Loch Ness 360 Challenge?
World-Class Adventure Playground – for the ‘Outdoors’ enthusiast, the Scottish Highlands has to be one of the world’s most enticing natural adventure destinations. A recent addition to the long list of challenging hiking and biking routes, is the Loch Ness 360.
What is the Loch Ness 360? – It is an 80 mile long hiking and biking trail that circumnavigates the long and very deep Loch Ness, starting and ending in the Highland capital Inverness. The northern side of the route follows the ‘Great Glen Way’ – and the southern route, the ‘South Loch Ness Trail’.
Planning – I galvanized a great friend Andrew Johnston (former Munro record breaker in 1992) to join me for this expedition, to be undertaken in mid November. Bought a pair of Ortlieb panniers at Highland Bikes in Inverness. Checked weather forecast – 10 to 12 degrees C and almost no wind! Booked accommodation in Fort Augustus 1 month earlier – packed all kit the night before, checked bikes, fitted Thule bike rack on minibus, prepared food for Day 1 and filled water bottles. Early night. Left Minibus at a friend’s business premises near start of route.
Day 1 – Inverness to Fort Augustus (40 miles) – the route on Day 1 is divided into 3 stages. Stage 1 – Inverness to Drumnadrochit – this is a fast stage. Steep climb to get on to the top of the high ground that runs parallel to Loch Ness heading south west. Picked up the pace rapidly on a lovely mix of gravel and dirt tracks, as well as a portion on minor roads. Steep descent through woods into Drum and a short stage on the A82 just in time to catch a ‘fat boy’ breakfast at Cobbs. So far so good.
Stage 2 – Drumnadrochit to Invermoriston – this was the hardest but most fun section of both days on the trail. Very steep out of Drum following the minor road to its end near a Pottery business. Then rough tracks through forests to a junction that is signposted High Road or Low Road. We had been encouraged to take the High Road but with panniers on the bike it does require a good level of fitness, pushing and sometimes pulling the bike uphill and with steep technical descents. This section of the trail is amazing – superb views out over Loch Ness and westwards towards Fort Augustus and forests straight out of a Harry Potter film scene. Some of the signposts seemed to have been tampered with by evil elves – the mileage not tallying with our GPS. We finally made it to Invermoriston at 3.50 pm.
Stage 3 – Invermoriston to Fort Augustus – our bikes had taken quite a bit of punishment on Stage 2, as had our wrists and hands just clinging on. So we did not fancy any further forest trails in fading light and took the direct route on the A82 and made Fort Augustus in just 45 minutes.
Overnight Stay at Morags Lodge – this was a great pitstop. A large hostel just a few minutes walk from the main centre of Fort Augustus. Key card to main door and room left in an envelope for us. We had the place to ourselves – very well heated, comfy room and attached bathroom with excellent shower. We also found a bike shed at the back of the hostel, where we left our bikes padlocked together. Another great facility is the self-catering kitchen and the complimentary cereals and toast. We thought it was a perfect place to stay for a trip like this. In the evening we chose ‘The Bothy’ for dinner and found it to be comfortable, with a nice bar and a decent restaurant.
Day 2 – Fort Augustus to Inverness (40 miles) – the Loch Ness 360 website suggests using the South Loch Ness Trail and this is a longer route than simply taking the B862. In summer and with longer light hours, this would likely be enjoyable. However we wanted to make faster progress back to Inverness and the B862 was almost free of traffic. The first 5 miles is an uphill slog which took us an hour and a half – however the next 12 miles was completed within an hour. Once on the high ground past the ‘Suidhe Viewpoint’ the vista stretches for miles. This being Armistice Day, we also managed to pay our respects at the War Memorial at Stratherrick. Unbelievably we reached the Dores Inn on the eastern shore of Loch Ness, at 11.30am. As it did not open on a Sunday until midday, we managed to get a very well made coffee and hot chocolate from the caravan in the Dores Inn car park.
The final stretch back to Inverness was also interesting, as the route meanders through wooded farmland on very smooth tarmac paths and roads. We negotiated the new western link route over a number of roundabouts, crossing the River Ness and re-joining the A82 beside the Highland Rugby Club. A final 15 minutes brought us back to our start point.
Reflection – there is something very satisfying about undertaking and completing a physical challenge, which does stretch the mind and body. This really is a fabulous route, around one of Scotland’s iconic geographic landmarks. Credit to those who have designed and made it a reality. Now planning the next mountain bike weekend!