August 10, 2008: Ladycairn to Drumnadrochit
It had been raining a bit on our slanted storm windows when we rose for our next-to-last day on the Great Glen Way – it was just as well that we didn’t have to make an early start today because my walking partner had been up at 3:00 am to watch Olympics in the lounge. Fiona delivered our lunches while we were eating breakfast at the same table as some Australians; a French family shared the next table. “You’re going to have a beautiful day today,” our hostess said; she was over-optimistic.
Eighteen miles remained on our route but it hadn’t been until just the week before starting out that I had learned how this was to be accomplished, initially nonplussed to see today listed on our Mickledore itinerary as a “rest day.” When I made further inquiries I was informed that, no, we would be picked up by Loch Ness Travel at 10:00 this morning and driven a good deal of the distance toward Inverness – so that we could then walk back to Drumnadrochit for a second night at Glenkirk. Our boots were therefore laced on shortly before pickup time and we waited outside for our ride. I was quite sore and my legs were not the only complaint; the nail of the little toe on my right foot was quite tender and I had a monstrous case of red sock rash on the calves of both legs. Nevertheless I was confidant that I could complete the walk as scheduled.
George, who had been ferrying our bags for us all week, soon arrived and we travelled around town for a while as he hunted up additional baggage. One group, camping near a stables, wanted his help in dismantling their tent and this he refused to do. Gavan quizzed him about his attitudes toward the Loch Ness monster. George, who lives in Drum, said that he had never seen it himself but he had met many people who had – though he wasn’t certain if “monster” was the right sobriquet; some theorized that it was just a giant sturgeon. Soon was were driving along the A82 next to the lake, then climbing steeply uphill to reach a real plateau where a roadway was located – one that we could then use for the initial stages of our walk.
I asked George if he could let us off at the collection of dwellings known as Ladycairn since this spot seemed a little closer to the halfway mark to Inverness than Blackfold – which had been specified by Mickledore. He had no objections so at about 10:20 we were deposited on the roadway with exactly nine miles needed to get back to Drum. We really did have level walking as we began our southerly trek amid scenes of farmland and forest, with distant hills and high clouds combining to produce an exhilarating atmosphere. There would be some uphill, of course, but an advantage in walking this part of the route (from north to south) is that the latter stages would be mostly downhill. It was also fortunate that Dillon’s Cicerone guide described the route in both directions.
After only a mile or so of road walking (during which there were no cars, only a solid lady jogger) we reached Caiplich Farm, where a path lead us away from the road and into a stretch of scrubland dominated by a kind of hippie encampment – one which even had its own store. A couple of young guys in full commando gear were just packing up and leaving this bivouac as we drew near. We played leapfrog with them for the next hour, but whether they were real soldiers or just wannabes I could never tell.
As we were drawing near to a minor road at the entrance to the Abriachan Forest it began to rain and once again we paused to pull on our raingear. The moisture did not last for long and we were soon heading south once again, a long trek through countryside devastated by felling. Soon we were climbing quite steadily, though our route began to shift back toward the loch as it gained altitude. Heather was resplendent everywhere and lots of other wildflowers and interesting rock formations accompanied our rise and fall.
We met the Swedish duo for the last time; they hadn’t the courage to ask us what the hell we were doing marching against the general flow – had they done so we would have said that Inverness had turned out to be a bore and we were returning to Fort William. We also met Klaus, though he had known to expect us. He was not carrying his huge pack, having at last learned how to have it transported for him. There were more walkers than cyclists about today but we often had the place pretty much to ourselves.
As we began our long descent in quite open territory Gavan suggested that some nearby boulders would serve as useful perches on which we could open our lunch sacks. This we did – but no sooner had we settled in then we were engulfed in a swarm of midges, tiny beasts that sent us scurrying back onto our path. As usual I was the special target of interest and Gavan was trying to knock the swarm off my baseball cap with his own. In just a few seconds my exposed forehead had been stung repeatedly and red welts covered the top of my face. We were happy to hotfoot it out of there.
Gavan was carrying the map case and the guidebook and so I just followed along, asking every now and then what we should be looking for or how many miles we still had to go. We crossed a small burn on steppingstones, passed through some deep forest, even had a brief period of uphill again. A few times there were very steep descents on eroded surfaces and I was again happy to employ my cane for traction.
The sun was trying to come out as we got our first glimpses of Urquhart Castle to the south; it’s a pity that the Great Glen Way bypasses this attraction – given our fatigue there was no way we could add a visit to our itinerary now. (We would have to make do with a topiary version of the castle on the green next to The Fiddlers.)
Eventually the path swung around to parallel the A82, dropping down to its side a mile or so out of town. Gavan left me at this point so that he could sneak down to a dock and fill up a plastic bottle with Loch Ness water. I took advantage of this brief sit-down to have another go at my interrupted lunch but as I did so the heavens opened up again and I had to put everything away. Fortunately I was still in rain gear.
We followed a path that paralleled the road, having to rise up and around a house in our way and then continuing on pavement as signs of civilization became more evident. We took pictures of some Highland cattle in an adjacent field. At one farm a cow was bellowing in anguish as her calf was lead away by the farmer. We now passed the Loch Ness Hotel and continued west to our b&b, letting ourselves in with our key. Gavan had asked me if I though we would be home by 4:00 – as he wanted to watch some of the Olympic basketball contest between the U.S.A. and China. I had suggested that this was very likely and so it proved: it was 3:59.
In fact I joined him in the lounge to watch the contest (easily won by the Yanks), making us each a cup of coffee in the process. Then I had a brief nap, having to pull the blinds down on the Velux windows to keep out the returning sun. I called Fiddlers and made a second dinner reservation and here we headed at 7:00. I had the steak this time and a pint of Tennants while Gavan drank Guinness and a bottle of Great Glen Way Ale – the bottle that we had kept as a souvenir the previous night had been thrown out by a tidy Fiona. At a shop next door Gavan bought a Fiddler’s t-shirt and then we headed back to Glenkirk, the cows still munching away at the grass along the river’s edge.
To continue with the next stage of our walk you need: