August 11, 2008: Ladycairn to Inverness
The way was now open for the completion of the final section of the Great Glen Way. I had to admit that in spite of the midges and the leg problems (ones that would continue to bedevil me for weeks) this had been one of our most successful outings and I was sorry, in many ways, that it was coming to an end.
We said goodbye to the Urquharts, who had been outstanding hosts, at about 9:40 – when George arrived to pick us (and our bags) up for the last time. He made one other stop in town, retrieving a couple who were a day behind us and therefore were walking south from Blackfold while we were walking north from Ladycairn. It was a cloudy bright day, with some evidence of sun, and a fresh breeze.
We were able to start our walk at about 10:10, using the highway again, with only the occasional car to slow our progress. We were rising on a gentle gradient but after a while we discovered a new variation in the route, our own gravel path – one that paralleled the road along the line of an old fence (something about deer culling and reforestation necessitating this change). Views were outstanding here and heathery moorland was still predominant. After a mile and a half we met George’s other passengers, crossing our path, and we asked them to take our photo – since there were no shots in either camera of the two of us together. The couple turned out to be from Luxembourg; we wished them well on the rest of the walk and resumed our northerly trod.
We soon entered a patchy forest, spotting a black grouse who was active among the bushes on our left. It now became obvious that this diversion would not drop down to the road at Blackfold, though it came close, and instead we continued in a north-easterly direction among the trees on a very level surface – an old drove road. On our right for several miles we had a stone fence surmounted by barbed wire and this proved to be a wonderful environment for wild flowers and mushrooms. Cyclists were thundering up behind us as we spotted an arm of Beauly Firth on our left – about as close as we would get to the North Sea itself.
We passed a ruin and walked beneath some power lines and began to look for a place to have some lunch. Gavan located two boulders on either side of the path and here we perched, free of midges for once. When I got up to have a forest pee at the end of this session I discovered a deceased mole lying on his back in the leaves. A brief shower lead to the donning of rain jackets – but we had no more moisture on this day.
At last we left the cover of the trees behind, crossing around a dam and obtaining our first views of Inverness below. At the bottom of a steep hill we could see the huge Creag Dunain Hospital, but the place was boarded up and undergoing conversion.
To our chagrin, just at the point where I expected only three miles to go, we discovered a sign informing us that it would, in fact, be four. Not all of what followed was edifying, though I suppose any return to civilization after the beautiful countryside we had visited would be disappointing.
A complex route, still waymarked, lead us past an NHS establishment as we wound our way down lanes, on suburban footpaths, past housing estates and through a tunnel. After the latter we walked along the edge of Torvean Golf Course. A group of four or five ten year-olds were dragging a golf bag across the greens; they didn’t know how to play golf but they had the vocabulary down: “Give me that fucking sand-wedge.” I was looking for a last clandestine pee spot before all would become too public and I found it just before climbing some steps and reaching the side of our old friend, the Caledonian Canal.
Here we turned right, with boats chugging by, an ancient couple paddling in a canoe, and a cemetery across the water. At a bridge there was a colony of ducks and one Mallard mom had decided on a group nap, with all of the ducklings in a warm heap around her.
We turned east over the bridge and waited for a break in the traffic to head through the parking lot of the Floral Hall – we were actually heading south here, that is in the wrong direction for our ultimate destination. Our reward was a meeting with a feeder stream at Winn Island (No dogs!) – where we tried to sit atop a stone wall but found the perch too uncomfortable to stay for long. At the northern end of this stretch we at last reached the beautiful River Ness (which we crossed on a lovely white footbridge) and we took a long time making our way forward, hopping from island to island and passing lots of strollers (most of whom were speaking French) and their dogs (including one Bassett Hound). There were park benches here on which we could have a real rest and a long log that had been sculpted and painted to look like Nessie. There was a fisherman casting his rod in the swift waters as we passed over to the east bank of the river.
No one would call our pace speedy and we seemed to take every opportunity to pause, as, for instance, when we passed a World War I monument on our right. At last, with St. Andrews Cathedral across the water, we were directed into a stepped alleyway and up a road heading straight for Inverness Castle. There were lots of tourists about as, at 3:50, we reached the end of the Great Glen Way. Photos were taken of the scene below and each of us posed with a GGW monument behind us. Then we headed across the street for a celebratory pint at the Castle Tavern.
This laidback establishment had a sign out front forbidding customers from wearing team colors and Gavan wondered if this meant his U.S. Olympics hat. In fact the TV was tuned to the games, though neither of us cared very much about the horse trials from Hong Kong. Gavan drank his usual Guinness and I had a pint of Fosters. The pretty barmaid, her face disfigured by the lurid green of the bar light, suddenly looked like a figure out of Munch. Some old codgers came in and began to play the fruit machines.
In search of our b&b we now walked north into a hive of shopping and business streets; these were crowded too – Inverness seemed to be thriving. We now turned west and crossed the River Ness again, continuing in the same direction and scoping out likely dinner places before turning north and winding around until we at last reached Atherstone Guest House on Fairfield Road. It was now 5:00 and we had walked ten and a half miles today and seventy-seven miles in total. Indeed Gavan and I had now walked all the way from Glasgow to Inverness.
Our host showed us to our rooms – for on this occasion we each had our own en suite room. Our bags had been delivered here so there was no ambiguity over who got which room. I had a nice shower (from which I was loath to leave) and a nice rest. Our host recommended a place to eat on the riverside and Gavan made a reservation. Shortly before 7:00, therefore, we strolled a bit through back streets to The Waterfront, where we had our last dinner of the expedition.
Gavan had the steak pie and the garlic mushrooms while I stuck with the shrimp cocktail and the scampi and chips. Gavan teased the waitress about the nearest McDonalds but she said she was a vegetarian and never went there. Neither of us ordered a dessert and soon we were on our way home. Now Gavan said he felt he wanted an ice cream – but the only shop open sold only booze.
I had an early night and was once again glad that Gavan would not be watching Olympics in the same room where I was trying to sleep. In the morning we were joined in the breakfast room by the huge Westie, Skye. Much of the culture of Atherstone Guest House was devoted to the cult of the Westie; a portrait in my room, figurines everywhere else.
Our landlady informed us at about 9:40 that a taxi was waiting for us and so we climbed aboard for a trip to Inverness Airport. Gavan quizzed the driver (who seemed to prefer a pre-boom Inverness) about the fortunes of Inverness Caledonian Thistle, whose ground we passed. The journey took longer than expected and cost £16 plus tip. There wasn’t much of a wait at the FlyBe counter and, after check-in and seat selection, we had over an hour to wait. I ordered a frappuccino at the resident Starbucks and bought a box of shortbread for Hanna, while Gavan had another conversation with his mom – who wanted to be sure that he would not be too roly-poly when he visited relatives in Ireland later in the summer.
I was really glad that we had chosen to fly (back to Gatwick in this case) rather than endure a nine-hour train journey. Our 12:05 departure meant that by 1:30 we were pulling up to a loading bay at the other end. On the plane we each read an editorial by Mayor Boris Johnson on the trials of waiting for luggage at Gatwick and indeed we had a long wait too before heading for the Gatwick Express; fortunately we had landed in the right terminal for easy access.
We finished up some of the snacks we had been carrying around and after half an hour arrived at Victoria Station. To my surprise a line of cabbies was in place (we had to wake ours up) so we were soon speeding back to the comforts of Maida Vale after a most successful outing.
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