15th May 2021
The final day of the Loch Ness 360 hike was here before I even realised it. As I laid that morning cosy and warm in my sleeping bag at 7am, I once more scrolled back to the first photograph where I stood bursting with excitement at the official starting point at Inverness Castle and thought about how it had only seemed a mere day ago that I had taken it. Now, here I was on day 6, hopefully to be the final leg of the journey with a chance of a new photograph come the end.
Upon stretching my legs around the tent that morning, the sky was clearing of clouds and patches of blue sky could clearly be seen. Overnight it had stayed dry with no rain which would make packing away so much easier. I had slept well with no interruptions, mostly owed to the fact that the previous night had been so poor quality that yesterday had been a constant struggle to stay upright. Within no time at all of settling, had I felt my eye lids drooping and I was unable to keep myself awake any longer. The forecast today looked promising with highs of 44 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny spells, a great way in my opinion in which to bring to a close an amazing 6 days of hiking.
When considering my thoughts and feelings of actually making it this far to day 6, I find these very hard to describe. I had never set out pressuring myself to complete the hike, just to give it damn good try and take each day as it came. That is exactly what I had done. Some days had been shorter than others which considering the terrain and elevation in some parts, was really not a bad thing. The shorter days I considered as rest days, and justified it to myself that they were needed in order to recover and regain strength. One thing I did notice however was that as the days went on, the aches in my legs and shoulders were seemingly improved yet my neck appeared to be paying the ultimate price. I came to the conclusion that this was caused by tension and the way I braced myself when hiking the tough hills whilst carrying the heavy loads within my rucksack. This was definitely something I would need to work on and aim to improve before embarking on any future long distance adventure.
As for my psychological well-being at this stage of the journey, I can safely say that it felt amazing to know that after today, I would’ve finished the hike and would be returning home to Sheffield to my wonderful children and loved ones. That was a concept that had spurred me on immensely, especially in the most challenging parts of the adventure and no doubt would do the same today as I edged ever closer to Inverness and the finishing line of the Loch Ness 360.
Breakfast that morning consisted of porridge with strawberries by Basecamp Foods which once again tasted amazing and definitely gave me the energy boost I craved to start the day. As I was getting dressed and packing away at approximately 7.30am, I was surprised to suddenly hear footsteps approaching outside. As I listened, I heard someone walk past the tent on the public footpath so close they had to step over the guide wires. Due to it being daylight outside, this didn’t bother me too much but it clearly highlighted the reality that people do go out walking at first light and although the location was quite some distance from the nearest village, people utilise these trails at times when we least expect it. I knew it was time to hastily pack up and hit the trail as soon as I possibly could.
Leave No Trace
Day 6 walk route and overview
The aim of today’s hike was to set out and reach the village of Dores by late morning where I would stop for my first real break of the day. At Dores, I was aware that there was a pebble beach and various refreshment outlets from my previous 2010 visit in which on that occasion, I had rented a comfortable log cabin at Drummond Farm. It was here that I intended to buy a snack and sit by the waters of Loch Ness as I reminisced about my past experiences and all that I had encountered so far. Dores village would be the last proper chance to see the Loch as after this, the trail begins to head inland and the views are lost as you disappear over the brow of the hillside on the way towards Scaniport.
Upon leaving Dores village, the trail begins an ascent which takes hikers up into the hills and moorland crossing Scaniport and drops down through fields and farmland as it heads towards Cullaird Farm on the left side of the path. At this stage, the trail leads through Torbreck Woods at Torbreck before heading out onto single track road. It is here that there is another large wooden notice board symbolising the official end of the Loch Ness South Trail although there are still 4 miles remaining before the Loch Ness 360 Trail is complete. From here, it is a case of following Essich and Stratherick Road into the city of Inverness. Just before reaching the main road running alongside the River Ness, you will pass through Lochadil, a residential area which eventually meets the junction of road at the side of Ness Islands and from here, it is a simple walk along the river banks back to Inverness Castle.
The route today was approximately 15 miles from my camping spot at Torness back to the start of the Loch Ness 360 Trail at Inverness Castle, so quite a long day ahead…. Without further ado, it was time to begin.
