When we got in contact with Dawn, we loved the trail request she sent us – the Great Glen Way. Such a beautiful and challenging trail, with an opportunity to spot the monster of Loch Ness 😉. Growing up in beautiful Maine, Dawn always loved the outdoors, and with her family, she lives a very active lifestyle. And we are thrilled that she wants to share her experience on the trail with us.
A bit more about this fantastic trail before we hand it over to Dawn: the Great Glen Way (or in Scottish - Slighe a' Ghlinne Mhòir) is a challenging but beautiful trail that stretches for 125km following the major natural faultline of the Great Glen. The trail was opened in 2002, is part of Scotland's Great Trails, and can be walked in 5-7 days. The trail starts at the ruins of the Old Fort, Fort Williams, and following the Caledonian Canal, ends in the regional capital of Inverness. Walking along canal towpaths, forest tracks, old drove roads, and urban pavements, you will also come across three major lochs, Lochs Lochy, Oich, and Loch Ness (keep your eye out for Nessy!).
*All pictures in this post are from Dawn’s hike, thank you for sharing these with us to make the interview more alive and personal!
Now, let’s hand-over to Dawn as she can tell much more about this beautiful trail!
To start, would you be able to tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a 56-year-old mother of 5 (all adults now) with a background in education. Having grown up in the state of Maine, as well as raising my children here, I have always had a great deal of appreciation for the outdoors and what it has to offer. I love an active lifestyle and my hobbies include hiking, biking, strength training and yoga.
How did your passion for hiking and the outdoors start?
My love for hiking began when my now husband and I started day hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire when we were just teenagers. Hiking to the top of a peak was an accomplishment and it felt so special to be able to enjoy the amazing scenery around us. We continued hiking with our kids, but our backpacking adventures slowed due to work and our children’s schedules. We are now able to pick up the pace again and have added snowshoeing to the mix. The winter brings beautiful snow-covered trails and quiet forests which we have really grown to love- you just need to gear up appropriately!
You hiked the Great Glen Way; what a fantastic achievement! The trail is one the Scotland’s Great Walks, and we would love to hear how your experience was on the trail?
The Great Glen Way was our 1st long trail (2019) outside of the USA. We travelled with a long-time friend, and all loved the variety of settings that we encountered during the walk. Not only were we in the hills above Loch Ness, but we travelled along the canals, through villages and some forests. We found it to be a great way to experience a new place and meet local people. Our choice of lodging ensured that we kept each day’s mileage reasonable and could enjoy evening meals at local taverns before a comfortable night’s sleep.
How did you discover the Great Glen Way and what was the reason to hike this specific trail?
It’s a funny story really. I heard about a great airfare sale to a handful of international cities during the winter months (travel had to be completed before April 15th). We were excited for an adventure, so I looked at the list. We chose Glasgow because we hadn’t been to Scotland and the winter weather is typically over in March. After the airfare purchase and dates were set for early April, I did some research on trail systems. That is when I learned about Scotland’s Great Walks (Ways). With maps in hand, we decided on the Great Glen Way because of the trail diversity and the ability to hike village to village, keeping us from having to camp in the cold weather.
During the trail you come across very steep sections and have to navigate over canal towpaths, forest tracks, old drove roads, former military roads, purpose-built path and urban pavement. With this diversity on the trail, how did you prepare for the hike?
Since we were preparing during winter, we utilized gyms for cycling, strength training and yoga- 3 to 4 times a week while adding hiking/snowshoeing 2-3 times a week. I wore a weighted pack and the hiking boots for the trip while making at least 1 of the hiking days 10+ miles.
Even though you prepared well for the trail, did you come across any (major) challenges that you would never have thought of beforehand?
I don’t think we came across any unusual challenges, but the mileages were typically 10-15 with the last day being 20 miles, so feet and hip flexors got sore. Using hiking poles, stretching each night, and bringing along a tennis ball to roll my feet did the trick. We were lucky with weather, but it could have been a very wet slog – rain gear is a must.
What is your best memory of the trail?
Hiking in early April, while cool (40-55F), kept us outside of Scotland’s busy walking season, which allowed us to explore castle ruins and the winding hill tops peacefully. The natural beauty of Scotland was truly amazing, and the local people were so friendly. We are planning to do another Great trail soon!
Before starting on the hike, you must have probably gone through your gear checklist a dozen times. In the end, did you take any gear with you that you eventually felt you could have done without? Or was there any specific gear that you wished you had with you on the trail?
We chose each pack item intentionally which allowed us to keep our pack weight at 16 lbs, minus water. The essentials being a light weight down jacket, rain gear, wool base layer, hat/glove liners. We brought minimal socks/underwear and were able to wash them out at each night’s lodging. Staying in B&Bs allowed us to travel light, leaving home towels/bedding/tent/cookware. I used my Osprey Kestral 32-day pack, and it was sufficient. There are services for hire that would transport your gear between lodgings for you if you wanted to carry only lunch/water. We really enjoy the challenge of packing with intention and traveling simply.
After this amazing achievement and crossing the Great Glen Way off your bucket list, do you have any other trails on your bucket list which you plan to hike in the (near) future?
Definitely!!! In 2021 we completed the Alta Via 1 in Italy, so, yes, we have been bitten by the long trail bug! We are planning to do the West Highland Way, Scotland and possibly Tour Du Mont Blanc, France in the next few years.
For all those inspired by your story and experience on the trail, what is the one tip you would like to give them?
Keep an open mind and get out there!
Lastly, when our hiking-lovers want to know more and follow your adventures, where can they find you on social media (if you are, of course, happy to share this info 😊)?
Hmmmm……I am on Facebook, but don’t post often. I may consider an adventure blog in the future though.
Dawn, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with us, it was an absolute pleasure!
Do you have an amazing story about one of your trail adventures which you would like to share with the community? Please reach out to us via firstname.lastname@example.org as we would love to hear from you.
Jay & Maud