10th of May 2021
Glancing across the River Ness at 07.30 on the Monday morning, I couldn’t help but smile. There was a faint, early smell of Spring in the air, the gulls circulating the Inverness coastline had made their way inwards towards the city, and the sun kept breaking through the clouds just long enough to take the chill out of the early morning breeze heading down from the Cairngorms, whose mountains were still sugar coated in snow from a recent cold snap. I love mornings like this, when it seems the world is still sleeping and we get a usually vibrant and booming place to ourselves even if only for a short while. Despite the sky being a little overcast, it was still better than what had been forecast all week every time I had looked. I had braced myself for rain and plenty of it. There had been heavy snowfall in this location only the week before and I had been praying all week as the days went by that it would be clear by now. It certainly looked like my prayers had been answered as last nights forecast had virtually screamed 100% rainfall (at least it wasn’t snow), and I had made sure that my waterproof clothing had been at the ready! Now, as I made my way across the Ness River Bridge and headed towards the steep steps to the Castle, I felt confident that the threat of rain was just that… Today was going to be a good day. I was sure of it.
It wasn’t just the weather that had made me smile that day. It was also the day that I was beginning my first ever trail thru hike. For anyone who has read my earlier blog post entitled ‘Loch Ness 360: Thoughts before the adventure’, you will know that since last year I had been planning a thru hike to take place in May 2021. Today was the day that it would all begin and a mixture of different feelings and emotions swam about in my mind as I imagined the journey ahead.
One such thought, was if I would be able to make the daily milestones that I had planned. Some days were shorter than others but that had been based very much on the Loch Ness 360 Trail Guide and what that recommended. The distances usually are not an issue, and I hike them regularly when in my usual stomping ground in the Peak District, however now I would be carrying a heavy rucksack filled to the brim for several days and I knew only too well what this meant. Another thought was my wild camping areas and what they might be like. I had read other blogs written by previous Loch Ness 360 hikers who had clearly stated the difficulty in finding places to wild camp throughout the trail and I couldn’t help but wonder at the time, exactly how hard it could really be. Famous last words (or thoughts) are perhaps the only way best to describe it. Yet as I neared the top of the stairs at the castle and turned right onto the short walkway past the Flora MacDonald Statue which stood tall and proud against the milky early morning cloud, the surrounding views of Inverness opened up before me. I could see right down to the River Ness and the direction I would be heading. The tiny cluster of tree studded islands which formed Ness Islands right through to the urban outskirts of Inverness and then on to the rolling hills and forestry which beckoned me towards them as I looked on. In that moment all niggling thoughts which had made me nervous suddenly drifted away and I came alive. So alive that I couldn’t wait to be there in the hills surrounded by nature and wildlife, and I knew exactly why I had made the choice to be here. It was the right choice… and now it was time to begin…
The following experiences described within this blog are many and due to this, I have decided to take a ‘one blog post per day’ approach. Each post will focus on a particular day that I walked the trail and will contain details of the six sections that the trail covers. Therefore there will be six separate posts based on the six days that it took to walk full circle around the Loch Ness. Within the blogs, I will include the exact route, any factual information that I learned whilst on my travels, local folklore and myths and will describe the events of the day as I experienced them. Finally, I will provide a separate blog called Epilogue: Personal feelings and afterthoughts which will talk in more detail about the difficulties and challenges I experienced, any highlights of the trip and what worked well on the trail and what did not. The Loch Ness 360 was an experience in many ways with its own highs and lows, however I felt it was best to save these views for the epilogue.
Overview: What is the Loch Ness 360?