Torness to Dores
Hitting the trail at 8am that morning, I dropped down off the narrow public footpath where I had spent my last night and rejoined the main track. With a spring in my step I began to head in the direction of Dores Village which at present was approximately 4.5 miles away. As I walked I couldn’t help but admire the scenery here, it was very different to some of the scenes of the higher routes. Rather than the dry and almost barren appearance which I had endured for long periods of the trail, this area was very green. Lots of lush, dark, rich colours and textures within the landscape which was very much alive in both nature and wildlife.
It was here where I was suddenly brought to an abrupt halt and I was left mesmerised by my first wild creature of the day. Right ahead of me on the path was the biggest wild Hare I had ever seen. Unfortunately, the following photograph does not give much detail away about it, nor does it capture its true size. It was in-fact huge and just shortly after capturing this image, it began running at full pelt along the footpath ahead. I couldn’t help but admire its speed. It really was a wonderful feeling that came over me whenever I was lucky enough to spot these magnificent animals and they certainly add to the magic of doing these hikes. I feel well and truly blessed with the wildlife I have experienced everyday throughout all of this long distance trail.
The track just beyond this begins to head downhill in a gradual descent, cutting through a short section of forestry before meeting with the main road. As I walked I was once again startled out of my wits by a large Deer which sprang up from the long shrubs at the side of me and ran along the track before jumping up the rocky crag on my right. I remember thinking to myself at that point that I should be almost expecting this by now as it had happened a few times before during this journey, however, it was so close to the main road which was quite busy with traffic. It came as a surprise that Deer should settle in this location due to the noise. I certainly wasn’t expecting that but as the saying goes, you learn something new every day.
As the path dropped lower down, I came across a gap in the trees where I was greeted by the stunning views of the Loch Ness and its immediate surroundings. The road I was approaching ran parallel to the Loch and gave a period of closeup viewing which is rare on the Loch Ness 360 trail. I have to say that Loch Ness up close and personal is a spectacular sight. Views from the top are always special and there’s no doubt they do capture you, yet the beauty of it now on a day like today in the Spring sunshine really was something to be admired.
Upon meeting the main road heading into Dores, the following section of trail is actually pathless. It involves following the road for approximately 4 miles alternating sides and dodging fast traffic. There is no pavement for much of this section and care is required to maintain safety. Approximately 1.5 miles along this stretch of road, there is a small patch of woodland containing a narrow footpath which the trail markers lead hikers through, however it is not long until you are back out walking on the road again.
About a mile from Dores village the trail markers direct hikers down another narrow footpath just left of the road which runs parallel to Loch Ness and follows the shoreline. I felt immediately safer to be off the busy road with no risk of getting hit by passing cars and felt instantly drawn to the tranquil and beautiful scenes down at the waterfront. The path was very uneven in places and certainly had its ups and downs throughout. The alternative route is to continue on the road right the way along, however, I found being close to the Loch comforting and couldn’t stop myself from gazing at the waters before me which today looked so calm and inviting.
Below is an example of the type of terrain involved during the walk along the south banks of Loch Ness shortly before reaching Dores. As you will notice, it is dotted with several small streams along the route which have to be crossed with no stepping stone or walkway. At the time I walked this in May time the streams were completely dried up and crossing was easy, however I can imagine it may be tricky in wet or wintery conditions. The pathway and edges of the streams look as if they might become slippery making this particular path tricky to navigate. There are also the water levels to consider at different times of the year.
I eventually reached Dores village at approximately 11.30am after hiking around 4 miles along that very long stretch of road running parallel to Loch Ness. I have to say that it is a very uneventful road in which despite being lined with beautiful trees and greenery, it is a long time of viewing the same thing. I was relieved to finally reach the village which would be my first rest stop of the day.
The village of Dores is located on the east shore of Loch Ness and is approximately 10k away from the city of Inverness if utilising the main road. Known in Scottish Gaelic as Duras, it is a thriving community containing amongst the usual residential amenities, a number of accommodation facilities, small shops, a pub and various tourist attractions. Being the first real village that one will come across when heading towards Loch Ness from Inverness, it has established itself as being a top holiday destination for tourists visiting Loch Ness and it’s surrounding areas. Accommodation here ranges from hotels, bed and breakfasts, log cabins to camping and glamping facilities. The village has the added quality of having its own beach which is popular at all times of the year and is known as a hotspot for being one of the favourite places to stay alongside Fort Augustus and Drumnadrochit.
