Great Glen Way Day 2

The Great Glen Way
By Mark Walford
Day Two

Route: Gairlochy to South Laggan
Date: Monday September 5th 2011
Distance: 13m (21km)
Elevation: 92ft (28m) to 248ft (76m)
Climbing (ascent and descent): 1,319ft (402m) and 1,266ft (3860m)

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See Route on ......

A perfect start ....

After a great night’s sleep we were treated to a particularly fine breakfast in a tastefully appointed dining area with just the right sort of music playing at just the right volume. This place really did get it right on all fronts. We compared it with the previous nights’ accommodation and awarded it a respectable 9.2 out of 10, further developing the Pat Pending Rating System (the rule being that all our B&B’s were given an automatic 7 and were awarded or deducted points based on the overall B&B experience). It was a simple but effective measure of comparison and we used it for the rest of the week and if nothing else it has served to remind me of the relative merits of our overnight accommodation as I write this journal. I arrived at breakfast slightly later than the others and found Colin tucking into a variety of items, some of which he may have ordered, some he probably didn’t. He still held out resolutely against the full fry-up and opted for … kippers I think. We noticed a lady seated next to us having a solitary breakfast and we were fairly certain that she was also on the Great Glen trail as she gave us a quick smile and a muted greeting as she left for her room.
After breakfast there was the usual packing, Foot Therapy, and pottering about to attend to before our host gave us a lift back to Gairlochy. The lady from breakfast was with us, sharing the ride, and sure enough she was doing the Great Glen Walk - albeit in five days rather than our six. She was undoubtedly Scottish but we never found out more than that about her; she was a very nice lady but also taciturn by nature.
GGW Day2 Pic 1

Morning in Gairlochy

We bounced along the very same road we had marched up the previous afternoon, passing the Commando memorial on the way. The car was a rickety old affair; an ageing 4x4 with a blatting exhaust and a squealing fan-belt (the suspension sounded a little worse for wear as well). It seemed that our hosts lavished all their care and attention on their immaculate house whereas the poor old car was regarded as a necessary evil.
Gairlochy was a busier place this morning. A number of cars and mini-vans were disgorging backpackers all getting ready to set off for the day. I’m sure that quite a few of them were part of the mysterious Great Glen Way Circus we kept almost meeting throughout the week – a large group of walkers (exclusively female we think) who were either rumoured to be approaching, or had just left an area as we arrived, or were having elaborate trestle table lunches prepared for them (usually occupying one of the rare picnic areas along the route). We only ever met a small group of this secret society but their implied presence shadowed us all week.
Before we set off I had to take a moment to capture the Grampian Mountains, visible on the southern horizon beyond the small cluster of houses that made up Gairlochy. They were wreathed in layers of white cloud, their summits piercing them and catching the morning sun, turning purple and russet and maroon. The video failed to capture the subtleties of this lovely sight but this was easily the finest view of mountains I have ever had in the UK.
“Me like,” observed Bod in the background.
“Me like too,” I concurred as the video faded to black.



Midge life crisis ....

We set off, expecting to be in the company of many fellow walkers but oddly they melted away almost immediately and we walked for most of the day in solitude. I can only assume that the majority of walkers we saw at Gairlochy were heading in the opposite direction – back to Fort William.
Almost immediately we found ourselves on the shoreline of the first of the three lochs we would walk along during the week. This was Loch Lochy, which translates as ‘Lake Lakey’ (perhaps by the time they had come to name this one they had run out of imagination) and it teased us with occasional glimpses of its watery vistas as we made our way into the depths of Clunes Forest. The forest had an air of antiquity about it, like so many Scottish forests do, but in addition it contained a balanced mix of broad-leaf and conifer trees so it seemed less contrived than many plantations. It was certainly a very large forest, as we walked within it for the entire day and it continued on into an endless distance after we left it behind at Laggan. For a few miles we followed a twisting path that led us through the woods, sometimes skirting the shore of the loch, sometimes taking us further inland and always with a pleasing scent, a mix of damp leafy soil and fresh water, hanging in the air. As we rounded a headland we observed distant higher ground across an inlet of the loch and could just make out a path climbing up into pine forest. We were certain it was the Great Glen Way and it looked like a long walk was ahead of us in order to reach it.
Always a fan of forests I bounced along happily, sometimes taking the lead, sometimes dropping back in order to take a picture or admire a view. The path broadened and became a forestry track capable of vehicular use (a sign informed us) and we marched on, following the ever-present cobalt blue marker posts of the Great Glen Way (this was a well-marked trail, with very few sections offering an ‘are we lost?’ moment).
GGW Day2 Pic 2

