Graeme walked Macs Adventure’s 8 night Great Glen Way itinerary with his friend John in September 2016, their second long distance trail together. He kindly shared a detailed day by day diary of the experience, highlighting (sometimes unexpected) points of interest along the way.
We had to look at booking our travel arrangements outwards to Fort William and back from Inverness. I looked at flying from East Midlands Airport to Glasgow and train to Fort William and flying back from Inverness to Birmingham Airport (no flights to East Midlands), but who wants to hang about for two hours at an airport, so we looked at the rail option and with our senior rail cards it was cheaper by train and a rail journey had more appeal. So with everything booked and paid for, we were ready to go!
John came up with the suggestion of nominating a charity to raise some money (when we did the Hadrian’s Wall walk we nominated Macmillan Cancer Support) he suggested ‘Mesothelioma UK Charitable Trust’ – his friend and mother had died from this awful disease, I agreed so he set up our Just Giving page (and further donations gratefully received).
John’s partner Sue dropped us of at Derby station where we caught the train, busy with commuters on their way to work, to Crewe. On arrival at Crewe we had to quickly change platforms to catch the Virgin Glasgow train, with a suitcase and backpack apiece we took the lift up & down and just managed to catch the train. We settled into the comfy Virgin seats and with a coffee apiece we were on our way and looking forward to the rest of our journey.
We arrived on time at Glasgow Central and boarded the free transfer bus to Glasgow Queen Street in order to catch the train to Fort William.
On arrival we had to wait about an hour to board the train. It was quite interesting to sit and watch fellow travellers going backwards and forwards on the go to who knows where.
Boarding the ScotRail train to Fort William we were surprised to find the train quite basic and a bit ‘worn’. We had a table seat and (like other passengers around us) we were looking forward to the scenic journey to Fort William. We were not to be disappointed. The route and scenery was breath-taking, the cameras were out and there was a new and more impressive view round every bend.
We fell into conversation with an elderly American couple who had flown in from the USA that morning and were going on to the Isle of Sky to do some walking. The conversation turned to the upcoming USA Presidential election and they glumly said that neither candidate was worth voting for!
On arrival at Fort William we walked through the pedestrian area and noted it seemed a lively place with lots of pubs and shops. We continued through the shopping area to the road that ran along the lochside and walked for a short way until we came to Myrtle Bank Guest House.
After a cheery welcome we were shown to an annex at the rear of the main building, where, much to our surprise and delight instead of a twin room we were expecting, we had two rooms, (one with double bed, one with a single bed) and en-suite bathroom all furnished to a high standard. John bagged the double bed!
A quick shower and change we went out in search of something to eat we went to a pub that seemed popular and were told there were no tables available and to try again in an hour. We went up the street, everywhere was the same FULL. I could not believe how many people were out eating. We eventually went back to the first pub we had come across, had a pint and, as we stood at the bar, a nearby table became available. We grabbed it, and looked at the very limited menu (nothing I really fancied) but nevertheless we found something we thought we would enjoy, ordered and when, it arrived it was ‘awful’.
We later explored the centre of town; there is the pedestrian way with the usual shops, banks, pubs etc. and wandered to the lochside where the original Fort stood. Nearby there was a large Morrison’s supermarket and rail station. Later we found a lively bar with many people eating; on looking at the menu and the food being served we concluded we should have eaten here even if it had meant we had to wait some time for a table. We had a couple of pints and watched football on the TV (Barcelona v Celtic) Celtic got truly hammered 5-0!
We had breakfast then deposited our bags in reception to be collected for onward delivery to our next B&B in Gairlochy. It was overcast and spitting with rain as we walked through the shopping area, we picked up a newspaper and sandwiches for lunch and as the rain started to fall heavier John suggested we have a coffee to see if it would ease, so we popped into a Costa. Our itinerary stated that our book in time for our B&B at Gairlochy was not before 4pm so there was no hurry to set off. After a leisurely coffee we emerged onto the street and whilst it was dull and overcast the ‘rain had stopped’ (we would see no more rain for the rest of or walk).
So off to the start, the official point to start is located on a grassed area on the site of the original Fort. What we now needed was a photo of both of us and fortunately a passing young lady volunteered to do the honours and with that recorded we were on our way. We walked passed the Fort William Diving School and the Shinty field and the path took us through the outer suburbs. Here, under John’s steerage it has to be said, we took a wrong turn (our first and last) that took us through a housing estate instead of the main road but we found our way back to the road. John spotted a train in the distance, steam could be clearly seen rising above the engine, John exclaimed (he knows these things) “it’s the famous Jacobite steam train that runs between Fort William and Mallaig” unfortunately our path did not take us nearer the train so John had to attempt to take a photo from distance.
