Aviemore to Pitlochry to Edinburgh, Scotland

August 23 – This morning, after another lovely breakfast, we put our big packs on our backs and walked to the Inverness bus station. Our arranged tour is over and no one will be transporting our packs for us anymore. Rather than spend a long travel day getting back to Edinburgh, Jim booked us one night each in two small towns on the way.

Aviemore Railway

Aviemore is in Cairngorms National Park, best known for winter skiing, but also for biking, climbing and hiking the Speyside Way, which runs parallel to the Great Glen Way.

Our guesthouse is right across the street from the local Church of Scotland, with the cross of St. Andrew in the window. The cross looks like the letter X because that was the shape of the cross that Andrew was crucified on. Andrew never visited Scotland, and I was unable to find why he is the patron saint of this country. This is the view from our window. See the rainbow?

We took a short walk down part of the Speyside Way. We met some horses disguised as zebras.

A different kind of trail marker

Back in our room, we spied another rainbow!

I liked the architecture and stone walls:

Ravenscraig- some of the house names sound like they should be in Harry Potter

Aviemore also has its very own standing stone circle, over 4000 years old, right in the middle of a residential neighborhood. The stones have been mostly buried to protect them.

Do you hear the stones singing?
Jamie, here I come!

In one of our hotels, I found a copy of a Diana Gabaldon book I had never seen. Hadn’t I read them all? Turns out that Cross Stitch was the original name of the first book in the UK, before it was changed to Outlander. Now you know.

Original title of Outlander
Aviemore has nattily attired train conductors…
…and helpful bus drivers – this is our double decker bus

You won’t believe this, but as we were leaving for supper, a third rainbow!

August 24 – Back on the bus this morning for the 75 minute ride to Pitlochry. Seen from the bus window:

Pretty mountains
I wonder what castle that is?

Pitlochry has several golf courses – an important sport here – a hydroelectric dam, and is home to Blair Castle. I got excited when I found out about the castle, as my family is connected to Clan Blair. Too bad for me, the castle has been owned by the Atholl family for 750 years. Blár is the Gaelic word for meadow, so I guess it just means the castle on the meadow. It was a ways out of town, and we did not visit.

More pretty buildings:

Pitlochry Church

There are lots of shops and restaurants in town, and tons of visitors. We did our souvenir shopping today – a plate for our wall and trinkets for the grands. The older they get, the harder it is to find something we think they will like.

Pretty Main Street
A hairy coo bakery

In the evening, we walked to the hydroelectric dam., which is a tourist spot with a visitor center and a lively bar. The dam was not spewing (do they turn it off in the evening?), but we got to see the fish ladder and a stunning sunset.

Suspension bridge
Look Lexi – a horse sculpture!
Some locks of love on this boat
Fish ladder – no fish jumping at the moment
Gorgeous sunset

August 25 – After breakfast, we walked through town one more time. Saw a sculpture that made us cross the street to get a closer look. Obviously a woman, but what is she doing? Hitting her children with a stick? Playing an invisible violin? Turns out she is holding a golf club – worst stance ever.

Then back on the bus to Edinburgh, with one transfer that got us to within a block of our hotel. Kudos once again to a transportation system that gets you where you want to go!

August 26 – Up at 3:15am to get to the airport for our 6am flight to Amsterdam. Layover at Schiphol Airport is always a pleasure, including a mini Rijks Museum display and shop.

Porcelain elephants for sale at the Rijks Museum shop

Then on to Atlanta, and by 11pm we are home. Up for 26 hours – who can sleep on a plane anymore – all in the same day. A little worse for wear, but very happy to be here. ‘Til next time!

Inverness, Scotland

August 22 – Now that our hike is over, we are taking it easy today, strolling slowly and seeing the sights of Inverness. Lots of beautiful architecture.

Leakey’s Book Shop, opened in 1979 in an old Gaelic church, is the largest second hand bookstore in Scotland. It is packed full of old paperbacks, hardcovers, maps and prints, and you can still see some of the stained glass windows.

