Today’s leg was supposed to be around 18 miles. As yesterday, there was a choice of routes. The low route skirted Loch Ness at a height of around 50ft for much of its 6 miles to Fort Augustus. The high route rose to 330ft and provided awesome views of the loch and the Monadhliath Mountains beyond although some of its 7 miles is in the forest. I chose the latter of course, not being a cyclist or a horse.
From Fort Augustus I was to follow the Caledonian Canal which links the southern end of Loch Ness with the northern end of Loch Oich. At the junction with Loch Oich I was to use the Invergarry link to get me to Invergarry for the night.
Once I had recovered from the wonderful surprise of Mark Horrell’s text early in the morning at the Darroch View B&B, and having consumed Mrs Morgan’s substantial breakfast my goosebumps and I headed off in glorious sunshine. The initial walking was easy along roads and good tracks, the River Moriston was in picture postcard form and my tread was light.
After a couple of miles of mixed deciduous and pine woodlands I reached the point at which the low and high routes separated. The latter took no prisoners and a well made track thrust upwards with some vigour. I didn’t see Mark and Edita at all on this day. I know they were heading all the way to Fort William. Unless they left Invermoriston earlier than me I suspect they took the low route. If so, that was a good call. The next half mile was relentlessly steep with no views. With dense pine all around the wildlife count was low and with rocks to my right even if there had been any life I wouldn’t have seen it. The purpose of this section was just to get up to where the views were.
Then through sweat-streaked specs the view appeared right on cue. The pine forest fell away and I was presented with Loch Ness stretching away to the right, a big dramatic sky above and a sunlit path heading south. Every drop of perspiration had been worth it. I was breathless, literally and figuratively.
There was not a soul to be seen. The silence was broken only by the crunch of my boots on gravel and the skylarks above and it sounded as though I wasn’t the only one in their element. What joy! I fleetingly recalled that hidden far below but well within earshot of those on the low route, the A82 lurked. But that was of no matter to me. Not yet at least. My path snaked across open land well above the noise and fumes of real life.
In due course the track wended it’s way lower and the open moorland gave way to pine trees of a dizzying height…
… and subsequently to deciduous bluebell-decorated woodland as we approached Fort Augustus.
This small town relies heavily on tourism. All needs are catered for, from riders, cyclists, walkers, sailors, and canoeists to those arriving by cars and buses all with the ‘Nessie’ theme central. I was amused by the fish and chip shop. As with many if not all Fort Augustus businesses a link to ‘Nessie’ was, apparently, essential.
For me the high point of my transit, not being hungry, thirsty, in need of anything tartan or a cute Nessie fridge magnet, was the canal. While the ‘Lock Inn’ was a cleverly word-played temptation my interest was focused on the hive of activity on the locks of which a flight of 5 lower craft from the top of the canal down onto Loch Ness. There were many craft large and small all being marshalled either up or down the flight. I was very impressed by the efficiency and control of this operation and it’s management by the lock team. I can’t really capture all the activity in a single photo but hopefully you’ll get the gist.
This proved to be the last bit of waterside life for some time. Apart from the occasional, surprisingly occasional given the activity in the flight of locks, pleasure craft and a handful of walkers or cyclists there wasn’t a lot of movement on the path ahead. The couple in the distance in the photo below were Dutch. The size of their packs spoke of camping rather than using B&B, hostels or hotels. I spoke to them later, after they dubbed me ‘professional’ zipping by in T-shirt and shorts double-poling. They were loving Scotland and the fine weather although they were fully dressed for rain. Despite this they were in very good spirits.
After 3 miles or so of flat, level greyness I came upon Kytra Lock. This picturesque lock is one of 2 that manage the water level between Fort Augustus and Loch Oich.
The next would be Cullochy Lock and after the previous hour’s quietude I expected more of the same. But it was not to be as the handsome ‘Spirit of Scotland’ chugged into view. Sadly it was empty but maybe it was just being brought into service and the Captain offered a cheery wave.
Then it was ‘head down’ and power pole to the next lock. Cullochy Loch was much busier than the first.
Not long afterwards the welcome sight of the Aberchalder swing bridge could be seen . The only regret was that I was still being ‘tractor-beamed’ to it by the same monotonous grey ribbon, i.e. the characterless path. Even from a distance I could see the A82 was busy but I was pleased to see it as from there I would be in woodlands again and in Invergarry, my target for the day anticipated in under an hour.
But it wasn’t to be. On reaching the woodlands I found this:
Drat! My route was blocked! As you may be able to see the footpath is within the red-shaded Closed Area.
I considered ignoring it and going anyway but was advised by the bridge master that the closure was patrolled and I would be turned back. I then walked along the A82 for 20m or so to see if it was viable to take the road, but it wasn’t. The A82 is very busy and not especially wide. When any combination of trucks and coaches pass they take up the full width of the road leaving no space at all for walkers and they whistle by at an alarming speed bearing in mind their proximity. Nope, I had no choice but to bite the bullet and use the alternative route. Instead of a short walk of around 3 miles down two-thirds of one side of Loch Oich I now had to walk the full length of the loch down the other side as far as the North Laggan Bridge and then back up to Invergarry. My walk had just increased by 5 miles. The 18 mile day was now 23. Hurrah! I like a good walk.
As if to rub salt in my wound I was unable to cross the bridge until it had opened to allow a craft to pass. No matter – it was interesting to watch the operation of the bridge while swallows performed in the nearby field.
Once across, it was clear the route down the east side of loch was going to be something new. It was a disused railway line. A helpful nearby information board advised that this section of line was part of the Invergarry and Fort Augustus Railway, built between 1897 and 1903, which was intended to be the first stretch of an Inverness to Fort William railway following the Great Glen. Its tracks, bridges and tunnel were all built to mainline standards but the plan fell through. Competition between the various Highland railway companies meant that the second stretch of the line to Inverness was never completed. There was not enough local traffic to support this part of the line in isolation and it finally closed in 1946. While its tracks were sold for scrap the tunnel remains.
Hereafter it wasn’t the most interesting of routes being dead straight with elevated damp woodlands on the left and mixed woodland and scrub to the right with the loch beyond. However increasing numbers of rhododendrons and occasional broom added colour and the A82 was too distant to disturb the peace and birdsong.
There was a bonus towards the end of the line: Invergarry station, or at least a platform with a sign and a loco under reconstruction. A nearby noticeboard advised that this was the work of the Invergarry Station Project.
Not long afterwards my trek south was brought to a close by the North Laggan bridge which afforded dry passage to the Invergarry side of the loch and I was once more able to think of a shower, a beer and dinner.
There was just a short section of the A82 to negotiate in order to reach the mountain track during which the prospect of being battered at speed by a consignment of live fish loomed large.
Eventually, after more miles than had been planned around the lock to be known as Ouch rather than Oich, the Invergarry Arms Hotel hove into view. Standing proudly by the side of the River Garry this venerable and award winning hotel has been welcoming guests since 1885. Today that’s where my head was to be rested. That is after a jolly fine dinner and a wee dram of Caol Ila, my favourite malt.