The route took us on a path with Loch Linnhe on our left and a housing estate on our right and after a short walk we arrived at the Caledonian Canal, the path sign indicated to turn right but we did a short detour left to Corpach Locks. Depending on your direction of travel, this is the end or the beginning of the canal. There are huge lock gates with a short lighthouse to guide boats from the sea loch to the mouth of the canal. I don’t know why but I was surprised at the size of the canal with a good width and the substantial locks and gates. Coming from the Midlands I am used to inland narrow boat canals.
Having had a good look round and taken our photos we set off along the towpath and we felt we were now properly on our way, with spectacular views of clouds hanging onto the mountains and the day starting to brighten we were in good spirits. We arrived at Neptune’s Staircase, what a sight. We stood at the bottom looking up at the flight of eight locks and were delighted to see a small sailing boat negotiating the lower locks.
The locks are hydraulic and operated by British Waterways, there were many sightseers watching the operation. As we climbed up the towpath our eyes settled on a structure rising high above our eye line with a wooden mast and rigging I thought it may be a rig for flying flags but no it was a rigged wooden sailing boat just starting its decent down the locks.
What a sight! We were indeed fortunate to come across so much activity on these locks.
After a time witnessing the steady but sure progress of these vessels through the staircase of locks and chatting to a few of the many people watching it was time to move on., As we walked on above the upper section of the canal there were many boats and barges tied up to pontoons and a pleasure boat laden with sightseers was just setting out for a trip up the canal. We would see the pleasure boat returning later in the day when we were happy to return the cheery waves from the passengers on board. Feeling hungry, we came across a bench so it was time for lunch. As we sat consuming our sandwiches the only noise was the lapping of the water, the views of the hills and mountains were breath-taking.
The sun came out Bliss!
There was still a fair few miles to go so suitably refreshed we continued our walk passing over a number of aqueducts that carried rivers or streams under the canal and also a number of swing bridges that enable roads and farm tracks to cross the canal. As we approached Gairlochy lock there we saw VIC32 a Clyde ‘Puffer’ boat making its way towards us with smoke pouring out its funnel, it was truly a great sight. It turns out that the boat is maintained and run entirely by volunteers through a charitable trust and passes through the canal a couple of times a year. More details can be found at www.savethepuffer.co.uk/history-of-vic-32/.
We reached Gairlochy which we found to consist of a few houses and a graveyard, at just after 4pm. Our B&B (Dalcomer) was a large modern house and only a short walk off the towpath. We were welcomed with a beaming smile by our landlady Heather who immediately explained the do’s and don’ts regarding out stay.
We were offered the option of an evening meal as she was cooking for other guests but we declined (we fancied a few beers) saying we would get a taxi into Spean Bridge about three miles away. We were shown to our room which turned out to be large well furnished with twin beds, settee, and large flat screen TV and spacious bathroom. There was a list of places to eat so I rang and booked a table at the Old Station House in Spean Bridge and also booked a taxi. We had a couple of hours to put our feet up with a nice cup of tea and highland biscuits. The taxi arrived on time and as we drove to Spean Bridge the scenery of the Leanachan forest was gorgeous. We hadn’t travelled too far when as we reached a crossroads we suddenly and unexpectedly came upon the Commando Monument. This impressive monument looks south towards Ben Nevis and is a testament to these many brave men.
On arrival at the restaurant we were delighted to discover there was Scottish real ale on offer so with a pint each, we ordered our food and savoured the excellent beer. We subsequently enjoyed a nice meal and followed by another pint we reflected on the interesting day; we strolled into the village to walk the meal off then took a taxi back for a well-earned nights rest.
We were up early and had breakfast with a couple who explained they were walking in the opposite direction to us and that this would be their last day. They said they had enjoyed the walk and wished us well. Heather made us some sandwiches but wouldn’t take any payment so we put some money into a charity collection box in the kitchen. John said he had been chatting to Heather and she suggested we took a short detour to Clan Cameron museum. She promised a beautiful walk through parkland, so I said OK lets go.
