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Scotland on Foot

Hiking the Scottish Highlands on a Budget

The Scottish Highlands are best appreciated on foot, and one of Scotland’s newest long-distance paths (opened in 2002) offers a relatively gentle introduction to the challenges of hiking here. The Great Glen Way runs 73 miles from Ft. William to Inverness, following the Caledonian Canal, which connects Loch Linnhe in the west with the North Sea by way of the deep valley known as the Great Glen. The path crosses peaceful rural scenery and provides amazing views of Loch Ness.

My sister and I started in Ft. William, which we arrived at via bus from Edinburgh (4 1/2 hours; www.citylink.co.uk). We chose to walk from west to east in order to save the greatest ascents for the last two days. Walkers generally take between four and seven days. By making our own arrangements we kept costs to about $50 a day.

Our first three days we followed the tow-path of the historic Caledonian Canal; the Way then took us along the steep shores of Loch Ness for three days, via Drumnadrochit, home to picturesque Urquhart Castle. Except in Drumnadrochit, we rarely saw any tourists, or even other walkers.

It’s a good idea to allow an extra day at Drumnadrochit or Ft. Augustus for rest and sightseeing. Experienced hikers may consider tackling Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak (4,406 feet), which lies just outside Ft. William.

Accommodations are limited in the small villages along the Way, so book ahead. In the summer, a bed at the pleasant Great Glen Hostel costs about $20+ in a dormitory, with other more expensive options if you wish more privacy. B&Bs average $50 (in Gairlochy, we recommend Dreamweavers).

Several companies offer independent walking tours of the Great Glen Way for between $500 to $800. See www.contours.co.uk, www.maketracks.net, and www.transcotland.com. The companies will transport your baggage. We, however, arranged baggage transports ourselves through Great Glen Baggage Transfer, which was reliable and charged about £50 per bag.