Almost immediately upon entering the village, it is not hard to spot Dores Beach slightly off to the left and this was where I headed just before noon that hot spring day. The beach has its own car parking area which has direct access onto the beach and access can also be made via this to the Dores Inn, the local public house.
Crossing the car park at the Dores Inn, I was immediately drawn to the ramshackle and dated camper van parked on the bank of Loch Ness just at the side of Dores Beach. There were other vans parked nearby but none as unique or as quirky as this one. Once again, strong feelings of nostalgia engulfed me as I edged ever closer, all the while reminiscing about my previous trip here in 2010. I knew immediately what this place was.
On visiting Dores in the Summer of 2010, I had came across this camper van by chance and stood for a long while chatting with the owner. It was at that time, the home and work place of none other than the famous ‘Nessy’ Hunter Steve Feltham, whose story to me, was as unique as it was inspiring. In 1991, Steve had left his job, home and girlfriend in Dorset, packed all his belongings into an old mobile library van and set off North for the bonny banks of Scotland. His aim in doing all this was to set up home at Loch Ness and become a full time ‘Nessy Hunter’ having been intrigued and fascinated by the thought that there may just be a monster lurking deep within its depths.
His interest had not just begun at the time he left Dorset but had been present for much longer, a niggling and insatiable drive had overcome him and after careful thought, had came to the conclusion that regret was not a concept he could face. So there he still was in 2010, parked up in his van which by now was immobile. It has no running water or electricity, he showered and used the toilet at the Dores Inn pub, got water from the outside tap at the pub and charged solar panels for his lighting and laptop use. He spends his day gazing out across the waters of Loch Ness searching for Nessy through his large, prominent binoculars and makes a living selling handmade models of the monster which he sells to tourists. I actually purchased one of these models in 2010, a Nessy Lovers model which I still display in my souvenir cabinet at home.
On the Summer evening that I met Steve back then, one of the rare evenings when the waters were calm and the rain was kind enough to stay away, I had asked Steve if he had seen any sign of Nessy in all the years he had been there. He had replied that although he had not actually seen anything yet, he had experienced several strange sightings which at present haven’t been explained. He said that rather than dull his excitement or add frustration, it encourages him to keep searching and fuels his belief that the monster really is there.
Although personally I don’t believe in the Loch Ness Monster, it still makes an interesting story and definitely gets people into the spirit of the place upon arrival. Unfortunately, the camper van was deserted at the time I visited again in 2021 and Steve Feltham was nowhere to be seen. I have since read in a Scottish newspaper that earlier this year, Steve had temporarily put to rest his search of Nessy, having come to the conclusion that whatever lives in the depths of the Loch is nothing more than a large fish! However he says he has no regrets whatsoever about leaving Dorset and maintains that the adventure was all part of his journey through life.
Heading onto Dores Beach just shortly before noon I walked a short distance along until I found a quiet spot to sit and have lunch and a coffee. There were quite a few people on the beach that day, all enjoying the warm sunshine and the peaceful scenery which surrounded us. I sat that day for 30 minutes just watching the world go by and gathering my thoughts.
I even made time to enjoy an ice cream which kind of made up for the lack of a summer holiday this year.
Dores to Scaniport
Leaving Dores Beach at approximately 12.30pm, I continued on the trail which follows the main road through the village. After walking on pavement for approximately a mile, the trail turns off along a well maintained public footpath on the right and leads the way through farmland and several fields of livestock. It is at this point that you start to leave Loch Ness and head inland as you head gradually uphill. The views are still not completely gone yet though…. If you glance backwards in the direction you have just walked, you can still view the Loch from a distance as you look over from the high point.
After walking on farm track uphill, I reached a narrow lane close to a small cluster of farm houses. Turning right and following the road past the houses, the lane turns a corner over a pretty bridge and begins to head steeply upwards as it continues towards Scaniport. The lane, despite being steep and hard work to climb with the heavy load, was very attractive and offered views of the beautiful countryside on both directions. Spring flowers were in bloom all around the roadside and everywhere appeared to be a blaze of colour everywhere I looked.
