30th May 2008 – Drumnadrochit to Inverness – 20.5 miles
Synopsis: A short road walk takes us away from the village and provides views back to Urquhart Castle, before entering the woods along narrow winding paths. We continue to climb along now familiar forestry roads eventually reaching the high-point of the Way near Achpopuli. Another road section then takes us into Inverness and a charming walk beside the river to the finishing post at the Inverness Castle
My dreams of a quiet, private breakfast in the lovely conservatory where the dining room is located, were dashed at 08:05 as I sat sipping my tea. The Gruesome Toothsome arrived 25 minutes early. Apparently they’d realised that 08:30 was much too late for them and 08:00 was much more convenient. Being the star she is, Mary said not a word and hurried off to the kitchen to get their order on. I was beyond being polite to these people now and studiously ignored them all through breakfast. When they spoke to me I merely grunted or replied monosyllabically. I suppose I was being petty and I must admit I’m not proud of my behaviour, although I relay it here as a matter of record.
I chatted to Mary over breakfast as she bustled back and forward to the kitchen with plates and cups. She’d been out the night before at the official re-opening of a nearby pub, the one I had cut down the side of the previous night in fact. The Loch Ness Inn. She said she was very impressed with what they’d done to the place and the food they’d been given at the reception was excellent. I mention this as there is next to nothing at this end of the village (the Lewiston end) and certainly nowhere to get an evening meal. The pub should offer an alternative, for anyone staying at Tramps B&B, to walking the mile or so into town for an evening meal.
At some point in the night I’d received a text from Young Jim to the effect that they would be more than happy for me to walk with them again today and I should try and be at the bridge at the top end of town by 09:00. That was over a mile from my B&B and I needed to stop at the shop for some lunch items on the way, so I finished my breakfast quickly, paid my bill and was out of the door at 08:30. There is a little supermarket in the village, located next to the Chip Shop and I stopped here for water, crisps and fruit and then walked on to the bridge at the top end of town. It was warm this morning, although there was quite a lot of cloud cover, but it looked like a good day for walking.
The Inov-8 rucksack has a proprietary hydration system built into it; the H2Orizontal system that places the water reservoir at the base of the pack and wraps it around into the hip belt, this makes for a much more stable load being carried on the hips. It also has the opening at the top, easily accessible through a Velcro flap in the bottom of the pack, so all you need to do is peel back the flap, open the bladder and pour your water in – so much easier than the Platypus system, which would have required me to almost empty the pack, remove the bladder and then fill it. So I filled my bladder while I waited for the guys at the bridge at the top end of town.
This area of the village, north of the bridge is awful. The Loch Ness Monster Visitor Centre and Exhibition shouts its name mercilessly from the top of its metaphorical voice. Dozens of large signs point you, step by step, into the centre, with hundreds of parking spaces for cars and coaches. I hated it. The little village a little way down the road is quiet and picturesque, while this is brash and loud – but then I suppose that’s what they need to attract the American tourists! The picture above has six separate signs for the Visitor Centre – all within sight of the place!
Right on time the guys came wandering down the road, chatting happily to each other – obviously well fed and watered after breakfast in their converted chapel. They greeted me warmly and we bemoaned the lack of mobile coverage in the village which had scuppered our plans to meet up the previous night. Our respective B&B’s were nearly a mile and half apart – amazing in such a small village – but not at all conducive to a chance meeting in the village.
We walked along the road out of the village, past the hotels; a long dull trudge on the pavement with the cars whizzing along beside us. By the time we left the road and picked up the footpath that led to the forest, I’d walked 2.6 miles on tarmac. I had my boots on again today – the Terrocs were still soaking wet and the sole was flapping again, so I’d decided to finish the walk in boots. From the road and more so from the narrow footpath just off the road, looking back over my shoulder revealed a good view of Urquhart Castle thrusting out into the loch. We passed a couple of people trying to get “proper” shots of the castle, with long lenses and tripods and I managed to get one half decent picture myself.
We passed a family on the path, just as we approached the forest; Father and Mother with two young children, I guess about 10 who were having a great time – taking lots of breaks at which the parents would admire the views and the kids would pull their Nintendo Gameboys out of their own mini packs. We leap-frogged them several times during the day.
