Great Glen Way Day 3

The Great Glen Way
By Mark Walford
Day Three

Route: South Laggan to Fort Augustus
Date: Tuesday September 6th 2011
Distance: 10m (16km)
Elevation: 59ft (18m) to 197ft (60m)
Climbing (ascent and descent): 456ft (139m) and 528ft (161m)

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See Route on ......

A touch of class ....

Flushed by my success at little-league pub quizzing I slept soundly and woke hungry. We took our seats in the unremarkable dining area and discussed our Pat Pending Rating System award for this place. I decided to pitch a new rating system I had devised, involving more categories and degrees of points awarded. It seemed very sensible whilst it lived in my head but as soon as I started to describe it I knew I had lost my audience – it sounded convoluted even to my own ears. Bod wryly added that we’d need to convert the previous system into this new system and that would almost certainly involve something stupidly complex such as multiplying the old value by two, dividing by Pi and adding 12%.
He had a point.
And anyway, why were we deliberating over such minutia when we were on a walking holiday?
And why am I still obsessed by it? I mean – look - I’ve now wasted a whole paragraph on this nonsense.
We reverted to the original system and rated this place a 5.8, subsequently raised to a 6 through the antics of the proprietor during breakfast, which was very entertaining.
Think Fawlty Towers : The episode with Bernard Cribbins as the faux hotel inspector. Now substitute our bluff Cumbrian host for Basil and … well, anyone having breakfast really - as a collective Cribbins.
Our Host appeared with two plates of porridge and approached a couple opposite us.
“Here you go – porridge.”
They looked blankly at the plates. “We didn’t order porridge.”
“Yes you did.”
“No we didn’t.”
Our Host looked back towards the kitchen darkly. “It says in there that you did.”
“We did NOT order that.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. We are.”
“Oh well,” he sighed, “I’ll just have to give it to someone else then.”
Mark and Carol entered the room and smiled at us before taking a seat at a vacant table. Presently Our Host arrived and leant in towards them, speaking quietly but entirely audibly.
“Now, you may not have noticed but this table is set for three, whereas…” he gestured towards a table in the corner, “that table is set for two. So where do you suppose you should be sitting?”
Mark, resembling a younger smoother-shaven David Baddiel, looked amused rather than irked by this strange man. “Oh, you want us to move then?”
“Yes, if you would,” Our Host nodded brusquely. And then, as they wandered over to the other table he muttered “You’re not the brightest are you?”
GGW Day3 Pic 1

Walking in the rain

The two guys from Oxford caught our eye and we all tried not to laugh. I’m absolutely certain that there was no malice in Our Host – he just had an unfortunate and oblique manner when addressing people. It could have been taken the wrong way but nobody really minded and he did manage to earn his little business – a place that felt like it was on the edge of a nervous breakdown – an extra point from us. Our breakfasts arrived without drama - Colin probably had a goat’s cheese and ylang-ylang omelette – I can’t really remember – and if nothing else at least the food was passably good. After our meal we wished the Oxford Guys good luck as we left our table as they would be on a different schedule from today and we probably wouldn’t see them again. Personally I was happy with this as one of them possessed the sort of jangly voice that grew enervating over time and this was coupled to a rather pedantic and irritating personality. I might add that this isn’t just me being picky (ok, well it IS really I suppose) because Colin had pretty much the same thoughts; it would have been a case of hiding from them on the trail if they were doing the same mileage as us.
As we prepared to set off I captured on camera the awful wet morning visible through our window and spoke about a previous Wet Tuesday – five years before – which we had enjoyed on the West Highland Way. The rain, as forecast, was upon us and it seemed to be slanting in almost horizontally, with a lively wind making the shrubs in the garden thresh about madly. The landlady provided a useful nugget of information before we left, telling us to look out for a tea shop halfway along the route where we could buy food and hot drinks.

Railway relics ....

