Great Glen Way Challenge

Kevin Thomas and I have arrived in the Highlands of Scotland to walk the Great Glen Way. 

This is a 79 mile trail, encompassing just over 6,000 feet of ascent, starting in Fort William and ending in Inverness five days later. 

We are doing this walk to raise money for the following charities:

July 2015

I have finally managed to tot up the sponsorship we raised - the final scores are:

RNLI - £398.75

Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research - £333.75

SARDA Wales - £287.50

A grand total of £1,020.00!

Thursday 30 April 2015

Well, the deed is done!

The final haul of 21 miles from Drumnadrochit to Inverness, whilst being incredibly arduous, is easily the most varied and striking.

It started with an uninspiring trudge along the A82 to meet a woodland track which undulates, steeply in places, through thick Caledonian forest.

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The climb is stiff but the coolness of the woodland is refreshing and the "bouncy" softness of the track eases the pain!

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After a while we crossed a stream on stepping stones in a lovely sunlit glade and emerged onto a logging track high up on the mountain. Here there was an encampment for lumberjacks from Newfoundland who came across in World War 2 to keep the timber industry going for the war effort.

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A small cairn marks the 1000-feet contour but there are still about 300-feet to go till you reach the highest point and you wind round on the logging track into the Abriachan Forest until, a couple of miles later, you hit the top. On this stretch the sunshine turned to heavy snow within a couple of minutes.

A steep descent into the next glen gives stunning views of Glen Affric, with Ben Affric looking like a Christmas cake with its thick covering of snow.

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Before long you enter more woodland and a tantalising track edged with little posts announcing "real coffee" and "hot soup" at intervals, like a tired walker's treasure hunt!

We reached the Abriachan eco-campsite where there are pigs roaming free and the owner installed us on the deck in her little log cabin with cups of tea and let us eat our packed lunches, warning to watch out for the cunning white hen who steals food.

The sawdust toilet was a particular high point!.....

Leaving them reluctantly, we started the long stretch along a lonely, high road with views across to Glen Affric sustaining us.

From here I saw our first golden eagle of the walk, a huge bird of prey soaring on thermals and just a flash of gold in the sunlight as it turned.

After about two miles we turned up over moorland for a gentle ascent into the forest. We flushed up grouse, saw endless meadow pipits and even heard our first cuckoo of the year!

The long walk through Caledonian forest was stunning but by this time, having had our first glimpse of Inverness far below us, we just wanted to get there and knew we had another five miles to go....

I've never been so glad to see a pylon as it pinpointed on the map exactly where we were but we knew how painful a descent would be now.

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We wound down past reservoirs into the upper residential reaches of Inverness and soon realised, after five days of wilderness, what a danger we were to ourselves when crossing roads, it all felt so alien!

By now we couldn't even muster the energy to speak to each other, we just trudged wordlessly over the golf course, along the canal and through the Ness Islands (very pretty but after 10 hours of walking we barely registered anything!) and up some steps to the castle and a stone column announcing "Great Glen Way - this is where it all ends".

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This isn't our first long - distance trail so we know there is never elation at the end point, you just feel a bit numb and 'displaced' for a few minutes. The "high" tends to come later.

Our friends are taking wonderful care of us in their lovely home in Boat of Garten in the magnificent Cairngorms National Park, we came home to cottage pie, mugs of tea and the best bed in the world, we're so grateful to them for taking in two grubby walkers without putting newspaper on all the surfaces!

We can't yet straighten our heads to describe the experience fully but it has definitely been a memorable trip - crazy weather, lovely people, breathtaking scenery and a sense of having done something a bit different and a lot of fun.

Meanwhile, Kevin's blisters carry a Triple-X warning.....

Wednesday 29 April 2015

Either it was an easier day or we are getting into the swing of this long distance trail business! I hope it's the latter!

After spending a lovely treat night in the very comfortable embrace of the Glenmoriston Arms in Invermoriston on the shores of Loch Ness, we started our day with a visit to a well dedicated to St Columba. He was a traveller and a bit of a character, so I felt he'd understand blisters and bad weather so I threw in a coin and sent one up to him!

Our 15-mile day started with a steep climb out of the village into the forests above Glen Moriston and we cleared 600 feet quite quickly - either it was thanks to St Columba or the porridge and tattie scones at breakfast!

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However, no sooner had we climbed than the path dropped us quickly back to sea level. From there a notice board informed us there would be three more climbs and falls, eventually taking us to 1100 feet.

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The rainbow in Glen Moriston gave way to blue skies and sunshine as we climbed along good tracks along a rising balcony. On our right we could see for miles along Loch Ness and beyond to the snowy peaks of the Monadhliath Mountains.

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The smells were so striking - the heady cocoa butter scent of gorse mixed with the‎ freshness of pine and newly-cut timber stacks. The weather had also brought wildlife out to play and we saw numerous robins and chaffinches, heard buzzards defending their nests and I saw a wheatear and possible crossbill.

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After descending slightly from the mountain and forests we found a pretty glade with a bottom-sized rock where we could sit and eat lunch. As we did so the rain came in along the glen and we spent the last five miles of our day walking as fast as we could through hail and heavy rain across open moorland in a bid to reach Drumnadrochit some 700 feet below us - however, sharp descents and knees after 60 miles are not a happy combination!

