Day 72: Commute
Laggan Locks to Invermoriston. 21.4 miles. Miles to date: 1090.5.
A usual LeJog day starts with me pulling on the boots and walking into the great unknown.
Not today though.
Today I pulled on the boots and (whisper it) got on a bus.
Which is what I’ll be doing for the next three days.
But there’s no need to tell the LeJog police. I’m commuting so I can continue my journey north – not to avoid it.
Because there is absolutely no accommodation to be had in the Great Glen.
What does the LeJogger do on their prized rest days?
Lie propped up against plump pillow piles on Egyptian cotton sheets and watch Netflix boxsets as their feet are massaged and forget all about LeJog?
Wander around the town or village they’ve stopped in, exploring its history, culture and local delicacies?
Or tie themselves in logistical knots attempting to secure accommodation for the road ahead?
Actually I’ve done all three over the past 11 (yes 11!) weeks (with the exception of the foot massage). But my last rest day was nothing of the sort. It felt more like organising a holiday for a difficult relative than booking a few night’s accommodation in Scotland.
It used to be so simple. I'd ring a B&B a day or two before I wanted to stay and book a room. Occasionally – very occasionally – they’d be full. So I’d ring my second choice and book that.
Those were the free and easy good ol' days before I reached the Highlands.
And more specifically The Great Glen.
Another fine day to stroll along the Caledonian Canal.
The Great Glen, it turns out, has a Great Shortage of Accommodation.
I am – of course – booking late, when not just Scottish schools but now also English schools have broken up for summer.
But I’m not sure how much difference it would have made if I’d tried to book a month earlier. The Great Glen doesn’t have many places to stay because it doesn’t have much accommodation in it full stop. That is part of its charm. But it made life very difficult for this LeJoger.
Having worked out there wasn’t room at any of the Great Glen inns I was forced to employ a little outside-the-valley thinking.
The compromise I came up with – and only solution I could find from my Hobbit Hole in Glencoe – was to use public transport to get to and from my walk start/end each day using a base at Great Glen terminus Inverness.
It is far from ideal. Not only is it expensive (I will clock up nearly £50 in bus fares by the end of the week), and time consuming (I will spend two hours on buses today), commuting to and from LeJog – and then onwards to my B&B from Inverness city centre – was not part of my Wild Rover dream.
It has also led to a Twelve Monkeys-style situation where even though I am staying in Inverness, I won’t actually reach Inverness on LeJog until Thursday. So I’ve kind of advanced in time leaving my LeJog self back in Invermoriston.
Maybe I could further bend the space-time continuum so that Lejog Dave continues his walk tomorrow while lazy Dave gets a genuine rest day in Inverness.
Then I could really catch up with a bit of Netflix.
Ozark looks good.
Rare view of Loch Oich from within the forestry plantation.
...All getting a bit samey.
This sapling growing from another tree was tagged (ha!) #MildVandals.
Slow worm sun-basking. A slow worm is a lizard.
Today’s walk – when I left the bus – had an air of deja vu.
More canal towpaths. More tracks through forest plantations.
It was perfectly amiable – especially on another fine day. But there's only so many rows of conifers even the most ardent tree lover can pass before losing interest.
It is one of the criticisms of the Great Glen Way.
While the West Highland Way is able to seamlessly transition from pasture to Loch to glen to mountain to moor, the GGL only really holds three cards to play: canal, forest and loch.
So it was that I wandered the pleasant towpaths from Laggan Locks to Loch Oich, then – before I got a chance to appreciate the new, smaller Loch – I climbed up and into the woods above, where I picked aloong the gravel tracks without getting so much as a moment’s view of the loch below.
And while the sunshine made everything better alongside the sparkling canal and loch, in the airless confines of the forest it made everything slower and hotter.
Hats off then to the Trail designers who have listened to feedback and done something to give walkers something to really get stuck into… of which more below.
The Bridge of Oich – which is held up using James Dredge's patented 'taper principle'.
The Caledonian Canal passes some lovely little lock-keepers' cottages. There are still 40 full- and part-time keepers working the canal.
Nessie! Oh no, wrong loch.
The canal passes through some dramatic scenery, including big cliffs and overhanging forests.
This I would love to see.
I’d passed all of five people by the time I entered the hamlet of Fort Augustus for lunch.
Fort Augustus was one of four garrison towns linked by Field Marshal George Wade's roads – roads I followed for many miles as I tracked the West Highland Way north.
Tasked by George I to impose control over the unruly Jacobite hordes, Wade built not just 240 miles of roads and 30 bridges in 12 years as Commander in Chief of His Majesty's forces, castles, forts and barracks from 1725, but also established army outposts at Ruthven, Fort George, Fort William and Fort Augustus.
Nowadays Fort Augustus is a tourist honeypot with as many visitors as residents, as many pubs as chippies, as many buses as cars, and a kilted busker who was making a packet by, unaccountably, playing the bodhrán.
Lovers of 'real Caledonia' probably hate these kind of places. But anywhere that offers food, drink and a table to sit down at to peoplewatch for a while is good with me.
So I sat and watched the visitors watching the canal boats slowly climb the lock steps for a sunny quarter hour then was on my way again.
The colourful approach to Fort Augustus.
Tourist honeypot Fort Augustus, and its lock staircase.
Shortly after leaving Fort Augustus the Great Glen Way gives its walkers a choice: the original forest track, or a higher level option to Drumnadrochit which offers more dramatic views for an extra 479 metres of ascent and mile's walking.
The alternative was opened in 2014, along with a second high level alternative from Invermoriston to Drumnadrochit, after feedback from users which said too much time on the trail was spent in plantations.
The alternatives – created by Forestry Commission Scotland at a cost of £1 million – not only show that trail users' feedback has been listened to and acted upon, but give new interest to the trail just as it's getting stale.
Instead of another few miles of viewless plantation walking, Wayers are whisked above the tree line after a steep zig-zag ascent onto the airy tops for big views over Loch Ness – a lake of staggering scale even from up high – and a panorama of mountains including, ever on the horizon, precipitous Ben Nevis.
From there the carefully graded terrace path winds over bluffs and below crags to give the Wayer a taste of wild moorland walking. It doesn't matter that – bafflingly – the alternative is still not on OS Maps, as it is so clear on the ground.
So much was I enjoying the upland tramp that it felt too soon to begin the knee-jolting descent to journey's end Invermoriston.
But the working day was coming to an end. I had a bus to catch. And with only a handful a day to choose from serving the tiny lochside backwater with its fine waterfalls, I couldn't afford to be late.
Ponderous walking will have to wait until I'm north of Inverness and out of the Great Glen commuter belt.
Where the path splits.
Across the Loch is a huge area of hill country: pictured is pointy Beinn Sgurrach, with Leac Nan Cisteachan behind.
Views of Loch Ness. It is a massive body of water.
There are a few beautiful stone structures on the newly-built footpaths.
Below the waterfalls in Invermoriston.
The beautiful terrace route.
Journey's end: the bus stop at Invermoriston.
Next: Day 73 – Invermoriston to Drumnadrochit.
Previous: Day 71 – Kinlochleven to Fort William.