Caledonian Canal, The Great Glen Canoe Trail, Corpach (Fort William) to Seaport (Inverness).
Inland, non tidal, extensive open water. This is a 95km multiday journey crossing Scotland, linking the west coast to the east coast via the Caledonian Canal, Loch Lochy and Loch Ness.
Normally paddled from south to north, as this is the direction of the prevailing wind. A reputation for changing weather and water conditions.
Extensive Loch system connecting canal sections and Lochs. Up to 10 portage section as small craft are not allowed in the Lock system. Longest Portage 650m. lots of small boat traffic and large commercial craft (depending on time of year) using the water way to cross Scotland and gain access to the North Sea and vis versa
Loch Ness is the longest lake in the United Kingdom and also has the largest volume of water in it greater than all the lakes in England and Wales added together. At nearly 3km wide it can feel wild, remote, intimidating with a reputation for quickly changing weather and water conditions. Wave development on Loch Ness has been known to reach 3m
You can do this journey in one multiday journey, or break it into sections. The A82 runs in parallel to the trail and a readily accessible bus system allows for an easy return options to get back to your start point. You also have the option to access different sections of the journey via the parking available at each Lock.
On our trip on arrival at seaport, following our 5 day journey, we took a taxi to Inverness bus station £8.00 and then citilink bus to Fort William £20 and finally a taxi from Fort William Bus station back to our vehicle in Banavie was £10. Total journey time around 3 hours ‘door to door’. No car park charges, no camping charges. This with the canal fee of £20 made the trip £28 per person for in holiday transport and accommodation costs,
The true start and finish of this journey are the sea lochs at Corpach and Seaport, however small craft are not allowed in the locks and so for most paddlers the normal start point is at Banavie, above the famous Neptune Steps Lock system and finishes at Seaport before the final Locks leading to the Moray Forth and the sea.
A license is required to use the canal, a nominal fee per person of £10 gives you free (but limited parking), a key to toilet and shower facilities at most of the Lock Portages, campsites, dedicated paddler pontoons for easy access, egress to canal. (The key is provided on a floating key ring, just in case).
Loch side there are a number of ‘Trailblazer Rest Sites’ wild camping spots with compost toilets and these provide options for respite from changes in the weather and water conditions.
Almost too popular in the height of summer, we paddled it in the first week of October 2021 and had Loch Ness almost to ourselves, we saw no other canoes/ SUP in the 5 day of our journey. Go ‘out of season’ if you can to appreciate this journey at its best.
A really detailed website dedicated to this trail. All you need to know. Map, facilities and useful contacts.
The Great Glen Trail.
This is one for the SUP bucket list. Spectacular views, exciting open water an opportunity to hone multiday touring, camping and paddling skills
This journey can be completed in so many ways. Hardcore, multiday day wild camping completely self contained. Alternatively, You can stay in commercial campsites (many offering camping pods) rather than camp there are also Bunkhouses, bed and breakfasts and hotels en route.
Other options include doing it in sections, for example, starting from Banavie you could paddle two sections of canal and traverse Loch Lochy, with one night’s camp and catch the bus back from where the A82 crosses the canal at the entrance to Loch Oinch, or with a kind wind on Loch Locky you could make it to Fort Augustus.
The east shore of Loch Ness is for almost 25km of its length granite cliffs, with very limited landing points and egress options, so Loch Ness is the most challenging and committing part and of course the most rewarding. No sign of ‘Nessie’, except in the gift shops of Fort Augustus but we did see otters.
Food, not many options. Stocks can be replenished in Fort Augustus and while the Great Glen canoe Map liberally sprinkles the ‘shopping basket’ symbol to represent food shops, they are generally not easily accessible from the water. So take it all with you.
Aspects of trail not as they are described. See comments above on food.
At South Laggon the sign saying canoe egress 300m, ensure you paddle completely around the section of commercial mooring and you will see a ramp in the far right corner for landing. The wild camping site at Knockie is a place to take a break on Loch Ness, the campsite is described as being ‘on the hillside high above the water’ but difficult to find (we couldn’t). The rest site at Foyers no longer exists, but you can wild camp on the island in the mouth of the river. (Large Green Buoy just offshore). Foyers also has a large commercial campsite, think Shepherds Huts, Airstream Caravans, Bistro if you’ve been ‘well trashed’ on Loch Ness and craving civilization! (don’t do it, break through the withdrawal pains and embrace the pleasures of camping…) On the trail website there is a very romantic picture of a Trailblazer Rest site shelter (thinks Pine log Hut) there is only one of these at Glas-dhoire on Loch Locky, all other Rest sites consist of at best, a flat place to pitch a tent, a compost toilet and a fire pit.
A word on Midges – if you’re going to paddle it in the summer (May to Late September) be aware that these tiny flying biting beasties are out there in volume waiting to feast on you. Take a midge hood, and gloves if you are particularly susceptible to their bites. Avon sell the top anti midge spray, its simply the best called Skin so Soft. even smells pleasant. Midges don’t like sunlight and wind, but love sheltered camp sites and dusk…….you have been warned.
Wild Camping (in a tent or under a rigged Tarp) has gone big-time commercial, and is openly promoted, as has cooking on an open fire, connecting us with basic primeval instincts for fire ….unfortunately this generally has resulted in abandoned fire sites, there are many on the trail, despite requests not to light fires. A growing attitude seems to be: “it’s our right as citizens to light a fire and dump our rubbish”. The fires are generally lit with wet wood taken from what can only be described as vandalised trees. I reckon most desperate attempts at fire lighting are to generate smoke to keep the midges at bay rather than successfully cook!
This is increasingly common on the shores of lakes in the lake district where we live.
If you fancy sleeping under a tarp, get a midge net to sleep inside
Packing for touring in a nutshell, 60lt Heavy-duty Dry Bag for rear of board, individual smaller capacity Dry Bags inside this bag for sleeping bag and change of clothes. Remember its Scotland it could rain for all 5 days and you want to be as warm/dry overnight on night 4 as you were on night 1. 20lt dry bag on the front of board with stuff you want access to during the day including food/stove. Waterproof bum bag for the snack while paddling, the map and the camera.
Things not to leave home without. A Kayak Sail to take advantage of a following wind. If you just have to light a fire take firelighters (the natural wax ones as they won’t stink your bag out) or practice using dry gorse/coppiced kindling, a pruning saw and a lightweight hand axe. The trailblazer sites at Leiterfearn and Glas-dhoire do have fires pits. Poo bags, for you not just your dog. A trowel. (Informative how to manage your poo on Great Glen website, read it) Disappointing (given the availability of toilets on the trail) to see the quantity of rubbish and toilet paper left as presents for future travelers.
Big thanks to Julia Sayburn for this McConks bitesize travel guide. Don’t forget to check out the others via the link below –