Drumnadrochit to Inverness
Hiked on August 10, 2022
As I was researching the Great Glen Way there were quite a few complaints about this final section. It is the longest (officially 19 miles, functionally more like 21). The views of the loch fade away after a while to be replaced by forest trails. Also, there are one or two particularly brutal paved sections. After the highs of the two days before, it can seem like a letdown. However, I think it was my favorite day of walking. The ecosystem changes were regular, the views (both in the grand sense and in miniature) were wonderful. It also damn near wrecked me. So there is that.
The trail opens with a mile or so of road walk along the A82 which cuts the length the Great Glen, frequently close to the lochs themselves. That mile we had to be driven for safety reasons on Day 2? That was the A82. Most days involved a period along it. It can be a bit terrifying. In Britain the roads are narrow so the rear view mirrors hang over the sidewalk--if you are lucky enough to have one. It pays to walk single file. I didn't take pictures of this part, though it was pretty. I just kept pushing on, willing the actual trail to begin.
It did begin, of course. We turned left at what looked like--and probably was--somebody's driveway to climb through farm fields on our way toward the ridges that we would be off and on all day. We got some nice looks at Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle. We also encountered some hikers heading the other way who gave us words of encouragement. We shortly entered another managed woodland that led up to our first resting place. We settled in to the view for a little while and collected ourselves. This section of forest was maintained during the war by a group of Newfoundlanders, many of whom never went back to Canada. They stayed here, got married, and become part of the local communities. We learned that being a "Newfie" (or descended from one) is a thing in these parts. It is interesting the way we humans move around, often because of some form of conflict or distress. We are still doing it.
After our rest we climbed a little more and--still in the same general territory--we started on a dirt road. A plaque around here told us about the Newfies and it gave us something to ponder for a while. Eventually this road wound its way into some more populated paths. The Great Glen Way passes through land own and maintained by the Abriachan Forest Trust. It is a park with trails for local consumption. It was good to see folks enjoying the weather and each other. Here we bumped into the Austrian gentleman we had breakfast with a couple days earlier. He had been dropped off a few miles ahead and was walking back to Drumnadrochit for the night. This was his plan when we talked to him then. Cutting Day 5 into two days isn't the worst idea...
The Abriachan Forest Trust is made up of former logging land. This accounted for the dirt roads and the general roughness of some of the spots. This will all soften over time as nature has a chance to reclaim things. It is also very pretty just as it is. I don't mind a work in progress, particularly if it is as accessible as this one for day-use. The more people who get out in nature the more we will value it and, maybe, do more to preserve it.
As we passed one of the Trust's primary parking lots, the Great Glen Way made a turn onto a more narrow section. Here we had a short run of the sort of trail we are familiar with in New England. This led us through a lovely stand of trees with glimpses of farmland beyond. Along the sides there were hand painted signs advertising tea; a little "outsider art" calling us forward. We had been told that the signs led to a "must-stop" along the way. When we reached the short turn off we followed it, passing the other people we had breakfast with two days before. They promised that we were in for treat.
Of course that was exactly what we got! The Abriachan Eco-Campsite and Cafe claims--among other things--to be the highest inhabited croft in Scotland. I have no reason not to believe them. What I know for sure is that they make a good vegetable soup and the best lemon cake possibly anywhere in the world. We had to wait a bit at our picnic table in the woods but that was fine too. We were a third of the way through the last day of the hike. Stopping and enjoying the natural world around us was exactly the thing to do.
In addition, I learned that they are responsible for maintaining the trail on their property. So that pretty 3 miles are also theirs. Nice work all around, for which I, at least, am grateful.
We also had our picture taken for Facebook. It is sort of an unofficial record of who did the Great Glen Way. Everybody does as it is the way you can see the other hikers you met on your journey.
I was super hangry by then. So it was great to get some food in. That cake was amazing but enormous. Fortunately they gave us doggie bags and we munched the rest as we walked along.
