Finishing at Fort William – Walking in Reverse

Ben Nevis from Fort William

Along the Great Glen Way path I’m now meeting people without backpacks and big boots. Locals walking their dogs, a sure sign I’m entering Fort William’s local community, and coming to the end of my walk.

Continued from Fort-Augustsus to Laggan – or so it should have been.

By 8.00 the next morning I’m awake with a decision to make. Should I start out along the Great Glen Way for Fort Williams or rest up and enjoy Gairlochy for a day ? Once again, pleasantly but surprisingly my body feels fine, but those blisters will be a problem. By 9.30 breakfast has been cooked, presented and devoured with plates being washed just within earshot of the two other guests and myself. Be it right or wrong I decide to carry on with day four, which should be my last day of the Great Glen Way walk.  Jane has been an absolute pleasure, kind, considerate and caring. I try and convey my thanks in a hug; saying goodbye and waving farewell before my man tears make an appearance.

Ouch, Ouch, Ouch is the beginning of day four. Blisters are fighting with my boots trying to find some level of comfort. They are failing, badly. I’ve walked down the hill reacquainting myself with last night’s bench as I pull off my boots, already applying oils and cream to ease the discomfort.

fort william hostels
Fort William Backpackers and Bank Street Lodge in Fort William

If I can get my blisters sorted out I may be at FORT WILLIAM BACKPACKERS  by mid afternoon today. Which means I’ll have finished the Great Glen Walk in around three and a half days.   I don’t say that with a sense of pride, as I’ve made mistakes along the way which can and should have been eradicated.   First mistake; I’ve walked too far each day. Whilst I can walk, I’m not a “walker”. I should have followed some of the basic rules. My inexperience and bloody mindedness to carry on has certainly caught me out. Besides walking too many miles on any given day, I wore heavy mountain boots, when I could have easily managed with far lighter footwear on most of the route. Although I’ve read in each and  every article, stay away from cotton, I didn’t. It’s an absorbent material, it doesn’t breath, the material gets heavy and uncomfortable when wet. Any type of cotton is a bad call on long walks, believe me.

Instead of heading for Fort William, I’m heading in the opposite direction. Sore feet or not I want to see the lighthouse at Gairlochy. I love lighthouses. Their remoteness, individuality, staying strong and proud in all types of weather. The Gairlochy Lighthouse looks out over the expanse of Loch Lochy. In truth the lighthouse is more of a monument. It stands around 20ft high, with a pepper pot tower, majestically rotund  having been in place since 1932.

Gairlochy Lighthouse, before walking on to Fort William
Gairlochy Lighthouse, before walking on to Fort William

As I plod my way along the Caledonian towpath towards Fort William, walkers and bikers coming in the opposite direction want to stop and chat. I needed them yesterday not today when the finish line beckons. Having established I started the walk from Inverness, they ask questions which will ease their souls. Is the walk difficult?…Did you see the Loch Ness Monster?…What’s the weather forecast?…Have you finished with your map?…No, buy your own bloody map.  Although I’ve tried to feed my blisters into various conversations, no one seems interested…mmm.

Apprehension is the key concern of those just starting out on the walk. Is the mileage too much? Am I fit enough? I give them the advice I should have followed. Take your time. Don’t walk too far each day. If your body’s complaining, listen. Stop if necessary. You can always go again tomorrow. Hypocrite.

There is very little activity until I reach Neptune’s Staircase. A set of eight impressive lochs. Once again demonstrating the engineering excellence required to design and build the canal, lochs, and bridges during the 1800’s.   What’s the noun for groups of tourists? A swarm, a mass, or may be a gathering, anyway there’s a lot of them. All snapping away taking the obligatory photos and selfies for posterity around the the staircase of lochs. In amongst the deluge of tourists is an artist trying to put paint to canvas.  He was immersed in solitude and his work, now he becomes the centre of their attention. Photographs required of a local artist who they haven’t ever seen or met before. Bizzare!

Once the locks and amatuer photographers are behind me, the end is nigh, mentally and physically. Along the path I’m now meeting people without backpacks and unnecessarily big boots. Locals walking their dogs, a sure sign I’m entering Fort William’s local community.  As with the opening miles at Inverness, my closing miles are once again through a housing estate. Which unfortunately means pavements and tarmac, which means, you guessed it, more ouch, ouch, ouch signals being received. To my right is Loch Eil, through a small stretch of fields and pathways Fort William ain’t far away. Within the next ten minutes, I pass two large supermarkets, one railway station and a large US diner with a prominent signage of M. It’s 14.30 and my Great Glen Walk is finished.

Any physical problems I had along the way, were all of my own making, no excuses, just daft decisions. The walk has some of the most exhilarating scenery and views you are ever likely to see. Whilst the forestry management along the way was a problem for me, I sure that won’t be the case for everyone and should  not be seen as a reason not to walk all, or sections of Great Glen.  The hostels have been well run, clean with supportive and attentive staff along the way. I would have hooked up with a lot more people if I hadn’t been so tired and sore at the end of my self inflicted route marches. Everyone seems to be supporting each other. If you have boots a backpack or waterproof, your in the club. No registration required.

There is a good choice of hostels around Fort William.  I intend to stay a for four or five days. Tomorrow will be used as a day of complete rest and recovery, honest. In around 30 hours I plan to climb Ben Nevis.

Ben Nevis Mountain, near Fort William
Ben Nevis Mountain, near Fort William