Start at Fort William train station and follow the signs to Corpach on a mix of roads and traffic-free paths through residential areas. Cross the River Lochy near the remains of Old Inverlochy Castle before joining the towpath of the Caledonian Canal at Corpach. You can head along to Corpach Sea Lock to see the western end of the canal, which juts into Loch Linnhe, then set off along the towpath to Banavie.
This is one of the highlights of the canal, as you climb up alongside the eight interconnected locks that make up Neptune’s Staircase. Not only is this a historic site, but it’s also the best spot for views of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain. If you’re lucky you may see it on one of the 70 days a year when the summit is not shrouded in cloud.
From here, it’s a straightforward ride along the towpath to Gairlochy with wide open views across the mountains and treetops. Part designed by Thomas Telford, the Caledonian Canal was built between 1802 and 1822, partly as a job creation scheme. Look out for the series of information panels along the way that explain its history.
At Gairlochy, cross over the swing bridge and follow the road along the western shores of Loch Lochy. There are some sensational views across the loch before reaching the hamlet of Clunes, where the route joins a forest road through the thick trees of Clunes Forest. There are a few challenging gradients on this section, taking you high above the loch at points, before heading down again to rejoin the canal at Laggan Locks, a pleasant place to rest where there is a barge converted into a café.
From here, it’s a pleasant ride along the towpath through the tall trees of Laggan Avenue to reach Laggan Swing Bridge. Here, leave the canal behind, cross the main road and join the quiet road into Great Glen Water Park, where the activity centre offers everything from river rafting to gorge walking.
Here join the 4-mile path along a former railway line, passing through mixed woodland on the eastern side of Loch Oich (the Great Glen Way walking route follows a rougher trail along General Wade’s Military Road close by the loch’s edge for some of the way).
At the end of the loch at Aberchalder, cross the road again and get back onto the towpath all the way to the attractive town of Fort Augustus, where another series of lock gates mark the point where the canal flows into famous Loch End. Lock up your bike to take a walk around the town or a boat cruise on the Loch, looking out for the mythical monster, of course.
Start/Finish: Fort William train station to Fort Augustus
Distance: 32 miles
Terrain: Unsealed canal towpath, tarmac path and forest roads alongside Loch Lochy, where there are also some gradients. Mostly flat.
Cafes/pubs: Long sections of this ride are remote with no food outlets, so it’s a good idea to take snacks along. There are lots of places to eat at the start in Fort William, try The Nevis Café at The Nevis Centre. Along the canal, try the Moorings Hotel at Banavie, The Eagle Barge at Laggan Locks, and the Bridge House Tea Garden at Aberchalder. The Lock Inn at Fort Augustus is popular, or try The Boathouse Lochside Restaurant on Loch Ness.
This route is an extract from Sustran’s Traffic-Free Cycle Rides – 150 Great Days Out (£12). The book brings together 150 of the UK’s finest traffic-free walking and cycling routes in celebration of twenty years of the National Cycle Network (NCN). GPX files for each route are also available to buy online.