Views over Loch Ness make Great Glen Way high route worth the effort
Get the Inverness Courier sent to your inbox every week and swipe through an exact replica of the day's newspaper
Great oak and pine forests once lined the Great Glen, creating habitat for wolves and elk which roamed the slopes above Loch Ness.
The trees have largely been felled over the last few centuries, initially to create farmland and build homes, then for shipbuilding and industries such as iron smelting and leather tanning.
The building of the Caledonian Canal also added to the huge number of local trees being removed, to the extent that timber had to be imported to complete the 19th-century waterway.
Those native species were replaced with fast-growing conifers, and anyone who has ventured down the Great Glen Way will know the long stretches of forestry tracks with not much to see through these densely packed trees.
However, foresters today are working to regenerate much of the ancient woodlands. A few small pockets of the Caledonian forests remain in the area and you can see that some felled areas are being replaced with native species.
An alternative high-level route on the Great Glen Way was opened in 2014, not only providing a suitable diversion when forestry work is ongoing but providing a much more spectacular way to see the area.
I never fail to be impressed by the vista from this newly built route that rises to around 400m above sea level, at the very edge of the forest.
Starting the route in Invermoriston allows you to do a good circuit of roughly 12 miles by linking the old route with the newer high-level path. There are some pretty steep climbs and descents, and the higher path can be quite exposed to the elements in places, so it might be worth considering which way round to tackle this route based on the wind direction if it’s likely to have an impact.
With a northerly wind prevalent during the week, we headed out on the low-level route and climbed to the higher path for the second half of the walk, so we would have any wind on our backs up there.
The car park at Invermoriston was quiet when Peter and I met there in the morning. We got our boots on and headed across the A82 and onto the Skye road before turning right to follow a clear blue Great Glen Way sign right up a minor road.
This is a steep single-track road that zigzags high above the village to eventually reach a forest track where the route is marked by a blue marker post with a thistle. Turn right here and you soon reach the point where the low-level and high-level routes diverge.
We continued straight ahead on the rising track that is part of the low-level route. It follows tracks and paths, some already overgrown with gorse, and passes a small stone shelter, which was built in the 19th century for a washerwoman who walked past here on her way to work at the Invermoriston Arms.
We saw a red squirrel climbing up one of the pines as we joined a track that you follow all the way down to Alltsigh, crossing the burn before sticking to the forestry track as it starts to climb back up the steep slopes.
It’s pleasant enough walking but the views to the loch are few and far between with the conifers dominating this part of the forest. We paused for a bite to eat at the bottom of the zigzags which lead the way slowly up to the halfway point in the route – and the point where the route starts to get more interesting.
The hairpin bends and long climbs between them do seem to go on forever, but we did finally see the blue sign ahead that marks the split in the two routes. A sign points right to Drumnadrochit from here, with the high-level Great Glen Way route marked straight ahead and bending to the left.
We took the latter, following an old track for a kilometre or so to a decorative stone bench that offers a striking vantage point to overlook Loch Ness. A newer path is marked off to the right from here, climbing steeply again into the trees.
After passing through some tall trees, you emerge to another great view over the loch, now far below and stretching out all the way to Fort Augustus. A little further along, a stone shelter is another new feature on the route, before you drop really steeply down a path to cross the Allt Ruighe Bhacain.
A rustic bridge, known as the ‘troll bridge’, gives easy passage across the tumbling burn, even though the snow was quite deep up here in places. A path continues at the very edge of the trees and we plodded through the snow, reaching a track that leads over the Allt Saigh.
We stopped for some more refreshments before turning right onto the last stretch of the high-level route, which climbs only briefly before a gentle stretch across a felled area of forest to reach an interesting feature.
The Viewfinder artwork was installed as part of the launch of this new route in 2014. Made of local pine and stone, it captures the fine view west towards the mountains, which were topped with snow as the wintry weather continues well into April.
All that remained was the descent, which soon meets an old forestry track at a clear turning circle before continuing down through the forest. Turn right at a Great Glen Way post for one last section of path – with a little bit of uphill – that follows the fenceline along the top edge of the woodland then drops to meet the track at the top of the minor road above Invermoriston.
Great Glen Way, Invermoriston
Distance 12 miles / 19 km
Terrain Forest tracks, well-constructed paths; very steep in places
Maps OS Landranger 26 & 34; OS Explorer 416; Harvey Great Glen Way
A fine woodland walk linking the low-level and high-level Great Glen Way paths above Loch Ness