The Loch Ness 360 is an official trail route of approximately 80 miles in distance which runs full circle around the Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. It is not 80 miles that you as a hiker will walk though if you choose to do the 360! There are many options to take detours along the trail to visit particular beauty spots and locations which involve extra distance. This together with any other walking done in between will easily clock up the mileage. It’s just something to bare in mind. I did this but didn’t record it on my Strava tracking device so my actual amount of mileage nearly topped 100 miles. The trail is made up of two popular and well documented Scottish trails (the Great Glen Way and the South Loch Ness Trail) which have been combined to create the Loch Ness 360. The trail has mixed sections of terrain which involves passing through open farmland, moorland, forestry and mountains so there are a wide variety of different scenery to enjoy. One of the reasons I chose this adventure is because I just couldn’t make my mind up which terrain I wanted most and decided upon a route which would give me a taste of everything I love best in one sitting. I knew I wouldn’t get bored easily this way and I would have new scenery to look forward to as the days went on.
The route can be done in various ways by either walking, running or cycling and can be split up into smaller sections or longer depending on fitness level and what is preferred. Most people if hiking, opt for the challenge which is done over six days (3 if cycling or running) and details of the different sections and recommendations can be found on the Loch Ness 360 Trail website found at http//lochness360.com. As you pass through the various sections, there are a number of villages on route that have shops and other provisions and are a great source to stock up on food, drink and resources. There are also a number of public houses and some entertainment if that is what you’re looking for.
Areas passed through are:
- Fort Augustus
The Great Glen Way is the first trail that I followed beginning in Inverness. I stayed on the trail for approximately 45 miles until I reached Fort Augustus before coming off it and beginning the South Loch Ness Trail for a further 35 miles. Although the South Trail is only 35 miles in length, the Great Glen Way is actually 79 miles running from Fort William to Inverness and is an added extra to the West Highland Way.
The official trail head for the thru hike around Loch Ness begins at Inverness Castle where there is an official marker indicating the start or finish of the Great Glen Way. Seen as the marker for the opposite end is located in Fort William and was nowhere near my route, it seemed appropriate to begin at the recommended starting point. The Loch Ness 360 Trail however, can be picked up literally anywhere and many hikers have begun their adventure in villages or at roadsides which are passed on the trail. It runs in a full circle and will eventually lead back to whichever starting point is chosen.
Day 1 walk route
The aim of the first day was to reach the Abriachan Forest Trust and Nature Reserve which is approximately 12.5 miles along the Great Glen Way from Inverness Castle. After studying the trail beforehand, I had mapped out where the likely wild camping places would be during the trip, the distance and how long it would roughly take to get there. The route today would begin at Inverness Castle and would follow the River Ness for a short distance to Ness Islands where I would cross and head across the city towards the Caledonian Canal. From there, the trail heads high up through Bunchrew and on into Abriachan before entering the Abriachan Forest. Due to the area of Abriachan being so vast, I had planned to call in for refreshments at Abriachan Eco Cafe and to sample some of their famous lemon cake which I had heard so much about. From there, the plan was to continue a little further along the trail to the Abriachan Nature Reserve near Loch Laide and wild camp there that night. I felt that this was a realistic amount of mileage for my first day. The Loch Ness 360 Trail Guide does encourage people to hike to Drumnadrochit on the first day, but that would mean hiking a total of 20 miles which, considering I had such a large and heavy rucksack, I thought was perhaps a little too far. With that in mind, I had set my heart on pitching close to Loch Laide and chilling my first evening out beside the water.
Gear and kit
The following list is all the gear and kit I took for the thru hike around the Loch Ness.
- Vango Sherpa 60/70 litre rucksack.
- 3 season lightweight hiking sleeping bag.
- Vango Nevis 100 backpacking tent.
- Mountain Warehouse lightweight inflatable sleeping mat.
- Vango Nevis 100 additional ground sheet.
- 2 x women’s hiking leggings.
- 2 x women’s hiking base layer tops.
- 1 x women’s fleece mid layer trousers.
- 1 x women’s fleece mid layer jacket.
- 1 x women’s top layer hiking jacket.
- Waterproof trousers and over coat.
- Clean underwear daily.
- 2 x pairs of hiking socks.