During one of the many rest stops I did during this climb, I was passed by 2 female horse riders out enjoying the hot weather who called out a cheery hello from their high vantage point. I remember thinking fondly of how I could’ve just climbed onto the back of the horse right now and hitched a ride to the top. The sun was extremely hot that day and it was considerably noticeable especially as it was still only Spring. May time around these parts is considered rain season but today felt more like a hot Summers day. It was not the kind of weather I had expected for this time of year in Scotland.
Upon nearing the top of the lane, the trail markers indicated to take a left turn which headed off the lane along a farm track heading into a small copse of trees and to continue following the track across moorland. This section of trail was probably my favourite section of the day mostly due to the bright yellow gorse which lined the track. Little was I to know that beyond this, the scenery begins to lose its splendour compared to the rest of the trail. This was noticeable almost immediately.
Following on just a short distance from this stunning location was a long dog stretch of cleared land where once again, I recognised the all too familiar sights of established deforestation. By now I was becoming accustomed to it as I had came across so many parts during this hike where the land had literally been hacked away and sometimes for what seemed like no apparent reason. Surely the idea of deforestation was to clear the landscape of ancient or unsafe trees and make room for new trees and vegetation which would in turn grow to contribute to the forest. However, although this had seemed to be occurring in some parts, I was not so sure in many others. There were many sections where vast amounts of the forest had been stripped back to the point it was no more. It is questionable just how much forest will actually be left in the future or if any at the rate in which it is disappearing.
The following 4.5 miles of trail saw me trek through this very section. A long, unflattering hike with only the odd patch of dry heather and gorse to break the gloom. As I walked, I couldn’t help but imagine how this location would have looked in its heyday when it was lined with the tall firs and evergreens characteristic of Scottish forestry. The wildlife here would have been different too. An area such as this despite being closer to civilisation would no doubt have had large amounts of Deer living within it. Unfortunately, due to the forest being removed, it forces the wildlife into other locations which are less open and barren.
I have to admit that this section of trail was the most boring and uneventful of the whole hike. I am not sure if I felt this way because it was the last day and I was getting tired but I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Coming after the constant highs which every day of this hike brought at nearly every twist and turn, I truly did not want this to be my last sights on day 6. I felt considerably happier when after what seemed like an eternity, the track dips down off the highland and heads into more farmland which was considerably greener. The tiredness I felt at this stage was indescribable and I was beginning to hope that the end was nearer than I could wish for as I ambled onwards.
Scaniport to Inverness
The following section of trail led me gradually downhill on a single cart track crossing endless fields of livestock and tiny clusters of farm cottages. As I looked onwards, I could see the beginning of the sprawl of Inverness city getting closer with every step and this spurred me onwards despite my fatigue. Although I had thoroughly enjoyed my 6 days of hiking the Loch Ness 360, I was glad it was nearing the end now. I felt that I had seen everything that there was to be seen on this trail and despite the views being scenic, I found it somewhat mediocre in comparison to what I had been a part of in the previous days which had passed.
It is a strange feeling indeed to be wandering aimlessly, knowing that your journey is nearing the end. In the days passed, I had felt almost high on the elation that I was in the midst of a remarkable adventure, totally absorbed and captivated by the unbelievable scenery around, with the sights, smells and sounds way beyond what I had ever been used to. I had been so close to every element that I had almost felt part of it. To be walking away from it now as I followed the continuous path around every twist and turn, heading back into the familiar territory of the standard farmers fields of suburban life and seeing vast spreadings of houses and industrial works it was a terrible jolt to reality. As much as I wanted to complete the hike, a part of me wished I didn’t have to…. but after the brief haze of infatuation, I would rather it have ended in Dores on a high than endure the long, dog ass stretches of bare, uneventful and repetitive land. I have heard of other long distance hikers saying something similar and always wondered what they meant. Now I knew and even now I find it hard to put into words.
After passing Torbreck Farm and cottages, I headed uphill and into woodland. The following photograph is the last one taken during the official trail of the Loch Ness 360. As I followed the windy path through Torbreck Woods that afternoon I knew that this would be the last real scenic view I came across. After this, I would be plunged back into urban territory and my adventure would soon be over. Torbreck Woods is only a short section of woodland but very popular with local people who just wanted a short walk in the day. As I hiked through, I passed many people out walking their dogs in the humid Spring early evening.