We were soon swallowed by the majestic pine forest. This seemed to be a sympathetic factory forest; trees were spaced wide enough to let some light through the canopy and the floor of the forest was covered with vivid green moss and lichen. The path was strewn with fallen needles and it felt quiet and still. I could almost imagine the place would echo if any of us was disrespectful enough to call out loud.
Since leaving the road we had been climbing steadily; this is the longest and highest climb of the whole Great Glen Way, it climbs over a 1000 feet from slightly above sea level at the loch shore to 1200 feet, four miles later. Jim took his time, pacing steadily, shortening his steps and taking regular short breaks. If I’m still climbing hills as well as he is in 25 years time I’ll be more than happy.
Today was a day for talking and I lost track of time as we chatted through the length of the climb. We left the forest behind and joined a wide forestry road that took us relentlessly upwards. At one point we thought we’d reached the top as we found a cairn all by itself at the side of the road. I thought it must signify the highpoint of the climb, but as we rounded the corner just beyond it we could see the road continued to climb away from us. During the climb we said goodbye to Loch Ness as the path swung inland.
We climbed steadily and steeply at times for over two hours before we finally reached the top of the climb. The highest point on the Great Glen Way is marked by a blue wooden milestone, which for us was being guarded by one of the Coincidental Americans, the mother in fact. They were having a break right by the path. I’m aware of course that I still haven’t explained the nickname I’ve used for this family, but be patient, I’m coming to it.
We took a deserved rest on a pile of felled timber just beyond the summit, it was 11:30 and still a bit early for a lunch stop, so we pushed on after a few minutes and decided to look for somewhere else to sit down and eat. This final day was proving to be the best of the lot in terms of the views we’d had. The section of open moorland between the forest and the highpoint had been great and I was surprised how much I’d missed seeing open spaces stretching away instead of the confines of conifer forests.
As we descended gently from the summit we passed what seemed to be a holiday park in the trees beside Loch Laide. It must be fairly new because it wasn’t on my map and many of the buildings seemed to be made from fresh timber, still white and pale. Children were swinging on a huge climbing frame and clambering across a climbing wall. It seemed a little bit surreal, stuck out in the middle of nowhere. It was, however, nothing like as surreal as what we found next.
At about 12:15 we were following a narrow path through a wood of small, young trees. It seemed that large areas of what had been heather moorland, on the edge of the forest was being reclaimed for native woodland species; being replanted with Birch, Rowan and others. We saw a sign by the side of the path announcing “Refreshments” and pointing into the wooded area to our right. The sign was obviously home-made, crude blue painted letters on a piece of scrap timber. But it was about time for lunch, so we all looked at each other and decided to take a closer look. We followed an even narrower path than that which we had been walking along, through the trees, past additional hand-painted signs telling us we were going in the right direction.
Ahead, through the trees we could see a caravan. The signs became more rough and ready and more plentiful the closer we got to the little caravan. If I was walking on my own, I’m not sure I would have progressed much further – it all looked a little “back-woodsey” to me. As if to confirm my fears; as we approached the van we were hailed by a voice from the woods to our right and out of the trees strode a large guy in full camouflage gear and a huge beard; big enough to be hiding a family of badgers. He greeted us warmly enough and he didn’t appear to be armed, so we followed him through to an open area not far from the caravan.
Here we were joined by another outdoors woodsman type; camouflage gear and big, bushy beard obviously being the local fashion. He pointed us towards a small rickety table and four chairs positioned beside a dank, swamp-like pool of water, half-covered in moss. He produced a small notebook and pencil and proceeded to take our order. We asked for three coffees, one tea and a hot chocolate after being told what was on the menu. Before he left he warned us to take care near the chickens, several of whom had started to approach us. “Keep your fingers out of reach” he told us.
We sat, or at least four of us did. As the youngest I stood, giving me the added advantage of the best possible getaway if required. We talked in low voices and spoke of films like “Deliverance”. It really was quite odd. The caravan was one of two or three that we could see, along with a wooden building further back in the woods. Several large steel enclosures were also visible, one had three mangy looking dogs in it. There was a lot of detritus scattered about the camp and it looked like several people must have lived there.
