Walk Day 100 – Alness to Dornoch Firth

Sunday 30th September 2018

15.2 miles today. 1090.01 miles total.

Sun and rain alternated today, and there are fewer photographs as a result of trying to keep my phone dry for most of the day.

My route today followed the Cycle Network path 1, parallel to Cromarty Firth, above the A9, on a quiet road with good views.

The road went east and turned north and eventually rejoined the A9.

At one point I realised that I have less than 100 miles left to walk, so took a rare selfie.

Before returning the focus to the scenery.

I walked on the grass verge, past the closed-on-Sunday Glenmorangie distillery, over the brow of the hill on the outskirts of Tain, to see Dornoch Forth bathed in sunshine in the distance.

The rain reclaimed the view before I could get my phone out of its plastic bag.

My tent is pitched at the campsite on the south side of the bridge and I’m sitting in the warm laundry room to write this blog. Apparently the train tracks are just the other side of the hedge from my tent. (Update – there’s a whoosh of air and the wheels sound, and are, very close. Quite nerve-wracking!)

There are requests to keep all doors closed because of midges, but I think the wind would have to drop significantly for them to be around in the numbers that met me at Glencoe.

Update at 7pm. While taking advantage of the laundry to provide my self with clean dry clothes tomorrow I met Beatrice, who was wearing a shirt with a Guide logo, and we struck up a conversation (I used to be a ‘Brown Owl’) hat then ranged over many topics.

It’s another example of the kind of chance encounter with someone delightful and interesting that has seasoned this journey and I’m still smiling.

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Walk Day 99 – Dingwall to Alness

Saturday 29th September 2018

10.3 miles today. 1074.81 miles total.

The sun shone gently this morning as I left Dingwall, following the main road along the estuary towards the Cromarty Bridge.

The tide was out and the light played across the mud flats and made the tree leaves look almost transparent

Passing Cromarty Bridge I stayed on the A9 because the verge was soft grass and easier to walk on than the tarmac of the alternative route, Cycle Path 1.

As I walked the tide came in and I was able to watch the gulls, waders and dippers, most of which took flight as I went past. I also startled pheasants in the harvested fields. Unfortunately it wasn’t something I could photograph with a mobile phone.

The day became overcast and chilly with occasional bursts of sunshine through dark skies. I enjoyed the way the light caught this house.

Walking was mostly flat today so I made good progress and arrived early afternoon.

Tomorrow night will be in my tent and I’m aware that the nights are drawing in and the temperature is dropping.

Camping in Scotland in October could be ‘interesting.’

Walk Day 98 – Inverness to Dingwall

Friday 28th September 2018

14.7 miles today. 1064.51 miles total.

Highs and lows are a normal part of every day of walking. This morning was the nadir of the whole walk.

The plan for today had been to follow the John O’Groats Way to Culbokie, but my accommodation was cancelled and the nearest available room was in Dingwall, so I had to find another route..

A long road hike starting on the A9 was on the cards for today, and I wasn’t too concerned because yesterday was a rest day. With lots of stretching and gentle massage my legs should have been less painful and more relaxed. They weren’t.

The weather was overcast.

My pack was a bit heavier because I’d bought food yesterday, but I think the real issue was my brain telling me that the end of the journey is near, but so far away. The brain is the hardest body part to train.

By the end of the mizzly morning I felt quite low and wasn’t sure I’d be able and/or willing to complete today’s walk in my own company, so decided to take a proper break, which I did at the cafe at Tore.

While there I met Amanda who was interested and encouraging, and when I restarted my walk it was with a positive mindset and slightly rested legs.

The weather improved and there was enough sunshine to enable photographs as the landscape opened up.

I also managed to use National Cycle Network Path 1.

It added a short distance to the journey but it took me away from traffic noise for a while.

On the way into Dingwall I passed a herd of pedigree Limousin cattle.

I’m still looking for herds of long horns for a cutesy photograph. I wonder if they are all in theme parks?

By the time I arrived at Dingwall I was feeling very very tired and my legs were hardly moving, even with walking poles. Thank you to George Maldonado who stopped me in Dingwall to make a contribution to PCRF and was also encouraging and cheerful.

After using all the mental tricks I knew I finally arrived at the Waverley Inn where I have been well treated, given a comfortable room, and can finally rest.

The only way is up, and my hope now is that I can recover the enjoyment of this walk and really celebrate the last two weeks.

Walk Day 97 – Drumnadrochit to Inverness

Wednesday 26th September 2018.

16 miles today. 1049.81 miles total.

Autumn is here with falling leaves, and chestnuts, and trees laden with fruit..

Sharp eyed walking enthusiasts may spot that today’s mileage is around 5 miles shorter than the route of the Great Glen Way.*

You will therefore deduce, dear reader that I followed the lowest pedestrian route, along the shore of Loch Ness.

Otherwise known as the A82.

While not my planned or preferred route it was the pragmatic choice given various twinges and grumbles from my lower limbs, and one developing muscle hot spot.

