|The Great Glen Way|
Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet
Roger Miller ....
Breakfast on this last morning was taken in the large conservatory where the widows offered splendid views across to distant hills; hills which, according to our landlady we would be climbing before too long. Mark and Carol joined us and we conducted a light hearted review of the week over our bacon and eggs. We asked them if they had seen the huge American guy and his wife and they said they had spoken to them a few times. It transpired that the Big American Dude was doing all the walking whilst his wife acted as driver, baggage courier, and general assistant which completely reversed our first assessment of them.
“He power walks,” Mark informed us. “Almost runs actually; it makes him drip with sweat. AND he tackles each day from the end point back to the start – he’s sort of walking the route in reverse. I bet you’ll see him today.”
We wondered how he hadn’t given himself a massive cardiac but maybe underneath all the padding there beat the heart of an athlete. He might have been an ex American Footballer – he certainly had the frame for a good defensive lineman.
Mark was looking forward to a special celebration on his arrival at Inverness as it was his birthday and he intended to party. I hoped we would meet them both again in Inverness so we could have a drink together, but sadly this was the last we were to see of them.
We said farewell to our excellent hosts (8.7 on the Pat Pending Rating System) and ventured out for the longest walk of the week. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t up too much on this last day. Rain threatened on and off throughout the journey (more on than off) and we set off through Drumnadrochit in a steady drizzle, stopping off at the local shop for a packed lunch and another quick raid of the ATM. After that we followed the busy A82, first along a high street of shops and restaurants and finally out into the open countryside. There had been a heavy downpour earlier and large puddles of rainwater had formed along the roadside through which the morning rush hour traffic rushed and slushed. We were walking along a very narrow footpath and it was only a matter of time before someone got a dousing and Colin drew the short straw. I watched with a sense of inevitability as the three necessary ingredients came together at the exactly the right moment – Colin, a very large puddle, and a truck. The truck threw up a wide arc of water which Colin walked right into. He performed the usual response; stopped in disbelief, shook himself like a dog jumping out of a bath, and produced an angry impotent gesture at the departing truck. I suppose it was just as well that he was swaddled in Gore-tex . I wish I’d had my camera out though.
”We’re lost!” The hikers complained.
”And you said you were the best guide in England.”
”I am,” the guide answered, ”but I think we may have wandered into Scotland .....”
My legs felt tired – probably in anticipation of the imminent climb and the long miles ahead - so I was falling behind the others almost from the start. For some reason this is never as acceptable in miserable weather but I didn’t have the energy to quicken my pace so I trudged along, wondering how many walkers had been mown down on this stretch, and wishing I was still in bed.
At last we reached a narrow track that left the roadside and began a modest climb up into woodland. I paused for a rest and to take some video and was eloquently describing the gloomy weather when suddenly a convoy of hikers appeared below and began threading their way up towards me. There must have been thirty or more, all ages, led by an officious looking guide. This was all I needed. Once you get caught up with such a large group of walkers you become bound by their collective gravity. You can spend the rest of the day trying to lose them, by lagging behind or forging ahead, but somehow they always seem to surround you again within minutes.
A short sharp climb
“What – those old biddies?” he scoffed. “Surely even you could outdistance them, mate!”
I gave him a sour look but we forged ahead together until the convoy was left far behind and couldn’t trouble us any more.
Things can only get wetter ....
We met Bod at the start of the longest and most challenging section of the week’s walk (the guide book had warned us) and after staring up at the considerable slope ahead of us and taking a few deep breaths we set off. This certainly was the hardest bit of the walk, with a rough stony track that twisted sharply upwards through the trees, with switchback corners that almost demanded a scramble, but I had tackled worse on both the West Highland Way and Offa’s Dyke. It was a short sharp ascent of perhaps 700 feet and then the path widened and levelled and we broke out of the forest high above Loch Ness. We followed a broad shingle track which crossed a sort of plateau of gorse and moorland, the first such terrain we had seen all week, as a chilly wind hurled squalls of rain into our faces.
I thought this wild land would be deserted but we passed a small farm nestled in the lee of a slate bluff whose nearest neighbour must have been miles away. How desolate and isolated this place must be in the winter was anyone’s guess. I wondered who lived there and whether they’d poke a shotgun into your face if you knocked on their door, and how the post got delivered, and whether Tesco Home Deliveries came out this far. As you can see, the farm held my attention for a long time – there was nothing else up there as a distraction.
