Day 79 Sunday 11 July Drumnadrochit to Inverness

Miles walked: Today 21.3 cumulative 1239.6

It was raining when I woke up this morning and, I must admit, I really didn’t feel like a walk. By the time I was ready to leave the rain had slowed to a drizzle. I had stayed at the Loch Ness Inn which was in Lewiston, just before Drumnadrochit so I had an extra mile to walk today. Drumnadrochit is a popular tourist attraction on Loch Ness so there were delights such as the “Loch Ness Centre” and “Nessieland” to tempt me.

I followed the A82 through Drumnadrochit. After a couple of miles I left the road to climb through the Tychat estate where I had a good view across the bay to the ruin of Urquart castle. This was a strategically important castle and was often involved in the Scottish Wars of Independence, the fights for control between Comyn and Robert the Bruce and between the Scottish Crown and the Lords of the Isles.

I was too far away to pick out any detail, but you will have seen pictures of this castle on the top of biscuit tins and on calendars.

I entered the forest and the path started to climb steeply into the mist. I met John who was walking the GGW and we would pass each other throughout the morning. There were occasional views through the trees to something grey but it was impossible to decide whether this was Loch or mist. Today was very much a day of showers and I was continually taking my cagoule on and off.

Towards the top of the forest there was an information board that told me I was walking through an old Canadian logging camp. About 2000 lumberjacks volunteered to come to Scotland during the second world war to harvest trees for the war effort, many stayed and settled in Scotland.

The path emerged into open moorland for about half a mile before it re-entered the forest. Here the views were limited by the mist so this morning’s walk was not particularly interesting. After I while crossed a minor road. I joined a narrow path winding through the trees. I started seeing signs for coffee, I thought they were a mirage but…

This is the Abriachan Forest Eco Camp. It is set in old, natural woodland. It is run by a remarkable couple. The man described himself as a “retired Thespian.” He told me not to leave my rucksack on the ground, apparently not long before I arrived one of his free range pigs and munched it’s way through someone’s map.

I had a cafetière of excellent coffee and an enormous slab of lemon cake accompanied by some fresh fruit, others were tucking into lentil and vegetable soup. If you do walk or cycle the GGW this place is a MUST STOP.

I caught up with John here and we walked to Inverness together for the rest of the day. We joined a road that eventually came out into open moorland. By now it had brightened up and I could look back towards the mountains. To the North East I thought I could see the sea and the curve of the North East Scottish coast. After about a mile the path left the would and descended slowly though open moorland.

Inverness came into view in the distance and we entered more woodland. This is when I appreciate a walking companion as there was nothing to see for several miles. A voice called out to us and a man poked his head out of a small tent. He looked rather wet and said that he had just bought the tent but it turned out not to be waterproof. He told us he had been “kicked out” by his partner and was heading off to Ullapool and the Summer Isles to find work for the summer. We wished him luck and continued downhill.

We emerged from the forest and descended through fields and scrub. This soon gave way to the practice area of a golf course and football pitches and them a housing estate. We rejoined the Caledonian canal and crossed the A82 for the last time at a swing bridge. We parted company, John went to find his B&B and I continued into central Inverness.

The path went through a sports complex to join the River Ness. I crossed the river to walk through a series of small islands that were partially landscaped and contained mature trees.

Ness Islands

There were several sculptures and I finally caught sight of the Loch Ness Monster

It was now raining heavily. I crossed to the east bank of the river and followed it into central Inverness and the castle, which is the official end of the GGW. It was then a short distance to the Travelodge. Tomorrow I will head down to Edinburgh for a few days off.

Inverness castle. End of the Great Glen Way and start of the John O’Groats Trail

Day 78 Saturday 10 July Invermoriston to Drumnadrochit

Miles walked: Today 14.2 miles Cumulative 1218.3

I had a leisurely start this morning as I had to wait for the shop to open to buy lunch. The cloud was down almost to the village. It had rained in the night but was now dry. I set off up a steep lane around the back of the Glenmoriston hotel. Before long the path left the road and I had to make a choice between the low and high routes. From reading other blogs and from looking at the map the low route stays in the trees. I hate spending all day walking through forest and, as it was not raining, I chose the high route and hoped the mist would lift.

The path climbed to the top of the wood and ran just above the edge of the trees. I could see across the moor to the left but the hill tops were hidden in the mist. Loch Ness is narrow and lies in a deep valley which was full of cloud this morning. The far side of the valley was hidden by the mist. I suspect this would be a good walk on a clear day.

On the shoulder of Meall Doire Bharath there is a sculpture called the Viewcatcher.

The principle of the Viewcatcher reminded me of the sculpture “Framing the Landscape” that I saw on Day 60. Viewcatcher is meant to highlight the view of the group of Munros north of Loch Cluanie. Unfortunately all I could see today was mist.

