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ACTIVE OUTDOORS: Ultra-running on the South Loch Ness Trail and Loch Ness 360 route

By John Davidson

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On the South Loch Ness Trail at the top of the Suidhe with a spectacular view north to the distant Loch Ness.
On the South Loch Ness Trail at the top of the Suidhe with a spectacular view north to the distant Loch Ness.

Slow and steady is the ultimate way to tackle an ultra-distance run. It seemed like a good idea – I’ve been steadily working my way around Loch Ness ahead of the 360 challenge taking place later this month, and one of my hill running friends was organising something a little bit special.

Andy Hall was going to run 40 miles to mark his 40th birthday, and what better route than following the South Loch Ness Trail from Fort Augustus all the way home to Inverness?

Forty miles sounded like a bit much to me, so I said I would join the crew from Fort Augustus and go as far as Dores, a distance of more or less 30 miles on this trail.

Andy and I were the only ones out of five who started at the south end of Loch Ness who were not seasoned ultra-runners; we’d both done more or less marathon distance before and are regular off-road runners, but this would be a step up for both of us.

An early meeting at Fort Augustus one Sunday morning, and soon we were off. Chatting away and with a day full of promise ahead of us, we probably set off a bit too quickly along the flat section that leads towards Glen Doe.

A glorious view looking north over Loch Ness is an inspirational start before the first climb, as the path winds its way up to cross the road higher up. It’s never very straight but this new path continues through nice patches of woodland and over burns as it winds its way higher and higher heading for Loch Tarff.

The first little climb out of Fort Augustus.
The first little climb out of Fort Augustus.

There was an acceptance that walking was all part of the occasion, as the steeper parts of the trail kicked in and there was still plenty of distance left to cover. Best to save something in the legs for later.

After Loch Tarff, the route crosses the road and climbs the Suidhe hill – going right to the top, much higher than we went on the bikes during the Etape Loch Ness King of the Mountain stage recently!

We clambered to the very high point and took in a panoramic view that is hard to beat. The north tip of Loch Ness was just about visible in the distance – my target for the day at Dores seemed a long, long way off yet.

But this was fun. We were enjoying the early stages and getting to know our fellow runners – David, Marc and Steven were used to the longer distances and were really supportive throughout the day.

Birthday boy Andy Hall on the way to his 40 miles.
Birthday boy Andy Hall on the way to his 40 miles.

An easier section saw us drop along a trail to meet a minor road for a stretch of easier running, then the South Loch Ness Trail – following the squirrel markers on blue posts – crosses the road and makes its way along farm tracks to a little wooden bridge, through a boggy tract and up to meet another road which leads dead straight towards a few houses at Whitebridge.

Following the road left at the end to pass a few more houses and cross the river, a path then cuts right to meet the main road just short of the Whitebridge Inn. This is a significant marker as the next section of the route would lead us to Foyers, where we would be joined by a few other runners.

Dropping down the hill along the road, we turned left just before the bridge to follow the track to Dell Farm, where you are directed around the back of the farmyard to reach another track that crosses a small wooden plank bridge before dropping to a ford.

It was easy to cross dry-shod today and we were soon running through the woods to the Upper Falls of Foyers, which were little more than a trickle on this occasion, in sharp contrast to my previous visit here a month or so earlier.

Heading along the track towards Dell Farm.
Heading along the track towards Dell Farm.

A left turn at the end of the road led us shortly to the car park for the Lower Falls, where we did what any self-respecting ultra-runner would do – ate an ice-cream midway through the run!

I was feeling good at this stage but I had done the next stretch from here to Dores previously as a standalone run and knew it wasn’t easy in itself, so how I would manage with more than 15 miles already in my legs I wasn’t sure.

Now joined by Fiona and Dave, we headed off, up the track behind the school and along the narrow paths through the woods and over the top to pass Boleskine and eventually drop down to the forest car park at Inverfarigaig.

From here, it was up the corkscrew road, and this is when I really started feeling it. From muttering about maybe going all the way to Inverness after all, I changed my tune as I struggled my way up through the farm knowing what was coming next.

The Fair Haired Lad’s Pass is a great section, but it was a tough climb up widened forestry tracks. There has been some felling ongoing here, but no work was going on on this Sunday morning, so we were not obstructed – though parts of the path beyond the track have suffered a bit.

As we approached the top of the pass, however, it was back to the wonderful trail that levels out before reaching the high point and that view over Loch Ness, far, far below.

On the way up the Fair Haired Lad's Pass are Marc, Fiona, Steven, Andy and the two Davids.
On the way up the Fair Haired Lad's Pass are Marc, Fiona, Steven, Andy and the two Davids.

Even with tired legs, it was a fun run down here, zigzagging and meandering through the woods, keeping right at an unmarked junction that’s liable to confuse before emerging into a cleared area with another extensive view.

Dores bay still looks a long way off and, when you feel like this, those last few miles are very long. Wide forest tracks lead you through the Whitehill plantation and eventually down to the road, with a great off-road trail heading through the woods and crossing to the other side.

After the fish farm, I knew we were nearly there, as I walked and jogged as best I could to Dores, with Steven hanging back with me to encourage me onwards.

I’d never run this far, and I was left completely empty, but what a great day we had on this mammoth trail with a great group. During the Loch Ness 360 Challenge, this route – give or take a couple of miles – will be the third and final marathon. I suspect if I make it this far, the feeling of elation might be even greater than it was after this.

And as for the rest of the runners? They made it to Inverness and celebrated at Bellfield Park with a cake to mark Andy's 40th. Well done for a phenomenal effort!

The start of the descent from the Fair Haired Lad's Pass to Loch Ness.
The start of the descent from the Fair Haired Lad's Pass to Loch Ness.

Route details

Loch Ness 360 – Fort Augustus to Dores

Distance 29.5 miles / 48km

Terrain Varied from minor road to rough forest trail, along with well-made paths and tracks; very hilly

Start/finish Fort Augustus/Dores

Map OS Landranger 26 & 34; OS Explorer 416; Harvey South Loch Ness Trail

A first step into ultra-running along the spectacular South Loch Ness Trail

A view over Loch Tarff.
A view over Loch Tarff.

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