August 7, 2008: South Laggan to Fort Augustus
The weather did not seem much improved when Gavan and I rose for the third day of our walk; outside there was still a light drizzle – and low clouds hid the upper slopes of nearby hills. I shaved (as I did every day on this walk) in our private bathroom but while we were getting dressed there was a brief interruption provided by the sound of an insistent fire alarm.
At breakfast we had a closer look at the other guests: the contrast could not have been greater. At one little table we had two young Swedish girls, one of whom was now blamed by Robert for setting off the alarm – having ignored his advice about keeping the bathroom door shut so that steam from her shower would not set off the alarm in the next room. These girls kept very much to themselves and it was difficult to establish eye contact. At a long table in the center of the room an Indian family now established themselves. Men representing a variety of ages were in thrall to an older woman with a huge sari-covered bottom; she seemed to have only two words of English: “hot milk!” Indeed the Indians seemed to be served their own menu this morning, including a bowl of fried potatoes. At that I think they fared better than I did: there is no way real scrambled eggs can divide themselves into little rubberized pellets.
Counting dinner and our bar bill we now forked over £41 and prepared to leave, making our exit at 9:25. My legs were quite weary after yesterday’s exertions but I expected a shorter day today and far less up and down – so I was eager to give it a go. Unfortunately this required us to inch up the A82’s roadside verge again (a space evidently maintained by Robert) – with traffic roaring up behind us. Gavan was quite spooked and we were both relieved when we reached the vicinity of our little bridge and resumed a short stretch of canal path. This came to an end at a crossing of the A82 itself, with all of Loch Oich spread out before us.
The Great Glen Water Park is the local tourist attraction here but we followed a road around this center and were soon moving forward on a forested track that paralleled the ruins of an abandoned railway. It had stopped raining but it was dark here and views of the lake were obstructed. There hadn’t been too many cyclists yesterday but they were out in force today and we often had to step aside to let them pass. They seemed grateful for this courtesy and always offered a greeting – but Gavan said they were beginning to get on his nerves.
The mossy walls on our right were punctuated by little waterfalls, mushrooms and wild flowers, and it was all quite beautiful. My happy camera took a lot of pictures, including some zoomed shots of Invergarry Castle across the lake; Gavan had now discovered a brief diversion to the lochside opposite this edifice – and here we had a little rest. Our track climbed down to a military road which kept a little closer company with the lake and we continued to make more good progress past Leiterfearn Cottage as we approached the Calder Burn Bridge.
Here we sat down among the rusting struts and soon we were joined by Klaus, coming up behind us in full pack. He turned out to be a dental technician from the former East Germany and it was clear that Scotland was a favorite vacation spot for him. He started off ahead of us and we followed him into more open country at the head of Loch Oich, pushing our way through a number of gates in the process. It was just as well that we weren’t playing our old gates versus stiles game – for there was not a single stile on the entire route; gates was pitching a no-hitter. The fact that I did not have to climb any stiles (as I did so often in Wales) was a boon for my legs as well.
We crossed a meadow and climbed up to the A82 again; our landlady had told us that someone was trying to start up a little café near the bridge here but we decided not to visit it (Klaus did) as we already had our lunches in Gavan’s pack. Once again we were on a wide gravel canalside path and shortly before reaching the buildings at Cullochy Loch we found a bench and sat down to enjoy our food. We had a good vantage point here: people fishing off the back of boats as they waited their turn in the lock, the lock keeper at work, even the strolling Swedish girls sweeping by (I got one of them to acknowledge my greeting this time).
We had walked six miles, well past the half way mark for the day, when we resumed our walk, crossing over one of the lock bridges to walk on another island, though it was impossible to see the River Oich, which was somewhere on our left. The Swedish girls were sitting on a canalside platform eating their lunches as we began a long, easy ramble, dead level, to the north. The weather was improving rapidly and by the time we had reached Kytra Lock the sun was shining brightly on our backs. I reversed my baseball cap so that its bill covered the back of my neck.
We had another rest here, ate some apples, and watched the abundant birdlife, including some busy wagtails. There were lots of people strolling about and the ubiquitous cyclists as well. I got well ahead here, for Gavan, much to my disgruntlement, was deep in chatter on his mobile phone. “The world is too much with us,” I noted as he caught up after a brief conversation with his mother in Manhattan and a variety of text exchanges with his brothers. Just as we were disagreeing on the intrusiveness of modern technology into the supreme beauty of this wilderness the Swedish girls walked by, the blonde one yakking away on her mobile phone. “See,” I said, “you have the same habits as a Swedish bimbo.” “It’s a generational thing,” he replied.
A woman was throwing a chunk of wood to her swimming Labrador as we reached a section of the canal with towpath on either side. Gavan entered into a spirited exchange of hand gestures with a little boy who was threatening to bat a stone across the water. Then the cliffs on our left receded and we could as last see the River Oich; around the next bend the first buildings of Fort Augustus were coming into view.
When we reached the top lock, the first sighting of Loch Ness below us, I took out the little instruction sheet provided by Mickledore, the one containing for each day a photo of the desired accommodation – and instructions on how to reach it. There was nothing wrong with the instructions but we soon discovered that the pictured cottage was on our side of the lock, further down, and that we needed to cross to the opposite side to reach Caledonian House on Station Road. It was only 4:00.
We rang the doorbell but this drew the attention of our jolly landlady, who was just unpacking the boot of her car next to us. She left to go round and let us in, Gavan promising to watch her groceries which, after all, contained our breakfast. In the meantime her husband had let us in and we were soon shown our room on the first floor; our bags were already here and, indeed, from this point on we didn’t even have to carry these to our room, kindly hosts having done this for us already. There followed a rapid-fire inquiry on the subject of breakfast preferences and lunch sack requisites and at last we were left alone to relax.
In fact, Gavan (who had almost as great an obsession with Loch Ness as with the unfolding Olympics) wanted to do some exploring and so I rested by myself on my bed. When Gavan returned he told me that he had visited the site of the recently abandoned Benedictine Monastery. I was reminded of Nicolson’s translation of the Monk’s prologue in Chaucer: “The rule of Maurus or St. Benedict, / By reason it was old and somewhat strict, / This said monk let such old things slowly pace / And followed new-world manners in their place.” The quotation seemed particularly apt as the monastery now seemed to be devoted to holiday-makers. (Under any circumstances, Chaucer’s monk would definitely be carrying a mobile phone today.)
Gavan had done a reconnaissance of eateries recommended by our host and so we descended the rest of the lock steps and entered The Lock Inn shortly after 6:00. This was a lively and crowded establishment with very good food and an efficient and compliant staff. I had a pint of lager and Gavan the first of several pints of Guinness (the barmaid let him have a Guinness glass as a souvenir). Then I had a fish soup (salmon and potatoes, yummy) and the Buckie Haddock and chips while Gavan ordered the venison. At dessert time we shared a piece of Bailey’s inflected cheesecake. At the next table a French family labored to keep their little girl amused with a set of colored paints.
Light was fading from the sky when we re-emerged but I was getting chilly and so we found our way around to Station Road and returned to Caledonian House. Once again it was time for an early night.
To continue with the next stage of our walk you need: