Friday, May 23, 2014

249.69 kms: Drumnadrochit-(By BMW)-Abriachan-Inverness

We told Rory (last night's B&B host) of our dilemma about whether to walk the path or the road, the latter being a good four miles shorter. In order to not have the spectacle of our splattered bodies on his nightly television, he offered to take us up to Abriachan. That would make our day of walking on the path, similar in distance to walking on the road without the near-fatality misses. Worked well. I felt very grubby on the cream leather of his BMW.

One kilometre into the walk from our drop-off point was our first stop of the day. Through the forest we came across sign after sign proclaiming things like 'Hot Bovril', 'Beans on Toast', and 'Homebakes'. A couple of people had told me about this place. A sort of 'hippie' coffee shop that you 'just have to stop at'. Three malamute-mixes announced our arrival to our burly host, a malamute-mix in red-haired human form. And the loveliest man you ever did meet. They croft there, which, with the four minutes of google- based research I have done seems to be a sort of legal 'staking a claim' on landlorded property, particularly in Scotland where I believe most of the land is owned by a very few people. We had a lovely chat, a wonderfully strong coffee and funded another tree in the orchard.

Top Left: Drumnadrochit Cemetery
Top Right: Abriachan Eco Campsite and Cafe
Bottom: Windmills in the countryside—I guess it's easier to think they're beautiful when you don't live under one

Rain came and went but it was one of those days when walking was joyous. I'm not sure if I have had the same space for circumspection on this trip. Even though V—— has gone out of his way to allow me the space, I still spend a lot of time worrying about whether he is okay and feeling a second presence. It's okay. It's just different. In some ways I think the last trip was the best trip and this one suffers by comparison. But ultimately the walking is like everything else in life—it's the same thing, day in, day out, minor differences in terrain or weather, but what makes the most difference is the mind you bring to it.

Knowing this is one thing, positively influencing it is another. Because if you can, you make everything you do joyous, or at least bearable. When I am back behind a desk in an air-conditioned box, all too soon, my day there will also be determined by the mind I bring to it. We fight it. We say we don't want to be 'there', or don't like doing 'that'. Everything becomes a wall that we bang our heads, painfully, against. We think about the future—the end of the day of walking, the end of the day of working. We wish our now away. I know this. Knowing doesn't equal doing. I admire people who can be so involved in the moment, who go so into each living minute that, pleasant or not, they enjoy it. They don't over-think things, they simply live. I would seriously like to stop over thinking things. I would like to be a river. Taking life along the natural flow. Water doesn't resist.

Left: Inverness, the final(?) stop
Right: A celebration, the start of a decision-making process

A few beers sometimes help the resistance to fall away—not always for the good—and we decided, once we were safely in the B&B, well oiled with bevies and waiting for dinner, to stop trying to force this river uphill. We decided to stop walking. More so, personally, I have decided to stop walking. I think it is time for something new. (Eek! What?) It doesn't matter that I don't 'finish'. This adventure was always about the journey. If the journey no longer entrances me, the destination becomes meaningless. I am writing this in hindsight, and it has taken me many, many days. For the next two weeks we will stay in just two places: a seaside resort in Scotland, and the urban insanity of London. I will over-think it every day. I will feel guilty, feel I am wasting time. I will miss the walking in some strangely masochistic way. I will feel that somehow I am still trying to force the river. The greatest guilt comes from the fact that this is such a privileged problem to have. I really am lucky. But I do have to find a way to make all this brow-beating work for me when I get back home. There are some other rivers that need sorting out back there too. Time to be a philosophical engineer. Actually, that is wrong. Time to stop being a philosophical engineer, and let the water flow naturally. I have a feeling this may drive me mad!

Good night to Inverness, good night to you.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

229.71 kms: Loch Ness Holiday Park, Invermoriston-Bus Stop, Invermoriston-(By bus)-Drumnadrochit

Anyone closely monitoring the blog will see that the increase in mileage from yesterday to today equals a grand total of one point eight kilometres. We woke up on the hard plastic mattress of Legolas and said 'Should we catch the bus?' And all parties answered 'Aye'.

I'm not even going to try and justify the reasons or make excuses. I am going to remind any cynics, and assuage my own guilt, by merely pointing out that Milngavie to Inversnaid has been traversed twice and that means that little and occasional cheats are allowable.

