This year I am delighted to be teaming up with the Scottish Youth Hostel Association (SYHA) and joining in on their campaign to encourage people to go on a #SYHAdventure. In 2015 they are inspiring people to try something new or to visit places in Scotland they have never been before, each month they will also have a theme to give people ideas for activities, places to see and key events based around a stay at one of their hostels.
The theme for March is walking and I chose to head to their Glen Nevis hostel which provides a multitude of walking options for all abilities and is conveniently situated at the foot of Ben Nevis, the UK's highest mountain, for those wanting a more challenging experience.
I opted to follow two very contrasting walks, the first taking me through the start of The Great Glen Way and the urban environment of Fort William and the second journeying into the heart of the imposing natural surroundings of Glen Nevis itself.
DAY 1 - The Great Glen Way, Fort William to Banavie (4.5 miles each way, easy walking)
When you visit an outdoor haven like Fort William, flanked by mountains and a loch, it would be all to easy to head for a hike in the wilderness and ignore the urban pathways that weave through the housing estates. In fact had it not been for The Great Glen Way signpost and thistle markers encouraging me along I would have been guilty of this myself.
The Great Glen Way was officially opened in 2002 and spans 79 miles between Fort William and Inverness, the stretch I did was ideal for an easy stroll and exploring the area around the town.
Instead of dismissing the route I decide to follow the first part of this long distance walk from it's humble beginnings at the remains of the fort the town was named after to the famous Neptune's staircase in Banavie, approx 4.5 miles or 9 miles return, although you can walk as far as you feel comfortable and will still be rewarded.
After approx 1.5 miles I reached Old Inverlochy Castle, with just a slight detour off the route I arrived at the ruined remains of this former 13th Century stronghold. Abandoned in 1654 this was previously one of the most important castles in Scottish history and makes an interesting stopping off point. Retracing my steps and crossing the wooden Soldier's Bridge, the path soon leads you onward alongside the shore of Loch Linnhe with a picturesque Highland landscape opening up all around.
I was fascinated by the looming, hulk of a decaying old fishing boat standing upright in the rocky beach ahead. Making my way down for a closer look at this sad vessel I felt dismayed that it appeared so unloved and I'm sure the rusty old parts strewn across the shingle were not doing the environment much good either.
As I was busy taking photos of the towering craft, the sunbeams appeared from behind the clouds and lit up the rusty red timbers, giving the old lady a momentarily new lease of life.
Continuing the short walk to Corpach and the Caledonian Canal, the route follows the canal towpath towards Neptune's Staircase, with it's 8 locks rising up like well engineered stepping stones. Several years ago I sailed down the length of the canal and as I passed the places I had moored for the night and the tricky locks I had negotiated I smiled at the memories of what I still consider my best ever Scottish holiday.
I decided that this was a good point to head back to Fort William and with Ben Nevis continually towering in the distance my bed for the night at the foot of the mountain was calling.
With historical sights, picturesque backdrop and the opportunity to admire the engineering triumph of the canal, I found this route provided both variety and an interesting introduction to the area.
Accommodation - Glen Nevis Youth Hostel
My accommodation for the night was the SYHA hostel in Glen Nevis, situated just opposite the main footpath up Ben Nevis. This was my first time staying in a hostel in Scotland and I sadly can no longer class myself as a youth so I was a tad apprehensive at what I had let myself in for. As it turns out I needn't have worried as I was immediately made to feel at home and as it transpires the term youth crosses a full spectrum of ages and applies more to those youthful in heart and spirit than birthday years!
I was also able to enjoy the comforts of an en-suite private room with a toasty hot shower, although this is not standard for all hostels, Glen Nevis has a choice of sleeping options from standard dorm rooms to private rooms which are ideal for couples and families. Rooms are functional rather than fancy but the amazing view of Ben Nevis out the window more than makes up for the lack of luxury toiletries!
Another bonus here is the ability to order a cooked dinner and breakfast for those that don’t want to cater for themselves. Out of curiosity I decided to order one of the dinner options (sweet potato and spinach tagine with cous cous) and was pleasantly surprised at the quality and size of portion. A private room and cooked dinner may not be the norm for an authentic hostel experience but it is nice to indulge when you have the option.
Another offering at Glen Nevis is WiFi which costs £1 for twenty minutes although the connection is quite temperamental and I found that I was frequently disconnected but lets be honest most people heading to an SYHA hostel are there to enjoy the location and the outdoors lifestyle so WiFi is not necessarily a priority.
I really enjoyed my first SYHA experience and I'm already looking forward to my next hostel visit.
Day 2 - Glen Nevis Hostel to Steall Falls (approx 5.2 miles, moderate walking)
After a great night’s sleep, hot shower and hearty breakfast I made my way out the front door of the hostel and was faced with an abundance of walking options. I opted to head to Steall Falls, the third highest waterfall in Scotland and reputedly one of the best short walks in the country. You can drive to the end of the road and walk the last mile from the car park or as I did you can enjoy the preceding 4 miles along the tarmacked road on foot.
This is a pleasant walk as you pass some grazing sheep and Highland cattle under the shadow of the rugged mountains that line the glen and feel dwarfed by the giant sized boulders randomly placed along the way. I was more than aware of the constant sound of gushing water as melted snow gathered momentum down the rock faces and the swollen river rushed by at speed.
The walk begins proper when you reach the end of the road and start to negotiate the cobbled trails and ledges through a gorge that makes up the walking track to the fall itself. I found myself scrambling over slippery rocks and leaping narrow but fast flowing torrents of water running down the hillside into the white ribbon river far below.
Before setting out on this walk I had read some reviews saying that it was an easy route and suitable for all abilities but I certainly didn't find that to be the case. Maybe it was the wet wintry conditions but I found parts of this walk quite challenging although I imagine it is quite different in summer when the most dangerous encounter involves swarms of midges, although I would still class it as more of a moderate route with sturdy footwear required. The other downside to walking this track in the summer is the number of people that will be sharing it with you, I personally didn't pass another soul which made the experience quite haunting.
With the sound of rushing water increasing and echoing all around, the glen suddenly opened up and I got my first glimpse of Steall Falls as it roared down the mountainside. Standing alone in the eerie desolate landscape with the icy wind biting at my cheeks I really did feel like the last person on earth.
For the adventurous wanting to get closer to the waterfall, there is a wire bridge across the river although I was happy to admire it from a distance on this occasion!
After some exploring, photography and a welcome flask of hot tea it was time to leave my wilderness oasis and rejoin civilization. The best short walk in the country? A definite contender for the most dramatic!
My two walks in the area couldn't have been more different, yet both had their rewards and prove that there is something worthwhile to discover wherever you choose to roam.
Have you been inspired to go on an #SYHAdventure this year? If so I'd love to hear about it!
This trip was in partnership with the SYHA, look out for my future adventures with them during 2015.
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