THE GREAT GLEN

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The Great GlenThe Great Glen is a gigantic geographical wonder that pretty much characterizes the landscape of the Scottish Highlands.  The Great Glen is a chain of long and narrow lochs snaking its way from Fort William to Inverness, a product of glaciers forming over the giant rift valley during the ice age.  These lochs—the Lochs Ness, Oich, Lochy and Linnhe—are connected by the Caledonian Canal, and divide the Highlands into the Grampian Highlands and the Northwest Highlands.   The sheer majesty of the lochs and the mountains is hard to miss if you’re exploring the Highlands, and it is equally hard not to be overwhelmed by it all.

Sights
A great way to see The Great Glen is not to simply zip through it.  There are different ways to traverse the whole geographical fault line, but there’s no need to break a sweat wondering which the best base to start from is.  Walking enthusiast can take advantage of the landscape by joining The Great Glen Way (+44 1320 366633), which gives you a great glimpse of the glen via the Loch Ness, divided  into several day walks, and starts from Fort William and ends at Inverness, by the castle.  This route will also allow you to conjoin the Great Glen Way with the West Highland Way.

 

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Loch NessThe biggest body of water in the Great Glen stretches from Inverness to Fort William.  It is not exactly the largest loch in Scotland—that award already goes to Loch Lomond—but it is certainly the larger in terms of depth, even though it is not the deepest (thanks, Loch Morar).  It seems that the superlatives have been reserved for other lochs, though certainly they are not quite as popular as the monster (affectionately called “Nessie” by enthusiasts) that is reportedly swimming underneath the deep loch's surface, undetected by any sonar surveys.  The Loch Ness Monster was introduced in St. Columba’s biography, which described the saint as having subdued the monster which attacked one of the monks.  A Daily Mail photo by R. K. Wilson spawned even more interest in the 1930s, and it has not calmed down ever since.  In fact, it would be hard to say if those exploring the Great Glen way were in it for the scenery, or to catch a glimpse of a ripple on the Loch Ness, which could always be Nessie.


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Urquhart CastleDrumnadrochit sits on the Urquhart Bay,  on the edge of Loch Ness.  Beware if you’re a Loch Ness Monster sceptic or non-enthusiast—this is the Loch Ness Monster central, if there ever was any.   Nessie-lovers will most-likely start their hunt for the mythical monster here, where there is not one, but two exhibition centres dedicated to “the nearest approach to a dragon or pre-historic animal” that a visitor from England in 1933 had seen (or so he claims).  But underneath all the touristy stuff here, there is quite a pretty town, with a good pub scene, and quite a few good accommodations.

Sights
There are two Loch Ness Monster exhibition centres.  Housed in the Loch Ness Lodge Hotel is the less comprehensive one, the Nessieland Castle Monster Centre (+44 1456 450342, £5.50), which is strictly for kids.
By collating the many research projects and the eyewitness accounts with depth, it attempts to explain how this hype came about, and tries to show how the Monster could possibly exist, by showing scientific research as well.  It also offers a cruise over Loch Ness, via the Deepscan Passenger Cruise (+44 1456 450218, £10).

 The cruise can also take you to view the Urquhart Castle (+44 1456 450551 , £7), which you can also reach via the A82 road.  Its gets its fair share of tourists by day, most probably those who have seen too many eyewitness photos of Nessie by the castle, but by night, it gets amazingly lit, so that its location by the Loch Ness becomes even more magical.

West of Drumnadrochit, you will find the area approaching what is considered one of the most beautiful glens (if not the most beautiful) in Scotland, the Glen Affric, which is part of the Caledonian Forest Reserve.  Deep green pine trees cluster here, reflected on mirror-like lochs.  It is a great area to explore any time of the year.  If you want to stay here overnight, your best bet is the village of Cannich, which offers a campsite and a few hostels.

