29th May 2008 – Invermoriston to Drumnadrochit – 17.5 miles
Synopsis: A steep climb along the road out of Invermoriston begins this penultimate day, before we join a forestry road for a long and winding seven miles and the biggest climb of the Great Glen Way. We then pick up a pretty forest track that leads to a stretch of blacktop, before I divert from the usual route to visit Urquhart Castle and a long road walk to Drumnadrochit
As much as I wanted to enjoy breakfast at Bracarina everything seemed to conspire against me. The bacon was thick and undercooked, the eggs were way too runny and the toast was strictly rationed. Add to this the fact that my early breakfast companions were an old couple with no more than a pair of teeth between them and their insistence on talking with their mouths full and you can see what I was up against. The Gruesome Toothsome were also difficult to understand even when they weren’t talking through eggs and bacon; a broad Potteries accent liberally sprinkled with “duck” meant I had to concentrate hard on what they were saying to divine any meaning from them. My short-lived relief at being joined by four ladies was soon replaced by despair when they turned out to be just as odd as the old couple. They all said Grace together; holding hands round their end of the cramped, communal table and then each introduced themselves to us as if we would be spending the next few days together. I finished my tea quickly and returned to my room.
All my kit had dried out overnight, all except my rucksack, which was still sodden, especially the straps. My Inov-8s were still soaking as well, but I’d already decided to swap these for my boots for today. It took ages to get sorted this morning. I had to repack everything and then double check to make sure I had everything in my pack that I needed. I had arranged to meet the Arbroath Four at 09:00, outside the Glenmoriston Arms, but I’d left enough time to have another hunt for the FBM trig point at the old bridge. I had no better luck searching with the GPS, despite a 15 minute search, so I wandered back to the pub. It felt odd to be walking in boots after 160 miles in trail shoes. I felt like the 1950’s film-version of Frankenstein’s monster, or Herman Munster; clunking along in huge, disproportionately large boots. I supposed I’d get used to them again… eventually.
The weather was overcast and chilly and I wasn’t sure I believed the forecast that predicted no rain for the day. The cloud looked thick, grey and ominous. I rationalised, however, that even if it rained all day again, as it had yesterday, I would still be well ahead of the game when it came to average rainfall for the trip.
I saw Bill and John waiting outside the pub as I approached and we discussed our respective accommodation while we waited for the Jims. The travel company they’d booked through (I think it was Mickledore), hadn’t been able to get them all into the same B&B, so the Jims were further up the road. We decided to walk up to where the path left the village, closer to their B&B and wait for them there. They arrived late, to much derision, after the admission of a last minute toilet requirement from Young Jim.
After comparisons it was clear that the worst breakfast in Invermoriston is to be found at Bracarina B&B. It is, at least, the closest place to the pub and the shop and definitely the place to be if you fall ill and have to be taken to hospital.
Today included a series of three climbs; 500 feet, 900 feet and a final 500 feet. I kept my mouth firmly closed when Jim asked me how long the first climb was, there was no way I was going to risk upsetting him again today. “If I told you Jim, you wouldn’t believe me, so I’m saying nothing” I told him, he took it with the good nature it was intended and then set about teasing me all day by asking how far we had to go whenever we were climbing.
The road out of the village climbs steeply right from the outset, no gentle walk-in for us today, but the scenery is fantastic. The road winds through old conifers draped with moss and lichen and the silence is deafening. It may be a road, a metalled surface, but it only leads to a scattering of buildings and a transmitter mast at Achnaconeran so there was no motorised traffic on it.
The going was slow to begin with while we all found our morning walking legs and we took several short breathers on the road before leaving the tarmac and joining a forest path. The path took a long zig-zag up one section where Young Jim and I were walking about 100 yards ahead of the other three. We turned to see them cutting off the path and through the woods. “You carry on” they called, “we’ll catch up”. We continued to the turn in the path, to see the three guys appear ahead of us on the track, having short-cutted through the woods. We reached them after a couple of minutes and I admonished them. “If you’re going to take short-cuts” I said, “you might as well have got the bus from Fort William to Inverness!” Bill responded with “You weren’t waiting for us, so we thought it must be a race”. I made sure not to get too far ahead again.
A few minutes later we were passed by Leeds Dad and Lad and their sole remaining walking companion, the car must have been full today. They were staying in Drumnadrochit tonight, as were we, but they were hoping to walk about six miles beyond the village and get picked up by the car, so that they had a much shorter walking day tomorrow, allowing them to get home in reasonable time. When I looked it up on the map later, the closest they could possibly have been picked up was 7 miles from Drum and that was at the end of a 1000 foot climb out of the village. They had a big day ahead of them.
