|The Great Glen Way|
A strawberry-banana smoothie by any other name would smell as sweet ....
Breakfast was a cosy affair with all of us seated around a single large table. The other guests were all part of the GGW Circus and included my friend the New-age Girl. There was a lot of good-natured banter flying about which made it a very sociable meal. The girl who sat opposite Bod was absolutely gorgeous and I later mentioned to him that he had had a good view during breakfast. “Oh - I had breakfast?” he replied. The food was passably good - except for the The Formidable Landlady had taken great pride in presenting these, telling us all how she made them fresh each morning and all from natural ingredients. Be that as it may, they still looked like vomit in a glass to me. I’m not a fan of smoothies; they not only look disgusting but the thick consistency, the sickly sweetness, the nasty ‘bitty’ feel of them as they slide down; it doesn’t float my boat. I stared at the one in front of me with foreboding but, the truth is, I was a little bit wary of the Formidable Landlady so I drank it, shuddering a little at every gloopy mouthful. At last it was all gone and everyone else seemed to be enjoying theirs except for Colin who hadn’t touched his. This was immediately spotted by the Formidable Landlady who, coming in to clear away the dishes, targeted the object with beady eyes.
Who’s not had their smoothie?” she demanded in a tone that brooked no denial. Colin owned up.
“What’s wrong with it?” she asked sharply.
“Oh .. well, what’s in it?” asked Colin, looking slightly resentful that he had been put on the spot. The rest of the table had gone quiet and was watching the exchange with interest.
“Bananas and Kiwi fruit!” said the woman, as if amazed at the stupidity of the question.
“Ah,” said Colin reasonably, “I’m afraid I can’t have anything with Kiwi fruit in it. I’m allergic you see.”
“Och!” exclaimed our host fussily, removing the offending smoothie from the table and rolling her eyes at us all, “I’ll make you one with strawberries instead, then.”
I saw Colin start to decline but then think better of it. I’m not sure he was any keener than I was about downing the thing prior to a long walk, but she was obviously a woman used to getting her own way and resistance seemed futile.
We gathered our gear together and started to pull on boots and rucksacks for the day ahead. It was a little crowded as the girls were all trying to do likewise on the small patio in front of the house, our baggage van had turned up to collect our forwarded gear, and the GGW Circus servants had also turned up to make sure that their precious charges were suitably catered for during the day ahead. It was possibly the busiest scene that Invermoriston had witnessed in many a year and I half expected the locals to emerge from their cottages to point and take photographs. We all set off more or less at the same time, and the girls milled about in front of the hotel while additional members of the GGW Circus arrived in the village to swell their numbers. It looked like it was going to be a day amongst the multitudes for us. We popped into the little local shop to buy some sandwiches for lunch, a chore that took no more than 3 minutes, and when we came back outside the GGW Circus had completely vanished - not a sign of them anywhere. Nor did we see them again that day. How was this even possible, we wondered?
How proudly he talks
Of zigzags and walks ....
We knew there would be a respectable climb almost immediately after leaving Invermoriston because one of the musicians from the previous night had mentioned ‘zig-zags’ which we assumed to be a forest trail that wound back and forth up the mountain behind the hotel. In fact it was a tarmac path (road?) that took us upwards at a meaningful angle, and it did indeed zig and zag during its ascent. By the third tier I was regretting the breakfast smoothie and my legs felt leaden but I stuck to the task. We climbed through pleasant mixed woodland, the rooftops of tiny Invermoriston slowly disappearing below us and I counted six hairpin corners before the path began to level out at last. The tarmac path continued on, carving a determined path through the forest, but we abandoned it and tuned sharp right onto a more traditional woodland trail. Just as we did so a little old lady ambled towards us with an empty shopping bag dangling over her arm. “Good morning!” she trilled as she started down the switchback. I can only assume that later in the morning she would be making the long climb back again with a fully laden shopping bag. They’re a tough breed in the highlands.
“It was the eyes that did it,” I concluded aloud. “They were bulbous and they un-nerved me.”
Bod snorted, he knew what I was talking about. “Well I thought that myself but I wasn’t going to say anything. But yes, since you mention it, I agree.”
After a while we made our way back to the route. Colin spoke up as we negotiated the tricky path back down. “What do we say then … an 8.2?”
It was the Pat Pending Rating System. We had forgot all about it.
“It would have been, but I’m deducting five points for the eyes,” I replied. Nobody disagreed.
What comes down ....