- Women’s leather hiking boots.
- Toiletries in travel size, tooth brush, toothpaste, compact/foldable hairbrush and mirror, face wipes, micro towel.
- Map, compass, head torch, spare power leads, torch.
- Pocket First Aid kit.
- Puncture repair kit and repair tape.
- 12 x Base Camp Food (Expedition Foods) freeze dried backpacking meals, a selection of instant coffee and hot chocolate sachets.
- Jet Boil Camping Stove and gas canister.
- 1 x travel cup, knife, fork, spoon, sponge for cleaning.
- Sawyer Water Filter, cleaning kit, 3 x 32oz filtration bags and filter water bottle.
- 2 x external power charging banks.
- Selection of Vango dry bags.
- Mobile phone.
As demonstrated above, I took literally the bare minimum of gear and kit and this included my clothing. I realised quickly before I set out on this trip that pack weight is crucial if even hoping for a successful backpacking adventure and so had packed and then repacked my rucksack, gradually removing any items that were not important. From past experience I have discovered that it is so easy to pack unnecessary items thus creating an overly heavy rucksack which is unnecessary. I did not want to create the same discomfort this time around by making the same mistakes. I cannot emphasise enough how much I thanked my lucky stars that I heeded all the advice around this topic that I could!
The aim of this thru hike was to be as self sufficient as I possibly could be. This would involve wild camping for the majority and carrying everything I would need throughout the trip. Wild camping is not considered trespass in the majority of Scotland and is therefore legal although the same rules apply in regards to leave no trace guidelines. Although I had packed enough freeze dried foods for breakfast and evening meal, I intended to buy lunch daily from the villages I passed through or from other outlets on the trail.
And so the adventure begins…
Inverness Castle to Bunchrew
I set off walking at approximately 8am and left the Great Glen Way monument behind me as I hit the trail. From there, I joined the road which leads steeply downhill, cuts down a narrow alleyway between a row of tall Victorian style terraced houses, and joins the main road which heads alongside the River Ness. As I walked along, I couldn’t help but notice how peaceful everything looked so early in the morning. There were only a handful of people about at this stage and it was hard to believe this was the capital city of the Highlands. There was a lovely smell of nature in the air, all the plants and vegetation were waking up and sprouting, and it really felt good to be out walking at long last. At this point I was still almost in denial that I was beginning this thru hike, it had come around so fast since I had planned it and then there had been doubts as to whether it could even go ahead due to the recent lockdown restrictions. On the 26th April 2021, when the Government finally allowed borders to open, I had jumped to book my train tickets and accommodation. That tingle of excitement in the pit of my stomach had begun from that moment on and it suddenly felt unreal that I was actually going to do it. I couldn’t wait to see all the spectacular sights that I knew awaited me whilst walking the Loch Ness 360 or to be once again exploring my favourite types of terrain. I still cannot fully describe the feeling of first setting out on an adventure despite the many, countless times in which I have done it. It is a magical feeling which can only be experienced by doing it! That’s truly the best explanation I can give!
The Great Glen Way is a very popular and well documented walking route. Just that particular trail alone attracts hundreds of hikers per year with it being utilised all year round. It is very well signposted along the route and is easy to follow. Despite having the route clearly mapped out on my Strava app on my mobile phone, I found the markers easily as I walked along and found that I didn’t need to consult my Strava for directions at this stage at all.
After approximately 20 minutes of walking, I reached a metal footbridge crossing the River Ness which leads onto Ness Islands. This is a collection of tiny islands in the middle of the river joined together by a network of footbridges and there is a walkway right along them with benches and places to sit and admire the views of the city. I found this part attractive if I’m honest which came as a surprise as I hadn’t been expecting it. There is an area of remembrance with memorial stones and other attractive features and even a pet cemetery among the islands.