We made our way back to the canal and crossed the canal lock and walked up the road for a short way onto a path that took us through woodland. The man-made section of the canal had come to an end and now entered into Loch Lochy. The loch was fairly wide and stretched into the distance. We continued walking for a few miles on a wooded lochside path with occasional short road walking sections. The day was overcast and dull and as we looked into the distance up the loch it was grey but many shades of grey with a panicle of bright light at the very top of the loch and with the clouds clinging to the hills it was surreal!
The path led us to the minor road and to a sign for the Clan Cameron Museum so we detoured up a tarmac road for about a ¾ mile through parkland and came upon the museum building. We paid our entrance fee and entered, within the museum you find a series of rooms laid out in a highly effective manner. Topics covered include the story of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, “Bonnie Prince Charlie” and the 1745 uprising. Clan Cameron supported the Jacobite uprising; Included in the items on display is one of Bonnie Prince Charles’ waistcoats, and a Jacobite ring. An earlier Jacobite uprising is remembered by the presence in the museum of the boots worn by Sir Ewan Cameron, the 17th clan chief, at the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689. Another display commemorates the clan’s links with the Commandos.
These were more geographical than genealogical, as from early 1942 Achnacarry Castle was used as the Commando Basic Training Centre, a place where volunteers from regiments throughout the Army, and later the Royal Marines, were moulded by an exceptionally tough training program into men fit to wear the Green Beret and take the war back into occupied Europe and beyond. It is difficult to believe today, but as you look across the parkland to the front of Achnacarry Castle, you have to imagine this as home to over 50 Nissan huts and other buildings. During the training centre’s active life some 25,000 men were trained here, including men from many parts of Europe (even some Germans) and United States Rangers. Information about the Commando Basic Training Centre is available in the museum, as is a leaflet describing a “Commando Trail”.
We were having a coffee and chatting to the young lady who ran the museum when I glanced at my watch it was 12.15 and said to John “come on we have to get a move on” so we set off following the path through the parkland that would loop round and bring us back onto the GGW trail. Further along the road we came across some impressive waterfalls, where Heather had informed us both these falls as well as an adjacent bridge were used in the film Rob Roy!
With the detour done and now back on the trail with some 8 ½ m still to go we strode out along the forest track alongside Loch Lochy. I have to say the track was hard going and a bit boring with trees screening the loch on one side and the hills on the other. We were getting a bit hungry and were on the lookout for somewhere suitable to sit to have our lunch (never a seat when you need one). Having ploughed on for a while we came across some large rocks where we sat and refuelled and John worked on his crossword!
With still 7 miles to go and time ticking on we lengthened our stride with renewed purpose.
There were many ups and downs along the trail but nothing too steep to bother us, but it was hard work! Eventually, we cleared the trees and there ahead was Laggan Locks about a mile away, with many boats tied up nearby. We walked along a meadow down to a farm track up to the loch and there was what we were looking for the unique ‘Eagle Inn’.
Not your usual pub, but a Dutch steel barge that operates as a floating pub and restaurant. So we were swiftly below and with pints in our hands we went atop to savour our well-earned drinks. Our itinerary required us to call a taxi that would pick us up and transport us the four miles to the Glengarry Castle Hotel; I made repeated calls to the number we had been given but no one answered, so I rang the hotel they gave me another number which was a taxi in Fort Augustus and he wanted £20 to take us, John interrupted me to say he had sorted it, having spoken to the barmaid she contacted a local taxi owner and a taxi was on the way!
The taxi dropped us off at the hotel (it looked grand). We made arrangements with the driver to pick us up the following morning and return us back to Laggan locks. We strode into reception and although we were in our scruffy walking gear and despite being a bit sweaty and no doubt a bit smelly were given a warm welcome. As we looked around we were impressed with this family run country house hotel, very old but comfortable and set in sixty acres of grounds. We decided to push the boat out and eat in the hotel. So suitably cleaned up we asked where the bar was and was told “there is no bar but there is a drinks list in the lounge just let the staff know what you want” we studied the list, no real ale but they had a good range including draught beer. With drinks to hand and sinking into big soft chairs, we reflected on the days walk and we both agreed these were mighty fine ‘digs’. We enjoyed a delicious meal accompanied with a nice bottle of red then returned to the lounge for our coffee where John went looking for a book from the library. He came back with one on Scottish birds he poured over the section on Golden Eagles with the comment “I wonder if we will see one”!
