Day 3 – Laggan Locks to Fort Augustus
Hello people and pooches. It’s Joe the Cocker again reporting on day 3 of our Great Glen Way hike. We both had a reasonable sleep overnight despite of the sound of the wind rushing across Loch Lochy and through the pines. We had been protected from the worst of the wind thanks to my dad’s positioning of the tent. He deserves some praise when he does something good, I suppose. Just like when he praises me for not pulling him down hills when he is struggling. He says that I am a good boy. I say that he is a good old man. Ha! He dad been cold again in the night so I think that he will be changing his sleeping bag when we get to Fort Augustus. We went through our usual morning routine as he boiled water for his porridge and coffee and put my food and water in my collapsible bowls. While the porridge was rehydrating he took me for my morning constitutional. The wind was still blowing across the loch but, thankfully it wasn’t raining so my dad managed to pack everything away including a dry tent.
Setting off with the wind on our backs and the sky clear of black clouds, the first section of this day looked quite an easy hike. We walked past the Eagle Barge floating restaurant, which was closed, alongside the flotilla of pleasure boats awaiting the start of a new season. The hiking was easy as we passed along the side of the Caledonian Canal. After a mile or so we crossed the A82, close to the Great Glen Water Park and Laggan Swingbridge. This park is a haven for outdoor water enthusiasts. White water rafting, paddleboarding and canoeing are available along with many other watersports. The lodges looked inviting but, on we plodded.
After a short minor road walk, with me on the lead, we passed through a wooden gate to join a disused railway track at Invergarry Station. The station is in the process of being restored and has a refurbished engine on the relayed tracks. It was time for me to have a run off-lead. So, what did I do? I had an attack of the zoomies. I found every puddle that I could and sprinted through it. Every drainage ditch and every patch of mud received a 100mph visit from me. You can’t beat a good zoomie!
From the station the trail followed the disused railway alongside Loch Oich, the second loch that we would follow on our route. Loch Oich is the smallest of the three lochs in the Great Glen at only four miles in length and a third of a mile wide at its widest point. This loch also had to have its level heightened when the Caledonian Canal was built. The track runs parallel to General Wade’s Military Road which can still be seen in parts close to the loch’s banks.
I had to put up with my dad singing again all day. ‘Good Day Sunshine’ was the haunting sound of the day. Well, it wasn’t exactly sunny but, it wasn’t raining either. I forgave him.
We passed one of a few crannogs on Loch Oich. A crannog is an ancient man-made island that would have been built to house a family in relative safety and isolation. There are hundreds dotted within the lochs of Scotland. Amazing achievements considering they were built by hand.
The trail passes through the Leitirfearn Forest Nature Reserve with its ash, birch, elm and hazel. The area is very wet with mosses and lichens covering rocks and fallen trees. We passed the Trailblazer wild camping site at Leitirfearn in a small meadow. It looked like a lovely place to camp near to the deserted white cottage. The right side of the path had many small waterfalls tumbling down the mossy rocks. A drainage ditch removes the water from these waterfalls to keep the track relatively dry. This is where our journey could have ended. My dad decided to wash his hands and face in one of the smaller waterfalls. It was close to the path and only a trickle in comparison to some of the cascades rushing down the hills. There was a football sized rock sat in the drainage ditch sitting proud of the water. Softlad leant forward and stood on it. It tipped sidewards as he placed one foot on it. He took a nosedive toward the rock wall that was in front of him. He headbutted the rock but, luckily, he recoiled as quickly as he had fallen. Bang! He had cut his head. Not badly but, enough to send a trickle of blood down his nose. I think that he was more shocked than hurt. He had been very lucky and very stupid. A schoolboy error. On a deserted path, miles from people, it could have been a disaster. Plus, instead of washing his hands and face, they were covered in dirt and green slime. I suppose that we were lucky in that his stupidity hadn’t become a game changer.
