About the Great Glen Canoe Trail

In Scotland the canal network was originally built between 1768 and 1822. The Caledonian Canal is one the most famous and historic in Great Britain built by the engineer Thomas Telford and completed in1822. The canal runs some 100 km from northeast to southwest with only one third of the entire length being man-made with 29 locks including the eight at Neptune’s Staircase at Banavie; four aqueducts and 10 bridges along the course of the canal. The level of Loch Oich, in the middle of the route, was raised by many feet to provide a navigable channel across Scotland from sea to sea. Loch Lochy is 12 miles (20 km) long; Loch Oich 5 miles (8 km), and Loch Ness a huge 23 miles (37 km) in length.

Distances

Great Glen Canoe Trail Map & Distances

Please note : | We do not advise planning paddling on the north shore of Loch Ness for safety reasons.

The route can be easily divided into paddling “day” sections which will depend very much on the group and weather conditions. Be prepared to amend your plans if need be:

  • Corpach to Gairlochy 0 – 12 km (but we recommend starting at the top of Neptune’s Staircase which will leave out more or less a half day portage around the locks between Corpach and the top of Neptune’s Staircase
  • Gairlochy to Fort Augustus 12.5 – 46 km
  • Fort Augustus to Lochend on the North side Loch Ness) 47 – 83km Or Fort Augustus to Lochend on the South side Loch Ness) 47 – 80k
  • There are excellent drop off or finishing points (if the weather is poor) at Foyers and Dores
  • Lochend to Inverness 83 – 94 km. You can finish the journey beyond Tomnahurich Bridge where there is a small slipway near Charleston Academy, or Dochgarroch

There are however specific issues which everyone paddling the trail should take into consideration and take into account when planning the journey by open canoe or sea kayak.

Direction & Timescales

You are strongly advised to plan to paddle the route from south-west to north-east, that is, from Corpach to Inverness, because this is the direction of the normally prevailing wind.  But the wind could be different! The paddle will take paddle fit canoeists three days – we recommend four days. If the wind is against you, the trip could well take longer, especially on the large lochs, where waves might reach 5 ft (1.5 m) high. The water is always cold – even in the height of summer. Even competent paddlers need to allow for the unexpected and plan accordingly and have supplies to last longer than the planned trip. The south side of the route refers to the south-east bank.

Portaging

There are regular locks and their gates on the canal sections which paddlers  will come across. Canoes are not allowed in locks but you may be occasionally be able to ‘line’ i.e. tow canoes through on lines, if the traffic is not too great. The turbulence encountered when lock sluices are opened (with a 28 feet (8.5m) drop), is very great, and could swamp a loaded canoe. Normally, you will have to portage canoes and kayaks around locks, i.e. carry both boats and gear – the distance around locks is often 200m, and the Fort Augustus flight of locks requires a 500m portage.

It is recommended that you look at hiring portage trolley wheels to go round the locks along the way – British Waterways Board do not allow canoes or kayaks to paddle through the locks. All the bridges can be safely paddled under, apart from Muirtown Bridge at the northern end of the canal – check the clearance before going under it.

British Waterways Licences

BW operates and maintains the whole canal route, and are there to offer information and enjoyment to recreation-users. A FREE LICENCE is issued to canoeists, which ensures that paddlers are offered advice so that they understand safety requirements on this unusual Canal, which is much longer and wider than other U.K. canals. A Skipper’s Guide also details the location of locks, bridges, toilets andshowers. This Licence also gives paddlers the opportunity to  purchase a key for the toilets & showers along the way (£10 – 2016 price per person )

You should  register for the licence online www.scottishcanals.co.uk or at the nearby Canal Office at Corpach. You are asked to   inform the lock-keeper at Corpach or your first lock that you are going on the water. Keep a look out for very large ships which you will need to keep a look-out for. Licences can also be obtained from the main office, British Waterways, Seaport Marina, Muirtown Wharf, Inverness, IV3 5LE, Tel. 01463 725500, or from the sea locks at either end of the route. BW want to hear in advancefrom groups of six paddlers or more. Please contact BW by to inform them of dates, numbers etc.

Security

Do not leave canoes and equipment unattended – especially overnight and if you have hired from Snowgoose Mountain Centre!  If you have to leave canoes for a short time then make sure that you have the means to tie two or more together using a bike chain and lock. If you do leave canoes, take all removable items, paddles etc. with you.

Vehicle Shuttles

You may need to plan how to organise your  transport at both ends. Snowgoose Mountain Centre can arrange a pre-booked shuttle for you if this suits the logistics better. We have plenty of car / trailer parking space here at Corpach if need be. If your party has only one car or you have travelled by rail we are happy for vehicles to be left with us or they can be parked at the public car park at Banavie (below the Moorings Hotel). If you prefer to use public transport to travel back from Inverness the journey takes two hours.
For bus timetable please see the Citylink coaches website – www.citylink.co.uk

Personal Safety & Conditions of Hire

Please seek our advice and information that Snowgoose Mountain Centre has put together based on years of personal experience in the area. If you hire from us then we will give you full information and advice before you leave us on campsites and safe pick up points. The Caledonian Canal and Great Glen Canoe Trail take in major areas of open water. With safety in mind please take a look at these attached documents. We specifically advise that you do not take the alternative routes of the River Oich (this can be Grade 2 plus) or the weirs on the River Ness. Some guidebooks are misleading on the grades here.

Advice from the Scottish Canoe Association Web Site

  • The MCA have a rescue boat based at Drumnadrochit on Loch Ness, with Channel 16 VHF coverage. If in doubt, contact them over weather conditions.
  • Do not swim in the canal sections, and be careful of swimming in the lochs – the temperature can be very cold, rarely over 4 degrees C. On the canal, there would be dangers from other boats, which might well not see swimmers, and also not be able to manoeuvre quickly. The lock sluices could also draw swimmers in. If you wish to swim in the lochs, please ensure that you are visible top assign boat traffic.
  • Canoeists must by maritime law give way to all other craft – you do not have any right of way when on passage and you must keep to the side to give other craft enough depth. The route is used by yachts, motor cruisers, fishing boats and passenger trip boats. Many hire cruisers are driven by inexperienced crew. Be especially careful approaching bends, bridges or locks.
  • Talk to the lock-keepers when you meet them -they have the most up-to-date information on water traffic users and hazards.
  • Do not treat the water in the canal sections as drinking water. For safety, carry fresh water with you.

Access & Camping

Before paddling in Scotland, please refer to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SOAC), with regard to your rights and responsibilities (www.outdooraccess-scotland.com). The law in Scotland is different to the rest of the U.K. The comments below refer to the wild camping sections of SOAC, but please remember that at times you might land near to people’s houses on the lochs, and you must respect the ‘curtilage’ of houses, normally the garden area. SOAC also does not apply to motorised craft or the taking of vehicles on to private land.

You are allowed to ‘wild camp’ anywhere, the SOAC rights being in respect of a few people for a few nights, whilst travelling, BUT this requires some common sense and knowledge. (For a full account of good standards for wild camping whilst canoeing, please refer to the SCA website www.canoescotland.com).

  • Remember, the canal is also a workplace; please ensure that your tents do not block access to locks, bridges, toilets or other buildings and paths. Remember too that the BW toilet blocks are primarily for boaters, but other users of Great Glen route are welcome to sue them – they can therefore be very busy – please leave them as you would wish to find them. These are the major factors to consider when camping in the Glen.
  • Consider others, keep noise to a minimum, and camp unobtrusively
  • Set an example, and make minimal impact; leave no trace of your site, take litter out with you, remove all traces of fires. Only light fires on sand/shingle spits, NOT on grass or peat. Use only dead wood.
  • Do not camp where others have just been, and protect vegetation by being very careful with fires.
  • Minimise disturbance to wildlife, carry out all scraps of food, and move if you are near to nesting birds and causing alarm
  • Be very careful with toilet hygiene, burying all human waste, and take a small trenching tool to be able to do this (this refers to the sides of the lochs only – see below). Do not bury other sanitary products, but bag them and take them out with you. (Burying is not possible anywhere along the canal as all of the banks/locksides/wildcamp spots are part of the Scheduled Ancient Monument, and must not be disturbed in any way without permission from Historic Scotland.
  • Try and camp on a dry flat area, and do not dig ditches or remove logs, boulders etc. Please remove both your litter, and maybe help to tidy up other people’s rubbish and take it out! When off the water, please do not camp next to your vehicle by the roadside – this is not ‘wild camping’ as described in SOAC.

The Area & Getting Around

There is a rail station right outside our bunkhouse / hostel!! Less than a one minute walk away! The overnight Sleeper Service from London arrives in Fort William at 10.45 a.m.  There is also a good local bus service from Fort William to Corpach. The Great Glen area  itself  is easy to reach, with railway stations at both Inverness and Fort William (but not connected by a through rail route between the two towns!) There is an  airport at Inverness about an hour an a half away. Inverness is a two hours’ drive from Perth, up the A9. Fort William is about the same distance and time from either Glasgow or Perth. (102 miles)  The main A82 road runs down the Glen, often alongside the lochs of Lochy, Oich & Ness BUT launching and landing are often difficult, and this road is slow and dangerous in summer holiday traffic.

Allow plenty of time for any vehicle shuttle between both ends of the route, often one hour forty minutes or so in the summer (for 60 miles). The trunk road running up the side of Loch Ness is especially dangerous due to tourists suddenly stopping to take photos of the scenery. The ‘south side’ of Loch Ness has the B 862 following most of Loch Ness side, and is a delightful, although slow, road. Between Fort Augustus and Inverness, Foyers, Inverfarigaig and Dores are on this side.

Fort Augustus, at the halfway point up the Glen, is a thriving small town, but very busy in summer, and the large car park there can often be completely full.”

We can offer:

  • Canoes, Sea & River Kayaks for hire including paddles, & buoyancy aids
  • A complete hire & outfitting service – barrels, drybags, trolley wheels, etc
  • Full camping & expedition equipment hire
  • A full shuttle service for boats, gear & people
  • Full information on the best campsites & services on the canoe trail
  • Ample off road car parking to leave your car and trailer while you are away
  • A free drop off to the top of Neptune’s Staircase at Banavie to all our hire customers
  • Locally based paddling information and advice before you arrive with us – based on over 30 years of paddling experience on the Caledonian Canal
  • Comfortable hostel / bunkhouse accommodation for the first and last night of your trip
  • Guided canoe trips for the more inexperienced – we do not hire to complete novices