#78 BLAZING THE LAST TRAIL

You’re on your own, after LEJoG Day 78

LEJoG Day 78 pre-amble

As in, you no longer have a guidebook. This is the last day on which I was able to follow a Trailblazer guide. It’s also the last day on an officially-recognised National Trail. The full record is:

  • South West Coast Path (Days 1 – 14)
  • Offa’s Dyke Path (Day 25 only, guidebook not used)
  • Pennine Way (Days 40 – 57)
  • West Highland Way (Days 67 – 73)
  • Great Glen Way (Days 74 – 78)

That’s 45 of the 78 days, which goes to show how important the Trailblazer guides have been to so much of LEJoG. Only between May and October 2018 were they surplus to requirements. Other than when planning the title of this blog, I wasn’t especially bothered at the time. But now here I sit, much closer to the planned finish than I am to July 2021, and I find it strangely moving. Here they all are, along with a guest star covering the SWCP north of Bude.

They’ve more than earned their little tribute in today’s post title. Thanks to all the writers and researchers. And to any readers – believe me you’ll notice their absence as much as I did once we strike out north of Inverness…

LEJoG Day 78 (Thursday 22 July 2021)

Drumnadrochit to Inverness (20 miles)

Cumulative: 1,128 miles

Facts: Time on walk: 5 hours 40 minutes. Average speed: 3.53 mph. Weather: Dry, hot. If cooler than Day 77, only slightly and only from mid-afternoon.

Practicalities: Knowing it was a 20-miler today, I had breakfast a little earlier than normal, at 7:45am. It was a heavy one, and even when checking out at 9:50 I thought exercise would be a minor struggle. So I was grateful that proprietor Chris kept me talking for half an hour about walks and his son attending the same university I went to. Stocked up on cans and crisps from the local store across the road, and didn’t actually start the walk until 45 minutes after I’d checked out.

The walk

Start: Village green, Drumnadrochit, 10:35am. End: Great Glen Way end marker post, outside Inverness Castle, Inverness, 5:30pm.

Today’s walk can be followed on the South sheet of OS Explorer 416 until about a kilometre after leaving the A82, after which it switches to the North sheet of the same map. Apart from a brief section which is only covered on OS Explorer 415, the North sheet shows the entire route to Inverness. I do not believe that map 415 is necessary, given that this is a waymarked National Trail and guidebooks are also available.

The final stage of the Great Glen Way is hard to split into two due to the lack of facilities between Drumnadrochit and Inverness. It begins with a right turn at the T-junction near the village green, and over a mile of walking along the A82. It’s not the most pleasant of starts, but to be brutally honest I found the suburbs of Inverness more wearing, both towards the end of today and at the start of Day 79.

Near Temple Pier (on the right hand side of the road, by Loch Ness) you make a welcome dart into the countryside. First you have to negotiate a poorly-marked section at the back of a house, where it’s quite easy to find yourself on a path heading up the homeowner’s drive. Well, it was when I did it. Then it’s a gradual climb through a plantation, firstly on a narrow path by the fields, and then a more generous one through the trees. There are steep sections, but they’re mercifully brief.

Soon enough you’re at the top of the hill and on a(nother) wide forestry track. This will take you all the way to the edge of the Abriachan Community Woodland. It’s a long haul though, perhaps 2-3 miles of virtually unchanged scenery. Note that you’re now too far from the shore of Loch Ness to feast your eyes on those familiar views from the last two days. I stopped for a break (12:05 – 12:20) on a convenient mound, about half a mile short of the waymarked entrance to Abriachan Forest.

This was the warmest time of the day, coinciding with the point where the plantation was offering less shade than before. Also, most of Abriachan Forest is away from the Great Glen Way path, so don’t expect the trees to provide too much protection on a hot day.

Signpost, shortly after entering Abriachan Forest

Progress is pretty swift here, it must be said. Almost completely flat, no traffic and a mile-long perfectly straight section of track leading to a quick road crossing. Here you enter a much denser part of the forest, on a much narrower trail. Towards the end of this trail is Aberiachan Eco-Campsite and Cafe. This is where Trailblazer recommend you take lunch. However, it’s not quite halfway and it didn’t feel long enough since my last break. I think I’d been walking for only an hour. Given the heat, I really did feel like it would have been demoralising to take a proper lunch before breaking 10 miles.

Especially as the trail now gives way to two solid miles of road walking, the longest such stretch since before the descent into Drum. Again this was not a busy road, but it was exposed to strong sunlight almost throughout, and I spent most of the next 20 minutes looking for a suitable place to stop. Eventually settled on a grass verge a couple of hundred metres after the house marked ‘Ladycairn’.

Below are views to the west and north-west, of Beauly, Black Isle and Ben Wyvis, seen from just before and just after my lunch stop position (you can of course surmise from the second picture how warm it was today…):

Rested for half an hour, from 1:50 – 2:20. Passed a resting German cyclist couple a few minutes after the restart – had a quick chat as they’d passed me earlier. Not much road remaining before a path forks off to the left, heading for a Caledonian pine forest near the settlement of Blackfold. I remember this bit well, for being slightly ahead of a group of three younger lads who’d misread their maps and were cutting off the path. Determined not to let them overtake, I was almost running at a couple of points. After about 15-20 minutes I’d had my fun and decided to stop for a leak, letting them pass.

Soon after, the plantation becomes very dense, and any wide-ranging views are a rarity for the next 3 miles or so. Navigation is at least straightforward: you follow a very straight old drovers’ road. These are hard miles. Not physically – even my foot wasn’t bothering me much this week after fitting the orthotics on Sunday night. Mentally though, miles 12-16 in a 20-mile walk can be quite testing. I wouldn’t say it’s like “hitting the wall” in a marathon, although proportionally you’re at round about the same stage of the pursuit. It’s just a mini-crash after passing halfway but knowing you won’t be within shouting distance of the end for at least another hour. In this case, the lack of a view made it slightly tougher to get through.

Decided that I’d take my last break (3:55 – 4:15) after reaching the end of the drovers’ road, near the village of Leachkin. I say village – it’s actually a western suburb of Inverness. And on the map, it looks close to the finish. However, on the ground was a different matter. The next couple of miles were the most deflating of the stage, and perhaps of the whole Great Glen Way.

Admittedly, the last mile to Inverness Castle is superb. But in getting there, the Great Glen Way becomes the Great Grim Way. Perhaps this is unfair. After all the route heads for the centre of Inverness, clearly the largest city on the walk since Glasgow (skirted to the north and east) and Edinburgh (beautiful, and I only used Leith Walk and the canals). And before that, unbelievable as it seems, Birmingham. So the walker may expect to encounter some ugly suburbia.

To begin with, this, on the descent from Leachkin to the first built-up area and residential roads, was a stirring sight (and almost today’s header picture):

Fabulous view overlooking Inverness, with Beauly Firth & Black Isle beyond, 4:20pm

At the foot of the hill was a short diversion, marked by temporary fencing. Then a road crossing, a short road walk and a narrow downhill path through a field. So narrow I had to wait for a couple pushing a pram up the hill in order to pass them. Emerging from here in to a housing estate, you cross ‘Golf View Road’ and pass through a small playground. It didn’t seem well used, and then came an underpass (nobody’s favourite urban feature), complete with dodgy graffiti. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t remotely threatening, and not that dissimilar to the area in which I spent my childhood. Just a minor shock to the walker’s system after 70-odd miles of lochs, hills, trees and canals.

Actually, you’re not too far from the Caledonian Canal here. In order to reach the towpath though, you have to divert around the golf course, skirting its western and northern edges. Then – and this really is an annoyance – you head a fair distance south in order to cross the sole bridge over the canal. It’s a swing bridge, and my timing was appalling… yes, it was in use to allow a sail barge to pass, and yes I lost 10-15 minutes waiting for a) closure and b) backed-up traffic on the road I had to cross once on the far side. The A82, of course, at around 5pm, so this was seriously busy.

Finally, there’s a link road between the A82 and the River Ness (Bught Drive), which looks very industrial to the visitor, until you note that there’s a caravan park and campsite slapped in the middle.

But let’s be honest – the final section along the River Ness makes up for all of that. It’s a truly splendid end to the Great Glen Way. In my book, the best last mile of any trail on this walk. A fitting send-off for Trailblazer too.

The golden mile begins with this lovely footbridge, taking you from the western promenade to the Ness Islands.

Footbridge to the Ness Islands

This is a miniature wooded archipelago, barely more than ¼ mile long but still a really pleasant surprise. Particularly on a warm summer evening. Not surprisingly, it was overwhelmingly populated by young couples and families with children. The last of the linking footbridges takes you on to the eastern promenade of the River Ness, heading north along Island Bank Road.

The Ness Bridge (road bridge), view north from Island Bank Road

The Ness Bridge (above) makes for an attractive welcome to Inverness proper, and an encouraging target for anyone who might be flagging after 20 miles. Once past it and on Ness Bank, you’re nearly home. I passed my hotel at this point, having ensured a night close to the finish line. There’s a short, steepish hill to the castle (of course there is, that’s kind of the point with a castle), and then…

Official marker post at the end of the Great Glen Way

79½ miles of the Great Glen Way: completed.

96½ miles of the West Highland Way, 265½ miles of the Pennine Way (including loops), 17½ miles of the Offa’s Dyke Path and 179 miles of the South West Coast Path: also completed.

638 miles on National Trails, or 56.6% of my total distance so far: completed.

Thanks Trailblazer, I couldn’t have done it without you.

Last Trail: blazed.

After the walk

Although I felt great after finishing the walk, I was a bit hot and bothered during my long wait to check in at the Glen Mhor Hotel. A very decent evening meal at the Waterside Restaurant made up for that though (the breakfast on Friday morning wasn’t quite so good).

On the Friday I took a train from Inverness to Edinburgh and then stayed at a Code Pod Hostel for the night. An unusual choice these days, but I was In a private room! Train back home on Saturday, and then my first night out at a club since March 2020. It was an eventful, landmark week.

Postscript – My Listening Pleasure

Chart Music #60, which stopped at some point in Aberiachan Forest when I decided it was using up too much phone battery.

 

Picture (22 July 2021) of Inverness Castle, from near the marker post at the end of the Great Glen Way.

Next: Day 79 (1 September 2021)… in which there’s no baggage service, for the first time in 13 days, and you know what that means.

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