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! 🥳
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.
Then we were out on the moors, with purple heather all around:
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.
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!
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!
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.
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 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.
Then we visited the Loch Ness Centre to see all the ways folks have been looking for the monster.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So, now we are in another lovely guesthouse. We are full of lasagna and planning tomorrow’s hike. Good night!
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.
Today we are walking beside Loch Oich. I hope you’re keeping track of all these lochs.
We pass by the old Invergarry station:
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!
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.
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.
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:
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…
We contemplate our mortality:
There is logging in this area, and the construction of a hydroelectric project that necessitated rerouting of the trail.
We see two kayaks through a break in the trees:
We continue to climb – can you still see the kayak in the pic below?
Here is the brand new trail, paid for by the hydroelectric company.
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.
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.
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 trail starts at the ruins of old Fort William, built in 1690:
We looked down on the ruins of Inverlochy Castle in the distance.
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.
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 only met one other walking couple today. Quite a change from the busy West Highland Way!
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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!
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.
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.
August 9 – For our penultimate day on this hike, we are climbing the Devil’s Staircase – the highest point on the trail. Our taxi driver Peter arrived promptly at 9am to take us back around the mountain to the point on the trail where the ascent begins.
The mountaintops are covered in cloud, but the day is bright and no rain is expected. I looked behind and took a picture of the little white house across the road.
As we climbed, the house got smaller…
And smaller still.
Can you still see the little house?
And we climbed higher and higher.
Until we got to the top!
Then there was the long walk down the other side.
We met Angela again!
And a man with a dog coming up the other side.
We ate our lunch on a sunny rock, then walked down into Kinlochleven.
Approaching our hotel, we admired some front garden kitsch. We thought this yard was pretty cool:
August 8 – This morning we met a Hungarian and two Dutch on our way out of town. More mossy woods, climbing up, up and up some more.
We are on our way to Kingshouse, which we think is a hotel, not a town.
Once again, we walk past beautiful mountains topped with clouds, down a stony path or an old military road. It’s chilly today, with a steady wind.
We are attracted to the micro-flowers that grow here.
We see Kingshouse in the distance, surrounded by trees. Kingshouse was built as an inn in the 1750s – the only place to stop for miles around. Things haven’t changed very much!
In addition to the hotel, there is a bunkhouse and places for tent camping. Even so, our tour people couldn’t find us a room at Kingshouse, so they arranged a taxi to pick us up here and take us to the next town.
Standing majestically right in front of the hotel was a red stag – the first wildlife we’ve seen.
I’m sure he was tamed by being fed by tourists, but he is still a thrilling sight.
We shared a taxi with a young Canadian woman, Chloe, who works in London. She has been hiking with her little dog, but the rocks and gravel proved too much for little paws.
Our taxi driver Peter is a local man from Kinlochleven. He told us that he once drove Claire Foy and James McAvoy in this very cab, when they were here on location to shoot a film (My Son, not available in the U.S.) He stopped a few times so we could take pictures.
So here we are in Kinlochlevan, at the venerable old MacDonald Hotel.
Peter will return for us in the morning, to put us back on the trail.