Top: On Loch Ness
Bottom Left: On the bus
Bottom Right: A visitor to the boat

We spent the day on extended breakfasts, small walks, extended lunches and a cruise with a true believer on Loch Ness. It's an odd thing to be the only people. In restaurants or on cruises of Loch Ness. David's afternoon was filled with the cruise ship passengers who were ferried up and around Loch Ness from Inverness to see all there is to see, but his two o'clock sailing was just V—— and I. David came to Loch Ness in 1968 as part of an investigative team looking at the possible things that Nessie could be. He is still there. His boat speil is practised and despite the more intimate setting of only two passengers which can sometimes become a more conversational thing, he stuck to the script which actually involved playing a video he had made. Complete with laminated signs which he periodically pointed at the screen that said things like 'That's me on the left', and ' Me in 1972'. It was really strange. And even though he had been through every possible thing that Nessie may or may not be and ticked them off as probable 'no's, there was a feeling you were left with that he still believed there may be something out there as yet unexplained. I couldn't help wandering if that doggedness was the reason his little signs pointed to an 'ex-wife' rather than a 'wife'.

Urquart Castle from Loch Ness

We must have been noticeably lazy in town all day. When we got to our B&B, Rory, our host, made the strange comment 'I know' to our saying we hadn't actually walked that day, but had, rather, caught the bus. Imagine living somewhere like a small Scottish village where everybody knows everything?
Good night to Drumnadrochit, good night to you.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

227.91 kms: Invergarry-Fort Augustus-Invermoriston

Two days of sunshine was all the Scottish climate could handle, and it repaid such wanton extravagance with downpours. Clad all over with high-tech plastics, we quite joyously headed for that most unusual of things on this trip—a mid point with facilities; a lunching place; civilisation half-way between civilisations. Fort Augustus. And with it, the start of Loch Ness. Very exciting.

Top: Tower in the river at Fort Augustus
Bottom Left: Bridge of Oich
Bottom Right: Detail of Lock furniture

The walk we are doing can be done, in the same number of days, by kayak. And there were two groups of people we kept encountering along the way. It is against the current, and at the various locks they have to remove their kayaks and wheel them, fully loaded as they are with all their gear, through the whole lock system: there is no operation of the lock mechanisms for anything so insignificant as a kayak. There is something intriguing about kayaking everywhere, but I am sure it would end up being as labour intensive and sometimes down-right miserable as walking. No way of travelling is perfect. Or I am yet to find one. Have you? Everything has its pros and cons.

Top: Along Loch Ness
Bottom Left: V—— amongst the lock furniture
Bottom Right: One of at least a million waterfalls seen so far

Soup and sandwiched up we headed out along the forest paths along Loch Ness. We had booked into a hobbit hut on the shores of Loch Ness for the night. Our hobbit hut was, as you can see, called Aragorn. THE Aragorn, son of Arathorn, a.k.a Strider. Which proves once and for all that Strider is, and has always been, mine! This is a long debated discussion of stupendous unresolvability between me and my best friend. Just because you fancy Viggo does not mean Strider is yours. The purity of claiming Strider as yours is being the first (of the two of us) to 'read' the character, it usurps all other claims merely involving ugly-chinned actors disguising that fact well under a bushy beard. But now it's settled. Well, it would be if I was telling the truth. We really stayed in Legolas.

Left: Our hut
Right: Okay! Our real hut!

Good night to Invermoriston, good night to you.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

204.76 kms: Spean Bridge-(Transported to)-Gairlochy-Clunes-Laggan Locks-(Transported to )-Invergarry

Long story. The 'transported to Gairlochy' wasn't cheating as such, it was accepting the kindness of our host to take us back to where we had officially stopped the night before—except for the fact that our accommodation was three miles from there. Of course, the fact that our host offered due to us asking if there was a bus back to said point doesn't need to be mentioned.

Top Left: A magical forest light before we found a fairy dell
Top Right: Down the Rabbit Hole
Bottom Left: People leave things for the fairies and they arrange them in the forest
Bottom Right: A Scottish tableau

The 'transported to Invergarry' was a different thing. Our morning's walking was splendid. We walked along the loch, found fairy dells, and even tolerated the incessant up and downs of the forest paths. But then everything ground to a halt. Maybe it is the sugar. Truth be known, or at least highly suspected, the main food group that we consume during walking-time is the sugar one. And you know what happens with that little high G.I. nightmare—the crash. Come Laggan Locks, a bus seemed a brilliant idea.

Aside: Riddle me this, but does Laggan sound like a word that may derive from 'lake'? And loch is too? So Laggan, situated on the north eastern end of Loch Lochy, as it is, is really Lake on Lake Lakey. No?

