28th May 2008 – South Laggan to Invermoriston – 18.5 miles
Synopsis: The day starts with a flat, easy walk through pleasant woodland and loch side paths. At Oich Bridge we leave Loch Oich behind and rejoin the Calendonian Canal for several miles into Fort Augustus. Then it’s back onto forestry tracks for the first of several sections beside Loch Ness, before arriving at the tiny village of Invermoriston with its splendid old bridge above the waterfalls
Ten days into the walk and the night-time routine was finely tuned. Anything that wasn’t already squared away in my luggage could be sorted and packed in almost no time at all; so I had very little to do this morning except take things easy. I snoozed the alarm a couple of times, luxuriating in that feeling of not being asleep, but being in bed with nothing to do but wait for the right time to rise. My phone, propped against the bed-side light, said 07:23, but you can’t get up at an odd time like 23 minutes past, I’d have to wait for 25 past now. I missed 25 past, so I waited for the full half hour come round. I rationalised that I wouldn’t have a more “rounded up” time now until 08:00 and that was going to be too late, so I stirred myself.
Breakfast was booked for 08:00, arranged with the Arbroath Four the night before and I could hear signs of life in the house outside my door. By the time I’d dressed and packed my day pack it was 5 minutes to the hour and I walked along the corridor to the kitchen. The host was a gregarious chap with a scruffy baseball cap, who passed items from the kitchen hatch to the guests waiting at their tables. I had egg on toast, which was a nice change from the usual fried everything, and I followed it with lots more toast and several cups of tea.
Although I had been given a table to myself, across the room from the Arbroath Four, there was lots of happy banter flowing back and forth between us and one or two other guests, also walking the Way. I think this was probably the best breakfast since Tyndrum and certainly the most talkative since the communal meal at Coille Mhor. The guys were more than happy for me to join them today, in fact they almost insisted, which was just as well because I was looking forward to some congenial company for a change and I’d made the decision the night before to tag along with them if they were happy with that.
I settled up with the landlady, including the drinks I’d used from the honesty bar the night before. The drinks were reasonably priced and anyone thinking of stocking up at the Eagle, like I did, before proceeding to Forest Lodge should save their money. We all left our luggage in the summer room, ready for collection by our respective agencies and we were outside lacing up boots at 08:50. The running repairs I’d made to the Inov-8s the night before seemed to be holding and I was reluctant to switch to boots at this point, so I trusted in luck again and laced my shoes.
The weather was cool, grey and gloomy, with lots of low cloud around this morning. The weather forecast predicted rain. I tried to drag the image of water falling from the sky from my long term memory banks, but struggled, it had been such a long time since I’d seen rain.
We had another section of the A82 to brave and the morning traffic seemed to be worse than that of the previous afternoon. Bill collected a big stick from the roadside and held it lengthways across his body, as a deterrent to passing cars from getting too close. There’s also more of a verge on this section than there had been yesterday, so all in all it may be better to walk along the canal and come back towards Forest Lodge. We soon left the perils of the open road for the quiet of the loch side path.
It felt awkward at first, probably not for them, but certainly for me. I felt like I was imposing myself on their little group and disrupting the routine they have developed over several years of walking together. It was also difficult to get used to walking with other people around me. I’d shunned company for the last 10 days and it felt odd. They went to great lengths to make me feel welcome, however, and it wasn’t long before I felt right at home.
We followed the canal bank for a while, before reaching and crossing the A82 again and entering the Laggan Water Park. There are holiday cottages here and water sports facilities as well as a restaurant, where the four guys had eaten the night before. The owner of the place had even given them a lift back to the Forest Lodge when they’d finished their meal. They were happy to recommend the place.
In no particular order, let me introduce you to the Arbroath Four:
John is the tallest of the guys; something of a local entrepreneur and retailer in his day before deciding that life had more to offer than stress and ulcers and sold up. He has a wealth of walking songs and isn’t afraid to raise his voice to raise our spirits.
