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Great Glen Way – the wrong way! (May 2017)

Great Glen Way – the wrong way! (May 2017)

Postby solololo » Mon Jun 12, 2017 9:02 pm

Route description: Great Glen Way

Date walked: 11/05/2017

Time taken: 6 days

Distance: 117 km

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This is titled “the wrong way” because I walked the Great Glen Way in the opposite direction to most people (North to South - Inverness to Fort William), not because I had a bad time! In fact, it was quite the opposite.
I was quite an unusual walker in that I was a 20 year old girl on my own on the first long distance trail I had ever done and bivvying on the way. I wanted to write up my report to encourage other people like me to go against the grain and show that going a little more off-grid is possible and pays off!

Day 1
The reason I was walking the other way down the Great Glen was because I found I could get a cheap flight to Inverness so it made sense to start there. I arrived at the start of the path at 2pm after getting a few supplies (waterproof trousers and food) and set off in blazing sunshine which was going to become quite a feature of the trip.

The start of the path in Inverness

I knew getting all the way to Drumnadrochit and doing the longest stretch on the first day was too much but I wanted at least to leave Inverness behind me and make a good start. Climbing out of the town was slow but before too long I was in the cool shade of the magical woods above the Glen and on the other side of the hill from Loch Ness. I brought a bivvy bag with me which was great and meant I could stop just about anywhere when I got tired. I walked for about 3 hours before starting to look out for a spot to spend the night, but had to keep walking for another half hour as I was on the road and wanted to get out of sight of the houses, as it was my very first night bivvying ever and I was afraid of being spotted. Luckily as I came up an incline the gorsey scrubland gave way to a little square of grassland behind a small hillock and the other side of a wide-open gate. I took that as a sign and made camp about 30m from the road, so probably visible to cars but it was very quiet. I had a tin of soup for my tea and read my book a bit before settling down under a cloudless and still sunny sky. Unfortunately I was still getting over a cold so my constant sniffling made it a little less than idyllic.

The site of my very first bivvy...

...and the view past my feet!

Day 2
It was still cloudless in the morning with gorgeous views and after some porridge for breakfast I made tracks about half past ten – I was in no rush at all. I needed water badly after the hot day yesterday and resolved to ask at the next houses though it seemed everyone had gone to work. After the fifth unsuccessful try I noticed an outdoor tap by the door I was knocking at and just filled up from there. An hour later I stopped again to dump my rucksack in a bush and make a 20 minute detour to visit some prehistoric hut circles near Abriachan which were very interesting. Then I stopped again for a coffee at the café along the trail then made good progress and climbed up into the wood overlooking Loch Ness. I had been playing a game with myself called “Spot the Loch” and scored my first few points spotting the Loch through the trees that afternoon. I didn’t stop for lunch but kept snacking and enjoying the stupendous views and getting well sunburned. The final view of the day was towards the magnificent Urquhart Castle, then after a mile or so along the A road it was time for a pint or two and a phone charge (I was using the OS mapping system on my phone so needed to keep it topped up!). I bought some more food in Drumnadrochit and some fish and chips for tea before continuing along the path out of Lewiston and finding a nice bivvy spot in a field next to a B&B. I later learned that that day I was in the hottest location in the UK!

The second bivvy spot

Day 3
…but it was nevertheless misty and damp when I woke the next morning. Luckily I had bought some bin bags and wrapped my things up before I went to sleep. So with rain forecast, I booked a night in a hostel in Alltsigh (everywhere was full in Invermoriston) and decided to have a lighter day today since I didn’t want to tire out myself or my feet, and didn’t know how long my stamina could last. Also I had just found my first small blister.
The walk wasn’t tough but it was longer than expected as I stopped many times to take my waterproof trousers off an on again fearing rain but then quickly overheating. I stopped after an hour along a small road at a pottery for very nice coffee and cake, then the path continued through a wood for the first grand unobstructed view over Loch Ness...

The first view over Loch Ness

My knee was in a bad way that afternoon after the descent to Alltsigh but I found a stick which I christened Lochinvar which helped. The hostel was right on the bank of the Loch so I gave up playing Spot the Loch as the Loch clearly wasn’t playing fair. I aimed to get an early night but Eurovision was on so that went out of the window. I had a Heinz tin of Mac and Cheese for tea which I would not recommend to anyone. I was very hungry but even then had to donate it to the bin.

Day 4
Another slow start today and wasn’t on the road before half ten but since I was there I had to take a moment to dip my feet in the Loch! More overcast sky meant I was on and off with the waterproofs again.

A stone seat just off the low path outside Invermoriston

The descent into Invermoriston was tough and slow and the climb out again on the other side going up to the High Route was very challenging with my heavy pack but because it was steep it was mercifully short and the views at the top were unrivalled. I had a spectacular walk along the path in the sunshine and saw the whole Loch laid out before me. There is a nice sheltered seat at the summit where you can find my name and the date graffitied onto the bench. My teddy and I also stopped for the photo opportunity.

My teddy Lalli posing for a shot with the Loch

The walk down into Fort Augustus was a lot more gradual than the walk up and not for the first time I was glad to be going the “wrong way”. I checked into a hostel again because of the weather and had a nice pub meal and good rest which were both very welcome.

