Monday, 18 May 2015

Drumnadrochit to Kiltarlity

Alan and Rosemary Towers
This was the eagerly-awaited resumption of the walk, complete with my new bionic left hip. Though it was also tinged with an element of apprehension, given the stiff uphill trek involved after a long layover. It was to be a three-week hike ending in John O’Groats. Alan and Rosemary Towers were joining me for both ends of this final drive, and like me had driven up to Drumnadrochit the day before.

After an excellent dinner, a very comfortable night at the Woodlands guest house, a hearty breakfast, we were on our way just before 10:00. We had elected to leave both cars in Drumnadrochit and take a taxi back, though Alan did take his into Drum itself, as it seemed silly to repeat a mile or more of what we’d done on the last day of walking in 2014.
View back across Loch Ness from part way up
 the Great Glen Way

The first part of the GGW out of Drum is along the A82. There is a pavement, but it’s only a metre or so wide, and the traffic is doing the best Part of 60mph as it thunders past. It’s a busy road, so the traffic has to stay close to the side. This means that, particularly if two of you are walking side by side, vehicles are less than a metre away. I found it pretty scary, even though it was Alan rather than me nearer the traffic, and I was thoroughly glad to finish the two miles.

The first off-road bit involves a short climb, a bit on the level, and then back down again - simply to get round a private house and garden. Then it does start the real ascent, although a diversion (lambing, we presumed) means it’s level and then sharply up instead of gently up across a field.
After that it’s a long steady climb through dark spruce woodland. The ground is surprisingly green given the lack of light, with shamrock (small white flowers as well as the emerald leaves) and moss. We’d been going quite a while when I first looked at my altimeter, only to discover that we’d climbed a mere 100m. Clearly out of practice. At the first water stop we were passed by a young man who had probably done the same as us in half the time.

The later stages through woods are gentler, on an old forest road originally put in during the war, when Canadian lumberjacks were brought over to produce more timber. Apparently a number of them also married local lasses, which can’t have made them popular with the Jocks away at the war.

Then there’s a stretch across an open, heather-clad area, with wonderful views now of the Northern end of Loch Ness. But it wasn’t long before we were re-entering the wood for a final climb (to almost exactly 400m) before descending fairly rapidly to meet a track which runs more or less straight SW to NE. It was at these points where we finally met other walkers coming from the Inverness direction, but they must have either made much better time than us as they would have had to travel twice the distance, or started some way in to the walk.
Another Loch Ness view from higher up the GGW

We took our lunch break at the point where we left the GGW. Sunshine on the hillside opposite, but rain for us. Then it was all road walking – quiet, but still the occasional car. The trees on the edge of the woods were incredibly festooned with lichen – not only completely covering their trunks, but also hanging in great tresses from their branches. Most were oak which isn’t in leaf this early up at this latitude and this altitude, but one wonders whether there’s any room left for leaves. This was the point where the hail started. We’d seen the huge grey cloud approach, but initially it had seemed it would miss us. But it was not so. Fortunately it didn’t last long.

The open area towards the end of  the GGW
We were still high, and with brightening weather there were spectacular views in a great arc from the North, through the West and down to the Southwest. The higher peaks were still snow-covered: apparently there had been more snow at altitude overnight. The peaks sparkled when struck by the emerging sun. There were now occasional farms, increasing on frequency as we dropped down from the top, and a writing centre for people who get a week’s course tutored by a named (usually Scottish) writer. Then it was across the Drumnadrochit to Beauly road, and a mile and a half or so to Kiltarlity. Our maps lied. No pub, but the Post Office/store ran to coffees, so we were able to have refreshments while we sheltered from the rain waiting for our taxi.

Still snow on the mountains to the West
A good day’s walking, even if I was rather stiff by the end of it. A little too much of it was spent 20m or so behind Alan and Rosemary. I seemed to find myself trailing whenever I paused for kit adjustment, to take a photograph, or to check out a bird. But it does stop me from dawdling too much.

Dull for most of the day. Rain mid-morning, and intermittently thereafter. Continuous hail for a period in the afternoon, and then fair. Rain again after we had reached our destination. 9-14C. 19.0 km, 540 m of ascents and 500 m descents. Road (A82) out of Drumnadrochit for the best part of a couple of miles, then paths and forestry roads until we left the Great Glen Way to make our way down minor roads to Kiltarlity.

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