Hotels

        

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Loch Ness Backpackers’ Lodge (East Lewiston, +44 1456 450807, from £12.50/person).  The rooms are clean, but quite small considering the number of beds in it.  The kitchen and dining rooms, though, are quite spacious, and the staff very friendly and helpful—a must for backpackers who need all the help they can get with navigating the area.  It is ideal for a couple or a single traveller, and may put off travelling families.

A cozy B&B that’s very close to the Loch Ness, with great hosts who will gladly recommend good restaurants nearby, the
Glen Rowan Guest House (West Lewiston, +44 1456 450235, from £28-32) is housed in a humble-looking house, but its location by the river, and the garden surrounding it make it extra homey and special.

Situated in an actual working farm, where you can meet with their flock of sheep,

Drumbuie Farm (Drumbuie Farm, +44 1456 450634, from £30/person)
has fantastic views of the castle and the Loch Ness right from its windows, with three rooms of varying sizes, but all en-suite.  

 


Fort Augustus canalSituated on the southwest edge of the Loch Ness, Fort Augustus does not have a fort (not anymore, at least).  It used to be named after St Cummein, but after the victory of King George II at the first uprising of the Jacobites in 1715, he imposed that the village be named after his son, William Augustus. 

This son, nicknamed Butcher of Cumberland, several years later, would defeat the final Jacobite uprising in 1745, and would put up a fort here.  Nowadays, though, the fort only exists in the form of donated parts to the Benedictine Abbey that stands tall here.  The pretty village is more famous for the Caledonian Canal which you can see in operation here.

Sights
After watching the operation of the Caledonian Canal here, you might want to check out its history at the Caledonian Canal Heritage Centre (Ardchattan House, +44 1320 366493, free).  The Caledonian Canal cuts through the Great Glen to make a passageway linking the east and west coasts of Scotland and is considered one of the greatest waterways in the continent, if not the world.

It was designed and engineered by Thomas Telford (along with William Jessop, who died while it was in progress) in the early 19th century.  The heritage centre offers many displays on how the canal operated during its younger years, complete with black and white photos and a film. 

You can cruise over the canal via the Royal Scot offered by the Cruise Loch Ness (+44 1320 366221, £11).

Hotels

        

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Morag’s Lodge (Bunoich Brae, +44 1320 366289, from £18-dorm/from £46-double).  Here is a hostel that caters to both backpackers and families with children.  The dorms are quite cozy, though they can get quite filled with noise from the bar.  The lounge is equipped with computers free for anyone to use, the kitchen is spacious, and the views are great.  It can get quite crowded so be ready to socialize.

The Lovat (The Lovat, +44 1456 459250, from £90-115).  This quite pricey hotel is a Loch Ness landmark, so you’re paying for staying at an established hotel.  Expect great service, wonderfully spacious rooms, and the hotel’s eco-friendly philosophy which is reflected in everything at the hotel.

 


Fort William flickr Mathieu B.Situated almost prettily at the head of the shores of Loch Linnhe, the longest sea loch in Scotland, Fort William is the most important town this side of the Highlands, only second to Inverness in terms of size.  If you are exploring the Highlands by way of the famous walks, such as the Great Glen Way or the West Highland Way, you’ll more or less end up here, or start your journey here.

Many will scoff at its touristy offerings, but most will find it incredibly useful as a base for exploring the Highlands.  It is almost pretty, except for the dual carriageway that totally ruins the appearance of the waterfront, but is surely a necessary evil.  Nevertheless, you’re not in Fort William to admire the waterfront—you’re here to explore.  Fort William, or Fort Bill, is the Outdoor Capital of the UK, after all.

 Layout
The whole town is situated on the shores of Loch Linnhe, and the High Street is compact and pedestrianised.  You will find everything you need for your trek on High Street.  The residential areas are not seen from High Street, but are located uphill.

Sights
West Highland Museum (Cameron Square, +44 1397 702169, £4).  Certain aspects of West Highland history are discussed here, but the highlight is the display on the 1745 Jacobite Rising, which the museum, one of the oldest museums in the region, specializes on.

