A newly-launched initiative to promote travel by bike, foot and boat along the enormous fracture in Scotland’s Highland landscape known as the Great Glen has just been launched.
The £200,000 campaign was launched under the banner of The Great Glen Ways Project.
The Great Glen itself is essentially a huge fissure in the earth’s crust cutting across this usually mountainous region and provides a 70 mile long transport corridor linking Fort William and Inverness, taking in highlights such as Loch Ness, The Caledonian Canal and Urquhart Castle.
The campaign was launched by Scottish broadcaster and writer Muriel Gray in March and work on the ground has included setting up over 30 large stone and timber monoliths at strategic locations throughout the Glen. 49 information and interpretation panels have been installed onto the monoliths. The main themes on the panels cover history, archaeology and folklore, forest management and wildlife, natural history and geology and finally travel and transport. There are new information panels at Tourist Information Centres and way-marker posts and other signs have been improved, making it easier for visitors to find their way. The Great Glen Ways logo is common to all signs and is on many tourist structures. The funding will also include organising outdoor activities for local children along the Glen.
Comment: so what’s it like to use?
The official website highlights the many mountain bike trails along the route but, unlike the walking and boating routes, it seems to give mixed messages about the wisdom of cycling the whole length of the Glen, especially without a mountain bike.
To quote the website itself, “Unlike The Caledonian Canal and the GGW Long Distance Route (primarily a walking route), the Great Glen Mountain Bike Trails do not provide a continuous route through the Glen. Instead, they are a collection of cycling facilities, at a variety of Great Glen locations, with opportunities for everyone – from beginners and families to world-class competition level. The precursor to these trails was the Great Glen Cycle Route which provided a long distance touring route through the Glen. However, this route had become a low grade experience for touring bikes and was withdrawn in 2006. Although it is possible for mountain bike riders to pedal between the various trails, they are not promoted as a continuous route and are not suitable for road bikes.”
The website fails to stress that much of the western end of the route – between Fort William and Fort Augustus in fact, is easy cycling along a very decent off-road surface along National Cycle Network route 78, much of it using the Caledonian Canal Towpath. And off-road cycle routes the length of the Glen are still promoted both on a map (Great Glen Way Walk and Cycle Route – available from Sustrans) and on Waterscape, the British Waterways website. The latter two routes are more for mountain bikers, especially at the eastern end of the Glen – the touring route actually had all signage removed.