We had become accustomed to gently meandering trails, views across tranquil lochs, and majestic forests and today was no exception. The day was promising fair weather with lots of blue sky overhead and brilliant spells of late summer sunshine. I strode along, lost in my own thoughts, for most of the morning, often bringing up the rear because I was obliged to stop frequently to commit a pretty scene to camera. I decided that I could happily spend the rest of my life doing this, walking from one corner of Britain to another, meeting interesting people, staying in places I would never normally see. What a great way to see the country we all spend our hectic lives in. I had racked up a respectable number of miles during my twenty years of hiking (exclusively within the UK) and I am constantly amazed at how wide and empty this island really is once you escape from the teeming cities.
The particular green bit we were walking along had taken us on a long, slow, downward gradient. We wound down through the old forest until we reached the lowest point, where a water pumping station straddled a frothing torrent at a crossroad of metalled paths. We were more or less level with the waters of Loch Ness now, having lost the gradient we had worked so hard to achieve on the zig-zags out of Invermoriston. To our left rose the thickly wooded flanks of an unnamed mountain, to our right the ever present Loch Ness, and ahead of us the forest trail that, inevitably, beckoned us on. It was to be a long ascent.
..... must go up
The trail would take us upwards for the rest of the morning snaking along the side of the mountain under an almost unbroken canopy of trees to have us emerge a few hours later right on top of the ridge with a great swathe of Loch Ness presented to us far, far below. It was probably the longest climb of the entire week but it was never taxing, the gradient was moderate, unwavering and it was a steady patient pull. As we ascended the vistas opened up for us with ever more grandeur. I think we were very fortunate to have walked this (possibly the best section of the route) in such fair weather; the clear skies afforded uninterrupted views but on a day of low cloud we would have seen almost nothing. At last we rounded the final bend, marched up the final incline, and stood at the summit where an information board offered the chance to read all about the village of (just visible as a white smudge on the opposite shore of the loch) where an aluminium smelting plant was founded in the late 1800’s. It suggested that aluminium production stopped some years later and was transferred to Kinlochleven where in turn it ceased in the 1980’s – another neat little link between this walk and the West Highland Way of 2006, during which we walked through Kinlochleven and right past its huge deserted aluminium plant.
The long climb
“And the Highlands used to be as high as the Himalayas,” he added over his shoulder, concluding my mini-lecture for me.
[ED: Very interesting potted history of Scottish geology can be found ]
We noticed many ant nests made from pine needles standing amongst the trees – there were hundreds of them, all shapes and sizes, some mere hummocks and others man-sized specimens. One nest was built right on the edge of the path, tumbling down the rock layers. On closer inspection we noted the size of the ants – probably as large as my thumb-nail with wicked looking jaws. There must have been billions of them living in the woods. I urged Colin to push his fingers into one, knowing he had a phobia about ants and to give him credit he had a go. He withdrew his fingers to find two or three slightly annoyed ants running about on his hand. He made an unusual noise – a sort of ‘GeeeYACK”’ and flapped his hands about a la Funky Chicken.
Forest gave way to scrub-land and patches of open meadow and we started to descend once more. We wanted to find a place to stop for lunch but seats of any kind were a rare sight on the Great Glen Way and when we did find a promising clearing we discovered that the GGW Circus servants had beat us to it and were setting up a trestle table from the back of a transit van in readiness for the arrival of the elusive GGW Circus walkers.
“There’ll be silver service in the back of that van and a butler in a dinner suit,” muttered Bod with a certain disdain. We marched on.
We made our way over more cultivated terrain. We followed farm trails – muddy, switchback affairs - that took us gradually away from Loch Ness and further westwards and therefore inland. We met a couple of young guys heading in the opposite direction who stopped to ask us what the walk was like ahead. They were doing the Great Glen Way from north to south and warned us that there was some difficult terrain ahead of us on the last day. They described a steep and dangerous descent through thick forest which of course meant it would be an ascent for us. To be fair they conceded that they had made this walk at night, in torrential rain, in tee-shirts and shorts and with failing torches so they were the engineers of their own misfortune to some extent. We told them that the way to Invermoriston was easy walking (the zig-zags would, after all, be taking them downwards) and wished them well.
If you come to a fork in the road, take it .....
Finally we emerged on a little grass verge by the side of a small gravel track and decided that lunch was in order. We sprawled out in the sunshine, legs stretched out gratefully with aching muscles able to relax for a while. It was very peaceful.
“Bastard!” exclaimed Bod suddenly and spat out a chunk of corned beef sandwich that hit the ground rolling, grew wings and zoomed off into the woods. A wasp had been sharing Bods lunch and had been transported into his mouth, which naturally it didn’t care for. It had stung Bod on the inside of his lower lip so for the rest of the day there was a decidedly Jagger-esque look about him. Of course, we showed our concern, after we’d managed to stop laughing.