It now started to rain lightly and I began to wish I had chosen the lower route. I passed the link path that descended down to Alltsigh but decided to stay on the upper path. The path ducked back into the forest and by the time it re-emerged it had stopped raining. I crossed the Troll’s Bridge, which has some poems on a board nearby written by the children of a local primary school.

Troll’s Bridge

I climbed to the high point on the GGW at 450 metres and there was a glimpse of the loch through the mist

It started to drizzle again so I headed down and before long re-entered the forest. After about a mile I arrived at the path junction with the lower route. There was a family group of cyclists comprising three generations: gran, mum and two children. Mum had a broken chain and asked if I had any tools that may help. I know nothing about bike repair but fortunately another two cyclists came by with the necessary kit. I would see the family periodically during the afternoon.

A short while later I met a woman riding one horse and leading a second one. She started at John O’Groats and is heading for Land’s End. She hasn’t really planned a route but was aiming for Fort Augustus and the was going to cross the Corrieyairack pass and then was going to have a think about which way to go next.

There was a gentle descent through the forest and I made good progress. The teenage children passed me and it was obvious that they did not consider this activity a good idea for a holiday. It sounded like they would have preferred a less active vacation. Maybe they will change their minds as they get older.

There was a prehistoric fort marked on the map. There did appear to be some mounds on the ground which may have been the fort but I am never very good at identifying prehistoric sites and this was no exception. I now joined a lane that climbed up through farmland.it was not particularly interesting and seemed to go on forever. At last I crested the brow of the hill and turned off the road to descend into Drumnadrochnit and the Loch Ness Inn. I passed another horsewoman who asked me if I had got very wet in the torrential rain they had earlier. She was surprised when I said I had only had some light drizzle. It is amazing how local the weather can be in the hills. I have seen the weather forecast, I do not think I will be as lucky tomorrow.

Day 76 Thursday 8 July. Spean Bridge to Inveraray

Miles walked: today 20 cumulative 1186.2

For once on this leg I didn’t have porridge for breakfast. Instead a fresh fruit salad followed by eggs, mushroom, avocado, tomato and a potato scone. Oh yes, and home made bread. I would have liked to stay at Old Pines for longer. After all that food, I was lucky the road back to the GGW was downhill.

The swing bridge at a Gairlochy was open when I arrived, with a queue of traffic waiting for a yacht to pass through the gap

I rejoined the GGW which followed the northwest shore of Loch Lochy. The path passed around some houses before arriving at the shore of the loch. I could see the old pepperpot lighthouse that used to guide boats coming down the loch to the entrance of the Caledonian Canal. I do not think it is still in use.

The GGW now followed the loch all the way to Laggan lock at the north end. The first third of the walk was very pleasant. The path hugged the loch shore, or was separated from it by a few trees. Unfortunately, it was very overcast and the cloud was down below the mountain tops otherwise there would have been superb views back to the Ben Nevis range of mountains.

Walking along Loch Lochy
Looking north along Loch Lochy

There were a series of information boards giving information about the commandos who trained here, with quotes from the book “Castle Commando” by Donald Gilchrist. The commando new recruits would arrive at Spean Bridge station and then they were marched along the route I am taking before turning off halfway along the loch to their camp at Achnacarry. Their training would take place on the loch and in the adjacent hills. Sometimes they would have to attack an “enemy” position. This would be manned by the trainers who would have live ammunition but be told to “just miss.”

About a third of the way along the loch I walked through the village of Clunes, which mainly consists of rather large, fine houses. After the village the path entered dense pine woodland and views were restricted apart from one section where the mature trees were being harvested and replanted. There were few people about today. Apart from dog walkers I only saw two trekkers, walking in the other direction and there few few cyclists. Even on the loch there was little activity, maybe there was too little wind for the yachts.

I came to the end of the loch and left the main GGW for the Invergarry loop. The main route rejoins the Caledonian canal which links Loch Lochy with the next loch, Loch Oich. Instead I climbed a minor road and, at some point between the lochs, I crossed the watershed into East Scotland for the last time. The weather was deteriorating but I could see along Loch Oich.

I descended down to my old friend, the A82, but turned off almost immediately to climb through dense woodland (again). According to the map, down the hill by the loch, there is a monument called “The Well of the Seven Heads.” The story behind it is a little complex, but in essence, in the 17th century, during a period of interclan strife, seven alleged murderers were beheaded and the heads were washed in the loch before being presented to the clan chief.

For the first time for ages it began to rain. I put on wet weather gear and hurried through the forest to Invergarry. I was staying at the Invergarry Hotel. Another recommended stopping place, with excellent food.