Loch Lochy

Feeling that we were making good time we decided to stop for a break at a pebble-strewn little cove offering tranquil views across to the loch’s southern shoreline. The day was warming up, and so were we, so we stripped off our top layers, exposing bare arms – an unwise move. For a few minutes all was well until we realised that we each had a small army of tiny black midges dancing about our heads enthusiastically, lighting upon our arms with the faintest of touches but promising much itchy misery in the near future. We tried Jungle Formula and Avon Skin So Soft but the midges seemed unimpressed by this so we put our fleeces back on. However, it was too late, we had drawn attention to ourselves, and larger cousins of the tiny black midges started to arrive in force. Resistance was futile so we packed up and set off again. During this little rest break the other two had told me that a monster was rumoured to inhabit the loch. Less famous then Nessie but subject to just as many sightings.
“The locals call her Lochie,” Bod informed me. “Lochie from Loch Lochy”.
I relayed all this to my wife later on the phone; we had quite a conversation about it. It was only the next day when they both admitted that it had all been a wind-up. [ED: But aha - look at THIS ]



How to shoot a hiker ....

We passed stately avenues of tall, beautifully proportioned larches and pines and then a number of loch-side properties whose bedroom views must have been an inspiring start to every morning. The trail began to rise gently and we found ourselves suddenly free of the shepherding forest and onto higher ground where Loch Lochy waited, almost demandingly, to be admired by us.
My overall memory of Lochy is of the colour green. Whether it was the weather conditions (overcast) or the abundance of trees and vegetation, or some peculiarity of the deep waters of the loch itself, I can’t say for sure but this struck me as a very green loch. A deep dark green which made the water look both inviting and intimidating all at the same time. On the opposite shore the great lump of Meal na Teanga - a 3000ft Munro - loomed, its steep sides etched with deep creases where rain had run off its flanks for millennia. It too was covered in a fine down of green vegetation so that it resembled a gigantic and slightly mouldy tinned loaf (a strange description to apply perhaps, but it didn’t detract at all from its beauty). Leisure boats, made tiny by distance, crawled along the loch’s dark surface. I have to say that it took a while for Loch Lochy to show herself off to full effect but when she did it was with great panache. We continued walking along the loch, basking in a spell of unexpected sunshine, and Meal na Teanga slipped by on the opposite shore. I searched its steep sides often during the next few miles, looking for signs of settlement – buildings and fences and the like – but finding none. The mountain seemed largely untouched by human hand.
GGW Day2 Pic 3