Ben Nevis Distillery (Lochy Bridge, +44 1397 702476, £4).  One of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, this is a great stop for whisky-lovers, and sits directly at the foot of Ben Nevis.  The end of the tour includes a free tasting, and every adult ticket entitles one to a £4 discount to a bottle of whisky.

Glen Nevis is simply a ten-minute drive away from Fort William, and must not be missed.  It is one of the most beguiling glens in Scotland, with paths leading to the highest mountain in the UK, the Ben Nevis.  Its valley floor is populated by herds of cattle, and a river cuts through it, making for a peaceful and spectacular sight.  The path leading to the top of Glen Nevis offers amazing views of falls and rapids, culminating in a high waterfall spectacle at the end.  Ascent to the Ben Nevis is always highly crowded, and the weather is highly unpredictable, so anticipate snow even during summer.

Hotels

        

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Bank Street Lodge (Bank Street,+44 1397 700070, from £48/room) is centrally located and has tiny rooms that are decked out with smart and serviceable furnishings.  It is a good choice if you want value for your money and if you’re not planning on staying indoors anyway.

Calluna (Heathercroft, +44 1397 700451, from £15/person-dorm/ £17/person-twin room) is a great self-catering accommodation, with many options for group travellers, families, or the individual who doesn’t mind sharing.  The facilities are top-notch and the whole hostel is well-equipped for the Highland explorer.

The Grange (Grange Road, +44 1397 705516, from £58/person) is housed in a restored Victorian town house overlooking Loch Linnhe in the best possible way.  It is quite luxurious, with three spacious rooms furnished tastefully in French Oak furniture, and great big windows for the view.

Inverlochy Castle (Torlundy, +44 1397 702177, from £320).  Lush and decadent interiors, romantic panoramic views of Ben Nevis, the Inverlochy Castle Hotel has been restored to its full glory and is very luxurious, from its lounge to its spacious and individually designed rooms.

The Lime Tree (Achintore Road, +44 1397 701806, from £40/person).  Normally, a place with many designated slashes (boutique hotel/gallery/restaurant) would tend to let one of its aspects fall by the wayside, but not The Lime Tree.  This ingenious accommodation is fantastic on all accounts, with great rooms (the newer ones are admittedly better than the older), and great service.  The art gallery is a great way to while away the time, if ever you’re snowed in.

Ardblair Bed and Breakfast (Fassfern Road, +44 1397 705832, from £37.50-45/person) is so cozy, with a well-lit traditional sitting room, overlooking the garden and the Loch Linnhe, and three comfortable bedrooms.  The B&B is set on a hill, so it takes quite an effort to get to if you don’t have your own transportation.

Rhu Mhor (Almer Road, +44 1397 702213, from £20).  This traditional B&B is served personally by a very friendly host, who cooks a mean Scottish breakfast.  The rooms are adequate and cozy, do not have TVs (a TV is in one of the lounges). 

Hunting Tower Lodge (Drimarben, +44 1397 700079, from £80) is a very modern and well-appointed B&B which offers great views of the Loch Linnhe anywhere in the house.  The rooms are very big and well equipped with anything you could possibly need, even free Wi-Fi.  Everything feels fresh and new in this establishment.

St. Andrews Guest House (Fassifern Road, +44 1397 703038, from £22-28/person).  Formerly a rectory and a choir school, this restored building has six individually decorated rooms.  The whole building has a feeling of stepping back in time, with its stonework and stained glass windows, details from a bygone era that make this guest house unique and characterful.

Torlinnhe Guest House (Achintore Road, +44 1397 702583, from £45/person).  This humble-looking guest house offers fantastic views of the loch from its bedroom windows.  The bedrooms do not have a lot of character, but they are cozy enough.  The hosts are generous with advice, and will even help you with your itinerary.

