Monday 4th July Fort William
Today was a bit of a wipe-out day. It was really cold, with a biting wind, and rain which came and went. We only ventured out with jackets and umbrella. So it was frustrating to hear from locals how nice the last two summers were, and to see a newspaper headline telling us that Scotland was likely to have its warmest July on record! Really?
Neither of us was in a good mood today. The weather, and the tourist-town side of Fort William, got us both down. After breakfast here we tidied up a bit, did some reading about, and arranging of, our Great Glen Way walk starting tomorrow, and went out. Visited the op shops, the Lidl supermarket; had a coffee at the Wetherspoon pub; came home and had lunch of nice bread (what a change!) and cheese in our room. Then I did computer stuff – bills, tidied emails, did the website; Alison went out for a walk. I joined her. She had found, at long last, some suitable waterproof overpants. How waterproof? It's very hard to assess; but now she has them.
We returned for a coffee, repacked our bags a bit (both have been entirely emptied – I was searching for a missing USB stick, unsuccessfully) and then went back to last night's pub for dinner. A reasonable one, by Scottish standards – both dishes included some vegies.
Back home. And – we walked down to the pub and back without it raining! The ground is starting to look dryish, for the first time for days.
Tuesday 5th July Spean Bridge
Today – for the first time since we were in Glasgow, 9 days ago – it didn't rain! This brightened both our moods. There was a different lady serving at breakfast, who made the serves bigger – so we were quite full by the end. And we were in no hurry; walking today was only for four hours or so. So after a short stroll down the waterfront towards the Atlantic Ocean, passing one B&B after another, we checked out of Myrtle Bank B&B, and went to the museum. A very good museum, run by volunteers; we spent an hour there, and then it was time to walk out of Fort William. I was quite happy to do this; it is much too touristy for me.
We had both decided, last night, that for dinner tonight (eateries shut in Spean Bridge) that we should take our own; and seeing there was an M&S foodstore a little off our route, that's where we went – via a seedier part of town, and some walking paths. (We'd wondered where Fort William's workers lived, and perhaps we found out.)
M&S was no help, but the store next to it was. We have some instant noodle pots, salad, and other odds and ends. Then – leave. We stopped very soon, at Inverlochy Castle Ruins; they were all closed, but it was a good place for first coffee. Then a mundane walk to the suburb of Caol; the track took us along the seafront. But it, also, was all fenced off. Beyond this we got to the track along the Caledonian Canal. This led us past “Neptune's Staircase” - a series of 8 locks, one after the other – and then flat walking, out of town.
There were other walkers, and cyclists, who lessened as we got further away. A lot of the time we were walking between the canal and the River Lochy. It was easy, flat, walking; some boats came down the canal (including a strange one, powered by six oarsmen); we went over three aqueducts with rivers flowing a cross beneath us; and passed a swing bridge constructed for the sole use of the farmer whose land the canal went through. We got to the lock at Gairlochy, the end of this stage, ~4pm; we spoke to a couple of other walkers before Colin, from Riverside Lodge in Spean Bridge, came to pick us up and drive us to his accommodation, 6+ km away. We had vaguely considered walking this, but are very glad we didn't.
It was getting cold outside; after a trip to the Spar Supermarket, we decided on dinner in our room. Chips, red wine, salad, instant noodle dinner; it was all very satisfactory and we left no mess. And after dinner I finished doing lots of internet stuff which was not up to date, and got my photos up to date. Everything up to date, for now.
Wednesday 6th July Laggan
I had the best sleep I've had for ages. We went up to breakfast at 7.30; just us, and Colin, our host. We opted for nothing cooked, this morning. Then packed up – it doesn't seem to be getting easier, though it should – and at 9am Colin drove us back to Gairlochy.
It had been raining all night; by now it was light drizzle, but still – the ponchos needed to go on again straight away. Across to the other side of the canal, and today took us all along the western side of Loch Lochy. The track went up through forest initially – not for very long – before returning to the side of the lake. And for most of the rest of the way we were walking on a gravel forestry track; much easier than the West Highland Way lochside walking; but also not very interesting. The ponchos stayed on all day; drizzle and rain came and went, eventually becoming generally a bit drier as we got close to Laggan Locks, at the top end of Loch Lochy.
We did manage two coffee stops, but they were not pleasantly dry like yesterday's; both in lighter, but untrustworthy, drizzle and on wet ground. But better than nothing.
