First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
You can’t spend long in Inverness without realising that the heart of this fine city at the mouth of the River Ness is an island – heart-shaped too, formed by the river snaking seaward to the east, and the equal and opposite windings of the Caledonian Canal on the west. It offers a superb waterside walk by river, canal and sea.
I set off upstream along the River Ness on a blowy afternoon, walking south from Ness Bridge under tossing lime trees. Behind me the drum towers and battlements of the castle stood in rose-coloured sandstone on their bank above the river. ‘Hi, how are ye?’ boomed a kilted gentleman, as cheery as hell. ‘Good, thanks,’ I nodded back, and I meant it. The Ness sparkled under a succession of pretty lattice footbridges, which swooped me across the river with tree-hung islands as stepping stones, until I landed on the banks of the Caledonian Canal and turned my steps seaward.
This was no thin thread of water, but a proper commercial waterway fifty feet wide. Walking its towpath was like strolling a country lane thick with broom, still a-bloom in startling yellow. In contrast to the living, oxygenated rush of the Ness, the Canal lay flat, calm and mirror-still until flecks of rain began to pock it. I strode on through the shower, past the crane and flight of locks at Muirtown, out to where the tip of the canal thrust into the broad tidal shore at Clachnaharry Sea Lock. Tumbled hills across the firth lay half obliterated under shining rainbursts, and the air was thick with iodine smells and the piping of oystercatchers.
Estuarine paths led me on to the old ferry slip at South Kessock, sadly abandoned and forlorn since its rival for trade, the mighty Kessock road bridge, was built across the narrows where the Firth of Beauly melts into the greater Moray Firth. Out at Carnac Point I sat by the old green-painted light, watching a tug making slowly seaward beneath the immense span of the Kessock Bridge where cars hurried north, half way up a slate-black sky. I gazed until the rain had hidden both tug and bridge, then turned inland with a cup of tea on my mind, and made for the cosy old city along the sea-going Ness.
Start & finish: Inverness railway station (OS ref NH668455)
Walk (8 miles, easy; OS Explorer 416, or city centre map from Inverness TIC): From railway station cross Academy Street, down Union Street, left up Church Street to Bridge Street and TIC. At bottom of Bridge Street, right along east bank of River Ness for 1¼ miles, following Great Glen Way/GGW signs across footbridges and islands. At ‘Whin Park’ sign (660435) turn left away from GGW, through Whin Island. At foot of island, left across wooden bridge (654433); right along edge of playing field to steps (652433), right along Caledonian Canal.
In ⅓ mile cross Tomnahurich Bridge (655438); right along west bank for 2 miles to Clachnaharry Sea Lock (645467). Return across railway, in 200 yards, left to South Kessock Pier (655472). Right along road; in ¼ mile, left to Carnac Point (660472). Return to road; follow west bank of River Ness for a mile. Left across lattice footbridge (664454); up Church Lane, cross Church Street, up School Lane, right along Academy Street to station.
NB: Online map, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk
Accommodation: An Grianan, 11 Crown Drive, Inverness IV2 3NN (01463-250530; www.angrianan.co.uk): welcoming, comfortable B&B close to city centre.