Walking the Great Glen Way

October 4th, 2018

Old Inverlochy Castle

Old Inverlochy Castle

Walking the Georgian way

Map the Great Glen Way

Map The Great Glen Way

Eight of us are gathered at the Ben Nevis Hotel and Leisure Club all members of the British Georgian Society. No not the Georgia in the USA but the country near the Black Sea! We are to embark on a five day trek from Fort William to Inverness, known as the Great Glen Way, and none of us had managed a long distance walk before. It is a sponsored 67 mile long walk in aid of a children’s hospice in Tbilisi (the capital of Georgia). The weather forecast is rain and more rain but with some sunny intervals. So we embark on our adventure in some of the most beautiful countryside in the world. Our starting point is in the shadow of Ben Nevis, which I had almost climbed many years before but was stopped by reaching the top by bad weather.

View of Loch Lochy

View of Loch Lochy

Just beyond the the starting point we stop in front of Old Inverlochy Castle. My Georgian friends (from left to right) Zaza, Brola , Henry and Bidzo pose for a picture. It is a dreary wet day but our spirits are not dampened as we know the first day of walking is the shortest, just under 10 miles, and mainly flat alongside the canal. I am heartened by the fact that two of my companions are professional chefs so we should enjoy some good food on our journey. The logistics are for 2 cars to go ahead and deliver our luggage at our next guest house, leave one car there and then return with the other car to a suitable point where it can be collected the next morning. So we wait in the drizzle for our drivers to return.

An international experience

Boat on the Caledonian Canal

Boat on Caledonian Canal

Along the way, walking alongside the canal, we meet fellow walkers and cyclists from many countries such as Germany, Canada, Holland as well as the UK. The biggest contingent seems to be from Germany, some even carrying their own tents and cooking equipment on their backs. There are also a group of canoeists making slow progress paddling alongside us in the water with tents and sleeping bags in their boats. They are also attempting to navigate the Great Glen Way in 5 days.  After about 2 miles we pass Neptunes’s Staircase, a series of eight locks comprising the longest staircase lock in Britain. It was built by Thomas Telford between 1803 and 1822. The system was originally hand-powered but has been converted to hydraulic operation. The only depressing point is we are only about a quarter of the distance we have to cover on the first day!

 

 

We arrive at Gairlochy Bottom Lock at 4pm which is about 5 hours of walking with a brief stop to eat our sandwiches. It seems like we have been walking much longer as we wearily wait for a lift to our Bed and Breakfast house. There are very few places to eat locally so after a brief rest we decide to drive to Fort William and treat ourselves to a meal in a restaurant. Overnight there are heavy storms which have mainly subsided in the morning but there are still some light rain showers lingering. As we pack up our belongings I forget to pick up my jacket, which is hidden in the wardrobe. This could have been a bad mistake as it also included my train tickets for the return journey from Inverness to Nottingham plus my glasses. Fortunately the landlord discovers my jacket and returns it to the driver when he comes back to pick up the luggage.

Discovering wild mushrooms

Signpost to Clunes

Signpost to Clunes

View over Loch Lochy

View over Loch Lochy

So on day two we continue our walk from Gairlochy to Laggan Locks, a distance of 12 miles, which is a little more challenging than day one. It is also more scenic including a walk through Clunes Forest. We are usually walking in groups of two or three people as we chat and share our life experiences and somehow this makes the walk go a little quicker. We rarely walk as a group of eight but try to gather all together when we eat our homemade sandwiches and snacks for lunch. We find it best just to stop for about 20 minutes otherwise your muscles start to stiffen up making the onward journey more arduous.

A waterfall in Clunes Forest

A waterfall in Clunes Forest

My fellow walkers Elizabeth and Zaza take a break to take in the view of Lake Lochy. Elizabeth is my fellow English person and Zaza is a constant source of encouragement and support as our limbs become tired. Tamara, our leader, joins us for the picture at Clunes Forest (first on the left). The original  idea for the walk came from Henry but Tamara with her usual energy and enthusiasm turns it into a reality. Elizabeth and Tamara had previously visited the area to test out the feasibility of the trip. The wild flowers, mushrooms and heather alongside gushing waterfalls are a delight to savour as you breathe in the the Highland air. One of our party Bidzot seems to spend most of his time escaping to the woods to pick wild mushrooms known as Girolles. Apparently if you were selling them to a London restaurant they would fetch £40 per kilo.