Tea was served by a scruffy looking woman, no camo gear and no beard thank goodness, she was assisted by one of the men we’d met earlier, it was difficult to tell which one, and together they placed a large tray with our drinks on it. The coffee was served in a large cafetierre and we all had large heavy mugs and a finger of shortbread each. We were charged £10 for the order, which seemed a little high, considering the surroundings, but none of us were prepared to complain and we were provided with a receipt of all things. “We need to keep things in order for the taxman” the waiter explained. I rather imagine that’s something they do in case any of their guests are tax inspectors 🙂
A cry erupted from Young Jim and he jumped to his feet, knocking the table and spilling most of the drinks from our mugs resting on the table. He was holding one of his fingers in his other hand and looking angrily at the back end of a chicken that was flapping quickly into the bushes with a shortbread finger in her beak. We’d been warned about the chickens and Jim could now testify to the fact that they were lethal with their beaks!
We chatted with our hosts for a few minutes as we drank our drinks – we were beginning to relax a little now; this was odd, but not unsafe. They told us they were planting native species to reclaim some of the moorland; they said they’d planted over 8000 trees in the past few years, quick growing species which he named, but I can’t remember. The cafe was a small sideline and all the profits went to maintain the community and plant trees. They even had a caravan offering B&B facilities – I bet that’s free most weeks!
As we were finishing up the American family came wandering through the trees, looking not a little nervous. When they saw us however, they looked a lot more relieved and came over and joined us. We gave them our seats and tried to put their minds at ease with respect to being raped and mutilated in the forest – they’d seen Deliverance as well! More chairs were produced from somewhere and most of us managed to sit.
I asked the American father where they were from and he said they’d been living in the UK for five years now, but had originally come from Prescott, Arizona a small town that most Americans had never heard of.
“So where are you living now?” I asked.
“We live near Manchester” the father replied.
“Ah”, I said “I live in Cheshire, just south of Manchester”
“Well that’s funny” he said, “we actually live in Cheshire too, but nobody seems to know where that is”
“I’m in Winsford, which nobody’s ever heard of either, near Northwich and Knutsford” I explained
“We’re in Wilmslow, just near Knutsford” he said
“I was born in Knutsford” I said “and I know Wilmslow quite well, it’s a nice place to live”
At this point the mother cut in “I work in Knutsford, at the High School on Bexton Road”
“No way! That’s where I used to go to school!” I exclaimed “It’s a small world isn’t it”
“It sure is” says the father again “we were sitting in a little coffee shop in Fort William and we got chatting to an American couple sitting next to us” he explained. “We said we were from Prescott, Arizona, “You probably won’t have heard of it” I said and they said, “We come from Prescott Arizona too”.
The father explained how unlikely this was – Prescott isn’t all that small, but it’s the equivalent of two English people meeting in America and finding out that they live next door to each other in some tiny hamlet in the Norfolk. Somehow the conversation then got round to ancestry and the fact that the American father was actually born in the Scotland.
“I was born in Dundee” he said, and mentioned an area in that town, “my parents live there still. We’re going to see them after we finish the walk”
“Now that’s a coincidence” chimes in Young Jim “My parents live in that section of town, in <such and such> street”
“My parents live in <thingamabob> street” said American father, “that’s only a few streets away!”
So now you know why I called them the Coincidental Americans. It was getting a little bit spooky, so we made our excuses and left them to fend for themselves among the backwoodsmen. I would recommend you drop in for a coffee if you’re passing that way and you see the signs, it’s certainly an experience.
Leaving the woods, we joined a road which led across open moorland for almost three miles. It was strange to be able to see so far ahead and the road wound off into the distance for some way. It was very quiet though and had grassy verges for much of the way.
Because we could see so far into the distance, we got ample warning of the showers that were to follow. The clouds started to build early in the afternoon and the hills around us began to slowly disappear under the grey waves. The road walk was soon over and we entered the old pine forests that would take us most of the way into Inverness. Entering the woods the rain began to fall, not particularly heavy, but just heavy enough to require a short stop and the production of waterproofs from packs.