We visited the Inverness Cathedral dedicated to St. Andrew, which felt more like a cozy parish church. It is the northernmost Scottish Episcopal Cathedral in Great Britain., built in 1866.

Inverness Cathedral
Cathedral entrance
Angel baptistry
Beautiful wood carvings

For Eliese and Janice, the Quilting Kieglers, below is a quilt fashioned in 2020 of scraps left over from making masks during the early days of Covid. Affixed are butterflies honoring parish family members lost to Covid.

Butterfly remembrance quilt
Quilt with squares of the churches in the diocese

I especially liked the crocheted church mice placed all over the church. So cute!

We checked out the Victorian Covered Market, originally built in 1870, burned down, then rebuilt in 1890. It has historical photos down each side.

We ate lunch at the riverside, then walked south to visit the Inverness Botanic Gardens. Lots of gorgeous blooms packed in a small space!

River Ness Islands
A koi pond with some big mean-looking fish

And we saw some painted hairy coos.

A relaxing day.

The Great Glen Way – Drumnadrochit to Inverness

August 20 – Today is our penultimate hiking day. It was pouring down rain when we woke up, but within the hour, the sun broke through. We have had such great weather on this trip.

At breakfast this morning we met Philip and Roger, who are bagging the Munros – climbing to the summit of each of the 282 Scottish mountains over 3000 feet tall. Today, Roger is bagging his 282nd Munro! Congratulations Roger! 🥳

Philip and Roger

We had to walk a mile along a busy highway, which was no fun but still provided some pastoral views.

Then we started to climb again, for much longer than I like to climb. Today is our highest elevation day.

See Urquhart Castle in the distance?
We climbed all morning
Finally, Loch Ness from above!

Then we were out on the moors, with purple heather all around:

When the mist is in the gloamin’, and all the clouds are holdin’ still.
Take my hand and let’s go roamin’ through the heather on the hill. – from Brigadoon
There was a café in the middle of nowhere
Then, back onto the moors
Straightest path ever

As we just don’t walk 20 miles a day, our tour operator split the day for us. We reached our rendezvous spot out in the middle of nowhere, where a taxi was supposed to pick us up, but the taxi driver could not find us. An amusing hour on the phone ensued, (what landmarks do you see? Trees.) until he eventually showed up to take us to our guesthouse in Inverness. We are staying in the Fraser Room (no relation to Jamie.) Tomorrow is our final day!

August 21 – Another beautiful, sunny morning. We enjoyed our last hiker’s breakfast, got into our taxi – this driver knew exactly where to take us – and got back on the trail.

Back into sparse woods
We followed a stone wall for a long time
Last mossy moss
The River Ness, which flows from the Loch into the city
Our first view of Inverness
The Great Glen House, ecologically sustainable building
We walked through the suburbs
Watched boys practicing football
The end of the Caledonian Canal
A bridge over River Ness
We walked through several parks
A wooden Nessie
The city war memorial
…with several more MacLennans
We’ve arrived!

A plaque marked the official end of the Great Glen Way. Unlike the previous hike, there were no other walkers to celebrate with. As we struggled to take a selfie to commemorate the day, a couple at the restaurant across the street stood up and applauded us. We did it!

The Great Glen Way – Invermoriston to Drumnadrachit

August 18 – After another fine smoked salmon and egg breakfast, we set out onto a trail that immediately went uphill, and kept going uphill much longer than I wanted it to. See the town down below?

The day is gray.

We got to the woods, and they looked really, really dark. The tall pine trees blot out any light. Careful, Jim!

Jim found a pine cone heart on the path
Little stone cave
Finally, the Loch!
Heather lined both sides of the trail
Then, the sun came out!
Now it’s a lovely day

Because there was no lodging at the end point of our walk, our tour operator arranged for a taxi to pick us up and take us back to last night’s guesthouse. I like it when we can stay more than one night in the same place.

