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Urquhart Castle - copyright Historic Scotland

Urquhart Castle – copyright Historic Scotland

Scotland’s Great Glen is aptly named. For me this epic glen has it all, from haunting castles and historic towns, through to silvery lochs and soaring mountains. Getting around is all part of the fun too as you can drive, cycle, hike, hire a boat and even, thanks to a brand new canoe trail, now paddle your way coast to coast between Inverness and Fort William.

I have, of course, not even mentioned Nessie yet. Shame on me. The world’s most famous monster enjoys the most dramatic home of any monster in the world in Loch Ness. Loch Ness is the epicentre of the Great Glen, a monster in its own right 23 miles long, the second largest loch in the nation by surface area and the largest by volume. Yes the whole monster tourist thing is a bit cheesy, but it does add an extra bit of excitement to taking a cruise along the waters as you hover over the shutter ready to snap the photo that makes your fortune. For more on Nessie pop into the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition Experience.

Caledonian Canal at Fort Augustus - © David Hayes

Caledonian Canal at Fort Augustus – © David Hayes

As well as natural wonders the Great Glen boasts the carvings of man and his attempts to tame nature. I have to admit I am a bit of a canalspotter and Thomas Telford’s 19th-century Caledonian Canal, which links the Great Glen along its length with the North Sea in the east at Inverness and the Atlantic Ocean in the west at the former garrison town of Fort William, is sublime. The canal sweeps 62 miles, a third of it using a trio of lochs (including Loch Ness), while the rest is made up of canals, 10 bridges, 4 aqueducts and 29 locks, with the two most spectacular sights Neptune’s Staircase and the Fort Augustus Locks.

I find Fort Augustus itself the most attractive settlement in the whole Great Glen. It also neatly sums up the glen’s charms as you can idle here with a wee dram by the canal’s edge staring down the locks at Loch Ness. Craggy Highland massifs rise up all around and cosy pubs await in the whitewashed houses that are sprinkled all around.

It may be a great spot, but of course the Great Glen is not just all about idle contemplation. I’ve bashed up and down its length in every way bar one. I’ve hired a liveaboard boat and covered every mile twice, hiked along the water’s edge on the Great Glen Wayand mountain biked along its shores and hillsides. However I travelled I was wrapped in the sort of world class Highland scenery that first time visitors sometimes presume only really existed on shortbread tins.

Out walking in the Great Glen

Out walking in the Great Glen

That just leaves paddling, which just became a whole lot easier this Spring with the launch of the Great Glen Canoe Trail. Real thought has gone into making this easy to follow 60 mile trail canoe and kayak friendly and if you know what you are doing you can cover it in 4-5 days.  I like the look of the guided trips Wilderness Scotland are already offering that take the hassles, such as transfers, out of the equation.

Further good news is that you don’t need to endure a cold, dark, wet bed like oor poor Nessie if you want to stay over. No, the Great Glen overflows with great places to stay, from the surpisingly snazzy Inverness Youth Hostel and B&Bs in Fort William, right through to some of my favourite hotels in the Highlands. There is the three-star Victorian dame The Lovat at Fort Augustus, through to that old favourite of Queen Victoria – herself quite a fan of the Great Glen – the superlative five-star Inverlochy Castle Hotel, a fittingly grand place to end any trip along the seriously Great Glen.

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