Day 5
Very slow morning hanging around and being indecisive so that after going to shop for more supplies it was 11:30 or so when I hit the road, and the weather was threatening rain. The Caledonian Canal had begun and it was the first section of towpath to contend with which bored me pretty quickly, so I decided to detour off the path at Loch Oich and head for a bothy I had seen on the map and spend the night there, though I had no idea what staying in a bothy would be like. It was quite a climb up to the Glenbuck bothy, which was extremely remote, but I was rewarded by total solitude broken only by some inquisitive herds of wild deer on the path. I reached the bothy by mid afternoon meaning only very small progress along the route but I had lots of time and didn’t mind, so set down to cooking myself some pasta and getting some reading done, and replenished my water from a brook running just behind the house.

Glenbuck bothy!

No-one else came to the bothy that afternoon so I had great fun being in a spooky old house all by myself, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who gets lonely easily. It was also a nice change from bivvying outside as the shelter meant I was warmer with the wind off me and had a brilliant night’s sleep.

Day 6
The only problem with my going off the beaten track was that the next day I somehow had to get back on it and I didn’t much fancy walking an hour back down the track and thereby go back on some progress from yesterday. This was however the greatest adventure of my trip as I scrambled cross country up some gorsey hillside and over a bit of bog at the top before looking down over Loch Oich and realising just how steep the hillside was going down.

Loch Oich from a boggy hilltop

There were no paths I could meet either, but this is where my new waterproof trousers finally came in useful. I simply sat down and leaned backwards and started sliding down the grass which was damp with drizzle. It was terrifying but great fun! I speeded down there and then clambered through some fences and steep woodland before dropping out of the trees onto the path below, much to the bemusement of a group of walkers passing by. I don’t think it was very safe and wouldn’t recommend that method of travel but I managed it unscathed apart from two sizeable rips in the seat of my new waterproofs… oops! I stopped in Laggan to charge my phone and have a mug of tea before setting off again – I had decided to go all the way to Gairlochy to make up for my lost progress yesterday. The walk alongside Loch Lochy was long and fairly unremarkable going through the woods, and my feet quickly tired on the hard path with the pace, but I had a nice break on the lochside at Clunes and cooled my feet in the water, with the sun out again overhead.

Cooling the feet in Loch Lochy

I had one final impressive view up the Great Glen before walking into Gairlochy which to my dismay had nothing going on there, not even a little pub. It was getting on for seven o’clock and it had been the longest day, so resolving to treat mysef to an extra pint in Fort William the next day, I found a sheltered bivvy spot by the side of the river and had a dinner of Super Noodles and steamed nettles (which were actually really nice, if chewy, and tasted faintly minty).

My final bivvy spot of the trip...

...and the view from my pillow

Day 7
The night was cold because of the wind from the river so I was kept up a bit but enjoyed the pale skies through the night. I made a good pace to the outskirts of Fort William along the towpath which, although picturesque, I would be glad to leave behind me with is hard surface against my heavy boots. I found the hardest section of the whole walk was the winding route around the suburbs into Fort William which was a good three or more miles and mot helped by one of the footbridges being closed (but on the plus side that meant a detour via Inverlochy Castle which is worth a visit).

Looking over towards Fort William

I found it very hard to keep my motivation up but in the end it was the friendliness of the people coming the other way which I had experienced throughout my trip that kept me going to the end. Before I knew it I was in the Morrisons buying my beer and then cracking open a cold one at the eponymous Fort William exactly 6 days after I had started at 2pm. The rest of my trip would be more exploring and backpacking and I did do Ben Nevis a few days later on a rare occasion when it wasn’t smothered in cloud!

A bit of refreshment at the Fort...

...and a view whilst walking through the town

I can see why many people would choose to do the Great Glen south to north as it is a lot flatter along the Caledonian Canal then the hills build up towards Inverness, and the lack of staging points near to Inverness means it makes sense to leave the longest stretch till last. However although I met loads of people every day, often thirty or more, there was no one going the way I went and that meant I felt really free to go my own pace. Also I think if I had gone the other way then the long stretches of towpath and going along the military road right at the beginning it would have tired me out quickly and diminished my motivation severely. I think if you want a to try going off the beaten track a bit, then stay on the beaten track, but go the other way! I’ve been bitten by the hiking bug (the only bite I got on the trip) and I’m sure will be writing a few more of these articles soon.

Some top tips I learned the hard way:
1. Don’t buy tinned pasta meals, no matter how hungry you are. Go for soup instead!
2. Put your waterproof trousers on only if it actually starts raining or you will find it a lot harder to walk along.
3. If you’re going solo, don’t take as many changes of clothes as I did – there’s no-one around to be offended by the smell. Clothes were by far the biggest weight in my pack.
4. Stop when you don’t need to then you won’t need to stop later. I found a snack every hour and a rest every hour and a half kept me going just fine.
5. I went in May which was the best time I think to go – I had brilliant weather but did not meet a single midgie!

Many thanks for reading and I hope I have helped and/or inspired you!
Posts: 1
Joined: Jun 12, 2017

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