Glen Nevis Youth Hostel team member, Isabel, took on the Great Glen Way - a 79 mile route running from Fort William in the west to Inverness in the east - back in July. Find out how Isabel got on during her one woman trek across Scotland...
It was the last night of June and I sat on the back porch nursing a coffee and staring out into the drizzle of the night. Ben Nevis was wearing its cloak of cloud pulled tight round its sides, for all I knew the mountain could keep towering up and up till the heavens. Although my story starts in Glen Nevis, it swiftly moves (if you can call walking pace swift) over 76 miles of path until the Highland capital of Inverness - the goal I've so impulsively set my sights on.
Coming down one morning to check the rota and seeing I'd been allocated a long weekend, I decided to walk the Great Glen Way. Working in a youth hostel gives you constant inspiration as you get to hear countless stories of adventure and exploration from behind the reception desk. With just under a week to plan, it was cutting it fine, but I'd been told that the route was well marked and it wasn't too far from civilisation if I needed to bail out. Right then, let's do this!
Friday night was a blur of agitated coffee fuelled rucksack packing and then it was time. Originally I'd planned to get the bus from the youth hostel into Fort William but Derrick, Glen Nevis' night porter extraordinaire, burst my bubble. "Eh, you do know it doesny run on a Saturday aye?" Only when I got back did I realise he'd been messing with me. An extra three miles for nothing.
Still, it was a nice little warm up as I breezed up the valley. I practically sailed into Fort William and made a pit stop at the supermarket opposite the start of the path. To complete the walk in four days I needed to walk the first two stages in one day. The first stage took me through the outskirts of Fort William and into Caol, getting a beautiful view of the Nevis range as I passed by. From here, the path turned back on its self and began to follow the Caledonian Canal.
Neptune's Staircase - VisitScotland / Kenny Lam
The Caledonian Canal starts off in style with the towering stack of locks grandly named Neptune's Staircase. I arrived just in time to see a huge yacht try to squeeze its way in. From afar I vaguely wondered if it was stuck. Picture Titanic in a duck pond and you'll understand how oversized it was. The locks ran up the middle of a gentle slope and then flattened out as the canal began in earnest.
Caledonian Canal - VisitScotland / Kenny Lam
After my session standing and gawping I was well rested and strode out along the gentle curves of the water. Feet pounded gravel and music pounded in my ears, a good beat to set my pace to. One by one I passed all the attractions pinpointed on my map. My schedule didn't allow time for detours so I had to skip on past the aqueducts but did get a good look at Moy Swing Bridge, an elegant Victorian construction that is still operated by hand to this day. Gairlochy, the end of the official first stage, signalled a welcome lunch break and my prior smugness evaporated as I noticed that the super yacht had made it after all and would soon overtake me as it began its manoeuvre into Loch Lochy.
Later that afternoon I'd stopped for a rest break only to realise that my map had gone. Annoyed, I dumped my bag and set off at a brisk march back to where I'd last stopped. In the hush of the forest I was surprised to see a figure trotting up the path towards me, carrying my map nonetheless. We continued to walk the rest of the way to Laggan together and soon another couple of walkers joined our little gang of pilgrims and the walk turned into quite a social occasion.
I started my second day walking along the side of Loch Oich. Strolling along the carpet of pine needles, time seemed warped. Suddenly it was mid-morning and I'd already been walking for some hours. When I walk, I place one foot in front of the other, breathe, function - and allow my mind to drift. Occasionally I'll follow a specific train of thought but mostly I have no idea where my mind goes. Maybe this is what Buddhists mean by meditation.
Loch Oich - VisitScotland / Airborne Lens
At the end of the Loch, the way re-joined the Caledonian Canal and wound its way on up to Fort Augustus. Still on the flat, it was easy going. I was actually surprised at how well my legs were holding up, that was until I tried to get going again after lunch. I gave myself a full hour to recuperate but looking back this may have been too long. Thinking I was being sensible and only doing one stage that day, my legs went all stiff and stubborn and had me participating in an involuntary sit in protest as they rejected my plans to keep moving. If there's one thing I've learned from this, it's "less racing; more pacing".
Fort Augustus was a lovely place to pass the time though as I watched the yachts take their special watery elevator up and down. On the way out of town someone had positioned a garden bench by the road with "rest your bahookie" painted on it. Hah, I'd already had my fill of resting. I needed to push on. A walker had warned me of this and I’ll pass it on to you - there is a strange phenomenon called a "hill" on the way out of Fort Augustus. In fact there are multiple hills and changes in gradient from here on out. The path had been so flat and gentle previously that my body forgot what a hill was and how to go up it.
Hours passed and the scenery changed to become more wild and rambling. The forest road I was on offered up some gorgeous views in between the walls of trees, clouds shifting to allow some golden light through. To be perfectly honest, there is not much I can remember from the latter stages of the walk because my body was on autopilot, doing everything to keep moving despite the leg pain. A grassy hillside signalled a flood of relief and the start of the descent into Invermoriston, and the comfort of a hot meal within reach. I pitched up on the edge of town and had a bit of a wander around the gorgeous waterfalls before crashing out at about 8pm.
Check back next week for the second instalment of Isabel’s Great Glen Way adventure!
Find out more about Glen Nevis Youth Hostel here: syha.org.uk/where-to-stay/highlands/glen-nevis
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