The taxi picked us up and dropped us back at Laggan Locks and we set off on the towpath passing the Eagle Inn. As we approached North Laggan Swing Bridge a number of cyclist came racing along the path behind us we quickly stood aside and received thanks from their leader, a man taking photos said they were a group of lads from Glasgow cycling the GGW for charity and he was part of their support team.
We walked across the road and up onto an abandoned rail track and came to what used to be Glengarry Station and where there was a short section of reinstated rail line and a small shunting engine. This immediately caught John’s attention and spotting two chaps working nearby he quickly got into conversation with them. They were part of a preservation group attempting to rebuild the station and establish a railway museum, they proudly showed us plans for a new replica signal box, whilst the footings were clearly marked out they informed us they were unable to do any further work as they had applied for a National Lottery grant and until the Lottery people make a decision on the application the rules state no work could commence. We wished them well and we were once again on our way.
It was easy walking along the track-bed path it looked if it had been upgraded recently as there were concrete bridges over watercourses and fresh gravel on the path. Further along we noticed a smaller lower path passing nearer the lochside which looked as if it had been the original path. We diverted onto this path as it took us into the treeline and provided us better views across the loch. With the sun shining the views across the loch were breath-taking. On the far side we saw a half sunken boat and poking through trees the remains of Glengarry Castle, the hotel we stayed at the previous night was not far from the ruins but could not be seen through the trees.
We came to Aberchalder where the path left the line of the track-bed and followed the edge of the loch. This was the end of Lock Oich and a swing bridge marked the start of another constructed section of the canal. As we approached the swing bridge I espied a picnic table just right for lunch! The sun continued to shine and the silence only broken by the occasional vehicle crossing the bridge and the quacking of the ducks trying to persuade us to toss them the ends of our sandwiches.
Refreshed, we were again on our way following the towpath. After a short walk, Collochy Lock came into view and there was some activity, there were a couple of motorboats navigating their way through the lock. These were hire boats with the crew decked out in orange life vests so a photo opportunity and excuse to pause and watch them manoeuvre their way through.
We crossed to the other side of the canal and walked for a couple of miles to Kyltra Lock where we found the lady lock keeper on the lock side mowing the grass. John never one to miss the opportunity to have a chat fell into conversation with her and made enquiries as to what types of birds of prey we might see and she said “there are buzzards, osprey, red kites and maybe golden eagle, If we were lucky”, this perked John up as he had set his sights on seeing a golden eagle.
So, onward to Fort Augustus, it seemed odd as we now had the canal to our right and a drop to the river Oich immediately to our left as we were now walking on a narrow strip of land between these bodies of water. As we walked into Fort Augustus there was a flight of five locks with water cascading down from the top of each lock gate and buildings on each side with a road running either side. This formed the centre of the village. We walked down to Main Street and a found a mobile refreshment wagon next to the Clansman Centre. John ordered two large teas and a Tunnock’s teacake apiece, we sat at a table to rest our tired feet and in no time we were in conversation with the two ladies who ran the refreshment wagon. We engaged in some good natured banter with regard to our two nations.
We checked in at the B&B (The Bank House) a former Bank of Scotland branch office and manager’s house. It was beautiful inside with lots of dark polished wood very Victorian. We had a twin room that was neat and tidy and comfy beds. Later after a shower and a change of clothes we found a pub and had a couple of pints and had an enjoyable meal (locally farmed salmon). By the time we left the pub it had grown dark and the lock gates were illuminated with green floodlights, with the water gushing over the top of the lock gates the effect was stunning! We had a wander around the village taking photos of the locks and boats anchored above the locks, in the twilight the views were spectacular. We had another pint in a different pub to discuss the events of the day and then to bed to rest our tired feet.
Leisurely breakfast as according to the itinerary we only have 8 miles today. So, boots on and across the locks to the garage where we picked up a paper and something to eat and drink for lunch. The path took us up the main road for a short way then a minor road until we entered a wooded area, climbing all the way. The path climbed a bit higher then went parallel with Loch Ness on our right and the hills on our left. After a mile or so we came to an information board informing us that there was a choice of trail to take. The ‘Low route’ that keeps to the path we were on or the ‘High route’ that climbed further up the hill and took a higher line and was slightly further to travel. We both agreed that as we had a relatively short walk today so the higher route it was.
