The Great Glen Way – Day 2

August 6, 2008: Gairlochy to South Laggan

Near Bunarkaig

Near Bunarkaig

As we left the breakfast table on our second day of the walk (Gavan having sampled the porridge) I stepped outside to confirm that a light drizzle was falling. This was no surprise, for we had been hearing disheartening news about today’s weather for some time. Still I would rather don wet-gear (trousers and jacket) in my bedroom than on the trail itself and it was in full rain regalia that we took our seats in Peter’s car for the return trip to Gairlochy. This was done in a timely fashion and by 9:07 we were in place for what I knew would be the second longest day of our Scottish outing.

We crossed the lock on the B8005 and turned north with this road, escaping it to climb up above the roadway on the left. Here I could note for the first time just how useful my cane was on uphill stretches. The rain was steady but never heavy and sometimes it was a mere mist. Nevertheless it tended to decrease visibility and we caught only glimpses of Loch Lochy on our right. Soon our path returned us to the road and we expected to creep closer to the shoreline as well – but a Great Glen Way diversion sign was posted at our turnoff and we were required to keep to the road itself for many a mile.

I cannot say definitively why this was so, but I suspect that trees were being harvested near the shoreline and the trail had become littered with brush – or obscured altogether. Sometimes it looked again as though the Battle of the Somme had been fought on our right.

The diversion would add no additional distance to our trek and, indeed, the road provided a firmer and easier surface – so that we were able to cover the next few miles at a speedy pace indeed. There was very little traffic about, not even at the turnoff for the nearby Clan Cameron Museum. I was out in front during this morning session, happy to observe the fast progress we were making (even passing some giant redwoods) and cheered by our arrival, after almost five miles, at the tidy village of Clunes. Here we turned right on a track and began a forested section closed to vehicles, though not to the occasional midge.

A short distance along the forest track brought us to a small woodpile protected by overhanging branches and here we opened our lunch sacks (Gavan carried both of these throughout our trip). It was not a very comfortable place and the midges soon made life even more difficult – so we didn’t linger for long. Soon we were following the slowly rising and falling undulations of the wide, foxglove-rimmed track, with only occasional views of Loch Lochy through the trees. I did try to take a photo here but my camera would not open; it seemed to have gotten wet in my jacket pocket and I had to put it away for the rest of the day, though I was not too distressed by this development because Gavan was still snapping away on his Canon.

A distant view of the Laggan Locks

A distant view of the Laggan Locks

It was difficult to measure our progress on a route with so little variation, and it would have been impossible altogether had I not penciled in my own mileage estimates on the Harvey’s map – to my annoyance none of the guidebooks or maps offered anything more than daily totals in the mileage department. Bridges and streams and small waterfalls seemed to be the most useful landmarks hereabouts (and chances for Gavan to take movies of me crossing in front of his camera) and steadily we reached one after another, at last rising steeply to a communications mast in more open country. From here we could see the northern end of the loch as it narrowed at the southern end of Laggan Locks. We could only hope that the end was in sight for we both seemed to be running out of steam after ten miles. At least it had almost stopped raining.

From the mast we began something of a descent, returning to lakeside cottages and other signs of civilization. Gavan, whose distance vision was far superior to mine, was well out in front as we neared the lock and he now raised a shout of triumph. I had told him that there was a pub-restaurant barge situated in the canal but that I had no idea where – but to our happy surprise the Eagle was moored at the southern end and thus we were able to make a nice pit-stop here before continuing on to our accommodation in South Laggan. It was only 3:00 and we had walked 12 miles.

The Eagle pub at lockside

The Eagle pub at lockside

We used a gangplank to reach the hatch of the Eagle and descended a steep set of stairs into the bowels of the barge, where a dining area was being prepared for evening meal customers on the left and a real bar appeared on the right. A young man (who was running this vessel with his dad) invited us to leave our packs and wet things in a kind of vestibule, and here I took off my sopping t-shirt and changed into a dry sweatshirt as well.

Gavan sampled the local whiskies while I drank a pint of ale. There were two resident dogs, a twenty year-old Westie and an Alsatian with a toy in his mouth; their portraits adorned the crowded walls. At a nearby sofa a couple of Monroe climbers were studying their map and at the bar, eating an apple, was a German whom we obligingly called Klaus – never knowing his real name. It was exceedingly pleasant being able to escape the wet at last and to have a relaxing sit-down after so many hours on our feet. The young man behind the bar could not stop chattering (lots of lock politics) and when he took out a deck of cards and began to do magic tricks we decided to leave.

Our host suggested that it really wasn’t safe to seek our b&b by heading north on the A82, as we had been advised by Mickledore, because there was little in the way of verge and some dangerous S-curves. He advised us to stick to the canal-side path (which, after all, was the Great Glen Way) until, after crossing through a forest, we had reached a bridge. It seemed to take forever to do this and the gloom of the trees did not lighten our mood. At last a bridge was reached and from here it was only a short distance out to the highway. Now we had to reverse directions, heading south against the whizzing traffic and passing a youth hostel and several cottages along a narrow grassy verge, arriving at last at Forest Lodge. It was close to 5:00 and we had now walked thirteen and a half miles.

My instructions from Mickledore had indicated that an evening meal had been booked for us by Mrs. Hutchinson, our landlady, but I had an awful moment when I suddenly thought that this meal might be all the way back at the Eagle. Not to worry, since the sign out front noted that evening meals were provided on the premises. We were shown to our somewhat spartan room on the first floor, where it was obvious that neither TV nor en suite facilities was on offer. We did have exclusive use of our own bathroom and toilet down the hall, though remembering to take the key, pushing through a glass door and unlocking the bathroom door itself soon became an annoying ritual. There was no shower, though Gavan evidently squatted under the faucet hose. I settled in for a nice bath, though (as in Wales) it was a struggle for me to resume a standing posture on my tired legs. At least I discovered that my camera problems were only the consequence of a loose battery cover – and that my camera was doing just fine.

There was a nice lounge downstairs and our host, Robert, introduced us to a miniature bar where guests could sign for drinks on the honor system. Gavan was well ahead of me in the wee dram department when I drew down my first whisky but when I found no ice in the ice bucket my walking partner asked Robert for some on my behalf and we got the obligatory lecture on this form of pollution. At seven we repaired to the little dining room, where our host served the food placed on the kitchen hatch by his Mrs. Adding to the pleasures of the dining experience was a bandage wrapped around his bare wrist.  Evidently the broccoli and stilton soup had turned out to be plain vegetable, though whatever vegetable it was it must have had plenty of stalk in it. This was followed by pork and veg and we did a good job on our plates. Forest Lodge, like virtually every other place of accommodation on our route, had no vacancies and we could see many other places set for breakfast, though we were the only evening diners.

After dinner we returned to the lounge, though (with such a long trek to our loo) I disdained further liquid refreshment. Gavan turned on the TV and we watched an episode of Land of the Jaguar on BBC 2, but I started to nod off at about 8:30 and we soon headed upstairs for another early night.

To continue with the next stage of our walk you need:

Day Three: South Laggan to Fort Augustus