Tomorrow’s hike is all road walk into Drumnadrochit (Drum-na-DROCHHH-it), so, with the help of the taxi driver, we planned an alternate adventure. Can’t wait!

August 19 – Our taxi driver picked us up at the guesthouse and took us two miles past the town of Drumnadrochit to Urquhart (IRK-hart) Castle, the second most visited castle in Scotland.

Urquhart Castle

The castle was built around 1250, and passed through many hands before being blown up by the occupying English in 1690 to prevent the Jacobites from using it. It has been falling to ruin ever since. That does not stop a half a million tourists a year from coming to see it.

There were signs indicating that archeologists surmise that one area must have been the kitchen and another the stables, but you really had to use your imagination.

The tower
This must have been the prison!

The trebuchet below was built in 1997 for an American documentary that was filmed here. There is no indication that trebuchets were ever actually used to hurl big stones in a battle here.

Wildlife in the gift shop
The tourists!

Then we visited the Loch Ness Centre to see all the ways folks have been looking for the monster.

Diving bell
Yellow submarine

They haven’t found him yet. A few weeks ago there was an article about a local Nessie sighting. It turned out to be a swimming alpaca.

Then we walked into Drumnadrochit for a scrumptious meal, and to provision for tomorrow’s hike.

A piper
A floral reproduction of Urquhart Castle

We are staying at Drumbuie Farm, which raises the famous Highland cattle – beef cows of a gorgeous color that look like they need a haircut.

Highland cow cupcakes at the market
A Highland bull
and a Highland cow

Tomorrow is our penultimate hiking day!

The Great Glen Way – Fort Augustus to Invermoriston

August 17 – a chilly but sunny forecast for today. The temp was in the 40s this morning, so I wore my sweatshirt and fleece jacket. We headed into the woods, and stayed there most of the morning, occasionally glimpsing Loch Ness through the trees.

Then we got to a clearing, and there it was!

No monster sightings today. We read that the last Nessie sighting was in 1985, so we don’t hold out much hope for one, but we’ll keep looking!

We amused ourselves at a traffic reflector in the middle of the woods:

Pretty soon we came to Invermoriston, which has one hotel, a collection of guesthouses, and no other services. They have a very welcoming sign:

They have an old bridge, one of over a thousand built by Thomas Telford in the early 1800s to improve communication and transportation in the Highlands.

They have a waterfall:

They have standing stones:

They have a memorial to the fallen of the great wars. The WWI memorial contained two soldiers that share Jim’s surname! We look for the names of our forebears in every town, but these are the first we’ve found. Like so many names in America, Jim’s was changed many generations ago from MacLennan to McClenon. We count it as a match.

The memorial contains two MacLennans

There is also St. Columba’s well. St. Columba was an Irish evangelist who came to Scotland in the year 563 to convert the Picts to Christianity. In 565, when a sea monster in Loch Ness (first Nessie sighting ever!) attacked his traveling companions, he banished it to the bottom of the Loch. So, this well used to have toxic water that made people break out in boils and die, but after St. Columba blessed it, the water was pure and cured people of their ills. The well is blocked off so you can’t get to the water.

St.Columba’s well

So, now we are in another lovely guesthouse. We are full of lasagna and planning tomorrow’s hike. Good night!

The Great Glen Way – Laggan Locks to Fort Augustus

August 15 – The forecast today was for rain, so we got an early start for the 11 miles to Fort Augustus, which is the midpoint of this hike. We walked past the Eagle Barge, the only restaurant in Laggan. When we saw it online we didn’t realize it was actually a barge.

The Eagle Barge
Into the woods

Today we are walking beside Loch Oich. I hope you’re keeping track of all these lochs.

We pass by the old Invergarry station:

There’ll be no trains running from here!
A chimney without a house
Walking through the old train tunnel
I hope no bicycles fall on me!

We watched the barge below pass through the lock, then discharge its passengers. They were retirees from Sweden, taking a three day cruise up the Caledonian Canal.