 

View of Loch Lochy

View of Loch Lochy

 

Pathway to Laggan Locks

Pathway to Laggan Locks

The group I am walking with arrive at Laggan Locks at 4pm. I am exhausted and it feels like the soles of my feet are on fire. My spirits are revived as we discover the floating pub the Eagle Barge Inn on a converted Dutch barge. I take off my boots and socks and slowly some feeling returns to my feet and the place feels like heaven. I have a cup of tea and my fellow travellers indulge in a pint of beer. The pub, which also serves food, is being run part of the time by two young Americans. They warmly welcome travelers from all round the world. There is great atmosphere and the food smells delicious.

Will we survive Hurricane Ali?

fellow travelers Bidzot & Henry

Fellow travelers Bidzot & Henry

Tonight is our luxury stop as we are staying at the Invergarry Hotel. I walk barefooted around the hotel for two hours in an attempt to revive my tired feet. We sit down to eat at about 10pm, as some of my fellow walkers had escaped to Fort William for a swim and massage and needed time to drive there and return. The food is delicious and my favourite is the rhubarb dessert. Outside the rain is lashing down as the  tail end of Hurricane Ali hits the area. There is a severe weather warning for tomorrow and boats are banned from going out on the local lochs.

Day 3 is anticipated to be the toughest challenge of our long distance trek. We have 16 miles to travel to Invermoriston via Fort Augustine and we have to negotiate some very hilly countryside. We start the day with a hearty cooked breakfast including a serving of Haggis. There is torrential rain as we begin our walk and we wonder if our waterproofs will survive the heavy rain and winds. Fortunately the wind is behind us. We meet walkers coming in the opposite direction who have travelled from Fort Augustus which raises our spirits. At least there are a few other crazy people who have braved the storms. After about 3 hours walking along a mainly flat canal path and passing Oich Bridge we arrive in Fort Augustus.

Rainbow over Loch Ness

Rainbow over Loch Ness

A red mushroom

A red mushroom

Henry with his dark sunglasses does his best to impersonate the Georgian mafia. In fact his generous personality and dry wit keeps us going in the rain and cold. We have retired to a local pub in Fort Augustus and stay for over an hour which is probably a mistake as we are still less than half way to our destination. We have a glass of whisky to warm our insides and to compensate for the increasingly harsh weather outside.

Ahead of us is a forestry track and a steep climb high over Loch Ness. We could have taken the lower path which is about O.8 miles shorter and would have avoided the steep incline but we would have missed the stupendous views over Loch Ness. I begin to doubt the wisdom of our choice as we plod along the higher route and the heavy rain soaks us to the skin despite wearing waterproofs. O.8 miles might not sound very far but when you are walking in a storm it makes a big difference.

 

The mystery of Loch Ness

Bidzot prepares the mushrooms

Bidzot prepares the mushrooms

 

Misty hills over Loch Ness

Misty hills over Loch Ness

The mystery of the Loch Ness is still alluring even on a grey, wet day. We start to descend down from the hills and into Invermoriston and this is the most treacherous part of our journey so far. The path is muddy and slippery and very demanding on your thigh muscles as you attempt to negotiate the steep downward slope. It is beginning to get dark and we start to regret our lingering lunch break in Fort Augustus.  We finally arrive in the village of Invermoristan at about 7.30pm. Our resting place is Lochside Hostel and I am sharing a room with  3 fellow Georgians and sleeping on a bunk bed. The first task is to try and dry boots, socks and clothes.

Dining at Lochside Hostel

Dining at Lochside Hostel

The hostel is in a great setting overlooking Loch Ness and we sit down facing the wood burner which slowly removes the chill from our bodies. I challenge Bidzot to game of chess but as we face a final standoff with checkmate a possibility for both players we have to desert the chess board to prepare the freshly picked wild mushrooms. This is when the skills of the chef comes to the fore as a feast of pasta and mushroom sauce is laid out before us. Other folk staying at the hostel enviously watch us consume the delicious food accompanied by several glasses of Georgian wine and a bottle of whisky. After surviving a long day walking in torrential rain and winds the food somehow tastes even more delicious.

