Thursday, 10 October 2013

Great Glen Way Day07 - Gairlochy to Fort William

Walk Statistics
Walk Date - 10 October 2013
Walkers - Steve Smith, Gina Smith, Joss Johnson
Accommodation - Travelodge - Fort William
Start Point - Gairlochy Locks (NN 17605 84208)
Start Time - 10:19
Finish Point - Fort William (NN 10456 74287)
Finish Time - 16:45
Duration - 6hrs 26mins
Average pace - 1.61mph
Distance Walked - 10.38miles
Height Ascended - 110.85metres

Peaks visited

Day07 at Gairlochy
Final days walk start point
Picked up by Nevis Taxis this morning and time to renew acquaintances with Ronnie who drove us to Lundavra (pronounced lun-dah-vraah) for the start of a stage of the West Highland Way to Kinlochleven we walked last year.
It was the same week we walked Laggan Lochs to Fort Augustus that gave us the inspiration to attempt the entire Great Glen Way this year so fair warning therefore to Joss & Gina about doing the West Highland Way next year. Maybe even do the Peddars Way as a local training walk first.
There was a general feeling of satisfaction and achievement during the journey to Gairlochy knowing this was the last leg of the challenge, however for me there was mixed feelings for the very same reason.
Aonach Mòr, Carn Mòr and Ben
Nevis from Gairlochy Locks
Although it was bright with sunny spells it was still cool enough to consider leaving our coats on. I took the option to dress for 10 minutes in to the walk. Suffice it to say Joss and Gina kept their coats on.
After being dropped off we loaded up our packs and crossed the bridge carrying the A8004 across the Caledonian Canal near Gairlochy top lock.
Looking ahead to the Ben Nevis massive as thick cloud hung menacingly around the peaks and high gullies reminded me my dress code would be for a different season had we been heading there.

But we were not, so with the forecast for the day being bright with sunny spells we turned right and followed the towpath towards Neptune's Staircase and walks end at Fort William.
Not sure if it was because of the weather or the fact our mood was upbeat, but we reached  Moy Bridge at a record 3 mph pace despite Gina stopping to take off her coat and me stopping for lots of photos including one as we approached the bridge. Unfortunately that was the only one I took as we were all preoccupied by the site of the bridge keeper manually winding on a winch to open the bridge on this side of the canal. That was enough for the small waiting boat to pass, however had there been a larger vessel the keeper would then have to get in a boat and row herself across to the opposite bank to open the other side. It has been thus since the canal was built and no doubt it will remain so for the future.
Often some of the days best
views are as you look back
The next stage was about as perfect as we could expect. The weather was fine and views crying out to be photographed around every corner. We also took our time to make sure we did not pass either Loy or Sheangain aqueducts without recording the event, but although we found Sheangain aqueduct with the help of signposts for Torcastle and nearby cottages we are not sure if we passed Loy Sluice or Loy aqueduct. In truth we passed them both but not really sure what we photographed.

Ben Nevis from Banavie
By the time we reached Neptune's Staircase it was close to lunch and as was becoming tradition we had a short diversion to The Moorings Hotel for soup and coffee. An hour later we returned to the canal with views of Ben Nevis ahead and set off on the last leg of our journey.
By now we were getting sight of some familiar peaks and radio masts around Fort William including Cow Hill, Meall an t-Slamain on the opposite side of Loch Linnhe and of course The Ben itself. 
Very slow pace as every step we took there seemed to be an even better photo of Ben Nevis or surrounding peaks. Corpach Lock was idyllic but the best views of Ben Nevis were saved for the end as we approached Caol.
The UK's highest point from
your front garden in Caol