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We made very good time, 15 miles over steep terrain with loaded packs in under seven hours and have decided to treat ourselves with a sample of single malt tonight before we tackle the biggest and most remote day tomorrow - 21 miles over mountain terrain with not even a tea shop in sight! Our wonderful friends Kate and Andy who live near Aviemore have promised to be there if / when we make it to the trail's official end at Inverness Castle - watch this space.......

The support on the blog has been really encouraging and much appreciated when we check it each night, thank you to all.

Over and out......

Tuesday 28 April 2015

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It's been a hard day! In summary, 18.5 miles starting in sleet, moving into rain and only finishing in glorious evening sunshine in the glen (how romantic does that sound?! We even saw a deer on the trail! - albeit a dead one, sadly.)

We had a fabulous stay in South Laggan at a guest house where we only later found out they've only been doing it for eight months. It was pretty basic but very warm, welcoming, beds to sink into and they knew exactly what long-distance trail walkers are looking for.

After a hearty breakfast we set out in sleet and following the waymarkers we headed up to an old railway cutting alongside Loch Oich. This was made pretty miserable by the works taking place up there and the constant reversing machinery although the workmen were very patient with Way walkers.

We also got to meet the handsome Max, a labrador/French Mastiff cross who greeted me with the muddy enthusiasm only labradors know!

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Having left the railway cutting behind we skirted the shores of Loch Oich before meeting the Caledonian Canal once more at Invergarry. This led onto a towpath for about about five miles to Fort Augustus where we felt like we were in a constant race against the kayakers - we always gained on them at the locks!

Fort Augustus is a small settlement at the southern end of Loch Ness and and although it felt‎ comparatively touristy it had the advantage that it sold Compeed blister plasters in the post office - a big hit for Kevin....

From there we climbed steeply to a forest track running parallel with, but high above, Loch Ness. The rain from the west was squally so we felt like we were stopping every 10 minutes to shed or add a layer of clothing!

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However, we crossed some beautiful waterfalls tumbling down from the peaks high above us and as we reached Glen Moriston the sun came out and lit up the glen in a riot of spring colours for our final slog to the hotel.

Tomorrow feels easy - *only* 15 miles to Drumnadrochit but after the last couple of days we know only too well what a mile really means!

Monday 27 April 2015

Today has been a toughie! - we set off from Gairlochy in bright sunshine and had fabulous views of the snowy, cloud - free summits of Ben Nevis and Aonach Mor.

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We headed north-east on a lovely undulating path beside the loch, occasionally going into woodland where we crossed little chattering streams ending their long journeys down off the mountains.

Someone had recommended we add a couple of very worthwhile miles onto our walk to climb up through the Achnacarry estate to Loch Arkaig to see the falls of Chia-aig.

This is where Rob Roy was reputed to have hidden from the king's Redcoats during the Jacobite rebellions.

It was certainly worth the extra time and distance it added to our day and we had a small bite to eat by the falls before the forecast heavy weather came in.

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We rejoined the trail down in the valley where a sign reminded us we were heading into remote mountain country and had to be able and equipped to look after ourselves.

The trail climbed up through Clunes Forest as the snow fell increasingly heavily around us, covering the enormous mountains towering over our shoulders in a thick, white blanket.

It was very lonely and atmospheric up there, away from the relentless lapping of the loch water against rocks and whilst it was a slog we could cover a good distance quite easily.

By 4pm we were heading down to the the meeting point of the northern end of Loch Lochy and the next stretch of the Caledonian Canal where we crossed and started on the final trudge to our guest house. The snow turned to heavy sleet and we dripped all over our host's pristine porch and were relieved of our boots and jackets which were whisked away to the drying room for some well deserved TLC!

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We got almost 16 miles under the belt today, Kevin has a couple of yucky blisters which he's threatened to photograph and put on the blog!

18 miles tomorrow, to Invermoriston...... see you on the other side!

Sunday 26 April 2015

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We did the first day yesterday, it was a pretty easy start of ten and a half miles from Fort William to Gairlochy along the shores of Loch Linnhe, beside the Caledonian Canal and finally meeting up with River Lochy at the southern end of Loch Lochy.

We started in sleet which grew ever heavier for the first hour, suddenly giving way to sunshine for a short time whilst we had our first cup of tea (with a tot of something Scottish in it - just to get in the mood!) beside the canal, which was built by Thomas Telford. Not long before the wind and rain returned! Meanwhile, in Drumnadrochit (our destination in three days) they had heavy snowfall....

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We followed the canal past Neptune's Staircase, the longest series of rising locks in Britain and started to leave people behind, the gentle towpath scenery starting to give way around us to deep glens and spectacular snowy peaks such as Ben Nevis and Aonach Mor.

Passing Moy Bridge, the last hand-operated swing bridge in the country, we soon arrived at the tiny settlement of Gairlochy and left the Way to find our B&B in Mucomir. The tranquility here belies a turbulent history in the Jacobite uprisings but for now we're content with looking out at the changing views of Ben Nevis as the clouds lift then drop again, and some delicious carb-loading at the Station Restaurant in Spean Bridge.

13 miles on the menu today!

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