We walked on for a few yards until we found a tree stump to sit on where he could regain his composure and have a mug of Minestrone Soup. He was fine. No harm had been done. Thankfully, it was only his head that he had injured and not an important part of his anatomy, like his feet, so he can still walk and carry my stuff! I used his rest break as an excuse to explore and sniff out any of those pesky birds that were tormenting me. I had no luck in catching anything, as usual but, it will never stop me from trying. After a short while we moved on along the track. We walked through the cuttings and passed through a damp and dingy tunnel. The route took us over an old railway bridge that spanned the Calder Burn. The sign said that it was slippery when it was frosty. It wasn’t frosty but, it was extremely slippery on its wooden sections. My dad was laughing at me at my legs went in all directions. He said that I looked like Bambi on ice. I didn’t laugh at him when he fell. A bit unfair, I thought. Humans!
We walked along the northern end of Loch Oich towards Aberchalder Swingbridge and had another short rest at a picnic bench while my dad admired the scenery. As we crossed the A82, next to the bridge, our day took a dramatic turn. My dad knew about the towpath closure near to Fort Augustus but, he hoped that we could walk up to it and possibly, after plotting a new route, find a way around it to Fort Augustus. The route that day was only supposed to be just under eleven miles so, adding a few more on wouldn’t have been a problem. We only had about four miles to walk to Fort Augustus but the sign advised that, due to the closure, Great Glen Way walkers should make use of the free transportation that would avoid this section. The remainder of the route from the bridge to Fort Augustus is along the towpath of the Caledonian Canal and looked pretty unspectacular so, my dad decided to ring the number. The option of walking along the busy 60mph A82 wasn’t an option so he said that he wasn’t going to beat himself up about missing a short section out due to circumstances beyond our control.
He phoned the number and left a message to say where we were. To his surprise, he received a call back a few seconds later and was pleased to realise that it was Susan from Great Glen Travel, the mother of Kevin who drove us to Fort William. She said that she would be with us in fifteen minutes. Sure enough, fifteen minutes later a friendly face turned up in the VW Transporter. We had a comfortable drive to the campsite where our car had been parked in Fort Augustus. Susan fussed over me and told me about her Cocker Spaniel, the most intelligent breed of dog! My dad said that he wasn’t sure about that. Cheek! We were soon back in Fort Augustus and it was only 12:30.
My dad decided to pitch the tent and to reorganise our gear. He also decided that we would have a bit more comfort on that night as we could use some of our extra gear that was in the car. He put my bed and drying mat in the tent because the weather forecast was for a cold night. He zipped the two halves of his sleeping bag together with the aim of carrying it for the remainder of our journey. It would add weight and bulk but would ensure that he was warm overnight. He sorted out our food for the rest of the trip and his clothes so that he wouldn’t be stinking. Once all this was organised we went for a walk into Fort Augustus to buy a few treats.
It was still early afternoon when we returned to the tent so we thought that we would walk a short distance of the next stage of the trip. We walked through the village along the A82 until we climbed a minor road. This led us into a forested area with large pines that took us to a point overlooking Cherry Island, another crannog, on Loch Ness. The path climbed up and down the hillside until we reached Allt na Criche, a popular waterfall. We walked up the hill to investigate and for the big feller to take his photographs. The low route met the high route at this point and we decided to walk some of the low route due to having to retrace our steps later to the campsite. We walked on for a short while into Portclair Forest before we turned around and headed back to Fort Augustus. Once we were back in the village my dad decided that he would treat himself to fish and chips from the Monster Chippy and me to a tray of cooked chicken. He sat on a wet picnic table outside the chip shop while we ate our food. I think that we both enjoyed our afternoon treat.
We arrived back at the tent in the late afternoon and chose to go for a drive to see Urquhart Castle. The castle was closed when we arrived but, it isn’t dog friendly anyway so I would be pawsona non grata. The ruins date from the 13th and 16th centuries but a castle has been on this site since early medieval times. It was deliberately destroyed in 1692 to prevent Jacobite use and has been in its present state ever since. It is a stunning sight and stands on a promontory just south of Drumnadrochit on Loch Ness. After our visit we drove back to the campsite and had a relax in the tent. It was cosy in there as we could feel the temperature dropping as the night drew in. It was forecast to be sub zero overnight with a chance of showers in the early evening. We both slept well but not before my dad had to remove a few layers because he was too toasty. Day 4 was to be a short day hiking to Invermoriston by the high route — or so we thought!