The Great Glen is a significant geological fault that runs from coast to coast across Scotland, in a southwest to northeast direction. It is believed to be an ancient tectonic fault, a zone of contact between two continental plates of the Earth's crust. Although it appears at first sight to be a narrow rift valley, the textbooks tell us that it is a lateral fault - the two plates have slipped sideways past one another, and there is evidence of ancient volcanic activity in the region. It is still the most active earthquake region in Britain. It acts as a divide between the two major mountain massifs of the Scottish Highlands; the Grampians, or Central Highlands, lay to the southeast while the older and generally more spectacular North West Highlands sweep away in the opposite direction.
The Glen runs in a straight line for some sixty miles. More than half its length is occupied by water; the lakes of Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and Loch Ness are the major geographical and visual features of the glen, Loch Ness itself being the longest stretch of inland water in Britain. It has always been a major trade route. The Victorian engineer, Thomas Telford, was the first to realise the dream of a navigable waterway along the length of the Glen when he built the Caledonian Canal, linking the Atlantic at Loch Linnhe with the North Sea at Inverness, via the three lochs. There was also an attempt to build a railway along the Glen in the late nineteenth century; sadly this failed, due to rivalry between competing operators. A track was laid part of the way but the railway only ever reached as far as Fort Augustus; it closed many years ago in financial difficulty.
The Great Glen Way - at least, my personal Great Glen Way, rather than the official route to Inverness - is a walk of two halves. The first half, within the Great Glen itself, is a gentle walk that makes extensive use of the Caledonian Canal towpath and elsewhere utilises forest paths, back lanes and part of the old Caledonian railway. The Glen lacks the scenic grandeur of the West Highland Way, and once the Ben Nevis range and the neighbouring Grey Corries group around Spean Bridge fall behind, the scenery is predominantly that of forested hills. Vegetation is extensive - so much so that it often shuts out what scenery there is. It is likely that your overall mental picture of the Great Glen will consist of two sides of a long, straight valley, each cloaked in a never-ending carpet of pine trees.
Once Fort Augustus is reached, at the southwestern end of Loch Ness, things change substantially. We leave the Great Glen proper and strike out across the lonely moors on the eastern fringes of the Aird glens. Almost all of this second section of the Way lies along landrover tracks - a mix of forest, estate and old drove roads. The great mountain ranges to the west, laying between Loch Cluanie, Glen Affric, Glen Cannich and Glen Strathfarrar are occasionally glimpsed and their invitation is irresistable to many. The glens of the Aird - particularly Glan Affric - are among the most scenic places in Britain.
There is considerable scope for varying the route. In the first half there are various forest paths that may be taken in preference to sections of the canal towpath, though these will add significantly to both the distance and the effort involved. In the second half of the walk those wishing to see more of Loch Ness itself will find alternative cross-country routes striking off from Invermorriston and from Drumnadrochit, one-third and two-thirds of the way along Loch Ness respectively.
|1||Fort William to Gairlochy||10.5 miles|
|2||Gairlochy to Laggan||11.4 miles|
|3||Laggan to Fort Augustus||10.7 miles|
|4||Fort Augustus to Torgoyle Bridge||8.28 miles|
|5||Torgoyle Bridge to Cannich||17 miles|
|West Highland Way||Back to main index||North of Scotland Way|
This page last updated 26th March 2006