We got to Laggen Locks. There had, by now, even been some sunshine with occasional shadows; but there was a strong southerly wind. We got to the lock to see it opening and allowing five boats out into the loch; then chatted for a while to a couple walking and tenting. Their tents were behind some bushes for shelter from the wind, but still... not very comfortable. We were getting cold, so said goodbye and set off up the major road (the A82) to our accommodation at Forest Lodge. Fast traffic and no shoulder on the road, and we were glad to get here.
A shower and clean clothes; and, since we arrived here, there's been no more rain.
There are two other groups here; 3 older men, and a Canadian Family (John, Jessica, Kate, and John.) they all opted to go and eat at the Eagle Barge, a pub n a barge mored at Laggan Locks. We had opted to eat in; so we were served a very good dinner by Lorraine, cooked by Laura; spaghetti bolognese, with salad, and ginger pudding for dessert. I think the others missed out!
Thursday 7th July Fort Augustus
Another good sleep and no rush to get up, even though – the sun was shining!; today's walking was only marked at 5 hours. We had breakfast at 8.30 (as did everyone) and were first out at 9.30am. Forest Lodge was a lovely place to stay; not very shiny, but very clean and run entirely by owners Laura & Lorraine, who obviously really care about the place. We continued on the main road for a few minutes, before re-joining the path beside Loch Oich. We went past the Laggan swing bridge, and then the old disused Invergarry railway station; the path then went along what is now a rail trail. Easy walking, a little above the loch.
We passed a view of Invergarry Castle across the loch, stopped for coffee at a lovely official campsite, went through a lovely tunnel, and arrived at Aberchalder – which has little but the next swing bridge, and the old Bridge of Oich – constructed in the 1800's by a brewer; it looks like a suspension bridge but is really a cantilevered bridge; very impressive design by a non-engineer!
A little further along we stopped at Cullochy Lock, watched some boats go through, and stayed chatting to the “lock-keeper” (now a voluntary position, done by a retiree) for ½ hour or so; before lunching next to the canal. And then, it was along the towpath between canal and the River Oich till we got to Fort Augustus a little after 2pm. It had been threatening rain, and a few drops had fallen, but in the end no rain fell. Hooray!
It was obvious as soon as we got here that we had come to a tourist town. A chain of locks, with tourist shops lining the route, and lots of tourists. We watched some boats in locks, and the people watching them, for a while; before going down to the boathouse restaurant at the head of Loch Ness for a coffee. A very ordinary coffee, aided by being refilled from our thermoses, but a great location.
Check-in at Abbey House, tonight's B&B, was not till 4pm; we wandered back to the canal, chatted to the Canadians who were sitting at a cafe, went to the town's shop (not a very great range of things, but lots of newspapers saying Boris Johnson is about to go as PM) and came back and checked in, a tad early.
We have a lovely upstairs room, with even a little desk. We even turned on the TV to see Boris Johnson announcing his resignation, which was followed by the weather. Improving for the next five days, they say.
Friday 8th July Invermoriston
We had a very nice breakfast in the sunroom; and left at 9.15am. Despite last night's weather forecast, ponchos needed to go on immediately because of drizzle. Fortunately, it was not for very long; the drizzle soon stopped, the cloud lifted, and it ended up as – a fine sunny day!
The track went up through conifer forest, before splitting into high and low tracks. We had both independently decided the high was the one for us – and it was. It went quite steeply up above the treeline, into country reminiscent of West Highland Way walking; and meandered along Loch Ness, with the cloud lifting as we went along, and with very good views all around. After two hours, aided by a tail wind, we got to a little 3-sided rock shelter built against our tail wind. A very pleasant spot for first coffee, sitting in no rain and no wind, overlooking Loch Ness and the high country on the other side. I folded my poncho up there, and it stayed put away.
We continued on, winding over the hills, before a very steep descent into trees and then a longish roundabout route into Invermoriston. After a very short stop to see the old bridge, we went into town. It was 1.30pm. Check-in at our B&B, Bracarina House, not till 4pm. What to do?
We walked down to the GlenRowan Cafe, the town's only cafe and one which had been recommended. Here we found Steve (Scottish) and Marie (Belgian living in Sweden), whom we'd chatted to at Laggan Locks, sitting outside at a table. So we joined them, and were then joined by Frederick ((Danish) (whom we'd passed on the track) and then by one of the three men we've seen the past two days. There was a lot of talk around the table, and before we knew it it was 4pm. We went and checked in. A nice place with a huge bed.