Add in an overcast and rainy day that would have hidden the spectacular views from ‘up the hill’ to the incentive to stay uninjured, and the decision was easy.

The journey was reminiscent of the A39 to Wadebridge, and the A5 out of Telford. The vast majority of drivers were aware of my presence and gave me room. In return I made it as easy as possible for them to avoid running me over.

My legs have still had to cope with 16 miles of road walking, and my brain has worked considerably harder to stay alert and alive, but it all worked out.

I crossed my last swing bridge over the Caledonian Canal just before it opened.

And then spotted these two characters set into the front wall of a cottage. Wallace and Nelson. The connection isn’t obvious to me.

I’m now booked into the youth hostel in a comfortable room. It’s a rest day tomorrow to celebrate the turn northwards for the final stretch along the east coast.

* I’ve ‘saved’ around ten miles overall on this section compared to the highest official routes. Less than 150 miles to go.

Walk Day 96 – Altsigh to Drumnadrochit

Tuesday 25th September 2018

9.73 miles today. 1033.81 miles total.

Altsigh or Alltsigh, the spelling varies between the roadsign and the bus timetable.

My route from the Lochside hostel went in a series of switchbacks up the hill

through the forest to a windswept track where enough trees had been cleared to give good views over the surrounding landscape.

It was sunny and very windy, with a chill bite. I was able to walk in short sleeves for much of the morning by keeping a steady pace, and the distance passed quite easily.

With around 5 miles still to go I diverted to a pottery and tea room just off the track and spent an enjoyable break chatting to Janet and Jeff from Harlow who are cycling the Great Glen Way from North to South. The wind was so strong that it was acting as a brake even when they were cycling downhill.

The tea room is lovely and their cake was delicious. As was the hot chocolate. Just what I needed to fuel the last part of the walk. I also liked the pottery.

The weather changed and it was quite cold by the time I arrived at tonight’s hostel, in Lewiston, just outside Drumnadrochit.

Walk Day 95 – Fort Augustus to Altsigh

Monday 24th September 2018

11.35 miles today. 1024.08 miles total.

“Sorry, we don’t have any pound coins” didn’t ring any alarm bells in the pub last night. This morning when I realised that a stack of fifty pence pieces wouldn’t drive the tumble drier it was a different matter. But again, fate was on my side. The Loch Ness Holiday Resort has the warmest shower block of my trip, and it has underfloor heating. The tiles were warm. After twenty minutes on the floor my sleeping bag felt much drier. The same can’t be said of my tent which couldn’t be any wetter.

The day started overcast but the cloud cover cleared at around 11am and the rain showers played tag with the sun all day.

My face is bright red from two days of windburn.

There was a choice between the high route and the low route today.

My heart said the additional .9 mile plus 300ft of climbing up (and the same down) would be worth it for the views. My feet and legs said otherwise, and they are the workhorses on this trip so they won.

There were still interesting sights as the light played with the forest.

I could also see Loch Ness.

This locked gate at the junction between the low route and the high route suggests that the Forestry workers would prefer people to aim high. I climbed over it.

A few yards further on I stopped for lunch and enjoyed unexpected sunshine.

When I reached Invermoriston I called into the pub for a rest before the final 3 miles. Just as I was leaving, in walked Maureen and Steve, this time accompanied by another couple, Joni and Gordon. They had all walked the high route and enjoyed it.

We had a brief chat about options for the long slog between Drumnadrochit and Inverness, including getting the bus or a taxi to break the journey. Looking at my map and timetable I think I might just have to accept a long day.

The final few miles on the road were hair-raising, but still with decent views of the Loch.

I’m booked into a hostel tonight and just as I arrived the combination of rain and sun provided this view.

Walk Day 94 – Laggan Locks to Fort Augustus

Sunday 23rd September 2018

10.93 miles today. 1012.73 miles total.

The water park just up the road from Laggan Locks, next to the swing bridge, has a cafe.

I set out this morning thinking it would be an early stop, but maybe my last chance to charge my phone before Fort Augustus.

I took the southerly route past the Invergarry Station project, and when I reached the water park… the cafe was closed. There’s a theme developing here.

The canoeists left at the same time as me but travelled more slowly today. I was also planning to go a bit further. They are limited in their adventure by safety concerns over the weather across Loch Ness which has been challenging over the last few days. Apparently it will be better tomorrow.

The road today remained mostly General Wade’s Military Road again, nicely graded. There were signs of an old attempt to build a railway. Apparently the demand wasn’t there and the investors lost their money.

The path followed the side of Loch Oich as far as Cullochy, where I stopped for lunch. Although the sun was shining it was cold enough for an extra layer and gloves.

Then across the swing bridge and back alongside the Caledonian Canal to Fort Augustus.

On the way I saw the rain coming.

It passed relatively quickly and the sun shone with a chill wind. Great for walking, dangerous when still. I kept walking.

I’ve pitched my very wet, inside and out, tent at the Loch Ness Holiday Park (thank you to the manager for letting me stay for free) and sought dry shelter in The Richmond pub. It’s Sunday so most other places are closed.