As we were making our decision we were joined by a young American riding a bike loaded down with panniers, he told us he was biking the trail in three days and he decided to join us on the High route. Off we went climbing a zigzag well-made path through the forest taking an occasional breath before continuing. Our America friend huffed and puffed his way up pushing his loaded bike but being a young fella it seemed no effort to him. We climbed above the treeline and a further short climb later we were on the hilltop joining a small crowd of people sat enjoying a well-earned rest after their climb. Our American friend suggested using my camera to take a photo of both John and I which we accepted and then returned the compliment. With that done he hopped on his bike and went speeding along the trail and quickly out of our sight. From our vantage point we looked back and could see Fort Augustus in the distance and looking forwards Loch Ness stretched out before us.
The path meandered along up and down through the high moorland. We came across a refuge with an internal bench; a dry stone wall was built in a part circle around the bench to give shelter from the wind. We took the opportunity to have a five-minute break to take in the view and decided it was too early for lunch so pressed on.
After walking for a further three miles we were looking for a suitable place for lunch as the trail was starting to descend into the forest and with the sun shining we found some large rocks for us to park our backsides on and enjoy a break. As I was enjoying nibbling my packet of crisps a group of Lycra clad cyclists came tearing past us leaving a dust trail in their wake! We started the descent into a dense wooded area the path was narrow and steeply zig -zagged down, this caused some discomfort to my knees (I am more comfortable walking uphill rather than downhill).
Our descent led us to re-join the lower route path where we had a beautiful view of the river Moriston estuary and the lush green meadow in front of Invermoriston House, we continued along the path where we joined a minor road that led us to Invermoriston. As we entered the village we passed over the river bridge and saw the old, now disused bridge (built by Telford). It was an impressive sight with the river cascading over rocks below.
We continued up the road and came to the centre of Invermoriston that consisted of a Hotel, shop and a few houses. There was a sign for a café a short way down the road so off we went; I nabbed a table outside while John ordered a pot of tea and a piece of cake each. The cyclist who passed earlier had finished their break and were departing and the ladies we met earlier in the day arrived to take up a nearby table, we sat soaking up the sun and resting our weary legs and feet and whilst it had been a shortish walk (just short of 9m) it was tough with a long climb at the start and the path meandered up and down.
We left the café to walk to the B&B (Darrock View). As we approached the Invermoriston Hotel I suggested as this seemed the only place to eat we should book a table, we popped in and spoke to the barmaid and enquired about booking and she said all tables were booked until 8.00pm but we could take pot luck and eat in the bar if a table is available (same menu). We settled for that and carried on to find our B&B for the night. On arrival we were made welcome and shown to our room. The room was small with two single beds positioned such that they filled the whole room; there was about four inches of room to squeeze by the bottom of the bed to reach the bathroom. There was no window apart from a small roof light in the sloping ceiling. John and I were disappointed, but it was only for one night. We went to the hotel and there was plenty of spare tables in the bar so we had a pint of local real ale and ordered the food (I had venison stew, excellent) I was still hungry so ordered ‘clootie’ dumpling’ for pudding, it was delicious. A chap at the next table asked what it was like I said “it sticks to your gums and tastes great”. After another pint we went for a walk, it was a nice night with a clear sky and a big bright moon but was starting to get chilly, we returned to our pokey room watched ‘Match of the Day’ then turned in.
We had a good breakfast said cheerio to the landlady and fellow guests and walked down to the shop at the crossroads purchased a Sunday paper and ham roll for lunch. The trail took us up a track that zig-zagged up the hillside, a fair climb, we took a breath near the top of the climb and looked over the other side of the valley; with a nip in the air the sun shining on the hillside it was great to be alive! Today, we agreed on the Low Route.
We were walking a forestry track with a good walking surface with some ups and downs, the trees however screening the view of loch Ness but there were occasional breaks and then the views were spectacular. We occasionally heard screeches from birds and some would fly overhead and John would attempt to identify them, we saw Buzzards, an Osprey and later in the walk we briefly saw a large brown bird of prey with a touch of white under its wings and John was adamant that it was a ‘Golden Eagle’ he may have been right!
The trail took an upward left handed bend and as I turned the bend there in the middle of the track was a large copper coloured slow worm it was about 600mm long and 20 mm diameter. We both stood in amazement as it slithered off the path into the undergrowth while I fumbled with my camera. Sadly I was not quick enough, it was gone!
We pressed on along the forest track the track zig-zagged upwards and never taking us above the treeline, it was getting time for lunch and we were on the lookout for a suitable spot to sit but there were no benches, fallen trees or rocks we could sit on, John consulted the map and said “there is a car park along the trail and wondered if there was a chance there may be a picnic table”? So we pressed on climbing above the treeline to reach the car park at Crotaig. Alas no ‘picnic table’ just a small tarmac car park so we perched ourselves on some uncomfortable rocks on the roadside and had a well-earned break.