After crossing the final island, the trail heads along the river for a distance before tailing off to the right and heading through more urban areas of Inverness. This section lasts approximately 1.5 hours depending upon how fast you walk and involves passing a skate park, crossing over the main dual carriageways using 2 subways, one of which is sprayed in interesting graffiti of the Gruffalo and the Loch Ness Monster, and then continuing along the Caledonian Canal for some distance. The path along the Caledonian Canal however, although it is flat and a proper laid one, it was not particularly easy on the knees when carrying such large weights. I was glad when the route led off down some wooden steps and a narrow mud path on the left, and began heading gradually uphill towards some newly constructed properties.
After crossing a busy lane at the top of a short rise, the path continued climbing gradually upwards towards woodland. It was here that I began to get my first sense of the countryside as the urban buildings gave way to open pastures and the narrow cart track began to become dotted with bright gorse bushes. The sun was beginning to shine too and I found I was having to remove layers of clothing in order to not become too hot as the accent into the highland continued. Despite it being a sharp climb out of the city which went on for at least a couple of miles, I was really starting to enjoy it. I walked past 2 large ponds which looked very pretty surrounded by all the wildflowers and vegetation and at one point, I reached a spot where there was a gap in the trees which had a viewpoint right across Inverness and the direction I had just walked. It looked quite far already and it was only just gone 10 am. Soon Inverness would be out of sight and I knew it would be quite some time before I saw it again.
Bunchrew to the Abriachan Forest
The path along the Great Glen Way climbed ever higher and very soon, entered the territory that I love best. It was the first bit of proper forestry that I had seen during the hike. The area of Bunchrew is a mixture of woodland, marshland (although at this time of year it wasn’t particularly obvious) and Forestry Commission. The path here is easy going after the climb out of Inverness and continues in a straight line for at least a mile. It follows an attractive dry stone wall which is topped with attractive wild flowers of all kinds and coated in thick green cushiony moss. Either side of the wall is thick, dense forestry and I remembered thinking at the time, that it would be impossible to camp here. The trees grew so close together it was impossible to put a tent among them. On the left side of the path was tall evergreen firs and on the right, a variety, including lots of Silver Birch. I could smell the pine in the air as I walked by and this added to the charm and beauty of this section.
After walking along the path for a mile or so, I took my first glimpse at my Strava GPS. It read that I had walked 5 miles already and I was still on the right track. I decided to stop here and have the first hot chocolate and snack of the day. It was such a beautiful location and as I didn’t know what was around the next corner, here seemed as good a place to stop as any. I sat down at the side of the path and heated some water for my drink whilst enjoying the peace and tranquillity.
I spent about 20 minutes there enjoying my drink whilst listening to the birds and wildlife in the trees, before carrying on along the way. After approximately another 30 minutes, the path leads out into the first section of deforestation. This is where large sections of the forest have been cleared of all trees and left bare. There are many reasons why this is done. The majority of the time it is to make a new space to plant more young trees when the older ones start to topple. Other times though, nothing is ever put back and the land is left to pasture. From looking at photographs and video footage taken over the years, it would seem that this is happening a lot which is a shame when considering the wildlife that rely so heavily on the forestry in these parts. It was here on the outskirts of the forest that I came across a person’s attempt at bushcraft skills and the first place on the hike where the ground was suitable to pitch a tent. It was just a shame really that it was not far enough in the day to pitch, however it is something to consider if walking in the opposite direction when walking the Great Glen Way from Fort William towards Inverness.
Abriachan Forest to Abriachan Eco Campsite and Cafe
It suddenly occurred to me at this point in the journey that I hadn’t noticed any water sources suitable for drinking from so far on the trail. The only places I had passed were 2 large ponds which were still water and covered with green algae. There had been no streams at all and I was conscious that my water bottle was running low. I had filled it with fresh tap water in my accommodation before I set out but would be relying on streams and my trusty water filter system from then on. I knew I needed to keep my eyes peeled for a water source and hoped it would not be much more walking until I came to one.
