Start location: Dalwhinnie (NN 634 837)
End location: Fort William (NN 104 742)
Geographical area: Lochaber
Path Type: Smugglers' Path, Drove Road
Path distance: 70km
Accessibility info: Suitable for pedestrians
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The following route survey may now be somewhat dated, but should give a general idea. The Heritage Paths project will be very pleased to receive a refreshed version.
Beginning at Dalwhinnie station*, follow the road beside Loch Ericht to Ben Alder Lodge. Turn off to the left at Loch Pattack to the Culra bothy (now closed). After the bothy, continue along for about 1/2 mile before veering off from the track to cross the Uisage Labhair (near to NN469720). The path is indistinct here for a time, but follow the stream south to Corrour Lodge, where a footbrige is crossed. Follow the path to the right along Loch Ossian. Turn right on the estate track after the railway bridge to head toward Loch Treig, following the loch's south shore to Creaguaineach Lodge and a bridge over the Abhainn Rath. Follow the path besides the Rath until you are opposite the ruins of Luibeilt; ford the river here. Continue along the riverside path until you run into the Allt Coire a'Bhinnein, which will also need to be forded. After fording, again follow the Abhainn Rath for about 300 yards before heading off to the left through boggy ground to join a westward path below Tom an Eite. Follow this path to Steall, where you join the rocky track through the gorge to Fort William.
- with many thanks to Des Hannigan's fascinating book, Ancient Tracks
*On 28th July 2021, Network Rail unilaterally closed the level crossing south of Dalwhinnie station. ScotWays is working with others to resolve the access problem created by this action. As part of this work, Ramblers Scotland created an e-petition supported by ScotWays, British Horse Society Scotland, Cycling UK in Scotland, Mountaineering Scotland, the Munro Society and the Scottish Canoe Association; over 9000 people signed.
For the time-being, to safely access the Thieves Road from the station, it is necessary to follow Station Road east to the A889, then follow the road south for 0.5km, and then turn-off it west to access an underpass. Once on the other side of the railway, take a right turn and once past the Loch Ericht dam the historic route can be joined.
This long route was used for centuries by cattle thieves making their way south and west from the Central Highlands. It passes by two of the great mountains in Scotland, Ben Alder and Ben Nevis, and heads over the northern edge of Rannoch Moor. In the old days, cattle thieves in the relatively lawless Speyside and Badenoch regions would make their way to Lochaber to sell their prizes. This route would have been one of their primary routes to the Lochaber region, and to Fort William in particular. The Black Watch, which was created to stop cattle thieving, was based, in part, at Dalwhinnie at the beginning of this route. Presumably, this was due to the route's popularity amongst reivers.
The first stretch of the Thieves Road from Dalwhinnie thence along Loch Ericht forms part of a route to Loch Rannoch shown on Roy's Military Map of 1747-52. The inclusion of this section is testament to its importance and long-standing use.
The route of this Thieves Road goes through famous red deer country around Ben Alder, so you are very likely to see some of the majestic animals. Ben Alder's southern slope sheltered Bonnie Prince Charlie and his remaining Highlanders on his way to Loch nan Uamh and his escape to France. Near to Corrour Station, the path crosses the tip of Rannoch Moor, which is one of the most extensive areas of blanket bog in Scotland.
Over the winter of 2012-13, the path through Steall Gorge was repaired by the John Muir Trust. In 2016, a rockfall meant that that the route had to be closed for at least a month to enable specialist repairs to be carried out, at an estimated cost of £30,000. In June 2021, the path was again heavily damaged, but has since been fixed once again. Path maintenance and repairs at Steall Gorge are funded by the JMT's Wild Ways Path Appeal to which contributions are always welcome; in 2021 they are also running a Nevis 21 Appeal in celebration of JMT's 21 years of caring for Nevis.