Walk: Great Glen Way, Highland

Look out for leaping red squirrels and dashing pine martens on the Great Glen Way, one of Scotland's most-loved long-distance footpaths

Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness in Scotland

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The Great Glen Way is one of Scotland’s Great Trails, a series of 29 routes, each clearly waymarked, well-managed and largely off road, with good amenities and services en route.

The trails, including the Great Glen Way, are all at least 25 miles long and can be completed as a multi-day adventure or over the course of a number of visits.

Loch Lochy, Scotland
The Great Glen Way runs alongside Loch Lochy
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Guide to the Great Glen Way, including route details, wildlife and where to stay.

What is the Great Glen Way?

Stretching from Fort William on Scotland’s west coast to Inverness on the east, the Great Glen Way – one of Scotland’s Great Trails – provides 79 miles of spectacular walking along the majestic glens and glinting lochs that comprise this giant fault line.

Mostly low-level, the route can be completed in four to seven days and passes mighty Ben Nevis and inscrutable Loch Ness, while offering the chance to spy two of Scotland’s much shyer stars, including red squirrels and pine martens.

Water of Nevis, Highland, Scotland
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Wildlife of the Great Glen Way

The best places to spot these elusive red squirrels and pine martens are in the stretches of mixed broadleaf woodland and pockets of native pine that fringe the lochs between Gairlochy and Drumnadrochit.

The rare red squirrel is as pretty as its pictures – a soft ball of russet fur, tufty ears and acrobatic elegance. Smaller and lighter than the familiar hefty greys, the red squirrel darts along slender branches and tumbles delicately between trees as it forages for seeds, nuts and berries.

Look out for the signature roughly stripped pine cones on the woodland floor to indicate its presence and scan the wood for sightings of a drey, the football-sized nest of woven twigs and moss, often situated in the fork of a tree trunk. Producing two or three young in February, reds often have a second litter from May to June.

Red squirrel
Britain’s native Red Squirrel is now one of the UK’s most endangered species

The red squirrel’s natural predator, the pine marten, also may be its inadvertent ally. Studies suggest that the pine marten’s preference for hunting the slower, heavier grey squirrel has caused the greys gradually to retreat south, while red squirrels populate territory in their wake.

The endangered pine marten is a beguiling combination of sinew and chocolate fur, with a creamy patch at the throat and a long bushy tail. It is highly agile, stretching down trees, racing up trunks and sprinting across the ground in pursuit of its prey.

Pine marten
Dusk is a good time to spot pine martens
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Dens are usually located in tree cavities or in bird or squirrel nests, with up to five kits born in April. By July, the young will be braving the outside world and learning to make their first kill. Due to their scarcity, shy nature and mostly nocturnal activity, pine martens are hard to spot, but dusk is a good time to look for these mustelids, as they emerge quietly to hunt.

Where to stay on the Great Glen Way

If it proves too time-consuming to watch and wait among the trees, several hostels and B&Bs en route have feeding stations in their gardens, where both these enterprising mammals will pay regular visits. Try Craik Na Dav B&B in Invermoriston or Glen Albyn Lodge at Invergarry.

Ben Nevis, Scotland
The Great Glen Way passes Ben Nevis, Britain’s tallest mountain
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Words: Maria Hodson