The area of deforestation at this part of the hike was a large one and spanned quite some distance. Gone was most of the lovely trees and vegetation that I had walked among earlier and in its place was an almost bare area which stretched beyond where my eyes could see. However, the path forward continued and as I followed it, it began to become lined with lots of heather which made the area seem less barren. It was also here that I spotted my first Deer of the hike! It bolted the second it heard my footsteps on the path and unfortunately, I did not have enough time to get my camera out to take a photograph. I remember hoping that I would get another opportunity to see one as the chances for me in everyday life are rare. I treasured that moment immensely…
A little further along, I finally came to a clear flowing stream that came down from the hillside and ran along the path. I took this opportunity to collect water, filter it and replenish my water bottle. I also thought it might be a good idea to fill my reservoir bags too to filter later as I wasn’t sure when and if I would come across another stream. The sun kept dipping out from behind the clouds and when it did, I found myself feeling very hot as I walked along with the weight of the rucksack pressing down on my shoulders. The only issue I found with carrying the extra water was that it made my load heavier still. I had filled 3 x 32 ounce reservoir bags and after a few minutes, I had to empty one of them to make my rucksack easier to carry.
After approximately an hour of walking, the bare forest gave way to open moorland where the views began to open up around me. It was here where I came across a couple frantically searching for their dog who had run off after a Deer an hour before and they hadn’t seen or heard from her since. This area in particular is vast and I really felt for them as the dog could now be literally anywhere! At the time I hoped that it might be trapped in the livestock compartments which are separated by high wire fences and large metal gates. I had passed through a number of them so far on this journey and prey that they eventually found her safe and well.
It was now approximately 1pm and I had walked around 7 miles by this time. As I walked along, I gazed out over the open moorland which stretched on for what seemed like an eternity right over to the mountains in the distance. There was even snow on the tops and plenty of it which seemed strange seen as it was warm in my location. I knew though that the mountains I was looking at were actually really high and there would be a definite temperature difference at the summit, it was just fascinating to see all the same and it was sights like this which filled me with energy and life as I ventured on. It was at this point that I spotted a single track lane leading away in the distance and noticed that the path ahead met up with it. From that point on, the route follows the road for a considerable distance (4 miles of it to be precise), before eventually coming off it to follow a narrow forestry path on the right. Before that though, I knew that now was the time to stop for lunch and decided on sitting in a field a short distance along the lane and admiring the views. Before I had set out in the morning from my accommodation, the staff in the restaurant had offered to prepare 2 bacon sandwiches in a packed lunch for later today. I had paid for the buffet breakfast but had not eaten too much first thing in the morning so as not to hinder my walk. They had prepared the food for me and now I was looking forward to it as I was ravenous! I cannot thank the staff at Premier Inn enough for their kind offer!
I spent about 30 minutes here enjoying lunch before packing away and preparing to continue the journey. As I did this, two male hikers walked past on the road and gave me a cheery wave. They too had large rucksacks and I remember thinking at the time that they might too be walking the Great Glen Way. It is always nice to see other hikers and it suddenly occurred to me that up until this point, they were the only hikers I had seen. I decided to keep my eye out for them later on the trail.
Once again I set off along the single track road leading through Abriachan. By now, I have to admit that I was starting to feel the heaviness of the rucksack pressing down on my shoulders and my legs were just beginning to feel the strain of the day. The bright sunshine that I had enjoyed up until this point was also beginning to diminish as several dark clouds had descended across the sky, and there was a distinct threat of rain lingering. The old road stretched on for 4 miles in virtually a straight line. It reminded me very much of some of the old Roman roads that I had encountered throughout my Peak District adventures only much longer in distance and I really felt it as I pressed on. Road walking, especially in long stretches really are not my forte and if I could have avoided it I would. However, this was the route of the Great Glen Way and Loch Ness 360 and I was determined to complete it properly. I cannot say this was one of my favourite parts of the day. The scenery here was lovely in the distance with the mountains, snow tops and the lush forestry but my surroundings close by were overgrown fields, farmland and high wired fences which after an hour or so, became quite boring. Also, walking on road is hard going especially when carrying large weights. I found that my legs in particular really ached with the impact of my feet hitting the ground hard as I walked. My knees absolutely killed! It is just something to bare in mind when considering a thru hike, as I truly didn’t appreciate how difficult road hiking was until I did it properly.