Crossing Soldier's Bridge brought us to Inverlochy Castle and the familiar blue signs directing us right along the banks of the River Lochy rather than along the rail line as indicated on the OS map. Turns out it was a much better route we caught sight of the Mallaig steam train being laid up for the night near the castle with Ben Nevis as a backdrop.
The end is in sight.
Marker point in the ruins of
the original "Fort" William
Even after 7 days walking this last section seemed to reveal scenes that could not be ignored and had to be recorded on film (or on disc as is the case these days) delaying our arrival at walks end and the stone plaque in the grounds of the original "Fort William". But so pleased we did. While it is great to have a schedule we were really pleased the 1.75 mph planned schedule we had set allowed enough time to stop and rest, or stop and view, or just stop and enjoy the experience over the whole week.
The speed we actually walked at was 1.87 mph including all stops and lunch breaks and it is the pace I would use when planning any future walks with friends.
Well done Joss & Gina and thanks for your company. Hope we can repeat it again some time in the near future.
More Photographs
Ben Nevis beyond Caol
Click on photograph to view slide-show

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Great Glen Way Day06 - Laggan Locks to Gairlochy

Walk Statistics
Walk Date - 09 October 2013
Walkers - Steve Smith, Gina Smith, Joss Johnson
Accommodation - Travelodge - Fort William
Start Point - Laggan Locks (NN 28616 96296)
Start Time - 10:01
Finish Point - Gairlochy Locks (NN 17605 84208)
Finish Time - 15:46
Duration - 5hrs 45mins
Average pace - 2.08mph
Distance Walked - 11.98miles
Height Ascended - 531.52metres

Peaks visited

Walk start point Day06,
Laggan Locks towards Ceann Loch
Somewhat mixed feeling for us all today as it marks the end of a very comfortable four night stay at Abbey Cottage, Fort Augustus. On the other hand it was a measure of our progress that by the end of the day we will be closer to Fort William than to Fort Augustus.
Today also marks the last time we will be picked up by Great Glen Travel who will be storing our bags for the day after dropping us off at Laggan Locks, before picking us up at Gairlochy and then taking ourselves with our bags to our final destination in Fort William. What a good job they have done looking after us for the last four days.
Overall we have been pleased with our decision to set up an accommodation base mid way along the walk. While it was a little more expensive in terms of transport, the benefit has been to maximise our time each night to clean up and prepare for the next day while still having plenty of time to rest and enjoy the hospitality available in Fort Augustus.

Meall nan Dearcag a Graham Top
across Ceann Loch from Laggan Locks
The forecast for the day was heavy rain and the stair rods that greeted us as we climbed in to the taxi confirmed this was correct. However as we drove towards Laggan Locks the rain eased and the sky brightened resulting in a dry but chilly start to the days walk.
As usual the route was easy to find and as on previous days Joss and Gina set off leading the way while I lagged behind taking photographs. 
Looking back across
Ceann Loch to Laggan Locks
on the way to Kilfinnan Farm
Everywhere seemed so fresh and bright in the sunshine following the rain presenting a photo opportunity around every corner, resulting in us taking nearly ½ hour to cover the 0.8 miles to Killfinnan Farm. 
The delays would not last, as we pass the mobile phone mast on our right ascending towards Killfinnan Wood the rain returned prompting us to don our waterproofs and wrap up cameras. The rain lasted for the next 2 miles ensuring a steady pace but suppressed any ideas about taking photos.

First snow of year on tops of
Meall na Teanga
It was not until we had passed the checkpoint at Allt Glas-Dhoire that the rain eased and sky cleared revealing the Munro Meall na Teanga straight ahead. It also revealed the winters first covering of snow on its tops, reminding me that if it is a bit rough and wet at our lower levels it is decidedly bleak higher up. We also met a chap who had set off from Gairlochy at 7am with the intention to walk all the way to Fort Augustus. Quite a long days walk - 23 miles in fact - what we will take 2 full days to complete.
The Graham Top Leitir Fhionnlaigh
across Loch Lochy

As he passed he did mention the only place between here and Gairlochy was Clunes, which somehow translated to the girls as a place to stop for what was now becoming a daily treat at a coffee shop. In fact as the rain returned once again, I also entertained the idea of drying off next to a strategically placed radiator holding a hot beverage.
But ahead was more than 4 miles and over 2 hours walking along the easy to follow forest track past Glas-Dhoire Mor, through Clunes Forest and the descent in to Clunes.

