An interesting walk in heathland and woodland through Glen Spean, with good views of the Nevis Range. The route includes a section of Wade’s military road with its historic High Bridge (built in 1736 over the River Spean), as well as part of the disused railway line between Invergarry and Fort Augustus with its viaduct.
Unfortunately, both the bridge and viaduct are now in ruins. The triple arched High Bridge was over 20 metres high and 85 metres long and linked the garrisons of Inverness, Fort Augustus and Fort William. The bridge is associated with the first shots being fired in the 1745 Uprising in support of Bonnie Prince Charlie. The Battle of the High Bridge is where MacDonell of Tirnadris ambushed and routed two companies of the Royal Scots. Following on from this victory, the Prince raised his standard a few days later at Glenfinnan. However, within less than 100 years, the bridge was in dilapidated state, with a cast-iron footbridge being precariously slung across the old bridge on stanchions in 1894 as part of a repair work.
The viaduct was constructed circa 1930 as part of the railway line running for 38km between Spean Bridge to Fort Augustus. The original 4 span lattice girder viaduct was supported by 23 metre high concrete piers.
The walk passes through Calluna heath, dominated by purple moor grass, with bell heather (Erica tetralix) and rushes (Juncus species) in the wetter areas, and scattered birch. There after merging into rough grassland, with scattered oak and pine, before heading into birch and oak woodland, with some lovely stands of hazel and scattered rowan, ash and willow. The understorey includes a mixture of bents (Agrostis species) and meadow grass (Poa spp) interspersed with bryophytes, including species of Polytrichum, Hypnum and Common Tamarisk-moss (Thuidium tamariscinum). The trees are festooned with bryophytes and lichens (crustiose, foliose and shrubby), together with epiphytic polypody fern (Polypodium vulgare), imparting a green hue to the woodland even in the depths of winter. The Usneion community is particularly impressive and is reminiscent of an enchantered forest. The woods flanking the River Spean include some fine old specimens of oak, ash, birch, hazel and alder. There are also some dense patches of bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) on route.
The path skirts by the wooded edge of the River Spean which flows through the impressive Spean Gorge, with its shingle banks. The gorge was formed by the rapid escape of a large volume of water (jökulhlaup) released from an ice-dammed lake in Glen Spean towards the end of the last Ice Age. The water rapidly eroded the Glen to produce a deep channel with a steep sided gorge, cutting through inclined micaceous psammite metamorphic bedrock; the latter formed from Precambrian sedimentary rocks by low grade metamorphism.
Listen out for a range of woodland birds, including woodpeckers and cuckoos, as well as dippers and sandpipers. Look out for tracks and signs of pine marten, otter and roe deer. Look for the hills for raptors. This walk is also a real treat for the lichenologist.
Good views are afforded of the Nevis Range on route.
There are several interpretation boards on route. There are two near the start of the walk, one detailing the route, and the other outlining geology of the Nevis range and Grey Corries (resulting from ‘collision, fire and ice’ by Lochaber Geopark). Two further interpretation boards describe the history of the High Bridge and the Invergarry to Fort Augustus Railway and Viaduct.
A lovely walk with stunning views, suited to all seasons of the year.
1. Park at the Commando Memorial and take the footpath signposted Spean Bridge near the exit of the car park. The start of the footpath is through a kissing gate, and follows a well defined gravel footpath through heathland, grassland and woodland with several small stream crossings (over wooden bridges).
2. The path eventually joins the old railway line, shortly after which the ruins of the High Bridge crossing a steep gorge of Glen Spean. There is an interpretation board on the bridge and its role in the 1745 uprising. There are also some lovely views of the gorge and the wooded glen, as well as the surrounding hills. The woods flanking the river include some fine specimens of oak, ash, birch, hazel and alder.
3. The path veers away from the disused railway line, crossing another wooden bridge. Just beyond which, there is an interpretation board on the railway line and viaduct. Limited views of the viaduct can be seen through the trees at this point.
4. Continue along the path following the River Spean, admiring the river and gorge.
5. The path eventually veers away from the river and crosses heathland with scattered clumps of oak and larch. The path ascends at first. There are some lovely views of the Aonach Mor and the Ben Nevis Range as the path ascends.
6. The path emerges by the side of the A82. At this point, you either turn left to take a short detour (approximately 10 minutes) to the small village Spean Bridge with its Woollen Mill, Highland Soap Shop, Post Office, pub and General Store.
Alternatively, you can head directly back to the Commando Memorial by turning right on the footpath by the side of the road, passing by the church at Kilmonivaig. There are some lovely views of the Nevis range, Grey Corries and Glen Spean on your return journey.