I cannot describe the overwhelming feeling of relief that washed over me when eventually, I spotted a signpost to the right of the road leading off into the forest which read ‘Welcome to Abriachan Eco Cafe and Campsite’ with just a short kilometre walk before I reached it. I had heard lots about the Eco Cafe and had made up my mind weeks ago that this would be one of my stop off points along the Great Glen Way. Apparently, the lady here made the best homemade lemon cake ever and I was determined to buy a slice.
Abriachan Eco Campsite and Cafe
The above quote came from the owners of the Eco Cafe and was written as the heading for the post which they added to my photograph on their Facebook page. The ending of it where they said ‘like nowhere else’, pretty much sums up the whole experience. It is truly different to any other place I have ever been to.
After leaving the road and turning right past the signpost, a footpath leads off into the forest as part of the Great Glen Way. It is not a far walk from here along the path before you reach the cafe. As I walked along, I passed numerous other handmade signs advertising the services and products sold at the cafe. They are quite distinctive and have become iconic features of this section of the hike. Signs of this nature are not spotted anywhere else along the route and are very fitting with the nature of the venue.
Abriachan Eco Cafe and Camping is located in Wester Laide, Abriachan Forest and was definitely one of the highlights of my trip! It is an eco friendly croft with eco friendly facilities. The owners live on the premises in their quarters and visitors can camp if required and order food and refreshments. I did not camp here as I had planned to wild camp the Loch Ness 360 but the option is there should anyone wish to. I did however order coffee and a slice of the famous lemon cake I had been eager to try. I absolutely loved this venue in every way. It had an almost Pagan atmosphere about it with its outdoor facilities and the quirky decorations and gimmicks. I felt safe during my time there and if I’m honest, I didn’t want to leave. It very much focuses on nature and being close to it which I enjoy. There are also a number of friendly animals which reside at the Croft. One such animal is a big black pig which may join you for lunch, a large cockerel or bird of that nature also made an appearance. Then as I ate at a table under a shelter, a friendly Robin kept hopping onto the table to eat crumbs from my lemon cake. What I liked best about this venue was that everything is outside including the dining areas so you are one with nature there completely. However, there are sheltered areas for when it is raining. Near to where I sat, there was a wooden shack which was decorated in lots of hand painted images from various other visitors and even intricate paper mache models of wildlife which had been painted and varnished.
The food when it arrived was absolutely delicious! A word of warning though, the portions are NOT small! I had wondered if a slice of cake and coffee would be enough however, when it came, those feelings were soon put to bed. The cake slice is huge (well it was in my opinion anyway) and came with blueberries and chocolate on the side. The coffee was served in a large decanter and gave me just over 2 large mugs. I paid £9.40 for everything which I thought was a good price. The lemon cake really is the bees knees!
Unfortunately, the first downpour of the hike begun whilst I sat at my table enjoying the food. It was quite heavy and lasted a good hour. Whilst there, I also met the two male hikers that I had seen earlier in the day whilst I sat in the field at Abriachan. They had arrived before me to the Cafe and had already eaten but they kindly offered me a place at their table and we chatted for quite some time about our travels and various places we had visited on previous adventures. They were doing the Great Glen Way as opposed to the Loch Ness 360 and so would be hiking all the way to Fort William arriving hopefully in another 4 days time. They too had planned to camp near Loch Laide but had decided against it with the now heavy rainfall and the threat of midges near the waters edge. They ended up camping just outside the Eco Cafe on some land a little further along the footpath. Meeting these guys on my travels was definitely a great experience. I enjoyed every minute that I spent with them and I truly hope they had a good journey along the remaining Great Glen Way. Unfortunately, I cannot remember their names to give them a mention in this blog and they do not use any social media. We did meet again the following morning along the way but I did not see them for the remainder. Guys, Thankyou for making my journey along the 360 a pleasant one and I wish you well on any future adventures you embark on.