Pot of gold in the middle of Loch
Lochy from Rubha Allt a' Bhardain
As we approached all boded well for a well earned lunch break. The rain eased and the sun was starting to break through. Unfortunately that was as good as it got. The only likely candidate for a public building was the Clunes Forest School; and that was closed. The next best thing was the bridge over the Allt Tom an Fhithich. So that is where we stood and ate our lunch and gave our coats a chance to dry off. However what was becoming the trend for the day, it started to rain again, prompting us to press on along the B8005 out of Clunes towards Bunarkaig.
Best part of the day
on the shore of Loch Lochy
The next checkpoint would be the turn off for Ciaran's Church & Clan Cameron museum approx. 1½ miles soon after the bridge over the River Arkaig. By now it was 2pm and wet so we decided to press on for Gairlochy and postpone the visit until a later trip.
Soon afterwards the familiar blue marker post pointed us along a path to the left which we confidently followed knowing the signs had served us well for the whole walk so far. It brought us to the shores of Loch Lochy near Rubha Allt a' Bhardain and what seemed at the time the prettiest part of the entire walk.
Gairlochy Locks
The rain had finally stopped for the day giving way to bright sunshine and a vivid rainbow forming an arch across the loch. After lots of photos we followed the path along the shore until we reached the b
ridge over Allt an Fhasaich Dhuibh, which I mistook for the bridge over Allt Coire Choille-Rais. 
This meant we rejoined the road to Gairlochy much too soon and thereby truncating the beautiful section of the Great Glen Way along the shores of Loch Lochy. Bit of a shame really but to be fair this was the only part of the entire route where the signage had let us down and if we had taken more care with checking the map would have been avoided.

More Photographs
Fish farming on Loch Lochy. Ben Nevis and Aonach Mor in thick black cloud beyond
Click on photograph to view slide-show

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Great Glen Way Day05 - Fort Augustus to Laggan Locks

Walk Statistics
Walk Date - 08 October 2013
Walkers - Steve Smith, Gina Smith, Joss Johnson
Accommodation - Abbey Cottage B&B - Fort Augustus
Start Point - Fort Augustus, Abbey Cottage B&B - Fort Augustus (NH 37944 09121)
Start Time - 09:46
Finish Point - Laggan Locks (NN 28616 96296)
Finish Time - 15:31
Duration - 5hrs 45mins
Average pace - 1.91mph
Distance Walked - 11.00miles
Height Ascended - 177.95metres

Peaks visited

Nearly 4 miles further to walk than yesterday but with only 163m of planned ascent can still be considered easier than the first two days, especially as the rain had cleared, replaced by bright skies and periods of weak sunshine breaking through the blanket of cloud.
In addition it was this leg of The Great Glen Way, albeit in reverse from Laggan Locks to Fort Augustus, we all walked together last November 2012, hence no doubt in anyones mind about what we could expect from the day ahead. Whilst I have considered completing many of the UK long distance walks at some time, I can look back on this day last year as my inspiration to return for this end to end attempt. I also think it is fair to say Joss and Gina felt if the whole walk was like this they would quite fancy it as well.
As it turns out, the whole walk is not like this leg, however because we are walking the
route west to east, the opposite direction to convention, the more remote hillier parts of the route have already been completed and therefore the easier flatter days are ahead.

