Continued in Drumnadrochit to Fort Augusts; Yep that’s steep. I’m walking the Great Glen Way from Inverness, capital of the Highlands to the largest town in the Western Highlands, Fort William. Dependent on which article, map or publication you read, the distance is around 73 to 76 miles. My prefered mode of transport is train. Unfortunately the bank manager turned me down when I applied for the train fare to travel from outer London to Glasgow. Even with National Rail advance ticket offers the cost is prohibitive. I could have bought a small car for the price of a return ticket. Somewhat reluctantly I’m flying Luton to Inverness, cost 20 quid!
Having learned the lesson on my recent trip to Ireland, a heavy backpack needs carrying. So it’s been put on a serious diet. I’m keen to learn it’s new stripped down weight when I check in. The digital scale reads 12.kg. Unless a Jack Russell terrier has sneaked into my bag I’m disappointed. Clearly I haven’t worked out how to yet pack correctly.
My first day on The Great Glen Walk was planned using the map of Hostels around Lochness. Inverness to Drumnadrochit. Distance 20+ plus miles. A great base for the night in Invernes is INVERNESS STUDENT HOTEL. Having left the picturesque city of Inverness, via canal paths, pavements and a section of housing estate, the woodland section begins. It soon becomes apparent there are miles and miles of forestry work taking place. Each side of the very well marked path, some 75/100 metres to my left and right are tree stumps. Piles of tree trunks are regimentally stacked along the way. In the distance I can hear the constant buzz of a chain saw. It’s akin to a fly I can’t swat, the noise won’t leave me, I can’t get rid of the annoyance. On and on I go. No animals in sight, no birdsong and strangely enough no walkers or cyclists. It results in the walk becoming very bland indeed. The atmosphere isn’t pleasant. If a helicopter would have appeared with a booming tannoyed message: “You, yes you with the backpack carrying too much stuff in it. You’re in a nuclear fallout zone” it wouldn’t have surprised me. Any type of information along the route explaining what the hell is going on with all the lumberjack impersonations would have been very useful.
Leaving the wider path and road section, at last I see an animal, at close quarters. A rather large pig is on my path, or more likely I’m on her path. I know the pigs sex and name (Squeak) as a friendly voice invites me in. I’ve arrived at the Abriachan Eco friendly cafe. Located high in the hills north of Loch Ness. Since 1999 the site is open 365 days a year, catering to cyclists and walkers alike. Sandra is the welcoming host. “Come into the house” she beckons with a lovely rich local accent and pleasant smile. I’m led up a couple of steps, accompanied by a chicken or three, to a seated area which is attached to a shed or outhouse. Ahead I can see a small area of table and chairs which soon begins to fill with more travellers. Some folks not quite believing they’ve stumbled across a cafe in the middle of nowhere. Principles and objectives of the Eco site vs forestry decimation is a bizarre juxtapose to the traveller. Maybe Squeak has the answers. Where is George Orwell when you need him? With a pot of tea, eggs on toast, a pleasant chat and a piggy stroke, I’m on my way again. If you’re a hiker or biker, walker or talker, runner, stroller, or just curious, stop for a cuppa at the Eco cafe it’s a worthwhile experience..
Whilst the forestry management, or should that be excavation isn’t as brutal as the early section, it’s still going on all around me as I continue along the route. Thankfully the path eventually leads into what I would term a non destruction zone. My mood and spirits are lifted just to be amongst trees which are still standing.
I meet a couple of ladies pushing their bikes, clearly weary of the undulations. They look tired and fraught and I’m about to say the wrong thing: “You look as if you’re both ready for a drink, there is a cafe about two miles along the path” I say in a cheery manner, pointing as though an outstretched finger will bring it closer. They don’t respond. So I tell them the cafe has a lovely pig as well. This time the one with bright red cheeks does respond “That isn’t funny.” I can do some things reasonably well, and most things very badly. Telling jokes falls into the latter category. “Sorry I’m not sure what you mean” I say with all sincerity. “A cafe, out here in the middle of a bloody…”she’s looking for a word but can’t find it…”Forest” I interject. Lady with red cheeks and now red face corrects me having found the word…”Jungle. Jungle with hills. Hill after bloody hill” For a split second I’m thinking of telling her that real jungles don’t have hill after hill. I decide not to bother.
I don’t suppose it’s any use telling them that at the cafe they can have white or brown bread, with or without butter. She hasn’t finished…”What’s with the pig?”…Ah so she is a believer, so I begin ”Well, it’s black, really friendly, likes a stroke…” I’m interrupted. “There is no cafe, with a pig. Do you know how long we’ve been out on these bikes?” Perhaps she’s mistaken me for a clairvoyant. She doesn’t wait for a reply, “Over an hour” accentuating one hour as if an hour suddenly represents one third of the day.
I know anything I say won’t help, so I open the gate and allow them on their way. As they pass through, I want to help and can’t resist “Really there is a cafe…” She bids me farewell…”Piss off”. The other lady is clearly thinking of Churchill’s war time exploits as she replicates his V for victory salute over her shoulder.
The forest path ends as a two mile section of road begins leading into Drumnadrochit. I’m more than pleased to get off this busy A road as I head for what is becoming a welcome sanctuary, LOCH NESS BACKPACKERS LODGE
Less than a mile off the roundabout, down a quiet country lane lined with picturesque cottages is my accommodation for the night. As in most of life’s disciplines, first impressions count. Everything about The Loch Ness Backpackers Lodge feels right. The check-in staff are helpful and cheerful, cleanliness, kitchen area, books available, room layout. Before I unpack and shower, I instruct reception staff, “If two ladies on bikes ask for me, I’ve left”.
My roommate for the evening is Michael from Nuremberg, Germany. He’s exploring Scotland on Yamaha 650. I tell him I have a 125cc Scooter. I’m not sure if he coughed or laughed at that piece of two wheeled mechanical engineering data. Little does he know with a tale wind it’s reached 54.5 mph, down hill, maybe that was kilometres! We, Michael and I toddle off to the pub for a late evening beer. He has seen more of Europe in his 33 years than I will do for the rest of my days. Well done that man. I hope he always has that desire to check out new places, to travel and explore. He’s the norm not the exception. Most of the under 35’s I meet in hostels seem to be explorers, which I like a lot. Having returned from a pleasant evening exchanging geographical experiences, it’s time for bed. The dormitory style room has six bunks, it looks like we are three in total tonight. Michael, myself and someone who has claimed a bed, but is yet unseen.
The room is dark as I’m awoken from my slumbers. I can’t quite get my bearings, but I know there is a pig in the room. As I gain some semblance of awaking my hearing senses are now on full alert, I work out it may well be a wildebeest, or maybe a rhinoceros, possibly a water buffalo. In fact it isn’t an interloper from the Serengeti, it’s the unseen third person, snoring. I do consider shaking or waking the individual. Would I like to be woken by a stranger in the middle of the night? No. I decide earphones and a little late night, or early morning jazz (who knows the time) will block out the marauding beasts.
By the time I’m up and ready for the day ahead, he or she has gone. I’m not surprised, they obviously had a good night’s kip!
And here is a summary of all the Hostels on the Great Glen Way.