The time was now 5.30 pm and although I didn’t really want to leave this comfortable place, I knew I had to in order to find my camping spot and get settled for the night. It was with a heavy heart that I paid my bill which was done by leaving it on the table, packed up my things and signed the guest book located just inside the wooden shack. I had been chatting with the owner of the cafe who had served me my refreshments and I thanked her wholeheartedly for the lemon cake. She had said earlier not to thank her until I had tried it! Well, I can honestly say her cooking abilities really are the best! I haven’t ever had lemon cake like it from anywhere else. She also kindly gave me a money bag filled with sugar lumps to help me on my journey after I realised that I had forgotten sugar for my coffee during the trip. All I can say to anyone up these parts is that the Eco Cafe is a must if walking the Great Glen Way!
Before leaving however, I decided to take a look at their eco friendly facilities on the site. I soon realised what they meant about ‘harsh paradise’. In saying that though, these facilities were absolutely immaculate! I’ll leave you with this…
Eco Campsite to Abriachan Forest Trust Walks
Leaving the Eco Cafe behind me now, I continued back on the footpath for about a kilometre until I reached the signpost shown above. From there the route continued across a road and straight on along a farm track with a signpost which read ‘Abriachan Trails and Nature Reserve’. This is located just West of Loch Laide in a forestry area with paths and nature trails to explore. There are various bird hides to sit in which in my opinion were quite impressive. Each bird hide has viewing platforms and picnic tables outside. I had read other blog posts where these attractive huts had been used a lot more and had even been slept in by hikers. During the first lockdown period of 2020, the Eco Cafe and Campsite had remained closed and no visitors could access the camping facilities. Therefore, hikers had resorted to using the bird hides as unofficial bothies. Upon closer inspection, they looked perfect and it is something I would’ve considered too. The ground in this location although a stunning piece of forestry, was unsuitable to pitch a tent due to not being level, was very rocky and lumpy and no space to pitch. I also didn’t fancy taking my chances walking the 4 kilometres down to Loch Laide either which had been my original plan. It was downhill and I had a gut feeling the ground would not be suitable there either and I would then have to walk back. I decided to press on a little further and pitch somewhere along the trail further down the line.
Further along the trail and shortly before leaving the nature reserve, I came across a really cool thatched wigwam which would have been an ideal place to stay overnight. If I had known what lay ahead that evening I would have set up here and called it a night. After all I had hit my milestone for the first day, but I had also set my heart on wild camping in my tent. I made the decision rather foolishly to continue on the trail feeling sure that a camping spot would be available. It was starting to become late though and was now 6pm. Although it wasn’t dark, I had noticed the light changing as the evening wore on and knew that it wouldn’t be too much longer until the light did begin to drop. I was really beginning to feel tired at this point and I was aching considerably. I pressed on regardless up the Great Glen Way.
Walking further along, the trail becomes an asphalt walkway and heads into dense forestry and woodland. I quickly realised that I would not be able to camp anywhere around there as there just wasn’t room for a tent. Eventually after a further hour and half of walking, the landscape opens up again onto open moorland and there are terrific views down the Abriachan Forest Trust Trails but unfortunately, there is not a chance of pitching a tent. The ground everywhere is either solid with rock under the surface, has dense forestry with no space or was hilly on both sides of the trail to a point where pitching a tent was impossible. It was at this point that I began to become extremely worried that I would not find a spot before nightfall and I could feel panic rising in my chest.
