Loch Ness 360: Information, Advice and Personal Reflections

Antclockwise from Inverness

Start and Finish: Inverness Castle

Distance: 80 miles (128km)

Total ascent: 10,159ft (3,097m)

Traditional Sections:

  1. Inverness – Drumnadrochit (20 miles)
  2. Drumnadrochit – Invermoriston (13.5/14miles)
  3. Invermoriston – Fort Augustus (8/7.5 miles)
  4. Fort Augustus – Foyers (15 miles)
  5. Foyers – Dores (13.5 miles)
  6. Dores – Inverness (10 miles)

I walked anticlockwise from Inverness over four and a half days to my own itinerary. To see it, go here.

All information is correct as of March 2022. Please keep in mind that much of the below is subjective and be aware of your own levels of experience and knowledge in relation to mine. I am open to advice or questions from anyone of any experience level.

What was the trail like?

Despite its name, the Loch Ness 360 rarely follows the shore of the Loch and far more frequently goes up into the hills and forests above it. This means that it is far more hilly than one might initially assume, but never absurdly so. The hike is more often one of forests, moorland and undulating paths than one that ventures near water.

The northern side follows the Great Glen Way over well maintained and well travelled paths with the south side following paths that are often far rougher and more remote along the South Loch Ness Trail. Each side has a different personality and both are abundant in wildlife; eagles, hares and red deer, as well as the rare pine marten and numerous butterflies and dragonflies. Though be on the look out for the boars.

Among the Highlands, known for paths, trails and mountain climbs that can often be full of peril, this is a much more accessible path that is still richly rewarding. The views are extensive and eclectic, the locals are helpful and lovely, the water is plentiful, the food delicious and, I’m told, the whisky really shines.

Whether you are drawn to it for the rugged landscape, the numerous impressive examples of civil engineering, the difficult history and singular culture of the Highlands, or for the myth and the magic, it is unlikely to dissapoint.

It is also a path that is easy to tailor; for those who wish to add on to the Great Glen Way or for those who want to peel off at either end for some Munro bagging. There are smaller trails, like the Trail of the 7 Lochs, that can also be incorporated into your itinerary.

How challenging is this trail?

In regards to terrain, there is an element of choice. Along the northern path a hiker can opt for a low route or a high route with the high route venturing into the hills. There is less variation on the southern side, with the main alternative being minor roads. These hills can be steep, but are very manageable for someone with moderate fitness. The paths are clear and defined, often on hill, moorland and forestry tracks, though are sometimes prone to muddiness especially in the south.

Livestock can prove an issue in the spring, summer and into the autumn. Please keep any dogs on leads when venturing into grazing lands and remain aware of what disturbance you might be causing. Cows with calves in particular are easily spooked.

When it comes to navigation, it is extremely clear and straightforward. Be aware that there are lengthy, often overnight, stretches without phone signal.

Ultimately, depending on your fitness, this is an easy to moderate path. I would have no hesitation advising someone who is not particularly fit to attempt it, as long as all other components are considered.

How long is the path?

80 miles (128km). The low routes are typically each half a mile longer than the high routes. This distance can reasonably be expected to take 5-6 days to cover.

What is accommodation like?

I wildcamped three out of four nights, and stayed in a hostel in Fort Augustus

The availability of different accommodation options varies greatly, with the north side of the loch having campsites, hostels and hotels galore, whilst the south side is more limited.

The table below indicates a rough snapshot of what is available where. If you are opting for one or more nights indoors it is highly recommended that you book in advance, especially in the high season, to avoid disappointment. Please also be aware that if you are hiking out of season, many campsites and a number of smaller guesthouses will be closed.

PlaceDistance from Start
(miles)
CampsiteGuesthouse/
B&B etc.
Hostel  
Inverness0 YY Y
Abriachan Forest11Y Y 
Drumnadochit20Y Y
Lewiston21 YY 
Alltsigh30 Y
Invermoriston34YY
Fort Augustus41YY
Whitebridge51 Y
Foyers55Y Y 
Inverfarigaig57Y
Dores69 Y 

Can I wildcamp?

