GAIRLOCHY TO INVERGARRY
Hiked on August 7, 2022
We got up, had breakfast, and then bummed a ride with another hiker back to the spot we left the trailhead the day before. As I mentioned yesterday, the hike from the trailhead to the B&B was lovely but we didn't really need to do it again. Once we were dropped off, the other hiker (more on her later) zipped up into the woods and we followed a bit behind. The early part of the trail rose a bit--the first actual elevation of the trip--through a mixed forest and then dropped back down to the shores of Loch Lochy where we spent a good chunk of the rest of the day. The foliage on the forest floor possessed its own drama and we started to see (and eat) occasional berries. The loch, itself was dramatic as well. The wind created whitecaps from time to tine as we looked forward toward Lochy's end miles away.
This was becoming hike about water. In most of our peak-bagging the questions revolve around elevation and the various ecosystems and views that are revealed as we climb. Here we had to change our outlook a bit. Even when we were above the loch rather than beside it, water was the dominant feature separating the mountains and supporting human, plant, and animal life. We could see boats out on the loch and raptors looking for fish. The wet soil supported those plants and the shore did what shores do; creating a buffer between worlds and a light soundtrack that puts one in a contemplative mood.
This is where that other hiker, Beth, comes in. While we were ambling along admiring the landscape unfolding around us Allison put her hand in her pocket and realized that she had our room key from the previous night! Beth--who was somewhere ahead of us and out of sight--was going to be returning to the same inn (she did the hike in 7 days and would be picked up and driven back to her end point by the innkeeper). We picked up our pace a bit to catch up so she could bring our key back with her. We finally found her at one of the old commando training sites where they practiced exiting landing craft in preparation for D-Day.
After that we hiked together as a group of three off and on until--for the last half of her day's hike and the middle third of ours--We gave up attempts to maintain distance. Beth is retired and is a regular overnight and thru hiker. A few years ago she did the entire Appalachian Trail and was full of stories about that time. We shared about our lives as well as the miles drifted along.
Some of those miles--many in fact--were on active logging roads as we rose above the shore. This created a bit of an interesting dynamic as we would go through a "protected" wild camping area, then through a cut zone, and then into farmed forests in various stages. Growing up and hiking in Maine, all these landscapes are familiar to me, but here they were in miniature. Each had its own ecosystem as well, which made close observation entertaining and informative. At the cut zones, of course, we could look out from our otherwise enclosed ridge and see the loch down below. We started to feel spoiled for nature.
Eventually--after about 12ish miles we reached the end of the loch and picked up the canal again. This area--Laggan Locks--was where we said goodbye to Beth. Before we departed, however, we took a moment for celebratory drinks at a bar located on a barge moored in the canal. This place was just cool and was the only restaurant for miles.
For most people I know, hiking is a somewhat solitary pursuit. Most of the hikers I know--but not all--can manage a friendly greeting when you pass them on the trail but they seem to like to keep to themselves or their small group. I have written about this before. As a naturally social person, however, I welcome the friendly chance encounter. Hikers share the same hobby and interest, after all. Why wouldn't we want to chat sometimes?
In my other areas of non-work interest this socializing is expected to some extent. Old Time musicians talk to other Old Time musicians and congregate at festivals for that purpose. The same goes for Tabletop Role-Playing gamers. It isn't just shop-talk either. It is life-talk. Hikers--some of them anyway--are deep people with things to share. I enjoy the conversation even when it is interspersed with silence.
It was great to spend part of a day with Beth. We had a few shorter encounters with others during our hike as well. I wonder if the length of the trip alters the dynamic a bit. We are not running away for a few hours. We have days for moments of isolation. Perhaps the connections are easier to make then.
After the break we set out on our final leg of the day. The "ways" that make up the Great Glen Way include some where the primary goal is to add degrees of difficulty, different landscapes, and more dramatic views. However one exists to exploit the resources of the small town of Invergarry. The "Invergarry Link" was our next move as we were booked to stay at the Invergarry Hotel. This is the sort of thing that bugs purists. It is not "traditional" after all but, honestly...I liked it.
The link included a reasonably steep climb up a small road and wended its way through farmland, mostly, on its way to our evening destination. The scenery was a nice variation from what we had before. There were a few more homes and a number of agricultural buildings and equipment. It reminded me a little of upstate New York, where I would spend my teen summers farming. Perhaps it was these positive associations but I almost forgot how much my feet hurt!
Also, without the link we would not have seen the Well of the Seven Heads. This trail is still rather new and there is one mile-long stretch where the road is too busy for walkers. Ultimately they will fix this but they haven't yet. Hillwalk Tours set us up with a person to call to deliver us safely through this spot and to our hotel. The waiting place was a coffee shop (closed) called the "Well of the Seven Heads" after a monument across the street...
The monument, essentially, told a story. It starts with a murder. Alexander, the chief of the Keppoch family was killed in a brawl on September 25, 1663. The killers were Alexander Macdonald and his six sons. With me so far? It was a clan conflict involving a land dispute.
The problem was that no one--given the power of the Macdonalds--was brought to justice. No one had counted, however, on the Keppoch bard Ian Lom. Lom was the "Gaelic Poet Laureate of Scotland." I mentioned him yesterday concerning the Battle of Inverlochy and pointed out that his shillelagh is kept in a museum in Fort William.
"Bald Ian" (Lom means "bald") campaigned for the killers to be punished saying to one sympathetic noble "Abel is cold and his blood is crying in vain for vengeance. Cain is hot and red-handed and hundreds are lukewarm as the black goat’s milk." He had a way with words. Eventually he received permission to punish the evildoers. Long story short, he led a band of enforcers to find the killers. They killed the seven and probably others in a pitched battle, then brought their severed heads to Lord Macdonall at Invergarry Castle. Before he got there he took a moment to wash the heads in Loch Oich on the spot--tradition tells us--where the monument stands...
Pretty. Darn. Metal.
The monument is topped with a rendition of the seven heads. On top of the heads is a hand--presumably Ian Lom's--holding a dirk. Underneath the monument is a little tunnel and a room representing where the deed was done. The story is a dark one. Apparently in this nation of poets one should learn not to mess with one.
This story alone made the link worth it. Who wants to walk along pretty canals and views of the mountains when this is the alternative?
Finally, we reached the Invergarry Hotel, which may be my favorite hotel ever. It was really as much a large B&B as anything, but it had a cool garret room for us and there was a pub restaurant in the building. We ate well and slept well and got ready to set off the next day...
I am a full-time pastor in a small, progressive church in Massachusetts. This blog is about the non-church things I do to find spiritual sustenance.