Young Jim produced an umbrella instead of waterproofs and to be fair it seemed to work for him. There was no wind to speak of and the short 20 or 30 minutes of rain was easily weathered beneath the shelter rather than sweating along in waterproofs as the rest of us did. It was also much easier to put away afterwards, whereas we all had to unsling packs and pack coats away, Jim just rolled his brolly up and hooked it onto his pack; readily to hand in the event that the rain decided to return.
The old forest was wonderful, another quiet, easy section with good paths and plenty of light filtering down. There are dry-stone walls (or dry-stone dykes as they are referred to in Scotland) along this section of path that must be hundreds of years old. The stones look ancient and crumbling and they’re covered in thick layers of moss and lichen – truly marvellous. I shunned a diversion to collect a nearby trig point, preferring instead to finish the walk with the guys I’d spent three great days walking with. We were all aware that Inverness and the finish were only a few short miles ahead.
We came to a large pond surrounded by yellow flowering Gorse bushes; this is one of three small reservoirs in fact, and we got our first views of the city ahead. Within a few more minutes we could see the old Victorian mental hospital of Creag Dunain, now being redeveloped or rebuilt perhaps. We followed narrow paths encroached with Gorse and Broom and were soon walking through the outskirts of the hospital and then down through a residential estate to meet our old friend the Caledonian Canal. It seemed like an eternity since I’d first met this waterway back in Fort William, but it had only been four short days.
The path then goes through a sports complex, which seems a bit odd and then follows the River Ness. We crossed to a long, thin island in the river using a substantial steel bridge. The island is wooded and criss-crossed with paths and walks. It’s also a doss house for what we used to call tramps, but are now more politically correctly referred to as homeless people. We came across several; some in pairs, some alone, all drinking or drunk, none of them paid us any heed, it seemed like my walk was finishing just as it started, walking through a large Scottish city avoiding drunks and potential troublemakers.
The island, if you ignore the drunks, is quite charming though and I was surprised to find a large log that had been turned into a sculpture by the bank. This was the closest I came to seeing the Loch Ness monster and I guess technically it would be the River Ness monster anyway. At the other end of the island we crossed over another large iron bridge to bring us to the eastern bank of the river and from there it was only a short walk along the streets of Inverness to the foot of Inverness Castle and the end of our journey.
We spent some time taking pictures of each other and of two other Great Glen Way walkers who finished at the same time as us. We’d not seen these two before, which is odd considering they finished with us. We then retired across the road to the nearest pub for a celebratory pint. The Castle Tavern was busy, it was nearly 17:00 by the time we arrived there, but as good fortune would have it the landlord was providing free food for all the guests. Huge plates of hot nibbles were being placed at strategic points around the bar and paper plates and napkins were being stacked next to them. We managed to grab a table outside under a huge umbrella and with foaming pints and steaming plates of food we celebrated the end of a great 12 days (for me, 5 days for the guys).
We looked at our respective accommodation addresses and discovered we were three doors apart on a street not far away. Once we had finished our mid-afternoon snack we headed off in search of the B&Bs. Much to our amusement and amazement, the street we were headed for was situated at the top of a huge flight of steps; 73 steps I counted before I arrived breathless at the top – something never change – 200 miles across Scotland, up Ben Nevis and I can still arrive breathless at the top of a flight of stairs!
We arranged to meet at 19:00, the lads walked the short way up the street and I walked up the path to the door of the Kinlock Lodge B&B. I could see my bag in the hall, through the glass front door as I rang the bell. It was opened by a man in overalls, covered in paint, with a paintbrush in hand. “Ah”, he said, “you must be the owner of the bag”. Which didn’t sound quite right to my thinking. He continued, “The thing is you see, we have no idea who you are or why your bag was sent here this afternoon”. My heart sank.
