Heritage Walking Weekend Brings Strathglass and Glen Urquhart’s world-class walking to the world
I’m as guilty as anyone for sometimes underrating the world-class walking charms of Glen Urquhart and Strathglass. I spend a lot of time in this spectacular part of the world, but never really hone in on the hiking. It’s superb news that a new walking festival, the Strathglass and Glen Urquhart Walking Festival, is opening up the best of the myriad local routes. With heritage guides involved to help walkers delve into the area’s rich history, and the walks all free of charge, it’s a brilliant event that aims not to just attract visitors into the area, but also to engage the local community and get them donning their walking boots too.
The festival will showcase an area that could scarcely be more scenic. Yes, of course, there are the world famous charms of Loch Ness, including her famous monster, but that is the point. The area is about far more than Scotland’s most celebrated monster. This after all is a corner of the country where a sweep of long distance walks come together: the Great Glen Way from Inverness to Fort William, the Loch Ness 360°, and also the Affric Kintail Way, which sweeps off from Drumnadrochit and Cannich in search of the mountains of Kintail.
“Our area is a real crossroads for walkers,” explains Russell Fraser of the Loch Ness Hub. “It is the fulcrum around which a clutch of long distance walks revolve. Here you can walk every single day of the year and not get bored and we indeed get visitors who come back to hike every year. We want to embrace that, share the area with the world and also bring in our local residents with a strong community-inclusive focus.”
Soirbheas – a community development charity who cover Glen Urquhart and Strathglass – are behind the festival. They are working with Strathglass Heritage Association, Glen Urquhart Heritage Group and Loch Ness Hub to develop this pilot walking festival, with a “vision to create a walking festival that will become an annual event that will take place in the tourism shoulder season”. The focus is an inclusive one trying to motivate local people who maybe don’t walk regularly to get out and explore their local area, encouraging everyone to improve their health and wellbeing by getting active outdoors and – longer term – showing people the opportunities when they adopt walking and/or cycling into their lives as an actual means of active travel, not just leisure.
Part of the reason that the Strathglass and Glen Urquhart area works so well for a walking festival is its rich seam of history and culture, as well as, of course, its close proximity to the Highland capital – and only city – of Inverness, with its recently opened airport railway station. The Strathglass Heritage Association and Glen Urquhart Heritage Group are key to helping run the heritage themed walks, which aim to have someone from the group on each of the routes, as well as a walking guide.
A flurry of fascinating key sites have been chosen as part of the local heritage trails project that will feature in the programme of guided walks and also the talks led by local people with a keen interest in the bountiful local history. These talks include one illustrated talk on the Davoch of Clachan and another on the excavation of Comar Wood Dun. The remit is broad as the festival will also delve into the rich built environment and the natural world, and indeed how historically they interact with one another and continue to do so today. Local people will also be encouraged to reconnect with their local environment and to become more involved in protecting it for future generations.
The walks have been chosen to be in the main easy to moderate, a mix of lengths ensuring the event is more accessible to all experience levels and fitness abilities of walkers, bringing families with young children into the fold, as well more mature ramblers less keen on longer distances.
The Loch Ness Hub, a visitor information centre incorporating Loch Ness Travel, will be at the heart of the action. They will be ferrying walkers around to get to and from some of the walks, which they have a lot of experience in as they offer Great Glen Way baggage and shuttle transfers, as well as transport within the community. The Hub will also be on hand to help walkers with information on the self-guided trails, which are very much part of the festival too. Loch Ness Hub have a real focus on slow and sustainable tourism and wish to ensure that the community they represent is the best it can be for locals and visitors alike.
There are some real highlights in the walk programme. The Heritage Trail around Drumnadrochit is a 3.5 mile exploration of this fascinating Highland village, taking in the Village Green, Bradley Martin memorial, Blairbeg public hall, the Church of Scotland, the old school, Old Kilmore burial ground, East and West Lewiston, and Balmacaan to Cnocan Burraidh. The Chisholm Trail at Struy delves into the history of the Chisholms of Strathglass on a 4 mile walk through significant landmarks associated with the clan. At the other end of the glen, where Strathglass meets Glen Affric, the history of the Victorian model conservation village of Tomich will be explored followed by the ruins of Guisachan House, synonymous with the golden retriever breed founded there more than 150 year ago.
The Corrimony 2.5 mile walk looks great too. You’re spirited off in a bus run by the Loch Ness Hub to Corrimony bridge, where you follow an unclassified road past the old school, church, and on to Corrimony Chambered Cairn. There are other sites en route, but I’ll leave some surprises for you. Another corker is Dhivach Falls, a six mile walk that takes you from the Loch Ness Hub car park to Ivy Bridge and then on to Divach Lodge, before a return to the Hub car park, via a visit to Divach Falls – depending on the weather and the condition of path.
With so many great route options – all of them free – the first ever Strathglass and Glenurquhart Walking Festival looks certain to be a massive success. With the walks themselves, the talks afterwards and the buzz that will propel the village for the whole weekend, it will be a great time to be in Cannich, Drumnadrochit and the surrounding area. If you are unlucky enough not yet to live here now is the time make some travel plans, and if you’re local it’s time to get those boots on. What are you waiting for?
*The inaugural Strathglass and Glenurquhart Walking Festival will run from Friday 24 March – Monday 27 March 2023. All the walks in the programme are free in the inaugural year. The Strathglass and Glenurquhart Walking Festival is not the only event really looking to get people active in the area this year. On April 15 Pedal Power bursts into life in Drumnadrochit, Drumnadrochit Green and the Loch Ness Hub. The varied programmes see a trio of E-bike tours backed up an MTB tour as the last event of a busy day. Handily bike rentals will be available, best booked in advance, though there will be a few E-bikes and mountain bikes available to hire on the day. All levels of cyclists are welcome, including families. Look out too for a variety of stalls where cyclists can meet other likeminded souls and enjoy some well-earned quality food and drink. You can learn too more about the sport, its clubs and how to get more into cycling in all its forms. There will also be a Dr Bikes Session running throughout the day at the Loch Ness Hub, where there will also be a screen promoting UCI X 2 (Velocity and 42 Cycling), as well as pump tracks for kids, with an instructor available.