The forestry road was a little better than those of the previous two days; it provided better views for one thing and wasn’t quite so uniform in its construction. We stopped for five minutes as we reached the top of every hour; although this isn’t something I normally subscribe to, it worked well and made for a relaxing walk. We also took a nice long lunch break just at the end of the forestry road in a little hollow with enough stones for us all to sit on. The weather had brightened as the day progressed and it was now warm, humid and sunny as we ate our packed lunches. There were a few troublesome midgies about, but this was the first time I’d noticed them really.
During the course of the day I had the pleasure of being able to talk to each of the guys individually. It was like going back in time for me, listening to the accents and hearing individual words that I’d not heard since my dad died, four years ago. He was from Fife; “Ahh, a Fly Fifer” the lads said. The Kingdom of Fife is just across the Firth of Tay from Dundee and Arbroath is just a little further up the coast, so the accent is almost indistinguishable. The pleasant company and the improving weather helped eat up the miles along the forestry road.
We posted a back marker at all times on this section of the walk, the road was twisty in places and it’s easy to get caught out by mountain bikers, especially when there’s five of you, often walking three, four or five abreast across the road. It’s important to have some advance warning, so throughout the morning and early afternoon we would hear the call of “Bikes!” from our rear and we would all move to one side of the path to let the bikers come tearing through. Later in the day the call would become “Car!” as walked along the road section into Drumnadrochit. I couldn’t help but think of the film Wayne’s World whenever this happened (you’ll have to watch it if you don’t get the significance of that).
After lunch the forestry road became a narrow forest track, edged by Silver Birches, heather, grasses and yellow flowering Broom. The views to our right became ever more accessible; across the Loch to line upon line of purple hills disappearing into the distance beyond. It was a pleasure to walk along.
We leap-frogged the Gruesome Toothsome several times in the afternoon and I couldn’t help but laugh every time they spoke to the Scots lads; you could see the look of incomprehension drift across their faces as the old guy talked about whatever it was he was talking about. I wasn’t much better off, even though I’d had a practice session at the breakfast table I was still pretty much left flabbergasted every time we parted company. We’d all look at each other and try and communally decipher what the old guy had been saying. At one point we all understood him; when he asked John if he enjoyed walking with his son, looking meaningfully at me. He wore a rather confused look on his face as we all fell about laughing, all except John that is who looked rather offended.
We soon reached the end of the forest path at Grotaig, where we joined the minor road that takes the Great Glen Way into Drumnadrochit. We passed several new build houses and others in various stages of development, all overlooking the loch and most of them with gates and fences to defend themselves. I suppose some of them will probably be lived in for more than six weeks of the year, but not many. The road was fairly quiet with only the occasional car to disturb us, something else that will probably change in the summer months when the houses are all completed.
The narrow single-track road was lined with flowering Gorse and stretched away into the distance. Passing places were identified with diamond shaped road signs, many of which were riddled with bullet holes; like something you’d expect to see in the deep south in America. One sign had a bullet hole through it, through the post that supported it and out through the sign on the other side. I suppose entertainment is hard to come by out here in the sticks.
Just before the Way leaves the road to drop down into Clunebeg Wood I said my farewells to the Arbroath Four, at least for the time being, as I wanted to make a detour to visit a trig point and also to have a look at Urquhart Castle. Young Jim and I swapped phone numbers and we said we’d ring each other later, once we’d settled into our accommodation, to make arrangement for the evening.
I left the road at Woodend and followed a wonderful, springy grass track through the woods and out the other side onto a dry, peaty track beside Borlum Wood across the moor. It was such an unexpected relief to be walking on grass and peat, probably the first time I’d come across such a surface since Conic Hill on the second day of the West Highland Way. The sun was out, the birds were singing, I could hear another cuckoo in the trees to my left. I soon found the trig point, hidden in the wood that had grown up around it. When the pillar was raised it would have had a clear line of sight to at least two others; now all you can see is trees and moss; it was a beautifully serene location.
From there it was only a short walk down the track, a brief scramble through a dense thicket and a quick clamber over a fence before I was out on the A82 opposite the tourist trap of Urquhart Castle. I took a quick break on an empty bench, had a drink and looked back at the steep, wooded slope I had just descended; it hadn’t looked anything like as bad as that on the map. I’d stopped in the car park that served the castle. There must have been 10 coaches parked there and more cars than I could easily count. Number plates from all over Europe and even further afield were evident. I hadn’t expected it to be so busy.