Left: Looking up Loch Ness. No monster yet
Right: Local folk

There is a bar in a barge at the locks. We stopped for a wee imbibement. And salt fix. An amiable couple asked about our adventures. We had been up a little from the road to see where the bus left from and just missed one, we told them. We're walking, but we've had enough for the day and we are riding the rest of the way on the next bus. They gave us the time of the next one from the timetable they had. It was due 1714. We had a half hour. An hour and a half later we were still waiting. Apparently it was the new day for the timetable. Maybe they thought no-one would notice the missing bus in the (unannounced—it seemed, from talking to locals) change. One half of the timetable couple came, caught his bus back to Gairlochy, retrieved his car and drove back to collect wife and dog (these are the only buses I have yet to experience in the UK which don't allow the furred friends aboard). They very kindly ended up giving us a lift into Invergarry. Closely followed, of course, by the bus. There is a part of me that screams out in my subconscious, loud enough for my conscious to hear: 'It's because you didn't walk!' I don't know if that is true.

Good night to Invergarry, good night to you.

Monday, May 19, 2014

185.64 kms: Fort William-Banavie-Gairlochy-Spean Bridge

Canal walking is a different fish. There is the initial elevation to conquer—canals often sit high up in the countryside, like, maybe, even up to twenty meters. And then there is the all too occasional lock which requires at least another few feet of uphill struggle. Meanwhile there are large stretches of straightness, mixed in with curves, but predominantly featuring a uniform flatness. It's hard work. Your pace, especially if Phil is carrying your bag in his blue hatchback (not quite what I expected to turn up to collect our luggage this morning), is only about two times faster than the West Highland Way. As long as you don't get a headwind—that can slow you down quite insignificantly.

Top Left: The start of the Great Glen Way, Fort William Railway Station
Top Right: Ships passing through hand-winched bridges
Bottom Left: Canalside scenery
Bottom Right: V—— at Neptune's Staircase—an eight lock staircase that is considerably easy to climb than the Devil's Staircase

And then there is the issue of having a bad travel agent. Me. I booked the accommodation based on a website who mileage I was pinching, but in a sense of a map. A map would have shown me that Spean Bridge is not actually on the Great Glen Way, but rather a three mile hike on roads away from it. Roads which were traversed by wanna-be rally car racers. Tomorrow a map will show me that InverGarry is on the wrong side on the loch to the Way, and will also require road walking, but I will tell you about that tomorrow. And the next day I will tell you about how just because it says '400 mts from the GGW (Great Glen Way)', doesn't mean that is four hundred accessible meters, it could be four hundred meters of old growth forest on a cliff side. Mmm. Anyway. If these things didn't happen. I would have only canal walking and forest track walking and the one horsefly bite to tell you about, so thank your chosen deity or belief entity.

Enough silliness. Scotland let its sun out today. Ironically someone wondered aloud to us whether it was maybe a little warm for hiking. That tropical eighteen degree weather can be a bit of a killer. We had to resort to ice cream.

Canals and mountains along the Caledonian Canal, including the elusive top of Ben Nevis on the right

And how's this for oddness. We stayed in a magnificent B&B in Spean Bridge (The Braes Guest House—highly recommended), where we were warmly greeted into a gorgeous room and then presented with plunger coffee and biscuits and cake in the guest lounge. That's not the odd bit. The host, Phillipe, is South African born, in the same year of life as me, lived in the same area and, we believe, may have attended the same school. So a girl leaves South Africa, moves to Australia, walks all the way across the UK and meets a man who left South Africa, travelled the world and bought a B&B three miles for a long distance walking track. And just maybe, they went to primary school together. Odd, eh?

Good night to Spean Bridge, good night to you.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Interlude: Fort William, Mallaig, Inverie

For three days we did no walking. Well except for walking up and down from our B&B; traversing, numerous, numerous times, the Fort William High Street; and a little day trip. The third day stopping in Fort William was a last minute decision which assisted in facilitating the social experiment I was telling you about the other day—we needed the extra weekday. So here is the big announcement: in the interest of a fair analysis and good research, in an effort to see how the other eighty per cent live, we have organised to walk the Great Glen Way bag free! That is correct. For the first time in what is now a thousand miles, sixteen hundred kilometres, I am walking a section (seventy-three miles; one hundred and sixteen kilometres) without a bag. Well, without a large backpack. We will still have day packs with all the essentials—wet weather gear, dry weather gear, emergency/everything else gets lost, destroyed or abducted gear. It is necessary to book all the accommodation in order to book the bag transfer, so we have planned slightly longer, bit-of-a-push days to compensate for the return to normal gravity feeling of having no bag. I am sure to tell you, in days to come, how it all works out and how good it feels. The expectations are high.