The next big step was another road walk. However, unlike the A82, this was beautiful and almost compensated us for our sore feet. The landscape varied once again from forest to moors. It was around here that I realized that while the first four days were about water, this day was less so. This was about the varied foliage, the dramatic hills, fields and wind. It was also about the challenge of getting done. At the end of Day 4 we had our doubts.
Since we were on our last day we took the time to appreciate what we saw. We realized, of course, that it would end eventually. It is the sort of thing you look forward to...but not entirely. After all, hiking like this means living in the current moment with fewer worries than what you will eat, where you will sleep, and if you will ever walk again.
We missed the views when we got off that road but not the tarmac. Leaving the hard ground for a while was just fine. Soon we found ourselves in another woodland with, fortunately, many more berries. In this case they included bilberries, or at least we think that was what they were. They appeared to be a variation on the wild low-bush blueberries we are familiar with. Again, they probably weren't nourishing so much as a fun reason to move slowly, which was what our bodies needed.
As we harvested, the landscape changed yet again into an old forest with the occasional impressive stone wall. We felt pretty alone by now, having shaken off the park hikers. This, too went on for miles. We weren't complaining...much.
As time went on we started to see more folks. We would intersect with a road from time to time. We knew that Inverness was out there somewhere. It is a Lowell, MA sized city. It cannot hide forever. Eventually it peaked through the trees and we slowed a bit, soaking in our last good views before turning and working our way downhill into a much more urban landscape.
I have to say that the last bit was rough for me. The trails--mostly through public parks--were pretty but paved. I was feeling the cumulative impact of miles of walking. It was good to be heading down, however. There was even a short stretch back on the Caledonian Canal that we were too tired to take a picture of. After working our way through housing estates and sports fields we hit the River Ness--apparently one of the shortest in the country--and the Ness Islands.
Then we found ourselves in town, climbing our way up city streets to Inverness Castle, which is the official end of the Great Glen Way. The Castle (really a castle-looking public building from the 19th Century) is being renovated so the end marker was put in a park nearby. We took our selfie then stumbled off to find the B&B for the night. I said earlier that I was wrecked. I am not kidding. All I wanted was a bed so the B&B host booked us a dinner reservation at the hotel across the street which was excellent! It was a nice way to end with good food and conversation with the owner (we talked politics, business, and religion).
Al's favorite B&B was the night before but I have to give the edge to this dynamic combo. If you are ever in town get a room at the Dionard Guest House and grab a meal at the Crown Court Townhouse. They were a lifesaver and a wonderful welcome to Inverness.
We spent the next day bumming around the area. We took a bus out to the Culloden Battlefield and a boat back to Drumnadrochit to see Urquhart castle up close. From the boat we saw a bit of the way we took on Day 5. It was a good feeling to know we had done a thing. The best part, though, was when we had our dinner at a bar right across from the end point of the Great Glen Way. We sat on the terrace and watched people who had obviously been out hiking all day walk up to the monument, touch it, and grab a selfie just like we did. Then they would wander off to the rest of their lives.
We wanted to cheer for them but didn't. Silent witness seemed more classy and we didn't want to get kicked out of the bar. When you set out to do something and finish it, other people don't always get what the big deal was. It doesn't take that much time to say "I hiked the Great Glen Way" and you cannot describe all that happened to make others get it. Not only did we have all those experiences on the trail but we spent weeks--over a year actually--planning; matching budgets and schedules to get away to do this. We postponed twice and picked a time when we had little wiggle room to get there and get back. We crossed the ocean post-plague. We talked to all kinds of people and solved all kinds of problems. It was a journey even to get to the starting place in Fort William. It would be a journey to get back home.
Someone else might do all the same things and not think it a big deal. They may have different abilities and resources. Their big struggles are elsewhere. The trick is to hike your own hike and to celebrate your own victories no matter how big or small.
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.