Thursday, 19 June 2014

Gairlochy to Aberchalder

It was an early breakfast, to give Susan and Katie sufficient time to drive back to Glasgow for a flight to London, fro m which Katie was to fly back to New York. She had a long-standing arrangement to go on the following day to Charlotte, North Carolina, to join one of her friend’s hen weekend. They do these things on a more extravagant basis on the other side of the Atlantic.

Tom and Alan Towers
Just as they were about to depart Alan and Rosemary Towers were delivered by their B&B host to join me for the next three days walking, which were to be my last three days in 2014. We set off shortly after 9:00.

The Great Glen Way follows the banks of Loch Lochy and Loch Oich for the best part of next 20 miles. It would be a long day, but not particularly arduous, as for most of the time the path runs pretty well at the level of the two lochs, though with some minor undulations. Most of the way would be through woodland, though there is a little open country and otherwise the two lochs are generally in view beyond the trees.

Initially the Way goes through largely deciduous woods, but later it becomes conifers before reverting to deciduous woodland along Loch Oich. Apparently landowners planted a number of non-native trees before the more usual spruce became the dominant species. These include sequoia (Wellingtonia), Douglas fir, Atlas cedar, and Western red cedar, several of which are well over 100 feet in height. This is markedly different from the monocultural horror of Sitka spruce which characterises much of Scotland’s commercial forestry. Alongside Loch Oich there is hazel coppice and oak as well as conifers at higher levels.

The view back down Loch Lochy
While there is a minor road along the North shore of Loch Lochy, the Way tries to avoid this as much as possible, meandering through the woodland for much of he way. There are some minor diversions around areas which have been or are about to be felled, so it’s marginally longer than the more direct route along the road – and undulates more. After Clunes, some five miles into the walk, the Way leaves the road, which turns sharply to pass the West to the waterfall Susan Katie and I had visited the previous day, and carries on to Loch Arkaig.

There are a number of fairly new and rather luxurious houses on this road, which appear to be second homes. There are also moorings for boats which are presumably associated with these houses. It would seem that boating on Loch Lochy must be one of the attractions for those that have built here. In fact there was relatively little boating activity on the loch when we were there in mid June: presumably holidays are concentrated on July and August when schools are out and Scotland’s weather is (or should be) at its best.

After Clunes the Way runs a long a good quality track, which is obviously used for forestry purposes as well as leisure. It is equally obvious that it’s an excellent track for cyclists, so it was surprising that we only saw one or to all day long. Nor were there any other obvious long distance walkers, so we had the Great Glen Way largely to ourselves.

The floating pub
The forestry ends just a mile or so short of the Northeast end of Loch Lochy, and there’s then a short stretch through a group of holiday chalets and open country before reaching Laggan Locks, where the Caledonian Canal resumes to run for a couple of miles between Loch Lochy and Loch Oich. Here there was a very welcome sight: a barge which doubles as a pub cum tea shop. We all had welcome drinks of shandy to reward ourselves for completing the major part of the day’s walking.

The canal stretch is rather unusual, in that the Great Glen Way runs in woodland between the Caledonian Canal and the A82, neither of which are visible from the path. It feels like a world of its own, and is surprisingly undulating for a path which parallels a canal.

At the end of this stretch the Way continues on the South side of Loch Oich, away from the A82, which runs along the North shore and along a great curve at Invergarry, at the foot of Glen Garry. The River Garry, which enters Loch Oich here, is the single largest waterway entering the Loch Ness system, and from Loch Oich onwards water flows Northeast through Loch Ness to Inverness and the North Sea, whereas Loch Lochy drains into Loch Linhe and the West Coast.

We were booked that night to stay at Drynachan, a B&B on the A82 just outside Invergarry. The arrangement was that we would be picked up on the A82 and driven to Drynachan, but this could be from either end of Loch Oich. So we elected to continue to the North End of Loch Oich to make today and tomorrow’s distances more or less equal.

Rosemary and Alan on the East bank of Loch Oich
The Way along the Southern bank of Loch Oich follows the route of an abandoned railway, which used to run between Fort William and Fort Augustus. This, along with many other railways in the Highlands, is long gone. But the level ground of the former track remains, so the going is pretty easy. Initially we followed a group of five Americans who had been at the camp at the Southern end of Loch Oich, but they turned back after a couple of miles when they realised that they couldn’t climb up to the hills above as they had hoped. Then there was a campsite with a group of boys who were travelling the loch by canoe, accompanies by a very annoying dog that barked ceaselessly. It confirmed Rosemary in her general displike of dogs, thought this is primarily based on her experiences in France where their unwanted leavings are a major nuisance.

Looking back West down Loch Oich
After the fie miles of Loch Oich we arrived at the swing bridge at Aberchalder that marks its end. A phone call to Neville at Drynachan, a lift ten minutes later, and then showers and a change of clothes before Neville provided lifts to and from hat turned out to be a rather chichi dinner at the Invergarry Hotel: small portions of over-elaborate food. Rosemary, Alan and I were all rather disappointed. Scotland’s food may have improved in general, but sometimes it appears that intended improvements are not always successful.

I realised after we had arrived that I’d stayed at Drynachan about five years earlier when I’d been ona  birding trip to the Loch Garten area and was going on to Islay. There aren’t that many options in the Great Glen, so perhaps it wasn’t surprising. It was certainly a ery acceptable B&B.

Partly cloudy. 14-19C. Easy going on good tracks; some minor road walking in early stretch by Loch Lochy. Max altitude 90m, minimum 31m. 28.3 km. 278m of ascents, 270m descents. Midge factor 1.

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