It’s an uncommonly fine day in the Highlands of Scotland.
Earlier today I arrived in a wet and grey Inverness having taken the first train there out of Glasgow’s Queen Street station. Why? Because Inverness is the start (or end) of the Great Glen Way; an iconic 78 mile long distance path. It links Inverness on the Scottish east coast and Fort William in the west via a series of waterways including Loch Ness. However, much of the Great Glen Way is along the glenside rather than the shoreline mostly for the magnificent views afforded by the elevation but not least as much of the shorelines are hogged by the A82, a quite busy main road.
At just after 11am, and having bought a waterproof cover for my rucksack carelessly left at home, I set off along the River Ness. Passing Inverness castle to my left I approached Inverness cathedral over the river to my right. And the magic started. A piper was playing on the other bank of the river by the cathedral. He wasn’t performing or busking. He was just playing, seemingly for himself. And now unseen in this photograph, for me.
With joy in my boots, the rain having abated and with a shiver down my spine from the impromptu piped welcome, I continued to the official start (or end) of the Great Glen Way.
I should explain that the Great Glen Way can be walked in either direction. There is no ‘right’ way or ‘wrong’ way. However most people walk west to east, from Fort William to Inverness to benefit from having the prevailing wind at their back, rather than in their face. I’m doing it the other way for logistical reasons to tie in with train timings and so that, as I’m doing the walk over 4 days rather than the customary 5, I will have a 25 mile leg as my final day rather than my first day. Mercifully there is no significant wind forecast so the direction of travel makes no difference.
My journey southwest will be on the northern side of the Great Glen watercourses. These comprise not only the star of the show and her leading man, Loch Ness and Loch Lochy, but several other smaller waterways, including the Caledonian Canal which links Ness and Lochy.
So first I had to cross to the northern side of the River Ness. This was achieved at the lower Tomnahurich Bridge a swing bridge alongside which was moored the Jacobite Queen, a pleasure cruiser offering waterborne tours of Loch Ness.
Then is was time to head for the hills, following the Great Glen Way (GGW) route markers between the Highlands Rugby Club and the Inverness Botanic Gardens. Thankfully the markers work in both directions. New builds and more traditional dwellings soon gave way to woodland tracks based upon ancient drove routes. These were flanked with silver birch, laurel and occasional pine with the air redolent with the heady aroma of damp undergrowth. The air was so damp it was impossible not to sweat although, in truth, it was not hard going.
Mile followed mile with many changes in outlook, from close woodlands through wider-tracked vehicle-supporting lands to open moorland. However the look of much of this was spoiled by logging.
But even here in these more barren areas springtime fecundity was rife. There were many butterflies including the orange tip and small white. The new growth on pines was clear with almost all pine branches seeming to have been dipped in a lighter, fresher, hue of green.
Then after, eventually, clearing the woodlands I was rewarded with my first glimpse of Loch Ness through the trees. And shortly after there was a clearing. Sadly no ‘nessie’ in sight but nonetheless a glorious vista over one of Scotland’s most iconic lochs.
Unsurprisingly it was now raining. What was unusual was the lack of accompanying howling wind and drop in temperature. As a result while my newly purchased pack cover was called into service I didn’t bother with a waterproof on the grounds that it wasn’t cold and I was waterproof. In the event the rain was intermittent and I soon dried. More importantly I was rewarded with a glimpse of Urquhart Castle on a promontory, misty and distant to be sure but there it was. Urquhart Castle was fought over many times and was variously controlled by the English King Edward and the MacDonald Lord of the Isles in the Middle Ages. It was transferred to state ownership around 100 years ago and is now among the most visited of Scotland’s castles.
Shortly after, and having gone through several iterations of ‘rain/no rain’ I was in the outskirts of Drumnadrochit, where I was to spend the night. Having come over 20 miles from Inverness, seen almost nobody including ‘nessie’, but with all senses newly re-tuned to the beauty, quiet and richness of the Scottish Highlands I headed for the bar in the Benleva Hotel where I was to spend the night. The hotel that is, not the bar.