 Gills View (Hillside Estate, +44 1397 705754, from £30/person) has only two unique rooms that are spacious and overlook the Loch Linnhe.  Both are furnished in a modern-meets-ornate way.

Carna Bed and Breakfast (Achintore Road, +44 1397 708995, from £80).  This relatively new bed and breakfast was opened in 2009 after undergoing renovation, and the result is a fresh, new and modern accommodation. 

 

Loch LevenPopular among West Highland Way walkers, Kinlochleven is finally outgrowing its reputation as the location of an aluminium smelter that ruins the look of the village, which is situated beautifully at the easternmost part of Loch Leven.  Nowadays, its location, surrounded by mountains and sitting by the foot of the Mamore Hills, is much more appreciated.  The smelter that partly tarnished the settlement’s reputation is now being revived, not as a smelter, but as an ingenious indoor mountaineering centre, The Ice Factor (Leven Road, +44 1855 831100).   The Ice Factor has many facilities, including some of the largest artificial ice-climbing wall, along with more traditional ones, as well as a sauna. 

 

 


Glenfinnan MonumentThe Road to the Isles is the scenic A830 road from Fort William to Mallaig, which offers a variety of landscapes that simply overwhelms the senses.  From Fort William, you first reach Glenfinnan,  where you will find the column commemorating Bonnie Prince Charlie’s triumph.  From here you will also see the grand Loch nan Uamh viaduct, or the Glenfinnan Viaduct, one of the biggest structures made of concrete that greatly defines the place.

Glenfinnan ViaductThe Road to the Isles also lets you pass through the Rough Bounds, and the islets of Rum, Eigg, Muck, Canna and Skye.  These diverse terrains combine majestic hills, woodlands, and white sand beaches.  It is a great way to appreciate the wide-ranging beauty of the Highlands.

 

 

 

 


 

 


Glen CoeSouth of Fort William, Glen Coe is truly majestic, even by Highlands standard.  The U-shaped glen is surrounded by mountains half hidden by fog and cloud on even the best of days, and the Aonach Eagach ridge breaks the tranquil appearance, and is truly a challenge that many pro walkers love to undertake.

As much as Glen Coe is famous for the wonderful panoramic views and challenging treks it offers the intrepid, it is also famous for being the site of a horrific massacre in 1692.  The Massacre of Glen Coe saw the death of thirty eight of the MacDonald clan, which was specifically the plan of the Campbells, who received the hospitality of the clan the night before they killed them, and basically chased out the rest.


Sights
Glen CoeAny direction you wish to traverse in Glen Coe is a rewarding experience.  Come prepared, for this is for no novice.  On the northern part of Glen Coe, you will find the ridges of Aonach Eagach,  which is a challenging terrain even for the most experienced hill walkers.  If you’re up for short walks, you can explore around the Glencoe Lochan, or maybe visit the Lost Valley if you want to be creeped out by its ghosts.

Glencoe Village
The main settlement in Glen Coe, located at the northeast where the River Coe meets the Loch Leven, the village of Glencoe is famous for its proximity to the site where the MacDonalds were murdered.   It is also a great way to get acquainted with Glen Coe, via the Glencoe Visitor Centre (+44 8444 932222, £5.50).  It is focused more on the science of the glen, but it also has a display on the massacre.

Hotels

        

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Close to Clachaig Inn, which is basically an institution in this part of town, Glencoe SYHA (+44 1855 811219, from £15) has great resources for walkers, and is a good choice for budget trekkers.

Clachaig Inn (+44 1855 811252, from £42).  This warm place has a great character and is perfect for travellers who also love to socialize with fellow travellers, as well as locals.  It can be quite noisy when a local Scottish band drops by, but the friendly atmosphere all around is enough to convince you that the company is worth staying up late for.

The look and feel of
Lios Mhoire Guest House (from £25/person) is decidedly modern and country-chic, with lush white linen, solid oak floors, and tiny touches of detail.  The four rooms are all en-suite and spacious.