Technology, eh?

You wait ages for a blog to post, then two come along at once…
No, it’s not a ‘spot the difference’ competition, just the result of posting via email, with variable internet access via my phone and no ability to edit posts!
Please bear with me; normal service will be resumed (like haircuts, non-technical clothing and regular laundry) on return to London.

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Day 93 – Alltsigh to Drumnadrochit

A short day, this one (about 10 miles), which was just as well, because after the last two days I was very stiff and sore.
It’s not the most exciting part of the trail – just more walking on forest tracks, with the occasional view down Loch Ness, and the smell of oranges from freshly cut pine. I wasn’t rushing, but still got to Drumnadrochit in time for a late lunch.
I opted for a restful afternoon reading more shlock horror paperbacks, before eventually dragging myself back out for dinner at the local pub. I am really looking forward to getting home at the end of this and just having some normal and preferably non-greasy food which I have cooked myself, and to having some conversation while I eat rather than either reading or trying to look at other diners without staring at them!
Bed earlyish, after finishing another serial-killer-rampage-defeated-by-good-cop-with-relationship-issues. I’m missing home and my family a lot – I can’t imagine what it would have been like to do the whole trail without them. Looking forward to finishing the Great Glen tomorrow, as Inverness feels like the last major milestone on the way to John O’Groats. Onwards!

Day 93 – Alltsigh to Drumnadrochit

A short day, this one (about 10 miles) – just as well, because after the last two days I was very stiff indeed!
It’s not the most exciting part of the trail. Just more walking on forest tracks, with the occasional view down Loch Ness, and the smell of oranges from freshly cut pine. I wasn’t rushing, but still got to Drumnadrochit in time for a late lunch.
I opted for a restful afternoon reading more shlock horror paperbacks, before eventually dragging myself back out for dinner at the local pub. I am really looking forward to getting home at the end of this and just having some normal and preferably non-greasy food which I have cooked myself, and to having some conversation while I eat rather than either reading or trying to look at other diners without staring at them!
Bed earlyish, after finishing another serial-killer-rampage-defeated-by-good-cop-with-relationship-issues. I’m missing home and my family a lot – I can’t imagine what it would have been like to do the whole trail without them. Looking forward to finishing the Great Glen tomorrow, as Inverness feels like the last major milestone on the way to John O’Groats. Onwards!

Day 92 – Laggan to Altsigh

On the plus side, I had a whole bag full of clean clothes and had had a good night’s sleep. On the minus side, I was incredibly stiff, and (more importantly) there was no coffee. Bizarrely the only instant coffee sold by the hostel was a powdered latte. I take my coffee black. After dubiously stirring boiling water into a mushroom-coloured powder, I can say that whilst drinkable the resulting concoction is NOTHING like coffee. A German couple were breakfasting at the same time and were similarly non-plussed.
I dithered about getting ready to leave and wasn’t out the door until about 9:40.
Today was supposed to be a short(ish) day, about 17 miles up the east side of Loch Oich, along the canal, through Fort Augustus and then along Loch Ness. Despite my late start I was making good progress, but then disaster struck. As I got to the top of Loch Oich I thought I would take a photo, only to find that my phone had fallen out of my backpack belt at some unknown point in the last 4 miles or so. I headed back down the path, cursing volubly and hoping that I hadn’t dropped the phone right at the beginning. Fortunately, after a couple of miles I met the German couple from the hostel, who smilingly produced my battered Blackberry and then looked a bit bemused at my hysterical gratitude. I walked as fast as I could to make up time, and made it to Fort Augustus for lunch by the river. After that I stocked up on cash and headed towards Loch Ness.
The walk to Invermoriston is along forest tracks, but the views are limited. There were huge piles of freshly cut timber by the path, with a smell strongly reminiscent of oranges, but otherwise it was fairly tedious. As I started downhill towards Invermoriston, tired and thirsty, I breathed a sigh of relief and started looking up the address of my B&B, only to find that it was in fact not in Invermoriston but in Altsigh, some 4 miles further on. I nearly cried, but it was entirely my own fault – I hadn’t checked the location. I eventually made it at about 730, to a warm welcome and a huge plate of dinner.
Footsore and weary after another long day, I applied liberal quantities of Deep Heat and consoled myself with the thought that tomorrow’s walk to Drumnadrochit would be very short indeed!

