Events that hadn’t happened for the past few years are suddenly coming closer – which means I really need to practice more!
For me, the Inverness Half Marathon is right around the corner, on March 13, but the real test will come in mid-May with the Loch Ness 360 Challenge.
In 2020, I signed up for the “three marathons in three days” challenge, and it looks like the inaugural event will finally take place this year.
So I went back to Dores, where the race will start and end, to reacquaint myself with this first part of the course. Truth be told, I know this section pretty well anyway, but I want to complete the 360 as part of my training for the big day – or day three.
Starting from Dores, I headed north on the pavement to gradually climb towards Aldourie, the first clouds dissipating as I went. It had snowed on the bike to the village, but there were already signs of sunshine as I started the first mile of the ride.
It should be a fairly gentle start to the 80 mile loch circuit, a chance to warm up on an easy surface before things start to get interesting.
I had barely left the village when I saw a red kite foraging for food just above my head, deftly using its forked tail to control its flight in the breeze.
At Aldourie School, the South Loch Ness Trail – which Route 360 follows here – crosses the unpaved car park to join a cycle track, which twists and turns to join a single lane road.
I turned right here and instead of following the cycle path signs left towards Scaniport and Inverness, I turned right over a bridge and then up Macbain hill. There were lots of footprints in the snow here as I ran slowly, enjoying the view of the Great Glen as I went.
Shortly after a sharp right turn in the road, a blue sign post marks where you turn left for the start of the real off-road section. In all but the driest conditions this trail can get quite soggy – and the snow here was soggy rather than solid.
After negotiating an initial giant frozen puddle, I made some progress along the track and the running surface improved higher up where more snow had created nice cover underfoot. Two mountain bikers coming the other way were able to keep their feet reasonably dry while pedaling through the puddles, but I had to go around the edge to reach the next gate and emerge again on a better section.
It was invigorating and one of those days when it’s good to go out despite the cold.
The forest tracks continue north and I soon got my first glimpse of the city of Inverness, with the prominent Kessock Bridge visible below the Ord Hill of Black Isle. The sun was well and truly out now and I was enjoying a comfortable run along familiar trails.
Two Scots pines on either side of the track act as a footbridge on the way to Cullaird Farm, where you descend to turn sharp left onto another marshy track. This one can be particularly bad – as it was today – so dry weather before the event would be welcome here!
Past the farm buildings and a large house, now on a drier part of the track, the trail turns sharply to the right to climb briefly into the forest. Infrequent markers guide you through the trees, first left then straight on a vehicle track before turning left at a pond and right to reach the road to Torbreck.
This marks the official end of the South Loch Ness Trail, so the next part of the LN360 Challenge route is a little uncertain as it will have to meet the Great Glen Way to head south towards Drumnadrochit. For the purposes of this reconnaissance, I crossed the Torbreck road and headed into the woods on the other side, branching off to the right to follow the path through some sparse woods.
Keep to the right of the new houses being built at Ness Castle to reach a field and on the other side go through the rusty gate and then to the left a path. This track turns right then continues downhill, across a road, to rejoin the main Dores road.
I turned right to reach the Holm roundabout – where Nessie lives – and went left here to follow the distributor road over the River Ness. Just below the bridge, the new Hydro Ness development, which will supply power to Inverness Leisure, looks good with its eye-catching silver cladding.
On the other side of the road, I veered left to reach the Caledonian Canal towpath and followed it to the new canal swing bridge. My goal was to finish at the old Tomnahurich bridge, so I continued past the new “control tower” to the end point.
On the first of three LN360 marathons I will continue from here to Drumnadrochit so that will be my next goal as I continue my loch loop before the event.
Dores to Inverness on Loch Ness 360
Distance 10 miles / 16 km
Ground Roadway, cycle path, tracks, paths – rocky, marshy and hilly in places
Beginning end Dorès Bridge/Tomnahurich
Map OS Landranger 26; operating system explorer 416; Harvey South Loch Ness Trail
A reconnaissance of the first section of the Loch Ness 360 ‘three marathons’ challenge