Fort William must be the wettest place in Scotland. As we drove there from Nethy the ominous grey clouds ahead marked the starting line. Unloading the car and getting the gear on the bikes was accompanied by what felt like a winter gale. Sideways rain and a cold wind. “Welcome to Fort William” read the sign, “Welcome to October” more like.
Day 1 Fort William to Inver Coille
The usual pre-start nerves were evident as we lashed our bags to the bikes and attempted to find the official start of the route. No other brave soles were around to capture the event so luckily selfies have been invented. A quick stop to pick up a grab and go lunch felt worthwhile, maybe it won’t be October when we get back out.
Leaving The Fort meant the wind, and rain, was at our backs which helped to lift the spirits. The route follows the natural fault line which cuts across Scotland for 117 kms coast to coast. It mixes the Caledonian Canal towpath, disused railway lines and loch-side paths to create an enjoyable, scenic and mostly off road route. Interestingly the Caledonian Canal was designed by Thomas Telford, the same engineer who designed the Nethy Bridge bridge.
The first main feature of the route is Neptune’s Staircase. A magnificent piece of civil engineering reminding me of my time at uni studying the feature. It’s series of 8 locks allows canal boats and barges to gain or lose a height of 20m over it’s 55m length. A good spot for a photo now that the rain had stopped.
Next we reach the imaginatively named Loch Lochy. I guess they were in a rush at the meeting to decide the names that day. The views of the passing showers over the loch were spectacular and being buzzed by two Apache helicopters on a training mission was pretty special. This section also included one of my personal highlights. A short singletrack trail winding close to and along the shoreline. I made a mental note to comeback and visit that section again.
As we reached Laggan we spotted a sign for a floating pub, perfect timing. Unfortunately the pub decided that passing daytime trade wasn’t enough to open. The canal reached Loch Oich and we chose to take the old railway line route to the southern side of the loch.
Travelling along the wide towpath meant that we could not only make decent pace but also enjoy a catch-up with each other. The passing showers doing their best to test our bikepacking gear. Hopefully my sleeping bag would remain dry.
Stopping for dinner at Fort Augustus was well timed as we missed another passing shower. The climb out of the village however made us rethink having two courses and pints. It was a steep push from the village up to the forest track. Unbeknownst to us this would be a mere warm-up to tomorrow’s route.
Now travelling along the high route it allowed views across Loch Ness and we spotted the Horseshoe Crag on the far side of Loch Ness. This is a horseshoe shaped scree slope which legend has it that people tried to capture Nessie by putting bottle of whisky on the hill as a trap. She climbed up, took the whisky and escaped into loch, hence the bare trail of rock.
We arrived at the Inver Coille campsite and pitched the tents. Food, showers and chill out followed and plans were hatched for the morning. Fellow Phat Boy George, no not that Boy George much to Dave’s disappointment, would be teaming up with us so we decided to leave most of the bikepacking gear with him. That was a lucky decision.
Day 2 Inver Coille to Inverness
George arrived at the campsite and we loaded our camping kit into his car. The aim was to lighten the amount of gear for the climbs which we new were ahead of us. This was key to us enjoying day 2 rather than it being a drag.
Climbing back up to the forest path above the campsite meant that we avoided the A82 trunk road. The forest track climbed to fantastic views over Loch Ness and we passed through Invermoriston shortly after setting off.
Due to the nature of the terrain around the loch, towns are usually at loch level where a feeder river joins the loch and our route climbed the hills of the northern side. The pain of the climbs lead to stunning views and the rain from yesterday had passed. We stopped at the top of one climb for a photo, taken by a Kiwi who had an interest in the fat bikes and our trip. To him they were for beach rides but for us they are useful on all terrains and especially bikepacking. I got the impression that he would have enjoyed the rest of the trip on bike rather than by foot.
One more lung busting climb lead to a magnificent view point looking across the length of the loch. From here is was thankfully mostly downhill to lunch at Drumnadrochit.
After lunch it was yet more climbing but we now had the final section and the finish line ahead. This final section takes you away from the loch-side and cuts across Abriachan forest and the moors to the south west of Inverness. The wind was at our backs and the trail headed downwards it felt like we were cruising along all the way to Inverness.
Whilst not a technical ride this was a great couple of days having a laugh and enjoying seeing Scotland coast to coast. Another cracking Nethy Phat Boys adventure.
Words – Eric
Photos – Eric, Jack & Alban