Unlike in England and Wales, wildcamping is legal in Scotland. However this does not give anyone license to relax their observance of the wildcamping code. This legality is preserved through actions of mutual respect between landowners and campers; the landowner maintains access and doesn’t bother you, as long as you leave no trace and don’t overstay your welcome.

Please familiarise yourself with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Here is a post I did previously on Roaming, Access and Camping Guidelines for Scotland.

Wherever you are, these basic rules apply:

  • Where possible, obtain the landowner’s permission
  • Preferably camp solo, or with a single tent.
  • Camp in the one space for only one night. Return for a second at the maximum.
  • Pitch up as it is getting dark, leave early
  • Choose a space that is out of the way of main paths, is unobtrusive and discreet. Be aware that where you choose to pitch is not an area of protected growth or where ecological restoration attempts are being carried out. An area of only grass is definitely preferred.
  • No fires. Definitely no fires sourced from trees in the area. Even if you are going to use an official campsite where you are allowed a fire and need wood, don’t go chopping into standing trees.
  • Leave no trace. Understand that this encompasses more than just picking up your litter, it means leaving no impact. Nothing that will cause damage to the ground or surroundings, or disturb the environment (no fires, no music, pitch somewhere clear and unprotected). If you need the toilet, bury your waste and pack everything else out, this includes loo roll and female sanitary items. If this all sounds like effort, no fun and kinda icky to you, please don’t wildcamp.

It is significantly easier to find suitable wildcamping spaces on the southern stretch, and on the high routes in the north. If you are intending to take the low routes, watching Hounds of Howgate’s vlog may relieve some anxiety; John goes to great effort to indicate suitable wildcamping spots along the low routes of the northern path.

How easy is it to resupply?

I carried three and a half days worth of food and resupplied in Fort Augustus. I also took advantage of cafes and pubs along the way for hot drinks, soup, and to recharge my power banks.

With a couple of exceptions (notably Dores), you will find some form of food shop in most villages and settlements you pass through. Ultimately, you will have the opportunity to resupply each day and only carry one day’s worth of food at a time if you so choose. Though this approach would not be one that I recommend, due to smaller shops tending to keep odd hours and, simply, from a safety point of view you would not want to find yourself without.

Be aware that smaller shops will also have a more limited range and will be more likely to have run out of your staples. Keep Sunday trading hours and public holidays in mind, and ring ahead when you have signal to make sure somewhere is open if need be.

There are plenty of cafes, pubs and restaurants along the path as well, but I would also advise ringing ahead (especially where breakfast is concerned) if you are hoping to be able to utilise them. In the off season and in the months that straddle the holiday season, the internet is not a reliable source of information when it comes to opening hours.

Due to a large amount of old ruins and stable forestry, it is fairly straightforward to find a sheltered pitch if winds are going to be an issue. Give yourself time, find likely areas on your maps ahead of setting out, assess for dead wood and other liabilities and all should be well.

How frequent are water sources?

Water was not a problem at all for me. If anything the driest miles are the first several out of Inverness, but past then it is not a concern. I would still advise being mindful of where burns and streams are noted on your map.

Due to the local farming, please filter and treat your water before drinking.

What guidebook and map do I bring?

I had the OS map with me, had the trail downloaded onto my Garmin GPS, and onto my phone through the Hiiker app.

There is no official (or unofficial) guidebook for this path, however, the Loch Ness 360 website is very thorough, and definitely worth going over. The path itself is very clear and very easy to follow; the blue thistle waymark of the Great Glen Way marks the northern section, whilst the squirrel waymark of the South Loch Ness Trail marks the southern section. Keeping an eye out for these in conjunction with at least one other navigation aid makes it incredibly hard to get too lost.

There is currently no strip map that covers the whole route; you would either have to separately buy the Harvey strip maps for the Great Glen Way and the South Loch Ness Trail or buy the Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 416: Inverness, Loch Ness & Culloden Map | Fort Augustus & Drumnadrochit. In my opinion, the OS option is preferable even though the map misses out a small part of the trail on the south side.

