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Cycling the Great Glen Way by James Taylor


In August 2016 Jim Taylor took on the challenge of cycling the Great Glen Way in Scotland. Here’s the story of his latest adventure…

Day One

An early start from Fife.  I had three  trains to catch today.  I got on my Specialised 29er loaded up with my new seat post rack and bag and headed for the station and the the 5:53 to Edinburgh.  I always enjoy this journey and over the last few months it has been made more special with the construction of the new crossing across the Forth.  This early in the morning the cables seem to glisten in the sunshine.   Alighting at Haymarket I made my way to platform 4 and climbed on the Glasgow train so far so good everything on time and although busy with bikes no need to book on “local” services. A different story though on the third and final train of the day.  The west coast line from Glasgow to Mallaig is one of those journeys about which TV programmes are made and magazine articles are written.   Little wonder as it passes through great countryside.  Standing at the station I was spotted by a Scotrail customer services member who came straight across and asked what service I was waiting on and if I had a cycle booking.  Happy with my answers he turned to another cyclist and when the Londoner said he didn’t have a booking a frown came across his face and the cyclist was told “you need to book this service sir especially during the summer.  I shall check but I think we are full”.  Luckily there was one space left on the train.  The Londoner breathed a sigh of relief.  The journey from Glasgow to Fort William takes just under four hours and is an amazing rail trip. Arriving in Fort William just in time for lunch I decided instead to grab some sandwiches and find a nice spot on the GGW to stop and eat. The route out of the town is well marked with the distinctive thistle design signs and you soon “zone in” on the markers. The path stays by the River Lochy and then follows the Caol foreshore.  Word of warning Soldiers Bridge is out of order and you need to carry bikes up a rickety set of steps rather than take the ramp (as at Aug 2016). You will eventually reach Corpach and the first set of locks however if you take a left turn you will see the Corpach sea lock with it’s distinctive pepper pot lighthouse. I gazed behind me before I started on the GG proper hoping for a view of Ben Nevis but the top was shrouded in low cloud.  I picked up the path again and was soon crossing the railway and the main road by Neptune’s Staircase, a series of 8 locks. It is now that you leave the housing and other signs of habitation behind and head into the countryside. The canal path is easy to ride and well signed with information boards at the many points of interest along the way. It is at Gairlochy that you face the first ascent of the day followed of course by a descent.  You are now in Achnacarry this area was used to train the original Commandos for operations in WW2. The way now runs alongside Loch Lochy till Laggan Locks.  Just before Invergarry Castle I headed west and for my first overnight stop of the trip at Invergarry Hostel. Now known as Saddle mountain.

Day Two

After a light breakfast of cereal and toast, the obligatory pot of tea and one of the hosts coffees I was on my way.  I followed the remainder of the Invergarry loop a higher route which brings you out at the Bridge of Oich. From Bridge of Oich to Fort Augustus the going  is easy and mainly along the canal tow path.   Once you reach Fort Augustus that is the last you will see of the Caledonian Canal till Inverness. After. a small refreshment in Fort Augustus and a halt to watch boats in the lock I headed off again and almost immediately started to climb. The path now is mainly on undulating forest path with views through the trees of Loch Ness. The tracks were good the climbs hard and the descents exhilarating and I often stopped for some stunning views of the loch and the surrounding countryside. The Way had been busy with walkers but I had not seen many bikers when just outside. At Invermoriston I spied a flash of day-glo top and came down a descent and nearly into four female cyclists who were making thier way rather gingerly down the descent.  I stopped at Invermoriston to check the facilities available there, have some lunch and the four came past me on the road and followed the signs for the GGW. In the book it says that there is a climb of 560 feet in less than a mile! This must have proved too much for the ladies as about 5 minutes later they came past again on the road! If hills are graded 1-10. The hill out of Invermoriston would be a shahoorsirthatwassteep!  It continued like that for the rest of the way to Drumnadrochit. some great single track  unfortunately there was also some gates which needed  opening. The GGW definitely puts the wild and Ness in wilderness! Stats: 30 miles and 3,913 feet climbed in 4 hours.

Day 3 and a military meander

I had had a fitful nights sleep. The room was small, cramped and full. Even with the window open it was stifling. I rose at 07.30 once I heard the breakfast table being set. I had elected to pay for a small continental type breakfast as I knew that after Drumnadrochit there was not much chance to get any food. Once on the bike, the first mile or so was on road. I then left the road near the information board detailing the failed water speed record attempt by John Webb in 1952 and followed forest tracks which began to rise gently but quickly got steeper and steeper till  it was time to hike a bike for approx a mile.  Behind there were views of the loch and castle but no sign of Nessie! After reaching the plaque to the Canadian lumberjacks I joined a road which although steep was manageable with the hard core underneath. Although still climbing the slope is not as steep and you soon reach the Abriachan plateau and the routes highest point 1,250 feet marked by the standard blue pole. After a few miles of gentle and sometimes not so gentle descent you come to an area developed by the Abriachan Forest Trust containing a toilet, forest school and a network of paths for runners and cyclists. Continuing along the way you enter a woodland with a well constructed although constricted path in the middle of which is the Abriachan Eco Cafe.  You can’t miss it! You now follow a road for a short spell with the first sight of Inverness coming into view.  You are now descending get towards the city and although the castle isn’t yet in sight you soon come into contact with the Caledonian Canal once more but only for a short while as you head towards the Ness Islands and the castle. Stats: Distance 19.1 miles 1,616 feet of climb in 2h 38 min. I decided however that my day was not done and headed to the final fort on the GG fault.  Fort George is still a working military base and, like Edinburgh Castle, a tourist attraction. Taking a slight detour on my return journey and visited the Culloden Battlefield. This is the site of the last battle fought on British soil and was the final battle in Bonnie Prince Charles’s campaign. Military meander stats: Distance 28.4 miles with 922 feet of climbing in 2h 30m.
If you’re taking on a tour or cycling challenge and would like to write a diary of your experience then please get in touch as we’d love to follow your story! Simply e-mail us at leisurecycling@outlook.com and we’ll be in touch!
Many thanks once again to James for his blog account on what it’s like to ride the Great Glen Way and for allowing us to reproduce the photo’s from his trip. You can also find more blogs and follow his adventures by checking out his blog site here. You can also follow him on Twitter @fitfifertrainin James now runs Scottish Bike Touring, a vibrant new company on the Scottish cycle touring scene, so if you have enjoyed reading about James’ Great Glen Way trip and would like to try it for yourself then why not book one? Scottish Bike Touring will help you live out the cycling adventure you always wanted to have. Off road, road or a mix of the two. Fancy a Coast 2 Coast?  How about the John Muir Way - 134 miles across Central Scotland? Do it in one trip or take several weekends and do it at your leisure. The choice is yours! More details can be found on their website.