With a certain resignation we dug out our wet weather gear and prepared for a soggy walk ahead of us, leaving the odd little B&B behind, and trudging once more along the A82 with traffic rushing by us - this time with the added zest of being sprayed with displaced rainwater from passing tyres. It was a short section and we gratefully turned off the road and under the cover of trees, leaving both traffic and the worst of the rain behind us. It soon became apparent that we were following a track that ran alongside an old railway line to our right. Information boards told us that it was created as a privately funded line designed to link Inverness with Fort William, a service as much needed today as when the railway was devised back in the nineteenth century. Unfortunately, quarrels between various private companies contracted to maintain and run the line were frequent and destructive and the trains ran for just a few short years before the line was closed down as a commercial failure. After the demise of this venture there was (and still is) only the A82 linking the busy towns at either end of the Great Glen Way. We walked past old stations, their platforms pierced by mature trees and half buried in tangled undergrowth, the track itself had long since vanished but the embankment was still more or less intact and the trains would have trundled by with their wheels on a level with our heads.
GGW Day3 Pic 1

Loch Oich

We walked along this nice level path, sheltered from the worst of the weather by a leafy canopy, and to our left chaperoned by tiny Loch Oich, described as being the more picturesque of the three lochs we would visit during the week but looking a little bleak and windswept under today’s lowering clouds. It would be very pretty indeed in fair weather, fringed by mature trees and meadows of tall grass. It must have rained quite heavily overnight because the loch had overflowed in some places to create areas of marshland which I managed to capture on film without getting my camera too damp in the process. I had my camera back out as I approached an imposing stone railway bridge, pointing it under an archway to capture its mysterious depths but instead almost catching Colin taking a comfort break, hands poised at his zipper.
“Awww bloody hell!” he exclaimed from the gloom.
Just a few hundred yards later I saw an abandoned building of some sort, nestling in the lee of the embankment. The other two walked right past it, hunched against the drizzle, but I was curious enough to stop and give it a closer inspection. My guess is that it was built for use by railway maintenance workers who would otherwise have had no shelter this far out along the line. It was a two story cottage and its rotting front door stood ajar tempting me further. Inside there was a short passage with doors to the left and right and a rickety wooden staircase leading to the upstairs rooms. The left hand door was shut and padlocked but the right was open and I walked into a large open lounge with windows at both ends and a big black iron fireplace dominating one wall. I crossed the room to peer through the fly-specked rear window and onto an impenetrable jungle of brambles. I walked over to inspect the fireplace, mindful to avoid cracking my head on the low beamed ceiling. It was an altogether lonely and forlorn room, holding nothing but an ancient mouldy sofa and a strong smell of urine. I tried to imagine how it must have looked in years gone by, perhaps on a cold winter’s night; full of the banter of working class men, the heat and light cast from the large fire bouncing off the walls, the occasional chink of crockery, everything punctuated by the great clattering and roaring of passing trains: All gone now. Back out in the passage I debated trying the locked door, or perhaps going upstairs, but then I heard a muffled thump from above (possibly imaginary) and realised that my walking buddies were by now a long way ahead of me. I made a sharp exit. Only when I had left the place behind did I realise, regretfully, that I hadn’t taken any photographs.

Every broth you take ....

The track ran on; loch to our left, embankment to our right, greenery overhead. We walked in companionable silence until we reached the remains of another great stone bridge where Bod and Colin lingered, staring down into a deep ravine. I forged ahead, enjoying one of my rare moments during a walk where I feel I can bounce along all day, energised and light of foot. I descended on a cinder track, turned a corner, and crossed a long wooden bridge to reach a stile with a notice attached to it advertising the café our landlady had mentioned. It was just a few hundred yards ahead and we were therefore halfway along today's walk. I waited for the others to catch up and then we skirted the northern end of Loch Oich, which offered us wide views back down the glen. We broke cover and started to meander across grassy meadows, becoming re-acquainted with the driving rain and joining another section of the Caledonian Canal before finally stopping for a rest at a large swing bridge manned by a shadowy figure visible through the large window of its control room. I panned back the way we had come with my camera, delivering an intelligent narrative which was snatched away completely by the buffeting wind. The only clear bit of audio was of Colin shouting ‘Git!’.
Crossing the bridge we soon spied the café, which we reached via a small well-tended garden. It was a large shed-like affair standing in the grounds of an elegant house and it was warm and dry. There was a pleasant scent of pine and beeswax and the café contained a cluster of tables, chairs, china, a large dresser, and the Scottish Lady who was seated alone sipping tea. We grabbed a table and presently the owner arrived, a smiling friendly woman who took our order for tea and Scotch Broth.
GGW Day3 Pic 3