I took the OS map, and I also had the trail downloaded onto my Garmin GPS, and onto my phone through the Hiiker app. This was, frankly, overkill, but I would rather be safe than sorry and multiple types of navigation aid are an easy way to stay on the safer side.

If you are going to be using downloaded maps, whether on your phone or GPS, make sure to download them before you even leave your home. Firstly, this allows you to familiarise yourself with them, but, more pertinently, there are large parts of the trail where there is no mobile phone signal.

How do I get there?

I chose to travel by train. I left Manchester at 0626 and the first train took me to Edinburgh. An hour later another train took me to Inverness. The journey took 7hrs 45mins and I arrived just after 1400hrs. The return was the same in reverse. A return cost me £103 bought a week in advance.

To get to Inverness, anyone coming from south of the border will likely have to get a train. In most cases, a first train will arrive at either Edinburgh or Glasgow, and a second train will take you on to Inverness. Both of these are regular services through ScotRail. However, anyone that can get on an East Coast Mainline train (such as those leaving from Kings Cross St. Pancras, York, and Newcastle) will be able to go direct. Prices are highly dependent on your starting point, and are unlikely to be cheap (though discounted tickets through apps are available with the normal caveats).

National Express and Megabus are also available; these will also change at Edinburgh or Glasgow. Buses will add at least another three hours to your journey, but that might be worth it to you for the savings; a National Express buses cost around £30-£40 (dependent on how far in advance bookings are made and what times you are willing to travel). Citylink buses link within Scotland for anyone already there.

Flying is also an option, with planes going into Inverness from most major domestic airports via Easyjet, British Airways and Logan Air amongst others.. Prices vary dramatically, so if you are choosing to go this route check ahead and perhaps alter your preferred days to fit your budget. You could get a flight from London for as little as £30 with some flexibility and patience, otherwise you could easily be looking at anything up to over £200. Inverness Airport is seven miles from the centre, and quickly linked through local public transport options.

If you are choosing to fly with backpacking gear, you will likely not be able to take it as carry on (unless you are super, super ultralight) and, in order to best protect your gear, it is advised to wrap your bag up in luggage wrap at the airport or buy a specially designed luggage bag for their transport that can then be stored with in an agreeable hotel in Inverness. Be conscious of storing hiking poles, and, for obvious reasons, make sure any knives or tools are packed away (or declared if necessary). You will not be able to carry fuel on the plane; buy any camping fuel at one of the outdoors shops in Inverness on your arrival.

For anyone driving up, the Old Town Rose Street Carpark offers longstay parking. This costs £7 for the first day, and £5 for each day thereafter. It is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Can I cycle the route?

Yes! The Loch Ness 360 is equally advertised as a cycling/bikepacking route. In fact, a whole Mountain Bike Challenge utilises the path. There are areas of the South Loch Ness Trail that seem more difficult, if not inaccessible, to bikes, but these would easily be avoided by staying to forest paths or minor lanes.

If you are researching a slower, bikepacking trip, Sean McFarlane writes about his three day bikepacking tour. Him and his riding partner, Alan, went anticlockwise through the high routes and utilised guesthouses and a luggage transfer service.

What other reports and resources would I recommend?

The Loch Ness 360 official site is an excellent place to start. It goes over everything from sections, to accommodation, to what you can hope to see and do, as well as more in depth information on travelling to and from Inverness.

Absolutely no recommendation for resources would be entire without mentioning Walk Highlands; the go to site for hiking in the Highlands. With detailed route descriptions aside pictures, GPS downloads and trip reports from users its hard for them to steer you wrong.

My main source of what the trail was actually about was, unusally for me, a vlog. Hounds of Howgate is an incredibly reliable source for a good number of the Scottish trails (and has previously seen me safely through The Skye Trail). John and his dog Moss hiked anticlockwise over six days starting on Hogmanay, wildcamping throughout. He opted for the low routes in the north. John also decided, just as personal challenge to see if he could, to not eat for the entirety of the trail. John is a wonderful madman and one of my heros, but I’m sure even he would tell you this wasn’t something he’d recommend.

6 thoughts on “Loch Ness 360: Information, Advice and Personal Reflections

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