Eventually we reached the end of this bleak stretch and passed through a five barred gate to enter forest once more. The trail started to go downwards again. I had stopped to frame a few pictures and once again found myself walking alone. The trees here were part of a younger plantation, their pine needles were a bright and vibrant shade of spring green which cheered up the rather sombre weather conditions to a degree. Suddenly my ruck sack went ‘ping’ and the chest strap flew apart for no apparent reason. I spent a futile few minutes trying to fix the problem but it needed strength which my cold fingers couldn’t manage. Muttering darkly I continued, but my rucksack was imbalanced for the rest of the day and soon caused my shoulders to ache. In the end I resorted to slinging the pack casually over one shoulder, swapping when the straps began to rub.
I followed the trail as it descended through this young woodland, in a series of slow lazy ‘s’ bends, until I rounded a final curve and saw that the trail ended on the floor of a narrow valley along which a straight metalled road would carry us into distant hills. Colin and Bod had already reached the road and were beetling along it but more immediately, and heading rapidly towards me, was the Big American Dude, walking the route in reverse as Mark had indicated, and sweating freely with a jolly bandanna wrapped around his head. He charged past me with a cheerful ‘Hiya’ and crashed into the trees behind me like a runaway juggernaut, disappearing forever. Boy that man could shift!
Our final view of Loch Ness
A little further on there was another one ..
They seemed out of place until we reached a junction of paths where a sign invited us to follow one of them to a café. Much as the thought of sitting down in a warm place with a slice of madeira and a coffee appealed, we decided to press on. There was still a considerable way to go and we wanted to finish as early as possible so we could dry out and recover enough to hit the bright lights of Inverness.
Low point ....
Eventually we left the boundaries of the caravan park and picked up a B road that we followed for what seemed like hours and, just as we started along it, the weather worsened. The road was an open stretch between flat heathland so we were now exposed to the elements. The wind chilled us and the rain started to get beneath our ‘rainproof’ clothing within twenty minutes. Predictably I fell behind again, only this time the distance grew and grew until Colin and Bod disappeared over the horizon. I fiddled with the camera to try and capture this bleak afternoons walking but gave up – it was too cold and too wet. I think I reached the nadir of my enjoyment of the walk at this point; rather than embracing the solitude I became sullen because of it, feeling abandoned and excluded.
“Wouldn’t have hurt them to at least check if I was ok,” I muttered to myself. But I knew I was being self-pitying so I put my head down and marched along with my underclothes becoming ever more saturated. After what seemed like an entire afternoon (but was probably no more than an hour) I crested the brow of a low hill to find Colin and Bod hunched up against a five bar gate and trying to eat sandwiches in the teeth of the wind. They squinted at me through the rain. I squinted back.
“What are you doing?” I asked in some surprise.
“Having lunch,” they replied accurately.
I looked around. I doubt they could have picked a more exposed spot to try and eat. In the distance, on the crest of a hill, I made out a faint line of green.
“I’m not stopping here,” I said a little testily. “There’s a forest over there and it’ll be dry under the trees.” I walked a few paces further, to another gate, and began retrieving my over-trousers out of my rucksack. It was a little late given I was soaked from the waist down but at least they would keep me warm. I went through the difficult manoeuvring required whilst pulling on a second pair of trousers over wet undergarments and standing on one leg. Bod had walked over to me. “Crap weather isn’t it,” he stated.
I replied that indeed it was as I rested a boot against the gate to tie my laces. My foot slipped off the rail and my forehead connected with the top bar of the gate with an almost cartoonish ‘BONG!’
Bod stood wordlessly. I gritted my teeth against the pain and hoisted my broken rucksack over one shoulder. I nodded at Bod curtly.
“I’m off then.”
I splashed along the road for perhaps another mile before diverting left onto a stony track that took me away from the road and towards the distant line of trees that, I realised, where much further away than I had estimated. It was too late now; I had committed myself. I experienced what was, for the Great Glen way, a busy part of the route as first a man in wilted tweeds passed me with a curt hello and then a trio of young guys approached, wearing sodden tee shirts and shorts. They stopped me to ask what it was like further on and I told them that there was a café about two hours walking ahead where they could dry out and get hot food. This seemed to be the news they wanted to hear. They told me they had arrived in Inverness the previous afternoon, from London, and intended to rough camp all the way to Fort William. I noted their inadequate clothing and basic camping gear and thought privately that they were a little under prepared. There was a mountain rescue incident in the making here, but their enthusiasm, despite everything, couldn’t be faulted.
