Hi people and pooches. It’s Joe the Cocker here checking in after me and my human dad have just had an adventure in Scotland. My dad wanted us to hike the Great Glen Way from Fort William to Inverness and then to walk back to Fort Augustus on the South Loch Ness Trail. This would mean that we would complete both the GGW and the Loch Ness 360. As we were walking the GGW we decided to concentrate on completing that particular route only and to postpone the idea of hiking the southern side of Loch Ness for a later date. We decided beforehand to park the car in Fort Augustus and to camp there on our first night after driving the 380 miles from home. This would mean that we would take a taxi to Fort William to start our walk. We would then walk for 3 days to Fort Augustus and stay at the same campsite and be able to resupply before we set off on the rest of our journey. The last night of our hike would then be in Fort Augustus again. Sounded like a workable plan but, all was to change!
My dad packed his rucksack, managing to reduce the base weight to 17kg as opposed to the 23kg he hauled on the West Highland Way. I was hoping that he had packed enough food and treats for me. He was obviously not planning to take as much food for himself this time. I think that he reduced some of the weight by taking his old 3 season sleeping bag. I wasn’t sure that this was a good idea after looking at the weather forecast. A week before our planned departure the forecast for Scotland was mainly dry with clouds. As our visit came closer the forecast deteriorated into a complete mixed bag. Wind, rain, snow, cold, sunshine, clouds… all on the same day in places! Scotland!
We drove to Scotland on Sunday 8th March 2020. The roads were quiet and an early morning start meant that any build up of traffic in North West England would happen after we had driven through the area. We stopped at the motorway services a couple of times before we joined the A roads north of Glasgow. We started to pass places on the A82 that we had hiked close to on the West Highland Way in October. All that I wanted to do was to sleep in my bed on the back seat of the car but, my dad kept saying ‘Joe, Joe! There’s Loch Lomond. There’s the Drovers. There’s the Bridge of Orchy. There’s Tyndrum etc. etc’. He is so excitable. Bless!
We reached Rannoch Moor by mid afternoon and up to that point the weather had been reasonable with a few spots of rain. This all changed as we drove through Glencoe. It was déjà vu as the rain and wind battered the handful of hikers who could be seen dropping down from the Glencoe Ski Resort. The driving was difficult with huge puddles instantly forming. It was good to be inside the car instead of walking in those conditions. We were soon in Fort William and the weather cleared as suddenly as it had descended. We pulled into a Costa drive through for a large Americano while my dad prepared himself for the last 30 miles of our drive.
One ‘must see’ place that my dad wanted to stop at was the Commando Memorial near to Spean Bridge. We had a short break while he took photographs. No pics of me this time as I am not allowed near the monument. The three bronze Commando’s gaze towards Ben Nevis, which was shrouded in cloud on this occasion but, the views of the mountains were breathtaking. The next 45 minutes flew by as we closed in on Fort Augustus, driving close to the route that we were to start walking the next day. We were booked into the Loch Ness Highland Resort campsite for the night, a large commercial site with lodges and a restaurant (all closed).
We found the campsite on the edge of the village and soon discovered that we were the only visitors. The main site was not due to open until 20th March. The large tent camping field was a tad saturated with the recent rain but, we found a relatively dry and sheltered spot to pitch up. I was happy to share the field with the local ducks and rabbits as long as they kept their distance. It was late afternoon by this time and my dad was tired from the drive. I was restless and it was playtime so he took me for a walk around Fort Augustus, in the rain! The village was almost deserted and looked like a major building site. The locks in the centre of the village were being refurbished and were fenced in with footpath diversions in place. My dad had carried out a bit of internet research before we left home and we soon found The Bothy Inn that he had chosen for an evening meal. We were wet from the rain and probably looked a bit bedraggled but we were given a warm welcome in this dog friendly quayside pub. I was fussed over and brought treats and a bowl of water while he ate his steak pie and drank his Guinness.
Suitably refreshed we trotted back to the campsite. My dad prepared our gear ready for our first days’ hike. All that was left to do was to have an early night and batten down the hatches in preparation for a rainy night. It was a cold night but, we were well protected from the conditions and I think that we both slept reasonably soundly.