We set off up the tarmac road; this road would take us all the way to Drumnadrochit (Drum). We passed some small hamlets and holiday lodges and came upon a man trimming a large hedge at an isolated house I made the comment that “it looked hard work” he replied “it was but not as hard as the walk we were doing” we stopped to chat and he indicated that it was all downhill to Drum. The area had opened up with the odd plantations of trees but generally open grassed fields with views over loch Ness (far below us now) with the sun kissing the hilltops beyond.
We came to Clunebeck wood and far below us we could see the Villages of Lewiston and Drum. John looked at the map and the route took us off the road through woods and re-joins the road at the bottom of the hill. We were feeling tired and a bit weary so we agreed to take to the road as it was a shorter route, the hill was very steep downhill and twisty and the pressure on my knees was very painful (ouch). We got to the main road at Lewiston and had a short rest at a handy placed bench. Then set off again up the A82 to Drum. It was a very busy road and whilst there is a pavement path the speed of passing traffic made it uncomfortable. At last we came to the welcome sight of the roadside sign “Drumnadrochit” a short walk brought us to the ‘green’ where we arrived at Bridgeside our B&B.
We were given a warm welcome by our landlady Rosalyn and her friendly dog Molly. After much chat (in Rosalyn John had met his match in this department) we were shown to our room, which was well furnished, comfortable beds, tea & coffee of all varieties and a small decanter with enough sherry for a drink apiece. At our request Rosalyn kindly booked a table at Fiddlers restaurant. She explained that due to demand the restaurant only took bookings for sittings at six and eight pm, after a hard day walking we were hungry so opted for the first sitting. A quick shower and change we popped over the green to Fiddlers. After some confusion (we went to the adjacent deli) we were seated and after a nice pint of organic local beer we had an enjoyable meal. Afterwards we had a stroll to the top of the village over the river Enrick Bridge and we came upon Loch Ness Centre Exhibition we had a wander around the outside and looked over a fence and there was ‘Nessie’ floating on a weed covered pond!
After walking back to the green I got a couple of pints and sat outside with John joining me after phoning his other half. We decided to head back relatively early on and turn in as we were tired after a hard day.
We were staying two nights in this B&B as there is no suitable accommodation between Drum and Inverness. In one go this is a walk of over twenty miles and it’s a bit much for us old codgers plus we set out to enjoy ourselves not for the walk to be an ordeal. Our itinerary was for us to be transported from our B&B to about halfway to Inverness then walk back to Drum and the following day again transported halfway and walk on to Inverness.
We started off with an excellent breakfast (the best selection we were offered on the trip) as well as the usual cooked selections there was fresh fruit, of every description, fruit compote (Johns said it was delicious ) yoghurts, Jams and marmalades what a choice all laid out on a magnificent carved wooden servery. The transport was booked to collect us at 9.30am so we stepped across the road to the post office / shop and bought a paper and sandwich for lunch and sat in the sunshine reading the paper until the minibus arrived.
There were a number of other walkers staying at adjacent B&B’s who were also sharing our transport. There was a good mixture of people Americans, Canadians, a German, the ladies from Devon and others; John was in his element with so many people to talk with. We set off up the A82 alongside Loch Ness then took a small side road where we pulled up in the middle of nowhere next to a sign for the GGW. Some people headed in the direction of Inverness some stayed on the minibus to go further along the road to Blackfold and the rest (including ourselves) headed back along the tail to Drum. We made a quick start down the trail to get clear of the crowd; the path was narrow with bushes and saplings on either side, after a few hundred yards we came upon a sign advertising a’ Eco cafe and campsite’ John said “this looks interesting let’s go and have a coffee”!
So off we trudged up a muddy path where we came upon a clearing with assorted tables and chairs and a roughly constructed shack with a deck at the rear fitted out with a table and seats, there was no one about so we followed the track up to a house but before we got there a redheaded lady appeared and greeted us with cheery smile and John enquired if we could have some coffee.