Caledonian Canal towards Kytra Lock
near Eilean Floda
Because we were setting off from our accommodation base there did not seem any urgency to prepare for an early start. As a result we did not start any sooner than we had on previous days when a taxi transfer was required to get us to the walk starting point.
One bonus however was freshly made sandwiches and home made Scotch Pie from the butcher DJ MacDougal next door to The Lock Inn, scene of a great evenings food and entertainment the night before. Sandwiches packed we returned to the swing bridge and started the days walk by ascending the steps past the five lock gates in Fort Augustus, the major part of the days ascent. While a boat passed downhill from the Fort William direction I chatted with the Lock keeper, he told me it took about 90 minutes to pass through all 5 locks, quite labour intensive I thought and at a charge of £18.00 per metre for a 7 day pass for the whole canal seemed pretty good value.
Kytra Locks gets prettier
the closer you get

The rest of the mornings walk would be characterised by level walking on tow paths along the banks of The Caledonian Canal. So without any  worries about navigation the map could stay packed safely in my pocket, leaving us all the time we needed to enjoy the scenery, photography and hints of high peaks ahead as we headed west. 
The first checkpoint was Kytra Locks, marked as Kyltra on the OS Explorer map. I remembered these from last year as having a chocolate box feel even though it was pouring with rain. But today from the first distant glimpse just seemed to get prettier the closer we approached.

After the locks we returned to tow path walking and similar scenery, the difference being
Oich cantilever bridge
the autumn colours seemed so much more vivid. Once again the tow path was punctuated by some pretty locks, this time our second checkpoint at Cullochy. 

By the time we left Cullochy it was nearly mid day and could see the swing bridge
carrying the A82 near Aberchalder so decided the picnic bench we found last year would be a good place to have lunch. But first we took a small detour to visit the innovative (for its time) double cantilever Bridge of Oich, built in 1849 and continued in use until it was bypassed by the present bridge in 1932. It has now been restored by Historic Scotland.

Old cottage near Leitirfearn
With lunch all sorted, we set off towards Loch Oich and after skirting the northern shore crossed the old railway bridge across the Calder Burn. From the bridge the first part of this section of The Great Glen Way follows the old track bed for a short distance then somehow manages to swap and follow the route of General Wades Military Road dropping to the shore of Loch Oich near Ceum na h-Inghinn. Look out for the Crannog Eilean Drynachan with its red navigation post before reaching the cottage at Leitirfearn. I had presumed it was an old railway cottage but further internet research suggests it is an abandoned 18th century byre where the occupants shared the dwellings with their animals. Other than the cottage there is lots of evidence of the route the railway followed above, including a drainage aqueduct and bridges. Don't spend too much time looking out for railway memorabilia, or if you do, take extra care under foot, tree roots growing through the path surface may trip you up.

Invergarry Castle
Continuing along the military road past Invergarry Castle on the shore opposite, the path turns left and up hill to pick up the old railway track bed. From here it is a case of following the path through woods all the way to Invergarry Station. The site is being restored and after clearing the old passenger subway and track beds either side of the platform there was evidence of the massive trees that had grown out of the platform being prepared for removal. More information about the restoration is available here.
Invergarry Station
Next to the station and sharing an access road is a log cabin holiday park. The road leads to the A82 at Laggan and a possible end point for the days walking. This was never an option on our plan and we had already contacted Great Glen Travel to meet us at Laggan Locks. It was an extra 50 minutes willingly walked on the basis that 1½ miles walked today would be 1½ miles we would not have to walk tomorrow.

More Photographs

Kytra Locks just gets prettier the closer you get
Click on photograph to view slide-show

Monday, 7 October 2013

Great Glen Way Day04 - Invermoriston to Fort Augustus

Walk Statistics
Walk Date - 07 October 2013
Walkers - Steve Smith, Gina Smith, Joss Johnson
Accommodation - Abbey Cottage B&B - Fort Augustus
Start Point - Invermoriston, Glenmoriston Arms Hotel (NH 42020 16876)
Start Time - 09:39
Finish Point - Fort Augustus, Abbey Cottage B&B - Fort Augustus (NH 37944 09121)
Finish Time - 13:10
Duration - 3hrs 31mins
Average pace - 2.18mph
Distance Walked - 7.67miles
Height Ascended - 119.80metres

