It’s my first hike since coronavirus locked us all down! The weather’s looking torrential in the north-west of Scotland, so I decide to head north-east, where I don’t have to endure days of rain and bog. The Loch Ness 360 is a 130km-long hiking trail, loosely doing a loop around Loch Ness. I say loosely, because there’s some days where you don’t see the loch at all.
The official website describes the trail as “epic”. I think that’s a slight exaggeration. Epic if you’ve only seen Kent, maybe. But it’s definitely a lovely hike, and if you’re an experienced walker, you’ll find it easy. There’s *lots* of forestry track and tarmac, though, so if you’re going to hike this, try to make your bag as light as possible to give your feet a break as they pound the hard ground.
I would usually steer clear of trails with lots of asphalt and forestry, but I’m welcoming doing a Scottish hike without getting wet feet! I’m taking my dog Bud, and it’s her first thru-hike. I’m also taking Richard, and it’s his first thru-hike too. I think this trail is a perfect choice for them both. At the end of this write-up, I’ll summarise my thoughts, and I will include the coordinates/grid references of the places we wild camped.
Day 1: Inverness -> Abriachan forest (approx 17.5km)
We get the train to Inverness, where we’re starting and finishing the trail. We start hiking at 2.30pm, and in typical Scottish fashion, it starts to rain. Throughout our hike on the north side of the loch, we’ll be following the Great Glen Way.
Inverness is actually a really pretty city to hike out of, crossing little islands over the river Ness. Once out of the city, we climb through Dunain community woods, where we immediately see red squirrels!
We then walk through really pretty pine forestry (I discover that forestry can be pretty!) before ending up in community-owned Abriachan forest, an unexpected highlight of the trail. The local community bought the land in the 90s and they’ve made it a special place.
The eco-campsite is closed because of coronavirus, so we look for a wild camping spot. The forest carpark has small walks around it, with tree houses and a bird hide, and locals encourage us to sleep in them. We opt for the bird hide, overlooking a loch. I feel like I’m in Finland, walking in fairytale mossy, lichen-filled birch and pine woods, surrounded by lakes.
Day 2: Abriachan forest -> Grotaig (approx 20 km)
We spend the morning walking through vibrant forestry and moorland, arriving in Drumnadrochit in the bright sunshine. We sunbathe on the village green, while a teenage bagpiper wails out tunes. I must be the only person in Scotland who hates the sound of bagpipes.
We begin stage 2 of the trail notes, and walk along a very minor asphalt road for a few kilometres. At the end of the road we reach a stream in some woods. It’s 5pm, and Rich and Bud are exhausted, both adjusting to the long kilometres, and, in Richard’s case, the heavy rucksack. I put up the tent by a stream and they both collapse into it. They’re both asleep by 5.30pm. I filter water and wake them up briefly for dinner. They’re asleep again by 7pm.
Day 3: Grotaig woods -> forest just before Fort Augustus (approx 24km)
We walk through a mix of pines, birches and moorland and get great views over Loch Ness. Walkers have two options – to follow the Great Glen Way high variant, or the low route – and I really recommend the high variant. We get views all the way over to the Nevis range. But we’re lucky with the weather. If Mother Nature chose to throw a Scottish storm at you, I might be inclined to recommend the low route!
We pass the Troll Bridge, then the View Catcher sculpture, through felled forestry, and then traipse along asphalt to Invermoriston. (Don’t rely on the shop to restock your food supply, unless you want to live on crisps! Although it does sell non-vegan sandwiches and quiches).
We begin stage 3 of the trail. A steep climb through forestry leads us to the second of the Great Glen Way’s high variant routes. I can’t imagine how unpleasant this section, high on moorland, would be in the wind and rain. (Well, actually I can imagine it, and I wouldn’t recommend it!) But we are blessed with sunshine and it’s well worth the climb.
We finally descend through pine and birch forest, and wild camp in a fairytale spot in the woods, about 3km before reaching Fort Augustus. I wouldn’t camp here in windy weather, though – pine trees just aren’t that strong, and branches come down easily.
We’ve had an abundance of wood sorrel to eat on this trail (my new favourite food!), as well as wild raspberries and some just-about-ripe bilberries.
Day 4: Before Fort Augustus -> Whitebridge (approx 23km)
We head into pretty Fort Augustus – which is as unfriendly as my last visit. A sign on some pub benches – threatening to fine non-customers £10 for sitting down – pretty much sums this town up. Rich gets bad stomach cramps after we eat chips from the chip shop by the Londis. I already blogged about how the chip shop by the canal is terrible. Now I can safely say that chip shops in this town should be avoided at all costs!