She sat us down in the shack deck and off she went in the direction of the house and in no time she was back with a pot of Columbian coffee and a plate of biscuits, her name was Sandra and she had a warm orcadian accent, we had a chat about the unusual setting she asked us for a photo as it was a tradition to post pictures on Facebook, she left saying “leave the payment on the table and she would collect it later”. We finished our coffee and left with a smile on our faces pleased we had visited such an unusual place (see links below for further info):
We had enjoyed a pleasant hour at the ‘café’ and were in no hurry as we had just over 8m today and it was pretty much flat terrain with the trail going downhill towards the end into Drum. We set off on the narrow path that led us to a small road above Loch Laide we crossed the road and carried on along a wide forestry track where we came upon a wooden carving we had a discussion was it a toadstool or a ‘thingy’, you decide!
The path took us closer to Loch Ness and the forest became denser. After walking for about 5 miles we were high up overlooking the Loch and occasionally the trees cleared to give great views across the water. It was time for lunch and I spotted a bench in a clearing with a spectacular view, so we had a leisurely lunch and basked in the sunshine, ‘wow’ we have had great luck with the weather!
The trail started to take us downhill through some thick forest and we passed a clearing where wild campers had stopped for the night the floor was covered in a bed of soft pine needles and there were rings of stones with remains of campfires. The trees started to thin out and as we walked down to the fields we spied the remains of Urquhart Castle that sat on a promontory across the bay overlooking the loch, the castle which was the largest in Scotland was blown up during the Jacobite risings. The cloud had increased and with the sun flitting across the water gave the setting a magical air!
The path led us to the main road (A82) at Temple Pier and we walked alongside the road into Drum and a well-earned pint. That night we dined at Fiddlers again and then an evening stroll down to the lower part of the village, it was a pleasant night with a bright moon, the walk was very enjoyable, and so after such a good day we returned to our B&B and turned in.
This is to be our last day of walking, the final leg; we had a hearty breakfast in the company of a Canadian couple who were traveling in the opposite direction. We said our goodbyes to Rosalyn and as we boarded the minibus we were pleased to see the 3 ladies again so John was able to continue chatting to everyone on the way to our drop-off location. At the drop-off point we and the ladies were heading to Inverness and some stayed on the minibus to be dropped further up the road at Blackfold, the rest were walking back to Drum we encouraged them to call at the Eco Café on the way.
We set off up the minor road at a steady pace there was some cloud with sunny spells and were walking inland away from Loch Ness and would not see the canal again until we reached Inverness. As we were walking along the road a car pulled and the driver wound down his window and asked if we have seen a pair of dogs running round, we said “no” and he explained they were valuable pedigree black and white ‘pointers’. He explained he had been walking them when they disappeared round a bend and he thought that they may have spotted deer and chased after them. He gave us his phone number and we said we would keep a lookout and ring him if we saw them.
The clouds had cleared and the blue sky lit up the landscape. We were now walking across open heathland with occasional pockets of trees. We continued along the road until a GGW sign took off the road onto a well-made path. John was leading and he was setting a fast pace which was unexpected as he was nursing a pain that had developed in his lower back. The open heathland gave way to forest not pine but a pleasant mixture of trees, it reminded me of walking through Sherwood Forest back home. We were still moving at a relatively sharp pace when we saw a young man approaching us on a bicycle, as we came together he asked if we had seen ‘two dogs’ running around John related to him the discussion we had with the man in the car and we had been keeping an eye but alas we had not seen them. John commented (jokingly) “it’s a pity they were not fitted with satnavs” the young man said the owner did have satnav’s fitted to harnesses for them but had not put them on the dogs before the walk. We wished him well in his search and set off with John still setting a good pace, I thought we would be nearing Inverness in no time!
We came out of the forest into open grassland and there in the distance below us was Inverness I checked my watch .It was 12.30 and we had obviously made very good time. The path took us past a small reservoir and up a hill and there at the top was a welcoming bench with a great view of Inverness and its urban sprawl ‘time for lunch’. We sat and had a well-earned break I said to John “we have plenty of time let’s sit here for a while and enjoy the sun and view” he agreed and we sat and watched various people passing us joggers, cyclists, dog walkers and fellow hikers. A lady walking her dogs stopped and we had an enjoyable conversation discussing our walk, where we had stayed and the beauty of the Scottish Highlands. She also suggested we consider walking the Spey Valley on another occasion as it was full of magnificent scenery.
After rejoining the canal path for some time, we set off crossing a footbridge to an island in the river Ness the path took us along a wood lined path that led us to another bridge that took us to the opposite bank. Looking upstream there were some impressive buildings hidden among the trees.
