Saturday, 17 September 2011

Drumnadrochit to Inverness

Another day, another walk. This 20-mile stroll featured a red squirrel and one of the more interesting people that I have ever met on a walk...

                Well, another trail finished. I had a great night’s sleep in the hostel despite partaking of one too many pints of Fraoch last night whilst chatting to someone about walking – he wanted me to have a whisky chaser and in the morning I was glad I had abstained. As it was I felt a little sluggish as I drove to the car park in Drumnadrochit so that I could start the day’s walk. To be honest I was not looking forward to it – a glance at the map shows that it did not promise to be a classic day’s walk, and I am keen to get started on the next trail. Despite this I had little choice but to do it, so after nipping into the little post office to buy some snacks I headed off.
                Initially the trail followed the main road as it skirted the northern side of the glen, passing a couple of Loch Ness visitor centres on the way – a nearby house had a green Nessie on a trailer, presumably some form of float. Sencan rang, and we chatted as I walked. Soon the trail diverted off, claiming to pass above a house at Temple Pier, and soon the path started climbing, soon entering an area of woodland. It was a path of many gates; indeed, it felt like there were more gates than I had seen on the rest of the trail so far. Gate followed gate followed gate as the path slowly rose.

                Then a red squirrel ran onto the path about five yards in front of me. It stopped, stared at me for a moment, than leapt for the nearest tree (I seem to have that effect on people as well as wild animals). Despite all the time I have spent on the hills I have yet to see a red squirrel in the wild, and this few seconds meant that whatever else happened today, I would be happy. Ecstatic, I walked on. The path made a big zigzag up the hill, the steep gradient causing me to puff and sweat despite my lack of fleece. Mushrooms and toadstools abounded in the woods alongside the path, making the floor a carpet of browns, reds and whites.
                It was a relief when the path joined a track and the gradient slackened. I had not expected any views over Loch Ness today due to the forest, but there were a few places where the tree cover was such that magnificent views presented themselves, with mist rising up off the water far below. Again this made me feel exceptionally happy and I walked on up the slope.
                At one point a small path led off the trail, and I followed this to investigate. It led to a viewpoint where there was a little memorial to someone called Stuart; there was no way to know who he was or who had made the memorial, but the setting was delightful. A little further on the trail left the woodland and headed across some exquisite moorland, with a little croft at Corrryfoyness a short distance away to the right. I love moorland walking, and I had not expected to find any on this trip so it was a welcome bonus – so far today was turning out to be the best of the trip.
                All too soon the trail passed a large fence with a sign on it stating that the next few miles were a water catchment area, and that we were not to breathe near it. After this a winding path led through the woodland, approaching a sign that proclaimed the highest point on the entire trail – a good touch, although the views were non-existent due to the surrounding trees. The track then became straighter and better underfoot as it passed a car park hidden in the trees and eventually reach a road.
                The next stretch of path was absolutely marvellous as it passed through an area of low, shrubby bushes and empurpled heather. The colours were mesmirising and my sprits soared, especially when I started passing signs stating ‘campsite ahead’, ‘tea’ and ‘toasties’. I was intrigued a cafe was not marked on the map – indeed there were no buildings in the immediate area. Eventually I reached a little junction with welcoming signs and I followed these up a muddy path.
                Soon I came to a booth where a man with long grey beard welcomed me. He somewhat gruffly told me that there was no food on, and took me to a damp table set literally in the middle of nowhere. The tea cost two pounds fifty, which was rather a lot, but I felt like a rest so I sat down on a chair as he went away. A few chickens came along to say hello as I sat admiring the views. The man returned ten minutes later with the strangest tea apparatus I have seen in years – a large florid teapot that seemed to be made of pewter, a tea strainer, a pot of milk covered by a doily weighted by coloured stones, and a plate containing a solitary shortbread biscuit.
                I had become rather reticent about this ‘cafe’ during the wait, and this unusual arrangement did not put my mind at ease –for one thing it was the first time in years that I have been served proper tea (i.e. not teabags) in a cafe. Yet as I drunk I started to feel better; everything fitted in with the extremely rustic setting, and I felt as though I had somehow been transported back a hundred years to some remote crofter’s cottage, and that I was being offered tea from their best service.