You can get a reasonable view of the castle from the car park and the path leading down the hill towards the entrance; although it’s not the traditional view of Urquhart Castle. For that you need to be in a boat on the Loch, or you need to wait until tomorrow and see it from the other side of Urquhart Bay. The crowds put me off descending to get a closer look, so I took a few photos from the path and then headed along the busy A82 into Drumnadrochit to find my B&B.
Fortunately this section of the A82 has a pavement and I was glad of it too; the road was very busy with lorries and cars heading into town. It was just over a mile to Borlum Bridge, which is where I met the West Highland Way again. It may be useful, at this point, to see the map of this area.
I approached Borlum Bridge from east (the right in the picture) and I could see that I had the opportunity to walk part of the Way that I’d missed out when I took the diversion to the trig point, albeit in the wrong direction, but at least I would have walked it.
So instead of crossing Borlum Bridge and walking along the road through Lewiston to the B&B I walked along the south side of the river on a dusty track with a view to crossing the little bridge just south of Tramps B&B (shown in a red circle on the map). It was about 3/4 of a mile along the track to the bridge, but when I got there all I could see was a temporary looking hurricane fence with a couple of traffic cones preventing any cars from driving into the river. The bridge was missing.
I rather hopefully looked further up stream for it, but I could see for at least another 200 yards and there was nothing crossing the stream further up. The bridge was definitely missing.
I cursed the Ordnance Survey for telling me there was a bridge when there patently was not and then retraced my 1200 steps back towards Borlum Bridge. Just before I got there I found a place to ford the stream and cut through a ginnel between a pub and a house; saving myself a couple of hundred yards at least.
I arrived rather pissed off at the B&B, which looked fabulous from the outside (and lived up to it inside too), and was greeted warmly by the landlady, Mary, which instantly cheered me up. She had just finished serving tea to the Gruesome Toothsome and they greeted me with mouths full of cake and something about the “Scots lads” I think, but I’m not sure. They left for their room and I sat down in their place. Being served tea by Mary is a wonderful experience – at least it was for me, I’m not sure she could afford to invest this amount of time in all her guests. She brought tea and cakes and we sat and chatted for about 45 minutes.
I related the story of my detour and berated the lack of a bridge and she explained that it had been washed away a couple of years earlier in a storm and various local bodies were arguing about who should pay for it to be replaced. I complemented her on the wonderful house and she became all sombre and melancholic. She told me about the six or seven beautiful trees that had been growing in the garden until very recently, that they had become diseased and had had to be removed. She was totally devastated at their loss and of course felt that everyone else would be too. All I could see was a lovely garden with six or seven stumps, it may have looked magnificent with the trees, but it still looked fine without them. Mary reminded me of Margaret Brunskill who runs the Brookfield House B&B in Shap. They both run a successful business, but manage to include a sense of home-from-home for their guests that goes far beyond the standard no-nonsense business B&B that you see so often. Stay at Tramps; you won’t be disappointed I’m sure.
I showered and changed and after a while I walked into the village. It was exactly one mile to the village, where I found a mini-supermarket, a chippy, two cafes and another little shop. I tried to call Young Jim, but I could only get a signal in the village and his phone was switched off or out of signal. I left him a voice mail and sent him a text to say I was in town and would wait for them for a while before I had something to eat. I sat for a while in both bars and had very expensive cans of Diet Coke, before wandering up to the very top of the village and looking in both of the hotels there to see if they were at either of those bars. After about an hour I gave up and decided to have a chippy tea on the way back to the B&B. I sent Young Jim a text to say I would meet them at 09:00 at the Tourist Information Centre in town if they were happy for me to walk with them again in the morning.
I joined a small queue in the chippy where I met Leeds Dad and Lad who were ordering Pizza to take back to their B&B. They’d managed the extra seven miles out of the village, but it had been hard work apparently. The Lad was enjoying himself, so much so, that he wanted to do another Long Distance path next year. Good on him!
I ordered a large “Sausage Supper” (you don’t get Fish and Chips in Scotland, it’s a “Fish Supper”) and sat on the wall to eat it. It was still warm and pleasant and I took my time as I walked the mile back to the B&B. I arrived just as the Gruesome Toothsome were getting into a taxi and heading out; I can only imagine they were going further afield than Drum. I arranged breakfast at 08:00 with Mary and was pleased to hear that the Gruesome Toothsome had ordered theirs for 08:30; I would be spared the horror of watching them eat again.