I carried on for another few miles until the thin green line ahead of me morphed into the edge of a sizeable pine forest and, once I was under its canopy, the wind and the rain all but disappeared. I checked the time – it was after 2 p.m. so I was long overdue for my lunch. I picked my way across a clearing to a large log under the eaves of a conifer and had a solitary lunch. The forest was perfectly silent apart from the rustling of my crisp packet and the faint sighing of the wind through the upper branches of the trees and I began to wonder where Colin and Bod were. I had expected them to make an appearance by now and, sure enough as I sat and watched, I saw two figures in the distance, partially masked by the trees, making their way along the path. I waited until they were within earshot.
“You took your **** time!” I shouted at them, realising too late that I was addressing two perfect strangers. If they heard what I said they didn’t make mention.
“You’ve got the right idea there,” said one of them, using one of the world’s great conversational platitudes, and I responded with a cheery thumbs-up.
It's never too late to say you're soggy ....
After another ten minutes, and still with no sign of the others, I packed up and moved on, re-joining the forest trail, now half convinced that I had taken a wrong turn and was no longer on the Great Glen Way. I knew I was still heading towards Inverness because a sign nailed to a tree told me as much, but I hadn’t seen a blue marker post since leaving the others behind. I realised it didn’t really matter - I’d end up in Inverness eventually, and I knew I had to make for the castle, and we all had each other’s mobile numbers - I was hardly likely to get hopelessly lost with just the last few miles of the walk left to complete. Even as my thoughts ran thus I rounded a bend and saw in front of me a Great Glen Way marker, so I was on the right track after all.
Maybe the others had taken a wrong turn.
I discovered, as I walked, that something (probably one of the indigenous wood ants) had bitten me on my left bum cheek as I had sat for lunch. A large and tender lump was already making its presence felt and sitting down was going to be a little challenging for a while.
This was yet another forest that seemed endless, but also it had a quite unique atmosphere about it. The trees were tall and slender with high canopies, and their trunks were a striking ghostly grey. It had stopped raining now and there was a faint mist hanging in the air making the trees appear ever more indistinct by distance; a forest seen through layers of tissue paper. The trees grew out from a carpet of knee-high grass which added a vibrant dash of green to the almost monochrome scene. Overhead a complex tapestry of boughs knitted together against the backdrop of a leaden sky and it was as silent as a cathedral cloister.
We followed the track as it wound in and out of the ghostly trees until finally we reached a gate that let us out of the forest and onto an old drover’s road. Bod informed us that this was the road that would take us into Inverness and therefore journeys end. The rain began to fall gently again as we set off for the final leg of the journey and the usual pattern was quickly established. Bod in the lead, head slightly cocked to one side, Colin twenty yards behind him and me bringing up the rear – often by quite a distance. The drovers trail would have been a delightful finale to the walk on a bright sunny day, with the old forest on one side and avenues of hawthorn, birch, and rowan on the other, but today it was all a bit drear, with visibility reduced to around a hundred yards. No birds sang in the trees, it was just the patter and drip of rainfall everywhere though we were, at least, sheltered from the worst of the wind. And so we plodded on, feeling at times like we were walking on a treadmill and it was the scenery moving past us on rollers.
The lovely lass o' Inverness ....
My legs began to tire towards the end; after six days of walking I suppose they had every right to complain, but I had managed the complete route without a single blister and that was a record for me. It might have been the new boots, or perhaps the duct tape, or the blister plasters I carefully applied to my heels every morning but whatever the reason I had hardly had a twinge from my feet. Colin informed me later that he had spent much of the week in pain due to blisters and sore spots and pinned the blame on boots that had seen too much mileage – echoes of my own experience on previous walks. There is nothing more miserable than having to walk for miles when every step rewards you with a sharp jab of raw pain and once you have experienced that you become a zealot regarding the Ritual Of Foot Therapy. You spend a small fortune on plasters and tape and anything else that prevents a recurrence.
I trudged on (painlessly) through the damp greyness, wondering why the Great Glen Way Circus had somehow vanished from the trail (never to re-appear) and meeting the other two briefly at a gate that proved to be the terminus for the drovers road. After that we followed a meandering woodland path until we emerged on the side of a hill to find, unexpectedly, the suburbs of stretching away before us. The predominant building was a fortress-like pile of soot-blackened granite. If it wasn’t a prison it certainly resembled one: But this was Inverness! The end of our week long journey and very soon we would be stretched out on a soft bed, resting tired legs and feeling a great sense of achievement.
Except we didn’t.