However I’m warm and dry, have had a proper cup of coffee, and the campsite has a laundry room with a tumble drier so I hope to pack a dry sleeping bag and maybe even clean clothes in the morning. As I left the campsite to walk into town my phone told me it was 4 degrees. It’s definitely getting colder.

Walk Day 93 – Gairlochy to Laggan Locks

Saturday 22nd September 2018

12 miles today. 1001.80 miles total.

“and I will walk 500 more” was the earworm that accompanied me on this section, along the Great Glen Way. I met and played leapfrog during the day with

Maureen and Steve from Vermont, USA.

They are walking the Great Glen Way as a holiday and were kind enough to take this photograph of me a few miles short of the 1000 mile mark, on the shore of Loch Locky. (OK, I calculated it wrongly, but at least they were there 🙂 )

Today’s walk was partly on the road,

mostly on graded paths and forest track/military road.

There is lots of water in every direction.

This is a restored landing craft trainer from WW2.

There were occasional reminders of the way the area had been used for commando training before the Normandy landings.

There were also lots of smaller things to notice; different types of fungi,

and air plants living on the huge fir trees.

This one also had a number of circular holes drilled in the bark. I wondered what lives there?

The weather has held up quite well with periods of sunshine between the showers, but the wind is quite strong and chilly, so it’s easy to feel cold when I stop walking.

Tonight I’m camped at another ‘unofficial’ camp site operated by Scottish Canals, and the DofE canoe group are also here.

Here they are earlier in the day, paddling faster than I can walk.

They are a considerate group of young people with no late night noise; maybe they are as tired as me each night.

I had played a game with myself when the weather turned wet. I imagined the end of the day, sitting in the Eagle Inn (a floating cafe restaurant at Laggan Locks). I’d been told they always have a log fire, and serve good food. When I arrived, it was to find the Eagle closed. And it was still raining.

On the plus side, reception for ‘Le Boat’ hire is also at the Locks, and they didn’t voice any objection to me buying a hot chocolate and then sitting in their nice warm lounge for half an hour while they checked holidaymakers in. I also had an opportunity to see how well they looked after their customers and read the many letters of thanks.

Suitably warmed in body and spirit I wrapped up nice and warm for the night and decided not to leave my shelter until morning.

Walk Day 92 – Fort William (Lochyside) to Gairlochy

Friday 21st September 2018

8.9 miles today. 989.80 miles in total. (corrected mileage based on OS mapping)

It was a relatively easy start today, although walking on canal towpaths is hard on feet and knees.

After walking from the West End of Fort William to Morrisons for breakfast, then to the Leisure Centre bus stop, I caught the bus to the Lochyside medical centre. That put me back where I had previously walked when I stayed at Lochy camp site.

Then the real walking began.

The sign above amused me. I wondered who decided the priority order for the list?

To Banavie Station, up Neptune’s Staircase and a few miles along the side of the Caledonian Canal.

The wind blew from my left, and the clouds and grey weather was on my right, so despite a few spits and spots it’s been dry all day.

There are signs of autumn. Not just in the cooler air temperature but also in the colours of the hills.

The river Lochy was on the right but mostly hidden by trees.

I arrived at Gairlochy a little earlier than expected and put my tent at the unofficial camp spot.

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So far I’m the only one, and I felt quite lucky when a shower of rain started just after I’d finished and was inside the tent.

The facilities key that I’ve hired gives me access to toilets and a shower and I’m impressed with the concept.

It has been fun watching the boats come through the locks, especially as all the locks have lock keepers who have electric controls for the sluices. That’s something new to me.

The boat I photographed yesterday at Corpach Sea Lock has just gone through Gairlochy. I noticed it had red sails, something I associate with Thames barges.

Phase 7 – Travel to Fort William

Thursday 20th September 2018

I left home at 9.40pm yesterday, and have been travelling, waiting, travelling, waiting since then.

I was berating myself for not choosing the Caledonian sleeper, but Storm Ali caused the trains to Scotland to be cancelled yesterday, so my piecemeal approach that saw me on the Manchester train (not cancelled) was an unintentional best choice.

The journey from Glasgow Queen Street to Corpach was delightful. It touches the West Highland Way in several places and I noticed that the path was still well trodden. Some of the many walkers waved to the train, so I made sure to wave back.

One of the carriages was occupied by a coach party that was due to be collected at Fort William, the train journey representing a part of their holiday.

There was much oohing and aaaahing at the scenery, and rightly so. Rannoch moor from the safety of a railway carriage is stunning, without the need to experience the wildness.

The two extra stops after Fort William meant I could call into the Scottish Canals office

at Corpach Sea Lock and rent a facilities key, something that will be very useful on my walk. The timing just worked as I managed to complete my shopping in the Co-op and caught the last bus back to Fort William.

Neptune’s Staircase was clearly visible from both the train and the bus and I’ll be walking up it tomorrow.

Rather than start in Fort William I’ll take the bus up to Lochyside and walk to Banavie to join the Great Glen Way. It saves a small number of miles.