Hiking the Great Glen Way: The Adventure of a Lifetime4 min read
I peg my tent into the grassy earth, wind whipping against the nylon as I try to fit the poles through the top. As I attempt to slide the pole in, the wind grabs my tent in a knot making me lose the opening. Ready to give up, I sit back and look around. I’m on the bank of the Caledonian Canal and the wind seems to have chosen the moment I want to make camp to start gusting.
I’m not sure what else I expected wild camping in Scotland. I pull the pegs out of the ground and stuff my tent back into its’ sack. I’ll venture a little further along the trail, hoping for a more protected place to pitch my tent.
I’m hiking the Great Glen Way, a long-distance hiking trail, which runs from Fort William to Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. The coast-to-coast trail follows lochs and waterways between the two cities. The views of the water make for stunning lunch stops, but it means Scotland’s characteristic wind and rain are not held at bay by thick forests.
Like many people since 2012, I first fell in love with the idea of long-distance walking after reading the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Growing up in Ontario with a nature-averse family, I didn’t have much exposure to mountainous or long-distance treks. But after seeking out some practice trails during my travels in Newfoundland, New Zealand and Spain, I feel ready to take on this five-day challenge in Scotland.
Leaving Fort William, I breathe a sigh of relief as Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles, stays a towering giant behind me. Instead, I follow a flat path alongside the Caledonian Canal. Sailboats and small yachts cruise along the calm water and pink flowers dot the grassy fields around.
After my first failed tent pitch, I wander further along the trail where it weaves inland and find a spot protected by trees.
The next morning, sun shining, I delight in the flat walking along the canal, knowing it won’t last. By day three, I opt to take the new “high route” after Invermoriston and trek through lush forest before following a rocky plateau giving a gorgeous view of Loch Ness below.
Walking holidays are one of my favorite ways to travel. There’s something extremely satisfying about using your own two feet as a mode of transport. Think of it like a train tour but much slower and better for your heart, lungs, muscles and immune system.
Long-distance treks give me a chance to slow down and literally smell the flowers. Yellow and pink hydrangeas sweeten the air around me, and I get better at blocking my tent from the wind as the days go on.
The Great Glen Way is the perfect combination of a wilderness trek and a cultural tour. You’ll move through the rugged landscape, sometimes not seeing any other walkers all day. Then, you’ll find yourself in front of the Loch Ness museum, where you’ll be able to explore the multi-media exhibit, preparing for your own spotting of the monster as you walk along Loch Ness the next day.
Flat paths turn into rocky climbs as I near Inverness. Enjoying the new challenge, I find a place on the hillside of Drumnadrochit to pitch my tent, my last night on the way. In a small clearing of trees, I can open my tent flap to look directly out onto the loch below. I’ve finally found the perfect spot to camp.
Scotland has twenty-nine “great trails” ranging in distance from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. Hiking in this country is a wonderful way to explore the stunning Scottish scenery while also working up a sweat.
The trails can be walked, biked or canoed and range from coastal to inland. More information about the trails can be found on Scotland’s Great Trails website.
Some of the trails explore historic areas, others get into the backcountry, and some, like the Great Glen Way, explore both.
Wild and designated camping is available on all trails for those on a budget or who enjoy staying outdoors. Hostels and guesthouses are also available at many points for those who want a more comfortable hike.
When I finish my trek in Inverness, I visit the highland museum and the Inverness castle. It feels strange to be back in “civilization.” I sit on the riverbank with a few other hikers, sharing a bottle of wine and resting our tired, swollen feet in the cool water. As the sun disappears on the river I smile, thinking about the new strength in my legs, already planning my next hiking adventure.