Cabaret over, we resumed the walk, following the metalled road that took us across a small car park servicing a row of cottages and then into open country. We were now a couple of miles inland and no longer able to see Loch Ness, although the long sinewy mountains that flanked its eastern shore marked its position away to our right. This was cultivated farmland, with neat fields of corn, barley and cabbages bordered by ancient hedgerows. The road was arrow straight and disappeared into a vanishing point far ahead of us. Doubt crept in; were we still on route? We hadn’t seen a Great Glen Way marker since before lunch and this would be a long road to reach the end of only to discover we had made a wrong turn. However there were no left or right alternatives, no side paths, so our options were few; we marched on. In one field the bulk of some abandoned farm machinery oxidised quietly – as it had for some considerable time judging by its condition. Not for the first time I wondered why farmers did this; it seemed to be a generic habit – neglected tractors and complex multi-bladed contraptions litter the countryside from Cornwall to Caithness. Bod seemed to read my mind as he studied the wreckage.
“That must have cost a fortune to buy – why do farmers just leave them sitting around like that? At the very least you’d think that they’d get the local gypsies to weigh it in for them. Must be a fair few quid in scrap there - it’s just a waste.” He walked on a few paces and had an afterthought. He turned to address the contraption again.
“And an eyesore!”
A long straight road
I started to look ahead at a far distant marker - a puddle in the road, or a shadow cast by a tree, and then I counted my steps until I reached it. Then I looked ahead and did it again. And again. In this way the afternoon wore on and eventually the old trees thinned out, the road dipped around a bend, and I bumped into Bod and Colin standing and admiring a little town nestled in a green valley, visible through a wide gap in a stand of oaks.
In search of Tramps .....
We believed we looked down on Drumnadrochit, our end point for the day, and I said as much as I took some video. In fact we were looking down on the little village of South Lewiston. A pretty place of greenery and sparkling water into which we descended along a wandering path, following a lively little river that chuckled to us as it flowed over shallow beds of pebbles. was a few miles further, which is always a little dispiriting when you have convinced yourself that the days walking is over. Bod had moved ahead and found a rest area on the river bank where picnic tables nestled in the shadow of an old stone bridge. He sat at one, staring at the river.
“Let’s go and sit at the next table with our backs to him,” I suggested childishly, which amused Colin and I far more than it should have done, as such inanity is apt to do when you are tired and gagging for a pint. We spent a few minutes resting tired feet and then set off again, along a busy road and then following a country lane that took us past pretty rows of cottages and bed and breakfast establishments until we left South Lewiston behind, eyes straining for the houses of Drumnadrocht which our guide book told us would soon be in sight.
I had occasion to visit the village shop which turned out to be a mile down the road, thereby adding an additional two miles to my days tally, but it was a nice little stroll through the neighbourhood of Drumnadrochit and at its end there was a convenience store and, unexpectedly, an Indian restaurant from which aromatic smells wafted out enticingly. There was also a cash machine which was a bonus as my money was running low again. Early finishes to our walks had meant more time to spare on such pursuits as beer drinking. This had never presented itself as an opportunity on previous walks as we were all usually too exhausted to manage more than a solitary pint before crashing out, however the relative ease of the Great Glen Way had had an alarming effect on our cash flow.
On my return we all sat in the sun room overlooking the lawn that ran around the property, discovering that Mark and Carol were fellow guests only when they passed through the lounge en route to South Lewiston and an early dinner. I gazed through the window as we idly chatted - a group of large tree trunks, cut at ground level, were clearly visible. I asked the landlady about them and she told me that this was all that remained of a stately grove of beech trees, once a landmark for the village. They had stood there for generations, a legacy of the days when the grounds used to be part of a large farm. Within a year of starting the B&B the trees had started to look sickly and an investigation by experts revealed that they were falling victim to a lethal and irreversible process. The trees had to be felled, at great cost to the business, and with much heartbreak. Worse still, no more trees could be planted until the fungus spores were completely removed from the soil – which apparently can take years. Being a bit of a tree-hugger on the quiet, I found myself genuinely saddened by this tale and my eyes kept being drawn to the forlorn stumps outside.
Sad café .....
It was time to think about dinner. I mentioned The Lever (as recommended by the musicians back in Invermoriston) to the landlady but she looked doubtful.
“I can’t recommend that place as we don’t have any information about it. I’m not even sure where it is really, although I’m sure it’s close by.” Then she went into (what seemed to me) a sales pitch.
“But listen, we use this place called (name withheld). Its right on the shore of Loch Ness and the food is wonderful! And they will pick you up and return you free of charge – it is a few miles away so walking isn’t possible.”