View from hostel over Loch Ness

View from hostel over Loch Ness

In the picture you can see all of our party of walkers including Zura sporting his beard and head gear. Zura has been our faithful driver each morning taking the luggage onto the next resting place and fetching the car from the previous stopping point in the evening. He has been suffering from a few blisters on his feet, as have some of the other walkers, but has bravely soldiered on. We chat to the other travellers in the hostel who are from various parts of the world ranging from Argentina to Belgium. We play a few games of billiards before retiring to our beds. This has been my favourite place to stay so far with a well equipped kitchen, spacious and comfortable lounge and wonderful views of Loch Ness.

Fallen trees block our path

Lochside Hostel

Lochside Hostel

We are late leaving our hostel as we discuss how to find an open path from Invermoriston to Drumnadrochit. A casual conversation with one of the workers at the hostel reveals that the two main paths to Drumnadrochit are

View from Invermoriston over Loch Ness

View from Invermoriston over Loch Ness

closed due to fallen trees. Fortunately the guy who is about to go off with his chain saw to cut away the trees on the blocked paths tells us about another path. The start is just behind his bungalow which is located across the road from the hostel. The distance is just the same and the good news is it is a little less steep than the original route. Fortunately we only have to walk just under 10 miles today, about 15km. At the end of the day I much prefer the distance we have walked to be described in kms. It sounds so much further!

We walk on some steep undulating forest tracks until Grotaig. From here the trail changes to moorland and farmland and great views over the Great Glen. I am looking forward to reaching Drumnadrochit as I had visited it when aged 15. Having hitch hiked there , with a friend, from Spalding in Lincolnshire. It took us 3 and a half days. Would you be able to hitch hike it today? I suspect probably not. As I descend into the town I am walking on my own and realise I do not know the name of the hotel we are staying at. After a telephone call and talking to some helpful locals I finally arrive at Benleva Hotel. My reward is a pint of the local best bitter.

The hotel, which is 300 years old,  has a friendly atmosphere. As we sit down in the evening to enjoy our meal we decide to enter the local pub quiz. This is quite a challenge as the quiz master has a very broad Scottish accent which is further distorted by a very loud microphone. So we spent most of the time trying to interpret the questions to our fellow Georgian diners. Well this is my reason why we came last but Tamara bravely goes up to collect our booby prize of a packet of hair dye. However Tamara seizes the opportunity to tell the other quiz teams about our sponsored walk. To our surprise several local folk came up at the end to donate to the cause and £97 is collected. Who says Scottish people are mean? I don’t think so!

Has Drumnadrochit changed since I was last there? The answer is I don’t know, as I do not recognise anything familiar. Given it is 52 years since I was last here this is probably not surprising. The only thing that sparks a brief recognition in my brain is the view over Loch Ness. I had previously camped on the hillside overlooking the town and this image of Loch Ness has stayed with me. As has the love of the Highland countryside.

Will we make the finishing line?

Elizabeth surveys the views over Loch Ness

Elizabeth surveys the views over Loch Ness

Forest track, The Great Glen Way, near Drumnadrochit

Forest Track, The Great Glen Way, near Drumnadrochit

The final day of walking has arrived. It is also one of the longest walks of about 16 miles with a number of steep hills to conquer along the way. We are travelling from Drumnadochit (what a delightfully sounding place name) to Inverness. We are mainly walking through farmland and forestry although towards the end there are some minor tarmac roads to negotiate. We are all carrying aching limbs and some are suffering from blistered feet but we are spurred on by the fact it is the final day. I try to walk on the grass, wherever possible, as it is less demanding on the sole of the foot.

 

 

Canadian lumberjacks come to the rescue

Information on Canadian lumberjacks who helped in World War Two

Information on Canadian lumberjacks who helped in World War Two

As we walk through the forest we pass an information point which explains that alongside the path is the remains of a Canadian lumber camp. During the Second World War, huge supplies of timber were needed for the war effort. The British government appealed to Canada for help. By early 1941 over 2,000 lumberjacks answered the call, many of them from Newfoundland. The lumberjacks quickly became part of the local community and married local Scots lassies. many stayed to live in the Highlands and some returned to Canada with their wives.