Day 1 – Fort William to Gairlochy
We were both awake fairly early and after giving me a quick belly rub, my dad went for a shower. He checked over our gear for the next three days, making sure, over and over again, that he had packed everything that we needed. Everything else was thrown into the boot of the car awaiting our return in 3 days time. He had pre-booked transportation for us from the campsite to Fort William with Great Glen Travel. Kevin, our driver, arrived promptly at 8 am in a spotlessly clean VW Transporter people carrier. We had a good chat as we drove and he recommended a couple of possible camping pod spots on the route in case of rough weather. We were soon in Fort William at the start of the Great Glen Way at the Old Fort. Only low walls can be seen nowadays of the Old Fort that was built in 1690 to house 10,000 soldiers. After a quick look around the fort and a few photographs he decided that McDonalds would be our next stop, across the road! Finally, after we shared a ‘maccies’ breakfast it was 9:20 and time to set off.
The start of the GGW is marked by a stone monolith at the side of a roundabout above Loch Linnhe. It has a diagonal split across it depicting the Great Glen fault line and is inscribed ‘Slighean a’ Ghlinne Mhoir’, the Gaelic name for the trail. My dad couldn’t pronounce it either! The route follows the Great Glen from Fort William to Inverness along a 79 mile trail. It runs from the Irish Sea to the North Sea and passes along the side of Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and Loch Ness plus lengths of the Caledonian Canal. Most of the trail is shared between walkers, cyclists and horse riders with the full length of the Great Glen being passable on water. The Caledonian Canal sections join the three lochs to provide a complete cross-country navigable waterway. Thomas Telford designed the canal, with its 29 sets of locks, in the early 1800’s to enable naval vessels to cross the country but nowadays it is used primarily by leisure craft.
The start of the trail is uninspiring as it passes through a small housing estate and a shinty pitch. Shinty is a Scottish sport akin to hockey. After walking along the footpath for a short distance and crossing the River Ness we walked along the side of the fast-flowing River Lochy. We chose to not visit Inverlochy Castle and crossed the Soldier’s Bridge over the Lochy. Then came the first road walk of the trip, well, a pavement walk to Caol. I had to be on a short lead and I was itching to have a run around. I was patient until we came to a length of grass along the shoreline where I could have a good leg stretch. We passed the Kilmallie Shinty pitch before we arrived at the famous shipwreck of the MV Dayspring and known locally as the Corpach Shipwreck, on the shore of the loch.
We were soon in Corpach at the sea entrance of the Caledonian Canal. The entire sections of the Caledonian Canal were closed to water traffic at the time of our hike due to extensive repairs to the locks along the route. It would have been nice to have seen the sea-going yachts travelling along its length. We spent a short time investigating the area before we set off on our journey along the wide canal towpath. It was good to really be finally on our way from coast to coast.
After we left the towpath at Banavie, to cross over the railway line, we rejoined the path at the foot of Neptune’s Staircase. This is the famous series of eight locks that raises the river craft by 19 metres and take about 90 minutes to travel through. We had a short break at the top lock while my dad made himself a coffee. We were in no rush on this day as we were only planning to do a 10.5 mile flat walk to Gairlochy, where we were to wild camp for the night. It was at this point that two Irish Wolfhounds, that were off lead, ‘attacked’ me. They weren’t vicious but, they obviously weren’t having bromide in their tea, if you know what I mean. Their owner couldn’t control them as they were too strong for her and my dad had to intervene. He gave the owner an earful and I don’t think that they will be exchanging Christmas cards.
The next few miles were very easy going as we crossed the Sheangain Aqueduct and the Loy Aqueduct. As we walked along a thin spit of land between the canal and the river we came to an overflow weir from the canal to the River Lochy, where we rested for five minutes. The clouds were looking very menacing just before we reached the Moy Swingbridge. We decided to have another break at a picnic table. Just then it started to rain, ruining our relaxation. Every so often my dad had a glance back towards Ben Nevis but, all that he could see was low black cloud heading our way. It was such an easy day and great way to start a multi-day hike. Although it was a drizzly day we hadn’t experienced heavy rain and the southerly breeze was on our backs.
Gairlochy was reached mid afternoon as the wind was starting to increase. Fortunately, the wild camping area is at the northern end of Gairlochy Top Lock in the shelter of trees. The ground was wet but the shelter from the ever-increasing wind was welcome. My dad cleared a space for the tent from fallen pine-cones and pitched up on the southern end of Loch Lochy. It was a pretty spot close to moored yachts with good views to the distant snow-capped peaks.
As soon as the tent was pitched my dad fed me and we both settled into the comfort of the tent. He made himself a pasta Bolognese from his stock of homemade dehydrated meals. It started to rain and the gusts of wind were picking up speed and howling in the trees. We were snug and warm while the weather deteriorated. My dad caught up on some social media stuff while I snoozed in my fleece sleeping bag liner. It was an early night for both of us while we prepared mentally for the rest of the trip.