The Bridge of Oich

We chatted to the Scottish Lady as we waited, discussing our respective overnight accommodation. She was absolutely enthralled with hers and when she asked about our digs we gave her our verdict of a 6 along with a description of our Pat Pending Rating System. She could have been bored within five seconds but she was polite enough not to let it show. The proprietor returned with pots of tea and steaming bowls of broth - a perfect lunch to counter the sort of cold wet day we were experiencing. She told us that we were lucky on two counts. Firstly because this was her last day of business before closing up for the winter and secondly because the GGW Circus had booked all the tables and were due to arrive at any moment. Even as she spoke, some of the Circus’ servants arrived to make sure all was ready, one of whom I recognised from various other encounters over the previous few days – a cheery girl from New Zealand. Taking this as a cue to move on we shouldered our damp rucksacks and set of once more, saying farewell to the Scottish Lady who, like the Oxford guys, was completing the walk a day sooner than our schedule. We wouldn’t see her again.

Brum and Breakfast ....

We wandered past a whitewashed cottage and into its back garden realising, as we stood before the owner’s caravan, that perhaps we might have chosen the wrong side of the canal. We retraced our steps and crossed to the other side passing close enough to the Bridge Of Oich to allow for a small detour and a closer look. It was an intriguing little structure - a form of suspension bridge in miniature – painted brilliant white. Its many spars made it look like an oversized harp, or one of those string pictures you used to make at school. There was an information board that gave the usual blurb about who designed it and when it was made (James Dredge, 1854) plus a rather camp drawing of two 19th century gentlemen demonstrating how the bridge supported itself (a double-cantilever design where each end supported its own weight with very little strength required at its centre). We moved on, walking alongside the canal and towards Fort Augustus.
Now this isn’t going to make for great journal writing but frankly the next few hours (and around 8 miles) were rather repetitive. It rained on and off, the wind blustered, the canal cut through groves of oak and poplar. The River Oich ran along to our left, visible through long hedgerows of Rowan and Hawthorn, and lower than our track by several metres. There were no ships or boats using the canal and no other people walking its tow-path. I took some video, put the camera away for an hour and then did some more: The two pieces are indistinguishable. I can’t say it was the most interesting section of the Great Glen Way and it was endured rather than enjoyed but of course it still beat the pants off being at the office. Bod informed us that he had already walked this section once before, from the direction of Fort Augustus, so he didn’t even have the benefit of experiencing it for the first time. Eventually we spied the outlying cottages of Fort Augustus and realised that once again the days walking was at an end – and it was barely mid-afternoon.
GGW Day3 Pic 3

Approaching Fort Augustus

An expensive looking yacht was manoeuvring out into the centre of the canal, manned by two Greek guys. We watched for a while, half in admiration at the skill involved in steering such a big boat and half in anticipation of witnessing the maritime equivalent of a fender bender, but it all went without mishap. Fort Augustus was the busiest place we had visited since we left Fort William. Tourists bustled in and out of pubs and gift shops, boats bustled up and down the canal lochs and, not wishing to feel left out, we bustled towards an ATM to liberate some much needed cash. Bod and Colin added an extra bustle to a newsagent in order to buy a lottery ticket and then we bustled up the road to our B&B.
Fort Augustus; a bustling place.
Our accommodation for the night looked emphatically Scottish, built solidly out of grey granite in a mock Gothic style, but it was run by a nice couple from Birmingham. She picked up on our accents immediately and wanted to know which part of Brum we all lived in. In fact I was the only Brummie in the group who still lived in the city, something I was not particularly proud of as I had always vowed to get away from the place as soon as I could, but something had always kept me rooted to the place – mostly my lack of ambition.
We couldn’t actually get into our rooms until after lunch so we dumped our gear and wandered back down to Fort Augustus and, almost inevitably, into a pub. We sat near the canal lock with our beers, watching the boats vie for space in the long and complicated logistical dance that boat people seem to understand so well when going through locks but which looks like barely controlled chaos to my untrained eye. There was a large fishing boat, a scallop dredger according to Bod, with a five man crew. It was easily the biggest vessel going through the lock and the crew basically bossed all the other little boats about and threw ropes at their owners with grunted instructions.
The rain squalls continued to blow in from the south, liberally soaking everyone for a few moments before the sun returned to make everything steam gently. It was all very relaxing, and so far we concluded that the Great Glen Way was a bit of a doddle. A nice relaxing doddle, which meant we could drink more beer and spend more money (so it was also an expensive doddle as well). Our conversation ran along in this manner until it was time to return to the B&B and some R&R. I had the room to myself this time and I was ushered into a large and comfortable bedroom with dormer windows looking out onto the road back into Fort Augustus. I really loved that room – it was the best room of the entire week for me – and I spent a lot of the afternoon lying on the huge double bed reading newspapers and watching TV.
In the foyer of the B&B there was a map of the world on the wall with pins representing the homes of the overseas visitors who had stayed in the B&B that year. There was the expected tight grouping of flags in the USA, Germany, France and the Antipodes, and a fair representation from Japan. One lone flag caught my eye – it was pinned to a remote town in north-east Mongolia and there wasn’t another flag within a 500 mile radius. The owners explained that the town was built around a silver mine and was comparatively wealthy, allowing the residents to pay for far-flung holidays abroad. As we studied this map a new guest arrived, a young American lady, and we heard our host inform her that her husband had already arrived. Sure enough a very large American guy came to greet her - he must have weighed 300lb - and we gave ourselves sideways glances. She was obviously walking the Great Glen Way and he … well he obviously wasn’t a walker and was most likely driving all the baggage ahead and browsing the shops and restaurants all day while she made the miles.
Shameless stereotyping - and erroneous as we later found out.

Three men in a bothie ....

Later, we wandered back into Fort Augustus for dinner at a pub called The Bothie - being the first place we came to where we could get a table - and had possibly the best fish and chips we have ever tasted. We retired to the bar afterwards and had a pleasant few beers. There was a large wall-mounted TV, its screen invisible to us, broadcasting the England football game. We couldn’t see the match but we could see the bar staff and it was obvious that they weren’t cheering on the English players. I can’t remember who we were playing that night but it didn’t really matter; the staff were surrogate fans of that country regardless, and their anxious faces and set expressions told us that England, for once, seemed to be playing very well. Colin was standing at the bar when England scored the winning goal. There was an audible groan from staff and customers alike. Colin looked at me, glanced around him, and then did a little clenched fist celebration, a slight bend of the knees, and a silently mouthed ‘Yessss!’
I looked forward to spending the night in my room, enjoying the decadent luxury of the massive double bed. Bod and Colin were having a great time next door, their voices amplified by alcohol, and I feared that we might draw complaints. Feeling a bit sheepish I knocked on their door and asked them to turn it down a notch. I expected them to yell ‘boring old fart!’ as I returned to my room but to their credit they didn’t.

Daily Tweets

Twitter from @Corriepaw (Colin)
Oops, looks a tad murky outside. Feet feel loads better this morning, after a period of rest & counselling. Walking along Loch Oich today.

Twitter from @Corriepaw (Colin)
A day of waterproofs, therefore marinating in my own sweat as I marched along. Feet have behaved, just a little sore.

Twitter from @Darkfarmowl (Mark)
Early finish in Fort Augustus. Soggy old day. Time to kill b4 beers.

. Twitter from @Corriepaw (Colin)
Been finished for an hour. Now at Fort Augustus, being alternatively sun-drenched & rain-soaked as we sup beer by the lock-side.

Twitter from @Corriepaw (Colin)
Loch Oich was probably as pretty as advertised, couldn't really tell through the trees & the showers. Finished off with a stretch of canal.

See Route on ......

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