We stopped to see the famous Bridge of Oich, built in 1854 after the old stone bridge crumbled. It used a double cantilevered design so that even if the bridge broke in the middle, the sides would not fall down. We hikers learn stuff!

Bridge of Oich
Boats waiting to go through the lock
The lock keeper’s cottage
Close to Fort Augustus
Here we are!
Can you guess who this is?
Our first view of Loch Ness

And, although it was a little misty from time to time, it never rained on us. Another good day.

August 16 – We are taking a rest day today, at the midpoint of our hike. The village of Fort Augustus (population 600) is a one block cluster of restaurants and guesthouses catering to tourists who want to see Loch Ness and any monsters dwelling therein.

Delightfulness – one of many Nessy gift shops

There are no remains of the actual fort, built by the British after the 1715 Jacobite uprising and named for Prince William Augustus, who was instrumental in the slaughter of the Scots.

After the completion of the Caledonian Canal, Queen Victoria took a ride down it in a paddle steamer in 1873. She wrote in her journal, “The Caledonian Canal is a very wonderful thing, but rather tedious.” Her journey started a tourist trend, and steaming down the canal was dubbed ‘the Royal route.’ Shops and cafes popped up to give the tourists something to do while their boats negotiated the locks.

Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee fountain
So many locks!

Happy to report another culinary first for us today. Jim had the gammon steak, which turned out to be ham, and I had the ‘neeps and tatties’ – turnips and potatoes. I found the turnips altogether palatable when mashed together with potatoes and carrots. On their own: no thanks.

We visited the Caledonian Canal information center, which consisted of the signboard below in a cafe. The black dot in the middle is our location. The white body to the northeast is all Loch Ness. It’s a big one.

We sat down for an ice cream and watched the crowds waiting for their Loch Ness boat tours or queuing up to get into the restaurants. I still can’t get used to folks in down jackets and woolly hats and scarves in the middle of August.

We bought a cold supper and carried it back to our room so we wouldn’t have to make the long trip uphill twice in one day. On the path up to our guesthouse is a respite for the weary traveler:

Our dinner included a selection of local brewery offerings:

A lovely day.

The Great Glen Way – Gairlochy to Laggan Locks

August 14 – Following a lovely breakfast of salmon and scrambled eggs, we returned to the trail. We are still following alongside the Caledonian Canal, which has locks between the lochs. Today we leave the shore and move up into the hills along – wait for it – Loch Lochy. I am shaking my old gray locks at that one…

Another sunny morning!
Loch Lochy seen through the trees

We contemplate our mortality:

Scottish signs do not mince words

There is logging in this area, and the construction of a hydroelectric project that necessitated rerouting of the trail.

Not the prettiest path today

We see two kayaks through a break in the trees:

We continue to climb – can you still see the kayak in the pic below?

Jim talks to Joshua, a traveler from Manchester who moved to Scotland and bought a hotel

Here is the brand new trail, paid for by the hydroelectric company.

A little waterfall

The day started to turn gray. We sat down to eat our lunch and were immediately beset by midges. We put on our head nets and brought our sandwiches under the nets so we could eat.

Walking down to Laggan Locks

As we resumed our walk it started to rain – the first rain we’ve seen in weeks, so no complaints. We found our way down to Laggan locks, and called our guesthouse hosts who came right down to pick us up.

Lorraine and Laura are from England, and have owned their guesthouse for five years. They love what they do, and made us feel so welcome; fixing us dinner and even running our laundry through the washer and dryer. We had a wonderful evening.

The Great Glen Way – Fort William to Gairlochy

August 13 – This morning we bid adieu to Fort William, and set off to follow the Great Glen Way, which runs northeast for 78 miles to Inverness.

The beginning of the trail

The trail starts at the ruins of old Fort William, built in 1690:

The fort protected Loch Linnhe and the River Nevis

We looked down on the ruins of Inverlochy Castle in the distance.