It got to the stage where in the end I made up my mind that the very next suitable camping spot I saw was just going to have to do. I hadn’t particularly wanted to camp too close to the trail and preferred to remain hidden slightly away from it. However, realistically this was not going to happen. I was becoming fatigued and fast and had noticed that my legs were starting to cramp up. This was a definite sign to call it a day and I didn’t want to over do it on the first day leaving me unfit to hike tomorrow. This was the stage where the trail begins to head in the direction of Loch Ness and a tiny piece of it could just be spotted as I headed downhill towards more dense forestry. There was a high metal gate on entry to the forest which I passed through and continued on the Great Glen Way. I cannot describe the feeling I got when just slightly to the left of the trail and just past a signpost stating ‘viewpoint’, I spotted a flat piece of land just big enough and level enough for my tiny one person tent. It was just starting to go dusk and I had walked a further 5 miles past my day 1 milestone! I couldn’t believe how difficult it had been to find a camping spot in such a vast location and I now understood what other bloggers had meant. I rested for the next 15 minutes or so and dumped the rucksack whilst I flexed my agonising shoulders. The relief I felt at this time was immense and I honestly cannot describe it.
After pitching my tent and getting set up, I felt much more relaxed. It is amazing what having a good camping spot actually does for you. I spent the evening preparing tea which consisted of a bag of dry roasted peanuts, a chocolate bar and hot chocolate as I was still stuffed from the cake from earlier. It was a very peaceful evening as the night drew in and I could hear the trickle of a nearby stream as I snuggled down in my sleeping bag. There is definitely something tranquil about the sound of running water whilst out in the wild and I realised that maybe the extra mileage today had been a blessing. It certainly meant that tomorrow’s hike would be much shorter and in hindsight that was a good thing. After logging into my Strava GPS just before falling asleep, I had walked 17 miles on day 1. Although it had been unintentional, and I ached like there was no tomorrow, it meant that I was further along the trail with less distance to cover the next day. Sometimes not knowing is best in my opinion and if I had known in advance that there was a lack of suitable camping spots around the Abriachan Forest I might have stayed in the thatched wigwam. Knowing now what I know about day 2, it truly was a blessing in disguise that I didn’t have to walk as far that day!
Distance walked: 16.74 miles.
Elevation Gain: 1,624 feet.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed day 1 of the Loch Ness 360 hike along the Great Glen Way. Due to this serial blog being so big with large quantities of experiences to discuss, I have opted to provide a full evaluation and discussion of the hike in the epilogue which will be published upon completion of the whole Loch Ness 360 series.
Once again, Thankyou from the bottom of my heart for reading and being part of this journey along with me. Your support throughout and what was given to me in the lead up to this adventure has been priceless and will continue to enable me to have successful hiking adventures in the future. I would like to offer special Thanks to Al James, a follower on Twitter who gave me sound advice before my trip about investing in a midge net (believe it or not I had forgotten about this vital piece of kit), which is a must when visiting the Scottish Highlands. Also, the advice about purchasing puncture repair tape! I cannot Thank you enough! Secondly, I would like to Thank Carl Johnson Outdoors for your support with my massively oversized rucksack before the trip and for your advice regarding camping locations and water sources along the way. Your previous knowledge of the Great Glen Way helped me immensely as the journey continued. Finally to everyone who messaged me during this first stage of the hike, your words meant a lot and gave me encouragement to continue walking especially when panic set in about the lack of camping spots. It would’ve been so easy to throw the towel in so early in the hike and despair due to low mood which can quickly consume you in difficult times. I truly hope you will support me in future adventures.
Take care and bye for now. The journey continues in Day 2…
All images used in this blog are my own and were captured using my iPhone 7 camera device. Map images and accents were sourced from the Loch Ness 360 Trail Guide of 2019. All photographs have been edited using Instagram Editor Tool and sourced from my Instagram Account found at soloexplorer23.