Gradually I came to a place where the footpath ended abruptly at a wooden gate and beyond that, became concrete pavement running alongside a lane. Just as I approached the gate, I found myself standing at the foot of a large blue notice board which signified the end of the Loch Ness South Trail. Almost in the blink of an eye, yet another trail had ended. I stood for about 10 minutes here, reading the hike description and observing the dotted map, all the while reminiscing about every milestone I had passed. Some seemed a million moons away, others only like yesterday but each one had something special etched in my heart. Now was the time to head into the land of the living yet again, the South Trail might be over but there was still approximately 4 miles left of the Loch Ness 360. The emotional struggle at this stage was very real.
From here it really was a case of following road right into Inverness. As I neared the first real residential estates and saw the heavy traffic and booming everyday life of its civilians, I found my pace quickening as if on a whim. Something that was beyond my control. It made me realise how much we, as city living individuals are very much controlled by the environment we live in, how accustomed we are to it without really knowing it or giving it much consideration. We move as fast as our daily activities do and go with the flow of what is happening around us. It is such stark contrast to being out in the middle of nowhere where all you really have is the quiet and your own thoughts. It gave me something to think about anyway….
Finally, the long city road met with the River Ness once again and I found myself back at the same spot that I had stood in just 6 days ago. Walking along Ness Islands once more past the ornate metal footbridge joining the islands, I decided to sit for a while on a park bench overlooking the River Ness in the balmy evening sunshine and watch the world go by. It was very busy tonight on Ness Islands. Couples sat on blankets huddled close having picnics, elderly people walked their dogs, children played by the waters edge or climbed on the large sculptures of Nessy dotted around the walkways and ducks quacked noisily as they scrabbled for food from anyone who noticed. Placing my heavy rucksack on the seat beside me, I took in the tranquil scenes of Inverness as if my life depended on it. Just a little down the road on my right I could see the looming red turrets of Inverness Castle and knew it was my final leg of this hike. Should I get up now and plough on to the end and get it over with? It was only 5 minutes away, 7 at the most and I was almost there…. However, in that moment I decided that time could hang on a few minutes. The castle had waited 6 days for me, surely it could wait a little longer.
It was now 6pm in the evening and the light was beginning to change. The weather was still hot and glorious as I sat there people watching and reeling from the past week of adventures. All the different things I had had the pleasure to experience, together with the people I had met all flooded back in an instant. What an amazing experience! Heaving on my heavy pack once more I prepared myself for the climb that followed. The way ahead along the main road towards the castle and the trudge up the narrow alleyways and steps between tall Victorian houses killed with every step but eventually and at long last, I reached the marker stone signifying the official start or finish of the Great Glen Way.
Touching the marker I could’ve kissed it! It truly was a surreal moment to know that I had completed the 80 mile Loch Ness 360 Trail and a wave of emotions hit me as I sat in the now packed castle gardens. When I had set out 6 days ago, this place and the city had been lifeless with most people being still in bed at 8am on the Monday. Now on the Saturday evening it was bustling with energy. Lockdown restrictions were still in place in Scotland at this time and pubs were still being forced to close early at 8pm. Due to this the pubs were full to bursting with people spilling out onto the streets. It was a lovely scene to witness and it made me think about what was lacking in my hometown of Sheffield.
So much had changed there over the years in regards to pub life and atmosphere. Sheffield streets had once bustled too and there had been a wonderful feeling of social life being centred around the pub. However in my lifetime I have witnessed attitudes changing and the dwindling in pub population and the amount of people who frequent them. Gone is the happy vibe that people valued many years ago and in its place it seems a majority are out for fights and aggression. It was amazing to once again feel that happy vibe still present in Scotland.
Checking back into the Premier Inn at Inverness was a breath of fresh air. I celebrated that evening with a long soak in a deep bubble bath, a bottle of my favourite Prosecco and a pizza. Something I needed badly. As I settled down that evening in a proper bed all warm and cosy I closed my eyes and thought all about the many months ago when I had planned to do this Loch Ness 360 hike, how at first it had been a mere speck on the horizon. Now here I was, able to say that I had experienced it firsthand, that I had braved its many challenges and shared in its highlights too…. And what an amazing experience it was…. It truly was!