Peaks visited

The 476m Sròn na Muic
totally obscurred by rain bearing cloud
Had we chosen to follow the 6 day schedule recommended in various guides today, the 4th since setting off from Inverness, would have been a rest day. However none of us really fancied the 18 miles to Drumnadrochit on day 01 followed by 16 miles to Invermoriston on day 02, so we decided to cover the combined 34 miles in 3 days rather than 2.
We still would have had the same 8 miles planned for today, to walk from Invermoriston to Fort Augustus, but instead of it being an effort to be endured after two tough days we can take it at a more relaxed pace and still be finished by 1pm.
The net result would still have been setting off from Fort Augustus on day 05 but allowing us to stop and take photographs as well as enjoy scenery, points of interest and take coffee/meal breaks in villages along the way. Rather than press on at a relentless pace to "earn" enough time to take a rest day that we may not even need, feeling we are kicking our heels hanging around in one place, when instead we could be taking an extra few steps towards the ultimate end on Day 07.

Sheltering from rain 
outside Glenmoriston Arms Hotel
A prompt 9:00am pickup by Great Glen Travel from Abbey Cottage in Fort Augustus followed by a short taxi ride to Invermoriston enabled us to make an early start with the expectation we could finish the 8 miles planned today well by 1pm.
The weather however had other ideas with heavy rain, the first we had seen, and low cloud obscuring any views ensured we did not hang around or spend time sightseeing along the way.
At least when it is pouring with rain at the beginning of the walk there is no debate about when or whether you should get out the waterproofs, so after saying goodbye to the taxi driver we set off from the Glenmoriston Arms Hotel maybe over dressed but dry.
Old Bridge, Invermoriston
In no time we had reached Invermoriston Bridge and could not resist stopping to take photos of the now unused, derelict old bridge. One of Telford's less durable efforts, but blamed on a lazy workforce. Mist and moisture on the lens confirmed today would not be a good day for photography.

Minor falls swelled by rain
near Allt a' Mhuilinn
Other than the path breaking off the road to Dalcataig sooner than shown on the map the route to the next checkpoints at  Portclair Burn and Allt Mhuilinn went as planned. The only problem was that due to the rain there were many more smaller streams swollen with rain water masquerading as potential checkpoints. Checking with the map would have confirmed these as minor streams but as my large scale home printed maps would have soon turned to pulp, the path was so well marked by the familiar blue posts, I was confident enough to press on and feel it it was not worth getting out the laminated maps as well as de-steaming my glasses. Obviously had we been higher up on open moorland or less well marked paths I would have made the effort.

Main falls from bridge over
Allt a' Mhuilinn
As it turned out we did manage to get a photograph at Allt Mhuilinn and because we did not know we were there at the time, arriving at Allt na Criche unexpectedly was a real bonus because that meant we were less than two miles away from Fort Augustus.
A protein bar on the hoof gave us the energy to make the final ascent from Allt na Criche before we started the final descent into Fort Augustus just above Inchnacardoch Lodge Hotel.
Extra tall pines as Great Glen Way
descends in to Fort Augustus
There was a viewing point and information board about the history of Cherry Island but even though the rain had eased views of Loch Ness and Fort Augustus were somewhat obscured.

After descending to Three Bridges through tall pines it took only 20 minutes to reach Fort Augustus and walks end just after 1pm where a hot shower and a change in to dry clothes awaited.
Start point for tomorrows walk,
just outside our B&B
This left enough time to spend the rest of the afternoon to enjoy a coffee and cake in Scots Kitchen followed by a walk around the locks, a visit to The Caledonian Canal Visitors Centre followed by tea in the Boathouse Restaurant.  A well earned relaxing afternoon preparing us for onward progress tomorrow.

As well as passing the half way point of the walk, somewhere between Allt Mhuilin and Allt na Criche,  we had just completed our fourth consecutive day of walking. Combined with the easy day today we all now knew we had done enough preparation to reach Fort William within the three remaining days.

More Photographs
The "Old Bridge" at Invermoriston
Click on photograph to view slide-show