                After a few minutes the man came back and sit opposite me. His name was Rory, and he runs the cafe and the adjoining campsite whilst looking after the acres of surrounding land. We chatted about the wildlife in the area, the harsh winters he gets up here and even the RAF planes that frequently fly over. It was a surprisingly fulfilling chat, and I left feeling deliriously happy at having met a man who was truly of his place – this place.
                Soon afterwards the trail joined a road and slowly started to climb once more. Good views unfolded on either side and I was tempted to cross the moorland to the nearby summit of An Leacainn; in the end I decided not to as there was still quite a way to go. The trail was following an old drover’s track, and had been well surfaced with grit. A jogger ran past me, her black Labrador joyously bonding by her feet, and I took her to be a sign that I was slowly approaching civilisation once more.
                The trail entered woodland once again, but this was nothing like the dark lines of trees that had straddled the trail earlier. Instead they were widely spaced, with grass and heather between them; it seemed an altogether more natural type of coniferous woodland, and I think it is a remnant of the old Scots Pine forests that once covered this area. It was pleasant to walk through, and I munched on a couple of apples as I strode along.
                Soon it became obvious that I was following an old track, with a low stone wall on my right and a ditch and bank on the left, the area between narrowed by scrub. This skirted the edge of Dunain Hill before dropping me unceremoniously out at a small reservoir. Several couples were walking around, again making me feel like I was nearing civilisation. This was proved true around the next corner when Inverness became visible far below.
                A good stretch of path took me steeply downhill towards an old hospital complex, the main buildings bearing magnificent turrets and seeming of their place. These were disused, but activity made it seem as though they are being converted to some other purposes. Less appealing was a modern building, only a few years old – a sign stated that it was the most energy efficient building in Britain, but from a distance it looked hideous, with the specially-treated windows looking like the metal sheeting that gets put over pub windows when they are closed. In contrast the turrets of the old hospital building looked just right.
                The trail tried its best to find a grassy route through a small housing estate, before passing through an underpass under a road. It passed a golf course on the right and some playing fields on the left, both of which were busy with people trying out various sports, then climbed up some steps to reach the banks of the Caledonian Canal.
                It felt strange to walk along this as it was followed in the wrong direction, i.e. back towards Loch Ness and not the sea. Soon I reached a swing bridge, but just as it was starting to open. I took some photographs as it swung open with remarkable speed, then hurried across the road before the traffic started across. After passing a sports complex where an athletics meet seemed to be going on, I nipped into a cafe for an ice cream, praying that I would not upset the rain gods by doing so.
                What followed was a pleasant walk across footbridges and along Ness Island, which is strung out in the middle of the river. I had walked this route before as part of my coastwalk for some reason (it is not exactly coastal), and it was as pleasant as I recalled. Soon after passing a long suspension bridge over the river, the trail headed off to the right and climbed up towards the castle.
                At first I could not find the finishing point and walked around the outside of the castle. Which like Nottingham Castle is far too recent and brash to really be called a castle. Eventually I found it right at the entrance, on the other side of an information plaque; a stupidly blind mistake that I put down to not having wanted to finish what had been a superb day’s stroll.
                A bus was due to leave for Drumnadrochit soon, so I hurried towards the bus station, stopping only to buy a guide to the Speyside Way in the tourist information office. I reached the bus stop just five minutes before the bus was due to leave and so there was just time to buy a packet of crisps before boarding, a shame as the food in the cafe looked appetising.
                The Great Glen Way had been a varied walk; I had walked the centre section before, and would feel no real wish to do it a third time. This last day’s walk, however, had been an unexpected gem of a stroll and one that I would feel very happy to repeat in the future.

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