The Great Glen Canoe Trail

"Sleeping out, in November, in Scotland, with out tents?"   "You must be mad" they said.
Well maybe, but Max and I had some holiday to use up before the end of the year and the rivers had dried up in the South West for the time being. Here's what happened:

A plan was very loosely hatched to go and paddle across Scotland. Some spare time, access to some long boats and a love of multi day boating and living out of a boat being the key factors on deciding to go. 
The Caledonian canal is a classic touring / sea kayaking paddle that goes from Fort William on the west side of Scotland to Inverness on the east coast. 

The full Great Glen canoe trial is 90km but we cut it short by ooh at least 1km by starting at Banavie at the top of the Neptunes staircase just outside of Fort William and finishing at Muirtown locks, Inverness. Only the truly dedicated start about 500 meters before on the sea loch but it means crossing a railway and road.  Portages we didn't need to do and as we woke up next to the put in it seemed a bit daft.

To keep this from being a mega long epic of a blog with millions of details about what we ate every meal or how many times Max swam (unfortunately it was none, I might have had a little technical dismount on entry at one point.sshh) or even the complete history of the canal.

This is a great trip that could easily be done by families with youngish kids or even for those with less experience. This is for a couple of reasons.

  1. Logistics: Sorting logistics for this trip are easy. We did very little planning and it was straight forward. Park at one end, get on the water and paddle to the other end stopping when you feel like it or when the weather tells you to. We parked right next to the put in for free and got a bus back from Inverness at the other end to collect the car from Fort William. Ok so its a bit of two-ing and frowing but it cost £6.00 on the bus. No drama! 
  2. Facilities: The Great Glen trail is well catered for in terms of facilities. Flushing toilets, hot showers, clothes and dish washing facilities are all available at fairly regular intervals. You can access these by purchasing a Scottish water ways key from the Canal office at Corpach sea loch at the very beginning of the trail or at the other end at Muirtown in Inverness. This makes travelling with kids much easier in terms of hygiene and keeping up moral. You don't have to use these if you want to do it " Hardcore". We did use the toilets and a shower. Just the one though, we had to keep some level of dirt bag boater image up. The second item you can get from the office is a swipe card for the composting loos that are located at the Trail Blazer sites along the route. These are either just small camp spots some times with a fire pit and room for a couple of tents or tarps. One of these spots also had a nice 3 sided wooden shelter. This would have been great to sleep in as the location next to the water was great. Shame it was early on our second day. There are meant to be more of these shelters according to the guide book but they are not to be found. This was also a shame as we had counted on using the one on the shore of Loch Ness on our 3rd day. A good job the weather held out and we didn't need it. A warm and brightly burning fire with plenty of wine made up for it. The other thing that might make it easier which we didn't use is of course electricity!
  3. Easy paddling: Ok this might be a touch subjective but we were lucky and only had some light-ish winds against us for a few hours on a couple of days. Its flat water in the most part. The head wind did give us some waves on Loch Lochy but nothing big, stick close in and they were greatly reduced. The passing windfarm ships gave us some nice wakes to surf. Gave the driver the signal and they revved it up a bit for more wake! We combined a few days and mixed up the suggested sections a bit as we just wanted to crack on a bit at times and wanted better camp sites. We didn't paddle the river sections as we were in composite sea kayaks however we have a suspicion they would be quite paddleable in plastic ones (portaging the weirs)
  4. The scenery, ecology and culture: This has to be one of the main reasons for going to Scotland in the first place. Majestic is a word that is commonly used and rightly so. Ben Nevis towering over the Neptunes staircase lock flight at Banavie is a fitting start for Scotlands first Canoe Trail.  With the mist and fog settling down on the the mirror smooth waters of Loch Ocih on our second day we could have easily been on the  Boundary waters of Minnesota. 

Our first portage taught us a lot. Keep your straps from rubbing on the wheels, use your Palm Snake Sling to make a nice over the shoulder kayak holder. Also place the trolley fairly central so the boat is well balanced and make sure you go through the decklines. If the wheels hit a rock or curb the trolley will tend to slip backwards. You don't want to drop your fully loaded composite kayak on the floor. 

We set up camp on our first day after just 2 hours paddling. This meant we could set up and go through our hastily packed gear. If we had left anything behind it wasn't too far to go back for it. This is a lovely spot. Toilets and showers if you wanted them. 

Setting off on our first morning. A beautiful start to the day. 

Heading into Loch Lochy.

Max paddling out of South Laggan in to Laggan Avenue. 


                         In the mist on Loch Oich looking for a campsite that doesn't exist.

Fort Augustus. At this point we thought it was pretty quite on the water in the mornings and that it was taking time to clear or burn off the mist. 

 Portaging the lock flight at Fort Augustus we thought we would head to a cafe for a cuppa. When we found all the shops shut we realised that Max's watch was set an hour early.  This was good news in a way, it meant we had been stopping early so more wine time and getting up early so more paddling time but colder starts. The downside was only the butchers was open for food and drink.  Nice hot bacon and black pudding rolls but the worst cup of coffee ever.

Loch Ness treated us to a spectacular view. 

 A very nice speedy but relaxed paddle on Loch Ness to get us to our third campsite. Ewart sporting the Kokatat Tec Tour jacket and Ronin pro pfd

No tents, just tarps

                                                                     Urquhart castle.
We enjoyed a nice little wake surf from some passing ships here.
 Thought about stopping and then thought about finishing that day, eating and finding more wine.

Inverness. End of the road. I  had a quick shower and went in search of the bus station to do the shuttle (and some fish chips and a sneaky pint while waiting for the bus), while Max sorted the boats.  Job done, total paddling time 17.5 hours. Not fast, not slow but thoroughly enjoyable.



  1. Hello,
    Above post is too awesome and representing all the best information about kayaking. All the pictures are also saying a lot. It is looking quite interesting...

  2. Hey Jean, glad you found it interesting. It is a wonderful and interesting trip
    that crosses a continental plate as well.