The view from our room at Balcarres B&B

We had planned two day trips for the days not spent organising the bags: bagging the biggest Munro in Ben Nevis (Ben to the locals) and a trip on the 'Harry Potter' railways line to Mailllag and somewhere onwards.

Ben Nevis never popped his head out from cloud for the one beautiful morning and two and a half days of rain that we were there, so we didn't venture onto him. Apparently the paths were stilled snowed under. Foolishness happens regardless on Ben Nevis. And people who are sensible and prepared still step on what they think is firm ground and find, a thousand feet later that it is a snowy overhang. We preferred bar hopping with blogging, sewing (still sewing the damn Brownie uniform!) and reading.

Top: The most remote pub on mainland Britain, The Old Forge, Inverie
Bottom: One of our dinner stops, The Crannog, in Fort William (we also had great curries during our stay—including the world-famous jalfrezi)

The day we tripped to Mallaig rained. All day. Relentlessly. But the train was warm and it sailed over sodden fields surrounded by beauty. The onward ferry point we chose was Inverie. I'll take the blame actually—the boy, I believe, thought I was mad. You see, the ferry was a little bit of an exaggeration. It was more like a fishing boat, seating six comfortably, and as many as wanted to stand outside in the weather uncomfortably. It landed us in Inverie for an hour and a half. Enough time for a pint in the most remote pub in mainland Britain. The 'ferry' or and eighteen mile hike are the two options for reaching it. It was surprisingly full of hikers. V—— did very well, boat-sensitive as he is, especially on the rather bumpy return trip.

In the forefront: Our ferry

Have you noticed how many 'Inver-'s we have been to? Snaid, arnan, oran, ie, and on our next hike, garry, moriston and ness. I randomly asked Mike, the host at the Balcarres B&B in Fort William what 'inver' means. On the morning we left he presented us with a print-out of the origins of Scottish place names that Jackie, his partner, had looked up when Mike mentioned it to her (can they get any cuter?). Turns out 'inver' means confluence of waters. So much water, so many 'invers'—makes perfect sense.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

158.21 kms: Kinlocleven-Lairigmor-Bla a Chaorainn-Blarmachfoldach-Glengour-Fort William

Oh boy. After a hundred and forty kilometres of walking over loose, moving rocks, I cracked it. Loose, moving rocks mean ankles that twist at odd angles, which makes knees jerk off to sides they don't normally visit, which makes hips feel like they belong to grandmothers. Loose, moving rocks mean the impact of foot to ground is not a flat, even surfaced thing but rather a pointed impact onto an arch, or a heel, or a toe pad. So out came the map and we deviated out onto the road for the last ten or so kilometers of the walk into Fort William. Purism is for the walkers of the West Highland Way; we' re walking to John O'Groats.

I am available for hire to re-spin anything you don't want to do into a justifiable and perfectly logical explanation rather than an excuse not to do it.

Top Left: The beginning of the day—it all went downhill from there by going uphill at a rather alarming rate!
Top Right: The way
Bottom Left: And more way, a red patch of it which is unusual to see
Bottom Right: The Official End of the West highland Way!

The Way was a little like the High Street today. People passed us in droves. It was so busy that even the law of averages came into play, and we were able to pass someone for a change (a sixty-something year old man who walked like a duck). He eventually righted the books by passing us again at one of our many lunch stops.

Footsore and weary, we found our home for the next few days (a mini break in Fort William). Balcarres B&B commands amazing views over the loch (for which we had to climb a rather steep road—clouds, silver linings, that sort of thing) and is a fifteen minute walk into town. The hosts are lovely, and we manage to engage Mike in an extended conversation every morning. We are planning the next stage of the hike—the Great Glen Way (guaranteed to see Nessie)—and I have a surprise to tell you about that. A very exciting social experiment, but I'll tell you more in a little interlude blog soon, with some of the other things we have been doing on our break. In the mean time we have done a one hundred and fifty-six kilometre long distance walk in only one hundred and fifty-eight, and a break has me all eager to start the next leg very soon! Talk to you then.

Good night to Fort William, good night to you.