Great Glen Way
Lorraine Wakefield steps out on The Great Glen Way, a new long distance route from Fort William to Inverness that aims to have walkers crossing from west to east.
Scotland's highest mountain, longest glen, most famous loch and most mysterious resident are all features on the country's newest long distance route the Great Glen Way which opens on 30 April.
The Great Glen Way stretches from Fort William in the west to Inverness in the east and on the way passes Ben Nevis, covers the length of the glen, goes along the shores of Loch Ness and of course gives walkers the chance to spot the elusive Nessie.
The 73 mile waymarked route takes in some of Scotland's most spectacular scenery and natural heritage using paths, old railway lines, canal towpaths and sections of General Wade's Military Road as it winds its way along the Great Glen, which runs along a geological fault line.
Along the way its passes important historic attractions like Urquhart Castle, the village of Fort Augustus and the magnificent engineering of the Caledonian Canal that links the two coasts of Scotland via a series of lochs situated in the glen.
It is hoped that the Great Glen Way can build on the success of other long distance routes like the West Highland Way and the Speyside Way to help bring more visitors to Scotland and raise awareness of the spectacular environment and natural heritage found in Scotland.
The Great Glen Way route manager Alastair MacLeod said they have had enquiries from as far afield as Japan, North and South America, Europe and all over Britain from people wishing to walk the route and already there is a huge interest from visitors.
"We have had a lot of enquiries in the last few months and the majority of them are people who are going to do the whole Great Glen Way," explained Alastair.
"We anticipated the majority of walkers would be coming from Fort William and heading to Inverness but I have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of people wanting to do it from Inverness to Fort William," he added.
The good thing about the Great Glen Way however is that it is not designed only for serious walkers completing the whole route but is accessible to those wishing to have a day's outing as they can easily choose to walk just one section of the route.
"That is one of the great attractions of the route," continued Alastair. "Let's say you were based in Fort William and wanted to do a piece of the route, you would be able to use public services to get to Spean Bridge and then could walk back along the footpaths and towpaths to Fort William.
"At Inverness it is the same as you can make your way along the Great Glen Way out to Blackfold and then come back down to the (Caledonian) canal or do it the other way and take the bus out to Drumnadrochit and walk back to Inverness.
"There are a lot of opportunities for people doing the route in sections and once we are up and running we expect somewhere in the region of 10,000 people will use the facility each year as well as the expected 20 - 25,000 walkers doing the whole route."
The Great Glen Way will undoubtedly help bring more visitors to the area with one hotelier already receiving 400 confirmed bookings directly linked to the new route and Alastair said the route would give a big boost to the area.
"The thinking behind the provision of the long distance route is that there should be economic spin offs for all the communities along the way and there are opportunities, particularly in tourism, to capitalise on that," he said.
"Since we announced the creation of the route a significant number of people in communities along the way has provided extra accommodation with the creation of bunkhouses and chalet parks and maybe people who did not do bed and breakfast before are now going into it because they are adjacent to the route.
"I was speaking to a hotelier that said he had 400 confirmed bookings for people directly linked to the Great Glen Way that he did not have last year and that is really significant."
The Great Glen Way is about more than just a waymarked route however as the route is supported by four rangers who will work in two strong teams to help maintain the way, meet walkers and care for the natural heritage.
"We see our prime role first of all to service the public and that is those users on the route," said Alastair. "Our rangers will be on the route on a regular basis where people using the way will have the opportunity to stop and speak to them and they will be able to advise people on what they are seeing or what they can see around them.
"That's the main role but having said that we also see it as a great opportunity for us to directly liaise with community councils and local schools along the way and develop the environmental theme. We also see connection with the business community, local enterprises and so on.
"It is really by two way communication that we will be able to provide a better service and the service that the local communities and the walkers are looking for that will benefit everyone in the longer term."
The Great Glen Way will be officially opened by Prince Andrew in Inverness on 30 April when he will meet Alexander Morton, walking on behalf of the Highland Society for Blind People, who will be the first person to complete the new route and will present a scroll of greetings from Lochaber on his arrival from Fort William.
Also joining Alexander for the last bit of the route will be Grantown Grammar School pupils, the Great Glen Way rangers and route manager Alastair himself. Prince Andrew will unveil a plinth at Inverness Castle, which is one of the official termini of the route, the other being the Old Fort in Fort William.
Visit the Great Glen Way website at http://www.greatglenway.com for more information.