A DEEP layer of fresh snow lay on the ground when I awoke and the thermometer read minus 2C – the perfect day for a run like this.
When the white stuff is about, I much prefer getting away from the slushy roads and pavements and hitting the trails, where there’s a chance you’ll get to put the first footsteps into some virgin snow.
I wasn’t disappointed. This route is a favourite run of mine that shows why Inverness is such a special place. Soon after setting off you can be running through a quiet forest with hardly anybody else around for miles – there aren’t many cities you can say that about.
I’ve run this route a number of times since coming to the Highland capital in 2007, yet I still carry the map with me every time. I think this was the first time I hadn’t needed to consult it at any point!
The starting point is Whin Park, where parking and toilets are available.
I headed up the road towards the Tomnahurich Bridge, going left to cross the canal then right along the towpath on the far side. It can take a while to warm your muscles up when it’s this cold so I had a few layers of clothing on, as well as a hat and a pair of decent running gloves.
I knew it wouldn’t take long to get the blood flowing to my fingers, however, as this route gets pretty hilly after the first mile. It goes left from the canal where the Great Glen Way (GGW) marker post points down a small set of steps, leading to a path that follows the edge of the golf course.
Turn left onto a path where it emerges and go through the underpass, following GGW markers across the end of a road and a playing field, between a couple of houses then over the road and up the grass to a signpost.
Turn left to follow the GGW sign again here, taking a lovely path that snakes steeply up to Great Glen House. I was barely going fast enough to call this a run at this point but this is a trail with two halves. After the initially steep climb the route levels out and there’s plenty of downhill to look forward to later on.
Going straight on past the car park at the top of the path, cross the road and take a little path immediately left of the house, cutting right at a tree to climb a very boggy patch that soon meets a much better track. Take a right turn and continue to climb past the Dunain Community Woodland and straight up until you see a gate on your right. A small blue GGW marker points through the gate and right onto a path which soon climbs to an open area with great views down to Inverness and the Moray Firth.
Some respite from the steep climb can be had after a bench and you can see the masts on top of Dunain Hill clearly visible above the trees. The trail dips and twists to pass a lochan then goes through a gate, heading right to soon reach a pylon where you continue on the GGW by turning left onto a vehicle track.
By now there was only one other set of footprints on the ground and, when I reached the gate that marks the start of the old drove road ahead, the snow was all mine.
From here to Blackfold the run is a real pleasure and it was particularly beautiful with the fresh snow decorating the bare branches of the many deciduous trees.
A ruined building along the way is the remains of an old lairage, where drovers would have spent the night while moving cattle. Continue through a gate beyond this and, further into the forest, take a right turn where the GGW marker directs you.
Just after another gate, leave the GGW at an information board at Blackfold by taking the track left to meet the road. Go left along the quiet road then, immediately after the start of a forest plantation, take a track right through a gate.
The chances of seeing other people down here are usually pretty slim and it was the case again this time. The track bends left then you continue straight over a diagonal crossroads of tracks, keeping ahead where a couple of tracks shoot off right, going downhill all the time.
Two large red deer stags took fright when they saw me coming and headed for the shelter of the trees. I continued following the track as it bends left then right to cross a burn, then kept right at a fork to reach a metal deer gate.
Go through the gate and then turn right at the bottom of the track, taking the first left after that to descend past a house as the surface improves. You soon reach a junction with a couple of bridges just to your right – go straight on, then right to cross the second bridge, turning immediately left after it.
This brings you out at the A82, a few hundred yards from the towpath at Dochgarroch. Unfortunately there’s no footpath on this potentially dangerous stretch, so carefully cross and follow the verge left until you can cut right to meet the canal.
Cross at the lock gates and follow the towpath for the final three-and-a-half miles, cutting right down some steps after an open area to run alongside the rugby pitches. Take a right turn to cross a wooden footbridge then follow the boggy path left to reach Whin Park.
The temperature had risen to freezing by now, and I had a warm glow after enjoying this fine route again in such peaceful and beautiful conditions – truly trail running at its best, and right on my doorstep.