Fastpacking the Great Glen Way

Josephine Anselin
By Josephine Anselin
4 minute read

In May 2017, Josephine Anselin set out on a three-day solo fastpacking trip from Fort William to Inverness, running 79 miles (121km) coast to coast through the Scottish Highlands. Usually treated as a long-distance hiking route, the Great Glen Way is one of many trails suitable for back-to-back running days as it winds its way along canal paths, lochs and forest tracks.

In an attempt to take a break from the emotional rollercoaster of job searching, I travelled from Aberdeen to the west coast of Scotland. I needed a reset and knew that a few days running along lochs, canals and forest trails would help me reboot.

Accommodation booked and waterproofs packed, I made my way to the stone monument marking the official start of the Great Glen Way. Time to begin my long-distance run to Inverness.

Day 1 fastpacking: running from Fort William to Laggan

It felt great to be back on the trail. It had been over two months since my last fastpacking trip, and I had missed the sense of freedom I experience on these types of journeys.

After a few kilometres through quiet neighbourhoods, I spent the rest of the morning following the Caledonian Canal. The flat terrain and straightforward navigation allowed me to completely switch off. The sun was shining as I raced against boats in the canal, the miles flying by.

Running along the Caledonian Canal between Fort William and Gairlochy
Running along the Caledonian Canal between Fort William and Gairlochy

I had hoped to stop for a coffee at Gairlochy. When I arrived, I realised that it was a scattering of houses rather than the bustling village I expected. Nevermind. Instead, I took a short snack break in the sun and carried on into the woods towards Loch Lochy.

I followed the thistle-shaped trail markers along the forest track, catching glimpses of the water from time to time. The path soon rejoined the shore of Loch Lochy. I considered going for a dip, but noticed the dark clouds in the sky and decided against it. The shaded, soft forest trails offered perfect running terrain and before I knew it, I’d reached the end of the loch.

I arrived in Laggan early afternoon. After checking into the Great Glen Hostel, I headed to the ‘Eagle’ boat pub for a well-deserved fish and chips dinner.

Day 2 fastpacking: running from Laggan to Drumnadrochit

The second day was a long one, so I decided to leave early. When I set off on the trail the sun was still rising, the air was crisp, and a blanket of fog hugged the looming peaks. Running along the canal in this peaceful morning atmosphere put a big smile on my face.

After a few kilometres, I reached the shore of Loch Oich and followed the path along the water all the way to Fort Augustus. This was by far the largest village I passed since leaving Fort William; it even had a supermarket! I bought a takeaway coffee, stocked up on a few snacks and rejoined the trail.

The remains of Telford Bridge spanning the River Moriston
The remains of Telford Bridge spanning the River Moriston

I decided to take the ‘High Route’ between Fort Augustus and Invermoriston. It’s hillier than the low-level alternative but it offers stunning views over Loch Ness, which are worth a few steep climbs. I headed into the forest and followed the undulating path, stopping every now and again to take photographs over the loch below.

Around midday I reached Telford Bridge in Invermoriston; a perfect lunch spot. I sat on the stone wall and ate bread rolls, bananas and chocolate, which are the three main food groups on any of my fastpacking trips.

With a full belly, I headed back into the forest to Drumnadrochit, my final destination for the day. Along the way, I decided to take a small detour to Urquhart Castle on the shore of Loch Ness. I had wanted to visit this castle for a long time and wandering around the ruins after a 50km running day felt hugely rewarding.

Catching a glimpse of Urquhart Castle before setting off on the last stage of the Great Glen Way
Catching a glimpse of Urquhart Castle before setting off on the last stage of the Great Glen Way

Day 3 fastpacking: running from Drumnadrochit to Inverness

After a hearty Scottish breakfast of tea, porridge and toast I set off for the last stage of the Great Glen Way. The sun was out for a third day in a row, a rare occasion in Scotland. I was even beginning to regret packing my waterproof gear!

Enjoying the quiet trails above Abriachan before heading into Inverness
Enjoying the quiet trails above Abriachan before heading into Inverness

The day started with a short stretch along the road. After a short uphill I caught a last glimpse of Urquhart Castle. The trail took me through a pine forest and then across open moorland.

I felt grateful for being able to experience this type of mini adventure. The trip was a last-minute decision with no time for training, so I was not sure how my body would react to the long back-to-back running days. But the kilometres flew by without any pains or aches. I enjoyed the views so much that running up and down the winding trail didn’t feel like an effort at all.

Before I knew it, I could see Inverness in the distance. A tram track along the Caledonian Canal took me all the way into the town center and up to Inverness Castle, the end of the Great Glen Way.

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