We accepted the offer mainly because we wanted an easy life and the thought of a taxi to and from our dinner appealed, and also because The Lever would have involved walking to some degree – assuming we could even find the place.
And so it was that, within an hour, we found ourselves being transported along the A82 with Loch Ness rushing past our windows. It was another fine clear evening and we took the opportunity to take in the scenery sitting down for a change. It was quite a long journey – I think we were more than halfway towards Inverness when we arrived– and unfortunately the venue wasn’t quite what we expected. It wasn’t a dedicated restaurant, neither was it a pub. It was a modern and fairly ugly seventies style hotel - and the first thing we were treated to as we stepped out of our car was the Nessie gift shop. ‘All things Nessie’ was its proud slogan and we noted the Nessie key rings, plastic statues, pencils, tea towels, and tee shirts with sense of foreboding. This was a facet of Scotland we tended to avoid. However we were captive now so we walked into the glass and chrome lobby and up the tartan covered staircase into the hotel bar, where guests drank gassy beer in a muted hush. The restaurant was a large rectangular room with one side given over to a wall of glass designed to overlook Loch Ness. We were given a seat by this window and if nothing else the view was something to enjoy with dusk slowly giving way to full night and lights out on the water tracing the passage of leisure craft and ferries. As we waited for our food we discussed an option that we had considered whilst planning the holiday earlier in the year. There was a ferry that could take us across the loch so that our final days walking would be around the eastern shoreline, by all accounts a prettier walk, including a waterfall of some note.
[ED: Actually the and they do seem to be worth a visit]
From there we would walk into Inverness and regain the official route. It sounded feasible but then we started to look at the logistics and realised we couldn’t do it. The ferry would not only take us across the loch but also a considerable way backwards so that we would be adding miles onto the final day, and along an unmarked route where more time might be wasted getting lost. The official last day was already a hefty 18 miles and none of were keen to increase that. And of course there was the cost of the ferry – something our steadily depleting pockets would find hard to accommodate.
The food was reasonable without being particularly exciting and by the time we had finished most of our fellow diners had melted away. It was still early so we decided to have a couple of drinks in the bar but this too was largely empty. All in all I think we found the place a bit depressing. After the spontaneity and lively atmosphere of the Invermoriston hotel this place offered nothing but the kind of soulless atmosphere so endemic in large hotels. We supped quietly on our pints of generic lager and decided that perhaps an early night was in order. I don’t blame our landlady for inflicting this rather dull evening on us, I know that businesses have to operate as a network in order to survive and no doubt there was an agreement of some sort in place between her B&B and the hotel. Perhaps she even believed we’d appreciate the dated 3 star décor and the neat uniforms of the disinterested staff but it was probably the least enjoyable night of the entire week. We noticed a small games area with a vacant pool table and as a last ditch attempt to liven things up Colin and Bod shot a game whilst I tried to outwit a general knowledge machine and failed miserably.
Eventually we gave up and ordered our ride home. I decided to get some air and found myself looking out across Loch Ness and chatting to a nice couple from Shropshire. They were first time visitors to Scotland and told me all about the estate their cousin owned and how they had spent the week deer stalking and salmon fishing and were off to a gymkhana the very next day. I was socially outclassed of course but I managed to hold my end up for the Great Unwashed. I told them I had stayed in a Victorian mansion in Keith which greatly impressed them. They were a nice couple and waved enthusiastically at me as their chauffeured Jaguar sped them away.
I think it was the bar manager who took us home, driving back through the night to Drumnadrochit. He bemoaned the lousy weather that had so depressed the tourist market all through the summer. I asked him who were the most common visitors to Scotland. “Used to be Americans,” he replied, “but it’s all Chinese now. And Arabs – they actually come here for the cold and rain” We let ourselves in to the hushed and darkened guest house and we were soon asleep – briefly dwelling on the fact that the last day was upon us and we had 18 miles to walk.
Twitter from @Corriepaw (Colin)
Haven't had a phone signal when in the village. Now on viewpoint above Loch Ness. Trek uphill was turbulent, so soon after breakfast.
Twitter from @Corriepaw (Colin)
Feet currently feel as if I've been given a pedicure, using a tent mallet. No new blisters, just sore & tender.
Twitter from @Corriepaw (Colin)
Now resting in our room in Drumnadrochit. Best day in terms of views along the length of Loch Ness. Fantastic.
Twitter from @Darkfarmowl (Mark)
18 miles left to complete the Great Glen Way :)
Twitter from @Darkfarmowl (Mark)
Met some good people along the way. Sad its over soon.
Twitter from @Darkfarmowl (Mark)
But also, part of me will be glad to see home again.
See Route on ......