I explained that I’d booked a single room, over the phone, spoken to the man himself and been assured all was okay. I’d not confirmed any of the room bookings I’d made – I never do – to my mind it tends to sound like you don’t trust the people who run the B&B you’re staying in. He said he only had one single room and that wouldn’t be ready until two days hence; he was painting it. He showed me the paintbrush as if it explained everything. “I wouldn’t have taken a booking for today” he explained “the room won’t be ready until Sunday”. I had my own interpretation for the conversation. He’d taken my booking – of course he had – he’d just not finished painting the bloody room in time for my visit – which left me shit out of luck. I would now have to find another room in Inverness, in itself that probably wouldn’t be too hard, it was a big city with lots of accommodation. The big problem was that I had a 15Kg bag and my day pack to lug to the new B&B, wherever that might be. Plus the bloody awkward inconvenience of arranging it all, when all I wanted was a shower and sit down.
By this time the man’s wife had arrived in the hallway, “So this is the man that belongs to the strange bag is it?” she said, stating the bleeding obvious. “We haven’t got a room for you hen, but let me see what I can do”. She pushed past me and walked down the hall to the front door, where she leaned out and appeared to ring the bell of the house next door. After a moment I heard voices and a few seconds later she leaned back in and walked down the hall towards us. “John’s got a room for you, next door. It was a single you wanted, eh?”
I was amazed. One of the phrases I’ve lived my life with is “Nothing is ever simple”. Even the things that look simple and sound simple end up being complicated, time consuming and frustrating. Surely this couldn’t be resolved so quickly, so easily, so simply?!? I walked my bag to the front door, lifted it over the low wooden fence separating the paths of the two terraced houses and then followed it myself. John walked me up three flights of stairs to a tiny loft room, not much bigger than the bed and we agreed on £20 cash for the room for the night. I told him I would be out before breakfast and he seemed happy with the last minute booking.
I showered and sorted out my kit one last time. I wanted to be away early in the morning, so it all needed doing before I went out for the evening. I was going to have a meal with the guys and then later I was expecting to collect my car from Mike’s and probably have a beer or to with him, to say thanks for looking after the car and also as we’d not seen each other for a couple of years and we had some catching up to do.
I was back on the street waiting for the guys at 19:00 and we headed back to the Castle Tavern. It had seemed like a nice enough pub, with excellent beer and they’d already proven they could cook. We had an excellent meal – my first proper cooked evening meal indoors for three days and as much as I wanted to, I denied myself the pleasure of further beer as I had to drive my car back to the B&B in a short while. Sure enough, at 20:00 Mike collected me from the pub and after saying my farewells to the guys and many thanks for their company over the past few days I set off with Mike to his house.
I collected the car and drove us both back to the B&B, from where we walked back to the Castle Tavern for another pint of Trade Winds. The guys had already left and we sat at a table outside to talk. After about 30 minutes though, who should turn up but the two Jims. They explained that they’d ducked out of the B&B after the other guys had decided to have an early night, but Jim and Jim were all for having a couple more celebratory drinks. We got another round in and we discussed the walk, Mike has no trouble getting along with people, he’s a real social animal and before long we were chatting like old friends – all of us.
Mike was all for making a night of it, as I’d half expected – as an ex-Navy boy he’s never one to be shy about a drink or two. I had half a mind on the early start I wanted to make in the morning and the other half on having a few drinks with an old friend I’d not seen for a while and probably wouldn’t see again for a couple of years. The Jims made it clear they were up for a night on the town, so we all followed Mike, the local boy, into the vice-pit that is Inverness.
We tried a couple of pubs; the first one was absolutely packed and the home brewed beer was a little too frothy for my liking, besides we three wanted a seat and a table after walking all day, so we moved on to another pub. This one was much quieter and the beer was far more palatable. A lone singer was working a microphone at the front of the pub, working his way through an aged repertoire of country and western and rock ballads. Mike’s and the Jims’ musical tastes were very similar and they all enjoyed the crooner, I’d never even heard most of the songs, but it was good company and the beer helped a lot. After about 23:00 I switched to soft drinks – I couldn’t afford to sleep off a hangover in the morning, which I was already in danger of doing.
We stayed until 00:30, when the singer finally decided enough was enough and we caught a taxi back to the B&Bs and Mike took it home. This was an excellent way to finish the walk and although I was rather more tiddly than I intended I was more than happy.