Old Inverlochy Castle

We walked for a while through the suburbs of Fort William, until we reached the Caledonian Canal. The canal takes advantage of the geological fault that runs across the country up to Inverness. It was built in 1803, and has 29 locks. The first eight locks are called Neptune’s Staircase.

Neptune’s Staircase

We continued to walk for the rest of the day on the canal towpath – perfectly flat. How nice to have no mountains to worry about!

We watched big boats
And small boats
And tiny boats
Lots of bikes, and a retired racehorse named Clive

We only met one other walking couple today. Quite a change from the busy West Highland Way!

Pretty thistles
Cows on the hillside

Before we knew it, we arrived at the bottom lock at Gairlochy, our end point for the day. There is no place to stay here, so our guesthouse host Cameron picked us up and drove us to Spean Bridge, four miles from the trail, where we will be returned after breakfast.

We had dinner at a local restaurant. I was happy to see chicken on the menu – we’ve been eating mostly fish or beef. Chicken Balmoral turned out to be a chicken breast stuffed with – you guessed it – haggis! Very tasty, in a spicy pepper sauce with plenty of veg.

The Scottish food we’ve tried so far has been much spicier overall than we expected; a pleasant surprise. Glad to find so many surprises here.

Fort William, Scotland

August 11 – Fort William is a quiet city on the bank of Loch Linnhe. It marks the end of the West Highland Way, entrance for the climb up Ben Nevis, and the beginning of the Great Glen Way, which we will start hiking in a few days. For some of us, it was the fort commanded by the evil Black Jack Randall in the Outlander books. Here’s what it looks like today. There is a pedestrian shopping street:

A kilted man amid tourists on the High Street
Doesn’t Jim look sporting in a tweed cap?
A young man salutes hikers walking into town

We had the opportunity to eat some traditional Scottish foods while we were here: Scotch broth (with carrots and barley just like my Grandma made it), Scotch pie (a minced beef and spice pie with a soft crust) and Scotch eggs (a hard boiled egg surrounded by sausage meat encased in bread crumbs). All delicious.

Scotch broth
Scotch pie
Scotch eggs

We also finally tried haggis, which is sausage made of sheep’s pluck (heart, lungs and liver) cooked with onion and oatmeal in a sheep’s stomach. It tastes sort of like liverwurst – an acquired taste.

There are pretty churches here:

There is a Highland Museum with lots of old stuff:

An old quern, for grinding grain
Harps
Carved gravestone

A grassy town square with lots of folks and dogs enjoying the 70 degree day:

In 1911, a local car dealer drove a Model T up Ben Nevis. He and his car are commemorated on the town square.

We walked a bit north of town to see the old Inverlochy Castle, built in 1270 on the bank of River Lochy, and captured and burned by Robert the Bruce in 1307. It can be viewed from all sides, but is fenced to prevent visitors from climbing on the old crumbling walls.

Here’s an old painting of the castle we saw in the museum:

Old Inverlochy Castle

A relaxing break from the trail!

The West Highland Way – Kinlochleven to Fort William

August 10 – This will be our last day on the West Highland Way.

Another sunny day – this time with midges! We were warned to expect these little black biters throughout the hike, but today was the first time we encountered them in significant numbers. We applied our Smidge bug spray, then ended up putting on face nets. Haven’t worn these since Wisconsin!

Leaving Kinlochleven
We met the French lady and her daughter again

The last few miles of the day were spent walking through the outskirts of Fort William – the first town of appreciable size we’ve seen in weeks.

Here is the original end of the West Highland Way. As we were positioning ourselves for a selfie, who should arrive but Angela – our third time bumping into her. She took the pic for us.

We walked into the center of town to find the statue that marks the current end of the trail.

The Man with Sore Feet

So now we are in Fort William, where we will remain for a few days rest. Our B and B room has a lovely view of Loch Linnhe that we can admire as we recline in our very comfy bed. Life is good.

Loch Linnhe