Bill was an engineer with a major electronics firm before he retired and he has an enviable car history, including the iconic Audi Quattro. Bill was the quietest of the four, but relative to John and Jim that’s probably not that quiet at all in normal company 🙂 He had an uncanny knack of being able to find an adequate walking stick at the bottom of a climb and then disposing of it at the top.
Young Jim was a Project Manager with a well known company before he retired and he is still in the process of recovering from major surgery, the only concession to which seems to be the use of two poles and fair-play to him. He’s the organiser and the treasurer – but then what else would you expect from a PM?
Finally, Jim. Jim is the elder statesman of the group by a good few years (he’s got nearly 30 years on me) and he’s the only person I’ve ever met who carries a walking pole (he carried it for 80 miles) without using it. Jim was a lorry driver before he retired. He was nearly always to be found at the back of the group, but that seemed to be through choice rather than a lack of fitness or pace.
The four guys were all fit, they walk regularly at home as part of an organised walking group. They may walk at a slower pace than I’m used to, but I was happy to throttle back in order to walk in good company. As I’d found in 2006 when walking the Coast to Coast, the folk you meet along the way and spend time with can often make all the difference between a good walk and a truly memorable walk. They have also developed a routine over the years of stopping for a five minute breather every hour, which is something I’ve never been able to discipline myself to do. It does make for a longer walking day and a generally slower pace, but the breaks were normally lively, chatty affairs and I even saw a silver hip flask appear on occasions.
Anyway back to the walk; we’d just left the Water Park. The path took us along the loch side, arrow straight, through thin woodlands of native species. We came across remains of the railway that used to run alongside the loch, now all dismantled and sold for scrap. The few visible remnants, like this old tunnel, are now completely out of context with their surroundings.
We stopped for a short break at just after 10:00 and we disturbed a ewe and her newborn lamb resting beside the path. The ewe moved off and the lamb tried to follow, but on its wobbly legs it couldn’t climb over a small grassy lip by the path. John stooped down and gently lifted the lamb over the step and onto the other side, where it toddled off, uncertainly, after its mother. I think that’s probably the youngest lamb I’ve seen before, it still had bits of its umbilical cord dangling and it was so white it could have starred in a detergent advert.
The sky had lightened since we set out and I began to think that the threat of rain was diminishing. “Ha”, I thought to myself, “what the hell do weather forecasters know anyway”. At which point it started raining! We were only two minutes back into the walk after our rest stop, but it looked like a reasonable shower, so we all stopped again to drag on waterproof coats and trousers. I think I would have been a bit pissed off if I’d carried my rain gear for 12 days and not used them, so I was sort of glad it rained. Honest.
The loch side path is great, one of the nicest sections of the Great Glen Way so far, but it soon brought us to Aberchalder and the Oich Bridge, where we lost what little shelter the trees had been providing from the rain. It wasn’t cold or windy and the sky was still lighter than I would have expected, but the rain was certainly persistent.
The rain abated for a few minutes, just as we arrived at Cullochy Lock. This was a hive of activity, with several small pleasure craft and a miniature fishing vessel all leaving or arriving at the lock at the same time. A group of five or six two man canoes were also setting out from the lock after a short break. One canoe set out a good speed while the others dithered around near the lock. Suddenly one of the men still on the bank realised that they’d set off in the wrong direction and began running down the tow path and shouting at the rapidly diminishing shape of the canoe paddling off towards Fort Augustus. He wasn’t going to catch it and it was obvious the two people couldn’t hear him. John, quick as a flash, produced his emergency whistle and started blowing it. It immediately gained the attention of everyone nearby and, as he predicted, the two men in the distant canoe. They turned to look in our direction and saw their friend waving to them from the bank. How they managed to go the wrong way down a canal I have no idea!
There now followed a five mile canal walk. At this point I could just cut and paste the section I wrote about the canal walk from yesterday between Neptune’s Staircase and Gairlochy, all I would have to add is that it was raining and I was in better company. The five miles took us 1 hour and 40 minutes, we stopped briefly for water and a breather somewhere in the middle, but it didn’t stop raining.