We were on the road towards Inverness Castle ‘the end of the walk’ A short way along the road the GGW sign took us across the road through a side road and up the hill to the castle. As we approached the castle we heard clapping. We looked across the road and there were the Three Ladies sat outside the pub giving us a hearty round of applause, as we took the last few strides towards the monument that, for us marked the end of our walk. We gave a gracious bow of acceptance and walked up the hill to the statue of Flora McDonald in front of the castle. We persuaded a tourist to take our picture in front of the statue. A chap we had met on the walk arrived and John congratulated him and took his photo, he told us he was off to the bus station to board an overnight coach back home to Winchester via Victoria Bus Station in London all for £10! Now there’s a bargain!
I reflected on the past seven days (and as with completing previous long distance walks) there was a sense of anti-climax, there was a feeling of pleasure and at the same time disappointment that we had finished!
Looking back down the hill we noticed the official structure marking the end of the GGW walk so we went to it and had further photos take, the 3 ladies came across from the pub and we all congratulated each other and helped with taking photos. The ladies were from Devon and were taking the train the following day to Edinburgh then flying to Bristol. Another large party of walk finishers arrived and it was getting a bit crowded so we said cheerio to everyone and set off to find our B&B. Having walked through the city centre and then North over the river bridge we arrived at that nights B&B (Acorn House) it was a large house that had the feel of a city B&B and not the homely B&B’s we had stayed at elsewhere. We explained to our host that we had an early morning train to catch the next day (07.55hrs), She said she would book a taxi for us and we agreed a pickup time of 7.15am.
After settling in we had a cup of tea, rested of our weary legs and feet, then a shower and change of clothes we set off to find the pub the ladies at the refreshment kiosk in Fort Augustus had recommended (this turned out to be the pub near the castle where the 3 ladies had applauded us), As we approached the pub we noticed all the outside tables were all taken and when we entered the place was heaving with no available tables. We looked across the bar and they had some good real ales so we agreed to have a pint, John spotted a pump with “Harvest Pale” (Nottingham real ale) while I went for a pint of something local, I asked the barmaid for a table for food she said if we cared to wait there was one couple waiting before us and it wouldn’t be a long wait as people departed after eating. The pub was lively and the beer good so we waited. A table eventually became available so we ordered and I sat back while John engaged a chap standing next to him in conversation while watching some Scottish league cup football on the pub TV. It turned out that he had come to watch his side Queen of the South play Rangers on the TV and while he and John blethered away all night as we watched the game (his side were hammered by Rangers 5.0).In the meantime the food was taking a long time to arrive and I had a word with the waitress and she said there was a problem with John’s order she apologised and offered us a free beer while we waited! It had been a good night and with a few beers and a meal inside us we made our way back to the digs.
We were up early and carried our bags down to the lounge to wait for the taxi, we both thought that our hosts could at least have offered to lay out some cereals and fruit juice so we could have helped ourselves before we departed but hey-ho! The taxi arrived and we loaded our cases and set off to the station. The lady cabbie asked us which train we were on. When we told her she said she had bad news in that the ‘sleeper had not come up last night’ and this was the train scheduled to take us to Newcastle this morning. Apparently the cab company were providing twenty taxis to ferry passengers to Edinburgh. We duly arrived at the station and tried to find out what was going on but the Scotsail staff said we would have to wait until Virgin Rail staff arrived! I had to have something to eat and drink so I went to the snack bar for a sausage bap and cup of tea while John went to suss things out. Eventually he came back and said “the taxis would be on the road outside the station” he popped into the snack bar for a sandwich and we went to a side gate. No taxis in sight! Then a taxi mini bus arrived and discharged several passengers and their luggage. John approached and heard the driver say once he was clear of his current passengers he was booked to drive to Edinburgh and that he could take eight of us. Not needing to be told twice John and I leapt on board.
So off we sped with a full load of disgruntled passengers but grateful we were on the move, we faced a journey of 155 miles taking three and a half hours.
It turned out the sleeper had broken down the night before it had been fixed and started at Perth keeping to its original timetable. So with four minutes to departure we took our still reserved seats and off we sped. We then had uneventful final legs of our journey arriving at Derby on time where Sue picked us up. We went back to John’s house I collected my car and drove home to Nottingham, but not before John and I committed to another (at least one) long walk in 2017.
Read more about Graeme’s thoughts on the walk here, or you can view full details of the available Great Glen Way itineraries on Macs Adventure’s website.