Distance walked: 15.34 miles
Elevation gain: 952 feet
In summarising today’s hike from Torness to Inverness I would say that the best parts were definitely early on in this section. The walk through the forestry and along the waterfront are the highlights mainly due to the fact that the trail rarely runs so close to Loch Ness. Seeing the Loch in a different light and so close really gave me a true sense of how huge this stretch of water really is. It is something that one cannot fully appreciate when viewing from high locations as when all the surrounding villages are in view, distance between each easily becomes distorted.
Dores Beach was probably my most favourite section of the day. When considering why I feel this, it is most likely down to the fine weather and the stunning location in which it is situated. It is whilst sitting on the beach that it really began to dawn on me that the end of the hike was near. Before this and at all the other check points and rest stops, I found I had psyched myself up to gain the drive to press onwards, whereas now that drive was waining somewhat.
Upon leaving Dores, I noticed that from there on the journey became much more of a chore especially when heading across the moorland heading towards Torbreck. I apologise that during this section I haven’t talked much about the location or included photographs, this is because apart from what I have mentioned, there really was nothing to talk about. The hike was almost over and all the highlights had long gone. This doesn’t mean that the location is unattractive, it just means that for me, there wasn’t the wow factor that had been so ever present in all the other locations I had passed through. I have read blogs by other Loch Ness 360 hikers who have attempted this route in the opposite direction to the one I took. Looking in hindsight now, I believe this to be more favourable as the beginning of my route was much more fun than the ending here.
And so it leaves me to say that I am pleased I chose the Loch Ness 360 as my first ever long distance thru hike. I believe it was definitely the best choice I made and was everything I was hoping for in a multi day hike. The choice of scenery ranging from moorland, mountains, forestry and woodland was out of this world at times and gave me a taste of everything as the days unfolded. I truly couldn’t have imagined a better first time thru hike. I will provide a review of the trail and discuss in more detail my own personal thoughts on some of the difficulties I experienced whilst embarking on this journey later on. Until then, take care.
I take this opportunity to thank each and every person who takes the time to read my blog. With this post being the last one in my Loch Ness 360 series, I wholeheartedly thank you if you have stuck it out this far. Writing a series of every day that I walked the 360 has been a massive challenge and perhaps one I underestimated in my first year in blogging. The time and effort that has gone into producing such detailed posts has at times been overwhelming, but an amazing opportunity all the same. The series in itself has taught me a lot about blogging, opened up new opportunities and helped me learn as an adventure blogger what works and what perhaps can be done differently next time. Being able to write and put my stamp on an adventure means a lot to me. Writing about my experiences as I hiked and wild camped for 6 days on the Loch Ness 360 Trail gave me a wonderful chance to relieve and really reflect on the absolutely amazing time I had this year in the Scottish Highlands. As much as I enjoyed the scenery and being out hiking, it also taught me so much more about myself than I ever knew or really thought possible.
Once again I offer my thanks and gratitude to Carl Johnson who on my final night camping at Torness, shared an in-depth chat where I talked openly about my nervousness of forest camping and about how I still felt shocked from the long time without phone signal. Carl, an adventure vlogger on YouTube is experienced in long distance multiday hiking and has a wide scope of great knowledge and experiences ranging from hiking, right through to camping equipment, hiking clothing and keeping safe during a hike. Although I was alone, it was nice to have him there spurring me on in the background and knowing that I could turn to him for advice with solo camping in locations as secluded as the Scottish Highlands. I have since thanked Carl personally but I’ll say it again here. Thankyou Carl for all your support during and before this hike and for anyone reading, if you enjoy video blogs check out his YouTube channel at Carl Johnson Outdoors. I can promise you will not be disappointed!
Information to support this blog was sourced from the following resources:
- Feltham, Steve (2008) Nessy and me. Life and style, The Gaurdian. http://www.thegaurdian.com
- Findlay, Stuart (2021) Why I’m still searching for the Loch Ness Monster after 30 years. Evening Express, Press and Journal. http://www.pressandjournal.co.uk
- Deforestation in Scotland. Trees for life. http://www.treesforlife.org.uk
Images included in this blog are my own and have been photographed by myself Lucy Bailey using an iPhone 7 camera. They have been edited using Instagram editor tool and have been sourced from my Instagram account found at Soloexplorer23. Any map and elevation images are actual recorded GPS data of the hike which has been sourced from my Strava account.