We arrived in Fort Augustus at 12:50, just as the rain stopped and just in time for some lunch. I had hoped for a chip shop, but the only one in town was out of chips and wouldn’t have another batch ready for 15 minutes. How can a chippy run out of chips? I met Leeds Dad and Lad outside the chippy, they were with the support vehicle and their fellow walkers. Hot flasks were doing the rounds and 6 bags of chips seemed to account for the lack of provisions at the chippy.
We looked for a pub where we could sit down and get a bowl of soup or a hot sandwich, but neither of the two we found had a table free, so in the end we found benches in a small square and we sat and ate our packed lunches. The village has a small supermarket so you wouldn’t go hungry here, even if you hadn’t managed to resupply at South Laggan. The rain was being very considerate, as it held off all lunch time, not starting again until we walked out of the village.
On leaving the village John made the fatal mistake of bending down to pick up a 2p coin. I have long since stopped picking up coppers and for the next hour or two John was bombarded with digs and ribs in reference to how tight his arse was. Like the proper joker he is though, he took it in good spirits and gave as good as he got.
We followed the road out of town and were soon enveloped by the forest again. Initially on a narrow, twisty forest path and then onto the unforgiving forestry tracks that I’d come to despair of ever seeing the back of. I managed to get myself into Jim’s bad books by misjudging the length of a particular climb. Having told it him it was only a 100 feet or so, it turned out to be about 100 feet climb followed by another 300 feet and took us much longer than expected. If Jim struggled at all on the walk, it was on the long climbs and I don’t think he forgave me for misleading him for the rest of the walk. The rest of the afternoon was very up and down with lots of little steep climbs of a 100-150 feet or so and then a drop of a similar height.
The rain started again, a proper rain storm this time. It lasted for most of the afternoon, with differing ferocities; sometimes slow and steady, other times impenetrable stair-rods, but always raining. We got our heads down and walked. At least it wasn’t windy and it wasn’t cold; the rain just came straight down. At one point there was so much water in the air I was beginning to worry about breathing and the rain was so heavy I could barely see 10 yards ahead. If I’d been on my own I can imagine that this would have been a bloody awful afternoon, with nothing but the inside of my hood to stare at, but as it was the good company and constant banter whiled away the hours nicely.
A note of interest to those walking the Great Glen Way in the near future and who will have undoubtedly looked at the map and seen the route the path follows on the way into Invermoriston. It appears to take a huge pointless wander around the lower face of Sron na Muic and then back again into town. Adding something like 1.5 miles to the day. I thought there would probably be a way to short-cut down through the fields marked on the map at the point where the A82 swings north into the village. There isn’t. However, there is a new change in direction of that path near this point – taking a 90 degree right turn through the trees and joining the minor road near Glencroft. This probably saves about half a mile or so.
We joined the A82 and crossed the Moriston, looking extremely impressive with all its newly acquired water. We walked into town and met a family of three Americans. Mother and Father and late teens son. The Coincidental Americans or more accurately, just The Americans at this point in the walk. These were family I’d said hello to at the Eagle yesterday. They looked very wet and thoroughly fed up. We all walked down to the village together. The Americans had green waterproof capes on; like a huge poncho, covering their person and their pack, but didn’t look particularly effective as they were all soaked underneath.
We all stopped at the little village store cum Post Office to stock up on supplies; the Americans had another four miles to walk, up the big hill out of the village (500 feet ascent) to the hostel at Alltsigh. It was already 16:00 and I certainly wouldn’t have been happy with that much walking still to go. We left them to it and made our way to our respective B&B’s. The Arbroath Four were in two different B&B’s and I was in a third, but we arranged to meet at the pub for our evening meal at 18:00.
I arrived at Bracarina B&B to find an ambulance in the drive, nothing to worry about though, it belongs to the husband of the proprietor, or rather he drives it and leaves it parked outside the house when he’s at home. I was ushered into the porch and my soaking wet Inov-8s were placed next to a line of similarly drenched walking boots. My wet waterproofs were whisked away to a drying room and I was shown to an excellent, large twin room with en-suite shower. Within 10 minutes both rooms were decorated with my wet clothes and the contents of my pack. Even my journal notebook and my first aid kit, both of which were inside ziplock freezer bags, were drenched. I tipped half a pint of water out of the bottom of my pack.