The timber they produced was used for mine props, obstruction poles to stop enemy aircraft landing on the beaches and fields; telegraph poles; making crates for to ship military supplies; and for building soldiers’ living quarters, mess rooms and training equipment. This is a fascinating piece of history which I am totally unaware of. It would be interesting to know if these links with Canada have been  sustained through the generations and are still active today.

Would you like to live off grid?

At one point we come to a point which says the next toilet is nearly 13 miles away but don’t believe everything you read as we were soon to discover the eco cafe at Abriachan. Sandra the cafe and camp hostess lives there with her partner completely off grid. There is no running water or electricity. There are water springs and a woodburner which heats up our tea provided in a brightly coloured tea pot. There is also the most delicious lemon cake. In return we leave some Georgian cake we had brought with us for lunch.

The eco cafe, Abriachan

The eco cafe, Abriachan

Eating at the eco cafe, Abriachan

Eating at the eco cafe, Abriachan

The cafe is in the middle of the woods with chickens wandering around hoping to pick up our crumbs, although we are strictly told not to feed them! There is also a pig and 3 caged half dog and half wolf animals. The dogs/wolves howl as a familiar visitor comes by just to prove who they are. It is a remarkable place and provides a striking contrast to how most of us live today in the western world. However we are told that even as early as October the place can be cut off by snow and ice. Sandra is also a member of the Loch Ness rescue service for boats.

Half wolf and half dog

Half wolf and half dog

It has been a great place to eat our lunch and we linger for over an hour. It is certainly one of the reasons I came on this walk to discover places in remote countryside and ponder the rather contrasting almost bland existence we mainly live in urban areas. I do not doubt the harsh reality of living here in the middle of winter but somehow the allure of a simpler way of living seems very attractive. As I get older I increasingly question the possessions cluttering up my home as most of them I hardly ever use or probably need.

The countryside overlooking Inverness

The countryside overlooking Inverness

A mirage? No it is Inverness!

Inverness in the distance

Inverness in the distance

We continue to walk for several hours and wonder whether we will reach Inverness before darkness descends. Fortunately it has been a mainly dry day which makes our journey a little more congenial. After walking a few miles along minor roads and then forestry track I catch a glimpse of Inverness. Somehow it seems like a mirage as it appears just over the hill but the signs say it is still several kms away.

As I enter the suburbs of  Inverness I capture a rainbow on my smart phone. I think nearly every day we have walked a myriad of rainbows have brightened the sky. This is

A rainbow over Inverness

A rainbow over Inverness

Inverness Castle

Inverness Castle

 

some compensation for the heavy rain. My arrival at our final destination is somewhat of an anti climax as I have to dash to my bed and breakfast guesthouse and arrive just after 7.30pm. The owners do not live there so if you arrive after 8pm your booking is invalid. At about 10pm we finally gather at night together at the restaurant Zizzi and celebrate completing our walk. It seems fitting we are sitting in the shadow of Inverness Castle. We visit the castle again on Saturday morning to gather as a group before moving onto Nairn for a Georgian feast. is a small fishing village about 20 miles from Inverness. Thankfully this time we are travelling by car.

Inverness Castle at night

Inverness Castle

Zizzi restaurant Inverness

Zizzi restaurant Inverness

Launch of new boat in Nairn

Launch of new boat in Nairn

Georgian Supra in Nairn

Georgian feast in Nairn

Georgian feast in Nairn

We celebrate our coast to coast walk across Scotland along The Great Glen Way with a Georgian feast in Nairn. Our hosts are Keti Margvelashvilli and Bill Wright. The delicious Georgian wine and food is accompanied by Georgian singing. Just before the ‘supra’ we watch the launch of a new boat in Nairn harbour. There is all the ceremony of the launch accompanied by the melodic sound of Scottish bagpipes. We proudly wear our T shirts sporting the words ‘We walked across Scotland’!

To find out more about the British Georgian Society and the sponsored walk visit www.britishgeorgiansociety.org

 

 

 

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About Me

coffee shop in Mostar

Paul Hacking previously Head of the Career Development Centre at Nottingham Trent University & chairman of the Fedora Careers & Employment Group (European HE guidance body).