August 9, 2008: Invermoriston to Drumnadrochit
A light rain was already falling as Gavan and I arose for the fifth day of our walk. The moisture was insufficient, for we could still see a cloud of midges through our breakfast window. We now made an early start, raingear once again in place, at 8:40, for, by far, this would be our longest day. Guidebooks list the distance from Invermoriston to Drumnadrochit at 14 miles but George, our assigned bag driver from Loch Ness Travel, later told us that one chap with a reliable pedometer reported the mileage as 15.25. These figures don’t include the distance needed to get back into town from Braccadale and on to our next b&b at the end. Conservatively I recorded this stage at 15 miles; we certainly felt the strain of every one of them.
Rain accompanied us on the ten-minute walk back into town where, at a sign that advertised the “Last clog shop before Skye,” we turned steeply uphill on a zigzag road. Once again I found it extremely useful to have the assistance of my cane; I was determined to struggle through today’s demanding requirements for I knew that, with only two shorter days remaining, if I could make it to Drumnadrochit then I should be able to make it all the way.
We eventually left tarmac behind and began a morning of forest tracks, moving up and down on fairly easy gradients. We crossed a bridge over Allt Coinneag – such moments again providing us with ways of measuring how far we had come. Another landmark was a stone cave, supposedly constructed for the comfort of a washerwoman who once plied these parts. There were occasional views of Loch Ness, often far below us now, and we again had a great variety of trees and wildflowers to provide visual stimulation. At Alltsigh the stream thundered under our feet but the moisture we had endured from above seemed to be coming to an end and skies began to brighten considerably. It was also possible to look behind us in order to see the vast panorama of the Great Glen itself, much of which we had now walked.
Once again we faced the problem of where to place our bodies at lunchtime. I suggested, worn out and defeated by the lack of alternatives, that we put our bums against the side of a little hollow in a cliff face and so we did, but almost immediately the midges began to circle and we ended up marching in a pathetic circle on the track itself, stuffing crisps into our mouths with one hand and waving wildly at the kamikaze beasts with the other. Just as we did so a puffing young lady dashed down the road to ask us if this was a good spot for lunch. I told her that it seemed to have too many midges and she replied, “But there are midges everywhere in Scotland.” So don’t ask.
When we resumed our march we reached a turning point and from this there departed a real rarity on this route, a narrow footpath descending through the forest and heading, after a mile or so, for a second turning point where trackway resumed. We seemed to be heading steadily uphill now, the sun actually making an appearance as well, and now we left the track to follow a narrow path upward though a deer fence, and up to a sunny saddle in the vicinity of an ancient fort, Dun Scriben.
On the other side we paused above a streambed and, lying on the grass, removed all of our raingear. I felt a lot better now that I was walking in t-shirt and my walking trousers only – I never turned these into shorts, however, for fear of what the midges might do to my bare legs. After a brief rest we crossed the stream and climbed uphill, reaching at last a narrow paved road that we could follow for some miles.
I had been looking forward to this moment for some time; it was already 3:00 but Jacquetta Megarry and Sandra Bardwell, in their guide, had described the setting as a kind of inland plateau and I had translated this as a fairly level section on which we could make good time: we still had five miles to go. Well the walking, in high farming country, was not too onerous but it was not level either – it was relentlessly uphill for several miles, though the angle was not too steep and we often had our own parallel walkway that took us off the road itself. We paused to take pictures of the heather-clad fields and once we had to stop to put on our raingear, for a shower passed overhead. I found it very difficult to get my rain trousers on while standing with my back to a huge hay bale in a black plastic sack – and Gavan had to help me lift my tired legs into the right position.
Only when we reached a wooded section near Woodend did the road finally head downhill; soon thereafter a track took us away from the traffic and the cyclists – though on this section we had horses to contend with as well. The section reminded me of the deep left-hand diversion we should have taken before reaching Invermoriston – but there was no shortcut this time and we had to climb slowly all the way down to the valley floor before turning back toward Loch Ness. Gavan got well ahead of me on this stretch, which soon followed tracks past cottages and stables before finally approaching our old friend, the A82. It was at this point that Gavan, sensing the ordeal that I had been through today, offered me a congratulatory pat on the back of my pack. We were both knackered.
Drumnadrochit, whose southern point of entry we had now arrived at, is a village of many parts, including the hamlet of Lewiston, soon reached. Given the late hour we decided not to check out the bar in a nearby hotel, but continued to plod on, using pavements now, and passing the Drum takeaway. Gavan, already worrying about where we would get our evening meal, picked up a menu from this establishment, which promised free delivery – in case nothing closer to our b&b materialized. But the scene became a little more lively as we neared a T-junction at the top of Drumnadrochit itself. The hotel at this corner was one of several local establishments devoted to Nessie, the putative monster of these parts, and though Gavan was undoubtedly a devotee of this cult (as well as the cult of the Olympics) he did not actually attend any of its sessions.
Fortunately our b&b was far closer to the center of things than Braccadale, though also due west of town, and it didn’t take us too long to reach its graveled front garden. I had been speculating that the house, pictured in a photo provided by Mickledore, looked a lot like a church and the name of the establishment, Glenkirk, pointed in this direction as well. Sure enough, a very tasteful conversion had taken place in the house that Ross and Fiona Urquhart maintained now as a b&b. It was 6:00 when we rang the doorbell.
We were shown to a very nice room on the first floor. On the landing a few steps down there was also a lounge, with TV, games and refreshments and I could see immediately where Gavan would be spending his midnight hours. Indeed he now abandoned his Boston Red Sox cap for a U.S. Olympic Team version. This he wore as we headed over to The Fiddlers, a pub-restaurant which we had passed just before crossing the bridge over the River Enrick.
Our hosts had made a reservation for us, which was just as well since the place was quite crowded and others had half an hour or so to go before being served. I had salmon again and ordered the first of two bottles of Fiddler’s Great Glen Way Ale: “it goes straight to your feet!” We had a very nice meal, concluded with another shared dessert. At a nearby table the Scandinavian sisters were just finishing up their repast as well; they seemed astonished to see us still ambulatory.
The light was again fading from the skies as we made our way slowly home. I slipped into bed immediately and got through no more than a few paragraphs of the article of the moment before calling it a night.
To continue with the next stage of our walk you need: