LEJoG Day 77 – it’s a matter of degrees
Day 77 pre-amble
Today was a hot one. Not just “very warm”, and not even “warm for Scotland”. It was hot, almost all the way through the walk. The mercury wasn’t quite up there with the day after Alston in 2019 (still a record-breaker I think). But I wasn’t walking that day, just making my way home.
This was, I reckon, the hottest single day’s walk since Somerset during the heatwave of 2018. At 57°N, the northernmost section of the Great Glen Way is 6 degrees higher than Somerset. So, I hadn’t really bargained for temperatures of 30°C. But this unusual combination of temperature and latitude gave me an idea for the title and pre-amble.
LEJoG Day 77 (Wednesday 21 July 2021)
Invermoriston to Drumnadrochit (14½ miles)
Cumulative: 1,108 miles
Facts: Time on walk: 4 hours 30 minutes. Average speed: 3.22 mph. Weather: I think I’ve covered that 😉
Practicalities: Breakfast at 8am with Lindsey and Manda – no other guests went for an early slot. The next couple arrived just as I was finishing. The sisters were full of engaging chat and advice – learned that one of them used to live in my home city. They said that today was the best walk on the Great Glen Way, and I’d back that up. Stayed in the guest house for as long as possible before checking out, as I had quite a tight left thigh. Obviously the effects of Monday’s ‘monster’ walk making themselves felt (it’s always two days later!). Left my room at 9:50am.
Start: Craik na Dav, Invermoriston, 10:00am. End: Village green, Drumnadrochit, 3:45pm.
Today’s walk, like yesterday’s, can be followed on the South sheet of OS Explorer 416.
A testing start for left thigh and both lungs, as the road rises steeply away from Craik na Dav. There are a couple of hairpin bends and, while it’s not Hardknott Pass or anything, I wouldn’t over-indulge in food or drink the night before. (Unless you’re half my age, in which case you’ll barely feel it) Below is a retrospective, taken near the top of the climb and shortly before leaving the track.
Retrospective across Loch Ness, from above Invermoriston
Great Glen Way signpost
(there is an alternative route here, with little appeal to the soulful walker)
On leaving the track at the signpost above, you continue to climb through woodland, then descend via stone steps to cross a stream. Following a path with a much more gradual ascent, you will pass a remnant Caledonian pine forest on your left and a birch forest on your right. Rejoining a (different) forestry track, there’s a steep but brief climb before the sudden appearance of…
The eye is naturally drawn to this circular contraption, fashioned from nothing more spectacular than bent sticks. Around half a dozen other walkers were already gathered around or clambering over and through it. I satisfied myself with a photo and carried on, conscious that the day could be a long one if the sun continued to shine.
The next section, gradually descending to the Allt Sigh Burn, is the sort of stretch I tend to remember as a “bound”. By this I mean that progress is swift, the ground underfoot is just soft and bouncy enough, the road ahead is clear and the walker’s mood is upbeat. Basically the polar opposite of a monotonous “drag”, like Ennerdale Forest, or indeed the cordoned forestry on Day 75.
The path runs parallel with the burn for a short time, and then comes the toughest ascent of the day. In fact, according to Trailblazer it’s the steepest part of the whole Great Glen Way. Constant zig-zags, most of them on high gradients, carry you to a stone wall shelter high above the lochside hamlet of Alltsigh. Though I would have appreciated the rest, the shelter was occupied when I reached the top. I’m always phlegmatic about this – there’s an obvious advantage to pressing on, especially so early in the day.
Anyway, about 15 minutes of forestry track later, I found a better stone shelter and bench. It was so good I decided to take lunch about an hour earlier than planned (11:45 – 12:15).
Stone shelter and lunch spot, above Loch Ness
The main header image is a view from here, looking across to Foyers on the east side of the loch. Unfortunately it was the last photo I took on this, the best day of the walk. I can only assume this is because the battery on my old iPhone SE was draining fast again, and I think I left my remote chargers at home like a dumbass. The phone has since been replaced and I hope the final days of this walk are better served by photographs. Certainly my future plans – Mount Olympus, for example – require a better camera!
Absolutely no complaints about the next 2½ miles of forestry track. Compared to Day 75, the views are far superior, the immediate surroundings more varied and the track not so relentlessly straight. You will also break halfway on this section, which is a little bonus.
All good things must come to an end though, and the hamlets of Grotaig and Balbeg mark the point at which the forest gives way to road, and Loch Ness is largely obscured from view. The new moorland views are pleasant enough. But there’s no doubt about it – the best is behind you, and morale may be tested here.
Anticipating this, I took another half-hour break on a bench by the chalets just past Balbeg (1:35 – 2:05). Ahead of me was a 3-mile stretch of mainly straight road, most of it without a pavement or verge. It was not a busy road, and indeed I was still able to play music on my iPod without feeling endangered. However, it is a real trudge, especially so after the treats of the first 8-9 miles.
It occurs to me that I’ve probably not sold those “treats” in my earlier paragraphs, and so the contrast may not land for the reader. There’s only so many ways in which you can tell people that the views of Loch Ness are constantly superb. Even though Loch Ness is with you for only 2 days and maybe 18 miles in total before you reach this mundane road section, you can become blasé about its charms. Please do believe me – these are the best two days of the walk and you will appreciate them even more when you’re on the tarmac, or (Days 78-79) on the outskirts of Inverness.
In any case, the really good news is that, once you leave the tarmac, you’re only just over 2 miles from the finish at Drumnadrochit. I reached this point at around 2:50. My abiding memory is that the heat was now stronger than at lunchtime. As soon as I was off the road I dropped my entire kit in order to apply sun-tan lotion on every inch of bare skin. Although the title of this post suggests otherwise, I don’t think I’d really noticed the temperature while spending most of the day in the half-decent shade of the forest tracks. But now, after only 60-90 minutes on a road with no trees, it was starting to sap my energy.
Of course I had plenty of water, and thanked myself for taking 6 bottles instead of my usual 4. I also thanked the route planners for the descent to come. You can see Drumnadrochit from the top of the hill, but once you enter the forest you have no clear view of the village again until you’re on the main A82. It’s actually a bit of a knee-judderer, after an hour and a half of level road walking. Nothing like descending a mountain, of course, but not one to take for granted either.
Once past Clunebeg Lodge, the path emerges from the canopy and follows the River Coiltie to the main road. I took another 15-minute break at a bench here, due to the heat. A warning, by the way: the first few hundred metres of the A82 are downright dangerous. Between Borlum Bridge (where you join the A-road from the path) and the petrol station, there is no verge or pavement and the road is bordered only by high hedges on both sides. Fortunately there are no sharp bends, but it’s a very unwelcome alarm after nearly 15 miles of walking. Probably one of the most hazardous sections of road walking since Somerset and Herefordshire.
I arrived at the village green for 3:45pm and waited 15 minutes for check-in.
After the walk
Morlea was another excellent guest house/B&B. The room was bettered for opulence only by the Lovat in Fort Augustus, and you pay a huge premium for that. Free dark chocolate mints almost guarantee a 9.5/10 review from me! Evening meal about 50 yards away at Fiddler’s Rest. Second longest day of the GGW tomorrow (over 20 miles again), so hoping the mercury would be a couple of degrees lower…
Postscript – My Listening Pleasure
Finished Chart Music #59 (see yesterday) and listened to Chart Music #60 until the post-lunch stop near Balbeg. Then, for the road section, the album which in 2021 became my second favourite of the 90s.
Picture (21 July 2021) shows the view across Loch Ness to Foyers, from the stone wall shelter/bench where I had lunch. Hesitate about using a similar picture to Day 76. But I like how yesterday’s shows much more of the west (walking) side of the loch while this shows more of the east side.
Next: Day 78 (22 July 2021)… in which we say a long goodbye to a trusted friend.