Inverness boasts a lovely circular walk of a couple of hours or so that takes in the River Ness, the Ness Islands, the shores of the Beauly Firth, and the Caledonian Canal.
Only it doesn’t really boast it. It’s not well-known or advertised as a single circular walk, but it is admittedly easy to put together by using many other obvious routes and walks, including the Merkinch Nature Reserve, the Great Glen Way and the recently-branded Great Glen Canoe Trail.
It is admittedly one of the offerings on the excellent website Walk Highlands, but you’ll see no official signs, branding or marketing for it in town or online, and certainly nothing that demonstrates it as a great way to see Inverness and its surrounding area.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve walked it, but doing a couple of weekends ago was a real novelty because, despite it being January, it was a surprisingly mild day.
If you start in the city centre (anywhere near the railway station sign on the map on the right), the idea is to walk in an anti-clockwise route around what looks on the map to be a large landmass in Inverness. It is shaped by three bodies of water – the River Ness (on its right), the Beauly Firth (at the top) and the Caledonian Canal (on its left).
The map on the right shows the walk in its entirety (albeit unmarked – anyone know how to do that?) but you can zoom in within this page to see more detail or see it in a new window in a larger map.
I decided to write this post about the walk, and illustrate it with (or link to) photos from along the way – including both ones I took the other weekend and one I’ve taken on previous walks.
If you head from the city centre over the Waterloo Bridge (the city’s northernmost road bridge), you then go under the rail bridge and hug the west bank of the River Ness, heading north out to the mouth of the river.
You pass one or two run-down buildings and some lingering remains of Inverness’s industrial past as you skirt the edges of the districts of Merkinch and South Kessock. If you look across the river, you’ll see the to the harbour, marina and Kessock Bridge in the background (left).
After a quick detour through a gate on your right to Carnac Point, you can press on to the old slipway and ferry ticket office, now abandoned after the creation of the Kessock Bridge. Before that was constructed in the 1980s, journeys to the northern Highlands required you to either take the ferry or drive west all the way round the Beauly Firth.
You have great views from here westwards down the Beauly Firth (with the mountains of the northwest, including the lumbering giant that is Ben Wyvis, clearly visible on a good day), north to the Black Isle, or eastwards past the Kessock Bridge to the Inverness Firth and Moray Firth beyond.
The views westward continue if you follow signs for the Merkinch Nature Reserve (right), following the edge of the Beauly Firth by way of a narrow path. If you’re into birdwatching (which I completely am not), I am sure this is a pretty good spot.
Once you (carefully) cross the railway line, you arrive near the top of the Caledonian Canal, and you can follow this right out to the house at the very top of the canal where boats enter the firth.
To continue the circular path, though, cross the canal and then the railway line again, and you find yourself at Clachnaharry, a once-separate village now virtually subsumed into the sprawl of Inverness.
The tightly-knit old houses in Clachnaharry retain the area’s distinct character and attraction, however, as does the wonderful Clachnaharry Inn. You reach the inn by a third crossing of the railway line (this time via the metal bridge – below) and walking round the block on to the main road.
The Clachnaharry Inn is one of my favourite spots in Inverness, boasting good food, a good range of drinks and one of the city’s very few pleasant beer gardens. If you head through the back you find yourself on a patio which sits adjacent to the railway line and where you can overlook Clachnaharry and the Beauly Firth beyond it, and see the occasional train rush past almost close enough to touch.
Once refreshed, exit the pub, turn left, and follow the main road until you can get back to the canal side. Now your task is simple – follow the Caledonian Canal southwards.
However, you should stick to the right hand (west) side of the canal in the first instance, at least if you want to visit Inverness’s curious Titanic Museum (below). Entirely homemade and completely free to visitors (though donations are welcome), it’s a surreal but impressive sight in amongst its residential surroundings.
Very soon you’ll cross the main road again (though without a pedestrian crossing you might be waiting a while for a gap in the traffic). The Muirton locks are now in front of you, one of the handful of staircases that boats must negotiate when sailing the canal’s length. Both sides are attractive, but if you go on the right hand side you’ll pass through a boat works and see lots of parked yachts close up.
The next road you meet, at the swing bridge, will be the A82, while on your left is the vast and fascinating Tomnahurich Cemetery.
Here, at the swing bridge, you have a choice.
If you continue to follow the canal, you’ll ultimately come out the best part of an hour later at Dochgarroch Locks, some distance to the south of the city. This is the point where the canal and river finally meet, and further upstream from there lies Loch Dochfour and then Loch Ness. You can now cross over the lock and come back along the other side the canal.
However, a more direct alternative from the swing bridge is to veer away to the left of the canal as you cross the A82, and to follow signs for the Floral Hall and Inverness Leisure Centre (and if you’re not interested in availing yourselves of their attractions, they’re still a good opportunity for a toilet stop).
Once at the Floral Hall, and by taking yet another diversion, you can head right following signs for Whin Park (below, a mecca for children with a massive play park, miniature railway to ride on, and boating pond).
Head left from the Floral Hall, though, and you’ll find yourself behind the leisure centre and facing the wide open space that is Bught Park. Follow the road with Bught Park on your left, and you’ll then arrive at the southern entrance to the Ness Islands, one of the absolute gems of Inverness.
A chain of islands along the river linked by bridges, The Ness Islands form part of the final stretch of the Great Glen Way (watch out for the markers) that finishes in town outside Inverness Castle.
The islands (right) are a serene and relaxing place, and you can feel a long way away from the city as you amble along the tree-lined paths. After the first inter-island bridge, stick to the right and watch out for the Loch Ness Monster. No, really.
Once out of the islands and back on “the mainland”, you’re just a short walk north along the river from the city centre, passing nice views across the water of Eden Court Theatre and Inverness Cathedral. You’ll then approach the castle, and you’re back in town again.
What do you think?
For people wanting to explore Inverness fully and get a good sense of its surroundings, this is probably a great way to do it on foot in one single loop. It might be less than two hours as a direct walk, but with all the tangents and things to stop and see, not least perhaps a leisurely lunch at Clachnaharry, you could easily stretch it out over a whole day.
Perhaps you’ve stumbled across this post by googling walks in Inverness. And if you know Inverness perhaps you’ll agree that this joined up walk should be a bit better known and clearly signposted as a lovely circular that lets you see the city at its natural best. Maybe, even, you’ve done the whole walk.
Either way, let me know your thoughts by way of a comment below.