I recovered my Inov-8s from the porch and surveyed the damage. They were soaking wet still, which was only to be expected, as they are not a waterproof shoe, but the sole was hanging off worse than ever and I didn’t think that glue was going to stick the wet pieces together for much longer. They’d served me well on the walk, but I accepted the fact that they would have to be substituted in the morning for my boots.
I relaxed in the large comfortable room and then walked into the village to meet the guys for tea at 18:00. There is only one pub in Invermoriston; the Glenmoriston Arms Hotel. There is a restaurant further up the road, but you have to book that and we didn’t fancy the extra walk. So the Glenmoriston Arms it was. The place though, in my view, is trying to be far too clever for its own good. The menu was far more “up-market” than a remote pub like this should be offering. There were only about four items on the menu and I didn’t like the look of any of them. There was Salmon, but I don’t eat fish as we’ve already discovered. There was a liver dish, but who the hell likes liver? There was some weird veggie option; not that veggie options are in themselves weird, but this was weird even for a veggie option. Finally there was a chicken risotto in a creamy cheese sauce. I like chicken, done in pretty much any fashion, but I don’t like cheese, so it looked like I was snookered. There was no other option for tea though; the shop was closed and I was hungry.
I asked the waitress if they could do the chicken without the sauce but she explained that the sauce was an integral part of the dish and would I please stop being such a bloody girl and place an order. I went for the chicken. Needless to say, when it arrived, it was a fine chicken risotto. I’m sure anyone who likes chicken risotto would have loved it. I tried to pick the pieces of chicken out of the sauce, but it wasn’t happening. I pushed the plate away and watched the other guys tucking into their meals. Then things started to go downhill.
The waitress, upon seeing the full plate and me not eating the contents, asked if there was something wrong with the food. I explained that I was a fussy eater and it was the cheese sauce that was the problem, nice though I’m sure it was, but I couldn’t eat it. She offered me an alternative dish and I explained that I didn’t like the other items on the menu – I sounded like a kid I’m sure I did. She took the plate away and I offered my apologies.
Five minutes later the head waiter arrived and asked me if there was a problem with the meal – I went through the same routine “The meal was fine, it’s just me that’s the problem” etc. etc. He offered me another dish and I went through that routine again. He left. Five minutes later the manager arrived at the table. He placed a warm hand on my shoulder and whispered conspiratorially in my ear “I’ve had the chef prepare you the Salmon dish, sir. No extra charge of course.” I explained again that although I really appreciated their efforts I really didn’t want the Salmon, or anything else on the menu. That this was totally my fault and I was sure the food was delicious. This last remark was backed up four heads around the table nodding vigorously; mouths full; eyes smiling at my growing embarrassment.
The manager looked devastated. He left. I had visions of the chef coming out, as in the Monty Python sketch, waving a huge, wickedly sharpened implement and shouting something about his honour and demanding satisfaction. I almost left, but the guys persuaded me to stay. Five minutes later the manager arrived back at the table and produced a glass with a large measure of whisky in it. “For your inconvenience, sir” he said, “I’ve removed your meal from the bill and this is on the house”. It was a very fine single malt. I know because a bottle of the stuff cost me £30 in an airport duty free shop last year.
In the end I ate all the bread rolls and a had a large pudding, so I didn’t go to bed hungry, but this was 48 hours now without a decent evening meal inside me. We all decided the best thing about the Glenmoriston Arms Hotel was the whisky selection.
Despite the long day, I made a detour on the way back to the B&B and returned to the old bridge over the Moriston. I searched for about 15 minutes for a small trig point which is located just a short distance from the far side of the bridge. The long grass and vegetation hampered the search though and I gave up without finding it. I resolved to return in the morning for another hunt, this time with the GPS.