Hiking around Scotlands Loch Ness

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of April 30-May 6, 1998
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Hiking around Scotland’s Loch Ness

Hiking around Scotland’s Loch Ness
Question: What can you tell me about backpacking in Scotland? I would love to spend three or four days in the Loch Ness area. I will be traveling there in May. Where can I get maps, and what are the best trails/places to see? Thanks very much in advance.

Kevin Warren
Lusby, Maryland

The old stone Urquhart Castle on
the shore of Loch Ness

Adventure Adviser: You should have no problem finding hikeable terrain in the Great Glen area, a rift valley cutting across the heather-clad Highlands and encompassing four lochs, of which Loch Ness is the most famous. From the Loch’s scenic southwestern tip and town of Fort Augustus, head south to Fort William, a stellar hiking region offering a nice combo of rugged, mountainous terrain and peaceful sea lochs. South a wee bit more is the impressive Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak at 4406 ft., which looms over Loch Linnhe and the Ardgour peaks. Before hitting any trails, visit Fort William’s tourist office on Cameron Square (01397/703781) and pick up ordnance survey maps of the Loch Ness area. I would also suggest picking up a copy of Harvey’s Ben Nevis Walkers Map and Guide and Ralph Storer’s 100 Best Routes on Scottish Mountains, which details the country’s best day hikes. You may also want to check in with one of the local guiding agencies for trail and itinerary information, such as Lochaber Walks (01397/703828). Some words of caution: remember that Scotland’s weather is notoriously unpredictable, so don’t set out on any hike without proper gear.

A mere ten minutes from Fort William, is the quintessential Glen Nevis, with its classic u-shaped glacial valley, sparkling river, and steep scree-covered slopes. The chosen movie set for numerous Irish flicks, Glen Nevis also marks the trailhead for an ascent of Ben Nevis. Your choice of summit routes includes an ancient pony track up the south side, with a side trip to the Allt a’Mhuilinn for views of the north side’s great cliffs. If you prefer to stay at lower elevations, there are numerous full-day hikes through spectacular gorges and waterfalls.

Continuing south, you’ll find the almost frighteningly picturesque Glen Coe, or “Valley of Weeping.” Cradled between conical peaks and rock cascades, this lush valley boasts some of the Highland’s more-challenging hikes. The Devil’s Staircase and Allt Coire Gabhail are two popular half-day treks. For a longer outing, try the Buachaille Etive Beag circuit, a nine-mile, 2000’ hike. Maps and leaflets of the area’s designated ‘Great Walks’ are for sale at most tourist offices, bookstores, and mountaineering stores.

If you feel like wandering from the Loch Ness area, some of Scotland’s best hiking terrain is in the mountains of Glen Shiel, just southeast of Loch Duich. The Five Sisters traverse is this area’s most-popular trek, with views toward the Kintail Ridge.

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