Before dinner, we went for a walk to the nearby invermoriston Falls and the summer house built there to view them from. Very impressive. Dinner at our B&B? Less so. Lasagna; and, in keeping with typical Scottish fare, with no vegetables or salad to accompany it; followed by brownie with cream. After dinner we walked next door to the pub, where others were eating; it was little better. Thank goodness we are soon going to be able to cook for ourselves again!
Saturday 9th July Drumnadrochit
We had a short walk outside before breakfast at 7.30am; and we were away at 8.30 after a chatty breakfast. And today, I packed my poncho in the bottom of my daypack and I never had to get it out!
Again, there were high and low routes, and again we took the high. It took us up – though not as much as I'd expected – to good views over the loch and the surrounding mountains. Lots of wind turbines to be seen in the far distance, but none close by. We passed the “View Catcher”, a round wooden sculpture; then got up to a large stone shelter where we had first coffee.A very pleasant spot. Shortly after this was a smaller two-sided stone shelter, and we descended into conifer forest again. We walked for a while beside a deer fence, obviously there to prevent deer from eating the young conifers which they are trying to re-establish here.
And we arrived at a little village, Grotaig. Here there is a little cafe / pottery shop 200m off the path; we went there. Apart from the very nice coffee and cake, we had a very sociable time with various other groups we'd met before coming and going; and it was warm, and a bit sunny. A very good break.
We headed out. I'd expected more uphill, but there was little of it; there was a lot of walking along or beside a bitumen road. Not a busy road, but – a road. And eventually we came in sight of Drumnadrochit. We looked at the app on the phone and took a steep downhill shortcut; it was (again) too early for check-in, so we went on a side trip of 1½ miles to Urquhart Castle ruins, and then back again.
We checked in at Kilmore Farmhouse. Shower, clean clothes; and at 5pm went out the see our options for dinner. The local pub was burgers or fish & chips; we walked up to the middle of town. Very touristy and not much in the way of better options. We decided to go to the supermarket instead, which turned out to be in the opposite direction to the one we'd taken. So back we went, bought some salad, chicken, and noodle pots – and icecream for dessert. We ate the icecream as we walked home and then had dinner outside in the garden.
We went for a walk to Urquhart Bay Woods, looking for a shortcut for tomorrow – which begins with 2km+ walking beside a busy road; but we failed to find one. So that's how we start out on our last day.
Sunday 10th July Inverness
Today we had – at last! - a warm, sunny day. For our last day of walking; and a long day – 32km or so. It was 8.45am when we left Kilmore Farmhouse, walking along theroad back into the centre of Drumnadrochit, and then along a footpath beside the A82 – a busy road, though fortunately Sunday morning was not so busy. After ~2km the track led away from the road, and up. Though not as up as the past couple of days.
Not far along the track we came across Marie, the Belgian lady living in Sweden we'd seen with steve over the past days; but Steve, with blistered feet, had taken a bus to Inverness. So we ended up walking with her all day – which was very good as the walk was long, and it was nowhere near as scenic as the past days; a lot of walking along roads, some bitumen, some stone, and not nearly as remote as the past few days have been.
After 1½ hours or so we got to a lookout with our last view of Loch Ness – you could see the top end of the loch – and then we came across the three men (Graeme, Kurt, and Bernie) who had been driven up to Loch Laide and were returning down to Drumnadrochit. They were with David Thomas, a retired architect whom Marie knew, who was going on. So he ended up with us for most of the day as well.
Then we got to the turnoff to Abriachan Eco Cafe – an unusual cafe, with lots of outdoor seats scattered in the forest and a high wire fence and gate with a bell where you left your order. The Canadian Family were there – they ordered lunch and had a huge spread, so much so that they had to get some doggy bags to take away their uneaten food. So we had coffee and cake only; it was so substantial Alison didn't finish hers, and we refilled our thermoses. It was very sociable with lots of people we'd met there.
