route

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The stunning north tip of Loch Oich.

I’m really glad we opted to do the ‘old’ route, rather than the ‘Invergarry Link’ which would have kept us on the north side of Loch Oich, as we would have missed the awesome views! Afternoon was more gruelling, as it was on canal towpath again (pounding the feet), but we met some friendly lock keepers at both locks, filled up our water bottles and watched a few steam boats pass by as we made our way to Fort Augustus, which was like walking into heaven. With Guinness. We passed through the town, getting our first glimpse of Loch Ness, before camping in the woods.

Click here to read about Day 4!

Great Glen Way, Day 2

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After waking up on the shores of Loch Lochy, we were keen to get started with the day’s walk, so Paul walked back to the water source and filled up our containers (a 3L Camelbak bladder and two 1L Sigg Bottles) we packed up early and followed the trail out onto the road. As you’ll hear in the video diary below, the trail is mostly forest track along the Loch, but you’ll encounter your first canoe rest stop (featured image above) – a perfect camping location. (These stops have toilets, and you can buy keys for these, but it’s worth remembering that as they are geared up for canoeists, they are not always on the same side of the Lochs as the GGW trail. I believe we passed 5 altogether, all before Fort Augustus.) There are also toilets at British (Scottish?) Waterways, for which you can also purchase a card. We didn’t bother getting keys for either. (Though by the time I got to Laggan I was desperate for a shower and would happily have parted with a tenner to use the one at Laggan Locks!)

Great Glen Way Day 2

Anyway, another relatively easy walk of just over 10 miles, with some nice views occasionally through the trees – but the pounding on rough-stoned forest track really took it out of our feet, and it sadly became a feature for much of the rest of the Great Glen Way.

Nothing quite like a magical green landscape with enormous trees, a floating pub with amazingly friendly staff, chatting all evening with other travellers and locals, and getting some tips on where to eat/drink in the forthcoming days. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me – check out the Eagle Barge Inn on Facebook!

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Kilfannan
The Eagle Barge, Laggan Locks
The Eagle Barge, Laggan Locks

Click here to read about day 3!

Great Glen Way, Day 1

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Day 1 of the hike and we were feeling pretty fresh & excited. This first day was 12 miles, starting in Fort William. I knew that a lot of people did the GGW in 7 days, and as it was my first hike of this kind in 5 years, I thought I’d allow myself 8 days, so we could take a day off to wild camp if we wanted to. We also didn’t know what kind of facilities and food supplies would be available (a problem exacerbated by the fact that I needed gluten free camping food – a tall order – check out the ‘On Hiking‘ post!), so we packed enough food for eight days. In hindsight this wasn’t necessary, as there are several good places to stock up (Fort Augustus and Drumnadrochit are what I’d call ‘towns’, and even the little villages have pubs serving food – catering for the B&B crowd).

A basic description of the route (mostly canal towpath between the Caledonian Canal and the River Lochy on this day) is in the video diary below. You can get food & water all the way up to Neptune’s Staircase, (a flight of eight locks 3 miles into the walk) and you can fill up on ‘wild’ water (We use MSR Sweetwater purification system) in the woods past Gairlochy. Day 1 is pretty easy, with only 474 feet of elevation climb, so enjoy it while it lasts! Anyway, here’s the video diaries from day 1:

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Great Glen Way: Day 1 route

B&B walkers tend to be lodged at Spean Bridge on the first night, and there are no ‘designated’ wild campsites or official campgrounds on this leg, so we just wild camped by Loch Lochy. Amazing to wake up to the sound of gentle waves lapping on the beach.

Paul filling up water at the stream in the woods north of Gairlochy.
Paul filling up water at the stream in the woods north of Gairlochy.
Our first night's campsite, on the banks of Loch Lochy.
Our first night’s campsite, on the banks of Loch Lochy.

Click here to read about Day 2!