Friday, 16 September 2011

Invermoriston to Drumnadrochit

A short fifteen mile day today, following the Great Glen Way as it heads over the hills along the southern edge of Loch Ness.

                Last night’s sleep was sadly interrupted by some French guests at the hostel talking animatedly downstairs for half an hour at about two in the morning; they did not stop even when asked to by the owners, and this interruption meant that I was very tired by the time that I awoke at about five thirty. I slumbered on for another half hour, then got up and went downstairs to get dressed for the day’s walk.
                The forecast was for light rain early on, and so I was keen to get up and going. A brilliant red sky greeted me as I parked up in the car park beside the visitors’ centre in Drumnadcorchit, and I spent an age getting my kit together; in the end I only had five minutes to get across the road and wait for the seven o’clock bus. It was a surprisingly pleasant journey, with Loch Ness gleaming in the sunshine below as the road wound around it’s edge. The bus dropped me unceremoniously off in Invermoriston and I was slightly surprised to find the small shop in the village open, so I nipped in before heading off along the trail.
                Today’s walk promised to have the most ascent of any day on the trail, and it started as it meant to go on – a long climb along a minor road that zigzagged into the forest. There were no views to speak of, so I phoned up Sencan and her dulcet tones helped me get the miles under my belt. It was quite a climb, and it was a relief when a track took me off to the right, the ascent slightly less steep and far easier to attack. Occasional glimpses of the loch far below enlivened the stroll, and after crossing a stream a long descent started towards the main road and Allt-sigh, where there is a youth hostel.
                On the way the trail passed a little stone hut built into the hillside, its roof a stone slab. I had sheltered here nine years before and I was unaccountably delighted to see it again, as if it was an old friend that I had not seen for years. I went in and hunched down on the low bench, remembering how the rain had dripped down the entrance on my previous visit. The low roof persuaded me that a troglodyte’s life is not for me, but the shelter is a wonderfully simple feature.
                After descending to Allt-sigh, a long climb started northeastwards along forestry tracks. The gradient was steep enough for me to attack without stopping and I was soon getting high up into the forest. Views started to become available through the trees, and a couple of these were grand indeed, and all the better for their scarcity. It is a shame that my biggest complaint the last time I did this stretch of trail – the lack of views over the loch – seemed not to have improved over the years.
                A couple of zigzags took me higher up the hillside, some with more views. The increased altitude allowed me to get Radio 5, and tears started rolling down my cheeks as I heard about the miner who has died in the Welsh mining tragedy; it is silly, but sometimes being out in the wilds causes me to be a great deal less hard-hearted than I normally am and small bits of news of no real consequence to myself effect me considerably. I wished the remaining trapped miners well and walked on, feeling slightly angry at the presenter’s almost cheery desire for news on the disaster and at my own listening to it. The Chilean mining disaster showed the best of people, but in some ways it showed up the worst of the media - just look at the massive numbers of journalists the BBC sent to cover it.
                The top of the second zigzag marked the high point both of the climb and of the day, and what followed was a long descent, initially along the track and then along a footpath. I remembered from my previous walk (which had been the week before the trail officially opened) that the stretch where the track turned into path was a steep drop for cyclists, but the area was much less barren now and seemed softer, as if nature had tamed it. Nearby was a relatively flat area of land and the remains of a fire, one of the few places I saw today where wild camping was possible due to the precipitous nature of the trail and hillside.
                Views vanished once again as the path headed downhill, becoming a track before climbing uphill once more along another path, crossing a stream to reach a road beside a car park at Grotaig. What followed was a long and gently climb along the road; the views towards Loch Ness were blocked by the surrounding hillsides and there was little to commend this stretch; even the small patches of surrounding heathland were spoilt by the weather, which was becoming grimmer by the minute. One positive is that there are several stretches of path paralleling the road, although this was not busy enough to be classed as dangerous.
                It was a relief when I reached the point where the trail dove off to the left, leaving the road behind. This particular piece of woodland was dark and gloomy and the descent seemed to last forever on feet that had become tired; in particular, a little problem I have been having recently with my left foot had come back with a vengeance. The gradient eventually slackened out and a track was joined; this paralleled the Rive Coiltie before reaching the main road on the outskirts of Lewiston.
                From there it was simply a case of following the main road back to the car park in Drumnadrochit, where I arrived just five minutes before a shower started. The forecast for tomorrow looks fairly miserable and Sunday is worse; for this reason I may give myself a day off on Sunday and go around Inverness and try and work out the best way to do the Speyside Way, the next trail on my list. The day off will also give me extra time to drive to either Buckie or Aviemore, depending on where I want to start. Public transport on the Speyside Way looks terrible; it might have been better to have chosen to backpack it.  
                After having had a long shower and generally mimbling about, it was still well before three. The threatened rain had not started in earnest and so I decided to visit Urquhart Castle, which I had driven past on many occasions and never gone into. There seems to be a mythology around the castle (perhaps due to Sir Walter Scott), but I was less than impressed when I got there. True, its setting on the banks of Loch Ness is spectacular, but I have been around far more interesting castles in Scotland, yet alone Britain. One thing to note is the lovely stone: the reddish sandstone seemed to glow on the few seconds that the sun deemed to peep out of the clouds. Still, it whiled away a couple of hours as I walked amongst throngs of Chinese visitors, several of whom seemed to mistake me for David Bailey.

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