Day 91 – Fort William to Laggan

The Great Glen goes all the way up from Fort William to Inverness. It has many sterling qualities – it’s well made, well waymarked, has convenient stopping points and some nice views. But from my point of view, it has some major disadvantages as part of LEJOG – it involves more walking on canal towpaths (in this case, the Caledonian Canal which links the various lochs making up the Great Glen), the views are limited because much of the path is on tracks through commercial forestry, and a lot of the walking is on hard surfaces (tarmac and aggregate). I’ve walked the path before and probably wouldn’t have chosen to do it again in isolation, but needs must!
The path heads out from Fort William round the coast; I took a shortcut through Caol and was rewarded by reaching the level crossing by Neptune’s Staircase just minutes before the steam train to Mallaig came through. I had a nice chat to a man who had sailed from Norway and brought his very beautiful yacht down the canal heading for Oban, and got a great ground-level picture of the train as it came through. Then I headed up Neptune’s Staircase, a ladder of locks taking boats up from sea level to the canal, which is frankly not a patch on the awesome Falkirk wheel, and there I was, back on the canal. Again.
I have made myself a promise that I won’t walk long distances along canals ever again after this trip. There was admittedly more interest on the Caledonian than there had been on the Forth and Clyde, as there are a lot more boats and the odd swing bridge or lock, but by the time I reached Gairlochy I was still going slightly nuts with boredom and my legs were feeling sore from the hard flat path. Definitely a day when it would have helped to have an MP3 player!
Fortunately, from Gairlochy the path skirts the loch and is a bit more varied. The loch was absolutely still and quiet, and it was almost entirely silent. I passed the entrance to the Clan Cameron museum at Achnacarry (well worth a visit, but I’ve been before), and some interesting boards with information about the training of commando troops at Achnacarry during World War II. There is a cement mockup of a landing craft next to the path, which was used for training ahead of the D-day landings – it looked very incongruous surrounded by bracken and birch trees.
From Achnacarry, it is a long trudge along the loch (with quite a lot of road walking) before you reach Laggan Locks at the end. The youth hostel where I was staying is another mile further on. It felt like a very long day indeed, but after doing all my washing and having a nutritious dinner of frozen microwave curry and chocolate (!) I felt much bouncier. A short day tomorrow, only 17 miles to Invermoriston.

Day 90 (rest day) – travelling in style

After 8 days’ walking since the family left, I was sorely in need of a rest, in both senses of the word. I was very excited, because I had booked myself on the steam train to Mallaig, which I have always wanted to take but never previously got round to.
The train was great, but completely chock full – it was bizarre and vaguely unpleasant to be crammed in with so many other people after so much space and isolation walking, and I wondered briefly how I was going to cope with going back to London and the Central Line rush hour. However, the train trip is lovely – for those not in the know, it’s the route used for the Hogwarts Express scenes in the Harry Potter movies – and not even the persistent drizzle could dampen my mood.
Mallaig, where the train terminates, turned out to be a very pretty fishing village. I opted to go on a one hour wildlife cruise. In fact, the best view of wildlife turned out to be the very inquisitive seal which was swimming in the harbour, but it was a nice trip nonetheless. We arrived back with 20 minutes before the train left, and I got a portion of very hot chips and ate them with lots of salt and vinegar standing on the harbour wall in the drizzle.
Once back in Fort William, I wrote a postcard to Rowan and did some shopping before dinner and early bed. A long day (about 23 miles) up the Great Glen to Laggan tomorrow.

Day 89 – Kinlochleven to Fort William

Yet again, I woke up on the dot at 630, and after a quick breakfast I managed to get an early start. It was fairly grey and misty, but as the climb out of Kinlochleven via Lairigmor was much steeper (and longer) than I remembered I was glad of the coolness. I was very stiff, and walking seemed like very hard work all of a sudden.
At the top of the climb I caught up with Alana (Elana? Apologies if the spelling is all wrong), and we ended up walking the rest of the way into Fort William together.
The last section of the West Highland Way is a bit of an anticlimax – both scenery and the route are a bit blah – so I was indebted to her for a very enjoyable day’s walk (she even put up with my ranting about politics with apparent goodwill!) and for me at least, the conversation made the miles fly by – we arrived in Fort William very early and had a celebratory tea in the hotel.
I spent a leisurely evening resting my feet, having a curry and reading some more shlock horror paperbacks from the bookcase at my B&B (lack of reading material is one of the drawbacks to being on the move all the time). A much-needed rest day tomorrow.

Day 88 – Bridge of Orchy to Kinlochleven

Sometimes there are days which make you realise why long-distance walking is worth it. This was definitely one of them. Bright sunshine, a refreshing breeze, stunning scenery, a firm path underfoot, an energetic but not exhausting route, wild moorland, huge mountains – it was a pretty much perfect day.
It’s a long way from Bridge of Orchy to Kinlochleven and usually I would not have attempted it in one go, but it’s a great walk when you do it all at once – the prettiness of Inveroran giving way to the wild isolation of the moor, then the beautiful views from the Devil’s Staircase and a long steep descent into Kinlochleven. I would highly recommend it!
I have walked the section across Rannoch Moor several times before, but I don’t think I have ever walked it before in the sunshine – what a revelation! I could see for miles, and the distant peaks of Glen Etive and further north were all sharp and clear, making for some genuinely awe-inspiring scenery.
I could also feel how much fitter I have become – for once, going uphill (even the dreaded Devil’s Staircase) felt like a pleasure rather than an endurance test. For most of the day, there was no sound apart from my breathing, my feet and the wind, and I stopped worrying about the route, work, family and my feet and just simply relaxed happily into the walk. It was truly a joy to be alive.

