The Great Glen Way: Lakes, Rivers & Canals

February 3, 2021 by
POSTED BY February 3, 2021

The Great Glen Way takes you to the fabled Loch Ness but the other sections of this popular Scottish hiking trail also bring you by many other beautiful lakes, rivers and canals.

It has also now been scientifically proven that seeing large amounts of water has positive effects on our mental health. Anyone who looks at the reflection of mountains and clouds in a deep lake on a clear day knows this instinctively.

In this post, we investigate the many beautiful lakes (or “Lochs” as they are called in Scotland) and other water features that you will see while hiking the Great Glen Way.

Loch Linnhe

The 127km long Great Glen Way begins in Fort William, on the foothills of Loch Linnhe. Loch Linnhe is an arm of the sea that flows into the Atlantic.

On the first stage of the trail, the Great Glen Way leads you to Gairlochy at the point where the River Lochy flows into Loch Linnhe.

Sunset at Loch Linnhe. Photo: flickr_Jonathan Combe

The Caledonian Canal

The Caledonian Canal connects all of the lakes mentioned by man-made rivers. In the 19th century, this waterway was built to connect the west and east coasts of Scotland by water. The canal is considered a masterpiece of engineering.

Walkers walking along the Great Glen Way
Hiking along the Caledonian Canal, Great Glen Way

Loch Lochy

The second lake on the Great Glen Way is Loch Lochy. When you arrive in Gairlochy, you will see her calm waters in front of you. If staying there overnight, with a little luck and the will to get up early, your next morning could begin with a view of the sunrise over the lake.

The entire second section of the Great Glen Way between Gairlochy and Laggan runs along the banks of Loch Lochy. The lake extends over 16km (10 miles) in length, but is only one kilometer wide and almost resembles a river.

Loch, as you might have guessed at this point, is the Gaelic word for lake. Glen means valley.

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Views of Loch Lochy from The Great Glen Way

The Battle of the Shirts

In 1544, a major battle was fought at an inlet to Loch Lochy, at Achnacharry. It was a Scottish clan battle that went down in history being called the Battle of the Shirts due to the fact that the day was so hot that both sides threw off their chainmail and just fought in their shirts. This skirmish between Clan Donald and Clan Fraser was also extraordinarily bloody with reportedly only 13 of the total 800 warriors involved surviving.

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A waymarker on the Great Glen Way

Another Mysterious Creature

According to some folk tales, Loch Lochy is also inhabited by mysterious creatures. As with Loch Ness, sightings have been reported repeatedly over the centuries. The Loch Lochy creature is an animal that emerges from the water and takes the form of a horse or bull.

While the bull is considered peaceful, it is reported that horses overturned boats and lured mares into the water.

Loch Lochy, Great Glen Way. Photo: flickr_Prashant Ram

Loch Oich & River Oich

Loch Oich is the smallest and highest lake on the Great Glen Way.

It is home to a wide variety of animals, including mammals, amphibians and reptiles, and salmon come here from the sea to spawn in autumn.

After two years, the juvenile fish make their way back to the sea, where they grow rapidly and gain weight.

Loch Oich in winter. Photo: wikimedia_Claire Pegrum

On the way from Laggan to Fort Augustus, on the banks of Loch Ness, you will walk along Loch Oich. If you follow the classic route from southwest to northeast, you will soon come to the River Oich. As part of the Caledonian Canal , it connects Loch Ness and Loch Oich.

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Views on the Great Glen Way

Loch Ness

Loch Ness is perhaps a place whose mystical qualities fascinate people far more than its actual properties. However, it is not only the possible existence of a prehistoric monster lurking below the surface that makes Loch Ness a very special lake.

At 56 square kilometers and 228 meters deep, Loch Ness is not only the largest but also the deepest body of water in Britain. In bad weather, a crossing on Loch Ness is as also widely regarded as being as challenging as a short sea crossing.

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Views of Loch Ness from the Great Glen Way

The legend of the Loch Ness Monster or ‘Nessie’ was born in AD 656 with the first reported sighting according to legend. The sea monster was say to have held a man in its clutches and was only prevented from dragging him down due to the intervention of the Saint Columba.

Hundreds of sightings have been documented since then and are still puzzling to researchers today.

Loch Ness Monster on the Great Glen Way
Loch Ness Monster on the Great Glen Way

Urquhart Castle

There’s also more history to Loch Ness than just the Loch Ness monster. Urquhart Castle sits on the shores of Loch Ness just outside the village of Drumnadrochit. This castle has a rich history dating back to the Middle Ages and also played a role in the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century.

The final stages of the Great Glen Way from Fort Augustus are on the west side of Loch Ness. Here you have the choice. You can either enjoy spectacular views of the lake on the high route or hike the less steep route near the shore.

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Visit Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness

Finally, the Great Glen Way finishes in Inverness where the River Ness meets the Moray Firth and the North Sea. Inverness is the largest city and the cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands.

If your thirst for incredible water-filled views isn’t quite quenched yet, guided day trips to the Isle of Skye or the Orkney Isles are available from Inverness.

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River Ness, Inverness

Would you like to experience the tranquility and beauty of the Great Glen Way lakes, rivers and canals? We specializes in self-guided Great Glen Way hiking tours.

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Great Glen Way Hiking Tours

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