Mouldy Loaf Mountain

Bod, as usual, was striding ahead and I found myself watching his tall figure as it strode implacably onwards. I found myself wondering, without any malice involved, how difficult it would be, given the distance, to take him down with just a single shot from a hand gun. I put this to Colin who naturally reacted with surprise at this odd musing but joined in readily enough by observing that it would have to be a very good shot indeed with just a handgun but a dead certainty with a rifle. Bod marched on, oblivious of this sinister exchange of views.
Ahead I noticed that the loch had started to narrow, signalling that it (and our days walking) was coming to a close. I expected to see the next section of the Caledonian Canal as we emerged over a hillock but instead we were treated to the grand view of South Laggan clustered on the further shore of Ceann Loch; a natural marina of deep aquamarine water surrounded by a gorgeous backdrop of Munro's. We skirted the edge of the marina and towards its administrative buildings and jetty. A cluster of expensive looking yachts were moored together, each marked with an identical logo. They were for hire, allowing the well-heeled to float up and down the waterways of the Great Glen in cosetted luxury. The less well-heeled were forced to carry rucksacks full of sandwiches and gaze out across the water from the shoreline.
We had heard mention of a floating pub at Laggan, and we had also passed a battered old sign advertising the place earlier so we were toying with the idea of hopping aboard for a quick shandy. We were a bit let down to discover that the floating pub (an oversized barge) was off-limits. A handwritten sign hanging from its door told us that it was ‘Closed due to illness’. An ominous message really, but who had the illness, or what the illness was, we never found out and so we passed it by disappointed and beer-less. I remembered that our B&B for the night had also mentioned that ‘a health scare’ had resulted in them no longer serving evening meals. I mentioned this to the others.
“The Laggan plague – we’ll never make it to Fort Augustus”, muttered Bod.
We passed the Marina, and its collection of boats and yachts in various states of repair, and re-joined the Caledonian Canal for a short stint, winding our way through a small wooded section just as rain-clouds began to gather overhead – the outriders of a weather front moving down the glen which would keep us company all the next day. We left the woods and stumbled out onto the A82, walking in single file towards our digs and playing involuntary chicken with the coaches and trucks that thundered past us. We were quite relieved that this was a short section, as walking along a busy main road with no pedestrian path is always a risk with very little mitigation.



A (luke)warm welcome ....

Our landlady greeted us at the door with a pleasant enough smile but then began to cluck to herself like an alarmed hen.
“Ohhh no. You’re all men.”
“Yes, well done”, I responded with more sarcasm than I intended.
“Ohh dear ….”
My immediate concern was that she suspected us of being in some kind of troilistic relationship and she was going to cast us out as unclean (strict Presbyterian values could be alive and well deep in the Highlands for all we knew) but then she seemed to re-assure herself. “Oh no it’s all right. What am I thinking?”
(we never found out)
She gave us our keys, pointed out our rooms, pointed out the free tea and coffee making facilities, warned us that we mustn’t put our boots on in the house and that we must handle our own luggage as they were not insured and then she bustled off and left us in peace.
Colin and I were room sharing and we opened the door with a key attached to a wooden fob the size of a small coffee table to find ourselves in adequate but jaded accommodation, evoking memories of grandmother’s bedroom and car-boot ornaments. I considered our over-fussy reception and the d├ęcor.
“Six?” I said to Colin.
He nodded. “Possibly five.”
GGW Day2 Pic 2

Approaching South Laggan

We had a few hours to kill before tea time and we spent them drinking free coffee, sleeping, and (in my case) capturing Colin administering Foot Therapy to himself. For some reason Colin had suffered the most with sore feet and blisters and after only two days was already in some discomfort. I filmed him seated on the bed, surrounded by plasters and tape, examining heels and toes anxiously. He offered the camera the possibility of suppurating pus later in the week. I requested boils. It wasn’t destined to be the most picturesque two minutes on You Tube.
Later we sat in the TV lounge and started talking to a couple of fellow guests; two chaps from Oxford who, like the Scottish Lady, intended to complete the walk in just five days, meaning that the final two days would be 18 miles long covering the more challenging terrain. They had walked a lot over the years and we were soon swapping experiences about long distance trails, footwear, clothing, and other topics of conversation which only another committed hiker would have found engrossing.
The plan for dinner was that the man of the house would drive us to the restaurant and the restaurant would drive us home again: Nice and simple.
Colin was trying to lock the door when our driver appeared.
“You’re making that hard work. Just turn it and pull it.”
Colin did so and the man rolled his eyes, displaying a bluff but well-meaning personality that would provide much entertainment at breakfast the following morning.
“See?”
He had an unidentifiable accent and we spent the short journey to the restaurant trying to guess his birthplace. We ran through Derbyshire, Yorkshire, and Tyne and Wear but missed out Cumbria, which would have been obvious if we had ever heard a Cumbrian accent before.



The accidental quiz night ....

