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Marathon effort required to help tourism businesses around Loch Ness


By John Davidson

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With the Loch Ness 360 Challenge cancelled for this weekend, John Davidson hopes a route out of lockdown can help the area recover

A view over Loch Ness taken on an evening lockdown cycle ride.
A view over Loch Ness taken on an evening lockdown cycle ride.

Running was going to be my major focus for 2020. Already, I’ve run more miles in the first five months of the year than ever before, perhaps aided in the last couple of months by the lockdown exercise allowance.

In a strange way, it has encouraged me to get out more often and make sure I make up for my lack of regular cycle commute with an evening run instead.

However, the culmination of that training was scheduled for this weekend, when the first Loch Ness 360 Challenge was originally due to take place.

I had entered the ‘three marathons in three days’ challenge, a circuit of the loch in three full-length marathons on off-road trails with some serious climbs. The first of the marathons would start from Dores and was due to take place on my birthday – and what better way to celebrate?

John on the way up Carn an t-Suidhe.
John on the way up Carn an t-Suidhe.

My training towards the end of last year and in the cold early months of 2020 had been going well, and I was slowly incorporating a full circuit of the loch – in smaller bite-size chunks – into my regime.

I’d started at Fort Augustus in the early autumn, running the newest stretch of the South Loch Ness Trail up to Loch Tarff and continuing to Whitebridge and Foyers.

The weather for this run was phenomenal, with bright blue skies topping off perfect views on a trail that is varied and interesting throughout, passing landmarks including the original Wade bridge on the military road at Whitebridge.

The original Whitebridge over the River Fechlin on the old military road.
The original Whitebridge over the River Fechlin on the old military road.

My next section was from Foyers to Dores, incorporating the incredible Fair Haired Lad’s Pass north of Inverfarigaig as well as a climb of the famous corkscrew road.

I even went back to the Loch Tarff to Fort Augustus stretch with Graeme Ambrose, who is part of the Visit Inverness Loch Ness (VILN) team behind the event, to talk about plans for the three-day challenge, which also includes a full 80-mile ultra-marathon and a mountain bike event.

Just before lockdown I ran the next stretch of the LN360 from Dores into Inverness, a part of the route I am very familiar with as it is so close to home.

Despite the extra stresses and pressures brought on by the lockdown, I do appreciate how lucky we are to live so close to a place that is a draw to tourists from around the world. With some of the fine weather we’ve enjoyed over the last nine weeks or so, it’s easy to see why people would want to come here.

For businesses around the loch, as elsewhere, this is a really difficult time. Tourism is a massive sector in the Highlands and it looks likely it could be among the last to be restarted. VILN is doing its best to keep interest in the area alive, providing inspiration to potential future visitors while ensuring it doesn’t encourage any irresponsible and unnecessary travel at this point in time.

Graeme Ambrose descending towards Fort Augustus on the South Loch Ness Trail.
Graeme Ambrose descending towards Fort Augustus on the South Loch Ness Trail.

As the lockdown restrictions start to ease, I hope it will give us – the people in the wider local area – a chance to get back onto the South Loch Ness Trail and the Great Glen Way, which runs along the northern edge of the loch.

By using the trails and visiting shops and cafés in the villages once they are reopened, we can help support businesses as they strive to get back on their feet in the aftermath of this initial lockdown phase.

It could be some time before the tourists flock back to the area in anything like the numbers we have become accustomed to, but with local people continuing to stay closer to home, supporting local enterprises and serving local customers will become vital to future sustainability.

The Loch Ness 360 Challenge has been put back to the same weekend next year, which at least gives me another 12 months of endurance training to prepare for the physical and mental effort that lies ahead.

I’m sure it will be well worth the wait and, assuming travel restrictions allow it by then, hopefully it will encourage people from further afield to visit the area and see what it has to offer.

In the meantime, those of us lucky to live a stone’s thrown from Loch Ness can only appreciate the natural beauty of the place and make the most of the wonderful trails on our doorsteps.

Looking north over Loch Ness from the South Loch Ness Trail near Fort Augustus.
Looking north over Loch Ness from the South Loch Ness Trail near Fort Augustus.

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