“The trouble is,” said a weary Bod, “even when we get to the castle we still have to walk to the guest house and that might be the other side of Inverness.”
Needless to say this did little to revive my flagging spirits but I took some video, complained about how much my legs hurt, and we carried on, following the banks of the wide and swiftly flowing Ness towards a busy road bridge. I was taking some more video, where I was considering the option of simply curling up on a bench and going to sleep, when Colin gestured to me that he could see the castle. The three of us limped up a final hill, crossed roads busy with traffic we hadn’t seen the like of since Fort William and finally reached the official end of the route. It was the twin of the one at Fort William 73 miles to the west and we took our trophy shots leaning against it gratefully, looking slightly dog-eared and damp but smiling nonetheless. It was three thirty in the afternoon and our walk was done.
Great Glen Waywardness ....
The castle was an imposing early 19th century pile which no doubt boasted a long and fascinating history but it wasn’t our guest house and therefore of no interest to us whatsoever. If we’d wanted to have a closer look at it we would have been obliged to walk uphill and that just wasn’t up for consideration. I feel we gave it short shrift really, so here is a link where you can read all about it. You’ll get no more information here.
Mark at the finishing post
Our final bed and Breakfast was a stolid granite Victorian house with lots of leaded light and tartan carpet, with the odd mounted stags head and picture of a West Highland terrier thrown in for good measure. We felt that it was trying a bit too hard but I suppose Inverness is a tourist attraction for overseas visitors and they probably want (indeed expect) the Scottish Experience.
Colin and Bod at the finishing post
The proprietor gave us a tip about where to go for the evening and even gave us a voucher for a free drink. After the experience of a few nights before I think we were a little wary of falling into the secret society of business deals again but we decided to give it a go. We walked back into Inverness city centre and found the recommended place, an extremely busy restaurant on the banks of the river. In fact it was so busy that we were asked to go away and try again in 30 minutes. The place looked a little bit nouveau cuisine to us, and once we had eaten we would be turfed out to find a place to settle for the night.
We noticed a place across the river, it seemed to be a pub-diner and looked a bit more ‘us’ (in other words cheap) so we ended up there instead. The place, called was a large pub-cum-restaurant and we enjoyed good food in a lively atmosphere. We found a table in the main bar after our meal and decided to make a night of it. Later in the evening the glasses became plastic, bouncers appeared on the door, and a live act started doing passable covers of classic rock songs. From being ‘moderately busy’ the place soon graduated onto ‘heaving’ as everyone in Inverness aged between 16 and 25 seemed to cram themselves into the place. We were dressed in travel worn walking clothes, clean but not exactly haute couture. This might have been embarrassing given that we were sat amongst all the peacocks and butterflies but since we were well over thirty we were largely invisible, and we were left to drink beer and people watch - and there was a lot to watch. Two women hatched plans to snare a couple of wealthy looking older men at a nearby table. A man in full Scottish regalia boogied on the floor to a Foreigner number, his kilt swirling about him like the skirt on a teeny bopper as he jived enthusiastically with his lady, Colin experienced the first (and only) aggression we had encountered all week due to his accent but skilfully diffused a potentially nasty situation. The Scottish laird fascinated us - in Birmingham he would have either been evicted or assaulted, here he was cheered on and treated with great respect. Perhaps he really was the local nobility, or maybe he was just a well-loved eccentric.
We drank an unwise quantity of beer, sang ourselves hoarse, and wandered back out into the streets in the wee small hours, over the bridge across the dark and silently flowing Ness, past the late night pubs busily ejecting over-served customers, and finally into our B&B where our beds waited for us but, for the first time in a week, the Great Glen Way did not.
Twitter from @Corriepaw (Colin)
Rainy, rainy day. 18 miles of road, woods & moorland to walk over on cowed feet. This is going to be interesting.
Twitter from @Corriepaw (Colin)
Visibility could be described as misty, opaque or muggy as fuck, depending on your personal approach to such things.
Twitter from @Corriepaw (Colin)
At lunch, I was too cold & it was too wet to tweet. I lunched against a metal gate at the side of a minor road, in persistent rain. By then, we had climbed a vicious track through woods, trod a stony path over moorland & trudged doggedly on miles of road.
Twitter from @Corriepaw (Colin)
Nevertheless, we walked the 19 miles down & wound our way through Inverness, to stand before the stone plinth marking journeys end.
Twitter from @Corriepaw (Colin)
I now lie prostrate in mine & Bod's room, with my poor toes throbbing & aching. But at least they are resting & I've had a lovely, hot bath.
See Route on ......