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Glimpses of glen’s lost railway

By John Davidson

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Railway bridge alongside Great Glen Way path.
Railway bridge alongside Great Glen Way path.



Distance — 10.5 miles

Maps — OS Explorer 400; Harvey Great Glen Way

Start/finish — Aberchalder Swing Bridge, Bridge of Oich, near Fort Augustus

A lovely forest walk on the west side followed by a historic return along the east shore of Loch Oich

THIS little adventure reminded why it’s so good to live in this part of the Highlands; a quick drive down past Fort Augustus on a Sunday morning and I was in the middle of the glorious Great Glen.

My plan was to do a circuit of Loch Oich and, having used the paths on both sides of the loch before, I knew this would make a fine trip.

The most northerly point of this loop is beside the canal swing bridge at Aberchalder, a few miles south of Fort Augustus on the A82 road, where there are a few parking spaces immediately after the bridge on the right. If these are full, there is also a car park run by the National Trust for Scotland 100 yards further on signed Bridge of Oich.

Unfortunately it’s not possible to start the walk by crossing the 1854 suspension bridge, designed by James Dredge, as the gate at the far side is locked. Instead, head for the road from the towpath and turn right to cross the River Oich by the road bridge.

I’ve described the route here as a walking route, but I decided to run the circuit — though I had plenty of stops along the way to take photos and admire the glorious autumn colours in the glen.

The other side of the river, a path leads right, up and away from the road, signalled by a Great Glen Way (GGW) marker. This is a somewhat eroded but nevertheless attractive little path that winds its way through mixed woodland, with some very boggy sections underfoot.

It crosses a burn by a small wooden bridge before entering a clearing with more open views down to the loch itself, which you only get occasional glimpses of during the first half of this route.

Where the path meets a forest track beside a small boulder, follow the GGW marker right onto the track which takes you most of the way to Invergarry. A short way before a turning circle, a path is clearly marked off to the right with the usual blue posts; follow this as it crosses another forest track and descends steeply in places to eventually meet the road beside a phone box. I ducked under a fallen tree just before the road, though a tiny detour path also bypasses it to the left.

Turn right along the road, passing the school and a small post office before heading left on a footpath signed to Tomdoun. This leads down a couple of steps to a fantastic iron suspension bridge over the River Garry. I tentatively plodded over the damp wooden beams that make up the footway — the gaps between them giving a view of the fast-flowing water below — before going right after a gate at the far side to cross a tributary burn.

Go left immediately after the next metal gate to follow the fence up the side of a field (with only a few sheep in it when I was here) to meet the road to Mandally. Turn left to cross the cattle grid then fork right onto the forest track, now back on the Great Glen Way.

This track rises gradually to give one of the finest views of Loch Oich and the Great Glen on this walk from a Forestry Commission picnic bench at the top. You then continue to follow the track down through the forest until it meets the main road.

Turn right on a short section of pavement then continue carefully along the verge of the main road to the Laggan swing bridge, which you can cross by a pedestrian walkway on its left-hand side. Continue to the entrance to the water park and go left here along the tarmac road, keeping straight ahead further on where the water park is signed left.

The GGW path is signed right where the no entry markers are. Follow the blue post to soon get your first glimpse of a fascinating section of the route.

A small embankment and bridge gives a clue to what lies a short way ahead. Now overgrown with some fairly mature trees, you can clearly recognise the platform of what used to be Invergarry railway station — up until the Second World War.

An interesting information panel here tells how the line was intended to link Fort William and Inverness, though the track was never laid north of Fort Augustus. It even quotes The Inverness Courier, which said at the opening of the line: "The buildings are of wood, on concrete foundations, the outer surface of Swiss shingle, after the pretty pattern first used on the West Highland Railway, and giving a very tasteful effect."

Today it’s a different story, though I’m pleased to say that much of the vegetation on the old railway line has been cleared as part of plans by Sustrans to open up the disused railway to form part of the National Cycle Network Route 78, which is being designed to link Inverness and Fort William. This will be a delightful section of traffic-free cycle route when it is complete and means the hard work of all those railway engineers will not ultimately have been in vain!

The GGW route, for now, leads off the railway after a short stretch on it, instead following a good (if sometimes wet) track along the beautiful shore of Loch Oich. I saw a number of people enjoying this wonderful stretch, including a group of mucky mountain bikers and a few walkers.

At one point the GGW track rises above a rail tunnel and maintains height for a short distance, until finally dropping to cross a large burn by the old railway bridge.

At the far end, go left through a wooden gate and stick closely to the shore on a muddy path that soon emerges on the lovely grass banks of the canal just before the swing bridge. Go left over the bridge before crossing the road carefully back to the parking area.

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