Highlights: One of the best days walking I’ve ever had. I can’t attach all the pictures I took (and they don’t do it justice in any case!) but here’s a selection.

Day 87 – Inverarnan to Bridge of Orchy

I got an early start this morning, but after last night it was a struggle! It was another sunny day and I was pleased to be back on the road; unfortunately, in the last few days I seem to have pulled a muscle in my left thigh and another in my right ankle, so it takes me a long time to warm up and stop hobbling each morning!
The path from Inverarnan is very straightforward, winding up through the valley between the river and the railway until it crosses under the railway and road via ‘sheep creeps’. The scenery isn’t magnificent (oh, how blase I am these days!) but it was good to see some proper Highland hills getting steeper and higher on either side.
Just before Crianlarich I took a break and was joined by Austin, Robert and Douglas, three cousins walking the Way for the very first time and rather bravely attempting to do the whole thing in 5 days. Other than that there were very few walkers around – although it is possible we had just beaten the rush by starting early!
The signpost for the Crianlarich turnoff was adorned, rather ominously, with a pair of walking boots with one sole coming off and a rolled up sleeping bag. It was a little reminiscent of mole-catchers hanging up dead moles – I hoped that whoever had left the boots there had managed to complete the walk eventually.
After Crianlarich, the path goes up and down some rather steep hills through a plantation, before emerging near the site of St Fillan’s priory. I stopped for lunch in the shade of a large beech tree, where I was joined by some very tired German boys carrying packs nearly as big as themselves, then headed off on a pleasant path down the valley towards Tyndrum.
Tyndrum is mainly a stopping-off point for people travelling through – walkers, motorists, cyclists and motorcyclists – and it is not pretty. It does however have a couple of cafes and some fairly well-stocked shops, with big signs warning you that this is the last shopping opportunity until Kinlochleven. I stopped for a much-needed cup of tea and to replenish my stock of painkillers, and then bumped into Austin, Douglas and Robert again. It can be hard to tell if people mind you walking with them but they didn’t object and we ended up walking the rest of the way to Bridge of Orchy together.
The route improves dramatically after Tyndrum – a rocky path along the valley with some very impressive hills on either side. The sun was still shining and I managed to run out of water, but it wasn’t far now and I decided to soldier on rather than getting my high-tech filter out of my bag.
I made it to the Bridge of Orchy hotel, which after the rather Spartan simplicity of my room the previous night was delightfully luxurious. I had an excellent dinner and a very nice glass of pinot noir and watched the sunset over the mountains whilst the swifts darted to and fro. Lovely.

Highlights: the Highlands in the sun!; Tyndrum community woodland has matured from when I last saw it; a beautiful view of the river and the mountains beyond from my swish hotel room.

Day 86 – Rowardennan to Inverarnan

By the time I finished this section, I was extremely glad that I had decided to split up the Drymen to Inverarnan section into two 14-mile days rather than one mammoth 28 mile day as suggested by the guide. The first part, to Inversnaid, is easy – the path has been diverted away from the shore of the loch and runs on a contouring forest track which made for some very fast walking. I reached Inversnaid, which I had thought would be my lunch stop, at just before 11am, so compromised with tea and lemon drizzle cake.
From Inversnaid onwards, however, the walking got a lot more difficult. The path, which runs down by the loch, clambers up and down around tree roots and rocks for nearly the whole of the rest of the way up the loch. It was slow, fiddly and tiring, and it was hard to look at the loch without stopping. I did however catch sight of an animal which was either a weasel or a very small pine marten – in the centre of the picture below.
When I got to the ferry point opposite Ardlui at the top of the loch I breathed a sigh of relief. Unfortunately, the onwards path from there to Inverarnan was about three times as long as I remembered it being.
By the end of the day I was feeling quite tired and in need of some food. The Drovers’ Arms, where I stayed, is an experience – it is full of taxidermy and nearly everything not made out of wood or dead animals is tartan. On the other hand, my room was clean and cheap. I went down to the bar and was catching up some of my blog backlog (backblog?) when two walkers I had seen a couple of times the previous day said hello and we started chatting. One thing led to another, and we ended up having an lovely if very drunken evening sampling the bar’s extensive whisky selection and chatting about all sorts of things. Rhys and Jane – if you read this, thanks for an excellent evening!
I eventually staggered upstairs and it would be fair to say I did not sleep well. Still, it was definitely worth it!

Highlights: the weasel/stoat/marten; no rain despite some threatening clouds; a great evening socialising.