The ‘restaurant’ wasn’t quite what we expected. It was part of a leisure complex with triangular chalets dotted about the loch shoreline and a large main complex that was part youth club, part sports centre, and part restaurant. I had convinced myself that it would be an ancient old highland inn and felt a bit cheated. However the restaurant was clean, the service was friendly, and the food was passably good. We noticed our friends from Oxford at one table and a couple that we had come to know along the trail, Mark and Carol, seated at another.
After dinner we decided to have a cold beer and we made our way upstairs to a sort of large loft space kitted out with a small bar and, further back, a games room where youths played pool and fed coins into slot machines: It had the sort of ambience that reminded me of working men’s clubs. The bar itself was empty save for a couple of dodgy looking characters stood at the counter, a bulky geezer who looked like a nightclub bouncer, and a slightly built man who wore a stony, fixed expression all the time. They looked like villains and sounded like Londoners – possibly on a fishing holiday or perhaps taking a weekend break in order to introduce an ex-colleague, wearing concrete filled wellies, to the deeper waters of Lochy.
The place filled up a little as we sat and drank our beers so that around five of the tables were occupied, mostly by youths. We had decided to call it a night when a lady appeared and asked us to take part in the pub quiz. We really didn’t want to but neither did we want to appear as grumpy Sassenachs so reluctantly we agreed. She had the whip-hand anyway as she was our lift home and she more or less told us that we wouldn’t be going anywhere until after the quiz. We had another round of drinks and resignedly set about answering the questions.
I visited the gents about halfway through and managed, through reasons which I don’t think I’ll detail here, to divert some of the ‘flow’ so that I appeared to have wet myself. Walking trousers really do show things like that up. I was frantically drying myself off with paper towels when one of the youths from the quiz tables walked in. For a micro-second he looked as if he might walk right back out again but to his credit he nodded curtly and tried to ignore my strange behaviour. I had to make a hurried crab-like dash back to our table during a quiz round-up where attention was diverted and where I could quietly dry off. We became engrossed in the questions despite ourselves and an hour or so went by as we debated and disputed our answers before scribbling them down.
Finally the quiz concluded and there was an expectant atmosphere as the results came in. With some awkwardness we found ourselves voted the winners - no great feat really considering the competition, but the quizmaster did whip up a round of applause for us and she gave us a decent bottle of wine as our prize.
We got our lift back to the B&B, and during the brief journey we decided to return the wine. Bod wouldn’t have drunk any of it whereas Colin and I would have attempted to neck it before bed-time with inevitable consequences the following morning - neither could we lug it around in our rucksacks nor find room for it in our luggage. So, for the first and hopefully last time in my life I found myself giving back a free bottle of decent wine.
It was just that sort of night really.

Daily Tweets

Twitter from @Corriepaw (Colin)
A fine breakfast before our walk to Laggan begins. Weather looks to be ok, but we've heard we're in for a soak tomorrow.

Twitter from @Corriepaw (Colin)
Today we basically walk the length of Loch Lochy. Kind of get the feeling they were running low on inspiration, by the time they named it.

Twitter from @Corriepaw (Colin)
Lots of forest track walking; wasn't always easy to see the impressive waters of the loch. First scramble & attack by midges, too. Bastards

. Twitter from @Corriepaw (Colin)
I am lagging in Laggan. Feet are a series of shiny, filled-to-bust blisters, for some reason my toes catching the worst of them. I wasn't surprised to discover them looking a little grim, since they've felt squashed & battered all day in my boots.

Twitter from @Corriepaw (Colin)
Still, Loch Lochy is behind us with Loch Oich to come. Mostly sunny today, with an occasional sprinkle of rain.

Twitter from @Corriepaw (Colin)
Now going to shower & try to repair the destruction of my little piggys. We're out for eats at half-seven.

Twitter from @Corriepaw (Colin)
We went out for dinner & our lift home pulled a fast one. Told us we were going nowhere, unless we took part in their quiz night. Serves her right that we won the damned thing.

Twitter from @Corriepaw (Colin)
The prize was a bottle of wine. Bod doesn't drink it & @Darkfarmowl & I balked at necking it, ahead of tomorrow's walk. We gave it back.




See Route on ......

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