The one thing Fort Augustus has going for it is its stunning location on Loch Ness. We stock up on food, eat lunch at the beach by the loch, then begin stage 4, walking the south side of Loch Ness. We will now be following the South Loch Ness Trail until we reach Inverness.
The South Loch Ness Trail is not sufficiently waymarked, despite what you might read, so you will need to carry a map to guide you, or at least print out the very thorough Walk Highlands trail notes. Hiking out of Fort Augustus, we come to small beaches. We watch oystercatchers squeak as they fly, house martins and swallows swoop, and dippers dive.
The trail then climbs over to a different valley on a newly-laid path, and we say goodbye to Loch Ness for the next 24 hours. Richard is in agony as the effects of Fort Augustus’s chips take their toll. Climbing Carn-an t -Suidhe is painful for him. We have views of lovely Loch Tarff, and when we look behind we see the mountains around Fort William. This is one of the highlights of the trail. Well, at least it is for me. For Richard, he just wants to collapse into a little ball.
We descend through obliterated pine forestry and the weather turns awful. The wind whips around us as we trudge through miles of dead pines. We reach more miles of sheep and cow farmland. It’s impossible to camp round here with a dog and we trudge on for an hour on asphalt, past field after field, until we reach the outskirts of Whitebridge. There’s a little bridge and waterfall here, and we camp in an idyllic spot in some small birch woods.
Day 5: Whitebridge -> Loch Ness shore, 3km before Dores (approx 26km)
After passing through the hamlet of Whitebridge, we cross Dell Farm’s land, which is surprisingly pretty, with steep crags and vibrant wild plants. We arrive in Foyers at about midday, take a quick look at the waterfall, stock up on food in the little shop, then spend a couple of hours relaxing on the cafe veranda.
We start stage 5 of the trail notes. There’s miles of road walking through farmland. It starts to rain as we head up Fair-haired Lad’s Pass, but it’s not as exposed as I was imagining. We get an amazing view of Loch Ness and Urquhart castle.
We descend through steep forestry, and onto more boring forestry track for a few kilometres. We come off the official trail just before it meets the road, scooting through the trees to reach the shore of Loch Ness, where we find a perfect camping spot on the shore.
Bud’s been amazing: she still has lots of energy, even after walking 25km.
Day 6: Loch Ness shore -> Inverness (approx 19km)
This is the most boring section of the trail, and it rains on and off for the whole day. We walk alongside the road into Dores. For those who are wild camping, this village has an amazing beach on Loch Ness!
We leave Dores, starting the final section of the trail. We climb on yet more road, then on tracks through moorland and forestry. The forest in Torbreck is carpeted in just-about-ripe bilberries, so we munch on them and consider collecting a load, but quickly realise we can’t be bothered.
The hike between Torbreck and Inverness involves roughly 5km on tarmac, and it seems like the outskirts of Inverness are never going to end. Friendly locals chat to us, asking us if we’re tourists.
When we get to the city we celebrate with a vegan pizza, unaware that we’re actually missing our last train back to Glasgow (which is stupidly around 5pm!). Dreams of a hot shower are quickly crushed, and we wild camp again.
- This is a beautiful walk, and despite being steep in places, it’s a good hike for newer hikers, or dogs, or people who don’t know how to navigate that well. I didn’t get my feet wet once, which I thought was almost impossible in Scotland.
- There were a lot of ticks when we were hiking, and I must have pulled at least 10 off Bud, which she didn’t thank me for at all.
- There’s so much walking on road and forestry track that it might put experienced hikers off.
- Although there’s lots of forestry, the pine woods are more beautiful than the average forestry in Scotland, and there’s lovely sections which are being rewilded.
- You could easily do this hike lightly, staying in bed and breakfasts at the villages on route.
- I found this trail easier than I had imagined to wild camp. But the south side of the loch (from Fort Augustus, via Foyers to Inverness) is full of farmland, so has less options than on the north side. You need to be careful of camping under pine and birch trees in strong wind, though.
Here’s the coordinates and grid references (the coordinates are more accurate than my grid references, maybe) for our beautiful wild camping spots. All are next to a water source (which need filtering), except for Abriachan, where’s there’s a tap a few hundred metres away, between the car park and the eco campsite.
Day 1: Abriachan bird hide – 57.38343°N, 4.42929°W. Grid ref: NH542353
Day 2: Grotaig – 57.27985°N, 4.50130°W. Grid ref: NH493238
Day 3: Forest before Fort Augustus (don’t camp here in winds) – 57.16411°N, 4.66563°W. Grid ref: NH388115
Day 4: Whitebridge – 57.20064°N, 4.50930°W. Grid ref: NH485149
Day 5: Loch Ness shore – 57.35179°N, 4.36721°W. Grid ref: NH564299