Day 75 Wednesday 7 July. Fort William to Spean Bridge

Miles walked: today 12.6 cumulative 1166.2

I had a two day rest in Fort William. All the accommodation I could find here was expensive, so I stayed in the Premier Inn. DONT STAY THERE. It was a stifling 27 degrees C in the room the first night. The window would only open a crack so there was little or no ventilation. Very unpleasant. Fortunately I had my Swiss Army Knife so I was able to unscrew the safety lock on the window and let some air in. The room cooled down and the rest of the stay was OK.

After repairing the lock (how unrock and roll, I bet Keith Moon never tidied up after himself) I left this morning. For the next five days I am following the Great Glen Way (from now, shortened to GGW) up to Inverness.

The Great Glen traverses Scotland from Fort William to Inverness, and forms part of a rift that extends across to Shetland to the northeast and across Ireland and the Atlantic as far the mid Atlantic Ridge. Minor seismic activity has bern recorded over the last 159 years. Geologically, it separates the Grampian Mountains to the south from the North West Highlands.

I have noticed that, since Kinlochleven, the road signs and information boards have been printed in Gaelic and English. I asked the guide about this a few days ago and he said in the North West Highlands and Islands Gaelic is taught as a second language in schools. In the Middle Ages there was unrest between the Highlanders and Lowlanders and I am following the route taken in 1411 by Donald, Lord of the Isles and his army when they sacked Inverness and unsuccessfully attacked Aberdeen.

I set off on a path that ran between the river Lochy and a McDonalds (sadly the American fast food emporium) and a housing estate. Ben Nevis was in view all day but the top was hidden by cloud at the moment. I passed the ruins of Inverlochy castle

This was originally built by the Comyn family, rivals to Robert the Bruce for the Scottish crown; and was the first castle taken by Robert during his resurgence to power. Around the side are battlements built during the 19th century to make the castle look more interesting when Queen Victoria visited. Apparently she was not amused.

Just before Caol the path crosses the river Lochy adjacent to the West Coast Railway, made famous in the Harry Potter films. Further along the line is the Glenfinnan viaduct over which Harry and Ron fly in Film 2. It is a commercial line running to Mallaig. A steam service runs for tourists and crossed the bridge in a timely manner for me.

The engine used in the film is now in the Warner Bros Studio Tour in London but some of the carriages used are on the train.

I now joined the Caledonian Canal. This was engineered by Thomas Telford and originally opened in 1822. It runs intermittently between Fort William and Inverness. It is much wider than a normal canal as it was designed to carry sea going vessels. The canal was constructed to join the four lochs that lie along the Great Glen. Many of the workers on the project came from families displaced by the Highland Clearances. By the time it was completed, vessels were becoming too large to use it and it was not a commercial success. Near the beginning there is an impressive series of eight locks, Neptune’s Staircase, which raises the level of the canal by 70 feet.

Neptune’s Staircase
Traversing one of the locks on Neptune’s Staircase

There were no more locks until Gairlochy so I made good progress on the flat path. A few yachts and other boats motored along the canal. Most of the people that passed me were cyclists. There were a few dog walkers but until I stopped for lunch I only saw one pair walking the GGW.while I was eating my sandwich a man caught up with me. He was an ex-soldier paramedic who has suffered severe back injuries while attending a casualty. He started at Lands End about 6 weeks ago and is hoping to complete Lejog in 10-14 days. His injuries prevent him from carrying a pack so he walks, then gets a bus or train back to where he was the night before, picks up his gear and gets a bus back to where he stopped walking. I feel slightly inadequate doing the walk in stages.

The hills around the canal gradually got higher. Ben Nevis was often in view but remained covered with cloud. About a mile before Gairlochy we came to the Moy Swing Bridge.

Each side of the bridge is operated manually, there is a dinghy which the bridge keeper uses to row across the canal to close the other side. It is not used very often, only for the farmer at Moy Farm who has fields on either side of the canal.

A mile further on we came to the double loch at Gairlochy used by boats to enter and leave Loch Lochy

I had decided to break the walk here rather than walk at least another 14 miles to find accommodation in South Laggan. This involved a 2 mile road walk to a hotel halfway to Spean Bridge. Just after the hotel is the Commando Memorial

This was built as a memorial to those commandos who were killed in the Second World War and unveiled by the Queen Mother in 1952. Nearby is a an area where those who have served as commandos can have their ashes scattered. There is also an Area of Remembrance where personal tributes can be left by bereaved families, both to those that served in the Second World War or more recent conflicts. I found this area very moving.

I had short walk back down the road to the Old Pines . This was the best place I have stayed on this trip to Scotland and one of the best on Lejog. I was greeted with a pot of tea and home made shortbread, my room was nice and the food was stunning. Certainly a place to return to with Angela.