We stayed an hour or so, in the shade – for the first time since we got to the UK, the sun was a bit too strong. It was very pleasant. And then, it was back on the long walk; and good that we had company, as it would otherwise have been quite tedious. We had a couple of stops, and then Inverness came into sight in the valley below. As usual, it took quite a while to get there. We left Marie when we got near a campground, and continued on, via the very pleasant Ness Islands, to the the end at Inverness Castle. We stopped and had a beer with David at the Castle Tavern, and near 6pm went to our B&B (Ardross Glencairn) across the river.
After a shower and clean clothes, we returned to the tavern at 7pm; others were going to be there. But no-one appeared, and after ½ hour we left. We visited a Tesco supermarket and bought some food for tomorrow, then bought a takeaway pizza for dinner.
Monday 11th July Inverness
I slept not so well; and realised that part of the problem was the custom here of having only a bottom sheet and doona – which makes it hard to adjust one's temperature, and I often end up too hot in bed, with the only alternative being uncovered completely.
Today, we leave the security (and uncertainty) of having somewhere to stay organised by Mac's Adventures, which we've had for the past two weeks.
We were up at 6.30, breakfast at 7am, and were ½ hour early at the bus stop around the corner for our bus tour to Skye. But it wasn't cold or wet, and the wait went quickly. The bus came; we sat in our booked seats – Alison in the second row, me in the second last (extra legroom) row. I was next to Susanna, a young Dutch nurse.
We retraced some of our steps on the walk – a stop in Drumnadrochit, then through Invermoriston; the drive to Skye took the best part of two hours. Rob, the driver / guide, kept up a running commentary nearly the whole way. We drove through Skye, past the Red Couleins (the island has two mountain ranges, the Red and the Black Cuillins – so called because of the colour of their granite) to the main town, Portree. We stopped for an hour and had an early lunch and a coffee, and a walk around.
Back on the bus. Past the cliffs and rock stack of the “Old Man of Storr” to “Kilt Rock”, a basalt and sandstone coastal cliff face. Then it was on the the “Fairy Pools”, which seemed to be the biggest tourist attraction; a stream running down a hillside, with lots of rock pools en route running clean clear water. There was a huge car park here, and lots and lots of people; it was quite nice, but I found the mountains behind (the Black Cuillins) more interesting; that, and the hard-looking gravel and rock path which was in places very soft because it was a thin layer laid on top of peat.
(The “Fairy Pools” are a recently new tourist attraction, generally unknown until someone put them on an internet blog. Now they are overrun.)
And then it was time to return – with stops at the Skye Bridge (a fairly ordinary modern bridge) and a couple of castles, including the one we'd seen at Drumnadrochit on Saturday. (The cynical side of me would say that we had visited all the attractions on Skye with the biggest carparks.) Back in Inverness, everyone else was dropped off before Rob drove us ~ halfway down towards our apartment for the next two days. And off we walked with our wheelie suitcases.
It was straightforward, and not too far. But I was quite tired, and it was 8.30pm by now. And we'd not had dinner. We passed a small shop – Alison poked her head in to see what they had – and then got to the apartment. It is nice. No problems.
We identified what looked like a co-op supermarket not far away, and went there; got some wine and chips, and some food for dinner, and came home. Alison made a stir-fry, which was the best meal I've had for ages. And we went to bed.
Tuesday 12th July Inverness
I had a very good night's sleep, this time; didn't wake till nearly 8am. With no rush to get up because we are having a day off today. So after a leisurely breakfast of provisions left here for us, we did a load of washing, hung it out on the line, and set off to walk into Inverness centre. To the station, to see how long it will take tomorrow – which turned out to be 25 minutes.
We walked around Inverness, visited some shops, had a coffee; and ran into the Canadian family from the Great Glen Way. And when we felt we'd had enough, we went over to the big Morrison's Supermarket to get food for dinner. And for the next day.
Then came a problem; getting home. Getting into Inverness was easy; finding the way out was not. We had a few discussions, a few disagreements, a few tries to match up our paper map with the map on my phone; and eventually found the right way.
We got home hungry, so ate some of the fluffy white bread here with cheese, or clotted cream and jam, for lunch. And then, our washing being dry, we even put on a load with our jackets, etc., in it. Then, out for a walk. “Cross country” to the River Ness and the Ness Islands – very nice little green areas in the middle of the city – and then back linking parks and woodlands; Lochardil woods and Castle Heather Park. We didn't get home till 7pm; put on the roast for dinner, and then – fold the washing, and pack, again.
It has been good being in one place for two nights, but we are looking forward to even less moving.